1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 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.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

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 22:1-18

In 1967, two researchers, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, set out to find the most stressful events in a person’s life. They hoped their research would find a correlation between a stressful life and illness. After searching through the medical records of over 5,000 patients, they found a strong connection between stress and illness. A few years later, Rahe tested their theory again on members of the U.S. military and found the same correlation. Their research even held true cross-culturally, in Japan and Malaysia, and among different groups in the United States, whether African, Hispanic or White Americans. (https://paindoctor.com/top-10-stressful-life-events-holmes-rahe-stress-scale/)

Many in the medical field are grateful for the research of Holmes and Rahe, but I’m guessing you didn’t need someone to verify that the stress in your life doesn’t make you feel good. Nor is it surprising that if the stress in your life gets so bad, you will suffer from a serious illness. However, this problem we have with stressful situations doesn’t just affect us mentally or physically, it also affects us spiritually. Abraham is a prime example of the kinds of stressful situations believers must struggle with not only mentally and physically, but also spiritually. The struggles in Abrahams life multiplied as he got older, but it seemed like all of them would be solved by the birth of his son Isaac. This made what God asked him to do with his son Isaac so hard to understand. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. What’s more, Abraham listened to what God asked him to do. You may not have been asked by God to sacrifice your child, but you too have had moments in your life when it seemed like what God was asking of your faith was too much, but don’t give up, keep the faith like Abraham and Watch the Lord provide for you!

God said it was a test. At the beginning of our first lesson from Genesis 22, before God asked Abraham to give up his one and only son whom he loved, God said he was going to test Abraham. This was not the first time God asked Abraham to do something difficult. This was the fourth time God asked Abraham to believe in something he could not see, to do something that seemed impossible and to struggle in faith for an indefinite amount of time.

First, in Genesis 12,

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

God asked Abraham to leave behind his country, the place he was born, the geography he knew, familiar foods, people that looked, dressed and talked like he did, and to leave behind all of his family. When God asked him to do this, Abraham couldn’t google what this new land looked like, he couldn’t learn their language with an app, he couldn’t take a car or plane to get there, he wouldn’t be able to “Facebook live” his journey and there would be no Facetime with family after he got to this new place, but God said he would provide for him.

Second, in Genesis 13,

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.

Abraham had listened to God and went to this new land, which turned out to be Canaan or modern-day Israel. The only family Abraham brought with him was his wife Sarah and nephew Lot. Abraham and Lot were both shepherds and when their flocks became too large, competing with one another for food, they parted ways. Then, God told Abraham that all the land of Canaan would be his, which might have sounded good for a man who left behind his country and had a large inheritance of sheep to pass on, except for the fact that Abraham had no children to give an inheritance.

Abraham’s lack of offspring brings us to the third promise God gave him in Genesis 15,

He [God] took him [Abraham] outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Now the promises were coming together for Abraham. If he had children, then they would inherit all this land and pass it on to their children. However, it was another 25 years before God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a child. It was so long that Abraham and Sarah tried to have a son through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who did become pregnant and give birth to Abraham’s son Ishmael, but this was not the son God had promised nor the son who would inherit all of God’s blessings to Abraham. Finally, when Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100, they had a child together named Isaac. Finally, Abraham had a son to whom he could pass on all the blessings God had given him.

Fast forward from Isaac’s birth to his teen years and God called to Abraham a fourth time. In Genesis 22,

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.”

God was now asking Abraham to believe the most impossible request God had ever given him. Everything about God’s request was an extreme, he asked Abraham to kill, he asked Abraham to kill his son, he and Sarah’s only son, the one who was going to inherit this land that God had made him come to and now he was supposed to watch all of his hopes burn up in a pile of ashes. That is literally what God was asking him to do, the Hebrew word for sacrifice here is עֹלָה, it meant a sacrifice that is completely burnt up, nothing was saved. It was a sacrifice that showed complete and totally devotion to God.

Complete and total devotion to God during times of struggle is never easy. On Wednesday, we saw again the horrible images of students and teachers running for their lives or lying lifeless after someone came to their school and began shooting. After experiencing events like this over and over again, we struggle to trust in God. It is hard enough to deal with situations like school shootings, but then pile on personal struggles like moving to a new state, adapting to a new culture, moving away from family, wondering if we will be blessed with children and wondering what kind of struggles our children will have growing up in a sinful world. What struggles are in your life that make it hard to believe that God will provide for you?

When the struggles in your life multiple filling your thoughts, weighing you down and unraveling your trust in God. Watch what God did for Abraham.

By faith, Abraham followed God’s words to him one more time. God asked him to take his son to the top of a hill and sacrifice him. Abraham chopped and gathered the wood. He saddled his donkey, asked some of his servants to go along on the 3-day journey and he brought his son, Isaac. When they had almost reached the place where God had told him to go, Abraham left his donkey with his servants and told them to wait. He went ahead with his son and took all they would need to worship. And as they walked together, Isaac asked his father,

where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” and

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

Abraham didn’t know what was going to happen, but he trusted God would provide. In Hebrews 11 the author wrote,

Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.

Abraham did not think God was actually going to provide a lamb, but he did trust God’s power could raise Isaac back from the dead. As he gave the answer to his son, he didn’t actually know what God would do. He hoped God would raise his son back to life after the sacrifice, but he didn’t want to say that to his son and reveal that God had asked him to sacrifice him. He was in a difficult situation like the passengers on the Russian plane that crashed on Sunday. There were three children among the 71 people who died in Sunday’s crash. Can you image what you would say to your child if you knew it was the end?

Then the two of them reached the mountain top and Abraham prepared his son for the sacrifice.

Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

In God’s eyes, it was as if Abraham had gone through with what he had asked him to do. God did not actually want Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, he wanted Abraham’s faith to shine. God’s test of Abraham’s faith was not a pass or fail for whether he believed in, it was a confirmation of his faith. It confirmed in a very real way that Abraham trusted God would always provide what he needed, even if he couldn’t see it for himself.

Then God provided what Abraham believed God could provide, a substitute.

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

After Abraham gave thanks by sacrificing the ram God provided,

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.”

God spoke to Abraham one last time so that he knew not to give thanks for the ram, but for God providing him with offspring, a son. It was critical for Abraham to have a son so that his children and their children would eventually grow into a great nation as God promised. And it was God who provided Abraham and Sarah with their only son, Isaac. And Isaac went on to father Jacob, who had twelve sons, who became the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel, which became a great nation. Thus, God fulfilled his promise to make Abraham into a great nation.

However, God’s promise to Abraham of an offspring and great nation were much more thank physical blessings. If you continue to follow Abraham’s descendants, one of the twelves sons of his grandson Jacob was Judah, from whom King David was descended. And Joseph and Mary were both descendants from David. They were also, the parents of Jesus, who ultimately fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham of a singular offspring and the foundation of the spiritual nation of Israel, made up of all people who have believed in God. A nation as numerous as the stars in the sky, spanning all history. And do you realize, it was Jesus who told Abraham all of these great promises. The Angel of the Lord who spoke to him was Jesus before he was conceived in Mary’s womb. When the Angel of the Lord said,

“you have not withheld from me your son, your only son [Isaac].” And I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky … and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Jesus was referring to himself. He knew the promise he made to Abraham sounded impossible and could only be grasped by faith, but he also knew he was going to accomplish what he had promised. Jesus was the substitute God provided so that all believers’ faith would be in something real.

The ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior was not sacrificing rams or a sinful human being. God saved us through his one and only son Jesus. Jesus was both the physical male offspring of Abraham and the Son of God. In that way, Jesus experienced all the things we do as human beings. He had to live in this broken world where people let you down and hurt you, and he had to watch friends and family get sick and die. Yet, as God, he was not sinful, but innocent. He did not deserve to die like all of us. Therefore, he could sacrifice himself in our place and free us from God’s wrath and punishment. And as God he rose from the dead…just like Abraham knew he could…and now he waits in heaven for us to join him there to live forever.

Because God did all of this you do not have to give into the struggles in your life that threaten your faith in God. When you feel like one of the patients Holmes and Rahe interviewed for their stress test, you can be confident that God has healed the most important part of you, your soul. When you see terrible images of killings, hatred and war on TV, you can be confident that God has a better world waiting for you in heaven. When you must endure the hidden battles in your heart that no one else can see, be patient, God is with you as you struggle. Turn to his Word, to prayer and to your fellow believers Watch the Lord provide for you! Amen.