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Second Sunday in Lent
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, March 1, 2015

Why Does God Test Us?

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

The story we call “the sacrifice of Isaac” is one you can’t skip over. It is one of the most startling and thought-provoking stories in the Bible. I have heard it questioned as a fable made up by some writer in an ancient patriarchal society. I have heard it used to criticize God as cruel. I have heard people say it is simply false, because God would never do such a thing.

As we look at this scriptural story today, I am going to steer clear of modern psychology and Biblical revisionism. We’re going to evaluate it as a historical incident that happened between God and Abraham. Verse 1 tells us that God was testing Abraham. The question for us this morning is, why does God test us?

Let’s pay close attention to how God put this to Abraham. Verse 2 tells us:

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.”

Again, let‘s not get sidetracked by questions like, “How could a loving God do such a thing?” Remember how this story ends: Isaac was not sacrificed, because God provided a ram for Abraham to use in the place of his son. When God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love...” He was making clear that He knew how much Isaac meant to Abraham. Isaac was a gift from God. He was the miraculous son that God promised Abraham and Sarah. He was the one through whom all God’s promises would be fulfilled, promises of multitudes of descendants. And Abraham loved Isaac.

So what was the test? It may be that God was testing Abraham to see if he loved the gift more than the giver. That is a temptation we all face. When God gives us wonderful things that we come to treasure, we may put our devotion on those things rather than on God.

• It may be our prosperity. We may love the home and the toys and the trips and the clothes and the gold and silver and the financial security that God has given us. What if we lost it all? Would we still love God? Or would we say something like, “If God really loved me as the Bible says, He wouldn’t take these things away from me.”

• Maybe what we treasure is our family—our husband or wife, our children and grandchildren, our sisters and brothers. A loving family is one of the finest gifts God gives us. But we all know how fragile life is. When we lose those we love, one of the first temptations is to question whether God is as good as we thought He was.

• Or maybe our treasure is our position in life—our job, our fame, our roles in the community that allow us to make a difference and be admired and fulfilled. If we lost all those things, would we still praise God?

Certainly, that could be the test God was posing to Abraham. Or it may be that God was testing the limits of Abraham’s obedience. What God proposed to him left the final decision in Abraham’s hands. He could have said “no.”

But one thing we can’t ignore is that God already knew. God knew what Abraham was capable of. He knew how far Abraham’s obedience would go. He knew Abraham’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the angel who went to the mountaintop with Abraham and Isaac didn’t know. We hear him say in verse 12, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” But God knows everything. So why the test?

Could it be that it was Abraham who needed to know how far his faithfulness and obedience would go? What are we capable of, we fragile, inconsistent, weak human beings whom God chooses to use for His glory? The short answer is that we don’t know. We don’t know how bad we can be until we do something sinful, and then we say, “I can’t believe I did that.” I can’t believe that was me.

The same is true of the good things we are capable of. We don’t know how far we can go until we do it.

• Louis Zamperini never would have believed he could survive for 47 days in a lifeboat in the vast Pacific Ocean, but he did.

• Robertson McQuilkin achieved his lifelong dream to be president of Columbia Bible College. He didn’t know he would be capable of giving it up to care for his wife who had Alzheimer’s. But he did.

• The Christians who are being martyred in Iraq and Syria rather than to deny Christ don’t know they have it in them until they are face to face with the choice.

And Abraham didn’t know that he could give up his son, his only son whom he loved, until God asked him to. But he did what God told him. He took his son up onto that mountain top and prepared to make the sacrifice.

So God tests us to show us what we are capable of. Why? Perhaps the answer is obvious. We are fragile. We are inconsistent. We are weak. And yet, God wants to use us for His glory. He wants to give us things to do that call upon us to be more than we think we can be. And in order for us to venture into those dangerous waters, we need to know that we have what it takes to hang in there with God and see it through. If there is anything the Old Testament makes plain, it is that God had big plans for the Hebrew people, even though, as it says over and over, they were a stiff-necked people. And the New Testament makes it equally plain that Jesus has big plans for the Church, even though it tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

When God tested Abraham, and when God tests us, He does so to show us something He already knows about us: He is showing us how capable we are of obeying Him. And He is showing us something else. Something at least as important as what we are capable of. And that is: what God is capable of. God is showing us that we can trust Him.

In this story of the sacrifice of Isaac, we see indications that Abraham trusted God. In verse 5, he told his servants, who had come with them to the mountain, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” We will come back to you.

Again, when Isaac was on the mountaintop with Abraham, he asked his father, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:7-8)

Abraham’s words turned out to be true. The boy and he did return from the sacrifice. And God did provide the lamb for the offering. The Letter to the Hebrews illuminates this for us:

17 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, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 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]

If we are going to let God use us for His glory, we have to know that we can trust Him. God was saying to Abraham, “Go the distance with me, and I will deliver.” And God says that very same thing to us. “Go the distance with me, and I will deliver.” God has the motive, the means and the opportunity to do things beyond our imagining.

• His motive is that He loves this world which He has made, and He intends to redeem it.

• His means is that He is all powerful, and can do anything He wants.

• And His opportunity is the willing servants who are obedient, and who trust Him enough to go the distance with Him.

In summary: God tests us not to discover anything about us. He tests us so that we will discover two things ourselves:

1.What we are capable of; and

2.What He is capable of.

Our members Judy and Ward LeHardy are on a journey around the world. Their goal is to make it in less than 80 days, at a cost of less than $5,000. Obviously, they will be hitching a lot of rides. Enroute, their mission is to promote the sanctity of life under the auspices of Anglicans for Life.

Yesterday was day 22 of their adventure, and they are already in Australia. They spent last night in a backpacker’s hotel in Phillips Island, Australia. They are ahead of schedule. The have until March 16 to enjoy Australia. That is the date they are scheduled to sail to Cape Town, S. Africa, free of charge on a cruise ship. They will earn their passage on the 17-day trip by giving twelve lectures. And they are planning to visit the heart of Africa before heading back west to complete their circuit of the globe. In Uganda, they will spend a few days with Bishop Stephen Kaziimba.

Ward and Judy are people whom God has taught a good deal about what they are capable of and what He is capable of. Oh, and did I mention that Ward is 80 years old, and Judy is 77? Whatever happens on this trip, I can guarantee that Bishop Kaziimba will put them out on a limb during their visit with him. He always seems to find a way to stretch us beyond what we think we can do, and makes us available for God to use for His glory.

You don’t have to go around the world for such opportunities, however. Quite a few of our members are working with the Good News Club to minister each week to children after school. I know some others are giving it a try, and are finding it a challenge. But you will surprise yourself as to what you can do there. And what about what God will do? For all we know, some of those children may grow up to be heroes of the faith. And it may be your obedience and your love that open that door for them.

Giving sacrificially to our building fund has shown many of us that we are capable of doing more than we thought. And I know God will show us we can trust Him as He completes the project and fills up the new church. And who knows what wonderful things God has planned for the future.

Until God gets us out on that limb with him, we don’t know what He can and will do.

If you have your Bible with you, I invite you to turn to the four verses that follow today’s reading from Genesis Chapter 22. Here is what it says, starting at verse 15:

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,because you have obeyed me.” [Genesis 22:15-18]

I draw your attention to that last verse, where God said, “...through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.” This is the fifth time God had made this promise. But it is the first time He said that it was Abraham’s obedience that was the key.

Abraham went obediently to the mountaintop that day, prepared to sacrifice his son, his only son whom he loved. And there, God provided a ram caught in the thicket, to take the place of Isaac. Had Abraham not obeyed God, the world would not have heard about that ram in a thicket. The world would have been deprived of a sign of what God could and would do to redeem the world. For that ram was a harbinger of the lamb who takes away the sins of the world. That Lamb who takes away the sins of the world is God’s son, God’s only Son, whom He loves. And that Son, Jesus Christ, took the place of every one of us, giving His life on the cross to save us from our sins. And those who believe have become a multitude like the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore. And it is through us and our obedience that God intends to bless the world.

There is no limit to what God can and will do. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Can you believe that? You are capable of going the distance with Him, if only you will trust Him.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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