Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | August 1, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:17-19

Downloadable version

Faith Passes the Test

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

There was no sleeping tonight.  Not even a chance.  Quietly, you take the covers off, making sure not to wake your son.  You make your way silently to the door of the tent and step outside into the darkness.  A darkness broken only by stars, moon, and the fire you’ve brought.  And in the dim light you see it.  The mountain.  Your destination.

For two days you’ve traveled.  Ever since that voice spoke.  Tomorrow morning you’ll reach your destination.  And you’ll do it.

Who could sleep on a night like this?  Truth be told, you haven’t slept since that voice came.  You’ve been rolling it around in your head, trying to make sense of it, trying to understand, trying to do the impossible, trying to square this circle.

“He’s my son,” you whisper to the night, hoping that God’s listening.  “My son.”  Gently, you withdraw the knife from its sheath and finger the blade.  It gleams brutally in the light of the fire, the fire that will soon be set to wood, the wood that your son carried on his back this far and will bear to the top of the mountain tomorrow.  “What is this, Lord?” you ask, hoping to hear something, anything.  A gentle whisper will do.

The words roll over and over and over again in your mind.  Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.

“This is nuts,” you mumble. “I can’t believe Sarah let me leave.  I can’t believe I left.  I can’t believe I’m standing here, now, considering this.  This seems to be too much God.  You’re not this kind of God.  Those other gods demand such sacrifices.  I’ve seen the things the Canaanites do.  I’ve seen those abominable altars ready to receive this most detestable sacrifice.  Those are gods of death.  But you are a God of life.

“God, You said, It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. This boy, this boy You’re asking me to sacrifice is my son, my only son, the son You promised and gave me.  There are no other sons.  If I do what You ask me to do, that’s it, game over.

“This is hard, God.  You give, but now You’re taking away, and the price seems too high.  This is what Sarah and I have wanted for so long, a child, a son, an heir.  We waited 25 years.  We did things we’re not proud of.  But You finally came through.  You delivered on Your promise.  But now, now, You’re asking me to give him back to You?  You could have asked me for anything else, and I would have gladly given it, but this?  Don’t You see what You’re asking?

“This isn’t just a test.  If it were a test, You wouldn’t push it this far.  This is deadly, Lord.  Do You want me to fail?  Do You want me to run home to Sarah, carrying Isaac in my arms, weeping?  Do You want me to say I love my son so much that I must obey my heart rather than God?  Is that what You want?

“Why did You give me this child, then?  Why?  Just so You could take him away?  Just so You could prove some cosmic point?  Is that it?  Well, what are You going to do?  You’ve hitched Your star to Isaac, Lord.  He’s the promised offspring.  All nations will be blessed through him.  You said it.  No Isaac, no more offspring from Abraham.  No great nations.  No blessings.  You said it.  It must be so.  It must be so.

“Yet, here I am.   Tomorrow morning, we’ll march our way up to the top of this mountain.  I’ll set up an altar.  I’ll put the wood on it.  I’ll ask Isaac to put his arms behind his back and I’ll tie them up.  I’ll put my son on that altar.  I’ll raise the knife, Lord, if that’s what You want.  And I will plunge it down.  I will give my son to You, You who gave Him to me.

“Everyone will think I’m crazy, Lord.  Sarah might even hate me for it.  But they don’t know what I know.  They haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”

You look at your servants, sleeping in the light of that dim fire, unworried in their ignorance.  “Tomorrow, I will say to them, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’ And they will notice what my son will notice – wood, fire, knife, but no animal to offer.  And they will wonder.  But they will not ask, though I might want them too.  I might want them to protest, to try to stop me.  But they won’t, because they have nothing to fear.

“And neither do I, but for different reasons.  I have wrestled over the years with You, Lord.  You have shown me difficult and challenging things.  You have asked of me things that no man could understand.  You asked me to leave home.  You asked me to wait for a son.  You asked me to send Ishmael away.  Now You’re asking me to give You my son, my only son, the son You promised.  You’re asking for Isaac.  After fourteen years of joy, of bliss, of being a father, You’re asking for it all back.  And it’s Yours.  Because I believe You.  I believe You.  You have convinced me.  Because You have shown me.

“I don’t just mean what You’ve done in my life these past 40 years.  That’s nothing.  I mean what You have told me and shown me about Him.  I see it now, not perfectly, not totally, but enough.  I see the kind of God You are.  I see You as You desire to be seen.  I see what others mock and laugh at.  I see what gave hope to Adam and Eve when hope was gone.  I see what strengthened Abel as he lay dying.  I see what carried Seth, and Enoch, and Noah through their many years, their many trials.

“It’s the promise, Lord.  It’s Him I see in Isaac.  You can have my son, Lord, because You will give him back.  I don’t know how or when, but I know this.  You have promised.  You are faithful.  Just as serious as You are about me sacrificing Isaac, so serious are You that my offspring will be reckoned through him.  They are both true.  You’ve taught me, Lord.  You’ve gifted me with this knowledge.  It did not come from my mind or my heart.  It did not come from my father or mother, my wife, or even my son.  It came from You.

“And I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen the day that’s coming.  I’m not the only father here, Abba.  My Father, you too are a Father.  And what You have said to me, You have said to Yourself, ‘Take Your Son, Your only Son, and offer Him as a sacrifice.’  What a test of character!  And You have passed!  You have not withheld Your Isaac from us.  I’ve seen it.  You’ve shown it to me.  I see Him, but not now.  I behold Him, but not near.  A Star is coming.  Your Star.  All nations will be blessed.  I see this Son of Yours lifted up and laid upon an altar.  I see the blade raised.  I see it plunge down.  I see His life gone.  Your Son is dead.  And You did it.  You willed it.  You commanded it.  You made it so.  He was the offering.  You are the LORD who provides!  But you have shown me light as well, Lord.  His light.  His life.  You are God almighty.  You make the dead live.  You have given me Isaac.  You can have him, because I know You will return him.  You can.   Because I have seen Him, Him Whom You love, Him Whom You call Son, delivered over to death for my sins, for our sins.  And I see that He is alive too.  And I am alive.  And so is Isaac.  Because you can raise the dead.  Hebrews 11:17-19:  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, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.  Amen!

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