Abraham: The Testing of Faith
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Hebrews 11, this morning.
About a year and a half ago, I preached a sermon on gospel-shaped contentment. I talked about how, at the time, I was debating getting this TV package that would allow me to watch all of these hockey games for a certain price, but how I had come to the conclusion that a better use of the money that God had given us would be to sponsor another child with Compassion.
So, that’s what Helena and I did. We started sponsoring a child from the Philippines, whose name was AJ. He was about 4 years old when we got him, and we have been sponsoring him ever since.
However, earlier this week, I got a call from Compassion, telling me that AJ had passed away. I guess he had complained about some pain that he was experiencing, so they took him to the hospital. And while he was in the hospital, over the Christmas holidays, he developed a high fever, and his organs just started to shut down.
So, that was a hard phone call to get. You don’t ever expect to hear that as a sponsor. But we were able to send a card and a gift to the family, letting them know that we’re praying for them. And if you can also pray for the Rodriguez family, as they mourn the loss of their son, we would greatly appreciate it.
We continue to trust that God is in control and that He is good, even in the midst of the storms of life. It’s what we’ve been looking at, throughout this sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith. For the past month, we’ve been going through Hebrews 11, looking at these Old Testament characters and the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.
Last week, we looked at Sarah, who teaches us about a laughable faith. God might be leading us into something that might seem laughable, but we know that nothing is too difficult for our God.
And this morning, we are going to look at Abraham, Sarah’s husband, who teaches us about the testing of faith. The faith of Abraham teaches us that faith leads to testing which leads to greater faith. And my hope for us, this morning, is that whatever storm we find ourselves in, either now or in the future, would cause us to look ahead to what God has in store for us.
So, with that, let’s read Hebrews 11, beginning in verse 17, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
1. The first thing we see is that faith leads to testing.
If you can keep your finger in Hebrews 11, I want us to turn to Genesis 22. Last week, we looked at the story of Abraham and Sarah, how they obeyed the call of God to go to the land that God had promised them, and how God was going to give them descendants “as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
And despite not having any children of their own, at that point, they had faith that God would be faithful to what He had promised. And God caused Sarah to conceive in her old age and give birth to Isaac, so that, after years of waiting, they finally had the promised child in their arms.
But then, look at Genesis 22:1. It says, “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 2 He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’”
Now, I want us to imagine for a moment what it would be like to be Abraham. You and your spouse are unable to have children. You have tried for years and years, and nothing has happened. You feel like you will never have a child, and that you will go on for the rest of your life, childless.
But then, you hear this promise from God: that you will be made into a great nation, your name will be great, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you. And you hold on to this for years, waiting for the son of the promise. And eventually, the son is born to you that will make all of this possible.
But then, God says to you: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, whom you have been waiting for, and offer him up as a sacrifice.” What do you do? Do you ignore the voice of God telling you to do this, or do you trust that God will work all of this out in the end?
It seems like everything is going Abraham and Sarah’s way. It seems like everything is falling into place and going about as well as things possibly can. Why would God require this of Abraham? It seems like it’s too much. If you don’t believe in God, this might even seem sadistic to you. The son that Abraham and Sarah had waited years for, why would God require that?
And it’s because faith leads to testing. Now that Abraham had what he had been waiting for, would he continue to depend on God? Abraham trusted God for the gift of Isaac, so that when Abraham received Isaac, would he continue to trust God with this promised son?
When Helena and I were living in Nipawin, so that I could finish my third year of Bible College, we tried for months to have another baby. At that point, we only had Liam, and we wanted to have more children. But month after month would go by, and we just could not conceive.
And God actually brought us to the point, where we had to become OK with the idea of only having one child. Maybe God was telling us that we were only meant to have one. We had to become OK with that.
And it was amazing. After we came to that conclusion, God caused Benji to come along. And we were so grateful to God for bringing us a second child. And then, before we knew it, Gideon came along. And we were now having all of these kids that we didn’t even know we would be able to have.
But then, as you know, we were expecting baby #4, last summer, and we lost the baby. And since then, we have not been able to conceive, again. And honestly, I feel like we can’t really say much, because there are many couples who can’t even have one child of their own, and we have three.
But we have gone from asking the question, “Can we get pregnant?” to getting pregnant easily, to once again struggling to get pregnant. And I’m convinced this is a test as to whether or not we will continue to rely on God. Now that God has blessed us with children, after we thought we would only have the one, would we continue to depend on God?
Where there is true faith, that faith will always be tested. It would be easy for us to accept whatever God was leading us into, if we knew what was going to happen. It wouldn’t be difficult for us to step out in faith, if we knew the outcome. But that’s not faith.
Faith leads to testing, because the question is: Will we still depend on God, even if God is all we have?
The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac….” The testing of our faith is not a matter of “if” but “when.” It’s not a matter of whether or not our faith will ever be tested; it’s a matter of when our faith be tested. If you say that you will deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus, then God is going to put that to the test. “Will you really?”
And what I want for each one of us, when the testing comes, because it will come, is to be ready for it. In the next week, or the next month, or the next year, you could get that phone call, or that test result, or whatever it might be, and the testing of your faith will begin. The question is: What will we do when it does?
What does Abraham do? Look at Genesis 22:3: “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’ 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ 8 Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’”
Faith is putting in the hands of God what He has given you. The test for Abraham was whether or not he would continue to rely on God for the promise. Would he continue to trust God with his promised son?
And what does Abraham do? He believes God and does what God asks of him. Why? Because Abraham had been tested before, and he had trusted in God before, and God had always been faithful to him.
2. And this brings us to our second point: Faith leads to testing which leads to greater faith. Faith leads to testing, but that testing leads to greater faith.
Look at Hebrews 11:17-19. “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
Do you notice that God doesn’t lay everything on Abraham all at once? It’s gradual. Abraham’s first test was whether or not he would leave his comfortable homeland for the land that God was giving to him. Abraham’s second test, once he got to the promised land, was whether or not he would trust God with his and Sarah’s childlessness. And then, Abraham’s third test, once he received a child, was whether or not he would trust God with this promised son.
And what this reveals to us is that the testing of faith affects whatever you are holding on to, at the time.
For example, if we are clinging tightly to the idea of having children, it might be something that God is going to ask us to give over to Him. If we are clinging tightly to our health, it might be something that God is going to ask us to give over to Him. If we are clinging tightly to our money, or to a spouse, or to whatever, it might be something that God is going to ask us to give over to Him.
The testing of faith affects our affections, I believe, because God’s priorities for us are going to be different from our priorities. God’s values are going to be different from our values.
And if we find ourselves angry with God, because of something He’s taken from us, or because He hasn’t given us what we want, then it might be a sign of misplaced affections.
I’m not saying that if you are going through something difficult in your life, right now, that it’s necessarily a testing of your faith, but it should at least open up our eyes to any misplaced affections we might have.
What we need most is for God to replace those affections for other things, with a heart for Him. We need to realize that everything ultimately belongs to God, and that if God is asking us to give up something to Him, it shouldn’t be a fight, it should be rightly giving back to God what is God’s.
We see that with Abraham. Abraham had such faith in God that he offered up his only son to Him. Abraham believed that God would, at the very least, raise Isaac back to life, so that the promise would be fulfilled that, “through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
And why this is so significant is because it reveals something about our God. You see, God knows what it means to lose an only Son. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Like Isaac, this Son would also be led away to be sacrificed. This Son would also not put up a fight. But unlike Isaac, who was spared, this Son would be killed, as the nails would pierce through His hands and His feet. This Son would be the substitute ram, who was killed on behalf of Isaac and all of humanity.
This Son is Jesus. And it is only through Jesus that we can be forgiven of our sins against a holy God. It is only through Jesus that we can have eternal life. It is only through Jesus that we can be recipients of the covenant promises.
Abraham believed God that, even if he went through with what God was asking him to do, God would provide a way. And God has provided a way, not just for Isaac, but for each one of us, because the only Son of God, who was sacrificed on our behalf, was raised from the dead.
Abraham received his son from the dead, figuratively. But God received His Son from the dead, physically. And through the substitutionary death and resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ, we, who were dead in our sins, are made alive in Christ Jesus.
This is the good news of Jesus Christ, and it’s what carries us through the various storms of life.
Turn over to 2 Corinthians 12. This passage of Scripture gives me a great deal of hope, because if someone like the apostle Paul, who did all of these seemingly amazing things, can struggle, then I know there is hope for me.
Look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-9: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
In my second year of Bible College, I was on Student Council. And one of the things that Student Council does, is they decide on the theme for the school year. And we had only been on campus for a day, but when we got together to discuss potential themes, there was one predominant theme that stuck out to everyone: strength in weakness. And we came to this passage in 2 Corinthians 12.
And I will tell you that that year was the hardest year of my life. I had never experienced so much spiritual warfare, as I did that year. And everyone in leadership was feeling the same way. One of the guys in leadership with me, who was a good friend of mine, left school, because of how hard things were.
And I look back on that year, and I know that God was producing something in me. I know that God was using that year to show His strength through my weakness. I know the glory of God was being revealed through me.
But if we’re being honest, do we feel this way about our testing at the time? No. We feel this way after we have come through the testing, because we’ve seen the faithfulness of God towards us. But in the moment, we come up short.
Where there is true faith, that faith will always be tested. And it might be painful, as we give up what we are holding tightly to. And it might make us vulnerable, as all of our affections come to the surface. But it’s producing something in us.
Some of us might be experiencing the testing of faith, right now. Some of us might experience it, tomorrow, or sometime next month, or sometime next year. But whether you are going through it now, or it’s still to come, you might be thinking, “Things were going so well. Why would God require that of me? It’s too much for me to handle.”
And the good news of the gospel is that whatever is too much for you is not too much for God. He has you taken care of. He sacrificed His Son, so that whatever you are going through, has already been dealt with on the cross.
If you think you can’t handle what you're going through or that you won't be able to handle what's to come, that’s good. You were never intended to handle it. You never could handle it. But God can. And God will. All we need to do is have faith in the God who sent His only Son to this world, so that we could be saved.
And I’m not saying that’s easy. It might hurt a little bit. It might even hurt a lot. But what God is bringing you through is producing greater faith in Him.
Even if our response to God in the midst of testing, is, “I believe; help my unbelief,” I believe God fills in the gaps where we lack, because He’s not only on the other side of the testing, wooing us to come through it, He’s walking with us through it.
Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Those of us who have been a Christian for a long time know that the Christian life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It’s mountaintops and valleys. It’s good times and hard times. And we sometimes go from one to the other in a few days.
But faith in God leads to testing which leads to greater faith in God. And it means that we can trust Him with the days and months and years, ahead, because whatever storm of life we face, God has something greater in store for us. The question is: What will our response be to the testing of faith? Let’s pray…