Sunday, December 07, 2014

Sermon: Genesis 22: 1-19 God will provide

Perhaps the biggest decision we have to make in life is this one: Can I really trust God with everything? It’s the make or break question - Is God actually trustworthy? Can we trust him, especially when it doesn’t seem easy or straightforward?

It’s the question we’ve been asking since September as we’ve followed the next section of Genesis, and watched as Abraham took up the challenge. God called him to leave his family behind, to go to a new place, where God would bless him, and give him offspring. We’ve seen how Abraham trusted one moment, and then doubted the next. There were the highs of his obedience, but also the lows of disobedience and unfaithfulness. While we’ve been keeping an eye on Abraham, the main focus, though, has been on God. Who is this God, who spoke and called Abraham; and who continues to call us to follow. Is he trustworthy?

It might seem easy to follow God when all is going well. But what about when he asks the impossible? When he asks us to give up something that’s important to us? Or someone who is precious to us? Can we still trust God in those times?

As we come to Abraham’s test, it’s important to remember that God had already provided in Abraham’s life. Everything Abraham had, God had given him - not least his son, born to him at the age of 100, to a wife of 90. Yet this is what Abraham is called to give up: ‘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.’

There’s no doubt about who God is speaking about. If you’ve ever had to open a new bank account and produce your two forms of ID, then God gives four forms of ID here. Take your son; your only son; Isaac; whom you love. This is Isaac, the promised son, the offspring through whom God was going to give descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Yet God says he must die. Will Abraham obey? Will Abraham give up what God has given to him?

Are there things that we hold on to? Areas of our life that we fence off and say, you can have anything else, God, but not that? I’ll serve you, but not if it means I can’t have this? Can we really trust God with all that we have?

It can’t have been easy. The thought of what lay ahead must have been horrifying. Yet we’re not given any hint of Abraham’s emotional state; we’re simply told that he got up, and went to do the job. Just as he’d got up early to send Ishmael away, so he gets up and goes to offer Issac. His faith is displayed in his actions.

But his faith is also displayed in his words. Abraham had set off with Isaac, and also two young men. When they get to where they can see Moriah, Abraham says this in verse 5: ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Now some people think that he was lying to his staff. If he had said, oh yeah, I’m going to slaughter the boy, they wouldn’t have let him do it. So he lies and says, we’re going, we’ll return.

But is that really what’s going on? I think we can hear in these words the voice of faith. He doesn’t know how, but he is confident that his boy is coming back with him. He’s trusting in God to provide.

That becomes even clearer as Abraham and Isaac walk along. Isaac carries the wood; Abraham has the knife and the fire (flint to light a fire, maybe?). I wonder if you’ve ever started cooking dinner and then realised you’ve forgotten something - you’ve lit the BBQ (maybe not today) and then remember you’ve no burgers! It’s fairly crucial. Well Isaac knows how sacrifices work. He looks at what they’ve got and realises something is missing.

‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ (7) We’ve got all the tools, but we’ve missed the actual offering. Do you see how Abraham replies? ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ He may not know how, but he knows that God will provide. God can be trusted, even when it seems impossible.

If then tension was building with the walk, we’re now at fever pitch. The altar is built; the wood arranged; Isaac is bound, set on top, and the knife is poised, ready to go. At just that very moment, the angel of the Lord cries out ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ The sacrifice is stopped; the test is over. He’s passed with flying colours.

Isaac was under a death sentence. He was in the very place of death, yet he walked free. A ram was caught in a thicket, and was sacrificed instead of him. God had provided the lamb after all. Isaac was rescued through substitution. The ram died in his place. Isaac experienced a resurrection - life in the place of death.

That’s the point the writer to the Hebrews makes. Abraham ‘considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead - and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.’ (11:19) God is trustworthy, and will keep his promises, even when it seems impossible. Just ask Isaac, who escaped the knife and altar and walked free to tell the tale.

The angel of the Lord goes on to renew and expand the covenant once again - and it all comes through ‘your offspring’ - this son Isaac, but also through the fulfilment of the offspring in the Lord Jesus. It is in Jesus that the good news goes to all the nations; in him all the nations gain blessing; in him we are made to be the children of Abraham, a vast crowd that no one could number.

God had provided for Abraham; God would provide the substitute offering; and God continues to provide. The saying that arose from the events that day continues to ring out to this very day. ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

You see, Mount Moriah was (2 Chr 3:1) the place where Solomon’s temple was built. Moriah became Jerusalem, Zion, so on one of the mountains in the land of Moriah, Isaac was rescued by substitution. In the very same location, another offering was made when a Father willingly gave his Son.

We deserved to die; the just punishment for our sins. But the Son was given as our substitute. The Lord provided for us as he gave the Lord Jesus as our passover lamb. He died our death; we can go free.

We began by asking if God is trustworthy. Can we really trust God? As we look at his dealings with Abraham, his love, grace and faithfulness, we have to say yes, God is faithful, even when his people mess up time and again. But we can say it even louder and even clearer as we reflect on the God who provides for us every day, but especially on that Good Friday. As Paul says in Romans 8: ‘If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?’ If God has provided for us in the most costly item of the universe, then how could we doubt his provision in any other way? God is good, all the time.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th December 2014.

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