Genesis 22: 1 – 14
The Command to Sacrifice Isaac
22After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ 6Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 13And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’
Matthew 16: 13 – 19
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
The very lifeblood of our lives is God revealing Himself to us. We need regular and consistent revelation otherwise our spirits shrivel – we dry up – for God is, as the Prayer Book says, the source of all life and goodness. We need revelation. Proverbs 29: 18 Where there is no vision/revelation, the people perish /cast off restraint
Faith is a response to revelation. It is our hearts coming alive to an awareness of God, whether it is a sense that God is speaking to us, or whether it is a sense of God showing us something about Himself.
You see God longs to fellowship with us and he will always begin the conversation, even if it appears to us as a thought generated by ourselves.
And God’s overtures (God’s approaches to us) are seldom crystal clear. That is why our response is not one of hum-drum fact, but of faith. Paul says in the 1 Corinthians “love passage”: 1 Corinthians 13: 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we shall see face to face …
Revelation – God’s whisperings to us – seldom comes in Technicolor. How do we respond to that of which we cannot be 100% certain? Now if we can’t be 100% certain there is always an element of risk attached to a response. That is the nature of faith. We exercise trust that what is revealed to us is in fact true. We find ourselves leaning on God and not on our own rationality.
Perhaps this is why God’s revelation is often blurred. It requires a humble and trusting placing of our hands in God’s hand as we respond.
One might say that faith is exercising with certainty that of which we are not certain but of which we can be sure in principle. What do I mean by that?
Well, in the long years of revelation through the Scriptures and experiences of God’s people, the Church, certain principles about God have become clear. Of these we can be certain. But that is all head knowledge. When it comes to you and me responding to the specifics of God as we sense Him speaking to us, we are less certain, and we have to respond in faith. At that point it becomes a matter of the heart.
When we do so we are committing ourselves to the prompting as though we are sure of it. As we do so, it becomes clearer – not because we think “I’m in for a penny so I might as well be in for a pound” – no. It’s because that’s the way God works. As we respond in faith so things become clearer.
“I believe so that I may understand,” was the maxim of Anselm of Canterbury. When we believe we understand because when we do so, when we trust God, he shows us a little more of the puzzle. He reveals more. We receive more revelation: knowledge of God and what He might want in a particular situation.
But we can’t hesitate. A step of faith is by nature something definite. We take a certain step even though we can’t be absolutely certain we are right. If we could be sure:
- It would no longer be faith
- We’d not have to depend upon God
What we can be certain of is that God is trustworthy. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac whom he loved, do you think he was 100% sure that this is what God wanted? Remember he’d waited 100 years for this miracle baby who needed to be alive for all the wonderful promises God had made to Abraham about his descendants to come true. This God, who hated child sacrifice, was telling him to sacrifice his son. Abraham took a massive step of faith. Hebrews 11: 9 says Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. That is some faith!
Abraham had had to exercise faith throughout his journey with God and he had seen the rewards of faith. Earlier in the story God had told him not to rely on Ishmael. Rather, we read in Genesis 15: 5 – 6. He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Paul quotes this incident to both the Romans and the Galatians. There is reward attached to faith. It is what God looks for. Hebrews 10: 35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!
And now Abraham was acting in faith again – and apparently about to slaughter the precious gift of his son! Where was the reward in that?!
And yet he proceeds because he hasn’t got his eye on the gift, but on the giver. And that is what God was testing. Only the important stuff gets tested and here it’s that God comes first and can be trusted.
This is the first point about faith: it expresses certainty in God. Not in an outcome. The outcome is in God’s hands. God simply requires trust in Him. And this gets tested.
When Isaac asks his father where the lamb for the sacrifice is 8Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.
Abraham kept walking! He didn’t hesitate. He knew he could trust God. He was certain of God, though uncertain of the exact outcome. He knew that if he kept going in faith and obedience the solution would be revealed to him. At the moment, however, he was acting on the limited revelation he had.
And this is the second thing about faith: it leads to action.
Without hesitation he builds an altar, lays wood on it, ties up Isaac, places him on the pile of wood and draws his knife to kill him. Rough stuff, but raw unadulterated faith in action.
When Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is all sorts of suggestions come out:14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
But Jesus is not particularly interested in the opinion of others. In the next verse 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Jesus illustrates here the third thing about faith: it is personal.
You’ll notice that Abraham had some pretty tough decisions to make after his revelation from God. And he had to make them on his own. There would have been little use in his asking others what they thought. The Rescue Isaac Brigade would have formed very quickly – only a little quicker than the Let’s Have Abraham Psychiatrically Assessed Brigade.
The response to faith is inevitably personal. Even if you can happily consult others, in the end you live with your decisions. The buck stops here. It is so with a response to God too. While we are social creatures, He’s interested in each of us individually. We’ll all give an individual account for our lives at some point.
This is why God relates to us individually. He loves us individually because each of us is individually important to Him.
So when Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, we see one of the great statements of faith in Scripture. Peter, never one to fear stepping up to the plate, exclaims in faith‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
And notice what happens. 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’
Faith elicits a response from God. It always does, and it will always involve greater revelation – a greater knowledge of God and perhaps of His intentions too. That’s the fourth thing about faith: it elicits a response from God.
To these particular words of faith Jesus responds with joy and generosity towards Peter.
When Abraham is prepared to go all the way in faith to the extent of sacrificing Isaac, we read in the verses immediately following the set reading: The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ (Genesis 22: 15 – 18)
Faith elicits a response from God and it involves the reward of revelation.
And I’m sure that the two powerful readings this morning are not lost upon you. Isaac is saved by the substitution of a ram which is supplied by God. He is offered on Mount Moriah, the same spot God chose for the siting of the temple in Jerusalem – the place where the system of sacrifice was carried out for hundreds of years – a system which foreshadowed the great sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion. Jesus was the Lamb of God supplied by God and, who in allowing himself to be sacrificed outside the walls of Jerusalem, took upon himself all our sin, creating for us a way back to God.
Jesus was the free gift of God to us for our salvation.
In Ephesians 2: 8 Paul says to the church in Ephesus, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
But like any gift you have to receive it.
In Romans 10 Paul informs his readers, 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The significance of Peter’s response to us is earth-shaking. Peter’s leap of faith – his belief with the heart as Paul calls it – is given expression in his words, “‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”
Let us remember these things then:
Faith is exercising with certainty that of which we are not certain but of which we can be sure in principle.
- expresses certainty in God
- it leads to action
- it is rewarded by God
- It is personal
- it elicits a response from God
- it is supported by our words
And the greatest response of faith we can make is a response to the Gospel – the Good News for God has revealed Himself to us in His Son. Here we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is the Christ. This is the route to salvation. It is also the road to discipleship.
God bless you in your walk of faith this morning.