Because God Is For Us

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The Lord Will See To All Things
2.18.24 [Genesis 22:1-18] River of Life (1st Sunday in Lent)
Mercy, peace, and love are yours in abundance, you who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. Amen.
Open. Book. Exam. It sounds like the kind of thing that a student would dream up. To be able to have the book, with all the answers, at your fingertips throughout the exam. What more could you want?
Then you found out why your teacher had this idea. More than likely, your teacher made the exam harder because you had your book or your notes at your disposal. The exam made you explain concepts and apply them rather than regurgitate facts and data.
An open book exam can be an eye-opening experience. You thought it would be a since. Then you found out how challenging it really was.
There were things you were sure were in your book somewhere, but you couldn’t find it anywhere. The exam had questions that required you to synthesize the facts and data you had learned. An open-book exam is rarely about reciting facts and more about applying what you learned.
Genesis 22 is a kind of spiritual open-book test. We might be uncomfortable with the idea of God testing anyone. But we must remember what the Scriptures tell us. God doesn’t (James 1:13) tempt anyone. A temptation comes from someone who is rooting for you to fail and sin. A test comes from someone who knows and loves you. They want to strengthen your faith. But that doesn’t mean that one is easy and the other is challenging. Some temptations come and go and we can’t remember them five minutes later. But this test has left its mark on all who have even only heard this account about Abraham & Isaac.
God told Abraham to (Gen. 22:2) take his son, his only son, the one he loves, Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering on a mountain God would show Abraham.
Immediately, our head starts spinning. This seems cruel and unusual. Not only that, but it seems crazy that Abraham just goes along with it.
But that is what he does. He doesn’t procrastinate. (Gen. 22:3) Early the next morning Abraham is up and loading up the donkey for the journey. 100+-year-old Abraham cut the wood for the burnt offering. While he was splitting the wood, he must have been mulling over what God had called him to do and how he would explain all this to Isaac.
But as soon as everything was ready, they set out for the place God said. After three days of journeying, Abraham saw the place that God designated for Abraham to sacrifice his only and beloved son, Isaac.
At this point, he parted company with his servants. As he left them he told them: (Gen. 22:5) Stay here with the donkey, while Isaac and I go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you. You cannot help but notice he does not mention what this worship will be. You cannot help but notice that he says we will come back to you.
As they walked, just the two of them, Isaac noticed what was not there—the sacrifice. (Gen. 22:7) Where’s the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham just told Isaac: (Gen. 22:8) God will provide or see to the lamb for the burnt offering. These words would prove to be astonishingly prophetic. But Abraham didn’t know that. He was prepared to sacrifice his only son, his beloved son, his Isaac.
But how could he do that? How could he sacrifice his beloved son?
The book of Hebrews gives us an inside look at what was going through Abraham’s mind in these moments. (Heb. 11:19) Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead. Which is true. And we know that. God raised Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow at Nain. Elijah and Elisha both raised young men from the dead, as well. We know God can do that. But how did Abraham?
Most of these raising-from-the-dead happened during the life of Jesus. The other two occurred about 1000 years after Abraham’s own death. So how did Abraham know God could do this?
Well for one, Abraham knew that God created all things, including human life. If God could create life out of nothing, he could bring the dead back to life. Abraham knew that God had the power to do this—theoretically. But jumping from what God is able to do to trusting that he would do this for Isaac here seems like a leap of faith, doesn’t it? But it isn’t the leap that it seems.
And we get a hint of that in the first three words of chapter 22. It says (Gen. 22:1) Some time later, which is a very smooth rendering of four Hebrew words that literally say And it happened after these things. What difference does that make? Well it isn’t just that time has elapsed. The test is given after Abraham has seen & experienced God’s power, faithfulness, & love in his life. The test happens after God has promised to Abraham that (Gn. 12:3) all nations would be blessed through him and (Gn. 21:12) through Isaac specifically. God could not keep his promise through any other individual. With this promise in view and God’s power, faithfulness, & love as the foundation of his faith, Abraham reasoned out something that sounded unreasonable.
It’s hard not to be amazed by how Abraham does on his open-book exam. He knew the promises of God and the nature of God and he synthesized those truths together with this tough command from God. And he nailed it. Though it was difficult and heartbreaking, Abraham did sacrifice his son, Isaac. The only reason Abraham didn’t go through with it is because God intervened & stopped him.
But when we see someone pass a test like this with flying colors, we are amazed and think to ourselves I could never do that! It’s easy to stand in awe like Abraham is some super contestant on spiritual Jeopardy. If that’s all we get out of this, we would be missing out.
Because we need to be able to do this. We need to be able to (2 Cor. 5:7) walk by faith and not by sight, not by feelings, not by popular opinion, and not by our own sense of what God should do. But, much like an open-book exam, we feel confident in our abilities right up until we get handed the test. Our lives are full of tests.
How will we respond to the tests of hardship and rejection? How will we react when the world hates us and fellow Christians, the ones we thought we could rely on, let us down, and even sin against us? How will we react when our bodies break down and our loved ones die sooner than we expected? How will we navigate the test of tithing when we get hit with one unexpected expense after another? How will we handle the test of someone asking for forgiveness for the same thing for the seventeenth time? How will we handle the test of our own falls into temptation? Will we grow cynical about our own sinful natures? Will we grow tolerant of things God detests?
Unfortunately, when we find ourselves working through these tests we tend to take spiritual shortcuts. We grab for the first and easiest answer. We go with our gut, rather than God's Word. We copy off the answers of others around us. Or we just give up.
God wants us to take these tests with our books wide open. He wants us to search the Scriptures in difficult moments. But he also calls us to imprint them upon our hearts before these tests begin. Like Abraham, God wants us to trust in his power, his faithfulness, and his love more than our intuitions, our dreams, and our ideas of what should be done. And we can trust his power, faithfulness, and love. Because the test that God gave to Abraham, he took himself.
This story reaches its climactic conclusion when a voice from heaven puts a stop to the sacrifice. It’s (Gen. 22:11) the angel of the Lord. But look carefully at what he says. Open your book and study it carefully. (Gen. 22:12) Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your only son. This angel of the Lord speaks for God and as God. Strange, right?
This messenger of the Lord is the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God who would be made flesh. The one and only Son of God. Jesus intervened to spare Isaac. He provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac. And a couple thousand years later, on this mountain this Lord would provide again. This place that God showed Abraham is the very same place that would later be known as Jerusalem. There the Lord would provide his only Son, his beloved Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for all our sins. On that day, there was no intervention from above. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit took this test to demonstrate God's great love for us. His power, faithfulness, & love were on the cross.
We cling to this truth during our tests. When we face hardship, we remember to (Heb. 12:7) endure hardship as discipline, God is treating us as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father. When the world hates us, we recall that they hated God’s only Son. When fellow Christians fail us, we remember they failed Jesus too. And yet, he was abounding in love and forgiveness. When our bodies break down outwardly, we look to God to renew us day by day. When we are hard pressed, he makes sure we are not crushed. When we are struck down, he saves us. When our budget is pushed to the brink, we remember how God always provides for the birds of the air and how he took care of the widow at Zarephath. When we fall into temptation and flat on our faces, we return to the parable of the prodigal son. The father ran to greet his boy. Our Father rejoices to have sinners repent and to celebrate their return to him. You have the answers for these tests in life and so many more.
Because the Lord has provided his Son and his Word and his Spirit you and I are prepared for all the tests we will face in life. When we fail, God remains faithful. He will forgive our sins. Just as he did in the tests that Abraham failed. When we pass our tests, our faith in him is strengthened. Like Abraham and Isaac, we will be blessed by the Lord and others through us. We see that he is good to his Word. Because in the Word of the Lord, the answers will always be provided for his people. Amen.
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