The Price of True Devotion
Today I want to take a few moments to look at the price tag of true devotion. I want us to see what it costs us to be the kind of Christian that inspires others to be a better Christian.
Let’s examine the familiar passage of Genesis 22 where we will extract some principles from this account of how God asked Abraham to offer Isaac. As we do, I want to give credit to Tony Evans who preached on this passage many years ago and drew out these principles that greatly affected my own life.
1. God will test our hunger for Him by seeing what we are willing to sacrifice (1-2).
- You see, we all want to be the kind of Christian whose presence causes others to want to be better Christians, but how badly do we want that. How hungry are we for God truly?
- It’s one thing to say you are hungry for God and it is another thing to be willing to sacrifice because you are that hungry.
- There is only one way that I know to validate whether or not you are as hungry for God as you say you are. The Bible calls it a test.
- You see the passion of our lives must be for God and not merely His gifts. God does not mind giving out His hand as long as what you are interested in is His heart.
- He is not interested in being your Genie in a bottle. He is not interested in being your Santa Clause. He is not interested in being your cosmic Bell Hop, which is what most people use Him for. He does not serve you, you serve Him.
- He is interested in people who are in pursuit of Him.
Verse 1 says, now it came about after these things…
After what things? Well, Abraham is coming out of a time of blessing.
There had been tension in his house for years because of Hagar and Ishmael. But in chapter 21 they are gone and God provided for them. There was resolution to a big problem. Then later in chapter 21 Abraham was able to sign a peace treaty with King Abihimlech, so there is peace in the neighborhood. He is having a wonderful time at the end of chapter 21. After years of trouble there is peace and Abraham hopes this will stick around for a while. Yet, then God introduces this test!
Isn’t it amazing how God always seems to give a test at the wrong time. You’re almost scared to have a good day because God might decide to give a pop quiz.
After this period of blessing God prepared a test. God calls to Abraham. Abraham says, “Here I am.”God says, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love. Go to the mountains in the land of Moriah and offer your Son there as a burnt offering.”
Whoa! This isn’t a pop quiz. This is a major test!
God says, I want you to go to Moriah and worship. And remember, when you worship you’ve got to bring a sacrifice, only this time I want that sacrifice to be your son. Your only son. Let me go a little farther – the son whom you love.
Many of us wouldn’t mind God testing us along as the test didn’t include a one of a kind test – your only son – and as long as it wasn’t something we love. God test me on something that I hate and that I don’t mind giving up. In other words test me over my left-overs. Test me over stuff I don’t use anyway. Test me over stop that doesn’t matter to me. But that is not what you see in scripture. When God commanded tithing he said give it off the top, not once you see how much you have left over. God asked Abraham to give him the most precious thing in his life. Why? Very simple. Because only when you are tested in an area of affection do you know who you really love. The question for you todays is, do you love God or do you love His gifts more. For Isaac had been a gift from God. God wants you to validate his love for Him.
What do I mean by validated? Back in 2008 my Father was having a major surgery I had to park in the hospital parking garage and of course that costs money. If you got your parking ticket stamped by the hospital they would validate that you were using the garage for medical reasons and you would receive a rate reduction. There was also a clergy validation. If I showed pastoral credentials they would validate my parking ticket and I would pay nothing. When we pass God’s test we are stamped with His approval, validating that our hearts are in the right place – that we love Him more than His gifts.
Now you might be saying, wait a minute. God knows everything already. Why test me. True, academically God already knows what you are going to do, but you don’t know what you are going to do. God asked Abraham for what was most valuable to allow Abraham to see what was truly in himself. Jesus made it clear that nothing should come before Him when he told the disciples to leave father, mother, children, and even your own life. He instructed people to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
So, what will you do when you encounter this kind of test. I’m not talking about a head ache, a sore throat, the kids misbehaving . I’m talking about when God asks you to give back something precious, something that tugs at your affections… the son that you love. Perhaps it is a relationship that is clearly not what God would have. Perhaps it’s a situation that God would not have you in. Perhaps it’s a thing that you have that God wants you to let go of. I don’t know what the “son that you love” is for you, but I can guarantee that you will be tested.
Now some of you are getting a little nervous so let me share with you some good news. When God seeks to validate your devotion to Him by bringing you to this kind of final examination it is because he is ready to bring you to the next level. Whenever God gives you this kind of test that is going to take every bit of your spiritual reserve that you’ve got just to be able to pass it is because He is ready to take you to the next level. It will always involve what you are willing to sacrifice and it will always be one of the most precious things in your life.
In the church that I grew up in back in Cincinnati there is a special man named Lloyd Wile. He is the last remaining charter member of that church who actually put his house up as collateral to get the loan to build that church building years ago. If he had not been willing to sign his own house as collateral the bank would not have been willing to give that church a loan. Why? Because they wanted to know what he was willing to sacrifice. They wanted to know if building that church was worth that risk to Lloyd. Well it was and years later hundreds of souls have been saved and influenced for the Lord through that ministry. Lloyd passed away just this last Wednesday. But, his sacrifice impacted many. I am one of those souls saved as a result of that church ministry!
God will test our hunger for Him by seeing what we are willing to sacrifice and it will be something that you feel. .. the son whom you love.
There is a second principle that comes out of this.
2. In testing our hunger He is trying our faith. (2-3)
Listen again to that request of verse 2. The problem with that request is that it doesn’t make sense. It is not something you can figure out. God told Abraham, I am giving you a son Isaac and you will be the father of many nations through Isaac. This request poses a bit of a contradiction. How can Isaac be the father of many nations when I’m supposed to kill him and he has no children yet. He is not married. He is probably just a mid to upper level teenager. God your telling me to kill him when the promise is going to come through him. It just doesn’t make sense.
When you get your test it may not make sense. Why would you give me this house and now it seems like it is going to be foreclosed? Why would God give me this job and now everything’s falling apart. Why is God doing this or that? It doesn’t make sense. That is the test and the question is always the same: Do you love me more than that thing?
God calls Isaac his only son. Technically it is not his only son. He has another son. His name is Ishmael. Why does God call Isaac his only son? Because Ishmael is the son after the flesh and Isaac is the son after the spirit. In other words, Ishmael is here because they tried to do it man’s way. Sarah said why don’t you go sleep with Hagar? Let’s help God out. God does not seem to understand I’m 90, your 100. She actually laughed. It just didn’t make sense.
You will often not be able to figure out when you are in the midst of a test what God is trying to do and He may not explain it to you even if you ask him because what he is testing is your faith. In Abraham’s case God didn’t even give him full information. He says in verse 2 to go offer Isaac as a burnt offering one of the mountains which I will tell you. In other words, I am not going to give you all the information up front. Most of us would be willing to take the test if we got all the information up front to see where it was going to wind up because then we could decide whether or not we wanted to take it. God is not offering that as an option.
Verse 3 says, so Abraham rose up early. Most of us would have slept in that day. We would have needed a lot of caffeine of some sort to get us moving, but Abraham rose early. He was quick to respond to God. We would have been laying in bed saying woe is me. How can God ask this? How can God demand this? I am depressed. Abraham does not understand God’s word, but he doesn’t argue with it either. There is an immediate response.
When God puts you in a test that you can’t understand it may also be a situation where you can even explain it to anybody else. Have you even been in a situation like that where you didn’t understand it so you didn’t even know how to explain it to someone in order to ask them for help in it? Trying to explain it would have made you look like more of a fool. So, Abraham doesn’t even try to explain it to his servants. He just tells them to stay at the base of the mountain. “The boy and I will go up to worship, and we will come back to you.”
Interesting how he phrased that. He is going up to do what God told him to do… kill Isaac, and yet he says we will go to worship and we will return. Now that is a statement of faith. God told me that he is going to make of my son a great nation. God told me to kill my son. Although that is a contradiction because you can’t make a nation out of a dead man, I am going to obey. I don’t know what is going to happen up there. All I know is that I am going to worship like he told me and we will be back.
The story takes a little twist here. Isaac has a question. He says, Father I see the fire and the wood. Where is the lamb?
Abraham answered him honestly “My son, God will provide for himself the lamb.”Now, he could have said, “your it boy.” But sometimes you have to keep what God is doing close to the vest – keep it to yourself – especially when you aren’t certain yourself about what God is doing. His answer was that I am putting this one on God because it is beyond me. I’m going to let God worry about what I can’t control but that God already knows the answer to.That is all he could say. That is all the information he could give. When you are caught in such a test throw it back on God.
Isaiah 11:3 says that the fear of God goes beyond what you can see, hear, or understand. Some of the things you will encounter will go beyond counseling. Some of it will go beyond advice and support from your friends. Some of it goes beyond reading books or trying to figure it out. Some of it goes beyond seminars and conferences. Some of this is what God is doing uniquely with you! And God is going to have to provide it himself. Its going to have to come direct from Him.
Now Hebrews 11:17-19 sheds a little more light on this story because it tells us what Abraham was thinking. It tells us that Abraham fully expected to have a resurrection that day. Oh, I’m sure he was hoping that God would not have him go through with this odd request, but if He did he was convinced that a resurrected son would be accompanying him down the mountain. He believed in the power of God. Now, if God asked you something odd and you knew it was from God but it didn’t make sense I can assure you that there is an answer to that test somewhere. God never gives a test for which there is no answer, but He does give tests in which you don’t have the answer in advance and you simply have to believe that God is able.
Abraham didn’t know exactly how it would work. He just knew God expected Him to obey and He knew God would keep His covenant.When it comes to these tests there are sometimes that we just need to leave it up to God.
There is third principle that you need to get out of this story and it is the most important one of day.
3. God will address our hunger for Him in the context of sacrificial worship (4-10).
Notice what he sends at the end of verse 5… we will worship and return. Now look at verse 9. They came to the place God had told them and they built an altar. What was the altar? A place of sacrificial worship. He put Isaac on it.
Is there something that God wants you to put on the altar? Anybody who didn’t bring a lamb to the altar was not worshipping even if they were standing in front of the altar. You aren’t worshipping just because you show up, not when there’s supposed to be something on the altar. When you go through tests that you don’t understand there is one place you should always be found – at worship. It is within the context of sacrificial worship that God will address our hunger for him and you have to be willing to go all the way.
In verse 10, Abraham took the knife to slay his son. Now I’m sure he is walking up the mountain thinking, Okay God. I obeyed you. I woke up to come worship – I even got up early. I have prepared an altar. Surely you don’t want me to really kill my son. You’re supposed to come through for me by now…. But heaven is silent.
The command was not to wake up nor walk up the hill. The command was to slay. You may be saying I’m waiting for God to come through. He hasn’t come through yet. You haven’t finished the test. The test was to slay him. Go all the way. It was in the context of worship and it was in this context that Abraham hurts. Remember, he loved his son.
Worship when it hurts. Some people won’t even worship when it rains. Hey, some people won’t worship because the weather is too nice to sacrifice their free time, their hobbies, their interests. If you are hurting today because God has you in a test that is the time to come to the altar. You ought not be happy every time you come to church. You ought not be happy every time you pray. You ought not be happy every time because sometimes you have to worship in pain. Sometimes you have to drag yourself to the altar because of the test that your facing. That’s okay. Abraham wasn’t winning friends and influencing people when he picked up the knife. It was a bad day.
But praise the Lord here comes verse 11. Now, how is it that God says, now I know that you fear God? God, you know everything actual and potential. He knows what was, what is, and all the what ifs. He knows what could have been. Since you are omniscient – why do we have to go through all this?
We’ve all been there. We have been upset with God. We may never say it, but we have been. You can probably think of a time in your life when you said God you already know what I’m going to do. Why did you take me through all of this? Now I know that you fear God? How can the omniscient God say something like that as if he just gained new knowledge? Is he really not omniscient?
God puts us through these types of tests for 2 reasons.
- A. Because those tests reveal to us where we stand. They show us whether or not we love Him as much as we way we love Him in public. These pop quizzes help us see ourselves for where we really are and reveal where we still need to grow.
- B. God wants to know things experientially. God knows all things factually. He knows what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. You can give Him no new information. Yet, He does not know all things experientially until he experiences it. That is why Jesus became a man. God is a spirit, but when he took on flesh he experienced hunger, fatigue, thirst or death. But when he became a man he can experience what men experience. God knows all things actually and factually, but he loves to know things experientially. God already knows what we are going to do, but he loves the experience of it. He wants to enter into the experience with us. The only way He can do that is within history – at a point in time.
Now to explain this further: God loves the praises of his people scripture tells us, but does He need it. No! He was doing fine long before we came here. He doesn’t need our praise. If we don’t praise Him he would praise himself, only His praise would be perfect praise that puts ours to shame. No, He does not need our praise, but he loves the experience of our praise. God loves the experience of being first so much that he creates scenarios for you to make him first so he can get that feeling and it validates in us that he indeed is first.
Serioulsy, think about why he even created this world. Why create light. He is omniscient. He already knew what it was like but he enjoyed the experience of it. He wasn’t trying to impress anyone, there was no one else. So he spoke and said let their be light and BAM – there it was and God said Wow, you’re good. God created sun, stars, man … you name it. He made it and then reflected on the experience of it and declared it is good.
You see, it isn’t the knowing of it that gets God excited. He already knows it all. It is the doing of it that he enjoys. He loves experience. God wants to experience you. He doesn’t want facts only. He wants the experience of those facts. The Holy Spirit loves experience. His job is to take the facts of the Bible and turn them into the experience of your life. It was never supposed to be facts alone.
The final principle for today is…
4. God will reward your passion for Him in a way that is greater than your sacrifice (11-19).
I know it is hard, but the reward is worth it. Look at the text. The knife is raised and the angel of the Lord says, now I know that you fear the Lord. Wow, what an experience! That feels so good. Now stop! Don’t harm your son.
Remember Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham expected God to raise Isaac from the dead. He was expecting a resurrection, but got an intervention. He was looking over here, but God came from over there. Once again, I don’t know how your breakthrough in your test is going to come, but I do know that if you have sacrificial worship and come into his presence to give him the experience of your passion and your love, what He will do will be greater than what you gave up.
Verse 13 – when Abraham raised his eyes he saw a ram caught in a thicket. How long had that ram been in that thicket? I don’t know but it was sure quiet. He didn’t see it until right then.
To put it another way, when God works in your life you will often find that your answer was there all along, but real quiet waiting until you had passed the test.
Abraham took that Ram and put it on the altar in place of Isaac and then the angel of the Lord appeared and confirmed his covenant with Abraham again. Now Abraham acknowledges the lesson he has learned through this test by renaming the place – Jehovah Jireh – The Lord will provide.
How is God going to provide? I have no idea. When is God going to provide? I haven’t a clue.
But I can tell you that if you are in a test and in need of a genuine spiritual breakthrough you better do what Abraham did and make your way to the altar for sacrificial worship.
When you pass that test you better remember what God has done for you! Do what Abraham did. Reflect on the character of God and rename that test – acknowledge that you serve Jehovah Jireh.