Summary: We will all one day face the most difficult challenge of our lives as we face the test of faith.
Heroes of Faith: Abraham
The Test of Faith
We want to close this series of sermons on the life of Abraham with the most famous story arising from his life—that of the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. I need to remind you that Abraham had been promised a son through his wife Sarah, and after 99 years of waiting, God gives them Isaac. Now Isaac means laughter, and he was so named by Abraham and Sarah because when the angel of the Lord appeared to them and told them they would have a son, they both laughed. The angel said it’s true, and you will name him laughter.
Almost twenty years have elapsed since we last encountered Abraham when God renewed his promise. So Isaac is born, and for those twenty years, Isaac brings so much more than laughter to the home of Abraham and Sarah. He brings life, and the promise of more life as the words of God are recounted over and over around the family table. Twenty years of living in the promise of God. Life is good, and blessings are abundant. The domestic problems caused by the presence of Hagar and Ishmael have been addressed as Hagar and Ishmael were removed from the home, and they were safely in God’s care. Abraham has struck a treaty with King Abimelech, and they were living in peace in the land of the Philistines. Life was good. For the hell life had been the previous thirteen years, they were pure blessedness now. Abraham and Sarah were comfortable in their new life living in the blessing of God.
Then God shows up again. But this time, God doesn’t come to renew the promise but rather God comes to test the faith of Abraham, and it is the most difficult test Abraham, or anyone could ever face—the offering of his son in sacrifice. I think we would be seriously remiss if we didn’t make note of the fact that this test of Abraham’s faith is a magnificent foreshadowing of the work of God in Jesus Christ in the New Testament. No one who watches as Abraham binds Isaac to the altar of burnt offering can help but catch the image of God sending Jesus Christ to the cross of Calvary centuries later.
The history surrounding this event in the life of Abraham is tremendous. Abraham is told by God to go to the land of Moriah, to the mountain that God will show him. Mount Moriah, in later years, would be the place King David would purchase the threshing floor of Ornan as the place to build the Temple. Solomon would later build his magnificent temple on that location. We could travel to Jerusalem today and find there the Dome of the Rock Mosque—the third most holy place in all Islam. Inside that Dome of the Rock Mosque is the very stone upon which Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac. It is an historical place indeed.
But we digress from the purpose of this message—to see the test of faith that life inevitably brings. It was so for Abraham, and will be for us if we are long for life in this world. I want us to look at this event in Abraham’s life and discover the source of the test, the purpose in the test, the object of the test, and most importantly, the response to the test.
The Source of the Test
The writer is terribly direct in the matter of the source of Abraham’s test. God is identified as the source. That first seems strange to us that God would test Abraham, or that he would test us. Our first inclination is to find some deeper meaning behind the word, or speculate that it is not really God who is doing it, that it was accepted in those ancient times that God worked that way. But we in our enlightened minds know that God doesn’t test us. Hebrews 11:18 confirms that God was the source of the test. Notice this is not a temptation because God never tempts anyone. The Apostle James reminds us “And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either (James 1:13). But God does try us. The Hebrew word that is used here as test is translated 22 other times in the Old Testament as “prove.” So what does God have to “prove” in the test of faith? Ah! There we find the purpose of the test.
The Purpose of the Test
I can’t imagine the night Abraham spent after God came to him with this request. The questions that must have rushed through his mind sound strangely like our own when we are facing the difficulty of the test of faith. “But Lord, how can this be your plan? What about the promise of Isaac? Why now, Lord? Why me, Lord? What will I tell Sarah, Lord?” We’ve voiced those same questions in our own lives. When God tests us, tries us, what is it God has to prove? Well, actually, nothing. He already knows, but I think we need to prove our faith to ourselves, and God helps us do that. Malcolm Muggeridge says “if it were possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo,…, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable.” In other words, life would be too boring to survive without trials. Muggeridge would go on to say that everything he ever learned in life that was meaningful and enhanced his existence was learned in a time of trial or testing and not through happiness. God uses the test of faith to prove our faith to ourselves.