Test, Testimony, and Faith

Lent 1 B, February 22, 2015

Rev. Brian Henderson-
Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Genesis 22:1-8

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In our Old Testament lesson, we discover exactly why Abraham is the father of all who have ever been given and struggled to hold onto faith in the God of grace and mercy, and His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.  Or as we sang in the Children’s message, “Father Abraham has many sons.  I am one of them, and so are you” by and through that same faith that propelled and sustained Father Abraham.

Our message this morning will address the things that test our trust in God, the testimony that our test supplies after the test over, and the faith that grows throughout the process.

Can we all agree from the out set that tests of our trust in God are seldom enjoyable? I know that if Abraham could speak to us this morning, he would tell you that at the time, his test seemed like a living hell; that is the love and mercy of God seemed completely absent within the command of God.

What we must remember is that Abraham had recently went through and passed a test that almost broke his trust in God. What was that test?  God asked Abraham to send away his first-born son Ishamel, who was born through his wife’s servant Hagar.  He had to send the mother and son away because they were not part of God’s plan, or if you will, they were a product of no faith in God.  God had already promised both Abraham and Sarah that the coming Savior of the world would come through Sarah’s son and no other.  But Sarah, through a fearful spirit that lacked trust in God convinced her husband Abraham to lie down with and conceive a child with Hagar; this was a relationship that lacked trust in God and sought to bring a solution, a savior by the will of man and not in accordance to the will of God.

Sending Ishmael away had been difficult for Abraham, but now God is asking him to do what seems impossible; he must sacrifice the son of the promise. In this testing of Abraham’s faith, God was not out to discover the truth; He knew in advance that Abraham feared and loved God, but rather the test was for Abraham’s spiritual benefit. Abraham’s love for Isaac, as right and good as it was, had the potential in time, to crowd out or surpass his love for God. Jesus once said that, “Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

In God’s view, Abraham needed an opportunity to consciously put God first, above all things, even above his dear son Isaac. With this test God brought Abraham’s training in faith to a climax. The particular sacrifice God asked Abraham to bring is called a burnt offering, a blood sacrifice that in the Old Testament symbolized a person’s complete dedication to God.

What we must remember is that Abraham did not know that this was just a test of his love and trust in God’s promise until later. God did not say: “Abraham, don’t worry; this is only a test.” But God did tell Abraham that Isaac was to be the bearer of the messianic promise, and now he told him to kill that son. God’s words had been very clear: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac” (17:21). To Abraham it must have seemed that God’s command was now destroying God’s promise.

What test of your faith have you gone through or maybe are going through today? Maybe you too are struggling with establishing boundaries in your relationships, which ensure that God is not replaced by our love for others, not even with a spouse or children.  Have you failed to say no when you should have, in order to protect your relationship with God?  Or maybe you have turned a blind eye to inappropriate behavior of a loved one, so that you could continue to have them present in your life?  Or maybe your fear is centered in death?  Are you afraid of your death or the death of a loved one more than your fear and trust in God?

Can you imagine what went through Abraham’s mind all that night as he prepared to make the trip to the mountain of the Lord?  (Talk about your sleepless nights.)  And then the next morning, Abrham had to make a day long trip to the mountain.  Time can be the greatest asset of the devil as he continually attempts to whittle away at our trust in God’s Word.  He is an expert at it.  He used that tactic against Adam and Eve when he asked, “Did God really say if you eat the fruit of the tree you will die?  You will not die, but you will be and know as God knows.” In other words, God is holding out on you!

Let me put this test into a scenario that you might understand a little more clearly.  Suppose that there is a specific sin that you have been struggling with, and each time you have fallen to this sin you have repented and received the absolution and the resolve to master it once and for all, only to fall to it again.  You know that you have been baptized and salvation has been given to you; you have the promise of God through Christ that He will never forsake you or send you away.  But the devil and your own guilty conscience keeps throwing both your sin and your struggle in your face with these words: “You and your faith are a joke.  If you were a real Christian you wouldn’t keep falling into this sin.  Yes you are baptized.  Yes you say that you have faith in Christ, but maybe this time you have fallen into sin one too many times.  Maybe God no longer desires to save you?”  When these attacks and thoughts assail you dear Christian, you must turn to the same source that Abraham turned to, the promises of God.

When Abraham reached the mountain of the Lord, He ordered the servants to stay while he and Isaac went on ahead. What Abraham told his servants are words that are important for both His trust in God and ours.  Listen: “I and the boy will worship. Abraham was obediently following the will of God and he rightly describes that act of obedience as worship. In essence he was saying: “Lord, you have my heart.”  But it is what he says next that demonstrates God’s mighty presence in his life; he says, “And then we (that is I and the boy) will come back to you.” In this statement, we see that Abraham had resolved and answered an awful question that had been torturing him: “How can a merciful God cut off the messianic line?” Abraham’s faith answered, “He won’t!  If God commands me to kill Isaac and I obey him, then God is simply going to have to bring Isaac’s ashes back to life, and the two of us are going to come back down this mountain.  Amen!”

“Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice? That was Isaac’s question, and it should be the question of every sinner who is caught within the terror of their sins.  And the answer of faith that Abraham gave is the very same answer we sinners are given today.  “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

The Testimony. “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But 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, because you have not withheld from me your son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place Jehovah Jirah, The Lord Will Provide.”  And so it is true for all of us today who trust in the Lord’s promise to save us from our sins.

Here is Abraham’s testimony to us this morning.  He was called to obey God’s command; he was asked to disregard everything his heart and reason told him was good and right, and he was told to concentrate completely on God’s promise: “My covenant I will establish with Isaac.”  The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says it this way: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. 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.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19)

This morning God is asking you to go against your reason and put to death your fears and your worries that can interfere with His promise to you that through His work within your baptism, you have been saved.  He wants you to see that the Lord does provide even now.  Hear him call your name dear Christian, as He says, “Do not think that you have sinned beyond my ability to save.  I see your struggle and fears and I know that you fear me, because you do not hide your sin from me, even that powerful sin that you fight so intensely.”

And now dear saint, look up from within your grief and shame and see the substitute who will atone for your great sin.  See Him trapped within the thicket of your sins, dying upon a cross, and atoning for the sins of the world; even your sins.  See Him dying alone on the mountain of the Lord, on Calvary and know that God does still provide; He provides His one and only Son Jesus Christ.  He does that one thing that only He can do.  He gives and He dies.

Isaac was never to die as atonement for sin, and it is God’s will that none of us will die for ours either.  God does not wish that any should perish, but that all should repent, that is turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  Repent then.  Turn to the final sacrifice and trust in the promises of God; refresh your spirit again.  How, by…

Faith, (which) is a gift of God that is tested and witnessed to by those God calls and equips to testify of His forgiving love for sinners. Father Abraham indeed has many sons.  We are all sons of the promise of forgiveness of sins, which is fulfilled through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  You can believe in this promise, because the Lord has sworn to Himself, the highest source of verity, that through the example of faith that Abraham displayed, faith that is always the work and gift of God,  not just Abraham, but all who repent, will be blessed with this same gift of faith; faith in the substitute of God that atones for the sins of the world.

Therefore we sinners should hold fast to this comfort, that what God has once declared, this He does not change. You were baptized, and in Baptism the kingdom of God was promised to you. You should know that this is His unchangeable Word, and you should not permit yourself to be drawn away from it.

Dear friends, these stories of the testing of Abraham’s faith have been passed onto us so that we may be encouraged in our own trials and say with Abraham: “Though I struggle so deeply with my sin, because God has given me faith to trust in His promised forgiveness through Jesus Christ, my own grave where I will one day be laid in dust and ashes will simply be a place of rest. The fact that your flesh will die has absolutely no implications on the promises of forgiveness and resurrection that have been given to you in your baptism through the Word of God.

During this Lenten season we are sustained by both God’s Law and His Gospel with these two statements which God made first to Adam and then to us—“You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19) and “The Seed (of the woman) shall crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15)  That is, God’s substitute who dies our death shall as promised to Abraham, destroy, conquer, and possess the gate of his enemies, which are sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, let me share these closing words of Luther who desired that the church would know the great blessing it has by this example of Abraham and the promise that was given to him and to each of us this morning: “We, too, who believe that this Seed (of the woman who is the Son of God) is our blessing, have good reason to glory and act proudly over against all the gates of hell and (even) against Satan himself. To be sure, we are compelled to bear the hate and cruelty of our enemies; but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Since we are Christians and believe in the Seed who blesses us, why should we care if the devil or the world is angry? For all we care, let them take away what we have, and let them kill the body. They will not for this reason keep us in death, will they? Not at all, for we are blessed and are sure of life over against death and of the grace and favor of God over against the hatred of the world.”  AMEN!

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