06-28-20 THE TEST

Genesis 22: 1-14

When it comes to faith, our English language handicaps us. There is no verb form of the word “faith.” The Greek word “pistuo” or the Latin “credo” (from which we get the word “creed,”) guided writers to say “I trust,” or “I commit myself;” or “I rest my heart upon;” and, of course, “I pledge allegiance.” All of these paraphrases show faith as a verb. James Fowler, in his book Stages of Faith, studies the faith systematically. When we turn to Scripture, we find these classic faith references: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Proof dispels faith. If we need proof to believe that Sarah, the 90 year old wife of Abraham, could bear a son, we don’t need faith to believe it. If we need proof to believe that Jesus arose from the dead and left an empty tomb, we don’t need faith to believe it. Remember: it’s “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says: “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it will move.” And the Apostle Paul said this to the Corinthians in his second letter: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) Faith is a cornerstone of most systems of belief. As it turns out, the faith of one old man named Abraham is primarily why God chose to make an everlasting covenant with the covenant people. And it was that chosen man that God put to an ultimate test; a horrible test. We’ll examine that more in a minute.
In his book Growing in Faith: A Guide for the Reluctant Christian, David Yount wrote: “The older I get, the more often I encounter men and women who practice no religion but would like to believe. ‘I envy your faith,’ they tell me. ‘I wish I had it, but I guess I’m just not religious.’” “Nonsense,” says Yount. And he continues by saying “It is high time to destroy the myths that keep good people from discovering and believing in something more than themselves.” [Regnery Books, Washington, D.C. 1984, p. 3] It is a healthy activity to put faith in someone or something outside of oneself. Only trusting oneself can easily become a stumbling block when obstacles are faced. Today as we will learn about an amazing man of faith, there are three things I want to suggest about faith. First, faith is relative. Second, faith is relational. And Third, faith is reliance. Let’s begin.
First, faith is relative: God knows it; Jesus knew it; we know it. The faith one person has may not be the same level of faith that another person has. Nevertheless, it is faith. As we live and have our faith tested, it can grow stronger. A young faith may be called an eggshell faith; it is fragile and can break. It’s akin to the faith young children may have regarding their safety, believing that they won’t fall and hurt themselves or that they won’t be burned by hot water. But, of course, both a fall or hot water can hurt them. Their faith changes as it is tested and their confidence changes. Sometimes as children grow, they gain great faith in another person. My children learned to trust me. For one children’s sermon, when Jenny was a young girl, she would fall backward with her legs locked and trust that I would catch her stiff body before she hit the floor! Another girl in our church, Lauren, was able to have that same trust as she fell backwards into her own mother’s arms! One of the biggest tests of faith was recorded in Genesis 22. If you have read it in your Bible, you’ll never forget it. Abraham had such faith in God that he followed God’s instructions to the letter. He heard God say: “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.” What an instruction. I can imagine there are horrible situations when a soldier carries out an order, knowing it will kill many innocent civilians. It may seem almost unbearable. Or when conjoined twins are born and the doctor instructs the parents to decide which baby to save, because she cannot save both. What agonizing actions we sometimes have to take. But to plan to sacrifice your only son? You can read Genesis 22 as carefully as you care to read it, but Abraham seems to show no hesitation, not because he doesn’t love his son—he loves him deeply—but because he has complete trust in God! Remember Isaac was the child Abraham and Sarah thought they could not have. But Abraham was nothing if not faithful in his promises to God. And God had never let him down. So he and Isaac and a donkey took a pile of sticks to make a fire on the top of Mount Moriah. Isaac questioned where the lamb was for the sacrifice and Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb.” They got to the Mount, arranged the wood, and unbelievably Abraham bound his own son to the wood. Then he pulled out his knife and prepared to sacrifice his only son. Abraham was unflinching, but God pushed the request right to the edge. Then God called Abraham’s name. Abraham stopped, perhaps with blade raised. A voice said: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear (revere) God.” (Genesis 22:12) Abraham had passed the most brutal of tests. Who knows what therapy Isaac would have needed in our day, or what social workers would report to officials about the father? This was a test not to be repeated. Because of Abraham’s total trust in God, Mount Moriah was the mount chosen by God for David to build God’s Holy Temple. To this day, the mount is in the City of Jerusalem. There are radical examples of faith, and there are radical examples of love. But even some faith is still faith. Once again listen to David Yount: “Christianity is not just a personal conviction to be cherished in private. It is a communal faith and is tested and supported by other men and women. The church provides such a community. People who believe find a congregation that supports and tests the faith that is within them.” [Yount, p.5] So first, faith is relative.
Second, faith is relational. There is always another where we place our faith, in whom we trust, or to whom we are loyal. Faith is most often placed in a person, less often placed in a system—such a capitalism or communism—and most often it is placed in God. Gradually, by God’s blessing, Abraham became a man of faith. But it didn’t happen overnight. You may recall that in Genesis 17 he was ninety-nine and his wife Sarah was ninety. They had never had a child of their own. Readers may speculate if Abraham and Sarah wondered what they had done to have the perceived curse of barrenness. Then when God told them they would have a son—at their ages—and they laughed. Abraham laughed, and Sarah laughed (even though she denied it!) But they both became grateful to God. Perhaps to commemorate their joy, they named their son “Isaac,” which means “He laughs.” Only through this renewed relationship with God would blessings be bestowed on later generations.
Finally, faith is reliance. Abraham demonstrated faith as reliance, trusting God with his most precious son. Reliance is when someone says: “Lean back; I’ve got you; I will not let you fall.” God says the same thing, even as we choose to lean into those everlasting arms. God says: “I will not let you go.” We fall backwards without putting out a hand, or a foot, or setting a net, or placing a pillow under us in case God drops us. God will not drop us; faith teaches us to still our souls and bodies, and faith tells us we won’t need nets or cushions.
In a small book I got as I began to study for the ministry called Faith is …, Pamela Reeve helps describe the way faith is reliance:
Faith is the handle by which I take God’s promises and apply them to my particular problem.
Faith is confidence in God when money is running out instead of rolling in.
Faith is remembering that in the Kingdom of God everything is based on promise, not on feeling.
Faith is recognizing that God is the Lord of Time when my idea of timing doesn’t agree with His.
Faith is the assurance that God is perfecting His design for me when my life’s course, once a swift-flowing current, now seems like a stagnant pool.

Even when we are tested, may we stand on the promises of God.

Jeffrey A. Sumner June 28, 2020