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The Sacrifice

There is a song that we sometimes sing in at our kids clubs called “Father Abraham”. If you’ve been a camp kid or if you grew up in the church, chances are good that you’ve heard it before. But if not, it goes like this: “Father Abraham had many sons – many sons had Father Abraham. And I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.”

And then there are some ridiculous actions that go along with that have nothing to do with song – but the kids love it – and believe it or not, the theology of the song is actually pretty accurate.

According to Paul in Romans 4:16…

“For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” Romans 4:16

Of course, Abraham is not likely your biological ancestor unless you happen to be Jewish, but Paul says Abraham is our father in a spiritual sense. If we have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ – then Abraham is our Father. We are one of his many sons and daughters – because he is the father of all who believe.

And if you’ve been tracking along with us for these past couple months, I think it’s probably becoming clear why Paul would say that Abraham is the father of all who believe. We’ve spent the last several weeks looking at the life of Abraham – learn from Him as He learned to walk with God.

Today, we are wrapping up that series, but it has been incredible to see the amount of faith Abraham had in God. It’s no wonder we call him the Father of our faith. We read a bit of a summary of Abraham’s life last week from Romans 4:18 – which really emphasized Abraham’s faith in God. It said:

18 Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” 19 And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.

20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. 22 And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous.

Romans 4:18-22

After a lifetime of learning to walk with God, Abraham had become convinced that God was able to do whatever he promised – even if those promises seemed impossible. Of course, Abraham wasn’t perfect – I don’t want to paint that kind of a picture of him. He had his fair share of failures along the way as we’ve noted in this series. But that’s part of the package of learning to walk with God. When our faith falters – God still remains faithful. Our failures can actually strengthen our faith – because it’s in those times that we see just how faithful and good God is.

And so through his failures, and through 25 long years of waiting for God to fulfill his promises, Abraham had grown in his faith so much that He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.

And it’s a good thing that He had that kind of faith too – because as we look at our passage today, we’re going to see that he needed it.

As I mentioned earlier, today we are concluding our series on Abraham’s life and we wrapping it all up in Genesis chapter 22. This is the climax of Abraham’s story – the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith.

So let’s begin at Genesis chapter 22, verse 1.

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

Genesis 22:1-2

Now this must have been a total shock and absolutely devastating for Abraham. I mean, it’s pretty shocking for us too! This seems totally out of character for God. When most people read this passage, they have a really hard time accepting the fact that God would command Abraham to sacrifice his son. We just have a natural repulsion at the idea that a good God would ask someone to kill their own child. That just doesn’t compute.

So to help us wrap out heads around what’s going on here, let me start by pointing out what God is not doing.

It’s important to note that God is not asking Abraham to sin by killing his son. Verse 1 tells us that God is testing Abraham – not tempting him. There is a difference.

Temptation is enticing someone to sin – and God will never do that. James makes that pretty clear in James 1:13, which says..

13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. James 1:12-15

So that’s temptation. Testing however, is the things in life, either the things that God causes or that God simply allows, that give us opportunity to do right and to trust in God – which results in the strengthening our faith.

1 Peter 1:6-7 says….

6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Paul writes something very similar in Romans 5:3-4

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Romans 5:3-4

In other words, the trials and the testing we endure – while they can be very difficult and even painful – are actually a benefit to us. We can rejoice in them, because they strengthen and purify our faith – they increase our confidence and our trust in God and his salvation.

So that’s a significant part of what God is doing here with Abraham – he is testing Abraham – giving him opportunity to do what is right and to trust God (even when that seems very difficult and potentially very painful). But God is certainly not doing this to try to trip up or to hurt Abraham – God is doing this to strengthen Abraham’s faith and to accomplish God’s good purposes (which we will talk about more a little later on.)

But the question remains: Why would God test Abraham by commanding him to do something that seems so obviously wrong. Child sacrifice is pointed out in other parts of the Scripture to be a detestable sin, and we are quite rightly horrified at the thought of it – so why would God ask Abraham to do such a thing? We just read that God doesn’t tempt anyone to sin, but wouldn’t sacrificing Isaac be a sin? 

Well, we do need to remember that God has every right to take a human life. As our Creator He has the authority to give life and He has the authority to take life – and for Him to do so (or command so) is not wrong.  We, however, do not have that right. The Bible makes that very clear and Exodus 20:13 is perhaps the prime example of that. As part of the ten commandments, God instructions the Israelites:

13 “You must not murder.” Exodus 20:13

We do not have the right to take the life from anyone. The decision of choosing someone’s life or death was never given to us. That’s reserved for God. The only time when we can take a life without sinning is when God has commanded us to. Let me give you a quick example of this… in the same passage as the ten commandments, just a little further along, God says to the Israelites in Exodus 21:12…

12 “Anyone who assaults and kills another person must be put to death.” Exodus 21:12

So in this example, carrying out the death penalty – in this case for this person who assaults and kills someone – is not sin. It’s a sin when we decide to take a life. But in this example, God is the one who made the decision to take the life of someone who assaults and kills someone. Human authorities might carry out the action, but it was God who ultimately made that decision and commanded them to carry it out.  Therefore, those Israelite authorities who would put a murderer to death were not sinning – they were obeying the command of God.

To come back to our story, Abraham would not be sinning to carry out God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Now for Abraham just to decide one day to sacrifice his son – that would be very wrong – that’s not his decision to make. But for God to command Abraham to sacrifice his son, God has every right to do that – and in that case, Abraham would then be sinning if he did not sacrifice his son. He would be disobeying a direct command from God.

But that still doesn’t fully answer our question: Even though we’ve established that God would not be wrong to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and that Abraham would not be wrong to obey God’s command, it still seems very uncharacteristic of God to command such a thing! Isaac was not a murderer and had done nothing more than anyone else to deserve death. So why would God command such a thing horrendous thing? Wasn’t there any better way to test Abraham’s faith than to ask him to sacrifice his son?

Well, certainly, there may have been – if the only thing God was doing was testing his faith. I’m sure God could have thought of another way to do that. But I don’t believe that was the only thing God was accomplishing here. There is more going on here than just a simple test of faith. And I don’t want to spoil the ending, but we’re going to come back to this in a bit – so for now hold on to your questions and I think by the end we should have a clearer picture.

But before we get totally lost on this rabbit trail, let’s get back to our story. We’ll continue reading at verse 3.

3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. Genesis 22:3

Now this is incredible. Can you imagine how hard that must have been for Abraham? I mean, this would be incredibly hard for any father – but it would all the more compounded when you consider that Isaac was the realization of all of God’s promises to Abraham. To lose Isaac meant to lose everything that God had promised Him. Isaac very much was all that Abraham had ever wanted. He had been longing for a son for decades – nearly 100 years – before God gave him Issac.

And what amazes me is that now that God had asked him to make a choice – in essence a choice between his relationship wth God and his relationship with his son – Abraham chose God.

He chose to be obedience to God’s command and simply trusted that somehow, God knew what He was doing.

Man! Do we have that kind of trust in God? If we were faced with a choice like that, would we choose God? I’d like to say yes, but my personal track record would probably say otherwise. Far too often, I chosen not to obey God over things much less important than the life of my children. 

There have been times when I’ve chosen the admiration of people over the admiration of God. There have been times when I’ve chosen the pleasures of life over than the pleasure of a right relationship with God. There have been times when I’ve chosen material possessions over eternal rewards.

So I really have to wonder – if I was in Abraham’s position – what choice I would make?

Personally, I find Abraham’s faith to be rather convicting. If he can trust God in a situation like that – why can’t I trust God in all these other minor issues of life?

Well, the encouraging part is that that kind of faith is certainly possible – even for you and I. We’ve mentioned several times in this series that God really is 100% trustworthy. He is always good and He always keeps His word. And it seems from Abraham’s example, the more we trust Him, the more we will be convinced that we can trust him.

In other words, the more we exercise our faith, the stronger it becomes. 

Remember, by this point in our story, Abraham already had a lifetime of learning to trust God. And as Abraham exercised his faith over the years, God proved Himself over and over and over again – until Abraham’s faith was so strong that he could trust God even to the point of sacrificing his son if God so asked. It’s like we read in Romans 4 earlier…

20 Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. Romans 4:20-21

And so I would encourage each of us to start with a little step of faith. Trust God in some little thing and see if God proves Himself to be trustworthy. And when He does, trust him in something else – maybe something a little more significant this time. The more we trust God, the more God will prove Himself to be trustworthy. When we exercise our faith, the stronger it becomes.

It’s like those team-building trust falls. Have you guys ever done those? Someone stands on a chair or table and their team gathers around them and the idea is that you just fall backwards – trusting that your team will catch you. Now if you’ve never done that before, I tell you, it is super scarry. It’s is super hard to trust that those guys on your team are actually going to catch you. There’s those lingering doubts – what if someone is distracted? What if someone thinks it’ll be funny to drop me on my head? And certainly, depending on your team, those may be some very legitimate fears. But if you can make it through the first fall and see that – hey, they actually did catch you – it’s way easier the second time because you know they done it before. They were trustworthy the first time. Maybe you can trust them a second time. When we exercise our faith, the stronger it becomes.

That’s why Abraham, after years of exercising his faith, was able to obey God – even in this difficult request. He totally trusted God because God had proven himself over and over again. So he loaded up the donkey, gathered some wood, and began the journey to the land of Moriah to sacrifice his son. verse 4

 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Genesis 22:4-8

It’s interesting to see how Abraham’s trust in God comes out in the things he says. Notice first of all in verse 5, 

“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” Genesis 22:5

That doesn’t sound like Abraham is expecting to come back to his servants alone. He says “we” – Isaac and Himself – would come right back. Is he just saying that, or does he really believe that’s what going to happen?

Then when Isaac inquires about the sheep for the offering, how does Abraham reply? 

8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Genesis 22:8

Even though Abraham is fully prepared to sacrifice his son (and we’re going to see that in just a minute) – it seems he is also fully trusting that God is going to do something. I don’t think he knew exactly what God was going to do – but it seems He knew God was going to do something. We actually get a hint of Abraham’s thoughts in Hebrews 11:17-19.

17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. Hebrews 11:19

That’s pretty incredible – that Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. As far as we know, God had never done anything like that up to this point in history. The Bible does not record anyone rising from the dead until long after the time of Abraham. But yet, Abraham knew the power of God. He knew that God could bring life to the dead. And so we read in verse 9…

9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 

15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

Genesis 22:9-18

We talked earlier about the testing that God brings or allows in our lives – and how, even though they can be very difficult to go through, they strengthen our faith and give us increased confidence in God and his salvation.

Do you think that happened with Abraham? Absolutely! If Abraham’s faith was strong before this, can you imagine the trust He had in God after this? No wonder Paul says that Abraham is the father of all who believe! What an example!

But you know, I don’t think this testing was only for Abraham’s sake. This event, recorded in the Bible, was very much for our sake too – for a couple of reasons.

#1. I think we can certainly learn from the faith of Abraham – as we’ve noted already. Abraham is a great example of someone exercising their faith – putting actions to what they believe. And I think we should certainly be challenged to act on our faith as well. Faith that isn’t exercised isn’t really faith at all. Faith isn’t just head-knowledge – knowing that God is good or that God is able or that God is trustworthy. Faith is actually taking action on that knowledge. It’s doing something because we know that God is good and able and trustworthy.

So maybe there’s something that you need to be doing in faith? Maybe God’s asking you to give up something or to go somewhere or to talk to someone or to make a certain choice. And maybe what He’s asking you to do is super hard. It’s scary and full of unknowns. But if you believe that God is good and that God is able and that God is trustworthy, then I would challenge you to exercise your faith. Act on what you believe.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 10:11

When you exercise your faith, your faith will only grow stronger.

The second reason I think this event is recorded in the Scriptures for us is because this story is a key foreshadowing of Jesus and God’s plan of salvation.

The big question at the beginning of this story was why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? It seemed cruel and harsh and completely unfair. So why would God do that?

Well, not only did it test and strengthen Abraham’s faith, but God was laying the groundwork – showing the way that He would one day provide salvation to everyone. He was showing exactly how one of Abraham’s descendants, Jesus Christ, would one day be a blessing to every family on earth – as God had promised when he first spoke to Abraham 25 years earlier.

There are so many similar elements between this story and what Jesus did for us on the cross. You’ve probably already noted several similarities. Just to give you a few examples, in both stories we see….

    • The element of a Father giving up their dearly loved, one and only son as a sacrifice.
    • The element of a firm belief that God can raised the dead to life again.
    • The element of a substitute, where someone is spared from death because another took their place.

All of those are key components in both stories. And even the name that Abraham gives that place on the mountain – Yahweh-Yireh – is perhaps the final parallel. Look again at verse 14.

14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” Genesis 22:14

Abraham didn’t realize it at the time, but Mount Moriah, where he was, would eventually become the site for the city of Jerusalem. The temple was actually built right on top of that mountain. And just as God provided a ram to take the place of Isaac on the altar on that mountain, in a very similar way, God again provided on the mountain of the Lord, a Lamb. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, would take our place on the cross, and he would die so that we could live. 

The whole story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac is an early glimpse of God’s great plan of salvation.

This morning we want to share communion together – and this is exactly what we remember and celebrate every time we do. We remember that “On the mountain of the Lord, it was provided.” God provided a substitute for us. Even though we had sinned and we deserved to die – God had every right to demand our lives, Jesus took our place on that cross. He took our sins upon Himself and allowed his body to be beaten and hung on a cross – He allowed his blood to be spilled so that we could live.

And of course, we also celebrate that not only did Jesus die for us – but he also rose to life again. Abraham was not wrong to believe that God could raise the dead to life, because that’s exactly what Jesus did. Jesus paid the penalty for sin and in doing so, defeated the power of death and came to life again – giving us the opportunity to share in that eternal life by simply trusting in Jesus.

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