The Second Greatest Act of Faith in History (Hebrews Sermon 52 of 74)
January 08, 2012 | Andrew Davis
The Westminster Confession of Faith
Mid-way through the 17th century, some of the greatest theologians that ever lived assembled to put together a statement of faith, the Westminster Confession of Faith. In my mind, one of the greatest doctrinal writings ever. Section on God I can scarcely read without being moved to my heart. I want to begin by reading some of it to you.
There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; ... most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the sole fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever He Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest; His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.
Now, that last line is why I read the whole thing. I struggle believing that, but I know in my heart it's true. That God is worthy of anything that He requires of me. Even if it would be my own child. Sometime 4000 years ago, God did in fact command one of His choice servants Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. And this God that we have discussed, that we have worshipped this morning is worthy of whatever worship He may require of you. And my only desire in preaching this sermon is to free you up from any restrictions, so that you can obey Him more fully than you have ever obeyed Him before by faith alone. That you may imitate the faith of Abraham. He will not command you to do what He commanded Abraham to do, but he will command you to do difficult things. And my only desire is to build up your faith so that you may obey Him and do those difficult things He commands you to do.
I. God’s Test of Abraham’s Faith: The Sacrifice of Isaac
Now, we're right in the middle of Hebrews chapter 11, this great faith chapter. The whole pressure, the whole press of the chapter is to build in the hearers, the readers a growing faith, to strengthen our faith that we may realize that we are not only justified by faith, but we are to live by faith, moment by moment. And the same faith that justifies is the faith that we must live out day by day. And so the author has given us these marvelous examples, and this is one of the pinnacle examples in all redemptive history, what I call today, the second greatest act of faith in history. And what is the test? What was Abraham asked to do? What was he commanded to do? In verse 17, "By faith Abraham, when God tested him offered Isaac as a sacrifice." The command comes very plainly in the Genesis account, you know it well I know. Genesis 22:1-2, there it says, "Sometime later, God tested Abraham. He said to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am, he replied.' Then God said, 'Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.'"
Now, who is this man who is so severely tested, this is Abraham who is called our father in faith, this is the one that God commanded to leave all of the Chaldees and go to the land He would show him. In Genesis 12, saying that through his offspring all peoples on earth would be blessed. This is the one who in Genesis 12, built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. This is the one who, in Genesis 13, God spoke to him after Lot left Him and said, "To your descendants I give this land." This is the one who blessed... Who was blessed by Melchizedek, and who Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. He who is priest of God most high, after the defeat of the kings in Genesis 14. This is the one to whom God had appeared in a vision in Genesis 15. And said, "Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield, I am your very great reward." And then God took him out under the starlet sky and said, "Look up at the stars, count them if you can... So shall your offspring be"
This is the one with whom God had made a very serious and solemn covenant in that same chapter, Genesis 15, and God represented by a smoking fire pod appeared when a dreadful darkness had come over Abraham, and he moved through the pieces of the sacrifice as if to say, "If I don't keep this promise, this covenant of mine, may I cease to exist, may I be exploded as this... The bodies of these sacrifices have been laid aside. May I be also destroyed if I don't keep this promise, this covenant." This is the one to whom God had given the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17. The one who had said, "I am God almighty, walk before me and be blameless." The one to whom God appeared in Genesis 18, in the heat of the day and with two other angels, and the one who had made a promise "About this time next year, I will return, and Sarah will have a a son."
This is the one who said within himself, "Shall I hide from Abraham. What I'm about to do?" (to Sodom and Gomorrah). And who opened up His counsel to Abraham and drew him in and the two of them had a discussion over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. And therefore in two places in scripture, Abraham was called God's friend. Both in Isaiah and in James. This is the one whom God severely tested.
And so, I just want to stop right here at this point and say, just make this observation. It is not at all a sign of God's disfavor when he lays on someone a severe test or trial. Not at all a sign of His disfavor. The one he loved the most was His only begotten son, and He laid on him the greatest trial of all. And so what's going to happen when God tests your faith, and when God crushes you under some trial and some affliction, Satan is going to whisper to you that this is plain evidence that God doesn't love you. Don't listen to it. Those whom He loves the most He tests most severely. And so He tested Abraham his friend. And at what stage of life did God tests Abraham? When was this? Well, this was toward the end of Abraham's life. After many trials, after many step. Step by step. God building Abraham in his faith. It was not the raw recruit that God threw into the front line of test. But it was a seasoned veteran.
This is graduate school. This is his doctoral dissertation of faith. This is at the end of his life, not at the beginning, like a skillful potter, God had been shaping and molding Abraham's faith all along. So this was not a beginning trial. This was more of a consummating trial.
At What Stage of His Life Did He Test Him?
And so after a long time at the end of his life after he'd been built up step-by-step, God tested him. And also notice it was in the middle of a very peaceful placid good time in his life. If you look at Genesis 22:1, it says, "And it came to pass after these things." After what things? Well, after the... At least the events of Genesis 21. Well, what happened in Genesis 21? Well, finally the miracle baby was born, the son of laughter, Sarah marveling over it saying, "Am I really going to nurse a child at this age?" And just the joy that Isaac the son of laughter brought into their lives. It was a happy time. And then despite Ishmael mocking and then he was cast out, and there were some family turmoil, but that was over now, God had made it plain that the bond woman and her son must be cast out. And so there was nothing but peace and harmony at that point in Abraham's family life.
Furthermore, he was in a comfortable position with the people around him, he had made a covenant with Abimelech at Beersheba. A covenant of peace. And he planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the Lord the eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time. So it was a time of peace, of prosperity, of comfort and ease. And like a bolt from the blue comes this command. When all was right with his world. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac whom you love." And you may ask why did God test him? Why? "Sometime later, God tested Abraham."
Why Did God “Test” Him? Why Does He “Test” Us?
Why does He do it? Well, first of all, God never tempts anyone. I want to make a distinction between temptation and testing? From James Chapter 1. "When tempted no one should say, God is tempting me, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." So there must be a distinction in scripture between what James says God never does, and what Genesis 22, Moses says that God did do. So there's a distinction then between temptation and a trial.
A temptation, the image in James is being seized and dragged away to do evil. And God never does that. He never puts a magnetic force on your soul, dragging you to do wickedness, that would never be God, God hates evil, everything He's doing in our lives and sanctification is to get us to hate evil as much as He does. But God never tempts anyway. But he does test us. So it's like an assayer office, a testing or a proving the worth of... So the assayer is going to find out whether this chunk really is gold or silver, or something valuable or something that's not. So why does He then test us?
First, He does it for His own glory, because God is the one who gave you the faith he then wants to show you how powerful is His gift. And so he gives you the faith and then he puts testing circumstances around you to show that His faith will not fail. The faith that He gave you. And so for his own glory to the glory of God. So you realized it was God that gave you the faith, it is Jesus at the right hand of God, interceding for you concerning your faith, it's Gods work in you from beginning to end, and to God be the glory. And none of that can be proven if you never have any difficult times. If you never have any testing, no trials. No none of that can ever be proven, God cannot be glorified in that way.
Secondly, he tests us for our own good for greater assurance. We must imagine that Abraham had a far greater assurance of God's sovereign love for him after this experience, than he did before. And so God test us, and tries us to bring us to full maturity and to greater assurance. The assurance language, I get from Romans 5:3-4. It says, "Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope." Now hope equals assurance to me. They're the same thing. And so we have assurance, a greater hope, a greater sense of servitude about the future after those trials are over. And so God does it because he loves us.
I want to add another one right here. And that is to purify our faith, not just to test us and show it, but also to purify our faith. This is the one that was added to me as I was sitting in the pew. The fact of the matter is, we are still in danger of idolatry. Is it possible for Abraham and Sarah to idolize Isaac? Certainly, it's possible. God is a jealous God, and He will not have Abraham love Isaac more than he loves Him. And so He strengthens our faith by purifying it of all of his good gifts, so sometimes he's going to take away a good gift to show that the real blessing in it was the giver who's still here. God is still here, He still loves me just as much. Even though the gift has now been taken away. And so we must have our faith purified because we're still in danger. And realized Faith is temporary, anyway you won't need it in heaven. And so it makes sense that it's not a perfect thing, it needs to be purified, it needs to be strengthened all of those things.
And then fourthly, God tests, our faith for the good of others. For the on-looking world, for the on-looking audience so that others may be blessed by the way that you are strengthened through your trial in your test.
So we know that this is how it works in a local church. When you see someone else suffer well through a trial, you are strengthened. We are all sitting in the school of Abraham today, we're sitting at his feet and learning from him our father in faith, how to trust God. And so we are on the outside looking in, and we are strengthened by the testing that happened to another person. Those are four reasons why God does it.
How Could Abraham Morally Obey Such a Command?
Now as you read this you may be troubled, you may wonder about this, "Take your son, your only son… and sacrifice him..." How can Abraham morally obey such a repugnant command, it seems repugnant to us. I mean, we already knew from Genesis 9:6, Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed. Story of Cain and Abel confirms that God is against murder. So clearly, again, we must make a distinction between murder and what God's commanding Abraham to do here. Just as we made a distinction between temptations and trials. How can he morally obey this command, is it immoral for him to do this? And the key answer, and this must be God's absolute sovereignty, that God as the king of the universe, is alone, the standard of righteousness. Whatever God commands is righteous and whatever he forbids is wickedness. He is the standard in the universe.
He has an absolute right to do whatever He wants with what He's made. That is the very lesson that we struggle with our whole lives, our rebellious self-struggle with that. Does God really have the right to do that. Yes, he does. God has infinite rights as the creator, the sovereign, the king. He is allowed to command Abraham to do this. It is not immoral, for him to do it, it would have been immoral for him not to do it. So we just have to get our minds around that. Whatever God commands is right? Just like the angel in Revelation 16, when He's pouring out wrath on the rivers, all the fresh water.
And the angels celebrating it and worship. The angel in charge of the water is saying, "You are just in these judgments you who are and who were the holy one, because you have so judged." It's really just that simple to the angel. "You told me to do it, it must be right". And so the angel has that attitude, and we should pray in the Lord's prayer, that God's will will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. With the same kind of trust in the King. So no, it is not immoral for him. Now, let's weight, if we can the greatness of this test.
II. The Greatness of the Test
This was a great test. What was actually commanded? Well, we've said it, but look at it carefully. "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Maria, sacrifice him there as a burnt offering." I just ponder those words. Who was it that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice? It wasn't one of his beasts, it wasn't all of his beasts, wasn't one of his slaves, it wasn't even Ishmael, son whom he definitely loved, the son of the slave woman, it was the son of the promise, it was the one that he and his barren wife had waited for it for a hundred and 90 years respectively. They had waited for this miracle baby, and now the miracle baby is there, the one who is crafted in the womb in Sarah's barren womb by the supernatural power of Almighty God. This is the one through whom all peoples on earth will be blessed. This is the promised baby, this is the seed of Abraham. In Isaac, your seed will be reckoned. This is the seed of Abraham through which the whole world is going to be blessed. Look what it says about him, this heightens in Verse 17 and 18, Hebrews 11:17-18, "He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, of whom God had said to him, It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." This is the one that he loved, the son that he loved, the son of his affection.
It's amazing how children can wrap parents around their fingers, they just do it from the time they come home from the hospital. And oh, how we dote on them, and we should, we should cherish them, and we should love them. It's a great picture of God, the Father's love for us, when you have a godly father who loves you that same way. And so there's nothing wrong with it. And He said, "Take your son whom you love, the one you cherish." Matthew Henry put it this way, "And being called to offer up his Isaac, he seemed to be called to destroy and cut off his own family, to cancel the promises of God, to prevent the coming of Christ, to destroy the whole world. To sacrifice his own soul, and his own hopes of salvation, to cut off the church of God at one blow. It was a most terrible trial." Another commentator said, "When God commanded Abraham to leave Ur, the Chaldeans, He was commanding him to turn his back on his past. With this command, He was commanding him to turn his back it seemed on his future." A severe trial.
Now, what was it in Abraham's nature that made this such a test? Well, look at Abraham just as a man, what kind of man was he? Was he a cruel man who delighted in cruelty? Did he liked being vicious? Not at all. Look at his reaction to the whole problem with Ishmael, he wanted to find some way that they could all get along, he didn't want to send his son Ishmael away. Had to be told directly by God to do it. So he's tender-hearted, Genesis 21:11 concerning Ishmael, "The matter distressed Abraham greatly, because it concerned his son." And that's speaking of Ishmael. That's a tender-hearted man. Now, what was it in God's dealings with Abraham that made this such a test? Well, it seemed to run contrary to everything God was doing. Talk about connecting the dots, "Now, what's God been doing in my life?" You connect, connect, connect, connect, and then suddenly, this command comes, it doesn't make any sense at all. It seems to be contrary to the very nature of God, this tender-hearted and loving God, the God who is merciful and compassionate, slowed to anger and abounding in love and kindness. It doesn't seem to make any sense, the kind of thing you would think would have come from a demiurge, a demon, Satan himself, not God.
Let's be honest, if you had a friend who told you they had heard from God that he was commanded to do this, wouldn't you worry at least? You might go so far as to turn him in to the authorities. This is a strange command, it doesn't seem to line up. It seems difficult to accept that God would command him to do this. And so we are led into the inner workings of Abraham's faith and the nature of his relationship, God's relationship with Abraham. There was no doubt at all, no doubt at all in Abraham's mind, that it was God who was commanding him to do this. God by his pattern of communication, in various ways... And I was tracing over it this morning, as I was looking over it again, God came to Abraham at many times and in various ways as well, sometimes a vision, sometimes just speaking, it says God took him out of the tent to look at the stars. I don't know how that works, how God the Father did that, but there's this walking in it, walking with God there is a sense of incredible relationship between God and Abraham. There was such a closeness, an intimacy, sometimes, like I said, a vision. I don't know what that looked like. However God spoke to Abraham concerning Isaac, he knew it was God, there was no doubt in his mind.
III. The Inner Workings of Abraham’s Faith
And I find it amazing that Scripture gives us... I would say, no glimpse whatsoever, into Abraham's inner turmoil, or his psychology concerning this command and the three-day journey and all that, none, there's not a word anywhere. Many artists who let's say, painted or who write poems about it, or Michael Card who'll write a song, beautiful song. Three days journey to the sacred place. Boy and a man with a sorrowful face stop probably, but there's nothing in Scripture about it. Tortured, yet faithful to God's command. Stop. Probably, but again, nothing in Scripture about it. John Owen delves into this, he says,
"What now must be the workings of his heart towards Isaac, a son whom he’d so long waited for; the only child of his dear wife who was the companion of all his wanderings; this boy who was now growing up, as is most probable, unto the age of sixteen or seventeen years, and had engaged his affections by all ways possible; the security of his old age, the life of his family—his only hope and comfort in this world? And how was he to deal with him? Not to send him out of his family with some provision and a guide, as he sent Ishmael; not to part with him for a time in a foreign country; but to take him himself, bind him, slay him with a knife, and then to burn him to ashes. Who can conceive what convulsions of nature must have happened at that time? Who can put himself into these circumstances without trembling and horror?"
Well, that's John Owen, one of the greatest theologians of the Puritan era, he is delving into the psychology of Abraham. I think it's only natural to do it, I just find it fascinating. The Scripture doesn't do it at all. It seems in the end, to have been irrelevant and a material if there were these kinds of torture, and wrangling and all that sort of stuff, what mattered is that he did it, that's what mattered. In the end, he obeyed, that's what mattered, not the wrangling, and all of the torture, and the facial expression. I'm thinking he probably had to control his facial expression during that three-day journey, don't you think? He's got to get the boy there. And so I don't know that you could have seen much on his face, that's just me surmising, I really don't know.
Martin Luther, in a family devotion, went into great detail over this, Genesis 22, lots of detail about the sacrifice, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. He went into a such great detail that finally, his wife Katie couldn't bear it anymore, and she blurted out, "I do not believe it, God would not have treated His own son like that." "But Katie," said Luther, "He did." It's an amazing thing, and yet, for all of that, for all of the wrangling that Owen said, went on, that Luther said went on, that Michael Card said went on, there's nothing at all. I find that significant, because what really matters in the end is faith and obedience, faith and obedience. I think he probably did with this, the same that he'd done earlier concerning Isaac's conception to begin with.
"He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully convinced that He who had promised had power to do what he had promised." That's what I think was going on. And so in compliance set along with the command of God, he shut his eyes as it were, against all difficulties and consequence, resolving to venture Isaac, posterity truth of promises, to venture everything out on the authority of God. In the end, it was for God and not Abraham, to reconcile this command with the promises. Wasn't Abraham's business to work it all out. Life really is ultimately simple for bond-slaves, amen, just do what you're told. Now you may say, "That's not that easy," believe me, I know what you mean when you say it's not that easy, believe me I know. But in the end it really is that easy, you obey or you disobey. And so the inner wrangling, and the psychology, even all that is just noise really, in the background. Do you have faith and will you obey?
Abraham Reasoned by Faith
Now, Hebrews 11:19 tells us a little more, it tells us that Abraham reasoned by faith. It actually gives us a glimpse into the workings of his mind on the rational side, not so much the emotional side, not at all actually, but on the rational side, Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Now, this is really astonishing because at least in the record of Scripture, it's never happened before, this would be the first time ever that a dead person had been resurrected. Do you not see what a great thing faith is? Because our God is a great God, God can do anything, faith connects with that, and therefore, God can raise the dead. It's really astonishing, but there'd been no precedent at all. Genesis 22:5 gives us proof that he was expecting this. He said to the servants that were with them, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." What a big difference between we and I? Alright, "We will worship and I will come back to you," that's a whole different sentence, amen. "We will worship and then we will come back to you." So, as I figure it out, not only did Abraham fully expect a bodily resurrection of Isaac, he expected it immediately, not a year later, five years later, but right there, he'd get him back. God can do anything, God can do anything except break His promise, that He cannot do.
Titus 1:2 speaks of "the hope of eternal life which God who does not lie promised before the beginning of time." And so I believe Abraham for that three-day journey, his total focus was on God, not on difficulties, but on the goodness of God, the omnipotence of God, the faithfulness of God, completely on God, and this is the key to everything. The promise of God in Genesis 21:12. Genesis 21:12, remember how... Going back and forth over Ishmael, he doesn't want to send Ishmael out. And God makes something very, very clear to him, which is the key to everything in the next chapter. Genesis 21:12, "But God said to him, Do not be so distressed about the boy, [Ishmael] and your maid servant, [that's Hagar] Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." That is the key to everything, do you not see it? Isaac was with that word, indispensable to the plans of God. It had to be Isaac and no one else. Suppose God had said, "It is through one of Sarah's sons that you're offspring will be reckoned," now that's different, isn't it? Maybe Isaac will die and another son will be raised up. Very, very tough at that point.
Now here, I hope gently, take a little thought with the NIV, second time in this chapter. But I just am bewildered by it actually, I don't understand it, it doesn't make much sense to me.
What the NIV says is, "He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son even though God had said to him, It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." So it's like, despite the fact of the promise, he went through with it, does that make any sense to you? Please look puzzled and shake your head. It make no sense to me, I have... "Despite the promise, he still went ahead and sacrificed his son." That's what, "even though" means, despite. And the Greek doesn't require at all, none of the other translations have it, it's just "of whom it was said, in Isaac, your offspring will be reckoned." That's all. Friends, it's hard to translate Scripture, and I'm not trying to find faults with those that had labored hard on it. I'm just saying, we're not bound by any of these translations. We have to do our best to understand, and that's why it's helpful to know the original language Psalm. The bottom line is, there's no concussive here at all. It's precisely because God had made this promise that he was able to do it.
The Combination of Faith and Reason
This is the ground of the reasoning that he's doing it, do you not see it? He's reasoning it out, how does he reason? Well, fact number one, God has promised me that through my offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. So I have to have some offspring.
Fact number two, God has promised me specifically, it's through Isaac that my offspring will be reckoned.
Okay, fact number three, Isaac needs to have a body in order to have a child for that whole thing to keep going. He didn't have a son yet, and so he is indispensable at least until he gives birth to a son or conceives a son.
Fact number four, God has commanded me to burn his body to ashes. Well then, God's going to raise his body from the dead. I think that's how he reasoned. I don't see any other way. And so right from that, he reasons.
So it's amazing how much faith and reason actually do go together. All that happens with faith as faith just accept facts that the pure rationalist doesn't accept, we accept revealed facts and then we reason from them. And so he reasons, and so he obeys. He doesn't merely obey the command, I don't want to go beyond this, I want to add a different verb that we don't usually use with commands, he believed the command.
Usually, we think obey the command, believe the promise. And that's fine, that's the usual way we speak. But here it seems like he goes beyond, he just embraces the command, he steps into it, he swims in the ocean of the command, he loves the command, it becomes him because God gave it. And so there is one verse that teaches this connection, Psalm 119 and Verse 66 says, "Teach me knowledge and good judgement for I believe in your commands." That's a wonderful verse, isn't it? "I believe in your commands. I trust them, they're not burdensome. I love them, whatever you command to do is right, I embrace it." So he loved that command. So what was the outcome of Abraham's faith? Well, early the next morning, he got up and saddled his donkey.
There is no evidence he told Sarah anything. Can you imagine what that conversation would have looked like? I think that Abraham did in fact, imagine what that conversation would have looked like. "We're not going there, it's not her trial, this is my trial. I'm not going to lay that burden." And am I feeling the same thing with any friends or a circle of people that hold him accountable and pray for him, all of those things are beneficial, but he would have thought, "I think this is not helpful at all. All they're going to try to do is what? Talk me out of it, or they're going to confirm what I've already resolved to do by faith, so there's no point." And so he just gets up immediately the next morning, he saddles a donkey, he gets ready and makes that three-day journey. And for three days, he trusted God. And they get there, and Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "'Father.' 'Yes, my son,' Abraham replied. 'The fire and the water are here,' Isaac said, 'But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham answered, 'God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son.' And the two of them went on together." They have that conversation, then they go up the mountain, just the two of them as I already said, "Stay here…while I and the boy go over there. We will go up and worship, we will come back to you."
And then "they reached the place that God had told him about. Abraham built an altar there, arranged the wood on it. He bound his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood, and then he reached out his hand and he took the knife to slay the son." Abraham's will was entirely given over to the deed. His affections were entirely committed to the deed, it was done. Luther in his devotional said, "If God had slept but a moment, Isaac would have been killed." God waited to the last possible moment. And that's just instructive for me, God isn't going to take you out of the oven until you're done. And some of these trials are going to go on a lot longer than you'll want them to go. So God goes the whole way with Abraham, and only at the last possible moment. He could have stopped him there for one day, said, "I noticed that you saddled your donkey, and you've traveled one day, won't you just turn around?" He didn't do that. Or two days, or three days or half way up the mountain, no, he goes right to the end and then He stops. The deed was done.
Abraham’s Commendation by God
And he obeyed and in effect, sacrificed his son, though God stopped him. And you know how God stopped him, what a marvelous moment that is in redemptive history. The angel of the Lord called out to him from Heaven, "'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Here I am,' He replied, 'Do not lay a hand on the boy,' he said, 'Do not do anything to him. Now, I know that you fear God.'" Oh the mystery of that statement, this infinite God, saying, "Now I know." You know what it means to me? He wants to see it lived out in life, then He'll say the same thing. "Now, I know that you trust me. Now I know that you fear me. Now I know that you love me. Now I know that you obey me, because you've done this." "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me, your son, your only son." And then comes this marvelous commendation. "The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, 'I swear by myself, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the sea shore.'"
Incredible commendation, commended by faith. Without faith it's impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him, must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. He is commended here for his faith, as a righteous man. And the text says he received Isaac back from the dead. You got him back. You can imagine what kind of hugging and trembling went on at that moment. Got him back. And it says, he did so figuratively and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. I think it's just, at one level, just simply, he didn't actually kill him. And so, in some figure of sense, it goes deeper than that. I think it's pretty clear that this is a type or a symbol of Christ, His sacrifice, and His resurrection for us. "Because I live, you also live," and the whole issue here in Hebrews 11 is to get us to stop fearing death. So that we're not afraid of death anymore. We've already been told in Hebrews 2, that Christ has destroyed forever him who holds the power of death, and freed us from it.
We don't need to be afraid of death. And so much of Hebrews 11 is to liberate the readers from fear of death to know you're going to reach the end of your life, and not receive the things promised, but you're going to die in faith, and be gathered to your people and then you're going to go into your inheritance, and you're going to live forever with me. Don't fear death. And so, we're taken from one death bed to the next. In the next few weeks we'll talk about that. To Isaac's death bed, Jacob's death bed, Joseph's death bed, one after the other, so that we can embrace a life totally free from fear of death. As it says in the Book of Revelation, "They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." You're going to live a certain kind of life if you don't fear death. You're going to die every day, like Paul says, "Brothers, I die, daily, I die all the time. I'm a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dies. It's what I do, I die, and I die, and I die some more, so that God can work life in me."
IV. The Significance for Us Today
What is the significance for us today? Well, the name of the sermon I entitled it "The Second Greatest Act of Faith in History." You may want to debate with me, you may know some missionary that did some great thing, you may know some other Biblical figure. I've been through the whole Bible in my head quickly. I just can't think of any other greater example of faith ever done, except one. Now, you know what I have in mind. The question you may have is, was Jesus' obedience to his father, was His death on the cross, an act of faith? And I think it was, because in Hebrews 2:13 it says, "I will put my trust in Him," and that's Jesus speaking to the Father. Here, am "I and the children God has given me," I will put my trust in Him. And we see that kind of entrusting language. 1 Peter 2 says that, "He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly." He said, "Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit." He said that on the cross. He entrusted His death to the father though there was almost no evidence that anything had come of, looks like, three years of miraculous ministry and a group of women and one Apostle at the base of the cross, and that's it.
It's like, "Alright, Father, would you do something with this? If I die, will you make it great? Yes, I will. You sit at my right hand and I will make it great." So by faith, He entrusted himself to his father in His humanness, was the greatest act of faith in history and from that, like Michael Card says, "What Abraham was asked to do, God the Father has done." He's offered his only son and through the blood of Jesus Christ, sinners like you and me can be forgiven. If you trust in Him, if you just look to Him, and look away from your good deeds, look away from your own convictions, and what a good person, you are, and you look away from all that, and you look to this one act in history, you look back 2000 years as Abraham looked ahead 2000 years, you look back to Jesus, and you realize God has provided the Lamb. He is the Lamb of God whose death takes away the sins of the world. All you need to do, as you're sitting and listen to me, is just in your heart, trust in Him. Look to Him by faith. And your sins will be forgiven. Turn away from wickedness, turn away from sin, and simply by faith, you will be forgiven of all of your sins.
And secondly, if you've already done that, did it years ago, you have a faith that cannot perish, God opened it up in your soul, He has sustained it all these many years and He wants to test it, and He will test it. He's going to test your faith day after day, year after year, to show you that it's not from yourself but from Him. He's going to put you in trying and testing circumstances and by them you're going to grow, so simply expect to be tested. Don't act like it's a strange thing when you're going through a trial of faith.
And thirdly, be willing to offer up your own Isaacs, whatever they are. Thomas Mann preached, a Puritan that preach a great sermon on this offering up your Isaac. What does it mean to give up your Isaac? Well, it means, don't murmur against God, when He takes a loved one out of your life. Don't murmur against God, when He takes a beloved husband or beloved wife or a beloved mom or dad or a beloved child even. Don't murmur against God, at that time. I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but I want to read what Sarah Edwards said when she found out that Jonathan, her husband, had died of a smallpox inoculation very surprisingly, wrote of it in a letter to their daughter Esther, who herself would be dead in a short amount of time. And so frankly, with Sarah, all of them, all three of them. But this is what Sarah wrote to Esther.
"Oh, my very dear child. What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. Oh, that we may all kiss the rod and lay our hands on our mouths. The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness that we had Him so long, but my God lives and He has my heart. My heart didn't die when Jonathan Edwards died, God has my heart. Oh, what a legacy my husband and your Father has left us. We are all given to God, and there I am, and there I love to be."
May I commend that kind of faith to you next time you go through a serious trial. Kiss the rod. Say, "Praise God that the hand that holds the rod loves you and is only doing it to train you and prepare you." What else does it mean to give up your Isaac? Well, deny yourself. Self-denial for the cause of Christ. You give up your Isaac when you're willing to turn your backs on earthly comforts and advantages for the sake of the Gospel. In a small way, when you risk ridicule at work, or at school, or in your neighborhood, to share Christ, you're giving up your Isaac. What are you giving up? Well, you're giving up a reputation is a good guy, or a fun person, or how it is they look on you. I've talked about Workplace Evangelism, as the trading in of an inconsequential temporary assessment for one good opportunity to share the Gospel. Trade it in. It's not worth much anyway. They won't sacrifice much for you, I'm telling you they won't. If they even think about you, they have their odd thoughts anyways. Trade it in, trade it in, trade it in with love by prayer, look for an opportunity, and share Christ. Trade it in.
How much more, if you were willing to go overseas on a short-term mission trip, or to go to the South Durham Church Plant. Say, you know, I love First Baptist Church. I love being here, but I think God's calling on me to do something challenging, and to leave a church I love, and to go work with a new church. I think God's calling me to do that, by faith. You're also giving up your Isaac when you mortify the members of the body that are leading to lust. When Jesus said, "If your right eye cause you to sin, then gouge it out and throw it away," that's like giving up your Isaac. It's something precious, that could lead you to sin, just like Isaac could have been an idol for Abraham. It's a precious thing. Your right hand caused you to sin, then cut it off and throw it away. It's something valuable, something precious, something God gave you, but it's just leading you to sin. Give it up. Learn to reason by faith, learn to think through what you believe. Get to know the Bible better. Root everything you think on specific commands and promise in Texas scripture, and then reason from it. Let a city of truth, a whole metropolis of truth grow up inside your heart by Jesus, and by the biblical interpretation, and by reasoning, so that the world view of the Bible, just grows within you. Reason by faith.
They are not enemies, they're not separate domains, not at all. That's what Stephen J Gould and other unbelievers will tell you, they're just separate domains. They have nothing to do with each other. That's not my world view. Put them together. Faith and reason, reason by faith as Abraham did, and learn the pattern of un-questioning obedience to God. God is telling you to do something, then do it. Do it. You may have some wrangling, you may have a tortured-looking face, but in the end, all that matters is, did you obey God or not? And finally, put all of your hope in your future bodily resurrection. We are decaying, we're in a decaying orbit physically, "All men are like grass and all their glories like the flower the field." Your body is wearing out. But someday you're going to have a resurrection body. Don't fear death. Look ahead to it. Look forward to it. Look forward to the resurrected body, in the resurrected world. Live for that. And don't cling the things. I'm not saying, don't do what you need to do to stay healthy and be ready to serve God do that, stay in good shape. If you need surgery, get it, if you need chemo, get it, if it will heal you.
But the fact that matter is these bodies are wearing out. Use the time you have to serve Christ, and look ahead to the glorious resurrection. It's coming sooner and sooner, Amen. Close with me in prayer.