Embracing the Promises (Hebrews 11)

Image result for abraham isaac modern art

No one said that taking hold of God’s promises for your life was going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be the hardest thing you can ever imagine. It’s going to cost you what is most precious to you. And you have to lay that thing down, by faith, and acknowledge that not only did God give it to you in the first place, but that he loves you enough to know and effect the best outcome for you, if only you can operate by faith…

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced 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 even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”  (Hebrews 11: 17-19)

But how could a loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only Son?  Doesn’t such a suggestion impugn the character of God? The problem seems so tricky that we are tempted to read the passage backwards and start with the fact that it didn’t happen. And we say, “See, God never wanted Isaac to die in the first place!”

But that misses the point by a mile.

Look at that phrasing. The words “Take your son”  are qualified  three ways. He’s “your only son.” He’s “Isaac.” And he’s the one “whom you love.”  By saying it this way, Abraham would know that God understood what it would cost him to obey.  It meant that the whole covenant was on the altar, slated for destruction.

The writer wants us to think about what was at stake. We naturally focus on the unimaginable sorrow of losing a child, but this covenant promise is the Big Picture.   God had already promised to make Abraham the head of a great nation, and through that nation to bring great blessing to the world (Genesis 12:1-3). And God had said that he would bring forth that nation from Isaac’s descendants.

But if Isaac was dead? What then? The promise and the command seem to flatly contradict each other. And here’s the point where Abraham’s faith kicks in and he embraces the promise.

He didn’t know how God would do it. He just knew God would do it somehow. Faith believes and leaves the “how” in the hands of Almighty God. If we spend too much time trying to figure out “how” God will take care of us, we are likely to talk ourselves into a corner.

God say, “Go” and we go. He says, “Stop” and we stop. He says, “Give me your best,” and we offer it to him. This is the true life of faith:  “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (v19).

Didn’t know how. Had never seen it happen.

He reasoned from what he knew about God to what he knew about the situation. And the only thing he could come up with was, “I’m going to put my own son to death, and then God will raise him from the dead.” That’s pretty fantastic if you think about it.

Well, he was half-right. God can raise the dead, ahd he did it right there at Moriah/ Jerusalem, 2000 years later.  But he was wrong about Isaac dying that day. He didn’t literally die because at the very last moment, Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket, and he offered the ram in the place of his son. Thus in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.

And for 2000 years Christians have seen in this story a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Ray Pritchard put it: “In Genesis 22 we see what a man would do for the love of God. But at Calvary we see what God would do for the love of man.”

When God’s hand was raised at Calvary, there was no one to cry out, “Stop.  Do not harm the child.” There was no ram in the thicket to offer in his place. So God’s hand fell in judgment on his own Son, and Jesus died for you and me.

And notice that God commends Abraham by saying, “You have not withheld  from me your son, your only son” (v12).  “I asked for your most precious possession and you gave it to me.”

In one of her books Elizabeth Elliot makes the point that the process of Christian growth is one in which God breaks the idols of our life one by one by one. Oh, how painful it is because by definition, we love our idols. We protect them because they give us strength and hope and meaning. Here’s the tricky part:  An idol is anything good that becomes too important to you.

An idol can be anything good—our children, for instance—or our fame, our athletic prowess, our reputation, our money, our home, our position, our education, our cars, the people we know, the degrees we earned, the money we made,  the classes we taught, the friends we cultivated in high places, the buildings we built, the organizations we managed, the books we wrote, the songs we sang, the records we made, the trips we took,  the fortunes we amassed, our name in the lights, all those things that make us feel comfortable and safe and give us status in the world.

That’s the real challenge of this story. Abraham had to come to the place where he willingly gave back to God what was always God’s in the first place.

Hold Lightly What You Value Greatly

Everyone knows it’s true.We come into this life with nothing. We leave with nothing.
In between, God fills our hands with good things. And then he asks us to give them back to him so that we can walk in fellowship with him. Oh, how painful that process is.

Remember that hymn by Frances Havergal?: “Not a mite would I withhold.” A mite is a tiny bit of money. It’s not how much you have that matters to God. It’s what you do with what you have.

Will you hold on to what you own? Or will you say, “Lord, it all belongs to you anyway”?

 

  1. Take my life and let it be
    Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
    *Take my moments and my days,
    Let them flow in endless praise.
  2. Take my hands and let them move
    At the impulse of Thy love.
    Take my feet and let them be
    Swift and beautiful for Thee.
  3. Take my voice and let me sing,
    Always, only for my King.
    Take my lips and let them be
    Filled with messages from Thee.
  4. Take my silver and my gold,
    Not a mite would I withhold.
    Take my intellect and use
    Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.
  5. Take my will and make it Thine,
    It shall be no longer mine.
    Take my heart, it is Thine own,
    It shall be Thy royal throne.
  6. Take my love, my Lord, I pour
    At Thy feet its treasure store.
    Take myself and I will be
    Ever, only, all for Thee.

 

*Abstracted from Ray Pritchard sermon

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