Sunday, May 18, 2014
Pastor David Lewellyn
The Promise That Almost Wasnt
Genesis 22:1-19

Hello! My name is David Lewellyn and I am one of the Student Ministries pastors at Life Center. Today, we are going to continue our summer sermon series we are calling, B.C.: Stories from the Thick Part of Your Bible. We thought this was a fun title because before Bibles were digital, they used to be books and the Old Testament (the section of scripture from which we are finding our stories), is thicker than the New Testament.

We are going to be looking at a pivotal story in the Bible, today.

It’s a story for people that have ever been in a situation where it seemed like God just didn’t make sense.

It’s a story where it seemed as if God was not going to keep a promise he had given. A big promise. A promise that would change the world. A promise that almost wasn’t.

Big Idea: You can’t always understand God, but you can always trust God.

We’re going to do things a little different, today. I’ve asked Rebecca Burnham, one of our Torches Discipleship students, and student ministries life group leaders to read the story we are going to be talking about. When she’s done reading, I’ll begin blabbing.

Genesis 22:1-19

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 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.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “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, your only son.”

13 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. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

My wife, Jenese, and I have two daughters, Galilee and Eleanor,  and we are expecting our third baby sometime in late October (Family Picture). We also have two dogs.

(Bruno Picture) This is Bruno and my youngest daughter, Ellie. She loves Bruno. She gives him a hug each night before bed. We also have the second dog, Bailey (Goofy Muscle Dog Picture). Okay, that’s just a joke. That’s not Bailey. This is Bailey (Bailey Picture). Interesting fact: this is a picture of the one time in Bailey’s life when she stopped moving and just laid down. Here’s a picture of both of them after running and jumping in puddles (Both Dogs Picture).

ILL: A few years ago, I was speaking at a youth camp. My wife was going to be with me, but our daughter (we only had one at the time) had a fever, so the two of them stayed home. I received a call late one of the nights. It was my wife. Pandemonium had hit my house.

Jenese woke up to check on our daughter and decided to let the dogs out in the backyard to do what they do. As soon as she opened the door, the dogs shot outside at incredible speed, barking like mad, chasing something.

Jenese quickly opened the door and yelled for the dogs to come back. She didn’t want their barking to wake the neighbors. The dogs hurried their way back to the house and darted inside.

Now, does anyone here know the motto of Spokane? “Near nature, near perfect.”

On this particular night, nature had come too near. (Skunk Picture)

Both dogs had taken a shot at removing what they perceived to be a threat from our backyard. The skunk had taken a shot at both dogs. This was a very accurate skunk. 

My wife was now home alone with a sick infant, and two dogs covered in skunk odor, running madly around the house.

When she called me, it was to let me know it was time to sell the house and buy all new things. We would be including the dogs in the price of sale.

The terrible scent permeated every part of our home. Anything that could absorb the smell, did. I could smell it everywhere. I was always self-conscious because i thought it was in my clothes. I didn’t want to be the smelly guy. Nobody wants to be the smell guy. It was a huge mess!

Have you ever been responsible for cleaning up a mess so big you didn’t know where to begin?

Pastor and Author, Andy Stanley, speaking of  these types of messes gives a piece of advice is his book, The Grace of God.

“When it comes to cleaning up a colossal mess, you just have to pick a place to start and then start. Otherwise, it’s just too overwhelming.” [1]

This is what Jenese and I had to do. We started by killing the dogs. It’s okay, it was as a burnt offering to the Lord.

I’m kidding. We were frustrated, but we started by cleaning the dogs. We then proceeded to scrub and deodorize the rest of our house. It was overwhelming and miserable but after a battle that lasted weeks, we finished. And we’re still married!

In his book, Stanley tells us that sin created a big mess of everything, and God in his grace, set out to redeem it. God started somewhere.

Before we take a deeper look at today’s story and jump into the points on our outline, I want to take a minute to paint a picture of the context. I want to look at the mess. I’m going to borrow from Andy Stanley’s book as we do.

Two Sundays ago, Josh gave an incredible message on God’s creation of everything and then the subsequent fall of all things because of sin. Adam and Eve rebelled against God, and in doing so introduced every part of the world to the havoc of sin. The skunk smell. Sin contaminated everything!

Everything God made was no longer perfect. It was wicked. It was contaminated by the very people assigned to protect it.

Genesis 6:5-6

5 The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.

As we learned last week from Ginger’s message on the story of Noah, God sent a flood. This flood destroyed the earth, including all people who chose wickedness over God. Only a small group of believers accepted God’s invitation to be delivered from the judgement that would come—Noah and his family. So the whole earth was destroyed by a flood.

You would think that would solve the problem, but it didn’t. It just delayed it and made it wet. Sin continued, and within a few generations the earth was once again wicked. The earth was a huge mess.

Andy Stanley puts it like this,

“The sin God hates and the humanity he loves are so intertwined that to destroy one is to destroy the other. Yet to spare humanity would mean the epidemic of sin would consume the world.”

Andy Stanley

The Grace of God p.

So God had a huge mess on his hands. But he didn’t choose to sell the house and kill the dogs. He chose to extend his grace. He chose to redeem the world. He chose to clean up the mess.

In the end, the mess would be cleaned up by a savior. A savior who would destroy sin, while saving people. He would redeem the world. But where could he begin this redemption in a world where everything was a huge mess and tainted by sin? He began with a sinner. A sinner named Abram.

In the story we are looking at today, he is called Abraham. But that was not always his name.

When God called Abraham, he was living with the pagan tribe of his father. He was 75 years old and his wife, Sarah, was 65 years old.

Genesis 12:1-3

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

God told Abraham to go and didn’t even say where he was taking him. That meant leaving his country, his home, his culture, his family, everything he knew and loved. But God gave him a promise. He would give him a land of his own, he would make him a great nation, and he would bless him and make him a blessing to the world.

At this point, Abraham had no land, he and his wife were unable to have children, and he was a nobody, hardly influential enough to bless the whole world. All he had was what the promise God had made him. So he believed God and took off in faith. And that’s what God was looking for.

God was going to make Abraham a great nation and through his family bless the entire world, but there was a problem. Abraham and Sarah weren’t able to have a family of their own. Sarah was barren and they were both old. God had promised them children, and I’m no fertility doctor, but I believe that 65 and 75 years old are rather difficult ages at which to start a family. I just think, when you are that age and trying to have children, certain problems may arise.

After ten years of wandering the land God had promised, Sarah, now 75 years old, decided to help God out and take matters into her own hands. She convinced Abraham to sleep with her servant, Hagar. Because for some reason that seemed like a good idea. He did. Hagar became pregnant and then turned on Sarah. Real Housewives of the Canaan Desert. It was messy. Can you believe that plan didn’t work?

God told Abraham, “This is not what I had in mind. I will bless this child, but he is not the child I promised you. That child is still coming through Sarah.”

This is great because Abraham and Sarah’s mistake didn’t change God’s promise! This is good news for us because God’s promises don’t depend on our awesomeness. God was still faithful to Abraham and Sarah, and God will still be faithful to us!

Fourteen years later, God told Sarah it was time. She was going to have the baby God had promised. Sarah was 89 years old. So she laughed. How many of you ladies would laugh, too? How many would cry? But God gave her and Abraham a son. When he was born, Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100. This is not normal. But this was faith. God said it, they believed it, and it happened. Isaac was born. The son of promise. The nation through which God was going to bless and redeem the whole world had begun.

This all happened because God gave Abraham grace in an opportunity to trust him and Abraham responded in faith. It is by this grace through faith that the world would be redeemed. The mess would be cleaned. And the promise began with a son—Isaac. God promised.

And this is where we reach our story. This is point two on your outline. (don’t worry, we’ll come back to point one)

2. The Test.

Genesis 22:1-2

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 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.”

It’s been some time since Isaac was born, and he is now a boy. It’s at this time a very strange thing happens. God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac.

At this time in history, child sacrifice wasn’t unusual among the pagan religions, but even among the pagans, sacrificing your first born would have been unheard of. It just doesn’t make sense. And these weren’t the pagans, these were God’s people. The promise that God was going to redeem the world rested with this kid, and now God was asking for him to be sacrificed? The whole thing we just finished talking about was how God provided this miracle son! Abraham must have been thinking,

“You promised me a son. A specific son. This son. I even tried to have another son and you were like, No, not this one! You wanted this son! And now you want me to kill him? That’s crazy!”

How difficult this is for us. How can God be God if he breaks this promise? If Abraham is faithful to obey, how can God be faithful to his promise?

You and I know the that God is not going to break his promise. The author of Genesis makes sure to let us know right away that this was done as a test. But Abraham didn’t know that. And you know Isaac didn’t know. Why this test? Why something so horrible? This is a difficult question.

When God first called Abraham, he called him to leave everything he knew. He left his family, his country, and culture. God asked him to leave everything he knew in the past, and to trust him. That was his test. With that test, God gave his promise. Something I learned while I was studying this and found interesting is, the Bible tells us of six different times God and Abraham spoke, and in each of the first five times, God reiterated his promise.

This is now the sixth interaction we read about between God and Abraham. Similar to his first test, God asks Abraham to go without knowing exactly where he would be going. But something is different about this interaction: God doesn’t reiterate his promise. He only asks Abraham to trust him. He asks him to trust him by sacrificing Isaac. This meant trusting God with his future. It meant trusting God with his hopes. It meant trusting God even when he couldn’t understand.

We all know how this feels.

If you’ve been a Christian for any amount of time at all, you know there are times when faith isn’t easy. There are times when it feels like your faith is being tested. There are times when we just don’t understand. That’s okay. We test everything that has value.

ILL: If you use a large denomination bill at the store, the cashier will most likely shine a little UV light on your bill. Why do they do that? Because you look like a criminal. No!  They want to make sure it is what you say it is and not a counterfeit. They want to make sure it actually has value and doesn’t just look like it has value.

ILL: In Special Forces training for the US Military, soldiers are pushed up to and beyond their physical and mental limits. Why do they do this? They want to show soldiers what they are capable of enduring before they are in a situation where the survival of the team and the success of the mission are on the line. They want them prepared for what is to come.

Faith is a muscle. It gets stronger the more it is used.

James 1:2-4

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The testing of our faith develops perseverance. It helps us get to the finish line. It helps form us into who God knows we can be! We don’t have to consider it fun, but we should consider it joy! God is offering us an opportunity to trust him. God is using the testing of our faith to grow us! God’s grace is in his tests! God’s grace is in whatever is testing your faith right now! Whatever difficult situation you are facing, God is giving you an opportunity to trust him! 

So why did God test Abraham in such a difficult to understand way? The answer is, I don’t know. But what I do know, and what I think Abraham knew is, God can be trusted even when he can’t be understood.

This was a unique and unusual test. God is not asking us to sacrifice our children, and he never intended for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac. That doesn’t make the test any easier to understand.

God knew what Abraham and Isaac needed to make it to the finish line, even better than Abraham and Isaac knew. 

Abraham didn’t understand, but he did trust! That brings us to point three on your outline (remember, we’ll come back to point one).

3. The Response 

God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham responded by waking up early, packing his stuff, and setting out to obey God. Abraham knowing it could cost him his future, trusted God. Abraham’s response was faith.

This is what the author Hebrews, a New Testament book, has to say about this moment:

Hebrews 11:1-2, 17-19

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

17 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, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham believed God. This verse says, he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead. For Abraham the question was not, “what is God asking?” but “Can God be trusted? 

Abraham chose to put his faith not in the promise but in the one who made the promise.

This was not blind faith. Abraham had spoken with God. Abraham knew God. God had provided for Abraham time and time again. He had come to trust God with complete faith.

This is true for us. I’ve heard people say that faith is a crutch. Those people have obviously never tried the faith described in the Bible. But we don’t have blind faith. In difficult times, we get to remember the past faithfulness of God. We read of it in the Bible, and we can see it throughout our own lives. God’s past faithfulness helps us trust in our current trials.

ILL: My oldest daughter, Galilee likes to jump off high places and have me catch her. Every once in a while, I drop her. No. I’m kidding. You get super dad strength when you haver kids. It’s impossible to drop them. Every once in a while she becomes afraid. She’ll say stuff like, “I don’t want you to drop me! Can you come closer?”

In those moments I always remind her of three things. 1. You’ve done this a lot. 2. You are a brave girl. 3. I’ve never dropped you.

That usually helps. She finds her courage by remembering my past faithfulness in catching her. I really hope I never drop her. It might become more difficult when she’s sixteen.

ILL: Have you ever done a trust fall? If not, you’re not a Christian. Do you want to do one now? When you do those, you are saying to the person falling, “you don’t have to worry about hitting the ground because you can trust us to catch you”

Several years ago I was with a group of middle school boys in a trust fall situation. I was their leader. One of the boys was petrified to do it. He just knew he was going to get dropped on the ground. Wanting to bolster his courage, I told him, “If they can catch me, they can catch you. I’ll go first” 

I climbed the six feet up to the platform attached to a tree, I turned my back, told the boys I trusted them, and fell backward.

A second later, I woke up, laying on the ground with a headache. They were way too small to catch me.

The point of the story is, it’s not always the size of your faith that matters, but what your faith is in. Don’t put your faith in middle school boys.

ILL: If you fall off a cliff and land on a wide branch. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, it matters how strong the branch is.

Abraham and Isaac walk quietly up the mountain until Isaac breaks the silence,

““The fire and wood 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.”

God is going to provide for us. No matter what god asks of us, He will provide.

God is not asking you to sacrifice your children, but he may be asking you to sacrifice something. What are you holding on to that God is telling you to give him? The saying is true, where God guides, God provides! 

Faith is a response to God. Trust him! Obey God and leave the consequences to him.

Abraham did. Abraham bound his son, placed him on the newly built altar, and raised his knife.

God intervened.

“Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham trusted God with what was most precious to him. And God provided.

This leads us to point four on your outline. And yes, yes, we’re getting to point one.

4. The Promise

Abraham passed the test. In the thicket near the altar was a stuck ram. God sent a replacement sacrifice. Isaac would not have to give his life. The ram would take his place. So Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son.

A promise is only as good as the person who gives it and God has once again affirmed his goodness to Abraham.

Abraham named the mountain, The Lord Will Provide.

I love that! We just spent a bunch of time talking about the faith of Abraham. It was incredible! But Abraham brings us back to what’s real. Abraham doesn’t name the mountain, “Abraham Will be Faithful!” Abrahams faith was a response to God. It was God who provided. But he didn’t even name the mountain, “The Lord Provided,” he named it “The Lord Will Provide.”

Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s faithfulness. God can be trusted. Even though God can’t always be understood, he can always be trusted!

I mentioned earlier that this is the only of six recorded conversations Abraham had with God where God didn’t reassure him with the promise of blessing.

Abraham was just face to face with death. Eyeball to eyeball with the consequences of a world saturated in sin. There was nothing he could do. Now God reminds him of his promise. He was going to clean up the mess and he was going to use Abraham to do it. He is going to bless the world through Abraham. Not because of Abraham’s faith, but because of God’s grace. 

Even though this story ends with God reiterating his promise to Abraham, it doesn’t mean the promise wasn’t there throughout. This is Number one on your outline.

1. The Promise

Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s grace. God was rescuing the world from sin. He was going to use Abraham to do it. Not because Abraham was especially suited for the job, remember he was old and unremarkable, but because God wanted to. God was giving Abraham an opportunity to trust him, and he did. 

Ephesians 2:8-9

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. God saves us. All we can do is accept his grace in faith. He graciously came to rescue us. When we trust in him, we are saved.

You will still fail sometimes. God will not. He will not give up on you. He will not stop until sin is destroyed. He will not stop relentlessly pursuing you. He will not stop giving you opportunities to trust him. He will finish what he set out to do! From the moment humanity rebelled, God made a promise, he would win us back. It was true for Abraham, and it is true for us.

Philippians 1:6

6…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

What God has begun in you, He will carry! He will complete!

It’s interesting that Abraham never saw the completion of God’s promises. When Abraham died, he and Sarah had only one son (hardly a nation), and a small plot of land. But God would continue he work of recreation and redemption.

It would be many, many, generations after Abraham and Issac, but from this promise, and the nation God built, another son would be born. He would be born in a manger, and God would use him to fulfill the promise. He would bless the whole world. That’s what all those genealogies in the beginning of the New Testament are! They are showing us, Jesus is the promised son. The Blessing!

This son, Jesus would walk up this very mountain. The same mountain where God provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac. This mountain now called  Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. A place of death.  But God had not forgotten, this mountain’s name is not death, but The Lord Will Provide!  This son of the promise, Jesus would carry wood on his back. This son would be laid on an altar by his father as a sacrifice.

Jesus would pray and ask, “If there is any way, let this cup pass from me.” But there would be no ram in the thicket. There would be no substitution. He was the substitution. It was I who deserved the death he was now taking in my place. And he was doing so willingly. He was doing so with love! And as he hung on the cross on top of the mountain, in some of his last breaths he proclaimed. IT IS FINISHED! The promise had been fulfilled. The mess had been cleaned. Sin and death defeated.

Jesus died on the cross for you and me. He paid the price sin demanded. A price you and I were not capable of paying, He payed it in full. In doing so, Jesus conquered sin and death. He rose from the grave! He was alive! He is alive. And he is still telling people, “it is finished! The promise has come. You can be right with God.” God is giving us, each and every day, an opportunity to trust him.

You may not understand all of it right now. God’s too big too fully understand, anyway. But God is telling you, you can trust me.

So where are you. Have you not yet chosen to trust and follow Jesus? Have you yet to say yes to God’s promise? Are you looking for a starting place to clean the messes in your life. You can’t clean them! You can’t make yourself good enough. You don’t have to. God has done it, and he’s giving you an opportunity to trust him. Will you say yes?

let’s pray  

Big Idea: You can’t always understand God, but you can always trust God. 

Are you willing to leave today saying, God, I will trust you no matter what? Look for ways to respond to God this week in faith! Remember, he is faithful!

[1] Stanley, Andy (2010) The Grace of God (pp. 19-32). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson