Monday, November 23, 2015

The Faith Test

My Life Group lesson for Nov. 22, 2015, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

There are many ways that something could test our faith. Consider these scenarios and how we would react:

--- You receive the job offer you’ve been praying about, but you have to take a hefty pay cut.

--- You have never been able to conceive, but after adopting two children you/your spouse gets pregnant—with twins.

--- You accept a missionary assignment to a Third World country where your children are exposed to a disease that is killing thousands.

When you hear the word “test,” what emotions rush through your mind? When is a test welcomed? unwelcomed?

Today we’re going to talk about the ultimate test of faith in the Bible, of Abraham being told to sacrifice his only begotten son by His Lord.

Would he pass the test?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Genesis 22:1–23:20

*** Last week in chapter 21 we talked about Isaac's birth and how God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah for a son.

*** Sarah then sent away Hagar and Ishmael so that Isaac would be Abraham's only heir.

*** In chapter 22 God tests Abraham's faith. Would Abraham choose his son, whom he waited for 25 years, or obedience to the Lord Almighty?

THE TEST PRESENTED (Gen. 22:1-2)

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he answered. 2 “Take your son,” He said, “your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

*** God tested Abraham.

--- God speaks to Abraham, whose ears perk up. His immediate and obedient response is “Here I am.”

--- Abraham probably thought that he had it made; God's his good friend and has promised and given him wealth, land, servants and a long-awaited heir.

--- But Abraham's peaceful life is about to go through one more ordeal, from God Himself.

--- God tests His saints to prove the quality of their faith and obedience, often through adversity or hardship:

Ex. 20:20 - Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Deut. 8:2 - Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

*** A fair test.

--- "Tested" here does not suggest that God enticed Abraham to do wrong.

--- It certainly seems shocking and defies common sense for the Lord to ask Abraham to burn his son to death as an offering.

*** Abraham had faith that God would see this through.

--- Abraham knew that God had promised in 21:12 that "through Isaac shall your offspring be named." God was obligated to keep His promise.

--- Abraham seems to have had so much faith in God is that he didn’t actually think God would leave Isaac – his promised son - dead.

Hebrews 11 - Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

*** Question - God has already promised Abraham that his line will spawn nations, so why is God testing Abraham's faith?

THE TEST PREPARATION (Gen. 22:3-8)

3 So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the sacrificial knife, and the two of them walked on together. 7 Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.” And he replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.

*** No time to wait.

--- Just as Abraham immediately picked up his family and belongings and moved to Canaan, when God tells Abraham to do something, he does it quickly.

We don't even get a hint that Abraham expressed doubt, protested or did what most of us would do, absolutely freak out.

--- Abraham went with Isaac and two servants on a three-day walk to Mt. Moriah.

--- How old was Isaac? We get an idea that Isaac was not a very young boy during this because Abraham has him carry the wood for the offering up the mountain.

Isaac could be anywhere from a preteen to 37 years old, which is how old he would have been in chapter 23 when his mom Sarah died.

*** "We'll come back to you."

--- In verse 5, Abraham certainly feels that Isaac will be returning.

--- In Hebrews chapter 11, the author writes that "Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death." (v. 19)

*** God doesn't send us out alone.

--- Verse 3 says that Abraham set off for "the place God had told him about."

--- Just as God told Abraham to head towards Canaan but did not reveal the ultimate destination, God indicates that He will be taking his journey with Abraham.

--- When Isaac inquired about the absence of the lamb, Abraham told him the Lord would provide.

*** Question - When we are tested by God, how hard is it to belive that God will provide, especially in the absence of evidence?

(When Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain without knowing how God would provide, the ram started up the other side, unseen by them but known by the Lord.)

THE TEST PASSED (Gen. 22:9-12)

9 When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, “Here I am.” 12 Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me.”

*** Isaac on the altar.

--- By now when it was apparent that he was the sacrifice, Isaac could have run away or overpowered his 100-plus year-old dad.

--- Isaac believed his father, submitted to God's will and allowed Abraham to tie him up and get him on the wood on the altar.

*** Question – What does this say about Isaac’s trust in his father? As strong as Abraham’s faith in God?

*** Phew! What a relief!

--- What do you think Abraham’s demeanor was as he went about preparing the altar? Was he resigned? Heartbroken? Confident? Joyful? There’s a lot of drama here!

--- The "Angel of the Lord," a manifestation of God Himself, tells Abraham to stop (collaborate and listen).

--- God’s interruption here shows that He never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. But Abraham’s actions demonstrated complete trust and submission.

*** Question – Does what God demanded of Abraham challenge your understanding of God? How does this become a controversial and difficult story to tell to non-believers and believers?

THE TEST PROVISION (Gen. 22:13-14)

13 Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said: “It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain.”

*** A substitute for sacrifice.

--- 2,000 years before Christ was born, God told Abraham to take his promised son to Mt. Moriah, the same mountain ridge where the Temple would be built and where Jesus would be crucified.

--- For Abraham and Isaac, a ram caught in a thicket provided the substitute.

*** Jesus Christ is our substitute.

--- John the Baptist announced that Jesus was “the Lamb of God” because Jesus “takes away the sin of the world” (see John 1:29). This makes eternal life possible for us!

--- Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of Him, in John chapter 8, verse 56: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

*** Question - How does this passage in Genesis relate to what Christ did for us on the cross? Why is it important for believers to understand the nature of His sacrifice in our place?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Who here was good at taking tests in school?

Who stunk at it?

What is the value of taking a test? (We show how much we have learned. How much progress we have made.)

In today’s session we learned about a test of Abraham’s faith that was so radical it demanded a complete and utter dependence on the Lord.

*** As believers, we should expect that God will test our faith, and we should pray that we will respond correctly.

*** A test of faith can lead us to spiritual growth, even if we come to understand that we failed the test.

*** Praise that as God’s sacrifice for our sins, Jesus make eternal life possible for us.

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