Summary: Learn from Abraham's Test 1) God demands dedication 2) God demonstrates dedication
As I speak, the best football players from college are being tested on how fast they can run, how high they can jump, and how far they can throw. This is happening at the NFL combine, a chance for scouts to get a close look at players they think could make a difference. Can you imagine the pressure the athletes are under? If they don’t impress the scouts, it could cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars because they would not be offered a lucrative contract. The NFL combine is a test which makes at least one thing clear: only the most dedicated athletes are going to make it. If you didn’t spend time in the gym lifting weights, if you didn’t run your sprints, if you didn’t constantly work on your throwing and catching, you’re not going to make it in the NFL.
In our sermon text today Abraham had to undergo a test which was even harder than the NFL combine. No, Abraham didn’t have to run the 40-yard dash or prove that he could throw a football – though he did have to climb a mountain and he was about 115 years old! The toughest part of his test, however, was having to give up his son – to kill him and present him as a burnt offering to the Lord. What we learn from Abraham’s test is that God demands dedication. He doesn’t want anything or anyone to be more important than our love and our trust in him. But we’ll also learn that God demonstrates dedication. In fact it was God’s dedication to Abraham that motivated and empowered the patriarch’s dedicated obedience to God.
Abraham’s test seemed to come out of the blue. Without much fanfare, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Isaac had been the fulfillment of a twenty-five year-old promise. He was the son who was not only to carry on the family name, Isaac was the one through whom God would carry on his promise to send a savior into this world. If Abraham was really going to follow through with this command and kill Isaac, he would have been like the mountain climber who cuts the rope which tethers him to his climbing partner and therefore to safety.
Although God’s command to sacrifice Isaac seemed to contradict God’s promise that through Isaac the savior would eventually be born, Abraham believed that resolving that conflict was God’s business. His business was simply to obey and demonstrate dedication to his God. That’s why we read that Abraham got right down to business. Since the sacrifice was supposed to take place on a mountain 90 km away, Abraham got up early the next morning and set out with Isaac and two servants. There was no questioning God. There were no delay tactics. There was only immediate obedience!
That kind of singular dedication boggles the modern mind. When our parents, teachers, and bosses tell us what to do we want them to explain why. And so when Mom tells junior to clean his room the first response is “How come?” or “Why now?” not “OK.”
But when God tells us what to do he doesn’t expect to be questioned. He is, after all, our Creator. And so just as a computer programmer doesn’t expect his computer to question every line of code he enters, but simply expects the computer to execute the commands, so God expects focused dedication from us. How about it? When God requires you to give up some time, some friend, some popularity out of love and loyalty to his Word, do you do it? Gladly? Willingly? If he were to ask you to sell your car and your house and give the money to the poor, would you wake up early and get right to the task? Abraham did.
Abraham was dedicated to God because he knew how dedicated God was to him. Listen to this passage from the New Testament. It’s the Holy Spirit’s explanation of what was going on in Abraham’s mind as he made that three-day journey to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice Isaac. “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” (Hebrews 11:17–19).
Did you catch why Abraham was willing to follow through with God’s command to sacrifice Isaac? He reasoned that if he did burn his son to ashes, as God had commanded him to do, God would have to raise Isaac back to life. Why? Because God had clearly said that the line of the savior would go through Isaac. Since Abraham knew that God keeps all of his promises, he was certain that he would keep this one as well. It was God’s dedication to his Word that empowered Abraham to be dedicated to his God. We hear Abraham express his faith when he told his servants at the bottom of Mt. Moriah where the sacrifice was to take place: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5).