søndag 18. mai 2014

Genesis 23, 25:1-11 A blessed life

Genesis 23
Genesis 25:1-11

We have reached the end of our journey with Abraham, and what a journey it has been! We’re going to spend a few minutes on these final chapters, rounding off the story, and then we’re going to have an interactive review of Abraham’s story – so put your thinking caps on! – and I will end off by reminding us of the BIG things we have learned from Genesis 11-25: Abraham the man of Faith – or perhaps more correctly: God: The God of Blessing!

Chapter 23 tells us of the death of Sara at the ripe old age of 127, her final 30 years being full of joy and blessing watching her son grow to be a man. Her own son Isaac, born to her in impossible circumstances. God had blessed her as he had promised, and turned her sadness into laughter.

But what is significant in this chapter is the story which takes up the most time: buying the land. Because this is a purchase of faith. Abraham is not content to receive it as a gift, or even for a discount – he pays full price (perhaps even more than full price) – so that he secures it for his descendants after him.

Why is this a purchase of faith? Because Abraham is buying this land trusting that one day God’s promise will be fulfilled and that his descendant will live in THIS land, this place. He’s saying this is where my wife will be buried, this is where I will be buried, for this is where my family will live for generations after me.

Note the careful structure and attention to detail in this chapter. In v 6 Abraham is called an “honoured prince” literally it reads “you are a prince of God”. They recognise God’s blessing in his life, and the author reminds us of this: Abraham was blessed by God. Abraham then stands and bows low (v7) – here comes an important request: “I don’t just want a place to bury my wife – I want a burial plot – I want some of the land.”

He does not want to borrow a tomb, or even be gifted a tomb, as the gift would eventually revert back to the family who gave it.

He does not even want to pay less than fair price, as this could also lead to problems in future. What if Ephron’s descendants became poor? They might look back upon this “foreigner” as having cheated them out of the land, and so claim it back.

No, Abraham wanted to OWN the land, a symbol of his trust in the promise of God. And he bought it with the wealth that God had provided. God, the great giver of gifts, the keeper of promises.

And after some very polite negotiation “no take it for free” “no I will buy it” “it’s worth 400, but I’ll give it to you for nothing” “here’s 400” “deal” – and Abraham has a significant symbol of the promise of God.

It’s a little bit like the prophet Jeremiah buying a plot of land just before Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians. Their army was right outside, land was worthless – but Jeremiah buys it. Why? Because he believed the word of the Lord, that in 70 years they would return to the land and be restored. It was a symbol of his faith in the Lord’s word.

With us too, the way we spend our money reflects how we trust the Lord. Are we building up treasures in heaven, giving money to support gospel work, investing in people, their eternal destiny – or are we only concerned about the here and now, getting as much as we can. Remember – stuff here breaks, rots, falls apart, needs maintaining – but our heavenly treasure lasts forever.

So Abraham buys a burial plot because of his faith in the Lord. In Chapter 24 which we hopped over, the story starts to focus in on Isaac and Rebekah, his wife, provided by the hand of God, and we see that God is blessing Isaac, just as he had promised. As we read in 25:11 After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who settled near Beer-lahai-roi in the Negev.
Because the story has now moved on from Abraham to Isaac. Chapter 25 spends a few verses on the final years of Abraham – and that’s basically it. Abraham’s part in this tale is over, his job is done – but God’s plan – oh, that is just beginning! Wait and see what God will do! After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac.

So let us say good-bye to Abraham as we look at v1-10 of chapter 25. He married again after Sarah’s death and had lots of children – but 5 Abraham gave everything he owned to his son Isaac. Isaac was the son of the Promise, the son of Abraham and Sarah. The sons of his “concubines” were looked after, but it was Isaac who was the primary heir. The Bible background commentary tells me that “The concubines, or secondary wives, of Abraham were Hagar and Keturah. Concubines were usually women who did not possess a dowry, and thus their children did not have primary rights to inheritance.” Basically, women from poorer families. Sara was probably from a wealthy family, perhaps even royal, since her name “Sara” means “princess”. Hagar was a servant, and Keturah seems to have been from an ordinary family, certainly unable to pay a dowry to such a rich man as Abraham was at this stage! By calling Keturah a concubine in v6, the author reminds us that Isaac was the legal heir (the one who inherits everything), not her sons.

So Abraham had many happy years together with Keturah, his wife, and then the author tells us quite simply in v7-9, with no great song and dance that Abraham lived for 175 years, 8 and he died at a ripe old age, having lived a long and satisfying life. He breathed his last and joined his ancestors in death. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite. (the plot he bought back in chapter 23).

And that’s it. A long and satisfying life, full of the blessing of God. That blessing is now passed on to his son, Isaac, and the rest of the Bible traces that great promise of land, people and blessing, given to Abraham back in chapter 12 when he called him out of the land of Ur and set him on a new course, a new life, a new adventure, that would bless the world – the Bible traces that promise all the way through Moses, David, the prophets, and finally to Jesus.

Review of what we’ve learned. We’ll do it a little differently – Q&A-

Anyone remember the big promise God gave to Abraham in chapter 12: Promised three things: LAND, PEOPLE, BLESSING.

Land starting to be fulfilled: Symbol of the promise to come. Isaac, the miracle child, child of the promise, symbol of promise to come. And links in to previous promise in 3:15 of a serpent crusher. For the world was cursed through Satan’s work, but the descendant of Abraham would bless the world.

Blessing – wow, big time fulfilled. But how, how can God bless a sinner? Big questions throughout Genesis 11-25. And indeed through the whole Old Testament. That tension of a holy God meeting with unholy people is somewhat explained by the sacrificial system and Temple – but even OT people understood it was not enough. The tension only relieved finally in Christ. Christ the meeting place between God and man, the true Temple, the true sacrifice.

There are many things we could draw from this story.

There is the lesson of Lot, who abandons the blessing of God centred on Abraham, and ends up piercing himself with many sorrows. And often we can live a sort of “Christian” life like that. You probably know people like that – maybe you are like that or have been. I was. A life lived in disobedience, or in lip service, going through the external motions, but keeping your distance from God, not letting him be God in all of your life. And we pierce ourselves with many sorrows. Lot’s end was tragic: he lost all his wealth, his city was destroyed, his wife was turned to salt for disobedience, he ended up a strange old hermit living in a cave, and his own daughters raped him. Yuck. Why didn’t he just go back to Abraham?
If you’re doing a Lot – turn back to Christ, give yourself fully to him. The alternative is full of sorrow.

There is the story of Hagar, the servant girl. Her voice ignored by everyone – except God. Used and abused by everyone – but God hears her cry, sees her, seeks her out and restores her. If that’s you – unseen, unheard, unimportant, used – God sees you. Cry out to him, and he will answer. His mercy is everlasting, and his shoulders are big enough to bear your pain.

There is the great promise of land, people, blessing, the world being blessed through Abraham’s descendant – and as we trace this promise through the Bible this descendant turns out to be Jesus, son of Abraham, son of David, who says in Acts 1:8 You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The Gospel; the great blessing of God. That he took our punishment for sins, and we take his place (it’s a swap) – his Holy Spirit comes to live IN US – that’s how close we are to God! Blessing. We, the church, are called his PEOPLE, and our country, our LAND, is Heaven itself, the New Creation, a city which is called “the Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35).

There is the sure judgement of God on sin. He is patient, but for those who refuse to repent his anger will burn against them. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were full of wickedness, and “a great outcry had reached the Lord, because their sin [was] so flagrant.” (18:20) – and the Lord moved in terrifying judgement and the cities were consumed with fire and sulphur and the land was laid bare. There is no hope for those who remain in rebellion against God. It’s no joke. His judgment is real. Hell is real. It is a severe warning, given time and time again. So if you don’t know God, if you are living in ignorance of him, or in outright rebellion – repent. If you have not accepted Jesus as both Lord and Saviour – do it now. The alternative is horrifying.

And that leads us to the one major point that hits us time and time again through this story, and indeed through the whole Bible. It is the heartbeat of God, the heartbeat of the Gospel, and it is our hope and our salvation.

It is this: God blesses sinners.
Abraham’s story tells us repeatedly that God blesses sinners.

If we turn to him, he will forgive us, he will bless us, for God blesses sinners.
For Abraham is not perfect, not by a long shot. Like almost all the other “heroes” of the Bible he has significant flaws! He lied, he was selfish, he was a sexual sinner, he made mistakes, he almost threw away the blessing of God (as if he could!) – in short he was a lot like you and me: an imperfect person, who is inconsistent in faith at best, who struggles to trust God, and who sometimes makes a massive mess of things. And yet God says “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed”. And God says “I declare you righteous” (Abraham believed God, and he credited to him as righteousness 15:6).

Of course, Abraham never understood HOW God could bless sinners. He simply had to have faith and trust that when God said “I will bless you” that he meant it. But we know. We know that it was through the death of Christ. We know that Rom 3:25 God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past (like Abraham), 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Abraham’s hope was in Jesus. Even though he didn’t know Jesus by name, he trusted in God’s plan to forgive his sins and open the way to bless him eternally. That’s why Jesus said that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56). Abraham trusted in the future hope of Jesus, that through him God would bless sinners like Abraham, and like you and me.

Ro 5:6–11 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. … God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners… So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Friends, in Christ we are blessed like Abraham was. We are his children. God blesses sinners!
Beloved child of God, do not be afraid, trust your Father. Love him, and rejoice! Your sins are covered, your life is blessed, your eternal destination is secure. We will be with him forever. Amen.

Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.

søndag 11. mai 2014

Genesis 22. The Father gives up the Son

Genesis 22.

“Abraham. Sacrifice your son Isaac.”

It’s pretty brutal isn’t it.

Here’s Abraham, enjoying the fruits of a life lived under God’s blessing. His son Isaac, growing before his eyes. His son Isaac, strong, a boy becoming a man. His son Isaac, the one who will inherit the very promises of God given to Abraham. His son Isaac, the son of the Promise.

You can imagine him and Sarah, sitting outside their tent, satisified, content. Enjoying the fruits of God’s blessing. Life is good.

And then God says 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

Oof. Like a blow to the body. The world goes dark. Panic rises in the throat. “Did God just ask me to give up that which I love most in this world? Did he ask me to give up that which is most precious to me? Did God ask me to sacrifice my son? To watch him suffer and die?

I cannot do this! Why would God ask me to do this? It must be wrong. He cannot require this of me.”
Abraham, take your son, your only son, and go.

God. No! No! I cannot do this.

He looks into Sarah’s eyes and her eyes tell the same story “No, Abraham, no. You cannot.”

And then he looks around at all that he has: his flocks and his herds, his servants and workers, his many tents, his vast wealth – all this he has received from the hand of God. It is a gift.
He looks at the land promised to him. It is a gift. He looks at his son. The greatest gift of all. He is a gift. All gifts from the hand of the Lord.

“Shall I refuse to give back to God what he has so generously given me? Shall I stand in judgement over the commands of God? Shall I determine what is right and wrong, placing myself over God – just like Adam did in Eden? What do I really love? What do I value the most? The gifts, or the Giver of the Gifts?”

The Bible has a word for that: it’s called idolatry. Putting something before God.
But idols are little wooden or stone statues aren’t they? I don’t worship those! Ah, but idolatry in the Bible is a heart matter, not just an external matter. Idolatry is best defined as loving something other than God in the place of God. Letting something else take first place, central place, in your life. And that will never work. For the guys at the Man in the Mirror, you remember the wheel illustration, with Christ at the centre. He is our hub – take him out, and the whole wheel collapses.
We are designed to have God at the centre – without him, everything goes wrong. Just look at our world. Look at our churches that have drifted from the gospel and have tried to replace the Living God with tame religion. They are full of angry, arrogant people, self-righteous - or defeated, sad people, worn-out from the burden of guilt they carry.
Idolatry is valuing the gifts more than the Giver of the gifts. Loving God for what we can get from him rather than He himself. And if we do that, we’re a Dudley Dursley.

Dudley Dursley is a character in the Harry Potter books and films – he’s Harry’s selfish cousin. And in the first film we are introduced to Dudley on his eleventh birthday. Dudley has been given 36 presents. 36! His reaction? “36? But last year I had 38….” – tells us everything we need to know about him. Ungrateful. Selfish. No thankfulness, no joy, just greed.

And that’s what we are like when we value what God has given us more than we love God himself. Psalm 73:25 says this Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

God is enough.

When tragedy strikes and that which I value so much is taken from me. God is enough.

When illness robs me of my ability to do what I want when I want. God is enough.

When God keeps saying no to my prayers which seem so right to me. God is enough.

When pain racks my body. God is enough.

When God calls me to leave my country and go to a spiritual wasteland. God is enough.

When my baby boy dies in the womb. God is enough.

When he strips away all I hold dear and all that remains is him. God is enough.

God is enough.

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.

And so 3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. God is enough.

That’s faith. That’s trust. “I don’t understand this, God. Everything in me says that this is wrong. But I know that I am warped by sin – I cannot see things clearly. I know that I am bound by time and circumstances – I don’t see the full picture. I know my selfish and comfort-seeking heart is always pulling me in the wrong direction. So I will quiet the noise in my head and say “I trust you.””

21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. 23 Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. (Ps 73 again)

This story here in Genesis blows apart the nonsense of the prosperity gospel: God wants you to be healthy and wealthy. No! He wants you to be utterly consumed with him. He wants you to depend on him in everything.
This story destroys that stupid saying “God will never test you beyond what you can bear”. Of course he will! Who can bear this?

HE will ALWAYS test us beyond what we can bear because we are designed to rest on him, not on ourselves. We cannot bear the weight of living in this world. We cannot bear the sorrows of a fallen world – just watch the news. It is heartbreaking. Who can bear it? Only God. We cannot bear the thought of our own sinful, self-justifying, self-absorbed hearts. My heart is bitter, I am like a senseless animal before you God. I cannot bear it.

No. God will always test us beyond what we can bear so that we stop trusting in ourselves and so trust in him. Faith in God, living faith, active faith, is the antidote to idolatry.

That’s why Abraham is one of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. James explains it like this in James 2:21–24 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? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 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.

My parents have a saying which I have found immensely helpful for many years: hold loosely to things. Even good things. Not let go. But don’t hang on so tight that that thing, that person, that relationship, whatever it may be – don’t hang on so tight that that becomes your God, your idol, your central thing. For what will you do when God in his grace takes that away from you (or threatens to)? There is only One that matters most in this life, and that is Christ Alone. Hold on to him (or more properly he will hold on to us), and cherish and be thankful for all the good things he has given, but hold loosely, hold loosely and never forget Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.

I discovered this week that my parents weren’t the first to say “hold loosely to things”. The great preacher George Whitefield preaching on this passage says this “Learn, O saints! From what has been said, to sit loose to all your worldly comforts; and stand ready prepared to part with everything, when God shall require it at your hand….let [Abraham’s] example encourage and comfort you. O think of the happiness he now enjoys, and how he is incessantly thanking God for testing him when here below. Look up often by the eye of faith, and see him sitting with his dearly beloved Isaac…. Remember, it will be but a little while, and you shall sit with them also, and tell one another what God has done for your souls.”

God is enough.

But that may have raised a question in your mind. Especially if you are being called to give something up, to move out of your comfort zone – this will be your defence: it’s not fair. God doesn’t understand. What kind of God can do this? Cruel, unfeeling God.

How often have we heard the statement “I can’t believe in a God who allows x”. Or “I went through <this terrible thing> and my faith was destroyed”

We can answer rather brutally with “who are you to stand in judgement above God – are you more God than God, seeing all things, knowing all things?” and “maybe your faith was in the wrong God, the God of your imagination rather than the real God of the Bible” – now those are true answers but they are head answers, and the pain is felt here, deep within. “I have lost my grandchild, my heart is broken. How can God allow this?”

And the answer to their pain is shown in this story.

For we find that the One who tested Abraham to sacrifice his son, only to rescue him at the last instance is the One who sacrificed his own Son, with no thought of rescue.

See, the God who makes these demands of us, we find out is the God who has travelled this road and beyond. He has gone before us so that at the moment when death will overwhelm us, when evil will destroy us, when sin and suffering will have its victory – at the moment when we lie on the altar ready to pay for our sins – at that moment God cries out “stay the knife!” and we are lifted tenderly from our place of suffering, and Jesus takes our place, the substitute ram, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He takes our place, and the knife plunges in, and in agony he dies. The Father gives up his son. The son gives up his life. Oh what infinite glory!

The answer to all the riddles is here, in this foreshadowing of the Cross.

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” 8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together. 9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!” 12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.” 13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. And it was. 2000 years later, probably on this very same mountain, the Son of God provided a way out for all who trust in him. The Father sacrificed his Son in order to bring many sons to glory.

See the willingness of Isaac to be the sacrifice, as Jesus says “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” Jn 10:18
Isaac carried the wood up the mountain as Christ carried his Cross. He did not struggle or fight, but was silent, as was Christ as he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Isa 53:7

The willing sacrifice.

But here the comparison ends. Because Abraham raised the knife – but God calls out “stop” – and Isaac is rescued. But for Jesus there is no rescue because HE is the rescuer. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is why he set his face like flint towards Jerusalem. This is why he sweated blood in the garden in prayer and cried out “not my will Father, but yours”. It is this moment for which he came, this is the hour in which he will bring glory to the Father by completing the work he came to do, and the Father will glorify him with the glory he had before the world began. (Jn 17:1–5). This is the moment when Heaven is silent. As Jesus hangs on the cross there is no shout of “STOP”. There is just love, incredible love keeping Him there on the cross, keeping the Father from crying out “enough” – and instead we hear those words “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me”. Words of absolute pain as suffering as he who knew no sin became sin for us. Our sins pressed down upon his shoulders.
But it is also a mighty declaration of who he is, those words quoted from Psalm 22, the Psalm of the KING. Here, O Israel is your King, victorious in death, rescuing in weakness, triumphing over Satan and sin in agony and humiliation. Here is our God.

What have you experienced that can compare with that? Have you ever heard of such a thing? Such love – going to such terrible lengths to rescue your enemies from a fate we deserve? It is unthinkable.

So remember the Cross next time you have devilish thoughts of “it’s unfair. God is unfeeling. God is cruel.” He is not pushing you on to the road of suffering – but he is standing ahead of you, calling out to you – do not be afraid, I have gone on ahead. I have cleared the way. All will be alright in the end. And his strong, scarred hand will reach out in the dark and grasp yours.
God is enough. In the darkness and pain, God is enough.

Whitefield again: “Remember, it will be but a little while, and you shall sit with [Abraham and Isaac] also, and tell one another what God has done for your souls. There I hope to sit with you, and hear this story of his offering up his Son from his own mouth, and to praise the Lamb that sits upon the throne, for what he has done for all our souls, for ever and ever.”

søndag 4. mai 2014

Genesis 22: Regeneration

Genesis 22

What would you do if God told you to give up that which you treasure the most?

What would you do if God commanded you to do something that sounded… completely wrong?

That’s what we’re going to look at today:
1. God’s ridiculous command
2. Obedience brings rewards
3. Regeneration

What would you have done if you were Abraham, and heard God say

1. God’s ridiculous command (the test)

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.” 2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

Can you imagine hearing such a command from God? Can you imagine the confusion, the inner turmoil? Really? Really God? That is what you want me to do?

The author makes it clear what is going on: “God tested Abraham’s faith”. This is a test – the death of Isaac was never God’s intention. This is a test for Abraham to uncover what he loves: does he love God, or does he love what God gives him? Does he love God? Does he trust God?

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much”

Abraham’s response is remarkable. 3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.

That’s faith in God. The story doesn’t tell us what Abraham was feeling – the conflicting emotions, the worry, the hope that God would rescue – it just tells us what he DID. He obeyed. He obeyed quickly. God’s word sounded ridiculous – but it was God’s word. And so he listened. That’s what Abraham did. But what about me?

How often does God’s word sound ridiculous to us. Forgive, do not take revenge. Pay your taxes. Honour the government. Keep sex for marriage only. Submit to your husband. Love your wife as Christ loved the church – sacrifice yourself for her! (“Seriously, God, have you MET my wife”, some might say). God’s ways so often run counter to ours. For we say take revenge. It’s a dog eat dog. Get away with what you can. Politicians are swine. Sex isn’t special, it’s just a need that people have like eating so eat wherever you find food. SUBMIT???? Hahahaha. Sacrifice for your WIFE? Are you crazy. And so on.

What is it that you struggle with? What part of God’s word do you carefully avoid? Or pretend you haven’t heard? Or try to explain away with a great number of words?

This is where the rubber hits the road – this is where your faith is revealed to be genuine or not: NOT where YOU agree with God, but where God’s word and your word are opposed.
Will I submit? Or will I follow my own path.
Who’s really God in my life? God? Or me?

Your obedience reveals your faith. Your trust reveals your heart. Listen to Abraham’s heart.

4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

In Heb 11:17 It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” 19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.

God can do the impossible – even raise someone from the dead. So Abraham had full confidence in the God who keeps his promises. That’s what we saw last week, that God keeps his promises – he kept his promise to Abraham of the miracle son, Isaac. He kept his promise to Hagar and Ishmael, to hear their cry and to look after them. And he will keep his promise to bless the whole world through Abraham and his son Isaac.

Abraham knew that Isaac was part of God’s promises, and so knew that if he died, God would, must, raise him back to life again. Only through the resurrection life of the son could the world be blessed.

He knew the character of God. He knew God’s promises. And so he was able to act in faith, in full confidence that, no matter what happened, we will worship there, and then we will come right back.

He trusted God’s word, ridiculous as it seemed, because he knew God.

That is why we gather together on Sundays and on Wednesdays to read the Bible together. If we do not read God’s word we will not know what he is like, what he says, who he is. And if we do not know him, we can never obey him in joy and gladness. Our Christian lives will be crippled. How can you trust someone you do not know?

6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” 8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

Wow. Can you imagine the emotions raging through Abraham as his beloved son asks him “where is the sacrifice?”. And think of the amazing control, the amazing faith in the God whom he knows, to answer “God will provide”.
Not surprising that when they did return from the mountain, Abraham called that place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”) (v14).

Abraham knew God, and so trusted him.

What about you? Do you know God? Do you trust him? What are you doing to get to know God? Have you asked him?
And if you do know him, are you obeying him as God, no matter what? He is God, and I am not. Where am I avoiding obeying God?

2. Obedience brings rewards

The result of Abraham’s obedience is a restatement of the promises made to Abraham back in chapter 12, and repeated in chapters 13, 15, 17, and 18, - but this time with a difference. Did you notice it?

15 Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

Because you have obeyed me. All the nations of the earth will be blessed – all because you have obeyed me. Wow.

Now, at this point I’m going to share with you some “deleted scenes” from this sermon. Like on a movie when they cut out scenes that are wrong or just didn’t fit the movie – these are the deleted parts of this talk – the bits left on the cutting room floor. Try and see why I would have cut these out.

“At last we see the reason why God chose Abraham. His heart is finally revealed as a heart that obeys. And because he obeys, God could go ahead with his plan.

God didn’t know if he could use Abraham. After all, in verse 12 the angel says “now I know that you truly fear God”. Lucky God. Because if Abraham didn’t fear God, if he hadn’t obeyed – well, the nations would not be blessed. God would have to try to find someone else, someone worthy of being chosen by God.”

That’s one deleted scene. You could call it the Armenian version: the God who does not know, the dependant God.

But there’s another deleted scene, similar but a bit different.

“We know that in chapter 15 after God had given Abraham the promises Abraham believed God and he was credited with righteousness. But now Abraham had a test to pass. Fail it, and he was out – pass it and all the blessings of God were his. He was blessed because he obeyed. So shape up, Christian! Pull up your bootstraps and try harder. Otherwise you’ll find yourself out on your ear.”

This deleted scene you could might call that the “try-harder” version. Like the first deleted scene, it’s found in many, many Western churches, and we in Norway have not been spared: God opens the door with salvation, but the rest is up to you. Be a good boy, try hard, and God will like you.

But those are the deleted scenes. Because that’s not the gospel – and not actually what this story teaches us.
Because this story is NOT the beginning of Abraham’s story. It is NOT the only story in the book of Genesis. It does not stand alone. False teachers love to rip stories (or even better, single verses) out of their context and use them to make God say what they want him to say. V18 is a great example of a verse that you can rip out of context and make is say whatever you want.

The thing is that chapter 22 is CHAPTER 22 – and we’ve had 10 other chapters before this informing us of the relationship between God and Abraham. And we have learned that Abraham is a total sinner! God doesn’t love Abraham because he obeys him! God loves Abraham because he loves Abraham by grace alone. Abraham is weak in faith, disobedient to God, abuses Hagar, commits adultery against his wife, and then sends his son Ishmael and Hagar into the desert to die. No, we’ve seen time and time again that Abraham is saved by grace – yes - and continues to be blessed by grace and grace alone.

It has NOT been dependant on his performance. The try-harder version is wrong. How often has he failed yet been blessed anyway, simply because God had promised to bless? God keeps his promises.

And his promises are secure. The idea of God not being in control of the future – whether he limits his view somehow or whether he lacks power – if he is dependent on finding out what people are really like to see whether his plan works or not – how could we ever trust him? His words would be flimsy, fickle, changeable – just like ours.

And that’s not the God we have met through the life of Abraham, is it? We’ve seen threat after threat to God’s promises rise up – only to be simply dismissed, swatted away like nothing. His words are secure, unshakeable.

So if this isn’t telling us that God doesn’t know the future, or that God is waiting for us to slip up and fail a test then he’s going to get us – what does it mean? Well, it’s about

3. Regeneration

Regeneration means that we are being transformed, changed from the inside out to be more like God. And as we are changed we are drawn up into God’s plans for the salvation of the world: revealing Christ through us to those around us. It’s all about him.

16 “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

We are very strong on grace in this church. We understand the salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone.
But we also understand that that grace makes demands on you. It is not cheap grace, pie in the sky when you die (that is, you’re forgiven in the future but there’s no effect on your life now).

James says faith without works is dead. Jas 2:17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. It’s not real faith.
A Christian life unaffected by the gospel is not a Christian life.

Because the Christian life is evidence of God’s Spirit at work in you.
If there’s no fruit, there’s no root.

James carries on Jas 2:21–24 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? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 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.

Abraham’s righteous obedience reveals that God is at work – that he has living faith. He was working out what God had worked in.
Same with us. We belong to Christ. And are now called to work out what God has worked in.

And as we obey – as we kneel in our room to pray (or pray as we are driving, or walking around Tinnemyra), as we share the gospel with a friend, as we hold our tongue with our wife, or happily change the tyres on the car, or put down the paper and “sacrifice” some time to engage with your kids, playing with them, talking with them, as we live as Christian men and women, treating people as eternal beings, infinitely valuable – as we do these things to the glory of God we find that we are lifted up into the very plans of God. We find that our actions, our words are what God is using to achieve his plans in the world. Me? Little old me? Part of God’s plan? Me, bringing glory to God. Yes, you.

Abraham, because you obeyed me, all nations of the earth will be blessed.

It’s like when was putting together our dining room chairs and tables. My kids were there helping me. Holding the legs in place. Screwing in the screws. Who built the chairs? Well, I did, of course. Without me the kids wouldn’t have got very far. I didn’t need their help. I would have achieved my purposes anyway. But because I love them, they joined with me, and so we built the chairs together. And they can say, in truth, “I built those chairs”.
Or like when we wash the car together. “I washed the car”. And they did.

Or I led this person to Christ. I prayed for them for years and God heard my prayer. That’s true! Because God is at work in you, your obedience is taken up to the throne room of heaven and you become part of God’s glorious work in the world!

Because you have obeyed me, all the nations of earth will be blessed.

Lift up your eyes! We are on a tremendous, world-changing adventure. And it starts right here.

Not because we are special, but because God is. And because he keeps his word. And he is at work in you.

So don’t be afraid to step out in obedience. Whatever it is that you have been avoiding, whatever command of his that you have been ignoring – repent now. Say “Lord, I trust you, I will obey you”. And you will not regret it. You will not be made a fool of. He will not let you down. Your obedience will ring true in the throne-room of heaven, another example of the grace of God placed in you being worked out in faith. And that little spark of obedience will be fanned into a flame of glory to God!

Wait and see what God will do. Abraham’s obedience blessed the whole world.

What will he do with yours? “Se hva som skjer!” Wait and see. Our obedience will change the world.