The Ram in the Bush
1st Sunday in Lent Sermon, February 21, 2021 Genesis 22:1-18
It does not sell well in today’s 21st century mind thanks to a theology of glory that has contaminated all of Christendom and even into the minds who would call themselves skeptics. That is, a theology that once you begin to believe in Jesus, every day in going to be sunshine and roses. However, if we really read and trust what God says through His Word, it is a part of the Christian calling to endure sorrow, suffering, and hardship in this earthly life. Just as the Apostle Paul instructs Christians in his day “…we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). So it is in our days as well. If it be God’s perfect will, we may indeed have to undergo some supreme test as Abraham did; and it is critically important that we “pass” this test as did the great patriarch. Together, then, let us learn from our father Abraham as we consider the idea that God puts His saints to the test. Let us pray…
Using our Old Testament reading this morning, we find Abraham in period of great happiness for aging man. Abraham is enjoying the many blessings of God and especially the joys of fatherhood and witnessing the development of his beloved son Isaac, into the beauty and strength of young manhood.
It is exactly at this time God interrupted the patriarch’s peace and the comfortable routine of his life. We read, “After these things God tested Abraham.” God puts Abraham to the test. Now why would the Lord do this? Was this really necessary? Or was this something in the nature of an unpredictable, arbitrary, mean and nasty divine being? Think about what God told Abraham to do: “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 of which I shall tell you.”
Note the choice of words that God uses to emphasize Abraham’s fatherly love for Isaac: “your son,” “your only son,” “Isaac,” (a name reflecting the father’s great joy, his jubilant laughter, over the birth of this son), and “whom you love”’ Evidently, here is the great danger to Abraham, that he had begun to love Isaac so much, too much, that perhaps without his noticing it, Abraham’s love for his son was beginning to rival his love for his God.
I know this sounds odd but stay with me.
The test had to be applied. It was necessary that Abraham address the issue as to whom he was loving and would love with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Thus, God demanded the abrupt, bloody, burning sacrifice of Isaac. If Abraham would satisfy God’s requirement, he would first have to surrender his entire being in humble, unquestioning, loving submission to the Lord. Would Abraham pass this test? Could you pass this test?
In our contemporary reasoning, this test is unfathomable. Because of this thought, we dismiss this event as either myth or that “my god would never require this of me.” And yet, many sacrifice their unborn children and call it…”choice.” Many, while their children are alive and breathing, will sacrifice them to a career, cloaking their choice with expressions like “they are sacrificing so much so that their children can have what they never had.” Ask a child who has such a parent, you will find they would prefer to have their dad or mom now, than to have more stuff or a specific college. Still, other men will impregnate a woman and leave her to fend for herself and his child, as he can’t possible be expected to be responsible and sacrifice his freedom. Instead, he would rather sacrifice his child and if it is required, the mother of his child, as well. One could argue many of these are blood-less sacrifices, nevertheless, it is no different to laying your child on a stone altar.
You and I need to be prepared that times of testing will also come to us. The love of somebody—son, daughter, father, mother, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, self—or something—money or the things money can buy, personal accomplishments, honor, position, prestige, power, health, one or many may take a place alongside our love for God. In testing us the Lord may require, as He did of Abraham, that we painfully and completely give up whatever has captivated us, so that we are compelled consciously to consider the absolute necessity of loving Him above all things. Bearing these thoughts in mind, we shall understand what God’s testing is all about.
When God puts His saints to the test, they may either fail or pass the test; but it is His purpose that they pass the test with flying colors and receive the rich and gracious blessings He seeks to give them as the result. Abraham obeyed God and achieved a supreme spiritual victory. It would do us well to note, Abraham’s reaction to God’s testing; then we can be clear as to the response God expects of us when we are tested.
Whether you agree with this or not; no matter if this defies your understanding of God, one thing impresses anyone who earnestly engages into this account in Genesis. That is, Abraham’s unyielding, unhesitating, unquestioning, immediate, and implicit obedience to God’s command, his total self-submission to God’s will.
Abraham trusted in the goodness and love of the Lord even in this unimaginable time of testing. This, of course, was the sure and certain hope that empowered him to carry out God’s order. With unswerving faith Abraham clung to the Lord’s promises of blessing including the promise that he would be the father of many nations. All those blessing that begins with his son, Isaac and so much more. It is for this reason that the New Testament writer to the Hebrews states: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead…” (Heb 11: 17-19). And dare I say that this idea is clearly reflected in the conviction of Abraham express to his servants as he and Isaac where to continue on, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” So poor is the interpretation is that Abraham lied as not to disclose his intent. The Holy Spirit bears a different witness.
In Abraham’s response to God’s testing, we see what our own can be, as well. When trial comes, God gives us the willingness to accept it. When trial comes, God helps us recognize His purpose in sending such a trial: to give us a purified faith and an intensified love for Him. When trial comes, God permits this trial so that He can provide you assurance of His faithfulness and mercy. When trial comes, God once again affirms that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).
When trial comes, we want to remember that it is His saints whom God puts to the test. Not the unbeliever. We have been made holy in His sight because the guilt of our transgressions has been utterly removed through our faith in Jesus Christ, who shed His blood on Calvary for the redemption of the world. God tests us so that we stop our love of sinning, for which as believers in Christ Jesus we already have His forgiveness.
By grace, through faith, through Christ alone and through His means of grace, we are made saints of God. Through Christ Jesus we are given the power to overcome every temptation and test. Through Christ Jesus we are able to supply the pure and perfect response to the testing. Just as through faith Abraham was able to fear, love and trust in God above all things. When we believe these magnificent Gospel truths; when we fully rely on the help of the Lord in prayer and abiding in His word, we will “pass the test.” Like Father Abraham, we too in Christ Jesus, achieve the victory.
This victory paves the way for rich blessings God desires to give to all of us His saints whom He puts to the test. The blessings are many, as we learned today. Consider those which Abraham received. The most significant is this, that at the conclusion of the test, Abraham’s faith in the Lord and his love for Him were strengthened. The angel of the Lord speaks to Abraham and says: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
We should note that the fear of God, the holy fear of His judgments is wholesome part of the true love of God. This is frequently not understood by God’s people in our day. Some Christians suppose that the fear and love of God are mutually exclusive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The healthy fear and love of God, that the Holy Spirit generates in our hearts through the process of testing are prime gifts of God’s grace to us in the hour of trial.
Spiritual victory in the time of testing opens the way to additional blessings. Observe the miraculous relief God provides Abraham in his distress. Just when the patriarch was about to execute the sacrifice of his one and only son, the Lord intervened to spare Isaac’s life. God provided a substitute for sacrifice, the ram caught by its horns in a thicket. This was such a wonderful deliverance that Abraham named that place “The Lord will provide.”
Indeed, the Lord will provide to those who cling to the Christ Jesus amidst all of life’s trials. Through the many assurances of His Word, He wants you to be confident that you will be blessed beyond measure. He pledges to us who love Him, all that we need to support this body and life. He pledges to us who live Him, that through our many blessings, we will be a blessing to others. He pledges to us who love Him, He will never leave us nor forsake us…in time of feast or famine. He pledges to be the substitute to atone for our many sins so that we are redeemed by His blood.
Perhaps the best conclusion, as we discern this challenging reading of Holy Scripture this morning, is the encouragement that the Apostle Paul offers you from his epistle to the Romans , “I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:1-2). In the name of Jesus. Amen.