The nation of Iran is much in the news these days as we learn that it is one of the leading nations supporting terrorism around the world and its nuclear aspirations. Of course this is not exactly new news. Back in the 80's Iran was already America's sworn enemy and denounced the West's politics and society every time it had a chance (for example, called us "American devils"). It was during this stormy time that a group of students and political extremists invaded the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans as hostages (one of the student leaders was former President of Iran, Muhammad Ahmadinejad).
I was in Canada in those days and I remember a story about Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador in Tehran who became a national hero in Canada and the U.S. during the hostage crisis that lasted 444 days. During the hostage taking he managed to smuggle six American diplomats out through the Canadian embassy, risking not only his life, but the lives of his family and staff. (2012 movie Argo, with Ben Affleck). After the crisis was over he was interviewed about his role in the affair and was asked how he felt during that dangerous time. He said that for him it was the "diplomatic moment of truth", where all of his training and preparation were tested in one critical moment.
You know a lot of professions train for this precise thing. For example, public security and military people are trained in advance to react in a very specific way at crucial moments. Medical professionals have to make split second decisions that may save lives. Athletes train for years in preparation for one event, lasting only seconds, striving to peak in athletic excellence precisely at one particular point in their careers.
I say all of this because I think that there is a parallel here with our experience as Christians and these "moments of truth" that I have just described. As disciples of Jesus Christ we also come to a time in our spiritual lives where everything we know and have practiced is put to the test. It is helpful if we understand this ahead of time, before the test is actually upon us.
In order to gain insight and better prepare us for this experience, I would like to look at an event in the life of Abraham and review how this great man of faith reacted when he had to face his own "moment of truth".
Background on Abraham
Before we look at the incident itself, let us look at some background information in order to familiarize ourselves with Abraham and his life. Beginning in Genesis 2, we know that Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of a great nation through whom the Messiah would eventually come. He was called to come out of his home in Ur (present day Iraq) and settle in the land of Canaan (present day Israel). God promised him a son to begin the great nation of the future. When his wife continued to be barren for years after the promise, he and his wife agreed that he would produce a child with his wife's servant, Hagar. Eventually God did bless him with the promised child through Sarah long after both were beyond child bearing years. With time, even though he did not own any of the land where he lived, he nevertheless became wealthy and comfortable in advanced years. One day, however, everything he had learned about God in a lifetime, was put to the test in a single moment, a single decision, where God asked him to sacrifice his own son.
Abraham's Moment of Truth - Genesis 22:1-19
Abraham's moment of truth comes in four stages.
Stage 1: God Gives Him a Test
1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."
- Genesis 22:1-2
A test is not a temptation. A temptation is the attempt to seduce one into evil. God does not do this. A test is an exam. It is often without warning. God holds us up to examine us, either through trial or challenge or even blessing. He allows us to experience something with the purpose of examining our reaction.
God's test for Abraham is that He tells him to offer up his son as a sacrifice. Now, in later times, the very thought of this would have contradicted God's established and revealed Law. But during this time period, like Hagar's role in producing children, the sacrificing of children was within religious culture of the people and although difficult, was not unheard of. The test facing Abraham was not a moral one but rather an emotional and spiritual one. Giving up a child he loved; giving up the child that represented all of his hopes for the future nation that was to come from him.
Stage 2: Abraham Responds to God's Test
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 of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 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 return to you." 6 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 the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
- Genesis 22:3-8
Note that nothing is mentioned about the night Abraham spent before leaving. Can you imagine the agony, the praying, the struggle? "Lord, anything but this. Anything but my beloved son." When we utter prayers like this, we know that our moment of truth has come.
Note also that by the morning, the decision is made (God's will will be done) and Abraham leaves with Isaac without murmur or complaint or any indication of his feelings. In other words, Abraham responded with obedience, always the correct response. The great question here is, why? Why did he go ahead and do it? After all, Isaac represented everything that God had promised and now all of that seemed in contradiction (i.e. life after death = many descendants).
The answer to this question in Genesis is not answered in Genesis, but rather answered in the book of Hebrews 11:17-19.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, "In Isaac your descendants shall be called." 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
- Hebrews 11:17-19
The Hebrew writer says that Abraham offered his son because he sincerely believed that God could raise Isaac back from the dead, that He could spare him somehow. After all, he reasoned that if God could produce life from two "dead" bodies, as his and Sarah's were when they conceived this child, He could also bring him back from the dead. Abraham did not know how, but he clung to the promise that God would give him descendants somehow. This is the reasoning of faith. Abraham believed in God's promises and God's power. He had seen the power in the birth of Isaac and he continued to trust that God's power would guarantee the promise concerning Isaac as well no matter what.
This is what faith is all about. Trusting that God will fulfill His promises even when we do not exactly know how. Obeying God and trusting that He can and will work things out. Abraham believed that God's power could overcome death in order to keep His promise. This is the same faith we have in Christ, that His power will overcome our death in order to keep His promise of eternal life to all who believe.
Stage 3: Abraham Obeys
9 Then they came to the place of 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. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
- Genesis 22:9-10
When God promised Abraham and Sarah a son and the promise was not immediately fulfilled, they tried to work it out themselves and created a bigger problem. There was jealousy and conflict between Hagar and Ishmael (the servant and her son) and Sarah and Isaac (the heir of the promise and his mother). This time Abraham does exactly what God tells him to do. The substance of faith is believing that God can and will keep His promises and responding to Him in faithful obedience because of this. Abraham demonstrates a fully mature faith in his complete obedience based on His trust in God's word. This is the goal of our spiritual training and practice, to take God at His word and be prepared to live or die by it. God does not ask us to offer our children to demonstrate faith. However, if our faith was strong, we could.
Stage 4: God Works It Out
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 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." 13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and 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. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the Lord it will be provided."
15 Then the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.
- Genesis 22:11-19
Abraham's faith is complete because his obedience is complete. His son and his future hope were on the line because of his trust in God. Notice that Abraham offers his worship and praise only after he has offered his obedience. Abraham, the father of our faith, teaches us that worship is only acceptable when offered from those whose faith is demonstrated in trusting obedience. Do not get me wrong, Abraham was not perfect, he sinned like all of us. But Abraham's faith grew to a point that when he came to the moment of truth in his life, he was able to trust God with his most precious possession, his son.
Summary / Invitation
Mount Moriah is the place where Abraham went with Isaac to face a severe test. It is also the place where the Jewish Temple was later built. Today, the Muslims have a mosque on that spot (Dome on the Rock). (Been there, large rock, Muhammed went to heaven on a winged horse).
But Abraham's experience at Mount Moriah is one that each of us as Christians can relate to as well. You see, in each of our lives there is a Mount Moriah, a place where we encounter our moment of truth. It is a place where God seems to stretch the limits of our faith to the breaking point. For example, He asks what seems impossible, He leads us to the edge of our worst fears, He calls on us to step out beyond our understanding, beyond our strength. And it is here where we find the "faith" that counts as righteousness. It is here where the faith that raises the dead is experienced. It is here where we meet the living Christ and find Him dwelling within our faith.
And so, after hearing this lesson, let me ask you: Have you reached your Mount Moriah yet? Have you been there? Well, do not worry, you will one day. Every one of Jesus' disciples gets the call to go there one time, at least. It may be a temptation we have to overcome. It may be a situation that seems impossible. It may be someone or something we truly love that we will have to let go. It may be a challenge that will not let us rest in peace until we accept it. Regardless of the situation, we all come to Mount Moriah one day. And if we, like Abraham, trust completely in God's power and promises we too will experience the joy of God providing for us at this critical time. You see, if the Lord decides to test you, He does so with the knowledge that He can provide.
Here is my final point and the lesson is yours. If you have been to Mount Moriah and seen the Lord provide for you, let this be the substance of your joy and witness. And when you are discouraged remember how God provided in the past because He will again in the future. And if you are there for the first time, do what God says, no matter what, being assured that He has the power to keep His promise to you.
So where are you at this morning? Is this the day you will believe in Jesus Christ? Sometimes we do not believe simply because we do not want to believe or do not want to do what God wants believers to do. It is not because the believing part is too hard, it is because the believer's life seems too hard.
I ask again, where are you at this morning? Is this the day you go home believing to obedience? Obeying the gospel in repentance and baptism? Obeying your conscience and being restored through prayers? Obeying the call of our leaders to begin serving, giving, attending faithfully? Wherever you are at, please come as we stand and sing remembering that God provides at Mount Moriah for Abraham and for you.