ďThe Sacrifice of IsaacĒ†††††††††††††† Genesis 22:1-14†††††††††††††† August 23, 2009
SI:† We are studying the life of Abraham, Genesis chapters 12-25.
And this morning we come to the most significant episode in Abrahamís life.
†† In fact, this is one of the best-known stories in the whole Bibleó
†† the sacrifice of Isaac.
INTRO:† Iím going to put on my English teacherís hat for a moment
†† and ask you a question.† Moses was the author of Genesis.† You know that.
My question is this:†
†† Looking at this story, how would you describe Mosesí writing style?
How about this:† Sparse.† Stark.
†† He tells this gripping story in the barest outline.
†† And he leaves virtually everything to our imaginations.
You read this story and a hundred unanswered questions come to mind.
Why did God test Abraham?
Why did he chose this as a test?
Why did God command something that the rest of Scripture condemns?
What did Abraham think when God told him this?
What did he tell Sarah?† Why did he chop the wood himself?
What did he and Isaac talk about those three days on the way?
What was Abraham thinking when he said, ďWe will come back to you?Ē
Why did Isaac let his father tie him up and put him on the altar?
†† Moses doesnít tell us any of this.† Itís left up to us to ponder.
And because this is such a dramatic and disturbing and important story,
†† and because the Bible says so little in terms of explanationó
†† it has prompted centuries of meditation and teaching.
Theodore Beza, John Calvinís successor in Geneva, wrote a poem about it.
†† In one part of the poem, he imagines what was going through Abrahamís mind.
Because, O God, this is thy pleasure, it is sure
That it is right, and so I shall obey.
But in obeying shall I not make God
A liar, for he promised this to me,
That from my son Isaac there would come forth
A mighty nation who would fill this land?
With Isaac dead the covenant dies too!
Many of the old masters tried to capture this scene on canvas.
†† But seeing represented artistically simply deepens the mystery.
Just this week I was talking to a Christian woman who told me that when she was
†† a child, her family had a Bible with a number of illustrations.†
And the picture she used to turn to over and over was thisó
†† Isaac bound, and Abraham coming at his son with a knife.
†† It scared her to death, but she was mesmerized by it.
Now as a grown up, she still has mixed feeling about it, loves it, but perplexed by it.
Just so you know, there are many people who have mocked this story.
They hold it up as an example of whatís wrong with the Bible and Christianity.
†† Blood and guilt and blind obedience to a cruel God.
†† A God who toys with our emotions for his own pleasure.† Divine child abuse.
So thatís another aspect to the study of this story.
†† Attacks on it by unbelievers, and then defenses and explanations by Christians
All that is to say that this is one of the greatest stories in all of the Bible.
†† It captures you, it pulls you in.† Itís a story that touches on the deep things of God.
Poets, theologians, preachers, artists throughout the ages have pondered this story.
†† Little Christian children have heard it in Sunday school and wondered at it.
†† Grownup Christians have done the same.† And we have 30 minutes to cover it!
So in this brief time I want us to look at the two great themes of this story.
First, the test of faith.†
†† Thatís how it starts, with these words:† ďSome time later God tested Abraham.Ē
†† So thatís the first theme.† The test of faith.
Second, the provision of God.
†† In this brief story, you canít help notice that this is huge.† Mentioned three times.†
First when Abraham says:† ďGod himself will provide the lambĒ
Then, the second and third time close together at the end.
†† Abraham called the place: †ďThe Lord will Provide.Ē† Jehovah Jirah.
†† And from that came a saying among the Israelites:
†† ďOn the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.Ē
So we have the test of faith and the provision of God.†
†† Letís look at both, see how they apply to us,
†† and how they work together in the Christian life.
Credit:† Sermons by Robert Rayburn, Tim Keller very helpful to me.
MP#1† The test of faith
Letís go all the way back to the beginning of Abrahamís faith.
†† He was in the city of Ur, he had his family network, his wealth, his connections,
†† a comfortable life, a secure future.†
God called him:† Leave all of this.† Leave Ur.† And go to the land I will show you.
†† There I will make you a great nation.† Through you will all nations be blessed.†
†† Abraham believed God and left for the Promised Land.
†† Even though he didnít really know how it would work out.
Why did he do it?† Why did he believe God and leave Ur?
Hebrews 11 tells us:† ďHe was looking forward to the city with foundations,
†† whose architect and builder is God.Ē
That means that Abraham looked at his life in city of Ur, all that he had,
†† all his apparent security and comfort and he realized, without God,
†† I have no foundations.† This stuff isnít secure.
Some day it will all be gone.† I want something solid and lasting.
†† I want real foundations for my life.
†† Iím going to trust the Lord.† Put my faith in him and follow him.
Because even if I donít know exactly where he is leading,
†† know heís true and solid and will give me a foundation for my life.
Thatís the essence of faith.
†† Itís believing that God alone, Jesus Christ alone, is your foundation.
†† And then moving out in that faith into the life he has for you.
I sometimes quote Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
†† He was probably the greatest expository preacher of the mid 20th century.
But he didnít start out as a preacher, started out as a surgeon.
In his late 20s he was a rising star in the London medical community.
†† He was educated at St. Barts, he had his career and life before him.
But then something happened that changed everything.†
†† One of the chief surgeons lost a loved one, and he came to Lloyd-Jonesí apt.
†† and just stared in the fire for hours.† Nothing inappropriate about his grief.
But it shook Lloyd-Jones.† Because he looked at this man who had it all
†† and saw that his foundations were radically vulnerable.
†† He saw the vanity of all human greatness.
And he wanted a city with foundations that could not be shaken.
†† Put his faith in Christ and determined to follow him wherever he lead.
For him it led away from London, away from medicine,
†† to a little church in a little village in Wales.
Thatís really the story we all have as Christiansóonly the details are different.
†† We say:† I want a foundation for my life that cannot be shaken.
†† Iím going to trust Jesus Christ, follow his lead, and move ahead in faith.
Abraham started that way, Martyn Lloyd-Jones did, and you did too.
But as you live by faith, you begin to discover something about yourself.
†† Even though you really meant it when you said that Jesus is your only foundation,
†† functionally your heart hasnít changed much.
You may say that Godís love is all you need,
†† but the way you live, or human approval, or success, or security, or control,
†† or looks, or status and all sorts of other things are your functional foundations.
So what comes your way?† Tests of faith.†
†† Tests of faith, sent by the Lord, that shake your other foundations.
Our hearts say: I have to have this to be happy.
†† And the Lord responds:† All you need is me.
Now, who are you going to believe?† Your heart or me?
†† What are you going to trust and build your life on, that other foundation, or me?
Through providence, sometimes through moral challenges, your faith is tested.
†† Those other foundations are shaken, and you learn to trust Jesus more.
Was that what was going on with Abraham?
†† Was it the case that somehow Isaac had become his foundation instead of God?
†† Maybe.† Bible doesnít say that.† Lots of preachers do.† Iím open to that.
But thereís something that bothers me about that interpretation.
†† Abrahamís response.† He didnít argue with God or bargain with him.
†† He obeyed immediately.† Early the next morning he got up and left.
And without a single delay, but with his heart troubled but full of absolute
†† trust in the Lord, he went step by step up that mountain,
†† to that final moment when he reached out to take the knife.
Is that the way a man would act who had made an idol of his son?
I think this story shows us another kind of test of faithó
†† Iíve called it the test of faith.† And thatís when the Lord acts in a way
†† toward you that doesnít seem to make any sense at all.
Let me make describe what Iím talking about one more time.
Weíve all heard stories by Christians that go this way:
†† The Lord took away this or that and I saw right away he was hammering
†† at my pride or my self-righteousness.† He was breaking me over a sin in my life.
I lost those things but I know why God did it and now Iím a humbler Christian.
But for every Christian who says that, there is another who says:
I donít know why the Lord is doing this to me.†
†† As far as I know myself, I have a pure, honest love for Christ.
And as far as this thing the Lord is taking away, I love it, but I donít worship it.
†† Itís not my idol.† Itís a good gift from you that you gave for me to love.
†† So Lord, why?† What purpose does it serve for you to take it away?
Why did Abraham pin his hopes in Isaac?
†† Because the Lord had taught him to.† Told him over and over for years
†† that all of his promises for blessing of world would come thought his boy.
There was nothing idolatrous about that.
†† So the Lordís command to sacrifice Isaac seemed to make no sense at all.
Thatís what makes the test of faith so difficult.
Sometimes the Lord isnít apparently dealing with a sin or a false foundation
†† in your lifeóbut heís doing painful things that honestly,
†† donít seem to make sense.
Listen to the way Rayburn puts it:
†† ďGod acts in ways that are not only mysterious to us but defy our wisdom and our understandingóways that seem to contradict what we have been taught about God and his character and his ways.† I do not say that they do contradict the truth that has been revealed to us about God, only that we cannot see how to bring that truth into harmony with what God is doing in our lives or in the world.Ē
Elisabeth Elliot was in the Highlands of Scotland, watching shepherds herd sheep
†† one at a time through a trough full of sheep dip to kill parasites.†
Sheep would be pushed into the water, try to get out, sheep dog would bark in face,
†† then the shepherd would reach down and push entirely under water.
She wondered:† Whatís it like to feel that your shepherd is trying to kill you?
†† Then she though, Oh, I know that feeling.
†† Sometimes it feels like the God who is saving you is trying to kill you.
Thatís the trial of faith.† When you say:† As far as I know my heart,
†† this is not a sin, this is not an idol, not a false foundationó
†† So why, Good Shepherd, are you drowning me?
And how does faith answer?† I donít know.† But Iím going to trust him anyway.
†† Iím going to love him, obey him, and honor him anyway.
†† Thatís what Abraham did.† Where do you get that faith?
We find the answer in the second great theme:
MP#2† The provision of God
This is the only conversation in Genesis between Abraham and Isaac.
†† ďFather, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?
†† ďGod himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.Ē
Who is the lamb that God provided?† Itís Jesus Christ.
This story is more than an account of Abrahamís test,
†† itís an enacted prophecy of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the symbolism is so thick, with so many different levels,
†† that itís hard to summarize all of the elements that point to Jesus.
Letís look at the big ones.
First, we have the son.† Isaac himself foreshadowed Jesus.
†† Isaac was the child of promise.† One through whom Godís blessings would come.†
Jesus was also the child of promise.† He was Abrahamís greater promised child.
†† He was the Son of all Abrahamís sons.† And also the Son of God.
God said to Abraham,
†† ďTake your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and offer him as a burnt offering.Ē
Doesnít that ring all kinds of NT bells?† Donít you hear God saying from heaven:
†† ďThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.Ē
The only reason God told Abraham to do this, is because later he would take His
† †His only begotten son, whom he loved, and offer him up for sins of the world.
Once Martin Luther read this story for family devotions.†
†† When he was finished, Katie said:
†† ďI do not believe it.† God would not have treated Abrahamís son like that.Ē
Luther replied, ďBut Katie, he did,Ē†
Second, we have the sacrifice.
What did sacrifice mean to Abraham?†
†† Important to see that sacrifice was already part of the worship of Godís people,
†† even when the church as just one man and his family.
It became more and more a part of their lives as they grew into a nation.
†† In the law of Moses, sacrifice became the central act of worship for believers.
But what did it mean?†
If you take all the teaching of the Pentateuch together (first five books),
†† it is clear what sacrifice meant.† It was a symbolic deliverance of the worshipper
†† from the guilt of sin through the death of substituteóa clean animal.
It was only a symbol.† And believers understood that clearly, even in OT.
†† The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin.
But they pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whose blood would
†† take away sin.† Jesus, through his death, does remove our guilt and make us
†† forever righteous in Godís sight.
Third, we have the substitute.
Isaac was not killed.† But Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket.
†† He took the ram and sacrificed it.† It was Isaacís substitute.†
†† So the principle of substitution is pushed home a second time.
Isaac symbolized Jesus, the ram did too.
This is a powerful picture of what theologians call penal substitutionary atonement.
Penal means punishment, Godís just punishment for sin.
Substitutionary means Jesus suffered that punishment in our place.
Atonement means by doing that for us, he made us righteous and acceptable to God.
†† We believe that.† Itís the heart of the Christian faith.†
Itís this idea of penal substitutionary atonement that is the heart of the Gospel.
†† Listen for it in these famous Bible verses.
†ďHe was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. †We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.Ē
ďGod demonstrates his own love for us in this: †While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.† When we were Godís enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.Ē
ďGod made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.Ē
ďChrist redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.Ē
ďBehold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.Ē
So we have the son, the sacrifice, the substituteóand there are so many more
†† details pointing to Jesus, donít have time to explore them all.
Abraham putting the wood for the sacrifice on Isaacís back to carry up hill.
†† Isnít that an amazing foreshadowing of Jesus carrying the cross!
And the place, Mount Moriah, where 1000 years later the Temple would be built,
†† and lambs slain, principle of substitution worked deep into conscience of Israel.
So over and over this is pushed homeóthat God provided Jesus for Abraham.
God the Father, in great love, provided the ultimate sacrifice
†† so that Abraham and all his children by faith can be forgiven and live forever.
To the degree that the sacrifice of Jesus is the animating principle of your lifeó
And to the degree that the great story of the cross is the story to which you compare
†† all of the lesser crosses of lifeó
And to the degree that you see the enormity of your sin and the immensity
†† of the love of the Father and the Son, this circle of love, giving and dyingó
To that degree you will pass the tests of faith.
Even though you may honestly say:†
†† I donít know why God is doing this to me.
†† It doesnít seem to make sense.†
†† It seems to go against what I know of his goodness and promises.
Kids, honey, I donít know why the Lord has us in this place.
But I do know this:† That ďhe who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for
†† us allóhow will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things.Ē
What pushed Abraham up that mountain?
Was it his willpower?† Was he saying: I can do it.† I can do it.
†† Was it his sense of religious duty?† I have to do it.† God demands it.
No.† He believed that God would do it.† God would provide.
†† And he did.† He did in Jesus.†
Thatís the only thing that will get you up the mountainó
†† When you believe that God will provide, because heís proved himself in Christ.
Thomas Boston was a famous 18th century Scottish pastor.
His wife was going through a difficult pregnancy.†
†† As she neared delivery he was praying for her.†
†† And while praying he had the impression that it was going to be a boy.†
So he promised God that if the boy was born alive, would dedicate him to God,
†† and name him Ebenezer.† Bible name, Stone of Help, reference to the stone
†† Samuel set up to commemorate Godís deliverance of Israel.
The baby was born, it was a boy, he named it Ebenezeróbut it died 5 months later.
†† Boston wrote in his journal that he had confidence that his child belonged to God.
†† But that this was terribly hard for him.† Harder to bury his name than his body.
Year later, Mrs. Boston had another son.†
†† After a struggle with himself, named this boy Ebenezer.
But two months later, this boy became ill with measles.
†† Boston went out to the barn to pray.† Renewed his promise to dedicate to God.
†† He called out to the angels and the stones of barn to bear witness to his sincerity.
†† He claimed all of Godís covenant promises on behalf of his child.
†† He cried out for his childís life.
But the boy, the second little Ebenezer, passed away.
After the funeral Thomas Boston wrote in his journal:
†† ďI see most plainly that I must stoop,
†† and be content to follow the Lord in an untrodden path.Ē†
How did Boston walk that path?†
†† How did he continue to say, though I donít understand, I will still follow him.
†† The same way Abraham did.†
And the same way you must when you are going through the tests of faith.
†† By looking at Jesus.† Looking at the cross.†
†† And believing that God is faithful, and he will provide.