Worthwhile living

“Brothers and Sisters, if you wish to give your children a blessing when you die, be a blessing to them while you live! If you would make your last words worth the hearing, let your whole life be worth the seeing…”

~ Charles Spurgeon

Living by faith (4)

Joseph

Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 50:15-26
  • Hebrews 11:13-22

Hymns:

  • Praise my soul the King of heaven
  • How deep the Father’s love for us
  • To God be the glory
  • There is a hope

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

There is a risk in taking one chapter in the Bible and preach a series from it. It is almost sure that somewhere along the line you will find a verse which is difficult, or judged by what meets the eye, would have rare practical application.

To preach about Joseph from Hebrew 11 might seem like one of those verses.  It reads:

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. (Hebrews 11:22, NIV)

What would the Lord God want us to learn from this verse and those which follow?  What does one say about a verse in the Scripture that talks about someone’s wish to be buried in his homeland 400 years after his death?  On face value not much, but there is certainly quite a few things we would need to pray the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and minds to.

Our overarching theme in this series of sermons is “Living by Faith”.  We looked at Noah and how God called this man in a very dark period in the history of this world.  He believed God, followed Him and persevered till the very end.  Then there was Abraham:  God called him out of idolatry; he became consumed by the grace of God and trusted Him even when he had not much left other than the promise of God.  When God later asked of him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, he trusted that God could raise up the dead, and so passed the test of trusting and obeying God.

What then is faith? The author of Hebrews says:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because everyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). Noah did, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did, and so did Joseph.

Not much is said about Joseph in other books of the Bible other than Genesis.  The author of Hebrews includes him into the cloud of witnesses when he says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

Surely, Joseph ran the race with perseverance.

Faith in the face of adversity

Joseph lost his mother Rachel at a very early age. His brothers hated him, and sold him to slave traders after throwing him in a deep well.  He had been taken to Egypt when he was 17 years old.  Not the most positive circumstances to leave your father’s house for a hostile world where people worship foreign gods. Egypt was technically advanced but spiritually depraved. Its religion was the rawest form of polytheism, in which gods and goddesses took the forms of animals, snakes, and insects. The worship of these gods was often sexual in nature, and there were probably occult or demonic activities as well.

He ended up in jail for some time after he was treated unjustly, but he never stopped trusting God.

He died when he was 110 years old, which means that he had lived in the hostile spiritual environment of Egypt for 93 years. Moreover, Joseph was not an obscure individual. He was second only to Pharaoh and must therefore have been under intense and continuing pressure to conform to Egypt’s customs.

It proves that faith can grow strong in adversity, for Joseph’s dying faith was also strong, as we will see. God grows faith in difficulty, and the faith thus grown is a hearty faith. If you want to grow mushrooms, you can grow them quickly in protected conditions. But if you want to grow an oak tree, it must be in the open where it will stand against the storms of summer and the snows of winter. Adversity makes the oak tree strong.

We need to stop blaming the failures of others for our sins.  We need to stop blaming circumstances for slipping away from the faith we were taught by our parents.  It is never too much work, or a program that is too busy, or bad habits of bad friends that make us slip away; in the end it is our sinful heart and our spiritual blindness to realise that we are allowing other things to become more important than our obedience to God.  We need to take personal responsibility.  It is in the end I who will stand before the throne of God to answer about what I have done with grace, talents and opportunities to by fruitful in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s learn form the example of a Joseph.  He ran the race with perseverance.  He had his eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ who would give him a homeland.  In Egypt he was not at home, not even after 93 years.

Standing on the promises of God

Joseph, at the end of his life, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. (Hebrews 11:22)

Abraham, Joseph’s great-grandfather, must have told first Isaac, later Jacob who must have told it to his own son Joseph what God had told right when He made the Covenant with Abraham:

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, NIV)

The hard times for the children of Israel had not arrived.  Surely there was another Pharaoh on the throne and the influence of Joseph as a previous Prime Minister was not as strong as in the beginning, but the time for their suffering had not arrived. There were still hundreds of years of slave labour in Egypt ahead of them.  Joseph knew about that, and before he died he called his brothers together and spoke to them about the exodus.

He did not allow his hopes to become rooted in Egypt’s political life. He was in the world but not of it, just as we should be. Joseph knew what was coming, as we know what is coming, and for that very reason he fixed his gaze on God and what God would accomplish.

Our Lord has prepared us for difficult times ahead of us.  He said to his disciples right in the beginning when He called them to follow Him:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NIV)

And in the night He was betrayed He once again said:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

The apostle Peter writes:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, NIV)

Joseph wants to tell us this morning that what Jesus said before He was taken up into heaven is what really should carry us on our earthly journey:  in this world we are but travellers without a fixed address; here the enemies of the Gospel will revile us as they did Jesus Christ.  Thousands in the past paid the highest price for the testimony of Christ, they stood the test, they fixed their eyes upon Jesus and as Him who promised:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

When He ascended in heaven the angel said:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

With Joseph we need to say there is a better life, a better world after this one.  We need to look at this one from the point of view of eternity.  That’s when we will get excited about going to heaven, but that is also when we will get excited about what God has in stall for us now.  We will have joy in our walk, our work, because we have a hope – a hope that will never fail.  It is our anchor in heaven.

We must look for God’s kingdom and pray that it might come.  Joseph did it. All through the long years of his Egyptian service, though his body was in Pharaoh’s country, his mind was in Canaan and he looked forward to that day when his bones should be carried out of Egypt and be buried there in anticipation of the final resurrection and fulfilment of God’s promise. Should we do less, we to whom the promises have been made even clearer and who have in addition the sure and certain knowledge of our Lord’s own resurrection? If that resurrection is uppermost in our prayers and desires, we will live for eternity now and will make a powerful impact on earth.

And let us not say like so many have said and are still saying:  two thousand years have passed and nothing has happened, therefore nothing is going to happen.  Faith is just the pie in the sky when you die.  Keep this in mind, the hour is unknown and happy are those who will be found busy with the work of their master when he returns.

Joseph wants you to know today that you have a better future in the eternal home for which he longed.  Have you perhaps forgotten about that home?  Have you perhaps become so used to this world that you have invested so much here that heaven is a mere dream to you?  Please, no that.  What in this world can be of any value in comparison to what awaits the children of God in eternity?  The Psalmist writes:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NIV)

A sermon from bones

Joseph lived in Egypt ninety-three years. During that time he must have seemed to be conformed to Egypt in every outward way. He served an Egyptian king. He bore an Egyptian title. He had married an Egyptian wife. He would have shared in every honorable form of Egyptian court life, politics, and trade. Yet Joseph was no Egyptian, especially in his heart. He didn’t want his remains to be dwelled with as they did prominent Egyptians.

The ancient Egyptians believed that part of the human spirit was permanently linked to the viability of the body. Therefore, it was necessary to preserve the body if one wanted to achieve immortality in the Egyptian religion’s afterlife. Allowing the body to rot effectively meant destroying the person’s soul. Unlike people of many other religions and cultures, the Egyptians believed that the body needed to be intact to serve as a host for the soul.

Kings were buried in pyramids, but only after some elaborate rituals: there was first the Valley Temple. When the king died, his body was first rowed across the Nile to the Valley Temple to be mummified. Next, there was the causeway. This was a covered processional way which came from the Valley Temple. The walls on the inside were decorated many times, and there were holes in the roof to provide light. At the end of the Causeway, there was the Mortuary Temple. This was built against the side of the pyramid. The Mortuary Temple was the place where priests made offerings to the king’s spirit every day for eternity.  The dead king was responsible for the setting of the sun, whilst his successor son would be responsible for the rising of the son.

On the contrary Joseph knew his frailty as human being.  He did not want to be honoured as some sort of immortal god.  He says, take my bones, not to a pyramid for eternal treatment, but to the Land of Promise.  He did want to be buried there eventually.   He was not buried in Egypt! His coffin stood above ground, awaiting its removal to Canaan when the time should come. Therefore, all who looked at it would be reminded of that anticipated day and destiny.

B. Meyer writes:

What a lesson must those unburied bones have read to Israel! When the taskmasters dealt hardly with the people, so that their hearts fainted, it must have been sweet to go and look at the mummy case which held those mouldering remains, waiting there to be carried forward; and, as they did so, this was doubtless their reflection, ‘Evidently, then, Joseph believed that we were not to stay here always but that we should sooner or later leave for Canaan; let us brace ourselves up to bear a little longer, it may be only a very little while!”

Egypt had the most magnificent coffins the world has ever seen, coffins of gold and rare stones. But they were still only coffins, monuments to death. On the other hand, Joseph’s coffin, still waiting to be taken to the Promised Land, was a symbol of hope and faith:  God will give him a better country – a heavenly one!

Conclusion

Joseph died in Egypt.  So will all of us die, in a certain sense in our Egypt – rescued from sin, but still awaiting the return of our Lord and the receiving the hope and certainty of our eternal home.

In his lifetime Joseph had been used to deliver most of the civilised world from starvation. Yet it could be said of him, as it was said in an improper way of one far greater than Joseph, “ ‘He saved others, … but he [could not] save himself”.

Genesis ends with these words:

So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26, NIV)

The Last book in the Bible ends with these words:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20–21, NIV)

May the Lord teach to to have our eyes fixed on our eternal home; may we learn to pray, “Come Lord Jesus!

Amen

The Lord has provided

There is this very profound statement in 2Chronicles 3:1

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.”

Hundreds of years earlier Mount Moriah is also mentioned in the Bible.

There was a father, a son and a sacrifice. The father was Abraham, the son Isaac, and the sacrifice—the father’s son! We know the story and how it came to pass. God said to Abraham:

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.” (Genesis 22:2)

The sacrifice could not be mistaken.  It was Isaac, the one whom Abraham loved, his only son, the one God had promised to give him, the one Abraham had waited for till it was humanly impossible for Sarah to have a child, the one whom God appointed to grow into a nation more numerous than the sand on the seashore and the stars of the skies.

Take him, sacrifice him!

When young Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the burnt offering was, the giant of believers answered:  “God himself will provide.”

The statement in the Scripture is very pregnant:  “And the two of them went on together.” But all along, as they walked along, Abraham must have wrestled with God.

At the appointed place, Mount Moriah, he built an altar and arranged the wood. The Bible is silent about what exactly happened between Abraham and Isaac between arranging the wood and putting Isaac on the altar.  I can only imagine the tears rolling from Abraham’s face … And the stunned amazement and resistance from Isaac, not understanding that his loving father who had told him about how the Covenant God provided an heir, and how his descendants would multiply under the blessing of the loving God.  And now this!  Maybe Abraham kept looking for a miracle to happen, so that his beloved son would be spared. But faith in God and obedience to the Father who always provided kept him from doing anything else but what God demanded.

And then, as always, God provided.  There was the ram stuck in the thicket.

Isaac learned a lot that day.  He saw his father trust the Lord till the very end; he saw his father obey God, no matter the cost.  And he learned that God can be trusted. God always provides!
That mountain was called The Lord Will Provide.

In his deepest need David called to God to not consummate his righteousness to destroy the people because of their unrighteousness and disobedience (1Chron 21:13).  God commanded that David should built an altar on the threshing floor, right there where the angel of the Lord was ready to draw the sword and destroy the people.  He bought the threshing floor of Araunah, who was from Jebus.  There, on Moriah, God once again provided:  He answered the prayer of David with fire from heaven on the burnt offering after David had built an altar for God. The sword as withdrawn and the people saved.

There, on that mountain, The Lord Will Provide, the temple was built.  There the city of David, Jerusalem was built.  There God dwelt with his people, accepting their burnt offerings and sacrifices, forgiving them their sins.

Moriah, The Lord Will Provide, was the scene of another father and son engaged in a moment of life and death.  That Father was God, the Son Jesus Christ. God once again provided a sacrifice to bring salvation.

There the last High Priest brought the last sacrifice:  Himself.  Just outside of the city they reared three crosses.  On the one in the middle they nailed the Son of God.  There the blood of a ram was not enough, because the sacrifice then needed had to take the sin of the world away once and for all.  Jesus cried out “Why have Thou forsaken me!” and the Father turned his face away.

Christ died; thus God has provided eternal salvation for those who would believe in his Son.  On Zion’s hill. On Moriah, on The Lord will Provide, the Lord has provided.

Now we don’t need a temple anymore; we don’t need priests, or sacrifices, or a mountain anymore.  There is no Most Holy anymore, and there is no Ark of the Covenant with the Tables of the Law anymore.  It is all fulfilled in Christ.

Christ is our The-Lord-Has-Provided.  By faith we are children of Abraham, children of the New Covenant, children of God.  Hallelujah!

Gracious God in heaven, we praise You for your faithfulness.  You kept the covenant You made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  You gave us a new Covenant Head, Jesus Christ.  Receive our thanksgiving for remembering  us in our misery and darkness of sin, by giving us a Saviour who provided an everlasting sacrifice.  We submit to Him, acknowledge Him as our Lord, and worship Him as our King.  Through Him we have become new Israel and in Him we have a city which is not built by hands.  We look forward to the day You will send Jesus Christ to take us to inhabit the New Jerusalem, that city full of splendor. Amen.

© D Rudi Schwartz

Reformation or Revival?

“Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration.

Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life.

Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship. to the Holy Spirit.

The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is not complete without revival. May we be those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world in which we live may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and a Spirit-filled life.”

~ Francis Schaeffer, No Little People

Global Financial Crisis?

“History indicates that that at a certain point of economic breakdown people cease being concerned with individual liberties and are ready to accept regimentation. The danger is obviously greater when two main values so many people have are personal peace and affluence. It seems as long as Americans can have personal peace and affluence, they will give up anything!”

~ Francis Schaeffer

Living by faith (3)

Abraham believed that God could raise from the dead

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 11:13-23
  • Genesis 22:1-19

Songs

  • This is the day, this is the day
  • Beneath the cross of Jesus
  • Break Thou the bread of life
  • My heart is filled with thankfulness

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

It was by God’s sovereign, saving grace that Abraham was saved from worshipping idols.  It was this saving grace that became Abraham’s whole life, his purpose, his reason for living.  Abraham was gripped by grace, his entire life became a walk with the God who plucked him out of the slavery of idolatry to serve Him as the only living and merciful God.  His life now was consumed by grace, and never after that did he feel at home on earth anymore.

But at first there was no land, no child, no home.  There was just God and his promise.  Abraham, in spite of external evidence, believed God.

Maturing faith

Like any sinful human being Abraham, in the space of twenty five years after he arrived in Canaan, looked at human ways to try to interpret God’s fulfilment of his promise.  In chapter 15 he asked God:

Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2–3, NIV)

Eliezer was head servant, sort of his personal butler, who was in charge of Abraham’s household.  Maybe he was to become his “son”.

The Lord answered:

This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4, NIV)

Abraham some time later tried to interpret the promise of the Lord again .  His own wife was barren and she felt obliged to, according to the heathen custom of the time, give her slave (her personal assistant) to Abraham to have a child with.  Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who, according to the letter of God’s promise was his own flesh and blood, but not according to the promise. This arrangement did not work out either.  At that stage Abraham was eighty-six years old.

Faith Affirmed

Then, when the Lord appeared to Abraham again some thirteen years later, He reaffirmed the original promise to Him:

I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” (Genesis 17:1–2, NIV)

God went as far as to change his name to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude”.  God also told him that Sarai’s name will be “Sarah”, having an extended meaning of “princess of many” or “mother of nations”, and from her kings of peoples will come.

Marriage honoured

God’s purpose would only be fulfilled by honouring the marriage between Abraham and Sarah. Ishmael, the child of a slave,  will not be blessed like Isaac would be blessed.  Marriages are precious in the sight of God.  Both husband and wife, created in the image of God, through their covenant with one another under God’s over-arching covenant of grace, should live in obedience to God, and in faithfulness towards one another.  The children Abraham and Sarah (and later Isaac and Rebecca, even later Jacob and Rachel and Leah) would receive as God’s gift of mercy and grace would bear the blessing of blessings to nations – eventually this was fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

When God at that stage appeared to Abraham that He then announced the birth of Isaac. Some say Abraham found it ridiculous to the point that he fell face down on the ground laughing. I don’t think so: he found it so wonderful that he laughed with joy at the wonder of God’s grace.   When some time later God appeared again to be very specific about the birth date of the son, Sarah was the one who could not contain her laughter.

Once again we must assume that she did not find the idea of her falling pregnant at the age of ninety ridiculous, but rather that the news filled her with joy to the point that she burst out in laughter. God ordered that the boy’s name would be Isaac – meaning laughter, or maybe even joyful laughter.

Just to assure us that God is not planning to pull someone else into the household of Abraham to fulfil his promise, Abraham’s nephew Lot now disappears from the scene, having made the wrong choice to live in Sodom and Gomorrah.  He survived the destruction of the city, but his road and that of Abraham separated permanently.

Then in chapter 21:1-2 the good news:

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. (Genesis 21:1–2, NIV)

Faith made seen

The birth of Isaac certainly included Abraham and Sarah; it honoured their faithful obedience and trust in the promises of God, but ultimately it was God’s word.  It was his grace, and the result of his promise to them.  He did the impossible.  Hebrews 1:11-12 gives us the full picture:

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11–12, NIV)

Sarah was enabled:  God’s intervention caused it.  So it was with Samson’s mother, another figure born by the grace of God to destroy the enemy of God’s people.  He was a massive failure in faith, but even in his dreadful fall from grace he was a shadow which pointed to the eventual birth and ministry of Christ – also born from God, then without the need of a husband.

Sarah considered God faithful because He made a promise.  Abraham was as good as dead, but God did the impossible.

Romans 4 puts it this way:

Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19–21, NIV)

For all those skeptics who do not believe in miracles, this is the message of the Bible.  It is all about miracles, all about God’s supernatural intervention:  the very act creation through the spoken word of God was a miracle;  so was his saving of Noah and his family in the flood; so was the calling of Abraham and Sarah; and the redemption of the people out of slavery of Egypt; and God’s sustaining grace through the wilderness for all those years; and the Red Sea, and the Jordan, and, and, and …  The birth of Christ was God’s direct intervention, so was his life miracle, death, his resurrection and his ascension.  The sending of the Holy Spirit is a miracle, the growth of the church is a miracle.  And so will the return of Christ be when He calls the living and the dead to appear before his judgement throne. When He takes us up to heaven, having sustained us and protected us from eternal hell and condemnation, that will be the most spectacular of them all.

In all of this, let’s align our faith in God as Abraham did:  it was not the miracles that made him believe, he never believed in the miracles itself, but in the God of the miracles.  When God promises, we focus on Him in the first place, rather on what He does.

Isaac, wonder upon wonder, was born when Abraham was 100 years old.  And Sarah prophesied that all who hears about this miracle of God will laugh with her.  Yes, Sarah, we share in your joy; we laugh with deep-seated soulful joy with you because God has kept his promises.  We laugh with joy because He kept his promise to send us his Son Jesus Christ.

One cannot judge Abraham and Sarah if they kept Isaac from harm, and maybe even spoiled him a bit.  They waited so long for him.  But had Isaac grown perhaps too dear to Abraham? Had he begun to take God’s place in the patriarch’s thinking? We cannot be sure of this, but if it was the case, this should remind us of many things that become too precious for us.

Faith tested

The Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee wrote that Isaac

… represents many gifts of God’s grace. Before God gives them our hands are empty. Afterwards they are full. Sometimes God reaches out his hand to take ours in fellowship. Then we need an empty hand to put into his. But when we have received his gifts and are nursing them to ourselves, our hands are full, and when God puts out his hand we have no empty hand for him. Isaac can be done without, but God is eternal.

In our Bible is written these terrible words:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2, NIV)

As specific as the Lord had been in the past about Isaac, to exclude Eliezer, Ishmael and Lot, so in the same way He is specific about Isaac: Take you son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and sacrifice him.

Between the lines we can almost read about Abraham who just did not sleep well that night.  It was early morning when he got up to cut the wood.  His servants could have done that, but Abraham was restless, and it was probably he wanted to kill time that he took the axe himself.  In his mind there were questions about the purpose of it all.  I think Abraham was puzzling over the problem. “How can God be true to his promise if I sacrifice Isaac?” he was asking. “What is God going to do to remain a God of honour?”

Came sunrise, he took his servants and set out for Moriah, the place God commanded him to go.

Faith worships in dark hours

What Abraham was doing during the three days it took to reach the region of Moriah. Three days are an eternity when embarked on such a task. What was Abraham thinking about during that “eternity”? I do not think he was imagining the sacrifice itself. I do not think he was asking whether at the crucial moment he would have the strength to go through with his assignment. Abraham was continuing to work on the problem of God’s promise. The reason I think this is that the passage may suggest that he solved it on the way to Moriah. We are told that when Abraham finally saw the place in the distance, he said to his accompanying servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

God made a promise to make Abraham a blessing to many nations.  In this promise he never doubted.  For him the matter was not in this first instance to have the courage to put Isaac on the altar; to him the issue was how God would provide. That he was asked to sacrifice Isaac was a big thing, let’s not underestimate this act of obedience, but what lived in his heart was the expectation that through all of what was about to happen God would provide a way to do as He promised.  God will find a way to honour his word and not change his mind about Isaac being the one through whom Abraham’s descendants will become as many as the stars in heaven and the sand on the seashore.

Faith knows God provides

God never asks more that what He provides.  Faith is to trust that what He demands He will provide.  Isaac had to learn this lesson through the obedience of his father.  That’s why, when he asked his father about the wood and the fire while there was no sacrifice, his father answered:

God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:8, NIV)

Hebrews 11:17-19 sheds the light brightly for us:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced 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 even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17–19, NIV)

Donald Grey Barnhouse puts it this way:

As Abraham and Isaac had walked for three days through country growing more and more desolate, and at the slow, measured pace of the burdened mule, his mind went around and around the matter, and he ultimately came to the calm conclusion that he was going to see a miracle. The method of his thought was as follows. God is not a liar. He cannot be mistaken. He told me, beyond question, that I should have a son, and there he walks before me. God has said that this son would be the one through whom he would fulfil all of his promises. Therefore, the son must live or God would be found false. And yet God commands that this son be put to death. Here, humanly speaking, is contradiction. But there is no contradiction in God. That is the foundation fact. There is power in God; there is wisdom in God; there is majesty and glory in God; but there is no contradiction in God. But what is to be done with God’s command to sacrifice my son? Since there is no contradiction in God, there is only one answer that my mind can fathom. God is going to perform a miracle and raise Isaac from the dead.”

And God did provide.  Not in the way Abraham might have worked it out for himself.  There was the voice of the angel of the Lord (many theologians argue that this angel, right through the Old Testament, was no one else the the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Himself):

Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12, NIV)

Abraham did not receive the promise to be the father of many nations because he was faithful to the point of almost sacrificing his son; quite the opposite: he received affirmation of the promises of God because God kept his promise.

Faith has a bright future

After Abraham too the ram in the thicket and sacrificed it in the place of Isaac, he called the place “The Lord will Provide.” (Future tense)  It became known as the Mountain of the Lord, the very place where Solomon’s temple would be built later (2 Chron 3:1), and where sacrifices where killed for the redemption of many.

It was just about there where they planted three crosses in the 33rd year of our Lord and Saviour.  God kept promise once again.  Although Israel crucified the their son of Nazareth, God provided in the Son of Man the lamb that would take away the sins of the world.

Barnhouse comments:

Our minds must go on in the logic of faith. We must call the name of our God Jehovah Jireh. The Lord will see to it. His wonderful mind will provide the way out of the dilemma. In fact, he has provided the way. At the mount of Calvary God saw to it. There love and justice met. There righteousness and mercy kissed each other. There the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, was provided in God’s perfect plan. All he asks of you is that you fix your eyes upon him and believe his Word that he is satisfied with that which he himself has done.”

Conclusion

Why do we call ourselves Christians?  Why are we followers of Christ?  Is to just to get something out of it?  What if that something is not there anymore?  This is where faith comes in:  Abraham trusted God who is faithful, even if it meant that he would give back to God what God promised him.  Faith means to put our faith in Him for what He is, not only for what He gives.  God is faithful and true, with Him there is not shadow of turning.  When our faith is tested, on the other side of it, we will find Him who called in the first instance – now carrying us through till we arrive in the city built by God Himself.

 

Our God is greater than all other gods

David died with one desire unfulfilled:  he wanted to build a temple for the Lord.  God did not allow him to build it, because he was a man who had shed a lot of blood (1Chron 28:3).  He did prepare everything for the building of the temple and instructed his son Solomon to build it.  He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple (1Chron 28:12).  The temple had indeed to be build according to the stipulations given by God (1Chron 28:19) and Solomon had no choice but to follow these plans.

Gifts were given for the building of the temple, the orders of priests and Levites were established, musical instruments were made, Solomon acknowledged as successor-king—and then David died with a song of praise on his lips.

Solomon set out to build the temple as the most important task of his kingship.

He needed cedar, and lots of it.  So he sent message to king Hiram of Tyre, more or less the present day Lebanon, where the huge cedars still appears on their flag as national symbol.

But Solomon wanted to build a great temple, “for our God is greater than all other gods” (2Chron 2:5).

Indeed, our God is greater than all the other gods:

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deuteronomy 10:17)

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. (1 Chronicles 29:11)

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. (Job 5:9)
“Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. (Exodus 15:6)

O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? (Deuteronomy 3:24) … so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. (Psalm 145:12-13)

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:39)

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)

Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. (Jeremiah 32:17)

You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm You redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. (Psalm 77:14-15)

By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. (1 Corinthians 6:14)

For to be sure, He (Jesus) was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in Him, yet by God’s power we will live with Him to serve you. (2 Corinthians 13:4)

In the sight of our Great God, there is just no other god!

We need to once again proclaim to the world the words of Solomon:  our God is greater than all other gods!

The Kingdom of Christ is everlasting, and his rule is over all the kings, principalities and powers.  For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)

He does not live in temples, but He lives in us, in our bodies.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Most glorious and great God, our Father in heaven, we pray that You will reveal Yourself to us in glory.  Open our eyes for Your greatness, your power and Your glory.  We thank You for Jesus Christ who revealed you to us.  We worship Him as the King of kings and the God of gods.  We thank you for the Holy Spirit indwelling us to make us fit to be like temples for You.   Help us to proclaim your greatness to the nations. Amen.

© D Rudi Schwartz