Greg Laurie — The Test of a World Changer
We are going to focus in this message on Abraham for one last time. I have done three separate messages on Abraham because he so dominates Hebrews 11. And to the point he so dominates the book of Genesis. His very name is synonymous with faith. We are going to look at him one more time. We are going to observe one of the greatest acts of faith in human history. That is when God asked Abraham to take his son, his only son, the son whom he loved and offer him as a sacrifice. Before we get to that I want to look for a few moments at Abraham's wife Sarah because she too makes it into the very exclusive hall of faith.
Look at Hebrews 11:11. "It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child. Though she was barren and was too old, she believed that God would keep his promise. So a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead, a nation with so many people they are like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. There is no way to count them". We will stop there. I have to be honest with you. I find it amazing that Sarah of all people made the heroes hall of faith. Certainly women deserve to be in the hall of faith. I think of Deborah the great warrior judge or Ruth or Esther or Mary who carried the Lord in her womb. But Sarah is one of the girls that makes it. The other is Rahab. We will talk about her at another time.
The reason I mentioned this is because she didn't seem to have a lot of faith. When God came to Abraham and Sarah and told them they were going to have a child. They balked at it because she was after all 65 years old. Abraham was 75. Sarah thought I don't know if this is going to happen. Maybe God needs a little bit of help. Thinking she would be unable to conceive a child she said to Abraham why don't you go and marry my maid Hagar and have a child with her. Abraham reacted a little too quickly and went I am all in. Poof. The next thing you know sure enough Hagar has conceived and a child is born. The boy is named Ishmael. Abraham doted on the boy. Immediately Sarah becomes jealous. She is angry at Hagar. She is angry at her husband. Which brings me to point two.
When unbelief tries to solve a problem it creates a bigger problem. Listen. God wants to do his will in his way in his timing. God does not want us to do his will in our own way. God does not need our manipulation. God does not need us to bring his will about. He will do it in his way and in his time. Sometimes we rush out ahead of the Lord thinking he needs a little help. Let me say a few words to you who are single. How many of you are single? You are not married. Raise up your hand. Ok look around. Just look around... don't look too long though. Then it gets weird. You are single. You are wondering where is that person that God has for me. Where is that guy? Where is that girl? Maybe you are a young girl and you are saying Lord I am ready to get married. I have waited for so long. Where is that man? I am already 19. What is going on?
So you get impatient and you say I don't really like the guys in church. They are not as cool as the guys out there that aren't in church. Maybe I will date some of these non-believing guys and I will lead them to the Lord. Maybe you will. Maybe it won't work out that way. This is why the Bible warns don't be unequally yoked together with nonbelievers, for what fellowship does light have with darkness or righteousness with unrighteousness. For any story you could tell me of a Christian girl who married a nonbelieving guy and brought him to Christ I could tell you 100 stories of Christian girls who got involved with nonbelieving guys and it drug them down spiritually you see. God doesn't need us to do his will in our own way. You wait upon the Lord for that right guy or that right girl.
Again I can't think of a better place to find them than right here in church. Something might happen financially where you have a financial crISIS of some kind. Now you are going to go out and help God and go out and run up your credit cards. Have you just stopped and prayed about it and said Lord I need your help. Well ten years passed. Sarah's plan b backfired horribly. The Lord comes back again and says to Sarah you are going to be a mother. You are going to bear a child. Now she is 89 years old. Almost 90. Abraham is 99 years old. Almost 100. When the Lord says to her you are going to have a son here is what the Bible say in Genesis 18. "She began to laugh". Then the Lord said to her, "Is there anything too hard for the Lord"? Then the Lord said, "Why did you laugh"? She said, "I didn't laugh". The Lord says, "Yes you did".
You can almost understand Sarah's reaction. Here is what amazes me. As I look at her story in the New Testament and specifically here in Hebrews 11. Not one of her mistakes is mentioned. Not one of her lapses is mentioned. That is because Hebrews 11 is a record of faith not unbelief. It lists the victories not the defeats. As Warren Wiersbe says in his excellent commentary on the life of Abraham and Sarah, "In the same way God is not keeping a record of the failures of your faith so he can rebuke you. He is keeping a record of the victories of your faith so he can reward you". God says their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. I love this. When you become a Christian you are a new person in Christ. Old things have passed away. Everything becomes fresh and new.
Genesis 22:1. "God tested Abraham's faith and obedience, and said, 'Abraham!' Abraham replied, 'here I am.' God says, 'Take your son, your only son, yes, Isaac, whom you love so much and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you.'" Wow. Again if you want to be a world changer and live by faith know that your faith is going to be tested. But this was an epic test. This is a test that very few people would face. In fact in many ways you would have to say to be tested on this level was quite an honor. Because the Lord knew Abraham could handle it.
And guess what? God knows what you can handle. You are going through a test right now and you are saying I can't handle this. Yes you can. Otherwise God would not allow you to go through it. Whenever the Lord allows his children to go through fiery trials he always keeps an eye on them and a finger on the thermostat. He won't let it get too hot for you. He knew that Abraham would rally. He knew that Abraham would pass this test. He knew that Abraham would take this setback and turn it into an opportunity. Listen to this. A disability can become an ability when dedicated to God. I don't know what you are facing right now. You are facing a hardship. A tragedy. The death of a loved one. Maybe you have had to through life with some kind of a disability. You say Greg it is really easy for you to say a disability can be turned into an ability. You don't have a disability. Well that is true. But I know someone who does.
My friend Joni Eareckson Tada. Listen to what she wrote when she talked about how God has been close to her in her tragedy. Joni Eareckson Tada has spent 49 years in a wheelchair due to a diving accident when she was a young girl. She is a quadriplegic. She wrote these words and I think these are amazing words. She says, "My wheelchair was the key to seeing all of this happen especially since God's power always shows up best in weakness. So here I sit glad that I have not been healed on the outside but glad that I have been healed on the inside. Healed from my own self-centered wants and wishes". Can you imagine that? "Here I sit," writes Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, "Glad that I have not been healed on the outside". How could she say such a thing? Because she turned a disability in to an ability.
Coming back to Abraham. God asks him to make the greatest sacrifice imaginable. You see finally his son was born. Sarah actually did bring forth that child in her old age. He became the light of Abraham's life. Abraham doted on that boy. In fact the very name that they gave him says it all. The name was Isaac which means laughter. They loved that young boy. Now Abraham is going to be tested again. He is going to go through one of the most difficult tests that he has ever faced. That is what he is going to do when God asks him to offer his son. By the way this was one of many tests that came the way of Abraham. One was the family test when he was called to leave his land and go to a new land. We might give him a passing grade on that. A C. He did obey but not completely. He brought along his nephew Lot which became a problem later in life.
Two was the famine test. A famine came into the land and how would Abraham react to that. He went down to Egypt as you know, lied about his wife, and got rebuked by the Pharaoh. That didn't go very well. We might say he sort of failed that test. Then there was the fellowship test where he gave Lot his nephew first choice over the land. He knew he had to part company with his nephew. So he said I will tell you what Lot. You go to the right. I will go to the left. You go to the left. I will go to the right. You choose the land you want. He put the needs of others above himself. Then there was the fatherhood test. By the way he passed that with flying colors.
Then there was the fatherhood test when Sarah got impatient with God and of course we already saw what happened there with the birth of Ishmael. That became a problem. Now we come to the ultimate test and God says I want you to bring your son, your only son. Could it be that Isaac had actually become the most important thing in Abraham's life? Let me put it another way. Could it be that Isaac that son that Abraham and Sarah had waited for for so long actually became the idol of his life?
Someone actually wrote an article and asked the question what if you treated your Bible like your cellphone. They asked what if you carried a Bible around in your purse or pocket. What if you grabbed when you were running out the door you grabbed your Bible like you grab your cellphone. Have you ever left your house and you are driving down the street and realized you left your cellphone? It is like horrifying. Right? It is like you turn around. You go back. You must have your cellphone. They asked the question what if you looked at the Bible the same way you look at your cellphone. Think of how often people check social media. You stand in line now for coffee or whatever and everyone is looking at their phone. They are staring at their phone. No one talks to each other anymore. I have seen people go in crosswalks across four lanes of traffic. Granted the sign says walk but they are looking at their phone the whole time. It is like really? What if someone runs a light because they are looking at their cellphone too? I mean we are so locked into that. What if we treated our Bible the same way? Maybe God would come to you and say take your cellphone your only cellphone that you love and offer it to me.
Here they are making their way up to the mount. We have a beautiful picture of what happened at the cross of calvary. I think this is one of the reasons this story is in the Bible because it showed a father who was willing to take the greatest step of obedience to God. It also shows a story of what happened when Jesus died on the cross for us. Father and son are making their way up. Father is willing to sacrifice his son. Son is willing to be sacrificed. By the way how old was Isaac when this happened? I bring this up because sometimes you see religious paintings and it will show Abraham bringing Isaac and he is just a little tike. Just a little guy. Obviously unable to fend for himself.
Most Bible commentators believe at this particular time Isaac was around 18 to 20 years old. Some think he may have been around the age of 33. The Jewish historian Josephus thought he was 25. Whatever age it is one thing is clear. Isaac didn't have to do this if he didn't want to. He could have said dad you know what? You are going to offer me on the altar. Look. You are an old dude. Why don't we offer you instead? You haven't got that much longer anyway dad. Come on. Forget this. He didn't have to do it. But the son willingly went. Is not that a perfect picture of what happened at the cross? The Father who loved his Son so much offered him up. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son". Yet the Son knowing what was about to happen willingly went. Jesus said, "No one takes my life from me. I give it of my own accord". Exactly what happened at the cross?
Here is Isaac laying on the altar now. The father raises up the knife. He is prepared to sacrifice his son. Suddenly we read in Genesis 22:11, "At that moment the angel of the Lord shouted to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' "'yes,' Abraham said, I am listening.' 'lay down the knife.'" Which he did. "The angel said, 'do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.'" Notice that it doesn't say it was AN angel of the Lord. It says it was THE angel of the Lord. Notice the angel said you have not withheld your beloved son from me.
Wait a second. Who commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son? God did. Yet this "Angel" says you have not withheld your son from me. You say what is your point? I don't think this was an angel. I think this was Jesus stepping in and telling him to stop. It is called a Christophany. A Christophany is an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Of course you all know Christ pre-existed before Bethlehem because he is part of the Godhead. He has always been. Just like the father and the Holy Spirit. Periodically he appears in the Old Testament. I think when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked through the fiery furnace and the king said there is a fourth one walking with them that looks like the son of God I believe that was Jesus making an appearance. I think this is another one of those appearances.
Here is why I think this is important. Jesus one day said, "Abraham lived to see my day". Then they said, "You met Abraham". He said, "Before Abraham was I am". That means that there was a moment when Jesus met Abraham. There are a number of incidents in the old patriarch's life we could maybe point to. I think this may be the very moment when Christ stepped in and told him to not sacrifice his son Isaac. But listen. When Jesus himself went to the cross he took the knife. He took the wrath of God. There was no last minute reprieve. There was no stopping the full impact of God's wrath which came in full force upon Jesus Christ who died there in our place. He died as a substitution. He died the death that you and I should have died so we would not have to. This is because God loves us. God was effectively saying I would rather die than to live without you. I love you so much I am willing to sacrifice my own son on the cross so you can enter into a relationship with me. Let me ask this in closing. Do you have this relationship with God right now?