| Genesis 22 – Tested by the Lord Bishops Waltham 18.01.2015
Today we are going to talk about the testing of the Lord. Genesis 22:1. I know we would rather speak about the triumphs of the Lord and wonderful lives that he has planned for us, for the amazing promises to answer our prayers, to give us victory over our enemies, to make effective witnesses in this world and so on. But the truth is triumph comes through testing.
We know that true victory in this life comes through faith. This is the victory that overcomes the world even our faith. 1 Jn 5:4 But Faith has to be exercised. Faith is like a muscle that needs to be stretched and strengthened by resistance and force. And the resistance and force that God gives faith, is what the Bible calls testing (trials). This is not like an exam to see how well you’re doing, rather it is like the testing of precious metals, which are heated up to extreme temperatures so that impurities can be removed and the metal can become pure and perfect.
1 Peter 1: 6-7 Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to, so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Job 23: 10 he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
James 1:2-4 consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Job 7: 17-18 what is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment?
Imagine, God is testing you, to make you stronger, and better, and more successful, and mature, every day of your life. Every day your faith is being tested. Every day you have faith building opportunities - the problem is most of us don’t recognise these tests when they come because we don’t even realise they are tests from God designed to help us to grow, and their wasted on us.
And what are these tests?
While these tests come in different packages. Sometimes they are disappointments. Sometimes they involve relational struggles, or even relational breakdowns. Sometimes its great intimidation, or rejection, or criticism from colleagues or supposed friends. It can be failure, or loss, or humiliation, or embarrassment - or anything that causes personal discomfort. And the truth is how we respond to these tests will determine how much we grow in God, how much we become mature, strong, confident and full of faith, effective prayer warriors and witnesses to Jesus.
“I walked a mile with pleasure, She chatted all the way, But she left me none the wiser For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow And ne’er a word said she, But, oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me.” We learn so much more in times of trial than in times of tranquillity.
Abraham - a model for Christians
Abraham is the father of the people of faith, our father, the father of the faithful. God began with this man. He fathered the Jewish family of faith and then the Christian family of faith. Gal 3:7,9. So we are all directly related to Abraham. He is the pioneer our faith. He is also the prototype of all Christians, especially in matters of faith. He is presented as the supreme example of faith throughout the New Testament. See Romans and Hebrews.
Clearly this man had the highest calling of all men in the Old Testament. Yes, there were others who had great callings. Men like Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and all the other great men and women of God we read about. But none of their dreams or God’s purposes for them would have been realised without this man.
In Genesis 12:1-3 God says He will make Abraham into a great nation and bless him; that his name would be great; that all peoples in the world will be blessed by him. In Genesis 13 and 15 God says that Abraham’s descendants will be so great in number they are compared with sand on the seashore and stars in the night sky. Romans says he was a first person to be justified by faith Rom 4:3, also Gal 3:6. Two verses later Paul says that God announced the gospel in advance to Abraham. What a great calling!
2. The testing of the Lord
But as we read through Abraham’s life we see that it was not automatic. Abraham had to be prepared and trained before he entered into all the promises of God. And the way God trained him was through testing, by putting him through tough times, facing him with unassailable barriers, with insurmountable problems and impossible situations.
Remember that Abraham is our prototype. God has made us many promises, that we would be the head and not the tail, that we would experience victory over all our enemies, that we would be salt and light in the world, that we would be more than conquerors in any situation, that we would be members of God’s elite army of overcomers, that the nations would come to us saying, “teach us the ways of the Lord.” Isn’t this what we joined up for? To become the best people possible for God!
These are great promises, but we will not experience them without going through the school of God’s testing. That’s what this passage is teaching us. In fact, this teaching is woven into the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation. Think of Moses. They say he spent 40 years thinking he was a somebody, 40 years learning he was a nobody and 40 years learning what God can do with a nobody. Think of the Israelites. What an amazing deliverance they experienced from Egypt. And what a wonderful life they were offered in the Promised Land. But they had to go through the wilderness of testing to get there. You can do a character study of any of God’s generals in the Bible and you will find that God shapes the character, the attitude, the faith and the inner strength of these men and women through trials, challenges and impossible situations.
When the church in the wilderness Acts 7:38 was confronted with a challenge, and they failed, they had to go around the mountain again! They say that Israel could have arrived at the promised land within 11 days, but instead it took them 40 years because they never wide challenges came, how to turn their testings into triumphs, their tragedies into transformations. Not me Lord!
That’s what this chapter is about - to teach us that if we respond to the challenges we face in a godly way we can go up another level and experience greater degrees God’s blessing, God’s promises and God’s plans for our lives! Let’s not be like the Israelites who failed to enter all the promises of God because they lost it in times of testing.
3. Abraham’s test
Abraham has been tested many times before. He was promised a child and the child never came. He failed and had a child by Hagar. But God was gracious! He was afraid when he went to Egypt and thought someone would steal his beautiful wife, so he lied about who she was. Another failure! But there were victories too. In Gen 18 to save Lot and his family he reasoned his case with God and wouldn’t let go until Lot and his family were saved. But this test in Gen 22 was the greatest to date.
God said, “Take your son, whom you love, to the region of Moriah sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Please put aside any thoughts you have about the apparent cruelty of God or the unreasonableness of this demand. God was about to teach Abraham the most important lesson he ever learned. God simply employed a practice that was very common in the ancient world. All the nations in the Middle East practiced child sacrifice. Abraham came from a long line of pagan ancestors. God was merely employing something that Abraham would understand. So don’t get distracted and miss the point. Rather try to enter into the experience of Abraham and what he was going through at this time.
“Take your son, whom you love.” The Hebrew word for ‘love’ appears 195 times in the Old Testament, but this is the first. He had waited 25 years for that son. He was the son of promise. Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born. Abraham had named him Isaac, meaning "laughter." Isaac must have been in his late teens and memories of laughter-filled days and promised blessing must have exploded in this father's mind. Yet that son, who had captivated Abraham's heart for some 16 to 18 years was to be given back to God as a sacrifice. Whatever went through Abraham’s mind? How his mind must have raced with thoughts! What about God’s promises? How will I tell Sarah? What would I say to my friends when I return? What will this say about God?
You talk about your world falling apart! You talk about the problems that you and I go through! You talk about injustices, rejections, disappointments, failures, unfairness, sickness and pain! Who among us have ever been through a test like Abraham on that day?
There are three things in Abraham’s experience which are common areas of testing in our lives.
A. The testing of faith
This is when what we believe is challenged by what we see - when we believe what God has said, or what the Bible has said, and it doesn’t look like it’s true in our lives. Abraham believed all God had said would be true of Isaac. All his hopes were pinned on this son of promise. But now?
We all go through the testing of our faith when things don’t go well for us. When hopes are dashed, when we suffer loss, when we go through traumas that cause us pain and sadness. When these things happen our natural tendency is to wonder where God is! We ask questions like “why me,” “what have I done to deserve this,” “has God left me?” “Why has God allowed the devil to do this to me?”
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7 we live by faith not by sight. At least we supposed to! And if we live by faith and trust that God is going to work this out (Romans 8: 28) we get better and stronger. But if we live by sight we get bitter and weaker. On such occasions we need to trust in God’s word. He will not let us down.
Some years ago a young US businessman who was very keen Christian, longed to free up time to serve the Lord in his local church. He prayed about it and out of the blue he was given the opportunity to purchase an ailing business and he thought that he could pull it round and turn it into a success. For two years he worked hard and the business began to prosper. Then, the break he was hoping for happened. A large British conglomerate became interested and negotiations began for the sale. After several months travelling to London for meetings and discussion a decision was reached. He was to manage the firm for two years, then the new owners were to pay him a handsome figure which would effectively fund him for the rest of his life. He was overjoyed and shared it with the pastor. Arrangements were underway for him to enter full time in the local church. Then everything went horribly wrong. At the last minute the prospective buyers pulled out and the guy was left in extreme discouragement. All his dreams were shattered. All the time he had put in and money spent was for nothing. He didn’t feel the presence of God at all. He felt let down and began to be very depressed.
For some weeks he could not work out what was wrong. His whole understanding and sense of God's blessing was rapidly leaving him. The he heard the news. The owner of the company that almost bought him out was.... Robert Maxwell. God had saved him from making a terrible mistake that could have lost him his whole livelihood! Hang on!!
B. The testing of obedience
This is when God clearly tells us what to do in a given situation but we feel that it is too hard to obey, or rather that it is more comfortable for us to disobey. But I want to say that what is right to do is always right to do. To do what is wrong to do, to compromise, to refuse or ignore what God is saying, can only ever end in weakness and failure for you. I know some things are hard!
This was the hardest thing Abraham ever faced. Would he obey God even though he didn’t understand why the command was necessary, because the command was so costly? There are, in just the New Testament, 1050 commands for believers to obey. Of all these commands, some of them seem unreasonable. Some of them seem inconvenient. Some of them seem downright impossible. They are there to test or strengthen our faith.
A command like "Don’t worry about anything." Anybody struggle with that one? That can be a tough one. Or a command like "Do good to your enemies." Or "Forgive people." Or "Be thankful in everything." (Not for everything) “neglect not the gathering of yourselves together.” “Wives obey your husband’s.” “Admonish one another.” “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” ie stand up for what you believe at work!
Every time God gives us a command in the Bible it is a demand that is placed on our life and it’s a test. Will you make a decision today to obey God, even if it’s hard, even if you don’t understand it, even if it doesn’t make sense?
C. The testing of sacrifice
This is when God asks you to do something that you feel is too costly. This was the most costly test that Abraham could ever have or did ever have. There are many examples of costly sacrifice in the Bible. But great blessing and power is released through sacrifice.
On this very spot, 700 years later, on Mount Moriah, David offered a costly sacrifice. He had sinned and God had sent a plague on the people. An angel appeared and told David a sacrifice would stop it. He approached the owner of this piece of ground in Jerusalem, the same spot that Abraham stood on, and the owner offered to pay for the altar and the sacrifices. But David refused, saying “if I pay for them that’s no sacrifice.” So he provided his own, made the sacrifice and the plague stopped! 2 Samuel 4:24.
2 Chronicles 3:1 This very spot was where Solomon built the temple! This is where God’s presence would dwell -space where there was sacrifice. If you want to experience God’s presence you have to be a person of sacrifice.
1 Kings 17: 10-16 the woman who gave her flour and oil for bread to Elijah – sacrifice releases personal blessings
Mk 10:29-30 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mal 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” Sacrifice brings blessing!
Luke 6:38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Sacrifice is important to God! It’s important that you pass this test. It brings so much blessing to God and into your life! Why does God take notice of such sacrifice? Because sacrifice is at the heart of God. Our God is a sacrificial God. He gives until it hurts. He loves despite the pain, despite our rebellion and despite the fact that we don’t deserve it. And Jesus showed us the sacrificial love. He was the sacrifice. He gave himself as a sacrifice. He lay down his life for us.
Strangely, there’s no mention of Ab’s sacrifice in NT – only one sac is worthy of mention!
In closing, look what happened to Abraham. Genesis 22:12, 15-18! God had made promises and Abraham passed the test! It was a done deal! Triumph came through testing!
This week you will be tested. You will be tested by difficult circumstances. Various challenges will certainly come your way. Make no mistake about it. God wants you to improve, to become stronger, to grow in your faith, to become mature and confident and successful! But you must pass the test. Give us grace O God?