First Sunday in Lent

Abraham and Isaac
Abraham and Isaac

Put Me To The Test


Put it to the test. When I was a child there were a bunch of ads on TV about crash-test dummies. They made me laugh. There were two of them. And they were smashed and crashed. They were exploded and torn apart. And it was a really effective ad because today, more than 20 years later I remember the point of the ad. Since they were smashed and crushed, you will not be. Crash test dummies need to be put to the test. Cars need to be put to the test. But this morning God’s word shows us that it’s not just possessions that need to be put to the test. People need to be put to the test too. In Genesis 22, we read: 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.”” (Genesis 22:1–2 NIV11-GKE)


One day the Lord appears to Abraham. And, without any warning ahead of time he tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son whom he loves. Now, before we start off on the wrong road, it’s important to understand what kind of sacrifice this was. The Hebrew word here is not the one used for a sin offering. This important to understand. For the Lord was not telling Abraham to earn forgiveness and earn salvation by killing his only son. No, the offering here was the ‘whole burnt offering.’1 When you brought an animal forward as a whole burnt offering, you killed it and then burned it. And neither you nor the priest got any of that back. It all belonged to the Lord. It was a way of showing absolute, complete trust and dedication to the Lord. With this offering the Lord was telling Abraham, “Prove to me that you are devoted to me.”


But what happens next is fascinating. Abraham gets up early the next morning. Who of us, if we were in Abraham’s shoes would do that? I might spend one last week with my child before I put him to death. But Abraham didn’t. For this was an urgent, important matter to him. For his Lord asked it of him. But the words continue: 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.” (Genesis 22:3–8 NIV11-GKE)


In these words the Lord puts Abraham to the test. But notice who he puts to the test. He also puts Isaac to the test. On the list of awkward conversations to have, this is pretty much at the top of the list. Isaac here is what we would call a ‘young man.’ Maybe he was 10. Maybe he was 16. No matter how you look at it, he was not stupid. He realized that if you’re going to offer up a sacrifice, you actually have a sacrifice.


And notice then Abraham’s response. He tactfully says that the Lord would provide. And notice the other detail. Abraham leaves the two servants at the foot of the mountain and then he speaks that amazing word, “we.” He does not say, “we will go up and I will come back.” He says “we will go up and we will come back.”


Notice what is going on here in these words. The Lord puts Abraham to the test. The Lord puts Isaac to the test too. And he makes them wrestle with seemingly contradictory truths. The Lord told Abraham that the Messiah would come from his son. Then the Lord told him to kill his son. These were absolutely contradictory truths that he expected Abraham and Isaac to obey without question. And doesn’t he do the same today? He says he will give us daily bread, then we get fired. He promises to preserve us, then we get cancer. He promises to watch over us, then we get into a car accident. Two absolutely contradictory truths. And today, the Lord still expects us to trust and obey him. And here is where we see our sin. When the Lord puts us to the test with two seemingly contradictory truths We are tempted to doubt is promises. And even worse could happen. After we doubt, we can blame God. And so one bad sin is followed by and even worse one.


But look at Abraham. He says, “We.” How can he say “we” will go up and “we” will come back? In the New Testament we read these words: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19 NIV) Abraham concluded that somehow the God who does not lie would make it right. So he concluded that if he put his son to death, then God would raise him from the dead so that through Isaac the Messiah would eventually be born.


So the Lord puts us to the test. And through us the Lord puts others to the test. But where do these words lead to? 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.”” (Genesis 22:9–14 NIV11-GKE)


Look at these words. For here in these words we see a man who was ready to be tested. But who would save him him from all the many other times he was tested and then doubted and then blamed God? I tell you the truth, it wasn’t a ram caught by its horns in a bush. No, instead, it was what that ram pictured and pointed to: Jesus, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For all the times Abraham and Isaac were tested and then doubted and blamed God, Jesus’ death paid for there sins. And we see that in even more clarity in our gospel this morning. For every time that Abraham and Isaac, and you and I were tested and then failed, look at Jesus our substitute. For 4o days Jesus was continually and constantly put to the test by Satan. And not once did he give in or give up. And so, Jesus saves us from our sins of doubt and blame. But there’s more in these words: 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 NIV11-GKE)


Not only does Jesus save us, but he also blesses us. Jesus is the one who rescues us from our sins. Jesus is the one who gives us this great gift of faith to trust him. Jesus is the one who strengthens that faith through testing. And even though he is the one who did all the heavy-lifting, when we do trust and cling to him, he gives us the credit and blesses us just as he did Abraham.


Where does that leave us here this morning? If the Lord saved Abraham and Isaac from their sins of doubt and blame, and then he blessed them, then we are left in this wonderful place where we can silently, or not-so-silently pray to our Triune God, “put me to the test.” Words you would never say out there in the world, you can say boldly and confidently here: O Lord, put me to the test. For if you crush, you will rebuild. If you take away, in your own good time, you will give. If you remove your caring hand, you will bring it back. And so, my dear friends in Christ, let that always be your prayer that you speak without any hesitation: O Lord, put me to the test. Amen.



1 ”עֹלָ֔ה“(Genesis 22:2 BHS-T)

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