We are in a series called “All In — Taking Risks, Trusting God, Kingdom Impact.” Every week we are looking at a different aspect of faith and asking the question, “Am I all in?”
The first week, Pastor Amy challenged us to look at our priorities: how we live, how we spend our time and our money. Does what we give prominence to reveal the priority of God in our lives?
Last week, Pastor Stephen did an incredible and convicting job of looking at the area of neighborliness and the parable of the Good Samaritan, asking “Are we all in by how we treat others and by who we say is our neighbor?” Being all in means looking past someone’s nationality, the color of their skin, the balance of their checking account, seeing one made in the image of God and seeing their need.
And today we look at the topic of sacrifice. Just stop and think about that word for a moment. What emotions stir within you just at the hearing of the word. Hardship. Difficulty. Pain. Uncomfortable. It certainly isn’t anything we are usually willing to sign up for. And if, and only if, we think that something better will be waiting for us on the other side are we willing to even consider it.
In college we sacrifice staying close to home and near family to go to that university we believe is better, that will give us a better, more respected degree. We give up our personal time and work long hours to get ahead in our jobs. We give up our freedom, the ability to do what we want when we want, in order to marry the person we love.
And can we even count the ways we sacrifice when we have kids? We give up our money, our sleep, our ability to wear clothes without spit up and stains on them, the ability to sleep just two to a bed. We were so good with our other kids keeping them in their own beds, but with Jazmin, I don’t know if she is just that stealthy or if we are just that old and tired, but so many mornings I wake up with her feet squarely in my back! Sacrifice.
But what if it isn’t always clear what, if anything, we would personally get out of it? Would we find ourselves willing to do it then? There’s a fascinating story in the Old Testament, in Genesis 22, that speaks to this. It’s a story I and maybe some of you grew up with in Sunday School. It is a difficult and strange story that speaks into our subject today.
Let’s read it.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
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.”
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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
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, 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?”
Abraham answered “God himself with provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an alter there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he 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, your only 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 The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. —Genesis 22:1-19.
The Difficulty of the Passage
Now with our modern sensibilities and sophistication, let’s address the elephant in the room when reading a story like this. Did God really call Abraham to kill his son? And probably more importantly, how can you possibly worship and serve a God that would do something so vile and horrific?
This is definitely one of the times where we have to take ourselves back several thousand years to truly understand what is going on? Because if we don’t, and we try to take this story as is into the 21st century, we ask ourselves questions like “Could I do this?” as if God would speak to you and ask you to lay your child on an altar.
While this story is shocking and possibly even offensive to us, we need to recognize that it would not have been to those living in this time. In fact, child sacrifice was very common in the Ancient
Near Eastern culture of Abraham’s day. Archeologists have even uncovered sites filled with tiny skulls that were burned in sacrificial fires to appease their pagan gods.
In the Old Testament, we read about Israel’s neighbors
who worshipped gods like Molech who demanded child sacrifice in order to ensure
continued fertility. And they believed a deity had the right to ask for
whatever they wanted, including the killing of a child.
Before Abraham was called by God, he would have been a part of this pagan culture. It’s just what you did. And God was using what Abraham knew, what he as familiar with, to test him. Essentially what God wanted to show was whether or not Abraham had as much devotion to Him as the idolators did to their gods. Or did his newfound faith in God mean he could cut corners and offer less?
So was God promoting child sacrifice? Not at all. He was using a common practice of the time to see how far Abraham was willing to go. And he had no intention of accepting such a sacrifice. The Bible calls this practice “detestable” in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. God hates this.
If anything, God was laying the foundation for a new system of animal sacrifice that would be acceptable until the day when his only Son would provide a once for all sacrifice for the sins of the world.
So if we aren’t called to bring our kids up front today and sacrifice them to God, what is the point of this story? There are a few takeaways from the Abraham and Isaac story.
Sacrifice Reveals Character
The first is that our willingness to sacrifice reveals our character. When we read that, “God tested Abraham…”
what it means is that God was interested in finding out what Abraham is made of.
The Hebrew word used here, has the idea of testing or proving the quality of someone or something, to learn the true nature of something. In asking Abraham to offer up his son, God was giving him the opportunity to show whether his commitment was just on the surface or if his dedication and faith in God was beyond just words.
In this moment God is asking more of Abraham than he has ever asked before. And I know it is tempting for us many times to think about Bible stories as if they are happening to superhuman beings. But put yourself in his shoes. This was not an easy moment for Abraham.
You see, this wasn’t just about THIS moment, there was a lot riding on this. This could not have been easy for Abraham. it was about everything for Abraham. Consider what was at stake here: Abraham’s future, his legacy, his family name. Children were crucial for all these. God had called him to sacrifice his entire future.
It wasn’t a quick test either. They had to travel for three days to get to the place of sacrifice. So for three long, grueling days, Abraham had to live in the tension. Can you imagine the doubt? The questioning? And then his son, asking in that moment, “Father, we have the fire and the wood. Where is the lamb?”
Also at stake is God’s Promise. Years earlier, God had promised Abraham a son, even though it was virtually impossible at his and his wife’s age. And then Isaac came along as the fulfillment of the promise.
God’s promise was that Abraham would be the father of a nation that was as numerous as the sand on the beach or the stars in the sky. And by asking him to sacrifice his son, he was asking Abraham to give up the promise. The command of God was directly contradicting the promise of God. It was asking, “Does he trust the giver more than he desires the gift?” What a heart wrenching question.
Sacrifice Reveals Where our Faith Really Lies
Next we see that sacrifice reveals where our faith really lies. What is amazing to me in this story is that as
difficult as it must have been, as long as those three days must have felt to him, Abraham never wavered in his faith in God. Even when called upon to do the most difficult thing possible, he believed that God was good, God could be trusted, and God would keep his promises.
As they set off and got close to the place they had been told to go, notice what Abraham 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 down.” He didn’t know how but he knew that together, he and Isaac would be back.
And as Isaac asked about the lamb, Abraham, in a bold statement of faith told his son, “God himself will provide the lamb.” What a faith lesson for the son. And Isaac must have believed as well. Growing up, hearing this story and seeing the flannel graph in Sunday School, I remember seeing Isaac as a young boy, maybe 10 years old.
But in studying this, that’s not an accurate picture. Isaac was more like 20 when this story took place. What kind of son do you have to be to carry the wood, help dad set up the altar, allow him to tie you up when you could easily overpower a man in his 100’s, and lay on the altar trusting your dad and ultimately in God?
There was no struggle. Isaac did not resist. There was no bargaining for another way. Because of his father’s faith in God, Isaac became the willing sacrifice.
Abraham believed that God’s faithfulness was strong, even stronger than death. What image or view of God do you have to have to believe that? And before we jump to the “Abraham is superhuman” idea again, we have to remember that his knowledge of God wasn’t complete. He had just a few interactions with God at this point. He knew less about God than we do. And yet, for some reason, he was still willing to trust him completely, thinking that even if Isaac died, even if it appeared that the promise was dead, that God could still redeem and restore it.
When tested, Abraham knew that the source of his faith wasn’t himself. He didn’t have to make something happen. He didn’t even have to worry about the results. He knew that God had spoken. God had called. And he responded “Here I am.” His faith wasn’t in the promise itself but was in the One who had made the promise.
Sacrifice Requires Faith When We Cannot See
One final point here in this story. . . As Abraham answered Isaac’s question about the lamb, he said to him “God himself will provide.” The original word here has, at its root, the meaning “to see.” It isn’t just that God will provide but God will see.
When called upon to sacrifice, what he could not see, he knew God did see. He knew that God was able to see beyond what he could see. It took the obedience of walking three days, setting up an altar, binding his son and laying him on it, raising the knife to follow God’s call to sacrifice before he was able to see what God had planned all along.
Could you imagine what Abraham would have missed had he not been willing to obey and see this through? He was only able to see the provision of God because he had been willing to listen and obey.
What he could not see, God saw. And his obedience and faithfulness to God resulted in an incredible example for the people of Israel, the original audience listening to this story, those who saw their entire nation on the altar in this story, and an example for us today of faithfulness in the face of incredible sacrifice.
Conclusion – True Sacrifice
I understand that this is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss. We are uncomfortable with sacrifice, especially if we don’t see anything in it for ourselves. We are typically uncomfortable with wanting to sacrifice and we don’t really like it when we see it in others because it calls out our own unwillingness to do it.
At the root of sacrifice is an ownership problem. When we believe everything we have is ours, we believe it is ours to do with as we please. Abraham could have felt this way too. “God you gave me this son and he is mine and you have no right to ask for him back.”
Abraham could have tried bargaining with God. He was a wealthy man. He could have offered hundreds of cows, lambs, goats, and yet what he had most of, God wasn’t interested in. It was what had the greatest potential to be an idol in his life, his son, that God asked him to sacrifice.
Too often, we have short term memory loss. We forget that we have because God has blessed us and it really isn’t ours. We are stewards of what God has allowed us to oversee on his behalf. And anything God calls us to sacrifice simply returns to God what is rightfully his.
We can also have a trust problem. Can we trust God? “I need to trust myself more than I trust God.”
And we can also have a desire problem where we desire the gift more than the giver. We want the blessings of God more than we want God himself. We want stuff more than we want a Savior.
What we see in this story is there will be no sacrifice without faith and I believe it also teaches there can be no faith without sacrifice. Are we willing to sacrifice for God? Are we willing to give up our time or rights or resources to see the kingdom of God impacted?
I love the way the story ends. God says to Abraham, because you were willing to do this, because you weren’t willing to hold anything back, I am going to bless you, and not just you, but ALL NATIONS of the earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.
Now I realize that some may take this message and say you need to sacrifice everything you’ve got. But that isn’t the point. Unquestioned obedience is always in order. But from this passage we don’t see that God always calls everyone to sacrifice their most valuable possession. Abraham didn’t come up with this idea. God called him. God reached out to him and said “This is what I want from you.”
God calls and we need to be ready and willing if he does ask. But not everyone gets tested in this way, to be honest, because not everyone would pass like Abraham passed. My question for you is — Are you listening so that when and if God calls you to sacrifice, you respond as Abraham did, “Here I am.” and then obey?
Is there a limit to what we are willing to sacrifice when God calls? Are there things we are unwilling to place on the altar? Our politics? Our sexuality? Our rights? Our money? Our Promises? Are we clinging more tightly to anything more than we are to God?
I am convinced God is still calling people to make outrageous and unbelievable sacrifices. I am concerned that we are unwilling to listen and obey. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve got $1 in the bank or $1 million. The call to sacrifice comes to all. Will we listen and then will we think about it? Will we intend to do it? Or will we obey? What will you do when God calls you to sacrifice?
I can’t help but wonder if we miss God’s provision by our unwillingness to lay it all on the altar?
And can you imaging the impact in this community if everyone here made the effort to listen and respond to God when he calls us to sacrifice? I believe if the people of God responded as Abraham did, the results would be unlike anything we have ever seen or could even imaging.
One final thought, don’t miss the foreshadowing in this story. The pointing to a time to come when a son would be sacrificed, a Father would give his Son, a sacrifice once and for all so that you and I could know God and live in relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t miss that we have a God who doesn’t just call us to sacrifice. He himself has made the ultimate sacrifice…for you.
So are we willing to be All In with what we are willing to sacrifice? It is risky? You better believe it. Does it require us to trust God? Yes it does. But Abraham has shown us that when we are willing to
lay it all on the line that the impact can truly be world changing.