This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Genesis 22:1-19
Sermon prepared by Rev. Ray Vander Kooij, Simcoe, Ont.
Tests. Those of you in school are well aware of that word and the whole mix of emotions it can stir up inside of us. But tests aren’t limited to school, for good or for ill. There are driving tests, mostly also for those who are young, but also again when some reach an older age. There are tests when we apply for a job, tests jump up here and there all through life.
We tend to have an aversion to tests. They cause stress in our lives. There is always the possibility of succeeding or passing, or of failing. If there isn’t, it’s not a test — it’s a game and nothing of significance rides on it. Tests have significance and cause stress because they have consequences — you can pass or fail.
All our tests, no matter what their potential consequences, pale in comparison to God’s test of Abraham. Did you notice that in the first few words of our text this whole account is called a test?
God is testing Abraham. A very horrible and repulsive test to our sensibilities — even just imagining God commending a human sacrifice.
Beyond being horrible and repulsive to us, this test may be awkward and disturbing for another reason. Because the test suggests, and not just subtly, that God did not know something and then became aware of it. This may be awkward and disturbing to some of our images and understanding of God, but it’s something this test faces us with.
In verse 1 it says that God tested Abraham. In verse 12, after Abraham has passed the test, God says, “Now I know.” There is definitely a flow from something God doesn’t know to something He does know. If God can’t know something and then become aware of it, all you have left here is a game, with Abraham as the pawn.
This is not a game God is playing. This is a matter of life and death. And not only of human life and death, but the life and death of promises — God’s promises.
And it’s an absolutely staggering test — the astounding demand and command that he must offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Isaac, miraculously born in Abraham’s old age, the son of promise — the son through whom God’s promise to Abraham were to begin to be fulfilled — the promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham and that his descendants would number like the stars in the sky and like the sand on the seashore.
Abraham is asked, no, he is commanded to destroy the last hope he has for fulfilling God’s promises. He is commanded to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering on a mountain in the region of Moriah.
For three days, Abraham and Isaac and his servants journey to this region — three days to sweat it out — intense agonizing, aversion, stress. Then the servants are left behind.
Abraham loads the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac, and together they continue up the mountain. Then comes the critical moment of the test, long before the knife is lifted — Isaac says, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? (pause)
A question that cuts deep into Abraham’s heart. His response marks the pivotal point of the test: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham believes that this lamb may be Isaac, his son. He doesn’t know about the ram, like we do.
He has an unwavering trust that God will provide, that He will somehow make a way for his promises to be fulfilled. He doesn’t know the details of the outcome but he trusts the certainty and faithfulness of God and is open to the details.
Abraham’s trust that God will provide doesn’t for a moment though reduce his agony — agony grips his every step up the mountain. At the altar he and Isaac build together, Abraham tells Isaac that he will be the sacrificial lamb. Trust amazingly continues to mark the test — against all human desires and even common sense — as Isaac is bound to the altar and Abraham picks up the knife, to plunge it into the son he loves.
An angel of the Lord intervenes: “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know... now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.” And God provides a ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac — the promises will continue through Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham passes the test. Why exactly God tests Abraham, we don’t know precisely. Why God provides a substitute we don’t know precisely. But we do know what stands between these two unknowns of the test and the provision, because it comes from our side, from the human side.
It’s the deepest mystery of human faith. “God himself will provide.”
In the face of the test Abraham trusts that God will provide. Abraham is a Psalm 37:5 man: “Commit your ways to the Lord, trust in him and He will act.” Between the test and the provision stands trust.
Against all common sense, human desires, life-long ambitions stand unqualified trust that God provides. Abraham called the place “The Lord Will Provide.” Not in the past tense or the present tense, but in the future tense. The Lord Will Provide.
“On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided” became a motto, a saying in Israel. Again and again Israel literally experienced the Lord providing on a mountain. On Mt. Sinai with Moses, Mt. Carmel with Elijah, Mt. Zion with the worshiping pilgrims — on Mt. Calvary where we stand at the foot of the cross.
In the view from Mt. Moriah no other mountains of provision stand so starkly and clearly as Calvary. The most distant in time, but the closest in proximity or geography. You see, Mt. Moriah may have been the very same place as Mt. Calvary, or very near by.
And in the provision on Mount Moriah we see a view of the provision on Mt. Calvary. Jesus, the one and dearly loved Son of God, carries the wood for his sacrifice — the cross on his back. Like the ram, the ticket of thorns is twisted together and thrust on his head, and He is tied and nailed to the altar of the cross as a substitute sacrificial death. (pause)
Jesus’ death on the cross on Mt. Calvary brings its own test to us. That Jesus Christ died on the cross is an undisputed fact of history. The significance of Jesus’ death on Mt. Calvary is a promise, and standing between that promise and its provision is faith that trusts. How do we know our sins are taken away, are covered in Christ’s death? How do we know that we will live eternally because Christ took the death penalty we deserved? These are promises.
And our own certain human death, our coming face to face with our own mortality, tests our trust that God will provide, that He will be faithful to his promises. Because we will not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the provision has actually been made for us until after we die.
Between now and then, even between Christ’s death and our death, stands faith that trusts. As the writer of the Hebrews says it, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The testing of our faith drives us to find out whether we mean what we say about our faith being grounded solely in the gospel, or if we’re hedging our bets, just in case the provision really isn’t there from the gospel message.
It’s the faith challenge of Mark 8:35: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel, will save it.” God tests. He’s the one and only God and He insists on undivided loyalty. He doesn’t tolerate hedging bets in case the provision isn’t really there. God is looking for totally devoted followers.
God tests to identify his people, to discern who is serious about faith, and to know in whose life He is fully God. To know through whom his promises to bless the world, his mission to demonstrate his love to the world, can be fulfilled.
He’s testing to know who trusts that their sins are forgiven in Jesus’ death and who trusts that they have eternal life, and who therefore don’t try to wring everything out of this life.
Testing to find those who don’t turn to luck and lotteries, to the rat race, to entertaining escapes. Testing to find people who don’t hedge and hoard their money but instead give the first part back to the Lord, trusting that God will provide for every need. Testing to find people who follow him, surrender to him, rest in him. People who trust that God can bring good even out of heart-wrenching, agonizing experiences of life.
Our testing ground of discipleship is how we respond to the pressures of life and society, how much weight we give to our desires and lifelong ambitions and even to so-called common sense, over against how we respond to the promises of God and trust his provision.
Between the test and the provision stood Abraham’s unshakable trust in God’s promises and that He would provide, and he looked up and saw the ram, the substitute. Between our test and God’s provision, we are called to trust in God’s promises, his promises of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus’ death, and that no matter what, he will provide — and look up and see the Lamb, the substitute. The Lamb of Mt. Calvary, Savior divine — who died for our sins — so that you too can live eternally.
“On the mountain of the Lord He will provide.”
The deepest mystery of human faith — unqualified trust. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.”
Are you a Psalm 37:5 person? “Commit your ways to the Lord, trust in him and He will act.”
God tests. God provides. Do you trust God? Do you stand between his promises and his provision?
Proposed Order of Service
Welcome and Announcements
Hymn #47, “Nations Clap Your Hands”
Call to Worship: Revelation 4:11-14
Silent Personal Prayer, concluded with #629, “Worthy is Christ”
Greeting: May grace, mercy and peace be ours, from the God who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the Lamb on the throne ruling over all things. Amen.
Hymn #621:1,2,5, “The God of Abraham Praise”
Commitment and Dedication
Our call to commitment and dedication, through which we find freedom in Christ, comes in these words from John 8:31-40, 56-58
Sin enslaves, Jesus Christ saves.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed, and if you hold to the truth of Jesus’ teachings, you will continue to live in the freedom of the truth. Let’s sing of how our freedom comes through nothing else and in no other way than through the Son of God, who sets us free.
Hymn #374, “No Weight of Gold or Silver”
Receiving God’s Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture: Genesis 22:1-19
Sermon: "The View from Mount Moriah"
Responding to The Word
Hymn #446, “If You But Trust in God to Guide You”
Going Forth to Serve
Hymn #285: 1,3,4, “O Jesus, I Have Promised”
Blessing: May the God of all hope fill us with joy and peace in believing that our hearts and lives might overflow with hope, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.