Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “This is NOT a Test” based on Genesis 22:1-14 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, February 18, 2017
CNN reported that “people hugged their children…and they prayed…and they uttered a few final farewells, then they waited for the attack.” A little over a month ago, every iphone in the state of Hawaii buzzed and came alive with a dire message on its screen: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.
People were jumping down into manholes, abandoning their cars on the interstate, but in the end, there would be no impact, no lives lost, no destruction-because there was no missile. It was indeed only a test. A state employee had missed the memo about there being a training exercise and had sent out the warning text in error. But the people of Hawaii, didn’t know it was test. For them, it was all very real.
I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind when I read the first line of our text for today. “Some time later, God tested Abraham.” God knew this was a test. Reading it today, we know it was a test. But Abraham didn’t. God didn’t announce beforehand “Okay, Abraham, this is just an exercise in preparedness, a little bit of litmus for your faith.” No Abraham didn’t know it was a test. For him, it was all very real. God had said, “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.”
He didn’t know that this was going to have a happy ending during the agonizing, sleepless hours that followed God’s command….and when he got up early the next morning and to leave as God commanded….and when he traveled the three days that it took to get to Mount Moriah, with each step forward bringing his dear son one step closer to the knife.
By the way, if you’re wondering how old Isaac was at this time, we can only ballpark that answer. The Hebrew word that’s used to describe him is used in other places to describes boys as young as toddlers and as old as marrying age. So he could’ve been 4…or 24. The Holy Spirit didn’t think that we needed that information! All we know is that he walked innocently alongside his father to the place of his sacrifice.
It just seems like the oddest story, doesn’t it? The one who created life, now commands that it be taken away in brutal fashion. In so many other places in Scripture he specifically says, “You shall not murder.” Now he says, “You shall.” And in no other place in all of Scripture, does God command a parent to sacrifice their child—a thought so repulsive, so nauseating that our brains would sooner shut down completely than give any room to any hint of such a horrific prospect. What kind of God is this?
It’s the kind of God who knew exactly what Abraham was going through, the kind of God who knew exactly what it was like to sacrifice his Son, his only Son, the one he loved. Don’t think for a second that the Father wasn’t repulsed and nauseated by the prospect of his Son on a cross. But he found his heart was captivated by an even more horrific prospect—seeing you and me and billions upon billions go to hell.
We might see parallels Abraham and God the Father. We might also see parallels between Isaac in our text and Jesus many years later—both only sons, both dearly loved by their respective fathers, both carrying the wood upon which the sacrifice would take place, both walking up a mountain to their demise.
But it’s the differences that really make you shake your head in wonder and amazement. You see, Isaac was able to walk down from the mountain on his own. Jesus had to be carried down. The Lord stopped Abraham before he could lower his knife. There was no such last minute reprieve on the cross. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his Son, but God the Father actually did. With Abraham it was only a test, but with the Father—it was the real thing.
It had to be real, because our sins are so real. The hurt feelings that we cause when we lash out in anger or speak without thinking. Those hurt feelings are real. Our desire to please people even if it means displeasing God. That’s real. Our willingness to let other people look bad as long as it means we come out looking good. That’s real. Our distracted worship, our apathy in prayer. They’re real. Our unholy love for the stuff of this world, the unhealthy influence of the people of this world. They’re all real. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to take all those very real sins that fill our days and multiply them by 365 days in a year and then multiply that by every year you’ve been alive. All those real sins all had to go somewhere. That huge pile of stinking garbage had to be dealt with. If that mountain was going to be moved, there could be no last minute reprieve, no interruption from heaven as the hammer was about to hit nail, no voice from above saying, “Okay, stop. That’s enough. This is only a test.” Somebody had to really be punished.
So the hammer did hit the nail. And real blood spilled onto the ground. And the body of the innocent Lamb of God, convulsed and cried out in unspeakable agony. Good Friday was not a test. It was the real thing. Real suffering. Real death. A real substitution–the really perfect taking the place of the really guilty. All resulting in real redemption. And so you can be really sure. God’s love for you is not a test. It’s real. And so is the heaven that waits for you.
So then, back to where we started….why the test? Was God just messing with Abraham? Cuz that doesn’t sound very loving at all. God doesn’t mess with anyone. He’s not petty or manipulative. His goal is too important, too serious for any of that junk. He will do whatever is necessary to get you to heaven. A heart that never gets exercise can become clogged up and even shut down altogether. So also a faith that never gets exercised. And so, to carry the metaphor one step further, our God might schedule a little stress test for us every once in a while.
God has not asked us to make the kind of sacrifice that Abraham was asked to make. But we can all probably think of ways our faith has been put to test. Those times, when the Lord, through the circumstances of life, makes it clear…Your health situation is going to change drastically overnight. Your family situation is going to cause you many tears. Your money situation is going to threaten your way of life. Your faith is going to put a target on your back. Your future is not going to go as you had it planned out. Maybe you come here today in the midst of such testing. We will keep on obeying even when obeying is difficult? Will we cling to him in faith even when nothing makes sense?
Remember Abraham’s obedience and his stubborn clinging to God’s promises. The writer to the Hebrews says, “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….he reasoned that God could raise the dead.”
You see it? When his faith was put to the test, Abraham doubled down. Instead of letting go, he grabbed onto God even tighter, even if went against his every inclination. He obeyed, laser focusing—not on the what ifs or whys—but simply on the promises of God and the power of God. That doesn’t take all the strength we can muster. It takes all the weakness we can muster—surrendering ourselves entirely to the care of the God who promises that he loves us. It’s saying, in effect, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but whatever happens, I’m going to be holding on to your cross.”
For tests can weary us and tempt us to lose heart. Appearances can deceive us and tempt us to forget. Circumstances can overwhelm us and tempt us to lose perspective. But the cross and what it represents…that will always be there, firmly planted, unmoved, even if in our most difficult of days. There God’s love was put to the test. There his love proved true. Amen.