Sermon February 20, 2005 : Genesis 22 (part 2)
- Presenter: Dr. Roberto Miranda | Translator: Dr. Roberto Miranda
- Length: 50:04
- Date: February 20, 2005
- Location: Congregation Lion of Judah, Boston MA
Genesis, chapter 22 and we’re going to go from verse 1 on. Father we commit this word to you. It comes from you. We need your instruction, your enlightment in order to discharge it properly. The message that you want to give to us this morning, allow us to receive it in the depths of our heart. Holy spirit, lead us as we meditate upon your word in Jesus’ name.
I was just saying that last Sunday that we would continue with this study. Really the intention was to make it just one sermon, but it is such a rich text that we need to take a little bit more time, so we’re going to take this additional Sunday to probe further the word of God with respect to Abraham and his incarnating, I think, the spirit of giving and the spirit of obedience, as we see here in this passage where he’s asked to sacrifice his son and he does it willingly.
In the context of our financial campaign, we are raising funds, by the way, for a new sanctuary, and we are preaching a series of sermons in the light of that fact, sort of stimulating, encouraging each other to give to the Lord and to live a life of giving and to live a life of generosity towards others and also towards, of course, before anything else, before God. We are reading this text here, we are exploring the life of Abraham because as I said it is such a wonderful illustration of that attitude of giving out of obedience, and giving out of acknowledgement of God’s lordship over our lives. And so we are continuing this study, but particularly we want to sort of focus it in respect to this goal that we have established ourselves: to raise enough funds from our congregation, to provide a crucial part for the construction of our temple, so we are encouraging ourselves to go in that direction. We’ve been saying that one of the greatest principles of giving that we see in scripture, is that believers have to give in, what I call, the zone of discomfort.
You know that this idea that giving implies going beyond the comfortable. If we stay and we just give what is really not necessary to us, what we don’t need, what is the excess of what we have, then really that is not giving to the Lord. God is pleased, and we see this from Genesis to Revelation, God is most pleased when we exert ourselves, when we exercise ourselves, really when we put to trial our sense of comfort and this sense of self preservation of our comfort, of our survival, the predictable. When we wager that, when we enter into that zone of deficit, if you will, that’s really when you’re entering into the zone of faith and the zone that you can reach God’s heart. And we have also said that giving to the Lord in that way always implies a certain kind of death. It is a sort of holocaust, and if you see that concept of burning a sacrifice, really it’s not the flesh that you are burning, you’re releasing a life, I mean, what God is receiving in sacrifice is the life force, the life energy that is implied in that burning of the holocaust and so when we give to the Lord there has to be that element of sacrifice, that element of holocaust, that element of burning the life so that God may receive it. And this is why I think that giving is such a sacrificial kind of action, it has to go into the zone of sacrifice.
There are so many illustrations that we can see in Scripture besides Abraham’s giving spirit. The widow who gave all that she had, all her sustenance, all her hope, every little penny she gave it to the Lord and Jesus saw that, since she had given in that zone, she had given so much more than the rich people around her who gave simply out of the excess that they had. They gave comfortably, they didn’t need what they were giving, so really it wasn’t in that zone of the spirit that they were giving, according to the interpretation of Jesus.
You know the second principle that we had talked about is that when we give, for example when that widow was giving, she probably thought: well God is faithful enough to provide for me. This is the moment of giving and so I’m going to give what I have and God will take care of my meal, my next meal. And we have been stressing this fact that when we give, we must give from this posture of “God is our provider”, “God will fill the space that we are opening up through our faith”. We see that in the life of Elijah, that we discussed earlier, and we see in the life of Abraham as well, when Isaac asks him: well, father, where’s the sacrifice going to come from? And Abraham famous words are;: the Lord will provide. And so when we are giving to the Lord in that zone of discomfort and all of a sudden we are afraid in our biology that somehow we’re not going to be able to pay the rent, or pay that mortgage, or we’ll be extracting some from that housing saving that we’ve been putting away, your husband, your wife, a friend may ask you: yes, but what about this or that, that we’re giving up? And the answer for the believer is: God will provide, the Lord will provide. We must always give to the Lord from that posture of sufficiency, not from a posture of lack or of doubt. There is always this thing, no matter how much I give on to God He is my supplier. See, and that is sort of the fault posture of the believer. We shall see later on if we get to that point, that Abraham was giving out of that posture, but even in a more specific way than just saying: God will provide. He was, in his mind, he was roaming around on other possibilities as well, specifically about the life of Isaac and how God could provide even there as well, and we shall see that in a moment.
There’s a third principle here, when we give to the Lord it implies death to self, death to self, death to what we feel is important to ourselves. This whole drama of Abraham and Isaac, really there were several deaths there. One of them figuratively, as the writer of Hebrew says in chapter 11, was the death of Isaac. It was symbolic, it was spiritual. But also there was the death of Abraham himself who died as a father, probably died a thousand deaths in those three days as he ascended that mountain. He was dying bit by bit, he was bleeding and he was dying to his dreams, to his desire for self preservation, almost I think his image of God, a just, coherent God, that was being sacrificed as well, because God was all of a sudden, seeming to act incoherently by asking for the death of a child which He himself abhorred, so there was a lot of death going on in the life of Abraham. Moría in Spanish is very close to dying; morir in Spanish means to die, so this in Spanish there’s a pun there which is very interesting.
Here in verse 1, chapter 22, there’s another principle here, it says: “God tested Abraham”. This testing, the trials that God puts us through, like a trainer puts through an athlete. It’s a very important element. You know, God tests us. Why does God tests us? Just very quickly: 1) for his own glory, just to express some aspect of himself and to be glorified like in the case of Job versus Satan.
Secondly God tests us to bring out what is hidden in us. It is not so much for his knowledge because He knows everything, but it is really to bring out the hidden things that we might know and that they might be legally established because God is a God that proceeds according to legal principles. In the case of Israel, God tested them in the desert to bring out what was hidden in them. What came out? Disloyalty, lack of faith, ingratitude, all kinds of things. They ended of all dying in the desert, except those whom trial showed another element, another essence: Joshua, Calib. They were of a different ilk and so they entered the Promised land. Trial brought out something that God needed to be established before proceeding with justice.
God also tests us to strengthen our faith, in the case of Abraham for example. I’m sure his faith was a lot stronger at the end of that deep trial.
God also tests us to establish and declare spiritual principles that will be of benefit and of edification for future generations, and this is what Scripture is all about, really to set trials and testing of different individuals that served as sort of case studies from which generations of believers would receive great strengthening and illumination. And God established those spiritual principles through these wonderful texts and stories and characters that we have here.
God also tests us to promote our growth, and to promote the development of virtues that He requires from his children. God tests us also to promote our growth, the development of virtues that are necessary for a believer to honor the Lord. In the case of Peter, when he denied the Lord and he went into that test with the approval of Jesus, because Satan had asked to sift him like wheat, through that trial, through denying the Lord Peter, gained all kinds of insights into himself, he learnt that he wasn’t Superman as he thought he was. His pride was crushed, he learnt humility, he learnt dependency on God, he learnt depth of self and these are virtues that are absolutely crucial for anyone who seeks to serve the Lord. So God tested him in that sense as well. The devil tries to tempt us, to make us fail. God tries us to makes us succeed. You see the difference?
You know, God tested Abraham because he wanted to create a warrior, he wanted to establish certain principles for eternity.
God tests us and tests our hearts in order to determine our attitude towards our possessions. You know God uses many times possessions of any kind, whatever they might be, whether it’s reputation, comfort, security, money, whatever, love. He tests those areas because this is where our affection lies and so God uses those test of our affections in order to test our heart. It is the instrument that God uses and so this is important as we give, as we are asked to give, you know many times you say: am I willing to part with this money? Am I willing with the hope of that vacation or with the hope of that house, or with the hope of just that new appliance? It can get as basic as that. So God tests us in our affection in order to determine really where our heart lies and the quality of our heart.
You know God tested Abraham in his most beloved possession which was his son, his hope of descendants, his hope of spiritual legacy, and God said: you know, let me test you in that which you love most, and let me see if you prefer me to him, and that was the test. It’s just one thing here: God is a jealous God. God is always struggling with his people. I mean, you know if I were a liberal theologian I would say that God had a cosmic insecurity, which is that He’s always seeking to, and that’s not true by the way, let me just quickly dispel that notion, but it does make for good drama though that idea. I see all the time, kind of testing his people to see if they love him enough. There is insight in there because in the drama of Genesis and Eden there was a violation of God’s paternal heart, when Eve and Adam violated his commandment and since them God’s heart has been broken, and God is always seeking to kind of rectify that essential flaw by having it established time and time and time again that we prefer Him over everything else. So there is drama there as well and we need to understand that so that’s why it’s so precious to God when we give, because in a certain way we’re minimally redressing that initial break back in the book of Genesis.
I’m going to jump a few things here. Let just for a moment focus even more specifically on Abraham’s attitude toward the God who’s asking for something incredible. What is his attitude and what attitudes can we learn from there? We are going to learn hopefully, through this brief exploration, how we ourselves should react specifically when God asks us to give him certain things that are precious to us.
The first thing I see is that Abraham obeys immediately. There are no;: well, God I don’t know. Can we negotiate this, I mean? Maybe I can give you Ishmael instead of Isaac. You know Abraham doesn’t negotiate, he doesn’t draw back, he doesn’t question. He obeys. Maybe inside of him there was a huge turmoil but outwardly, like a soldier, he simply salutes and says: yes, sir and he goes on to proceed according to what God asked him. You know, he is willing and this is really the basic posture. If God asks you for anything in life, give it to Him immediately. Do not question Him. Do not resist. Let your first response be: yes, God, and then deal with the deep emotions that will be elicited as a result of that request from the Lord. But, always be ready to give to the Lord whatever the Lord asks. The great men and women of God in Scripture, you see them in their trials, in their tests, they were willing to relinquish whatever it was that God required of them, without questioning and perhaps with questioning inside, but on the outside they obeyed the Lord.
Corrie Ten Boom, the great Christian writer, used to say that “I have learned to hold my possession lightly so that if God grabs them from me it will not hurt.” That is such a profound attitude. We should live life very lightly, not holding on to anything whether it’s a profession, or a dream, or love, or whatever, because God may ask of us one of those things that we should always have that disposition, we should have this blank sheet signed on the bottom, given over to God that says: whatever you want to write on that and require from me, you have the deat. This is really the ultimate posture of yielding to the Lord.
The second thing that I see is that Abraham shows good disposition. He shows you know, it’s just he does things, even in his outward way with good disposition. Where do I see this? You know, it says here in verse 3 that Abraham got up very early in the morning. You know he didn’t get up at noon time or one o clock, hoping that maybe God had forgotten about what He had asked him, or simply saying: hey, let me postpone this bitter trial until the last minute. I’m depressed anyway, so let me rebel a little while in my depression before I get up. No, it says that he got up early in the morning. And you know there’s something here about giving to the Lord joyfully. You know when you give joyfully, the Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. The person who goes beyond the line of duty. Abraham got up early in the morning to be ready and to get going, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s show the Lord that we can do this.
You know this week I was blessed by a couple in this church who said that: pastor, towards our financial campaign, we want to donate 20.000 dollars, we don’t want our names to be known but we want to give 20.000 dollars for this financial campaign. And I am blessed by them because they said: you know God has blessed, and we want to go beyond that call of duty of 5.000 dollars over two years that you have said. We want to give 20.000 dollars.
You know God loves that kind of cheerful giving. It is not done you know out of sterile need or whatever, but really out of a desire to give God because people have that disposition, that willingness to give, that joy in giving. One of my favorite images of Jesus is in the gospel where it says that as He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified, He walked ahead of his disciples. He was a leader, even in suffering. He was not sort of staying behind the line, saying: well, giving my life is enough. No, He said: I want to do it in the right way by heading this procession to death and this is what Abraham is doing here. He is getting up early to honor the Lord as soon as possible and get this thing taken care of the way that it needs to be taken care of.
The third thing that is see here is that Abraham went to the place that God instructed him to go to, to give his son. In verse 2, chapter 22, God says: “go and offer your son in one of the mountains that I will show you. I will tell you”, and then we see the obedience part at the very end of verse 3, it says that Abraham went to the place that God had told him to go to. There’s something here which is very important which is specific obedience. We give to the Lord in the very specific way that has required and in the place which He has required. It is not up to us to kind of make adjustments and to decide how we want to do this and to become into some theologians to kind of determine really, what it is that God really meant. We must be obedient. And this is very important.
You know it is something very important that as we tithe, as we give our offerings to the Lord we do it in the place that God has determined that that be, and that is in the house of the Lord. We tithe, we give our offerings in the place where we are nourished spiritually, in the place of our loyalty, in the place of out affiliation. It is not up to us, really, to determine: no, I prefer to give my money to this small community in my country that needs it because Lion of Juda has too much money, anyway. No, we give to the Lord where we are worshiping. And the Bible is very clear on that. When God spoke to tithing He says: go the place where I told you, in the temple and you bring your offering there, and believers are faithful in that. God said to Abraham: sacrifice your son in Mount Moria and you know that’s where you have to do it, and that’s where Abraham went. You know we have to obey way in specific ways, it is not up to us to make adjustments. That is not the zone of sacrifice.
Another principle; he exercised faith and he declared with his mouth, which is so important. Look at what Abraham said to his servants, he says: “my son and I are going to go to that place that God asked us and we shall return and we, not I, we shall return to you. We shall return to you”. Abraham is implying here, by saying, we shall return that, you know, I don’t know precisely what is going to transpire up there, and how God is going to show himself faithful but I know that I’m going to return with my son, no matter what, my son will be given to me. God is not going to ask of me something that contradicts his faithfulness, his love, his coherence. And he declares that, I suspect that inside of him there was deep doubt, there was deep struggle, he wasn’t sure, but anyway he verbalized faith. And I find that that’s such a powerful principle in Scripture that even though we are doubting many times we must use our declaration of faith, our confession of faith to engender faith in us and to honor the Lord out of our deep doubt, out of our deep struggle, out of our deep uncertainty we choose to confess and to proceed according to what our higher faculties dictate to us, not our lower faculties of doubts, but the spirit that says: yes, God is faithful. This is such an important rule of faith which is that we must learn to verbalize faith even before we feel it and in verbalizing faith, faith is engendered and then it becomes natural to us. So, this is a principle that Abraham is using here.
You know, this is the principle behind giving to the Lord and tithing and giving our offerings generously. It’s that when we do this externally we are declaring, even though inside of us we may have doubts, just like Abraham had doubts about whether God was going to pull through or not in this case. But every Sunday that we come, we bring our tithes to the Lord and we are declaring God is faithful, God is good, God is my provider, God will supply all my needs. God has been there for me and He will continue to be there. We are declaring that even though inside ourselves we’re thinking: oh, yes, who’s going to pay the rent or who’s going pay the insurance for the car. What’s going to happen this summer when we want to go to Europe on our vacation. But we are declaring it nevertheless. Abraham exercised faith and he declared it. That’s so important.
Then the final thing that I see here is that he trusted in the divine provision. We see this in verse 8 when Isaac asks him: well, who’s going to provide the sacrifice? There’s no sign here of anything. You haven’t brought the lamb. And Abraham said: well, God will provide that lamb my son. He was trusting in God. But let’s go deeper. We have an insight from the very mind of God that gives us even a deeper understanding of Abraham’s depth of faith here. We find that as I said before in Hebrews 11.
Let’s just go quickly to Hebrews 11, then I’m going to close here quickly. Hebrews 11:17 . It says that by faith Abraham, when he was tested, he offered Isaac and he who had received the promised now saw himself offering his only son, having been told “in Isaac you shall receive descendants”. It says that he was thinking that God is powerful to raise even from the dead. So this was really what was behind Abraham’s posture of faith and his belief that God was going to provide. His idea was, well, God is asking me to kill my son, but you know what? He can give him back, He can resurrect him. I mean, that was the depth, he didn’t even know that God was not going to require the death of his son, but he said even if God requires that, He will somehow enable me to bring back my son because He’s going to resurrect him. I mean, guau! That is faith. That is faith.
You know our calling is to just trust the details to God. We just know that there are governing principles that determine the way he acts with respect to his creatures and many times He will call us to do things that have no explanations, no possible solutions. We will break our heads and we will try to think: how could God resolve this situation? How could He show himself faithful in this difficult trial? And you may not have the answer, but you must remember and trust that God has an answer. He is infinitely creative, He is infinitely able to show himself faithful and merciful. Your task is simply to trust in Him, rely on Him, lie in his arms and believe in his justice, his love, his faithfulness. Let him work out the details. Oh, if I could only apply that to myself as I preach it that would be great, but I know that’s where I have to go.
You know, they knew more, the final solution, the out result, whatever you call it, the result of this drama is that God says to Abraham: Abraham, since you have shown your disposition to give me what you most love, I shall bless you, not only with that son but with descendants that if you could count the sands that are next to the sea, you would be able to count your descendants. And this is so. There is a couple of hundreds around here today. Praise the Lord.
You know out of that holocaust, that sacrifice, that giving in the zone of discomfort, that willing to be crucified, that willing to sacrifice what you most love, says God, out of that I will create myself a nation, out of this moment, this supreme moment of faith and of spiritual yielding I shall make myself a people. That’s going to be the foundation of it. And every time that we chose to give God that which we most love, that which we most treasure, that which we most enjoy, God is glorified. A holocaust is established before the Lord and great blessing comes both to the giver and also to those that are around him. May this be our legacy today as we meditate on the life of Abraham.
Let’s just stand. Give God the glory. Let’s just consecrate that attitude of Abraham in our lives. Let’s just ingest the example that Abraham has given us today. Let’s just declare to the Lord: Father, I am willing to enter into that inheritance, I’m willing to enter into that generation of Abraham’s. I want to be of that mind, of that attitude, that if you ask me to give you anything no matter how much I love it, how much I enjoy it, I shall be willing to give it to you. Father we know that only your spirit can give us that level of generosity towards you, of yielding, of obedience. So, Holy Spirit we embrace that truth, we embrace these principles. Allow us to be a giving, obedient, sacrificial people. Thank you Lord. We know that in that that spirit there is joy, there is life, there is wealth of all kinds.