Online Text Sermon - The Offering Up of Isaac, Genesis ch.22 vv.1-24
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Offering Up of Isaac|
|Text||Genesis ch.22 vv.1-24 |
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"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Genesis 22, 1-2).
There is a form of the Christian faith which is to be found in the world today - and perhaps for that matter to be found in the world in most ages - in which people believe that God never wants His own people to suffer in any way. They say it really quite openly. They say something like, "God loves His people too much to wish to expose them to trouble. He never wants the Christian to be sick," so the argument goes. "He never wants the Christian to be in pain or to be troubled or to be tempted. God wants His people to be happy and to travel through this world with comfort and with assurance."
That is something which you will find is taught unashamedly and openly in some Christian circles. You can understand how they reason and how they argue their case. They would say for instance that God is a Father to His people and they would say that you and I, who are fathers, always wish the very best for our children. "Which father worthy of the name," they say, "would wish his children any pain, sickness, trouble or stress in this world." Of course, parents who are worthy of the name would save their children from such experiences were it in their power to do so. At first sight therefore, the argument seems to be a good one.
WHY SHOULD GOD REQUIRE HIS PEOPLE TO SUFFER?
Why should God require His people to suffer? Why should God insist on His children going through pain or temptation here in this world? For a moment, we lose our balance and we say they surely must be right. The argument is unanswerable when you look at it through the eyes of a human father. Then when we stop to think twice and remember our Bibles, what we discover comes somewhat as a shock to us. We see for instance that just about all the heroes and heroines mentioned in the Bible went through a very great deal of pain and suffering.
Take Moses for instance. You could hardly say that he had a trouble-free life, could you? Every step of the way between Egypt and the Promised Land was fraught with trials. He pleaded with God to kill him rather than leave these terrible burdens and great responsibilities upon his back. When you pass from Moses to David, isn't it the same? David was a man after God's own heart but did he have a trouble-free passage through this world? King Saul chased him from pillar to post. He had all his wars and battles; that couldn't have been easy many a day. He had the trials at the end of his life which we are so familiar with; he was almost killed by his own son, Absalom.
Go forward if you will to Elijah and consider there a very great man if ever there was one; yet what loneliness he had - what persecution. The king of the time, Ahab, sent to all the kingdoms that he knew of to find this prophet in order to kill him. Pass over to Daniel; did he have a trouble-free life? Did he not hear the sound of the roaring of the lions in the den and his friends as they were put in the burning fiery furnace? You would hardly say that that was a trouble-free experience.
Come to the New Testament and look at Paul. What a catalogue of sorrows, trials, deaths, agonies and temptations that great and beloved man had. When you look at the apostles of Jesus Christ, every one of them, probably, was a martyr ten times over. Therefore, we face this strange fact that the God who is a Father to His people in this world subjects them to trials. We get that in verse one. Do you see it? "God did tempt Abraham." It's not that the devil tempted Abraham, although many a time he did; it doesn't say that Sodom tempted Abraham - what it does say is that God tempted Abraham. He did it, not accidentally, but deliberately and with express intent. We have to understand this text - that "God did tempt Abraham."
(a) HOW THE DEVIL TEMPTS
The word 'tempt' is used in the Bible in two quite distinct senses. Sometimes to 'tempt' in the Bible means to lure into sin: to seduce, to act as a decoy for wickedness and to lure someone from the right path into the wrong path. There are many examples of that in the Bible. My friends, God never tempts men in that sense. He never seduces men through cunning craftiness to depart from the right way and to go into sin. Thank God, He doesn't! He never seduces anyone. If we are lured away it is by the corruption of our own lusts, not by God.
(b) HOW GOD TEMPTS
There is a second sense in which the word 'tempt' is used. It is the sense which is to be found in this verse: "God did tempt Abraham." The sense here is not 'seduce' but to put a person under a test, to give him a test or a trial: to place him in an examination situation to try his character. To test his character - that is what we mean here. God deliberately and intentionally placed Abraham in a situation in which his character as a man of God was on trial. I'm sure you all know the story very well. God here is requiring Abraham to do something very, very difficult. "Take your son," says God, "your only son - the son whom you love. Take him so many days journey to a mountain that I will show you and there you must kill him and offer him as a burnt sacrifice to Me." Therefore, he is not simply going to lose his life, this young man, he is going to be burnt to ashes.
You can very well understand the feelings and emotions that would rise up in a father's heart. Come, dear friends, many of us are parents here. What would your feelings be if you had received a divine command to burn your own child to death? That is what God here is doing. As we know the end of the episode, we know that God never intended to allow it to happen but Abraham did not have the benefit of reading this story in his lifetime. He didn't know yet, up to this point at any rate, what the end would be. As far as he was concerned, he would have to see the thing to its bitterest end. Here was the test of his character. He travelled the journey; he took the wood and the fire. He went the length of taking out his knife and lifting it up to slay his son when the angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, interrupted him. He said, "Abraham, Lay not thine hand upon the lad... Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me" (verse 12). "Because thou hast done this thing," says Christ to Abraham, "I will bless thee" (verse 17), "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (verse 18).
I suggest there are three things which we would benefit from learning as we recall this famous episode in the life of the patriarch, Abraham.
1. ABRAHAM'S ACTION GREATLY GLORIFIED GOD.
2. AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE, SAVING, BELIEVING FAITH.
3. GOD ALWAYS REWARDS OBEDIENCE TO HIS REVEALED WILL
You cannot outdo God. If you suffer anything for God, He will most assuredly bless you and reward you as a man or woman of faith.
1. ABRAHAM'S ACTION GREATLY GLORIFIED GOD
In what sense are we to understand that? Abraham's action proved that when we have the grace of God in our hearts it makes us ready to part with everything for the glory of God. That is something which nothing else will do. Men will not part with their most precious things unless their hearts are opened by the grace of God. When we become true believers, when we know God for ourselves, we will be ready to part with anything and everything if God demands it of us.
My friends this is the wonderful fact about grace which is the supernatural power of God in the hearts and souls and lives of human beings - whether they be adults or children. It changes people utterly from the way the world thinks and it greatly glorifies God for that reason. I give you another reason. It shows to angels and devils that believers do not serve God simply for what they get from Him. Do you see the point I'm making?
The great accusation that the devil is always making in heaven against the people of God is this. "These Christians are only believers because of what they get out of it. They only serve God for what they can get from Him." I'm sure you remember the way the devil said this in heaven in the presence of God concerning Job. "Doth Job fear God for nought" (Job 1, 9), he says. You see what he is saying there. That's the devil speaking and that's the way the devil always speaks. He is the great accuser of the brethren: the Christian people. The devil is always busy saying this; "People only become Christians for what they can get out of it." However, Abraham's actions here and all such actions give the lie to the devil's accusation - an accusation which touches the glory and honour of God. Those who have grace in their hearts obey God not for what they get out of it. They obey God because He is worthy of their love and because they choose to honour Him even when their own personal advantage seems to be lost.
I give you another reason. It is an example to us all that we are to hate even our closest relations in this world where there is any conflict between our devotion to them and our devotion to God. That does seem an impossible thing to do: that a man could prefer God, Whom he has never seen, to his son whom he loves. It seems to be psychologically impossible - emotionally a miracle - that anyone should choose God Whom he doesn't know in the same sense that he knows earthly beings, rather than his own son. It is a perfect example to us, dear friends, of the spirit which every man and woman would have if we were not sinners. We would all, if we were not sinners, be like Abraham. We would all automatically choose God and not our own relations wherever there was a clash or conflict between our duty to the one or to the other.
Let me put that to you. Come, ask yourselves this question and search your heart dear friend. Are you putting God first in your life? It's the only way to get to heaven. I am not pretending it is an easy way. The Bible itself does not pretend it is an easy way. The Bible says that "God tempted Abraham" and this is the test of whether you are a man or woman of God or not. Do you put the things of God first or last? When there is a conflict between your duty to God your Maker or to yourself, your job or interests, how do you act? Professions of faith are worthless if they end simply in pious words but not pious deeds.
No wonder Jesus Christ said, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14, 26). He didn't mean to hate, literally. What He meant was that we must so love God that it is as though we hated our loved ones. We put God before all other duties, no matter how painfully we feel the demands He makes upon us that we do our duty to God come wind come weather. You must ask yourself if that is the principle upon which you act. Dear friends, it must be, if we are going to be the children of God. If we are claiming to be Abraham's children by faith in Jesus Christ then that must be the way we live: God first, others next. Jesus Christ claims first place in our lives as priority, other claims come second to those.
This chapter of Scripture is a great help because there is no doubt about it: God will tempt you and me and no doubt has done many times. You can look back to those times - certainly I can - and times they were of great mental anguish and conflict, when against our will as it were, we knew our duty to be to do what God was calling us to do - which we would rather die than do but had to do because the glory of God was at stake.
Psalm 37, which we were singing. I remind you of these words; what a joy they are to sing.
Delight thyself in God: he'll givethine heart's desire to thee.Thy way to God commit, him trust,it bring to pass shall he.
And like unto the light, he shallthy righteousness display;And he thy judgement shall bring forthlike noon-tide of the day.
You see how it works, the wonder of His promises. Put Him first and He will see to the rest.
2. AN EXAMPLE OF TRUE, SAVING, BELIEVING FAITH
Secondly, I say to you that this experience of temptation that Abraham had is an example to us of real faith. There is a lot of talk about faith. The Queen is called the Defender of the Faith. She inherited that title from Henry Vlll who was a very devout Roman Catholic or at least a very bigoted Roman Catholic. The present prince doesn't like the title. If he becomes king, we understand, he will not adopt that title, but he will modify it to Defender of Faith or Defender of Faiths in the plural - meaning, he'll give freedom of expression to all religions which I suppose in this country we have up to a point - much more so than in Saudi Arabia. You don't have it there but you do have it here. If you are a Muslim or a Hindu or something you can quietly practise your religion here.
All this talk about faith can be so much confusion. What is faith? What do we mean by faith? The answer is right here in this chapter. Here we learn what faith is: faith in the biblical sense; saving faith; heroic, Christian, believing faith - we see it in Abraham. What is it? Putting it simply dear friends, true, saving, religious faith is taking God at His Word and doing whatsoever God requires us to do. You could say there is nothing easier than faith in one way because all you have to do is find out what God says in the Bible and do it. What could be easier than that? To find out what He commands us to do and to do it. You don't have to climb up and knock on the door of heaven to find out what God would have us do. You don't need to dig deep into hell to enquire of the devil what we have to do. You don't need to go up to the sky or over the sea. In the Book, in the Bible, in the Word of God we discover what we are to do.
Faith is doing the will of God as that is commanded us in the Bible. Surely, nothing could be simpler to boys and girls let alone adults. I must put it in a somewhat more adult fashion. We can say that faith is a correlative. That is not so easy, is it? Let me explain. It means that faith is one of two things that must always go together. Correlatives are things that belong together. If you want a simple illustration, think of an electrical plug. In the wall, you have a socket and if you want to get the fire going you plug it in. You need the two things - the socket with the power and the plug which goes into the wall. If you don't have both there is no fire no life no electricity. You have got to have the two; they are correlatives, they go together. Faith goes together with revelation - that is the Bible. Where there is no Word from God there is no faith.
When people talk about believing this and that, if it's not believing what the Bible says it's not called faith it's called misbelief. Misbelief is believing what we have no warrant to believe. Some people believe the earth is flat, but of course, they are completely wrong. Some people may believe the moon is made of green cheese - they are completely wrong so the astronomers tell us - it's not made of green cheese, it's made of other things. If people believe things that are not revealed by God then they are not acting in faith but in misbelief - a faith which is fancy, a faith which is guesswork, a faith which is not going to get you to heaven. In fact, it is a dangerous faith because it is a misleading faith. It is like following a false light at sea. You see a light at sea in the dark and think it is a lighthouse so you make in that direction only to find it is something misleading and you are on the rocks. Your ship goes down and you are lost.
To follow any light other than the Bible and to believe anything other than what the Bible teaches is not faith. It is fancy, guesswork and delusion. That is why we have got to know the old Book. We've got to know it, read it, re-read it, preach it, understand it, teach it to one another, have it in the Sabbath School, in the Bible Classes, Catechise one another about it. The Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible is the revelation upon which our faith is built. Faith stands on the Bible as a house stands on its foundation. If we believe what is not taught by the Bible our house is built on the sand; Jesus Christ tells us so.
How does this relate to Abraham? Abraham did not simply dream up the idea of taking his son to Mount Moriah. He didn't simply think it would be a clever act of worship to take a knife, some fire and some firewood. He didn't think, "It would be a devout action on my part to offer up my son to God; He's bound to be pleased." No, Abraham's faith was not what he imagined or supposed God wanted him to do but it was upon a word, a revelation from God. God said to him, "Do this," and he did it. That is faith. It is exemplary faith because he acted in defiance of his most tender emotions and sensibilities. Who on earth in his right mind would murder his own son? Who on earth in his right mind would burn his son to death? This man was prepared to do it because he had a revelation from God.
Why do I stress these things so strongly? My dear friends, because "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4, 4). If you and I are to get to heaven we must go by the Book. We must go by what God has said and by no other light whatsoever. If we follow other lights, we are sure to make shipwreck and if we follow those who are blind leaders of the blind they and we together will fall into the ditch. What the Bible alone says is our light. Abraham's faith was a faith in what God had said.
The Bible contains mysteries and Abraham couldn't explain why God, Whom he knew to be just, good, holy and righteous should demand of him to do this. It was a mystery: the mystery of God's hidden, secret will. There are many mysteries in the Bible and you and I are not called upon to answer and resolve all the secret things of God. We are called upon to do what He in wisdom commands.
Let us apply that to ourselves dear friends. There is a thing called 'pragmatism'. Pragmatism means doing things in life because they are expected to work. It is the opposite of living by principle. To live by principle is the Bible way of life. Pragmatism is to live by what you think is going to work out best: expediency. These two are dead opposites. To live by principle - or, if you like, to live by rule - is the Bible's way of describing the life of faith. It is to live by what we think is going to work out best, and because it has a sort of human wisdom about it, it is the way of the world. These two are exact opposites. You must choose and indeed, whether you are conscious of it or not, you have chosen and you are daily choosing which way you are going to go: whether God's way, the way of the Bible; or your own way, the way of the world. I have to say to you, the way of faith alone is the way that leads to God, to glory, to heaven, to eternal life.
If people live by pragmatism they will make shipwreck in their lives and people are doing it. Our society is doing it. I happened to hear quarter of an hour of a programme yesterday on Radio Four about Manchester which I know very well because I was born just to the south of Manchester. There are areas in Manchester where young people are shooting themselves dead all the time. I didn't know that until I heard the programme. Gangs with guns shoot one another and others: innocent people passing by. They don't seem to get caught or brought to justice, at least certainly not on a very extensive scale. I suppose it is out of hand, they are becoming ungovernable. It is the same in London.
How did our nation get into this mess? Do they not tell us that half the young people in Scotland at least, are on drugs or have been at one time or another. How did we get into this mess? Everybody knows that drugs and guns are bad for society. I'll tell you how they got there. It is because governments decided years ago not to go by principle but to go by pragmatism. If it is thought to work, if it appears to be an easy way, let's take it. My friends you and I daren't live by that. If you mean to get to heaven you must live by the principle of faith and the principle of faith says, "I go by the Bible. I take the Bible's word for it because the Bible is what God has said and is saying. It is His Word."
3. GOD ALWAYS REWARDS OBEDIENCE TO HIS REVEALED WILL
The third point briefly is this. I have to say to you very happily that although the way of faith is demanding and difficult, it is the sure and certain way of blessing. Surely, this comes leaping out at us from this page of Scripture. When Abraham had lifted up his knife and his son willingly, obediently and voluntarily lay upon the wood where the fire was soon to be kindled, before he could strike his son dead, God intervened. He will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear. God will tempt His people so far but not further than they can bear. Abraham passed the test. Abraham did as God required.
My concern now is to remind you that he got a blessing. O, what a reward God gave to him. Listen to these wonderful words as I give them to you. "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed (Jesus Christ) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (verses 16-18). Why all these blessings? The answer is at the end of verse eighteen, "Because thou hast obeyed my voice."
My dearly beloved if you want a blessed life - men and women, young and old, boys and girls, everyone whatever your age, condition or circumstances - here is the formula: "Because thou hast obeyed my voice." You say to me, "I wouldn't dare to become a Christian. If I did everybody at work or at school would laugh at me. They would all poke their fingers at me and I would be so ashamed I would let God down." My dear friend, don't you have such a poor opinion of God. If you take your stand for God He won't forsake you. I know we don't have much courage; I don't have much myself. We are all cowards - every one of us. However, I can assure you from my own experience and what is more important from this Book in front of us that those who take their stand for God are never forsaken. He will bless them; more than you can ask or think He will bless you. Take that lesson too to yourself.
These are the three lessons. I say that to do the will of God greatly glorifies God and, after all this is the highest end of man, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. To obey the voice of God is to live by faith, to overcome the world and to be more than a conqueror through Him that loved us. I say again to do the will of God is to receive in time and much more in eternity, a great reward. How was Abraham rewarded? God made him the father of the faithful. In all generations, his name is held in honour all over the world at this very hour. Jews and Arabs respect him. We in the gentile nation respect the name of Abraham.
All that I have said is to remind ourselves that this was a divine rehearsal for a still greater sacrifice. What Abraham did to Isaac was simply a rehearsal for a greater sacrifice. "In the mountain of the Lord it shall be seen." What was that a reference to? That was a reference to another Father and another Son: the Father of heaven Who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all that by His precious blood our sins should be forgiven. Will you not therefore make Christ your whole ambition and serve Him. If you do so it will not have been in vain to have considered the text we have had before us today: "God did tempt Abraham."
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