Robert Jeffress - Our Greatest Test
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. In the rare moments when everything in life seems to be going well, sometimes God will send a storm to test our resolve. In fact, God often uses trials to strengthen our faith. Today, we're going to look at one of the most defining moments in Abraham's life when God commanded him to sacrifice his son. My message is titled, "Our Greatest Test," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
A.W. Tozer has written: "It is doubtful that God can use any person greatly until he has hurt him deeply". Search through the pages of Scripture and you'll discover that the men and women who were most used by God were those who went through the severest tests in life. Do you wanna be used by God in a significant way? Do you desire to have his stamp of approval on your life? Before you answer too quickly, consider the experience of Abraham. I'm convinced that there is a defining moment in every person's life, a defining moment that reveals what is truly in a person's heart. It reveals his character. For Abraham Lincoln, the defining moment was the Civil War. For George W. Bush, it was 9/11. For David, it was that night with Bathsheba. For Adam and Eve, it was that experience with the serpent in the Garden. But everybody has a defining moment.
Today, we're going to look at Abraham's defining moment. It was the greatest test that he ever experienced and it reveals to us how to respond when those tests, not if, but when, they come into our lives. If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis chapter 22 as we look at Abraham's greatest test. Here comes the test. Look at verse 1: "After these things, God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And Abraham said, 'Here am I.'" God tested Abraham? Hadn't Abraham done enough already? Hadn't he proven his faithfulness? Why in the world would God feel the need to test his friend, Abraham? For that matter, why does God test any of us?
The biographer, F.B. Meyer, has some helpful insight here. He says: "Satan tempts us that he might bring out the evil that's in our hearts. God tries or tests us that he may bring out all of the good. Trials are therefore God's vote of confidence in us". Isn't that great? God's tests are his vote of confidence in us. The Bible says God tested Abraham. And what was the test? Look at verse 2: "And God said, 'Abraham, take now your son, your only son.'" Well, God, I've got two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. "No, the son whom you love, Isaac," the son through whom the promise would come, "and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you.'"
Sacrifice Isaac? Wasn't Isaac the child of promise? Wasn't he the one through whom the whole Israelite nation would be born? Why would God do such a thing? Notice that God never explains. He simply commands Abraham to destroy that one person who was most important to him. How did he respond? Look at verse 3: "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place which God had told him".
Notice how Abraham obeyed God immediately. He got up in the early morning the next day. He didn't linger. He obeyed God immediately, just like the time when God told Abraham to circumcise himself and his servants. He obeyed God immediately. Finally, after 3 days, they come to that place. Verse 5 said: "And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and we will return to you.'" Here you see something of the remarkable faith of Abraham. He believed that he and Isaac were gonna go. He was gonna sacrifice Isaac and somehow he and Isaac both would return. How would that be possible if Isaac were dead? How would he return with Abraham?
The writer of Hebrews gives us some insight into Abraham's thinking. Look at Hebrews 11, verses 17 to 19: "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'IN ISAAC, YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED,' for Abraham considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type". Underline that word, "considered". "Abraham considered that God is able". That word "considered" literally means calculated. He calculated. And the reason for obeying God was greater than the reason for disobeying God, and so he said, "You know what? I'm gonna do what God says and if I kill Isaac, God will bring him back from the dead".
Now, here's why that is fascinating: nobody had ever been brought back from the dead before. There had never been one resurrection in the Bible yet. Abraham had never read 1 Corinthians 15 about the resurrection of the dead. Abraham had never gone to an Easter service before. He knew nothing about life after death, and yet by faith he believed that God was able even to bring his son back to life again. Now, that's what you call faith. Abraham believed God. Look at verse 6: "So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and he laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. And so the two of them walked on together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' 'Here am I, my son,' Abraham said. And he said, Isaac said, 'Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?'"
Can you imagine how that question impacted Abraham? What did Abraham say, verse 8: "'God will provide for Himself a lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together". Verse 9 says: "Then they came to the place which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood". F.B. Meyer says at this point God draws a curtain around Abraham and Isaac. We don't hear the most intimate conversation as Abraham explains to his son what God had commanded, as Isaac willingly submits to the will of his father, and places himself on that altar.
As we read this, we become aware that something else is going on here. This is a great foreshadowing of something that would happen in that exact mountain 2000 years later as another son, the Son of God, walked toward that place of sacrifice with wood on his back, a wooden cross. As even though he could have struggled and resisted his Father, just as Isaac could have resisted Abraham, this Son didn't resist. Philippians 2 says: "The Son of God emptied himself and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross". It would be at this very same mountain region that Jesus Christ would one day offer himself as the sacrifice for our sins. You know, that spot where Abraham built the altar, to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, is on Mount Moriah. It's the place where right now there's a Muslim mosque but one day another temple will be rebuilt.
And I remember standing there the first time and I contemplated what was going through Abraham's mind and heart as he considered what he was about to do. And you know, I had to ask myself the honest question: If God commanded me to take a knife and plunge it into the heart of one of my children and offer them as a burnt sacrifice, would I do such a thing? I have to be honest with you, I don't think I could. Before you judge me too harshly, could you do it? Honestly, would you do it?
Chuck Swindoll provides some great insight on this passage. He says, "At the moment Abraham lifted that knife in the air, all activity in heaven must have ceased as the angels looked down with absolute amazement that a mortal man would love his God so much that he was willing to make that kind of sacrifice". And immediately, verse 11, "The angel of the LORD," the Lord himself, "called to Abraham from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' Abraham said, 'Here am I.' God said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.'"
What's the result of that test? Well, first of all, God himself provided the sacrifice. Look at verse 13: "Then Abraham raised his eyes and he looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place, 'The Lord Will Provide.'" God was teaching not just Abraham but all succeeding generations the most important truth we can ever understand: we cannot make an adequate sacrifice for our sins. God has to provide the sacrifice. Remember the words of Hebrews 10 and 4: "For it's impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sins"?
All those Old Testament sacrifices, they were simply a picture of God's sacrifice: the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. God must provide the sacrifice. And God has provided the sacrifice. The second result of this faithfulness was God renews his covenant with Abraham. Look at verse 16: "By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of heaven and the sand, which is on the seashore". God promised, "I'm going to do what I promised to do". And finally, as a result of this obedience, God calls Abraham his friend. This is the point in which God begins to refer to Abraham from that point through all generations as his friend, Abraham.
Now, I wanna show you something very interesting. Hold your place here and turn over to James chapter 2. James' commentary on what this obedience meant. James says in verse 21: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of his work, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which said, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God". You know, that word "justified" means to make righteous, to declare not guilty. You know, Martin Luther had a great word about the relationship between faith and works. He said, "Faith alone saves a person, but saving faith is never alone. Where there is genuine faith, there will be genuine obedience, works, as well".
We were saved by God's grace alone, but whenever we're saved, there's gonna be genuine fruit including obedience that shows us to be righteous to others. Abraham from this point on was called the friend of God. What does this passage mean to us about our greatest test? I wanna give you three quick principles to write down and remember these forever about God's test in our life. Some of you, right now, are going through a tremendous test. Number one, God's test may contradict reason. Sometimes, God asks us to do something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it's only because we have a limited perspective. We can't see the future but thank God we serve a God who does. He knows the future because he's planned the future.
William Barclay, the commentator, said, "For everyone at some time, there comes something for which there seems to be no reason and which defies explanation. It is then that a person is faced with life's hardest battle: to accept what he can't understand. At such a time, there is only one thing to do: obey and do so without resentment, saying, 'God, you are love, and I will build my faith on that.'" God's tests sometimes contradict reason. Secondly, God's tests affect the tender part of our lives. God's tests affect the tender parts of our lives.
You know, sometimes, we recommit our life to God and we say, "God, from this point on whatever you wanna do in my life, anything you wanna do in my life, I submit to you right now. You can do anything you want. You can have control over anything in my life". But in our minds we have that secret compartment that's locked off and blocked away from God, that God is not welcome to get involved with. One thing we're holding on to. It may be a relationship, it may be a position, it may be a possession. It may be a dream. But we say, "God, you can have anything except this one thing". And yet when God's test comes, you know what he does? He walks right past those "anythings" and zeros in on that one thing.
If you don't remember one thing else I say today, remember this: God's tests never deal with those things that are trivial to us. God's tests always deal with those things that are treasure to us. It was that way for Abraham; it will be that way for you as well. And finally, and this is encouraging I hope to you, God's tests are designed for our strengthening. God puts us sometimes in the furnace of testing, not to destroy us, but to strengthen us. You know, in biblical times whenever a jeweler was going to make a piece of gold jewelry, he would take a piece of gold and, first of all, heat it up until it reached a molten state, a liquid state. And when it was at that point, the impurities, any impurities in the gold, would rise to the surface and he would skim off those impurities.
And the way he knew that those impurities were gone is when he could look into that molten gold and see the reflection of his own face. God does the same thing for us. He sends the fire into our life to burn away the impurities. That's exactly what Peter was talking about in 1 Peter verses 6 and 7 of chapter 1: "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you've been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ".
God is allowing you to go through this test so that the impurities of life can be removed and he can look in our face and see the image of his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That's what God is doing. And here's the encouraging word. When you're going through that furnace and the fire's burning hot, Warren Wiersbe says, "Remember, God has his eye on the clock and his hand on the thermostat. He knows exactly how long and how hot". And there'll be a time when that furnace will be turned off. You will emerge from that furnace of testing and your faith will be even stronger and purer than it's ever been. That's what God is doing in your life right now.