Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received 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 raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
Following the service last Sunday I read through Hebrews 11 once more. The verses on the overhead really caught my attention. There were several thoughts that came to me as possible themes for today: “The conclusion of a journey of faith.” “The final demonstration of a mature faith.” “The final release that opens the whole future.” “Faith’s final offering to God.” Any of these and certainly all of these together communicate the core truth the writer is presenting. However, what I have chosen as my theme is this: “Unlocking the Future Through Worship.”
In so many ways this qualifies as one of the most profound events recorded in the Bible. God directs a father to take his son to the top of a mountain, build an altar and offer that son up as a burnt offering. In the unfolding picture we see a father and his son making their way up that mountain- and in their possession is fire, wood for that fire and a knife to slay the sacrifice. If ever there was a picture of the cross in the Old Testament this is it. And Abraham described this whole experience as worship- and that is how we must view it. When we do the first thing we learn about the true worship of God is that it can never be divorced from the cross; the presence, the meaning of the cross in its outworking experientially is always present in true worship. The second thing we learn is that worship and faith cannot be separated; worship is the obedience of faith in relation to the directing word of the Spirit. It is vital to understand that what we see here is the fruit of a long journey of faith. Abraham was seventy five when he started this journey. He was one hundred when Isaac was born. Most writers agree that Isaac was at least thirty when this event took place. This means that Abraham’s journey into this event was at least a fifty five year long journey. Fifty five years into this journey of faith Abraham was ready to enter into this culminating event of that journey in which the maturity of his faith was 1 demonstrated. One day sooner than that particular day and he would not have been ready to respond the way in which he did. The point is that we are all at different places in this faith journey and we must not judge ourselves by where others are- nor should we judge others by where we are. But each of us must judge ourselves by this: are we walking in the obedience of faith in relation to what the Spirit is speaking to us? In many respects this was the culminating event of Abraham’s journey of faith. In the chronology of the record there are only two chapters left in Abraham’s experience beyond this event. In chapter 23 he buries his wife Sarah. In chapter 24- a very long chapter of about 67 verses- he deals with getting a wife for his son Isaac. The importance of this story to us is that it shows us the final demonstration of a mature faith- a faith that has come to maturity within the prescribed process God ordained. And what we discover to be the final demonstration of that mature faith is- what I am calling- the ultimate act of worship. And concerning that worship (and this is the heart of the message) it has much less to do with the past while having everything to do with the future- thus our theme: “Unlocking the Future Through Worship.” What we have to realize is that the entire future of everything God promised to Abraham- every detail, every aspect, every dotting of the “i” and crossing of the “t” of it- was wrapped up in Isaac. And that is the whole meaning of these words in the text: “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In that sense the issue here was not Isaac; the issue was the future. In dealing with and in handling Isaac- Abraham is dealing with and handling the future. And right there we have touched the core lesson in this ancient story. How we relate to and handle the future is a pretty accurate indictor of where we are in the maturity of our own faith- and consequently where we are in terms of our true (non-religious) worship of God. The culminating demonstration of the mature faith to which Abraham had come was this crowning act of true worship which had to do with the future. And what he did was to lay that future on the altar as an act of faith-based worship. In that act of worship he was releasing or relinquishing the right of ownership regarding that future- the right of control regarding that future- the right of possession regarding that future. 2 This is the final demonstration of mature faith- the ultimate act of faithbased worship; I cease to dictate to God the giver of the promise when, where and how His promise must come to me and work out in my future, I cease to dictate to God the giver of the promise what that promise must look like in its future expression. Our conflict is not so much with what God has spoken/promised; our conflict is with our projections regarding the future outworking of what God has spoken. To the extent that we release and relinquish the future back to the God who made the promise concerning the future- to that extent the future will unlock and open before us. God will only release to us that measure of the future we have the maturity to properly handle. And the demonstration of that maturity is our ability to worship God with and in that future by constantly offering it up to Him as the sovereign Lord of it all. I know that many commentators inject- what to me is a great deal of speculation- regarding Abraham’s struggle with what he was called to do. As often as I have read this story I have seen none of what those writers suggest. What I see is that Abraham had come this maturity in faith where he did not have to understand the command in order to obey the command. And the reason he did not have to understand the command of God in order to obey it was because he had come to know the God Who made the command. And in knowing this God he knew this God could be fully trusted with all things- even Isaac in whom that whole future was invested. That is exactly what this part of the text indicates: Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. It is interesting how this verse begins; By faith Abraham, when God tested him… We need to understand that Biblically there is a world of difference between ‘test’ and ‘tempt’. The difference has to do with two factors. 1) Who is back of the test, and 2) what is the motivation in the heart of the tester? The Bible makes it clear that God cannot be tempted with evil- nor does He tempt any man. 3 Temptation to evil always comes from the evil tempter and his motivation is to bring into evil and to compromise righteousness. That same Bible makes it equally clear from cover to cover that God deals with His people by arranging and allowing various tests. The purpose of a test is not negative in nature. Its purpose is to reveal, expose, demonstrate and make known to us where we are within the journey. For instance this final test in the life of Abraham became the means by which the full maturity of his faith became exposed, revealed, demonstrated and declared for all time- as an example to believers in all generations. Now let me bring all of this down to where we are. Suppose God miraculously dropped a package right now into this setting. On that package were the words: ‘My promised provision for the building project I have called you to.’ Suppose we with trembling hands opened that package and found three million dollars in cash. I think we would witness a praise service like never before. I think we might even name that package Isaac- because Isaac means laughter. Suppose next Sunday we arrive here and the Lord speaks audibly (for it would require and audible voice) ‘Take now thy package- thine only package- and build an altar of stone in the middle of the field next door. Place thy package upon the altar and set it on fire as a burnt offering to Me.’ What would that test demonstrate regarding the focus of our faith in relation to God’s promise concerning the future? The question at the heart of it is this: ‘Is our future in the package or in the God who gave the package?’ If I see the package as being the source of my future then the focus of my faith shifts away from God the Giver to the gift or provision He has given. And the revelation of that shift would be an increasing package-centred worship. The final demonstration of a mature faith is this profound act of worship in which I offer up to God in total release and total relinquishment the very provision He has supernaturally brought into my life- the very provision in which He has vested the entire future outworking of His promise to me. And in this final crowning act of faith-based worship the issue is settled- my future is in God alone. 4 In many respects the most important revelation of God in the life of Abraham is waiting on top of that mountain. That revelation was expressed in the name God revealed to Abraham- “Jehovah-Jireh” (the Lord will provide). The most important thing for me to know regarding the future is that the Lord will provide. And it would seem that this revelation only comes to those who have matured in their faith to that place where they are able to offer up to God as an act of worship the very instrument in which that future is to be realised. And what I believe the Holy Spirit is saying is that only in this reality of faith based worship will the future progressively be unlocked- and we will find ourselves walking where we have never walked before. But in walking there the whole story- the only story- will be God and not the package. The revelation is not- ‘Isaac will provide’- but- ‘The Lord will provide.’ 5