(Slide 1) As I reflected on the dramatic reading this week, I remembered a visual presentation of a familiar story that I saw this past week that reminds us that little things can make a big difference.
‘A philosophy professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in diameter.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was but still laughed. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
"Now," said the professor, "I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your health, your children - anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed.
"The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.
"The sand is everything else. The small stuff.
"If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.’
‘If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.’
Small things add up. They fill spaces in our lives that tend to squeeze out the more important things. Sand can bury a car, a house, or a person. Grains of sand are very small but when they are combined with a large number of other grains of sand, it is a force to be reckoned with.
Sand also irritates. How many times at the beach have you had sand in your eyes? It is not a pleasant thing, is it?
It is often the small things that hurt us worse than the bigger things we deem important and necessary. The small things though do add up over a period of time and they soon consume us, our relationships, even our faith. They can become burdens that drain us of faith, hope, and love.
But, in our text for this morning, what Abraham faced was not small stuff, it was a major crisis. God was asking him to do something that seemed impossible. He was being asked to sacrifice, to kill, his son on whom he had waited many, many years as we read in our main text, Genesis 22:1-18 (Slide 2)
Later on God tested Abraham’s faith and obedience. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you.”
The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son Isaac. Then he chopped wood to build a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place where God had told him to go. On the third day of the journey, Abraham saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the young men. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the knife and the fire. As the two of them went on together, Isaac said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son,” Abraham replied. “We have the wood and the fire,” said the boy, “but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” “God will provide a lamb, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both went on together.
When they arrived at the place where God had told Abraham to go, he built an altar and placed the wood on it. Then he tied Isaac up and laid him on the altar over the wood. And Abraham took the knife and lifted it up to kill his son as a sacrifice to the LORD. At that moment the angel of the LORD shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” he answered. “I’m listening.”
“Lay down the knife,” the angel said. “Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.”
Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering on the altar in place of his son. Abraham named the place “The LORD Will Provide.” This name has now become a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”
Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven, “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your beloved son, I swear by my own self that I will bless you richly. I will multiply your descendants into countless millions, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. They will conquer their enemies, and through your descendants, all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”
As I have said before, we are repulsed by this story because it goes against what we believe personally and as a society. The opening lines of our text indicate it was a test of Abraham’s faith and obedience; God wanted to see what he would do when faced with giving up something (in this case, someone) of great value to him.
But in the context of this time of year, as noted in the drama, I believe that this deeply intense situation is a foreshadowing of Jesus death and the struggle that Jesus had with God the Father. Notice that in verse 6, three days into the journey, ‘Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the knife and the fire.’ I don’t know about you but when I think of Isaac carrying wood on his shoulders I think of Jesus carrying wood on his shoulders too, the wood of the cross.
I cannot imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind, can you? I cannot imagine doing this to my boys, can you imagine doing this to your kids? No, we can’t!
But, then I come to verse 7 and following, ‘As the two of them went on together, Isaac said, “Father?” “Yes, my son,” Abraham replied.
“We have the wood and the fire,” said the boy, “but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” “God will provide a lamb, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both went on together.’
I just wonder if, at that point, the burden that Abraham was under was lifted away as he said, perhaps quietly and perhaps with emotion in his voice, in response to Isaac’s question, ‘God will provide a lamb, my son… God will provide…’
Abraham relaxed… He believed it too…
The burden was lifted either at that point or definitely when God said, as we read in verse 12, ‘Lay down the knife,” the angel said. “Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.”
There was another Father who did not withhold his Son… and He died. His Son paid the price for you and me and our children. He became the lamb of sacrifice on the night when the sacrifice of a lamb, a male lamb, was made as a reminder of deliverance. And that day, when a father, I think with great pain and emotion, nearly sacrificed a son that he had looked forward to for years; God did provide a lamb, the ram caught in the thicket. God provided a way out for Abraham.
I cannot begin to imagine the struggle that went on as God the Father turned His back on Jesus and let Him die. There is much that is unexplainable and incomprehensible to us in those hours that we will remember later this week.
The donkey that went along on that trip did not match the burdens that were carried that day by a father who no doubt was burdened by what he believed His God told Him to do. If that donkey could talk, what would it have said about that trip?
Numerous are the burdens we carry these days; family, friends, work, finances, health, and personal issues but the Lord carries a greater burden for us and our souls and its state of affairs. How is it with your soul today?
Do you have too much sand or too many stones? Has God’s place in your life been squeezed out by the burdens and desires of life?
I want to remind us, that in the situations that we face that try our souls, challenge our faith, and force to consider our commitments and priorities, that God does make a way, ‘where there seems to be no way. He makes a way we cannot see, He will make a way for me.’
Maybe there are some stones and sand that need to be dumped out in order that the