In the book of Genesis, we see the story of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was 100, Sarah was 90, when God gave them a son named Isaac. But then, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. What parallels can we draw between Isaac and Jesus? That's our topic for this week.
This message is based on Genesis 22:1-14.
This week is the fourth week in our series titled Better. In the first week we saw the followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. He kind of played dumb with them, they didn’t recognize Him, so He walked along listening to their conversation until finally, starting with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself. And we saw that we Jesus is in the Old Testament Scriptures, and we can learn about Him from Moses and the prophets.
Then we looked at the story of Adam, Adam was tempted, and he gave in to that temptation. And because of that, Sin entered the world. We are all born into that Sin, we all have a sinful nature. Then Jesus came along, and was tempted just like we are, in every way we are, but Jesus didn’t give in to that temptation, Jesus never sinned. And because of Jesus’ obedience, we all have the opportunity to be made right with God, through faith in Jesus. Just as the sin of the one man Adam caused death to all, the obedience of the one man Jesus gives life to all.
Last week we saw the story of Hosea, and we saw a beautiful redemption story of how Hosea redeemed his sinful wife, and we saw several parallels to the story of God’s redemption in Jesus. God, in a sense, bought us all back from bondage to sin. But it wasn’t for just six ounces of silver – it cost His only Son. But in Christ, we can have the life God intended us to live.
This week we look to a story that’s a probably a lot better known than the story of Hosea and Gomer. If you remember last week we talked about God asking prophets to do things that seemed really bizarre. We heard about Ezekiel being told to lie down on his left side for 390 days, then to lie on his right side for 40 days – all this time only eating food prepared on burning cow dung. Pretty bizarre, right? Then we heard about Hosea being asked to marry a prostitute, opening himself to all kinds of public ridicule when she leaves him, and she was bound to leave him. That was somewhat bizarre, too.
This week we see another strange story, this one involving Abraham and his wife Sarah. In Genesis 17, we see God restating His covenant with Abraham. Let’s look at verses 1-2, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’”
Skipping down to verse 17, “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’” So at this point, in chapter 17, we know a couple of things about Abraham and Sarah. Abraham is 99, Sarah is 89, they have no children, but God promised to greatly increase their numbers. And we know that at this point their numbers are only 2 – pretty small numbers.
In the next chapter, chapter 18, we have the visit by three strangers. They stop by, Abraham prepares a meal, they stay and enjoy some fellowship, and then we see verse 10, “Then the Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’” In these visitors we seem to have a sort of pre-cursor to Christ, a type of Christ. It’s like one of them is God in flesh. And Abraham recognizes Him immediately. And maybe just as important, we see the restating of the promise, a promise that’s been made several times already, but this time it has a time-table attached to it. They will have a son by this time next year!
The son is born in Chapter 21, and he is named Isaac, which means he laughs, and in verse 6, Sarah says, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” So God has brought laughter into the home again. And we know that every time God promised the birth, Abraham and Sarah laughed to themselves, not really believing that God would bring a baby to man of 100, and to a woman of 90. This story is a great reminder that God always keeps his promises, and that while I trust His timing is perfect, it isn’t necessarily our timing, is it. I think that most of the time we’d like to see things happen a little sooner. But anyway, this was some of the background to our reading this morning.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of Abraham and Sarah’s story is what we read about in our passage today. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. A son that had been promised for years and years, decades, and a son he didn’t have until he was 100, so it’s not likely he’d have another opportunity. But when asked to make the sacrifice, Abraham didn’t hesitate. I want look at a couple interesting things from our reading, then I’ll bring up a few points from there.
1. God’s Test. First of all, we’re told right up front that this is a test. Verse 1 says, “Some time later God tested Abraham.” So we know this was a test. But remember, Abraham didn’t know this was a test. Isaac didn’t know this was a test. In fact, poor Isaac didn’t know anything that was going to happen until his father bound his feet and wrists. This was very real for Abraham, and certainly for Isaac.
Now remember, God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, and Abraham trusted that the promise would be fulfilled. He’s already seen the birth of a son at a very old age, he had no reason to doubt the rest. God wanted to make sure that Abraham still loved God. That God was still the priority in his life. So God tested him.
Something for you keep in mind here, sometimes when things go bad and troubles come, sometimes God is allowing them to test us and make sure we still love Him. Be very careful when you face troubles, when things get hard. Make sure your response indicates complete trust in God, even though it might not make sense. Because it might be a test, and there might a huge blessing waiting for you on the other side of that test. Which brings me to the second point…
2. God’s Knowledge. This is confusing. How much does God know? I know the Sunday School answer is that God knows everything. And to some extent we believe that, or at least we really want to believe that. Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary on Genesis, says that this is not a game with God, God genuinely doesn’t know what Abraham is going to do here. He says this test is as real for God as it is for Abraham. And that’s why, in verse 12, God is speaking to Abraham when it’s all over, and He says, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Does that mean God didn’t know before? We know we have free will. Does God really not know what we’re going to do?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the past week. About God’s tests, and if God really knows what we are going to do. I even wondered if Heather and Justin on the back porch were a test. Did God bring them here as a test to see if we really did love our neighbor? How would we respond when the command to love others actually had a name on it? I’m sorry to say I worried about the response. That first Thursday I worried a little when they went into the Bible Study. But I have to say, if this was a test you passed. Your generosity actually surprised me. They were given an air mattress to sleep on, some blankets, money for food, more money for laundry, people dropped by meals, people picked them up and took them to community meals, even brought them into their homes for showers. If this was a test, you passed with flying colors. But was there a time when God didn’t know how you would respond? I don’t know. Or maybe He knew how we would respond, but that we needed to see it for ourselves. Maybe with the conflicts in the last year, we needed to come together and get our focus back on our mission.
Does God know that you fear Him? That you won’t hold anything back? That you are fully surrendered to Him? If He were to test you in something that didn’t make sense, would you cling to your faith, would you still trust Him?
3. God’s Vulnerability. This one really struck me, think about this with me. God had chosen Abraham to be the Father of His people. He had chosen Isaac to be the one to continue the line – the promise would be fulfilled through Isaac. This test actually puts God’s promise at risk.
What if Abraham actually killed Isaac, or more likely, if Abraham backed out. If he’s not faithful, then I don’t think God would have fulfilled the promise through him. I don’t think God would have worked through an unfaithful Abraham. Which means, God’s plans were actually at risk here. If Abraham failed the test, the promise would have to be fulfilled some other way, probably through someone else. And God’s promises to Abraham would have ended right there.
I was thinking about this this past week. I think I hurt my head with all the thinking I was doing. It’s hard to think of God making himself vulnerable like this, making His plans contingent on things that we do, things that might actually be beyond His control. This is some of the stuff that’s really hard to comprehend. And we certainly don’t need to understand it all, we just have to know that He loves us. But when we really love each other, we open up and become vulnerable to each other. God certainly really loves us.
4. God’s Trustworthiness. As we look at this passage, it might seem like it raises the question of whether God can really be trusted. If God made an incredible promise to Abraham that his descendants would be a mighty nation, and then He asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, then doesn’t it raise into question God’s trustworthiness? God makes a promise, fulfills that promise, then seems to take it back. It might leave you wondering if God can really be trusted.
Abraham thought so. In fact, there was never any doubt for Abraham. Abraham left for the mountain believing that God could somehow keep the promise God made to Him even if he sacrificed his son. He had faith that surpassed his present knowledge – and isn’t that really what faith is? He didn’t know how things were going to work out, but he knew that God was faithful and that God would keep His promise, even if he sacrificed his son.
In verse 8, toward the end of their journey, Abraham and Isaac go on leaving the two servants that came with them, and it seems that maybe at this point, Abraham is thinking that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. At least that’s what he told his servants. When he and Isaac got to the spot, and there was no lamb, Abraham prepared for the sacrifice, binding up Isaac and laying him on the wood, even raising his knife. Never doubting God for a minute.
5. God’s providing. The sacrifice was an act of worship to God. It probably wasn’t necessary for Abraham to make a sacrifice. Abraham showed his faithfulness, and God stopped him at the last moment. The test was a success – Abraham passed. That could have been the end of it. But it seemed a sacrifice was necessary. And God provided the ram for it.
When we fully trust God even when it doesn’t make sense, God will provide. And when He doesn’t provide the way you think He should, and when things happen that you don’t think should happen, don’t stop trusting. God will provide. Believe that. Act on that. And never doubt that God is in control.
Let me give a couple of final thoughts on that passage that will speak to Jesus being the better Isaac. At the end of the passage, when God stopped Abraham, he said in verse 12, “‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’” I think that God treated this willingness to sacrifice an only son as the greatest sign of devotion and love that anyone could ever give. And then He showed that love to us when He gave His only son as a sacrifice for us. God was impressed with Abraham when he didn’t withhold his only son. And God didn’t withhold his only son for you, but freely gave him up.
Isaac was a promised child, you could say he was “miraculously conceived.” Jesus was a promised child, “miraculously conceived.” Both were identified as their father’s one and only son. Both were to be sacrificed by their father. Both were to be sacrificial lambs to God. Both even carry the very wood up the hill that they would be sacrificed on. Both submitted to their fathers will to be sacrificed, without resisting. In the end, Isaac was sparred.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Isaac didn’t know what was happening. Jesus knew exactly what was happening. He knew exactly what He had to do. He freely laid down His life. Because that was the only thing that would have been sufficient to pay the debt that we owed. It was the only thing that could have cancelled out the Sin of the world.
If you ever doubt that God loves you, or that God is willing to do whatever it takes to show His love for you, look to the cross. Because if He was ever going to back down, that’s where it would have been. If he went that far, He will carry you through to the end.