Summary: Just as God tested Abraham by calling him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, God also calls us to give up, to sacrifice, to trust even when tested.
“A Test of Faith”
Introduction: Testing 1, 2, 3
Tell the story of the student who took an hour extra to complete an exam and the professor who waited for him only to tell him that he was going to fail because he took the extra time.
Does anyone here like taking tests? Is there anyone here this morning that enjoys sitting down and being given an exam? I remember being at Acadia and having to prepare for a NT Greek test. The night before I was so nervous, and it didn’t help that a friend and classmate was assuring me that we’d do fine, even though we weren’t getting anywhere near as much studying in as I thought I needed. I felt panicky. Now, thankfully, in the end I did well on the test. But that doesn’t mean it was something I wanted to do.
“After these things . . .”
Our passage this morning begins this way: “After these things God tested Abraham.” The first question is, after what things? I think the text is talking about all that had happened to Abraham up until this point. So perhaps we should briefly summarize Abraham’s story. A couple of weeks ago we looked at the call of Abraham, how God told him to leave all that he knew and all that was comfortable for a foreign land. This is in Genesis 12. At the time Abraham is 75 years old. Seems a little late in the game for a major move, doesn’t it? But God, of course, doesn’t just tell him to pack up and go for no reason. The Lord has a plan and a promise for Abraham. He promises Abraham offspring and he plans to make Abraham a great nation, one that will be a blessing to all other nations. Now, we already know from Genesis 11: 30 that Sarah, his wife, is barren; both she and Abraham are old and have never had children and it is humanly impossible for them to have children. Yet what does the Lord promise? Offspring. The Lord promises that a great nation will come from Abraham. And of course we know that this nation is going to be the nation of Israel, the people of God.
Move on to Genesis 17. Some years have passed since the Lord called Abraham and made him this promise. In fact 24 years have passed. Abraham is now 99 years old. Can you imagine having to wait that long for someone to fulfill their promise? Would you wait that long or would you tend to think, gee, I guess they must have forgotten? In our instant have-it-now culture I can’t imagine anyone having patience enough to wait anywhere close to this long. But did Abraham have patience to wait? Well in Genesis 17 Abraham and Sarah take it upon themselves to fulfill God’s promise, don’t they? Sarah gives Abraham Hagar her maid servant – and through her has Ishmael, his first-born son. Ishmael is the result of not trusting that God will fulfill his promises.
In this same chapter the Lord renews his promise of children to Abraham, and, more specifically, tells Abraham that he will have a son and he is to name him Isaac. But Abraham doesn’t believe. He laughs in disbelief, for he is nearly 100 years old and Sarah is 90. How could they possibly have children now? Abraham then begs the Lord to bless Ishmael and asks the Lord to make him the child of the promise. The Lord agrees to bless Ishmael, but tells Abraham that he will establish his covenant with Isaac. Ishmael may receive a blessing, but Isaac will be the child of the promise.
In the very next chapter, three visitors tell Abraham that this very time next year Sarah will give birth to their son, Isaac. This time it is not Abraham but Sarah who laughs in disbelief (18: 12). Obviously it is not coincidence that the name Isaac means “he laughs.” Christian author Frederick Buechner refers to Isaac as “the son of laughter.” And laughter occurs in our story as the result of disbelief, but also joy.
The joy arrives in Genesis 21 when the child of promise is born. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. She says in verse 6 “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” The promise the Lord made to Abraham is fulfilled. And the promise is fulfilled in the face of impossible odds. A barren wife. An aged man. After years of endless waiting. Amid doubts and disbelieving laughter. And occasional bursts of mountain moving faith. God does here what only God can do: the impossible. Why? So no one else can possibly take credit. So that it is clear that this is God’s doing. Not Abraham’s. Not Sarah’s. Not yours. And not mine. God’s. And so the promise is fulfilled. The plan is afoot as they say. God will make Abraham’s name great and through this joyful, promised offspring, through this son, Isaac, a great nation will come, one that will bless the whole earth. The confidence Abraham is learning to place in God is now clearly justified. Clearly the Lord keeps his promises. He can be trusted. I wonder if Abraham wiped his brow and breathed a sigh of relief when Sarah finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy.