sacrifice

A Father's Trust

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"It ain't over till it's over!" This statement attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra has proven true in many sporting events. The most recent Super Bowl comeback by the NE Patriots and the 1980 USA Olympic team's "Miracle on Ice" confirm it.

But great comebacks may not happen as often as we'd like to see. For all the great turnaround stories in life, many other people experience enduring disappointments.

I've lost interest in book and movies, even baseball games (and I love baseball) only to realize later that I gave up too early. A lot of people approach the Bible and all its stories the same way.

God's story of redemption is filled with many unexpected twists and turns, and His story isn't over till it ends—within each of our lives and throughout history.

The back story

A significant development in God's redemptive story begins with a man who is promised a son. This son would make him become the father of many generations. Abraham (also Abram), the father of Israel, would wait 25 years for this promised son.

But there's much more to the story that begins in Genesis 12. As with many intriguing stories, it has sub-plots, twists, deceit, a leading lady, villains, and battles, and much more, including a surprising climax.

This surprising climax gives us insight into how God would bring redemption for all of humanity and it's not at all what you'd expect. In fact, it's one of those surprising and gut-wrenching twists in the story.

An unexpected ask

Isaac, the promised son, was Abraham's treasured son, born to him at the ripe old age of 100 (Genesis 21:1-7). He had another son with another woman (Genesis 16 and Gen 21:9-21), but that's another story within Abraham's story.

When Isaac was at least a teenager or perhaps a young man, God asked Abraham to do something so shocking to us that many get stuck on it and miss the intent and purpose of the story. Here's the shocking ask of God—

Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!” “Yes, here I am!” he answered. 
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” (Gen 22:1-2 GW)

It's important to read the whole story (Gen 22:1-14) in its whole context. The whole context includes a promise that follows the unfolding of this story with the shocking ask of God. But I'll get to that later.

Trust or blind obedience?

An important piece of context is the time and culture of Abraham. The sacrifice of children to the god Molech was common in those days and in that region of the world. Abraham was well aware of this. This was long before Moses and the Law that forbade such practices.

But there's something deeper in all of this. God made a personal covenant with Abraham regarding this promised son connected to the promised land. By this time, God reminded Abraham four times about this promise (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:4-6; 17:4-8).

Perhaps Abraham was puzzled by God's request but he trusted God implicitly. This was not blind obedience.  We gain insight to this as Abraham and Isaac go to the mountain as instructed by God—

Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to his son Isaac. Abraham carried the burning coals and the knife. The two of them went on together. 
Isaac spoke up and said, “Father?” “Yes, Son?” Abraham answered. Isaac asked, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 
Abraham answered, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, Son.” The two of them went on together. (Gen 22:6-8 GW)

God will provide

Abraham's answer to Isaac remains a mystery as they proceed to the mountain for the sacrifice. Abraham built an altar out of rocks, laid the wood on it, tied up Isaac, and put him on the wood.

As Abraham grabbed the knife to slay his promised son, he's stopped by an angel of the Lord and more insight is given—

But the Messenger of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes?” he answered. “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 did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:11-12 GW)

The big picture and the greater story

If you're still hung up on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, I understand. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. Seeing the big picture reveals the greater story.

It was never God's intention for Abraham to kill Isaac. It was a test (Gen 22:1). It was an act of trust by Abraham (Heb 11:17-19). It was an illustration of when God would reverse the course of history through His own Son.

This story is a prophetic illustration of God's plan of redemption, as shared about in an earlier post. Redemption is about restoration, not just settling humanity's account with God because of sin. The illustration is seen in view of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Some important parts of the bigger picture

  • the mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen 22:2) represents Golgotha where Christ was crucified (Matt 27:33)
  • Abraham saw the place on the third day of travel (Gen 22:4) just as Jesus looked beyond the shame of the cross to His resurrection on the third day (Matt 16:21; Heb 12:2)
  • the men were told to stay behind (Gen 22:5) just as Jesus did with His disciples as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36)
  • the wood that Isaac carried (Gen 22:6) is a picture of Jesus carrying His cross (John 19:16-17)
  • Abraham's statement that God would provide a lamb (Gen 22:8) is echoed centuries later by John the Baptizer when he see Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)

But why...?

I realize it's hard to look past the shocking request of Abraham by God. This requires faith. Not an abstract belief but genuine personal trust in God (Heb 11:6).

We all have questions, even doubts when it comes to faith and trusting God. This is the nature of faith. It requires us to see beyond the obvious or at least, what others see or might believe.

The simple lesson for life application is to ask ourselves if we're willing to trust God with everything and everyone in our life. But there's more to it than that.

Not many of us are asked to sacrifice a son but God does ask us to trust Him. Not just hold a belief of trust but to trust Him day in and day out with our life.

This only develops as we know God in a deeper more personally intimate way and that depth of relationship requires time and a willingness to trust God. That's real faith, the kind Abraham had.

How much of your life are you willing to trust God with?

Gateway to God's Heart

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Faith is simple, but it's often a mystery to many people, even believers. Why? Because it defies analysis and any effort to quantify it.

Faith is the gateway to God's heart. It's the means by which we enter into a relationship with God.

It requires no special training or expertise and children seem to get its essence better than anyone. Faith is crucial to become a true Christian.

Sola Fide

This second Sola is closely linked with Sola Gratia, which I'll look at next week. It is a second foundation and theological emphasis of the Protestant Reformation next to Sola Scriptura.

Sola Fide simply means by faith alone—a simple statement and a vital one. The theology of this Sola is what distinguishes Protestant Christianity from virtually all other religions and all pseudo-Christian sects and cults.

Here are important elements to this foundational statement—

  • A person is justified before God (reconciled and made innocent) by faith alone
  • Salvation can not be gained by any effort on our part
  • Christ's righteousness—being without sin in right relationship with God—is imputed (credited) to believers because of His grace, God's unmerited kindness and favor

The Gospel

The Christian gospel, the message of God's redemptive work through His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, can only be received and understood by faith. Not by holding to a set of doctrines or theological beliefs, nor by moral goodness, but a personal trust in God.

The confidence of believers for salvation is in Jesus taking the place of each of us on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice.  This is called atonement, an act of reconciliation between God and people.

Christ's sacrifice on the cross (atonement) enabled Him to provide the means for freedom from the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom 5:18-19; 6:23).

Jesus' reconciling act on the cross set up an exchange for those of us who trust in Him. Our sin was transferred upon Him, as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), and His righteousness was given or imparted to us. This is called imputed righteousness.

Faith that justifies

It's easy to lose sight of the essence of faith when viewing it through a theological lens or trying to define it. True biblical faith is always personal and tied to relationship with God.

The faith that justifies a person doesn't come through theological belief or knowledge of how faith works, it's a matter of personal trust.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:1, 6 NIV)

True faith can't be developed through a right set of beliefs or actions. Neither is it a feeling or a dynamic force we conjure up or make happen. It is a confident surrender of our life to God. This is seen throughout the Old Testament.

Examples of justifying faith

In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, many examples are given of people who lived by this kind of faith. Four notable people, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, are mentioned in the beginning (Heb 11:4-8).

This justifying faith is seen most clearly in Abraham's life as God promises that He will become the father of many nations (Gen 12:1-5, 7; 13:14-18; 15:1-6). Abraham's trust in God was credited to him as righteousness—

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Rom 4:3 NKJV)

King David was considered a man after God's heart (Acts 13:22) and he had a similar faith in God and God's promise to him (2 Sam 7:18-22).

Justification by faith and the Holy Spirit

Again, it's important to understand that justification by faith, the theological term connected to Sola Fide, is not based on doctrinal or theological beliefs, nor by anything a person does or does not do in an attempt to be right with God.

The faith that justifies a person is based on a trust relationship with God. A faith that He nurtures in us in various ways—revelation of the truth, supernatural events, making Himself known through life events, or confirmations in our heart by His Spirit.

The personal work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life is too often misunderstood as some spiritual dynamic or conjured up belief, but this is inconsistent with the whole of Scripture.

Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches and guides a believer (John 14:15-17, 26; 15:26) and it is He who leads and points us to Jesus. God's Spirit also brings conviction about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11; 13-15).

Justifying faith is the gateway to God's heart, and He's the one who nurtures this faith in us. As Paul makes clear to the Ephesian believers—

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; itis the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9 NKJV)

A person doesn't need to be a theologian to have this faith, for as Jesus reminded His disciples we need to become like a child to enter God's kingdom.

"Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." (Mark 10:14-15)


This is the 4th in a series of posts to consider the 5 Solas of the Protestant Reformation. Here are the previous posts—

 

Why Do You Believe That?

God Won't Fit In a Box, Nor Will I

Sola Scriptura—A Simple View

 

Understanding terms—

Many of the theological terms used by Christians become like a foreign language to nonbelievers. Believers need to understand these terms well enough to put them in their own words, or as I call it IYOW (In Your Own Words).

I've tried to give some simple clarification of terms in these posts, but I encourage you to make your own effort at understanding these terms so you can explain them IYOW to others.