Tested by God
Heavenly Father, I want to love You with my whole heart, soul, and mind, but I confess that many things seek to interfere with that love. All of my sins demonstrate a lack of love for You. Forgive me when my love fails and when I love other things or people more than You. Test me to mold me and strengthen me. Build up my heart’s trust by Your Word and let that trust never waver or be ashamed. Bless us all in worship this morning. Amen.
Peter wrote to Christians who had dispersed from Jerusalem due to persecution. These Christians were facing severe trials. Peter encouraged them with the living hope and the incorruptible inheritance that was theirs through Christ Jesus and His resurrection. Peter also assured these Christians that even these “trials by fire” would strengthen their faith and be to God’s glory.
Like a seed that dies in the ground to produce a living plant and much grain, Jesus would die to produce life through the forgiveness of sins. Those who serve Jesus and put their trust in Him will lose their old life of sin and death and find their true life in Jesus. Life in Jesus includes following Him and loving Him above all earthly things.
Text: Genesis 22:1-19
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now 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 of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of The Lord it shall be provided.” Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
There are two beings most interested in your life and in your soul. One of these is almighty and the other is very powerful, but limited. One is deceitful, cunning, and sly, the other is absolutely true and just. The two beings most interested in your life and in your soul are God and the Devil. They both are very interested in you, but for two different reasons and with two very different goals.
The Devil’s goal is to bring you into Hell. Hell was prepared for the Devil and his angels after they rebelled against God and were cast from heaven (cf. Matthew 25:41). There is nothing that the Devil would like more than to have you in Hell with Him. On the other hand, God’s goal for you and the basis for his interest in you is your salvation. God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:3-4).
With these two goals in mind, these two beings seek to influence your lives. The Devil wants to trip you up. He puts temptations in your path, he tries to deceive you, he tries to allure your flesh, he tries to tempt you with all the delights of sin. When we fall into these temptations we should never believe that God has set these temptations or that it is God’s fault that we have fallen into them. James writes: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:13-16).
God does allow tests to come into our lives, but when He does this He has a much different goal and aim in mind than when the Devil tempts us. The Devil seeks to destroy, God allows things to come into our lives to build up, to strengthen, to equip us for our walk ever heavenward. Such was the test that God brought to Abraham and at times may also bring into our lives. This morning we consider how Abraham was TESTED BY GOD. The test involves I. A Question II. A Promise and III. A Blessing. When God sees fit to test us we will find the same parts of the test in our lives as well.
The question in Abraham’s test was whether he loved Isaac more than he loved God. The question was a question of priority and a love for God that superseded all else. At the end of the test we hear God say, “do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” [v.12] The question was whether Abraham would follow God’s word even if it meant sacrificing his one and only son.
To consider how difficult this question was for Abraham, we do well to remember how Abraham came to have this son. You will recall how God had promised Abraham many times that He would give him a son and from that son a great nation would be born. God promised that Abraham’s descendants would outnumber the stars in the heavens and the sands on the seashore. Abraham’s descendants would be honored by others and God would curse all who cursed them. God also promised that the Savior from sin would be born from among this great nation of Abraham’s descendants. All of this was promised to Abraham when God first told him to leave his homeland and go to the land that God would show him. But Abraham never owned more than a burial plot in that land and for many, many years he did not have a single child through his wife, Sarah.
When Isaac was born Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90. Imagine a son after so many years of waiting! Imagine the joy and love they had for that one son! Sarah had laughed with doubt when God promised a son and then she laughed with joy when the son was born. So they named their son Isaac which means laughter (Genesis 21:1ff).
It was with this son that God would test Abraham. God told Abraham to take this son, his only son, Isaac, the son of his old age, the one whom he loved, the only one he had through his wife Sarah, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering at a place God would show him. Herein lay the test. How would Abraham follow God’s Word when it meant sacrificing someone he loved so dearly and for whom he had waited so long?
We find that Abraham was set to follow God’s Word. He didn’t procrastinate. He didn’t allow someone to sway him from that purpose. Early the next morning he saddled his donkey, loaded up the wood, brought Isaac and two servants, and began the journey. Abraham’s heart must have surely broken with sorrow when his son asked him, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering? We have everything else—the wood, the fire, the knife—but Father, where’s the sacrifice?” Abraham responded: “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” [v.8]
Step by step as they began to come closer to the place of sacrifice one would expect Abraham’s heart to yearn more and more for his son. Nevertheless, step by step he went forward, willing to sacrifice his son because God had told him to do so. Abraham was facing the question of the test: “Which will you love more Abraham? Isaac or Me?”
There are a number of other examples in Scripture when others were asked a question in a test and did not fare was well as did Abraham. Lot’s wife had received the instruction to not look back as she, Lot, and their daughters fled the soon to be destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and the daughters kept going, but Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. Lot’s wife did not follow God’s Word. Her desire to see what was happening to the cities she had grown to love overcame her love for God. In the New Testament Jesus gives the simple reminder: “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Remember the priority of God above all else.
A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he should do to be saved. Jesus responded by saying, “Keep the law.” The man said, “I have done this from my youth.” Jesus then said, “Sell all that you have and give your goods to the poor, and follow me.” We are told the man went away sorrowful because he was very rich. The man had been put to the test. The question was whether the man loved God or his riches more. Did he love Jesus above all else? His actions answered, “No.” (cf. Luke 18:18-23).
God warns us that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Many have coveted after wealth and have strayed from the faith, piercing themselves through with many sorrows (1 Timothy 6:10). The test is real because there are earthly allurements that want to take a higher place in our lives than God. The tests that come may not be any easier for us than it was for Abraham. People and things and activities can all interfere with our love for God. John cautions us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world if anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Jesus Himself cautions, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus also tells us, “Seek first, the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33), but the Devil is trying to tempt us into sin by having us seek everything else first and give God the leftovers if there happen to be any. At times God may allow a test to come into our lives so we have to ask ourselves the question: Will I follow God or something or someone else? Which do I love more?
The best way to continue to pass these tests and be strengthened by them is to cut off from our lives those things that seek to pull us away from our Savior. If we realize through the tests that we are being pulled away and that God is no longer first in our lives receiving the first-fruits of everything, that He is no longer receiving the highest degree of love, then we have fallen into sin and should repent and turn back to our Savior for forgiveness.
As difficult as the tests we face may be and as difficult as it was for Abraham, there is strength to pass the test. Abraham passed the test. In the end God said that He had demonstrated his love by not hesitating to sacrifice his son. The strength to succeed was not in Abraham. The strength came from God Himself. The strength was in the power of God’s Word—His promise.
God had promised that Abraham would have a son and through that son the rest of His promise would be fulfilled. Abraham was able to follow God’s direction, even though it meant sacrificing his son, because he was so sure that God would fulfill His promise. The writer to the Hebrews writes: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac (notice he describes it as an accomplished fact because Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac if God had not stopped him), and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham was so confident that God would fulfill His promise that he was able to sacrifice his son knowing that God would raise Him up from the dead because there was no other way for God to fulfill His promise. Abraham relied on the promise of God for the strength to do what God had asked. God’s promise that had to be fulfilled gave Abraham the strength to act on God’s will, even though his father’s heart toward Isaac must have told him differently.
God gave Abraham the command to sacrifice but God had also given Him a promise concerning Isaac and for that reason Abraham could be sure. At times in our world we hear of individuals who claimed that they were told by God to do this or that, and if they were to not do it the would face dire consequences. Others claim to have been told by God to do some drastic misdeed. Those are not tests from God. These are not commands from God nor do they involve promises from God such as the command and promise given to Abraham. These are the deceptions of the Devil.
If we are considering whether a command is from God or not the answer will lie in God’s Word. When we meet tests in our lives we go to God’s Word to define and to determine what God’s will is for these situations. Never will God test us by leading us to follow after something contrary to His Word. In this way His Word becomes the lamp for our feet and the light for our path—it is the guide for life. When we go to God’s Word for direction, when we follow that direction even if it goes against what society says, even if it goes against what our peer group says, even if it goes against what seems the easiest and best for our lives—when we follow the direction of God’s Word we have His promise that He will bless that and not forsake us.
We have the promise of God to strengthen us in times of testing just as Abraham had. Just as sure as Abraham was confident that God could raise Isaac from the dead, so sure we can be that God will bless us even in what appears to be the most severe testing we could possibly face.
God did indeed bless Abraham through his faith and from His promise. After stopping Abraham and providing the ram for sacrifice, God again spoke from heaven saying, “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” [vv.16-18]
God repeated the same promise that He had been giving to Abraham for all those years. He affirmed the promise once again for Abraham and continued to bless him. From our New Testament perspective we are able to look back and see that God remained true to His promise and blessed Abraham. Jesus, the promised Seed, has come. He has been the sacrificial Lamb that died on the cross for our sins. He has taken our sins away so that we are redeemed children of God. Through Jesus, Abraham and we have the certain incorruptible promise of eternal life (cf. epistle reading). God blessed Abraham just as He said He would do and God blesses us. God blesses us with material blessing and spiritual blessings. At times God’s testing may involve taking away material blessings for the greater goal of blessing us spiritually. In those cases God tests our faith—though it be by fire—to strengthen it, to find it true, and to preserve that faith to everlasting life.
There are many things that may interfere with our faith and our love for God. God may test us to pull us back, to re-evaluate our priorities, to re-establish our faith, and to be confirmed in the truth that God is first in our lives and that we love him above all else.
We should stand guard and be fearful of the temptations of the Devil because his goal is destruction. But we can rejoice with confidence in the gracious testing of our heavenly father. He will allow tests to come, but His promise is with us and His blessing is sure. Amen.
Soli Dei Gloria!
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt