Sermon: Abraham’s Test and Ours

Abraham’s Test and Ours
Genesis 22:1-14
RUMC 2 July 2017

It seems that life is a series of tests. In school when we were younger there were quizzes, tests, and exams.  As we got older there were other surprises, such as the driver’s exam.  Add to that the written and oral exams that we had to complete for professional certifications and licenses.  Even later in life, there are the very important medical tests that we want to pass.

In the spiritual realm, the Lord will occasionally test the faithfulness of his people. When the Old Testament patriarch Abraham was tested, it defined his love and obedience to the Lord.  The important thing for us as believers to remember is that if God were to test us, it would be to see who is first in our hearts.

My text is Genesis 22:1-14.
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide;” as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
This is the Word of God.

My scripture text takes us back several thousand years to a culture and a world that is much different from our own, but there was one constant: people are people. When it came to Abraham, the most outstanding feature was his faith.

You see when God speaks, He uses different ways to get our attention. For some, it might be a thought, an impression or a certain feeling.  For others it could be the proverbial still, small voice.  But with Abraham, the message was direct and unmistakable.

In the 1994 movie “Abraham”, Richard Harris played the Old Testament patriarch and showed movie audiences how Abraham truly heard the voice of God.  There was no hesitation or doubt on Abraham’s part to believe.

Sometimes I wish God would speak to us in a direct and clear manner, but I suppose if we were to submit our lives and spend more time in his presence along with the reading from the word, we would hear from God and know his will for our lives.

Isaac was about 10 or 11 years old when the voice of God came to Abraham again, and, like the previous occasions, there was no mistake about the message. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

What I suspect happened to Father Abraham and Mother Sarah was that they were more preoccupied with little Isaac than they were with God himself. As older parents who had a child for the first time, perhaps they doted or indulged or maybe spoiled the child.

Early on in my Christian walk, I went through a test of faith. It was nothing like what the patriarch went through.  A person from my church fellowship group asked me this odd question and it shook me.  He said, “Would you quit college and serve the Lord?” My immediate answer was “Absolutely not. Under no circumstances would I ever quit school.”  Then I came to the realization that my college education was becoming the most important thing in my life.  It was my ticket to success, and it would open future doors for job opportunities.  I will admit my college education was becoming something like a “god” which took first place in my heart.
After some intense struggle/prayer and talking with others, I finally surrendered my “college education” and told the Lord that I would leave school if it were His will.  It was at that point that I felt inner peace.  I didn’t have to withdraw or leave school, but I surrendered my education to the Lord.  I knew Christ was now first place in my heart.  Since that time, there have been other tests that revolved around my loyalty.  Over the years there have been struggles where I have had to surrender to the Lord all over again: girlfriends, my career, certain hobbies, and so called opportunities.

I often think about a shut in from a church that I had pastured; she has been dead for a while. When I went to visit her I would keep her up to date about the church, share a prayer, and inevitably our conversation turned to the Red Sox.  She loved that baseball team and often got upset about certain players; it made me laugh.  This woman watched every Red Sox game; at the same time she had the Yankees game on her nearby computer so she could keep up with the scores.  She had all the official books with player stats next to her recliner.  In one corner of her apartment was a Red Sox shrine of mementos going back to Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.  Now I will admit, there were times I wanted to ask her what was the most important thing in her life, but I regret I was not bold enough.  If I could go back and do it all over again, I think I would have been playful and used humor.  Maybe I could have reached into the depths of her soul by talking about players who were public about their faith.  But it is a lesson learned.

Bottom line, I think all of us have a tendency to become attached to those things we love the most. Sometimes we trust more in the gifts than in God himself.

Now there is a difference between a test and a temptation. God uses a test for spiritual growth; the devil uses a temptation for spiritual ruin.  Sometimes our faith is not tested until we are asked to do something that seems unbearable or unreasonable, or maybe impossible.  When a trial comes our way, God doesn’t always attach an explanation, but many times it has something to do with who is in first place.

Once a woman told me how she elevated her husband to “godlike” status. He was number one in her life.  Everything had revolved around him.  Ultimately, their relationship deteriorated, and they got a divorce.  Today she is happily remarried.  In this new marriage Jesus is the center of their lives.

Isaac was a gift, but I suspect that Abraham’s devotion to his son was beginning to compete with God. It seemed that this bundle of joy, rather than the Lord, had become the center of Abraham’s life.

Let me ask, has God ever given you an “Isaac”?  An Isaac could be a child, but it is not limited to that.  Often times, they are the things we are most passionate about.  The Lord takes great delight in the gifts that he gives to us, but if we are not careful, these “gifts” can turn into “little gods” or “Isaac’s”.  And if that were to happen, God might ask us to surrender it.

So how is it with your soul? Do you have any Isaac’s or special gifts that you struggle with?  Is God first or is your “Isaac”?