Summary: In our relentless pursuit of what is expedient for us, we have run the other way from God, but in Christ God has run to us and for us, and he has provided the Lamb for the sacrifice that will reclaim us for God.
Have you ever felt that God was asking you do the impossible, that what he was asking of you might be more than you could give? more than you could bear to give? Someone at work gets the promotion you were applying for – hoping for – and you know you are better qualified for the job. Not to mention that you needed the additional income! Can you now give the other person your support, your full support – and mean it as you do?
Somebody else gets credit for work you did, and you find yourself smarting under the injustice of it all. Can you be satisfied with simply knowing that you did a good job and that good things happened as a result – no matter who got the credit?
Can you forgive someone who has hurt you deeply, even though they don’t deserve your forgiveness? Can you go to someone you have wronged, admit your error, and seek their pardon – even though to do so seems scary and hard?
There are aspects of the life of faith – aren’t there? – that require sacrifice on our part. And a sacrifice means giving up something that’s really important to us, something that can’t be replaced. And that is – well, it isn’t easy. We might even think it’s impossible.
How do you think Abraham felt when God tested him and said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”
There was a time when Abraham simply might not have done it. Centuries later, God would ask Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and warn them of impending judgment if they did not repent. Jonah didn’t want to go. He hated the Ninevites. They were the terrorists of his day, and they had done cruel – even unspeakable – things to his people. So, he boarded a ship that was headed in the opposite direction. He refused to go. God was asking too much.
Abraham himself had not always trusted God to lead him in the right direction. He and his wife Sarah once moved to the land of Egypt, and they lived there for a while, we might say, on immigrant visas. The Bible tells us that Sarah was “a woman beautiful in appearance” (Gen. 12:11), and Abraham was afraid someone might kill him to get her. So he asked her to lie and tell everyone that she was his sister! A fine way to treat your wife! Right?
Sure enough, when the king’s officials saw Sarah, they couldn’t get over her striking beauty, and when they learned that she was not Abraham’s wife but, rather, his sister – or, so they were told! – they mentioned her to the king, and the king sent for her. And had God not intervened, she would have been compromised. Abraham wasn’t about to stick his neck out for her, but God stepped in and spared her great shame and sorrow. Here is Abraham, the “ancestor of all who believe” (Rom. 4:7), and he didn’t believe he could trust God to look out for him if he told the truth. So he lied.
Now, here’s the clincher. Abraham didn’t do this just once. He did it twice. Years later, when he and Sarah moved to another land, again he asked her to lie. And his reason? to save his own skin. You’ve got to wonder: What would he do now that God had commanded him to sacrifice “his son, his only son Isaac”?
He could have insisted that God was being illogical. God had told Abraham that his descendants would be more in number than the stars in the night sky, than even than the grains of sand on the desert floor. God had also told him that all these descendants would come through Isaac.
Now was God was telling him to present Isaac as a burnt offering? It didn’t make sense. What would he do? He might pull a Jonah and run the other way. Or, he might simply refuse to do what God commands. I have. I have refused God. I have never been asked to sacrifice my son or daughter, and I wouldn’t be. God isn’t into human sacrifice. In fact, he forbids it. So, I will never be asked to sacrifice my kids. But I have been called to make other sacrifices. And I have told God “No” or asked him to wait or – how about this? – to reconsider. God has asked me on occasion to take a risk and trust him to see me through, or to tell the truth – when, in my own mind, a lie would have served me better. He has asked me to do it all the same and to trust him to uphold me. And I have asked him – if he is going to talk like that – to give me back the wheel. What was he thinking? In short, I have resisted. I have refused to obey. Perhaps you have, too.