Father Abraham had a Son

(Please read Genesis 22:1-19 in your preferred Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare this study.)

Professional baseball has been played in America since 1875, but on September 14, 1990, something happened that has never happened before or since. Late in his career, Ken Griffey, Sr., who had been a key member of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds years before, was signed by the Seattle Mariners. His son Ken Griffey, Jr. was just starting his major league career. In the first inning of a game against the Angels, Griffey, Sr. hit a home run to left center field. His son followed him to the plate and hit another home run to almost exactly the same spot. It was the only time a father and son had hit back-to-back home runs in baseball history. Ken Griffey, Jr. said later that his father greeted him at the plate by saying, “That’s how you do it, son!”

There are few joys that can compare to seeing our children and grandchildren succeed. Whether it’s on a ball field, at a music recital, in an academic competition, or, most importantly, in a spiritual setting, seeing a child demonstrate character and competence is a true pleasure. But this victory is not something that just happens. Every right performance, every victory over temptation, every accomplishment is the result of a concerted effort to prepare for the moment of challenge.

As we so often see in the Bible, this moment of high drama is written in an understated way, devoid of lurid details or a psychological exploration of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine Abraham’s feelings by projecting ourselves and our children into the narration, so we can guess at the surprise Abraham felt at the command, the dread he felt during the journey, the resolve he showed atop Mr. Moriah.

We need to remember that these things are not found in the Bible because the emphasis is not on any of the human beings, but on God.  Remind yourself that God is the hero of every historical account.  Though these verses are tense with drama, the point is that we do NOT center our attention on Abraham or Isaac, but upon God and what He is doing in them.

Just as the Bible is God-centered, so is biblical parenting.  One of places the Church and the world have erred is in making children the center of family life.  If we truly desire to have a home life that is at its healthiest and happiest, then we do the hard work of centering our focus on God and keeping Him in the middle of all we do in the home.

The best parenting is God-centered, not child-centered or self-centered.

Self-centered parenting reduces children to pawns we move about to inflate our ego.  The typical example is that of “stage parent” or expectations that children will follow their parents in choices of college and/or vocation.  Parents who are motivated to satisfy themselves through their children are prone to all kinds of abuse.

Though it sounds like a better situation, child-centered parenting is just as far from God’s will as self-centered parenting.  Children have a place in most families but it is never first place.  Children given too many choices, too much authority, and/or too much freedom are bound to be self-centered and godless adults.  A husband & wife constitute a family; children are additions to it.

The biblical standard is God-centered parenting.  It requires the most work and discipline, but provides the most joy and best results as well.

  1. Background: Isaac was the son of promise.

The promise was made in chapter eighteen when three angels came to announce to Abraham and Sarah that after decades of childlessness, they would be blessed with the birth of a son.  Biologically speaking, this was a miracle.

The promise was kept 25 years later, in chapter twenty-one, when Isaac was born.

  1. God gave Abraham a weird command (1-2).

While child sacrifice was common in pagan cultures, it was not Abraham’s practice.  For example, in Carthage, archaeologists have excavated a pagan temple to find remains of thousands of children sacrificed to false gods.

It was often a brutal, unmerciful form of killing:  hollow metal statues were heated by internal fires and then the children set in the red-hot hands of the idol.  Though we are at a time when God has not yet revealed His law forbidding child sacrifice, we can pretty safely assume it was not Abraham’s practice for two reasons: first, he had previously been childless; none to offer as sacrifices.  Second, God chose Abraham because he was a good man and child sacrifice was not the kind of thing good men did.

God knew this command would come at a high cost to Abraham.  We know this from what God said in verse two.

When He said, “YOUR SON, YOUR ONLY SON,” God is clearly not counting Ishmael, an illegitimate son born to Sarah’s maid, Hagar.  That was Sarah and Abraham’s ill-advised attempt to fulfill God’s promise themselves.  It led to bad blood (21:8-21).  It’s idiotic to think of children of “spares;” the loss of any child is great grief. Can we assume then an only child is especially hard to lose as there are no others to love?

God added, “WHOM YOU LOVE.”  How did God know this?  Obviously, God knows all hearts.  In Abraham’s heart He saw love for Isaac.  Because Abraham had waited SO VERY LONG for this son, God knew the idea of losing him must’ve been more difficult.  Add to all of this the fact that Isaac was understood to be the fulfillment of God’s promise.  It is hard to receive a blessing and then have it unexpectedly taken away.

He clarified the means of offering Isaac: “AS A BURNT OFFERING.”  Animal sacrifices were a universal part of cultures of this time, but they had not been made into law by God.  Mercifully, the animal offered was killed first; not left alive to suffer being burned alive.  The Law was still several generations away, awaiting Moses the Lawgiver.  The procedure would have been something familiar to Abraham and Isaac too, as his question later indicates.

The reader is advised in verse one that this whole episode is God “testing” Abraham and we have the benefit of history to know how it turned out.  But Abraham did not know that, so these costs were very real to him and his feelings may’ve been very intense.

God knew Abraham’s heart; we rely on the text to show us that Abraham had deep love for his sons.  One indicator is the way he reacted to Sarah’s demands that Ishmael, the illegitimate son, be sent away: THE MATTER DISTRESSED ABRAHAM GREATLY BECAUSE IT CONCERNED HIS SON (21:11).

God reassured Abraham that it was OK to send them away because his descendants would be enumerated from Isaac.  God also reassured him with the promise that He would make a NATION out of Isaac too.

His distress may’ve been the thing that prompted God to TEST Abraham in this way.  If he reacted so strongly to the loss of Ishmael, how would he react to the loss of the legitimate son, Isaac?

Let’s take a quick break for a geography lesson.  Why go to MORIAH (2)?  The name meant “place of Yahweh’s provision.”  It was so named in verse fourteen.

The word “provide” figures prominently in this passage as it affirms our trust in God TO provide all we need.  When confronted with the surprising command, Abraham must’ve wondered how God would provide descendants if Isaac would not live.  For example, when Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham affirmed his faith that God would provide one (8).

Why on a mountain (2)?  In most ancient cultures, mountains were considered sacred spots.  It was on mountain tops that altars were constructed, sacrifices were made and worship was offered.

Why end up in BEERSHEBA (19)?  The name meant “Well of Seven” or “Well of Oath.”  It was the place where Abraham made a treaty with Philistine leaders to ensure his family could live peacefully in the region (chapter 21).  Having gone to all that trouble, he chose to remain there.  It was “home.”

  1. Abraham prepared to obey (3-10).

EARLY THE NEXT MORNING (3) meant Abraham practiced obedience in time.  He didn’t wait for a convenient time or procrastinate.

God promised to show Abraham the place (2) and he did (4).  This revelation happened ON THE THIRD DAY after they left Beersheba.  We should not miss this detail.  Abraham kept the purpose of the long journey to himself and must’ve agonized inwardly over this long period.  Wow!

When they arrived, Abraham kept the servants at a distance (5), perhaps to prevent their interference.

Isaac was involved but not informed in this sacrificial offering (6-8).  I don’t know his age at this time, but Isaac was old enough to reason and express himself and had clearly been on these sacrificial trips before.

He went through a mental checklist:

Wood?  Check.

Fire?  Check.

The KNIFE (a special sacrificial one)?  Check.

The lamb?  Oops.  No lamb – no check.  Did dad forget the lamb?  Seems kind of important – better ask him about it.

Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question is a little evasive, but fits the theme perfectly: “God will PROVIDE the lamb, my son.”  Isaac apparently trusted his father, as the text makes clear that there was no more conversation about it (8).

How was Abraham able to do this?  Going by his actions, Abraham’s heart was resolved: his motive was to obey God .  Going by what Paul and James were inspired to write about this event, Abraham’s rationalization was theological: he trusted God to have the power to fix this.

Actions count and Abraham acted in obedience all the way.  He built the altar, piled the wood on it, tied Isaac up, the lifted him up on the wood and drew his knife.  That’s a lot of work to do and there is no sign in the text that he did it with a conflicted heart or mind.  He just obeyed.

  1. God blessed Abraham’s obedience (11-19).

God stayed Abraham’s hand at the last moment, sparing Isaac (11).  Rembrandt’s painting captures this moment brilliantly: the angel intervened to save Isaac.  Hundreds of years later, God would make this occasion part of His Law; in Exodus 13:1+15 he declared that the first-born were all His; a “sacrifice” that did not need to be executed because they were His already.

God explained Himself in vs. 12, 15-18.  This event not only tested Abraham’s faith, but reinforced his conviction that God would use Isaac to bring about the many descendants he promised.  The main point, however, is not about Isaac; it’s about Abraham and his faith.  Because he demonstrated to God that he did not value his son above God, God confirms His promises to Abraham:

He will be blessed (12:2).

His descendants would be innumerable (13:16; 15:5; 17:2).

They will possess the CITIES OF THEIR ENEMIES (12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8).

God would bless the entire world through them (12:3; 18:18).

God provided a substitute sacrifice (13-14).  Though a ram could naturally get caught by its horns in thorns, the fact that it was there exactly when and where it was needed, that is clearly supernatural.

Abraham perceived it this way and named the place to commemorate the event.

Theologically, we’re all in favor of the sovereignty of God until we have to change our plans or until we have to recognize that when God uses someone, it’s not always with their permission or approval.  It’s comforting to know that God is in charge up until the moment we insist on being in charge.

We can’t have it both ways, folks.  Since the Bible teaches us that God does not change and that he is in charge, we all have to face the fact that it is NOT all about me.  While human beings are the pinnacle of His creation, we bend to follow HIS will, not Him to follow ours.

What learned from Samson in the last five weeks is that God’s plan will be completed.  Whether we are pawns or a king, God is the hand that moves us.

In short, we need to build a bridge and get over ourselves.

James uses the account of Abraham offering Isaac as evidence to support his teaching that faith must be paired with works to be real.  We read in James 2:20-24:

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

This quote also gives us a third interpretation of the life of Abraham, how it was faith that motivated his obedience to God.  Even though Abraham could not, in the moment, see how God was going to work things out, he followed through and did everything God commanded.  That is how disciples behave: obedience comes before understanding, if necessary.

Advertisements

Proud Papa

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…even on Father’s Day!

Mothers get the red carpet treatment on their day, with fabulous brunches and beautiful bouquets. For the fathers, however, retailers have cleverly priced almost everything under $9.99!
Case in point: the Talking Fly Swatter. It’s a lime-green fly swatter with a little speaker that says stuff like “Hasta la vista, baby!” “Flight canceled!” and “Die sucker!” every time you try to use it.

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

The children begged for a hamster, and after the usual fervent vows that they alone would care for it, they got one. They named it Danny. Two months later, when Mom found herself responsible for cleaning and feeding the creature, she’d had enough and promptly located a prospective new home for it.

The children took the news of Danny’s imminent departure quite well, though one of them remarked, “He’s been around here a long time–we’ll miss him.”

“Yes,” Mom replied, “But he’s too much work for one person, and since I’m that one person, I say he goes.”

Another child offered, “Well, maybe if he wouldn’t eat so much and wouldn’t be so messy, we could keep him.”

But Mom was firm. “It’s time to take Danny to his new home now,” she insisted. “Go and get his cage.”

With one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, “Danny? We thought you said Daddy!”

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

A Father’s Day Poem

Dad, Dad, Dad. The dear old worthless geezer. 
Oh the fusses I have had, with that old patient teaser. 
He lacks the spirit of a mouse, most anyone can ‘down’ him. 
We let him hang around the house. Its cheaper than to drown him.

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

According to the “Almanac for Farmers & City Folk,” The largest number of collect calls are made on Father’s Day.

Fortunately, dads have a good sense of humor. Most of them. Today we want to highlight six biblical virtues that dads are supposed to have. You know they were intended for dads because these six virtues spell out the word “FATHER.”

F” is for FAITHFUL (Hebrews 11:6).

AND WITHOUT FAITH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE HIM, FOR WHOEVER WOULD

DRAW NEAR TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS AND THAT HE REWARDS

THOSE WHO SEEK HIM. (ESV)

Faith that pleases God consists of belief in two things: that God exists and that His existence gives this life consequence.

Believing that God is real is the easy part, as proven by the fact that 90% of Americans believe it. However, when it comes to acting in ways consistent w/t reality of God, I suspect the number of participants drops off dramatically. Popularity not withstanding, real faith results in an increasingly God-centered life; real faith makes changes.

Belief that God rewards seekers follows naturally if you accept the first point. In other words, your life has consequence. Daily decisions are important. The writer of Hebrews expresses it positively to encourage believers, but the negative side is just as true; God’s wrath will be poured out on the unbelieving and wicked.

Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE God. If we want the rewards and not the wrath, then we must start with faith. Men, we must be full of faith.

Faithful fathers relate to their family in a way that pleases God. Men, treat your family in a way that recognizes God is present and that one day you will account for every word and deed. Since you’re going to eat your words, make ’em sweet. Don’t make family relationships the least holy; make them as holy as every other relationship you have. Holy relationships are marked by love, respect, positivity, and grace.

A” is for ACTIVE or AMBITIOUS (James 2:18-20).

BUT SOMEONE WILL SAY, “YOU HAVE FAITH AND I HAVE WORKS.” SHOW ME

YOUR FAITH APART FROM YOUR WORKS, AND I WILL SHOW YOU MY FAITH BY

MY WORKS. YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD IS ONE; YOU DO WELL. EVEN THE

DEMONS BELIEVE – AND SHUDDER! DO YOU WANT TO BE SHOW, YOU

FOOLISH PERSON, THAT FAITH APART FROM WORKS IS USELESS? (ESV)

Faith and works are not opposing approaches to God, they are two sides of the one approach that is real. Belief in the one true God is a starting point, not the finish line. With a little bit of irony, James notes how such belief is something that even DEMONS believe – only they shudder in fear at the thought of it.

The finish line is death. The balance of the race that is this life is finding ways to WORK OUT the consequences of our decision to accept the truth about God. A half-faith is no faith at all, just as a coin with only one side is not legal tender. If you’re going to have a saving faith, you’re going to have to be ACTIVE with it. No half-measures.

Men can be very ambitious in their vocations and avocations; they need to bring a similar ambition to their work within the home. “Active” fathers take an active faith into their home. The easy part of fathering is two-fold.

One easy part is to provide for their family’s material needs. Godly fathers take on more than just physical provision for their family, they actively make emotional and spiritual provision too.

The other easy part is to be proud of their family. Ask the average person what they value most and most of them will reflexively say “family.” The more difficult thing is to give your family reasons to be proud of YOU. ACTIVE fathers promote respect for the family name and forge a godly identity.

The more difficult thing and the thing most needed, is for fathers need to have a full-featured faith that is useful for godliness. Fathers are not the only leaders in the home, but they need to actively and ambitiously work to lead the family in God’s direction.

T” is for TENDER-HEARTED (Galatians 6:2).

BEAR ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS AND SO FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST. (ESV)

This portion of the New Testament book of Galatians deals with how Christians are to relate to one another. It’s one of many places where human nature and spiritual nature interact to form our way of life.

It’s a common experience of life that you find out who your true friends are when you are in moments of greatest need. True friends will come alongside to provide help and support and encouragement, false friends will make themselves scarce. That’s human nature.

But Paul identifies something more important than human nature being operative here. Bearing one another’s burdens is one way we fulfill the LAW OF CHRIST. Remember Jesus’ law? “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” JHN 15:12. This means following Jesus’ example in love. Including our sins, Jesus bore every burden on the cross. The ultimate solution to all our problems is found atop Golgotha. Following His example and being joined in His Body, the Church, means that burden-bearing is standard behavior for followers of Jesus. Love is true when it seeks what is best for the beloved.

The ruin of the tender-heartedness expressed in this verse is selfishness and impatience. Selfishness can blind us to the burdens others carry. We’re too wrapped up in our own situations to take notice and thereby miss opportunities to help. Impatience takes many forms and is, in my opinion, the root of many problems. For example, impatience will cause a man to try to “fix” things when he needs to listen. It will show up when he says, “Not again!” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Tender-heartedness can be a difficult virtue to achieve because you have to really want it. You have to seek it, cultivate it, actively work to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It requires listening, watching, waiting, and apologizing – things for which men aren’t known for being naturally good. BUT, as we said, this is based on Jesus’ nature, not human nature!

H” is for HOLY (Romans 12:1-2).

I APPEAL TO YOU THEREFORE, BROTHERS, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD, TO PRESENT YOUR BODIES AS A LIVING SACRIFICE, HOLY AND ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD, BUT BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND, THAT BY TESTING YOU MAY DISCERN WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD, WHAT IS GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE AND PERFECT. (ESV)

To be “holy” is to be different from the rest of the world – set apart to God’s glory and purpose. These two important verses describe the reason and the method of holiness.

The reason for holiness is to give God the kind of worship He accepts. Self-sacrifice is the kind of worship God accepts. Worship that costs us nothing is worth nothing. To be meaningful and effective, worship is a little more death to self. This is done in view of God’s MERCIES. In other words, Jesus made Himself a “living sacrifice” on the cross, as His follower, you’re to do the same on a spiritual scale.

The method of holiness is resisting the world’s pressure to conform, choose transformation instead. Transformation is achieved by changing your mind! Unlearn the world’s definition of manliness and substitute Jesus’ example in it’s place. Unlearn all worldly values – resist the pressure to conform to them. Choose the life-long process of transformation into a reproduction of Jesus Christ.

Holy men make the best fathers. By this I mean “men that are holy,” regardless of their vocation.

Our culture does not make good fathers. In fact, we’ve seen fatherhood become something of a quaint institution, with record numbers of women left to care for children alone. The masculine values of our culture are promiscuity, independence, wealth, power, and pride. The sacrifice of these foolish things is a form of spiritual worship.

The masculine values of our faith are strength, commitment, love, and godliness. Becoming like Jesus enables a man to stand with his family, leading by serving.

E” is for ENCOURAGING (Hebrews 3:13).

BUT ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER DAILY, AS LONG AS IT IS CALLED TODAY, SO THAT NONE OF YOU MAY BE HARDENED BY SIN’S DECEITFULNESS. (NIV)

Encouragement is not optional; it’s a requirement. ENCOURAGE is the same Gk word used for the Holy Spirit; it’s also translated as “Comforter.” This isn’t mere positivity; it’s also translated as “exhort.” To exhort someone is to urge them to do the right thing. DAILY shows that encouragement is something we require. Encouragement serves an important purpose; to keep our soul from being HARDENED BY SIN’S DECEITFULNESS. Sin hardens our conscience and makes us insensitive to the will of God and incapable of loving others.

One of the important reasons God puts us together in families and in churches is so that we can encourage one another. The need for encouragement is not a sign of weakness; its simply human nature. While everyone needs different amounts of encouragement and favors different types, it’s as necessary for the health of our souls as food is for the health of our bodies. Encouragement is the “daily bread” of the spirit.

An amazing thing about family relationships is the strength of a child’s desire for dad’s approval. I don’t claim to understand it, but I have observed it often enough to know that there a powerful desire at work that is part of our very nature.

It stinks, then, that men are so often so poor at encouraging. For whatever set of reasons, we don’t seem to know how to do it and too often choose not to. Unfortunately, teasing and anger come more easily, so we can be guilty of unbalancing our input to the negative side. Fathers who are not active encouragers neglect an essential aspect of family life at the peril of their families.

R” is for REASONABLE (Isaiah 1:18).

COME NOW, LET US REASON TOGETHER,” SAYS THE LORD; (ESV)

The OT prophets spoke for God and made many appeals to the people for Him. The prophets appealed to the people on the basis of their emotions, striking fear of wrath and the promise of reward. They appealed to them spiritually, describing the majesty and power of God. And they appealed to their REASON, trying to get them to stop and think about what they were doing, the consequences of their actions.

This passage is obviously an appeal to REASON. Had we read the rest of vs. 18-20, we would have learned that God was trying to reason with them to repent and obey His Law. In the book of Proverbs especially, there are many biblical appeals to reason. God gave us each a brain so we would use it to think about ways we can do the right thing, not to plot evil or devise excuses for our sin.

Remember what we read in Romans. Transformation happens through the renewal of our mind. It is by thinking and reason that we see God’s way is best for us and follow it. It is by thinking and reason that we read, understand, and apply the word of God.

“Reasonable” is one of the virtues at which men like to think they excel. Male and female brains typically have physical differences that make logic and practicality more appealing to men, emotion and sentimentality more appealing to women. That’s science, not a value judgment. It simply explains typical preferences.

However, reason is only a tool. It can be correctly used to do good and be godly or it can be misused to make excuses for sin and selfishness. Part of being “reasonable” is using your head in the right way, not the wrong.

Another part of being “reasonable” is to be open to reason. Being confident is a virtue, but taken too far it becomes close-mindedness and that’s a vice. Reasonable men listen.

A third part of being “reasonable” is being patient. As James wrote, QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY (1:19). Patience is a virtue, men.

An article from a British newspaper, the Telegraph, was published last December, but applies to Father’s Day. Here’s an excerpt: “When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats …. A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer. A ‘pet horse’ was the third most popular choice …. Despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a ‘Dad.'”

Wow. That must mean that dads are becoming as scarce in British culture as they are here in America. We need to call men to accept their responsibility to be a father at all, then to be the kind of father God wants them to be.

The title of this message is “Proud Papa.” Generally that refers to a father who is proud of his family. In this case, however, I want to turn that around. I’ve been advocating for a papa of whom the family is proud. I’m calling the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, mentors, teachers – all the men in this virtual room who have families to be the kind of leaders who earn the pride of their family by being the kind of man your family needs you to be.

The Bible calls us to a high standard in all our behavior and relationships, and fatherhood is no exception. In fact, given the extraordinary influence of fathers and their general scarcity in our culture, you might say that fatherhood is a priority. Something to think about. And, after a day of celebrating, to act upon.