"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take now 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 tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.' So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.'" Interesting way of communicating back then. Instead of just saying, "Yeah," "Here I am." "Then he said, 'Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' And Abraham said, 'My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.' And the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.' Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, 'In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.'
This is the case of Abraham's suffering by sacrifice. Those are two words that we get awfully squirmy at. Both suffering and sacrifice are words, are things we don't like to deal with. "Who, me? Suffer? You mean I'm going to have a hard time as a Christian?" In fact we have even, some of us, invented a theology that would help us to not deal with suffering saying, "Well it's not God's will that a Christian should suffer. It's not god's will that a Christian should go through pain. It is not God's will that a Christian should have any disease." And so we conveniently push away suffering and sacrifice out of the way, so that we don't deal with it. However, the Bible centers around sacrifice and suffering. We worship One who sacrificed everything and who suffered immensely. Love is tested by sacrifice. Love is not tested by feelings. "Oh, I love her right now. I feel so good." That doesn't really prove a thing. Love is not tested by words, saying, "I love you, I adore you." Love is not tested by flowers. It's a good added plus but, it's not tested by it. Love is tested by what we are prepared to do. And more directly, in this case, what we are prepared to lose. What we are prepared to give up. That is why we make covenants when we love a person, right? When we love somebody, when we come together in marriage with another person, we make a covenant. We just do not say, "I will love you until feelings do us part," but, "until death do us part. I am making a covenant with you. I will be your marriage partner based on this covenant, this commitment, I will always be with you. I will always shower my love upon you." And that's how we should love God, based on covenant, not on how we feel. Jesus said, "If you're going to follow me, count the cost. Let's make a covenant." God loves us based on a covenant. God doesn't love us based on how we perform, or we'd be out the window a long time ago. He loves us based on the promise that He made to always love us. And in a sense, God's love is tested for the Bible says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life." If you love anyone for very long, you will be tested in that love. Whether it is a husband, a wife, a child, a friend, or the Lord, if you love a person for very long, you will be tested by fire. And when that testing comes, it brings a question with it. When you're going through the fire of your love being tested, the question is: How great is your love? What are you willing to lose for that love relationship that you have? That was Abraham's test. And notice the first verse, what it is called. "It came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham." Now that's exactly what it was. It was a test by God. It was not a temptation by the devil. It was a test by God. The Hebrew word here for test is a word called nasah, which means "to prove the quality or the worth of something; to refine some object or some person" especially through hardship and adversity. The prove the quality of something by hardship and adversity, that's what it means to test. And folks, this is one of the reasons, excuse me, this is one of the ways that we can distinguish between temptation and trials. Temptations are sent by the devil to cause us to fall, to cause us to trip, to cause us to sin, to bring out evil. God sends testings to prove us, to bring out good. Have you ever thought of that, that when you are going through a trial that it is God's vote of confidence in you? Because God won't allow you to be tested above what you are able to endure. And you're going through a trial thinking, "This is tough, this is the hardest trial I've ever been through." That's God's vote of confidence in you.
He has custom fit, given you a designer trial just for you to enhance, to prove your worth, your value. In one of the largest diamond mines in Africa, it was said that the largest diamond was found and sent once to the King of England for his crown or for his state. Huge stone. The King of England decided that he would send it over to the best lapidary, craftsman of jewels, in Amsterdam. And you know what that lapidary did in Amsterdam once he got the jewel, once he got that diamond? He took an instrument, like a hammer, cut a notch in the top of it, and just smashed that gem and it broke in two. Now was that a careless blow? Was that because of his carelessness, his lack of skill? No way, on the contrary. The blow of the hammer upon that gem was one that was carefully planned for days and for weeks. In fact, elaborate drawings were made of that gem. Even a model was made. It was studied to find its defects, its value, the lines of cleavage within the stone. And once it was studied, that expert craftsman struck a hard blow, so that the diamond would fall perfectly in two and two beautiful large gems were formed out of the one. There are times when God comes and tests us, and they are like hard blows, but they are skillful blows, because God's a craftsman and He knows what it takes to shape and to form beautiful gems out of our lives. Listen to what the Scripture says in peter, 1 Peter Chapter 1. He says, "In this you greatly rejoice," listen to the language, "though now for a little while if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Now I got to admit, it's sometimes hard to differentiate between a temptation and a trial. And it's true that sometimes they're both intermingled, like in the case with Job and his sufferings. On one hand, you got the devil trying to cause him to sin to abandon the Lord. On the other hand, you have God working out His purpose, accomplishing His purpose in Job's life, refining Job, sending or allowing that testing to refine him. The enemy's tempting him, God's using it to refine or to test. Or Joseph. The enemy, the devil used Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery, but God was behind the scenes accomplishing His purpose in the life of Joseph so that Joseph, when his brothers finally came to him, Joseph said, "As for you, you meant this for evil against me, but at the same time God meant it for good that many people might be saved." God tested Abraham to refine him.
Next, I want you to notice that it came after a time of preparation. Look at the first verse, the first phrase, "Now it came to pass after these things," that might not mean much but that little phrase according to most scholars means a great deal. There was probably a twenty year gap between Chapter 21 and Chapter 22. We leave of in Chapter 21 with Abraham living in a tent in the southern part of Israel, Beersheba with Isaac. He builds an altar to the Lord and he worships the Lord. But it was a twenty year gap between Chapter 21 and the first verse of Chapter 22. Now remember way back in Chapter 21 we read last week that when Isaac was weaned, he was about three years old? Abraham had a party, a feast. Probably toasted to the fact that God had fulfilled his promise and here is Isaac, the son of promise before them. And you remember, there was a hassle with Ishmael, a problem arose. Ishmael was jealous. However, Abraham handled this trial beautifully, not like the first time when there was a problem with Sarah and Hagar. The first time he just kind of stepped back, bowed out, refused to take leadership of his home and said, "Sarah, just do whatever you want." This time he prayed first. God spoke to him. And he took the leadership, he made the decision. And after that episode was a several year period of rest and preparation, where he just hung out. There was tranquility, there was peace. He had grown in his relationship with God. He had come to trust God fully. He had come into a place of peace with God, peace with his family. His family was in order. He was at peace with his neighbors around him. They had made covenants together. And then Isaac came. Isaac came and Isaac was the prized relationship of this old man, Abraham. And I'm sure his focus of attention was now on this new kid at home, Isaac. They probably took long walks together and Abraham said, "Son, let me tell you how, how you came into being. Now first of all, I don't know if you know this or not, son, but it's impossible for guys like me to have kids like you. I'm just too old. But God made a promise a long time ago that I and your mom Sarah would have a baby. And that baby would come and bless through his descendants all the nations of the earth. That's you. God is so faithful, Isaac, to his promise. And these last few years, Isaac, have been such a joy for me to have you in my life as I can see God's faithfulness to his promise." Little did Abraham know that he, during that time of tranquility and rest and spiritual growth, was being prepared in that time for the greatest, most severe trial that he had ever experienced. That's why he says in verse 2, "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 the mountains of which I shall tell you."
There's an old Yiddish proverb that says, "God gives burdens but He also gives shoulders." In other words, God prepares you for what He's gonna lay on ya. He knows what you can handle. And it seems that God takes us through learning periods, rest periods, periods of spiritual growth, so that we're ready, so that when the trial comes, we can pass it. You see, God isn't coming up behind His children on their blind side saying, "Boo! Got you when you're weak." Because He doesn't want us to fall. Satan wants us to fall. God gives us a test so that we'll pass it. So He makes sure that there's a rest period, a time of tranquility, a time of growth, where we've grown in the promises of God, then He sends the testing, so that we will pass, so that we will come through with flying colors. Now Satan comes and finds our weak spot, and he gets us when we're weak, when we're dog tired, when we're not looking, when our defenses are down, then he comes and tests us. God strengthens us first, so that we'll pass the test. And by the way, the trials that are sent your way will either break your back or bend your knee. They will either cause you to bend your knee in humility and say "Lord, give me the strength to make it. I still trust you Lord, even though I'm looking face-to-face with adversity." Or, they'll break your back, you'll do it in your own strength, you'll run away and you'll say, "Well if that's the way God's gonna treat me, then I quit." There's many Christians who've said that. "If God's gonna allow this, then forget Him." Abraham didn't do that. He passed the test. He was prepared after this period of refreshment.
As you can probably guess, God, when He sent this testing, touched the most sensitive spot in Abraham's life. The most emotionally sensitive nerve that could possibly be touched by God was his only son, Isaac, the son of promise. Again, notice verse 2 and how God phrases it, "Take now your son, your only son, Isaac." Even though he had Ishmael, Isaac was the son of promise. "Your only son Isaac, whom you love. Go to the land of Moriah, offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you." Couldn't have been more, more sensitive a trial. And yet we're told specifically that this was a test, which mean that God sent this to determine something. God sent this test to determine something. What was it that God wanted to determine? Well, you notice the language in that verse, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love." God was tested Abraham's love for Him. "Now Abraham, you love your son. I'm gonna test your love to see if you love your son more or if you love Me more." Now there's no doubt that Abraham loved God. Abraham proved that. He left his home, Ur of the Chaldeas, when God said, "Leave your home." Abraham proved that he listened and loved God. He wandered in the land for years. That was proof that he loved God. He sent Ishmael away at the command of God, even though it was very difficult. He proved he loved God. When Isaac came around, though, a new love developed. Quite natural, normal, good for him to love this son of promise, Isaac. And now God is testing Abraham to see if he loves the Lord with all of his heart, all of his mind, all of his soul, all of his strength. And you know, I bet if one of us were to go to Abraham that day and say, "Okay, Abraham, who do you love more, God or Isaac?" I bet that'd be a tough question for him to answer. I don't think he could right off the bat say, "Oh, God." He'd say, "Well, haha, it's funny you ask. God's testing me on that same issue."
What is our Isaac? What has our affection, our attentions? What is our master passion in life? We would glibly, quickly perhaps say, "God." But really, what is it? What has our time, our energy, our focus? Is it a relationship, is it a position? What is the one thing we are centering the building of our life upon, building a foundation upon, our security blanket? Whatever it is, don't be surprised if God comes along and tests you in that area, pokes that sensitive nerve and says, "Do you love me more than these?" Like Jesus said to the rich, young ruler, "One thing you lack. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor and follow me." And the man went away sorrowful because he was so rich. And although he said, "I love God. I'm committed to God," there was something that stood in the way between him and full commitment and that was his finances. It might not be that with us, but whatever it is, whatever is our master passion, our Isaac, God will come and test us in that area and it won't be an easy test, folks, it'd be very difficult. And perhaps if someone were to come and ask us, or if the Holy Spirit were to come in the sanctity of our own hearts and say, "Who do you love more: your husband or the Lord? Your wife or the Lord?" Now for some of us, that might be very easy to answer. For others of us, it would be very difficult to answer. "Who do you love more: your son, your daughter, or the Lord?" Or to a single person; what about that relationship you have with that guy or that gal? Do you love that person more than the Lord? When we are tested in these areas, we realize all of a sudden during the test how great our love for God is or is not and we might be surprised. We might step back and go, "I didn't love the Lord as much as I thought I did. This test really brings this out." We'll see how important that love, that thing is. Remember, we are tested, not by how we feel but what we are prepared to do and not so much what we're prepared to give but what we're prepared to give up. Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew Chapter 10, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me and he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose. He who loses his life, for My sake, will find it." You see God wants no rival love that would stand in the way between you and He. He wants total, absolute love; nothing rivaling that love. Remember what Jesus said to the Ephesus church? "This I have against you. You're a hard-working church but you've left your first love, Me.
Billy Graham tells a story how that when he was single, he was engaged to a gal who was not his present wife, and he wanted to go into the ministry. The gal that he was dating at that time said, "I don't want to go into the ministry. I'm not cut out for that kind of a life." And Billy was torn between this love and the love to serve the Lord in the ministry. And God spoke to his heart and said, "Billy, make the right choice. I'll cover ya. And so Billy Graham graciously dumped the gal (laughter), his Isaac, and went to follow the Lord and God blessed him with Ruth, his present wife, a jewel beyond jewels in his eyes. See, we have Isaacs, perhaps people like that in, in our own life. A young man came up to me a couple years ago. We talked and he said, "You know, I'm on the verge of giving my life to Jesus Christ and yet I know that if I do, that my parents will forsake me because, although they are very religious, they are making me follow the Lord in their strict, religious system and if I follow the Lord and really become born again, it's gonna create such tension between us. What would God have me do? Surely, God doesn't want that strained relationship." And I read him the Scripture I just read you in Matthew. Right before that Jesus said, "Don’t think I came to bring peace on earth. I came to bring not peace, but a sword. From this day forward a man will be divided against his father, his mother, mother-in-law," and a man's enemies could be those of his own household. Before I was married, my wife and I sat in the den of her parent's house in California. You know when you ask a girl to get married, afterwards all the commitment and responsibility hits you like a hammer. And, uh, I asked her to marry me and I was hoping she'd say yes and she finally did and once I realized that she said yes I stood up from chair and I said, "Now wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is a huge commitment. We got to talk about this (laughter)." And she thought, "What a flake." Now we got to talking and she said something to me I'll never forget. She said, "Look, Skip, I love you with all of my heart and I'm prepared to marry you. However, if I am not God's best and highest for your life, I don't wanna marry you. That's how much I love you. I love you enough to give you up if God doesn't want me as the highest and best for you. I release you to the Lord." I thought, "Wow. Let's go for it." (Laughter)
What is that Isaac in your life? Perhaps it's a place. Sure, it could be. Before I came to Albuquerque, part of one of my Isaacs was where I lived in Huntington Beach, California. I'd go out to the beach every night and I'd walk along and the seagulls would fly and the waves would crash and I'd think, "Lord, if I ever have to give this up, it's going to be tough. (Laughter) Just use me right here. Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee (laughter)." God said, "Go." And in going, God gave back more of a blessing that I could ever imagine like God did with Abraham and Isaac. Uh, please, let's go on. And notice something else, the reasoning that Abraham used in an unreasonable situation. We are not told emotionally how this affected Abraham but we don't need to be told. We can guess that he probably spent that whole night in agony questioning the commandment of God. It was more than he just loved Isaac, his son. Isaac was the son of promise. "What do you mean kill him, God? What are you talking about? What about all the promises that, through Isaac, my descendants would be as the stars of heaven, the sand of the seashore? What about all those promises. Lord, this is illogical. It doesn't make sense." Have you ever been there at that place? Something occurs to you and you look at it and you think, "How could this be happening to me? Why would God ever want or allow this thing in my life? This seems so illogical." And yet, verse 3 tells us, "So Abraham rose early in the morning," the very next morning, he acted with prompt obedience, saddled his donkey, took two of his young men with him, Isaac his son, split the wood for the burnt offering, arose and went to the place of which God told him. "On the third day, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.'" We read the rest of this story. He takes Isaac, puts him on the altar, takes a knife, raises it and the Angel of the Lord stops him, says, "Don't do it. I've got Plan B. There's a lamb over in the thicket. Go kill it. That will be the burnt offering." Notice something back in verse 5 that we skipped over, most people do. "Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we," notice that. Not I, we, "will come back to you.'" You see, the problem was already solved in Abraham's mind when he set out for Mount Moriah. "Now, don't worry, we will come back, the lad and I." Somewhere during that night, tossing and turning on his bed, thinking, "Why would God give me a command like this?" he reasoned against the unreasonable. He thought, "Now, wait a minute. God tells me you're gonna have a kid, here's the kid, the son of promise, he's gonna live, have a family, and through his family, the world will be blessed. Now, on the other hand, there's a commandment of God to kill him." How did Abraham reconcile those two in his mind? By this reasoning- He had to conclude one of two things: either that number one, God is very erratic and cannot be trusted. But that couldn't be the truth because it didn’t gel with Abraham's experience with God in the past. God's been so faithful. Number two, Abraham concluded that God was trustworthy, and so Abraham acted according or consistent with his knowledge of God. "This is what I know of God. God's my friend and He wants my best. God is not my enemy. Everything God has said He'd do, He's done. He's proved Himself. Now, I can't figure out this commandment and why God would tell me to, but based on the past, for me to act consistent with God's character, I'll go do it." But what was it exactly that Abraham believed in and reasoned through it so that he could say, "Great, early the next morning get up, take my kid, and we will return." Keep your finger there for just a moment and flip over to Hebrews, Chapter 11. We have a commentary on this event specifically. Hebrews, Chapter 11, verse 17, "By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,'" and here it is, "accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead, from which he also received him," in a figurative sense. The word accounting there is a mathematical term for, "logical, mathematical calculations." Abraham reasoned this way: "God isn't a liar, He can be trusted. He told me that I'd have a kid. I had a kid when I'm 100 years old. If God can make old people that old have a kid, He can raise the dead. That's not tough, that's consistent with God's character. So I'm gonna go and I'm gonna sacrifice my son. And even if I do sacrifice him, I know that God can raise the dead." He reasoned against the unreasonable. And there's a secret, folks, found in how he could do that and that's also found in Genesis 22. It says in verse 5, "The lad and I will go yonder and worship." Mark that. He saw his sacrifice, his suffering as an act of worship. He didn't confess it away, he said, "I will worship the Lord in my pain. I will take my son and offer him up as a sacrifice of worship unto God." He was preoccupied with God, not the trial. That's the secret in getting through your trial- be preoccupied with God. Gaze at God, glance at the situation. Abraham did.
Before we close this up, I can't resist the obvious lesson that is underlying this whole story. There is on one hand an example of a man sacrificing his son, a sacrifice of love. On the other hand there is a foreshadowing of someone greater sacrificing His only begotten Son. At his moment, Abraham entered into the deepest type of fellowship anybody can enter into with God. It's called the fellowship of suffering. God appeared seven times to Abraham, it is recorded, in his lifetime. Each time, God dealt with different areas of his life and Abraham had fellowship with God in different arenas of his life. But this is the deepest possible fellowship- to fellowship and share in the sufferings of God. Remember what Paul says in Philippians 3? "That I might know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings." There was a young Jewish student who asked the rabbi, "Rabbi, why does the Scripture say that we should take the word of God, the commandments of God and place them on our hearts? Why does not it say that we should place them within, inside of our hearts?" And the wise old rabbi said, "Because it is not within human power to place God's divine teaching directly in the heart. We can only place them on the surface of the heart so that when our heart breaks, they will drop in." Abraham did just that. It was the fellowship of God's suffering.
And Abraham raised that blade and it shown in the sun and he was about to bring it down like the high-point of a movie, and God stopped him. And that act foreshadowed something that would occur a couple thousand years later on the same mountain called Calvary. There are incredible parallels here. First of all the word love. "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love." And by the way, the very first time in the Bible the word love is used, it is in this chapter. And isn't it interesting that the first time love is used, it is used of a father loving his son and offering him up as a sacrifice? Not only that, but the mountain. Mount Moriah. "Take your son to Mount Moriah, Abraham." That was the very mountain years later that David perches, that Solomon built the temple upon, where Jewish worship went on, and if you take that mountain to its pinnacle outside the city wall of Jerusalem to its peak, you come to a place called Golgotha; Calvary. And Abraham asked the crucial question, "Where is the lamb?" And Abraham spoke, not only locally, but prophetically, "God will provide for Himself the lamb. In the mountain of the Lord it shall be seen." 2,000 years later on the same, very same mountain, the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world was offered up in sacrifice. Not only that, but did you notice that the journey took three days? And that's what the writer of Hebrews mentions, that he was raised back in a figurative sense because Isaac, his son, was dead to him for three days. On the third day was the day that God stopped the sacrifice from occurring. Isaac was dead for three days in the mind of his father Abraham; resurrection occurred the third. There are many other parallels. Isaac isn't even mentioned. You don't even hear his name mentioned again until an incredible event when Abraham's servant, Eliezer, which means "the comforter" has gone into a far country to fetch a Gentile bride for his son and they are united in marriage. Like the Holy Spirit who goes out and fetches the church and brings them together. Beautiful analogies. The sacrifice of love.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life." What an incredible sacrifice for Abraham to make and yet, picture it, God loved sinners so that He sent His son and was willing to sacrifice and suffer for it. Would you bow your heads with me and pray?
Heavenly Father we pray, Lord, that you would strengthen us at the times that you call us to sacrifice, knowing that our hearts can be ripped up but that we would act consistent with what we know about You. And heavenly Father, as we see the thumbprint of Your Holy Spirit here in the Scripture of a father loving his only begotten son, giving him up in sacrifice, that our hearts would be touched this morning, especially those who are holding on to their own mortal lives and have not given them up that they might serve You. I pray, Lord, that many in this room right now would surrender to the work of your Holy Spirit in their lives. That they will surrender who they are, they will lose their life that they might find it. That they will sacrifice all, knowing that in that sacrifice, comes the most incredible resurrection of life, eternally and abundantly.