This past Sunday I had the privilege to share the following. I am grateful to God for the words below, and the opportunity to fulfill assignment in delivering it, however it challenged me. My prayer is that daily I live a life of total submission to our awesome Creator, and that in reading this you, like me, are challenged to activate the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, to surrender to the call of God on your life. Together, let us journey to worship in sacrificing those things dearest to us for the greater glory of our Lord.
Greater Sacrifice, Greater Faith
Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
Congregation Repeat 2 Corinthians 5:7 – For we walk by faith, not by sight
Genesis 17:1-9, 15-21
A promise is never given without a request for some kind of action. God first called Abraham in Genesis 12: 1 – 3. He called him out of his environment, out of what was familiar, out of the practices of his family. Then He gave him the promise that he would be blessed, that from him would come a great nation, and that all the families on earth will be blessed through him – God’s plan for Abraham wasn’t just for him, but for God’s ministry through him to bless others. God’s plan for us, and His call to submission isn’t just to bring to fruition a blessing for us, for me, but for His work through us to bless others. If He allows you to be rich it is to bless the poor. If He gifts you with a talent / skill it is to build up / edify the body (work, church, community, etc.)
So God called Abraham, and Abraham left everything, his family, and his dreams for himself, he left it all to answer God’s call. Abraham, though known as the Father of Faith, sometimes had some measure of disbelief when God spoke to him, because God’s promises often do not make any sense at all, but God is not a man that He should lie, so if He said it, we must TRUST IT!
In fact, we know God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think (he is able to do above human reasoning) ACCORDING to the power that worketh in you. For the sake of today’s message we can agree that the Holy Spirit enables us to do the super-human things like forgive, pray, worship, give, and so on. So God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or think, we say that first part all of the time when we are declaring something good for our lives – but my favorite part is “according to the power that worketh in you”…why is the 2nd part of that verse key? James 2:20-24
How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God, counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone
See, yes God gives promises to bless, to heal, to set free, to grant our heart’s desire, but there is an “according to” that comes in that promise. Trusting God’s promises, having great faith, requires an “according to”. So what does faith, trust in God, have to do with the subject of greater sacrifice? Our sacrifice is our faith put to action. Sacrifice is the “according to”.
Sacrifice (Oxford Dictionary) : 1. Slaughter of a victim or presenting a gift to win a god’s favour. 2. this victim or gift. 3. giving up of a valued thing for the sake of something else.
So here we have Abraham and Sarah, old! God promised them not only a son, but said that through this son will His promise of a great nation come. Not only that, but in Chapter 21, God had Abraham send away his first born son, Ishmael. Yet, in Chapter 22, God called. The call of God is a terrifying thing. It’s not something I personally go after, because I grew up seeing the weight and responsibility that comes with answering God’s call. Some of you are probably like me, denying what God is calling you to because you don’t want to deal with the according to part of answering that call, the active faith part of answering the call. I believe Abraham himself grappled with that very issue when God called him in this chapter. He had answered God before, took Him at His word, left family, left what he knew, parted ways with his nephew, risked his life, and even sent away his first born son. So here Chapter 22 starts with God calling Abraham, and in case Abraham was getting ready to argue away what God was going to request, God answered him in advance by making it clear which son the request would be for (verse 2). Sounds familiar? God is requiring something and before He can even give you the full picture you start arguing it away in your mind, start determining with human reason what God must have meant. Well today, before you argue it away anymore, let me tell you God is requiring a sacrifice of your Isaac. Why Isaac? In Isaac was not just something dear and precious to Abraham’s heart, the son that he and his wife finally got in their old age. In Isaac was the greater promise of nations and descendants, in Isaac was the assurance of a blessed future, fame, security. Think of Isaac as the job that would secure the right size house and kind of car that your heart desires.
God required of Abraham his ultimate sacrifice. It’s human to question God on something so grand, after all our minds could not possibly fathom that this thing that I have waited, and prayed, and sacrificed my other child for, this thing that I’ve worked hard for, left home and the familiar for, this thing I’ve desired for so long, this thing that will assure my good name, that would speak to my great accomplishments, this thing that will prove that I am blessed…this thing that means SO much is what God required. It’s human of us to not believe that this is what God would require of us. Imagine, in his mind Abraham would have been thinking, oh, Ishmael…sure, the bastard child. But no, God wanted Isaac, the child of promise! Abraham’s ultimate sacrifice!
When one can sacrifice something so important, so crucial to their very identity, it puts their faith to work. Such a sacrifice testifies to the faith, love, and fear that one has for God. Sacrifice tells the condition of one’s heart. How do we know? Look at some other stories of sacrifices in the Bible and how God responded.
God’s response to some other sacrifices:
- 1. Cain vs Abel (Genesis 4) – they both sacrificed out of what they produced, but Abel’s sacrifice was the first and best of what he produced. If Cain’s sacrifice was equivalent then the Bible would not take the time to distinguish that Abel’s sacrifice was of the first and fattest of his flock, or would say that Cain brought the first and sweetest of his crop. Their sacrifices reflected the respective conditions of their heart. What happened? God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, he got mad that God accepted Abel’s and set out to kill his brother. It’s just like someone hating on your blessing to the point that they tear you down or kill you with their mouth without understanding the sacrifice you made that God was now honoring with that blessing. He got mad that God didn’t bless his weak, selfish, obligatory, cheerlessness or conviction-less or reverence-less kind of sacrifice or worship.
- 2. Saul vs the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) – God decided to finally get rid of a set of Israel’s enemies, the Amalekites. He sent His priest, Samuel, to tell Saul to gather his army and go kill all the Amalekites. They must have really gotten under God’s skin so to speak because God commanded that every single Amalekite be killed…all the way down to the animals. But Saul and his army decided to destroy everything that was worthless and of poor quality (like the $1 offering) but save the best person (the king), and the best and the fattest of the cattle. God was so disappointed that he actually said he was sorry he made Saul king! God repented! So here Saul and his army failed to make the ultimate sacrifice, that of their ideals. They decided to do their own thing despite God’s instructions…disobedience! (verse 23 – be careful)
How do we deal with God’s sometimes overwhelming requests of a sacrifice? How do we get ourselves to obey what He’s requiring, despite our human-ness? We must do as Abraham did. Abraham didn’t dwell on sacrifice…once he surrendered to God’s command, he considered it worship! See he told his servants in verse 5 of chapter 22, me and the boy will go worship! When we consider our life, and all that we do in obedience to God as worship, the weight of the sacrifice decreases. When we know that what we do pleases God then it doesn’t matter that by the world’s standards we are losing something great! I’m often asked, how do you deal with driving from Margate to church all the time, especially when I attended the South Miami church, and honestly, once you get over the human-ness of time, gas, toll, etc. it makes the journey feel like a walk because I can join with the psalmist and say, I was glad when they said unto me, Come let us go into the house of the Lord. It gets tough sometimes, but all that I do is in worship to Him. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s our worship to Him. When we can join in with the worship leader William McDowell and declare My life is not my own, to You (God) I belong, I give myself away, or in the second verse of that song when he says Take my heart, take my life as a living sacrifice, All my dreams, all my plans Lord I place them in your hands, or as he states in another song I Belong To You, or in another song where he says I Surrender All To You, Everything I Give To You, Withholding Nothing, and mean all of that, then we know we are at that point, on Mount Moriah where Abraham told his servants, stay with the donkey, the boy and I will travel a little farther and worship! The enemy wants you to focus on the sacrifice, how impossible it seems, how unfair of a request it seems…but knowing that if nothing else God’s word already promised that He is working together ALL things for my good, I will obey, and in worship to my King, I will sacrifice, because I trust Him. As the hymn says Trust AND Obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey. Because I know God, I know who He is, like Abraham I know that He’s faithful because He’s proven himself time and time again, then I can humbly, without thought for my personal preferences and what I think I’m entitled to, make the sacrifice and obey. Because I know who God is, I can put my faith to work…even if there is no specific promise attached, because He’s already given me enough promises in His word, promise of life in abundance, promise of a heavenly home, promise of a comforter and a strength-filled joy that will keep me when life gets too heavy to bear. He didn’t promise that He wouldn’t give us more than we can bear, but He promised us a Comforter in the person of the Holy Spirit. We want this Christ walk to be convenient, but we must be willing, like the 100+ year old Abraham, to make the 3 day long walk of a journey up the range of mountains, to do what God says…to sacrifice our best to Him in worship and obedience to our Creator. (Abraham’s journey – suggests challenge or difficulty to overcome to obediently make the sacrifice). The enemy wants you to focus on the thought of the sacrifice, the more thought you give to it, the greater and more difficult it seems. The greater the thought of the sacrifice gets the easier we forget God’s promise. But if we could just understand that the sacrifice, the faith in action, is simply an act of worship to a GREAT GOD, and move / act out our faith knowing the promise that will be realized if we accept the call to sacrifice, the blessing that we’ll not only see, but that will happen through us must come to pass because God does not lie.
Isaac learned faith in action and that faith was passed on to not just generations, but nations! We must live out our faith for the generations to come. How will our children, our friends, and our family know who God is unless they see it at work in us?
God’s promise was reiterated, and Abraham’s faith increased. When someone makes true on their word it causes your trust in them to increase. When faith increases it makes it easier to do more for them, so sacrifice for that person becomes second nature. In verse 16 of Chapter 22, notice the angel of the Lord said because – Abraham’s obedience and sacrifice sealed the promise. Until we are willing to make the big sacrifices, the ultimate sacrifices in our lives, release what is dearest to us, even if that thing is as simple yet deadly as pride, then God’s promises to us, those things which are the exceedingly, abundantly, above all we can ask or think will not be released into our lives. The name it and claim it theology, the message of prosperity has for a time overshadowed the understanding of that very belief that what we desire from God will require some action, and that action often times may mean sacrifice. When the children of Israel, in Jeremiah 29, were growing frustrated about their time in captivity, God didn’t send verse 11 to say you will prosper now, He sent it to say trust that I know what I am doing even while you make the sacrifice in staying in captivity and making your oppressors rich. God’s word is true, His promises concerning you is true, but you will only see that promise when you submit to Him, and obey even if, obey especially when it means sacrifice!
Abraham didn’t live to see all of the promise fulfilled, but he lived knowing he pleased God…that is the ultimate reward.
Will you answer His call?