June 28, 2010

Grace on Mount Moriah

By Randy RobertscapMy mother often read stories to us children before bedtime. In one story the main character was a little boy we’ll call Johnny. Johnny made obedience a habit. His parents had raised him so well that it was second nature for him to obey.

The family lived in the northern United States, the land of abundant snow. And Johnny loved winter games; he especially loved sledding.

2010 1520 page22One snow-white day Johnny climbed a hill behind his house that he had never sledded down before. It was steep, so he knew he’d really fly. His pulse quickened as he pushed off and grabbed on to the sled.

His mom was out in the backyard and saw the sled bearing her son speeding down the hill. Then she saw the half-hidden, neck-high barbed-wire fence that he was speeding toward. “Lie down!” she screamed.

Against the blinding white snow Johnny didn’t see the fence nor any reason to lie down. But he heard his mom’s command, and he did what he had always done: he obeyed. Lying back on the sled, he flashed under the fence and into his mom’s arms.

Had I been on the sled that day and heard my mom yell, “Lie down!” I’d probably have yelled back, “Why?”—and I wouldn’t be telling this story! Because if I’m told to do something that doesn’t seem to make sense, I want to know why. I want to understand. Then I’ll obey. For most of us, comprehension comes before compliance.

But Johnny brings us face-to-face with a question in our relationship with God: Are we to obey God even when we don’t understand why?

What Made Him Do It?
Abraham was a man who obeyed God even when it didn’t seem to make sense. But there must have been a stronger cause for Abraham’s unquestioning obedience than mere custom. When you examine Abraham’s life, that reason begins to become clear. In fact, it’s really summed up in these words taken from the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he?credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).

Abraham trusted God. He believed God. Belief is the root; behavior the result. His obedience was much more than a mere habit. It was an experience rooted in a deep trust relationship with God.

God blessed AbraGC link devotionalsham greatly, and he enjoyed great renown, wealth, and prosperity. But try as they might, Abraham and Sarah were childless. It seemed that God’s promise had failed. Where were these descendants like “the sands of the sea” going to come from if they didn’t have even one single child?

But then, in the bottom of the ninth—the ninth decade, that is—God came through. Isaac was born. The promise was fulfilled! So Abraham’s life of walking with God and obeying, even without always understanding why, seems to have paid off.

But is that always true? Is God just a great candy machine in the sky? Do I simply deposit my dollar of obedience and then extract my sweet, candy consequence? You’d have had a hard time convincing John the Baptist of that as he sat in a dark, damp dungeon. Or Jeremiah as he was persistently persecuted for preaching God’s Word. Or Jesus Christ as He hung suspended at Golgotha.

What about us today? Does a trust relationship with God ask for obedience even when we don’t understand God’s commands?

In Genesis 22 God calls Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Describing that experience, Ellen White, in the book Patriarchs and Prophets, page 148, writes: “The command was expressed in words that must have wrung with anguish that father’s heart: ‘Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, . . . and offer him there for a burnt offering.’ . . . It seemed to him a fearful impossibility.”

At the beginning of the story, the Bible says, “God tested Abraham.” We may recoil at the thought of such tests, thinking they are for a bygone era, but each of us is tested by God. And Paul tells us that we’ll face no temptation, no test, that we can’t bear (1 Cor. 10:13).

God must have had tremendous trust in Abraham to be able to test him the way He did. God wouldn’t give a test like that to a person He didn’t trust. You can’t tell me that God’s heart didn’t throb with intense longing for Abraham to pass that test.

When we face severe tests ourselves, we sometimes feel like God has forsaken us. That He no longer cares. That He no longer loves us. But God would never test someone He doesn’t trust. He doesn’t want to fail us; He wants to pass us.

A Mother’s Love
When the tsunami hit Asia in 2004, a mother caught in the water held tightly to her two children. As she fought for their lives, the force of the water kept pulling them under. Later, that mother said, “I had to make a choice. I couldn’t save them both.” So she released her older child in the hope that he could more easily fend for himself.

In the end, all three survived. But can you imagine the agony of that moment?

Such was Abraham’s agony as he anticipated sacrificing Isaac. The three days of travel toward Mount Moriah were sheer misery for Abraham, but his faith in God didn’t fail him. Though he didn’t understand how, he knew that God’s promise through Isaac would be fulfilled.

A Trusting Son
Isaac had seen the altars and the sacrifices and the lambs and the fires. He knew what was included. Nearing the place where the sacrifice was to be made, he finally asks, “Father, here’s the wood and here’s the fire, but where’s the lamb?”
2010 1520 page22
Unknown to Isaac, he has just asked the most profound question ever voiced in the Old Testament: “Where is the Lamb?” All the ceremonies, all the sacrifices, all the services of the Old Testament system pointed toward the coming Lamb. But as the centuries passed and He didn’t come, the question echoed ever louder, “Where is the Lamb?” But finally, sounding loud from the New Testament comes the gracious cry, “Behold the Lamb!” And above and beyond it all reverberates heaven’s triumphant cry, “Worthy is the Lamb!” And in light of all that, Abraham’s trusting answer to Isaac takes on great significance, “Son, God will provide Himself a lamb.”

The whole lesson of this story is aptly stated in those three words: “God will provide.”

Last-minute Rescue
When finally Abraham raised the knife to sacrifice Isaac, God grabs his hand and says, “Enough! Now I know that you love Me. Now I know that your faithfulness to Me is total and complete.

“But even more important, Abraham, is that what’s really needed is not your sacrifice, but Mine; not your lamb, but Mine; not your son, but Mine.”

And Isaac? He was rescued from the pain of death by the Lamb who was to come. And you? And me? Rescued from the pain of death by the Lamb who has already come!

Will God provide? Yes! God has provided!

Maybe you are still hoping that God will provide the lamb before you tie Isaac on the altar. Maybe that typical human streak of “understand first, then obey” is still coursing through your veins. But maybe God is waiting for the test to be over before He gives you the answer. So, are you willing to act before the fact?

God Will Provide
Ultimately, this story is far more revealing about God than it is about Abraham. The climax of the story is: “So Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-Jireh, God will provide” (see Gen. 22:14). The name draws attention to God, not to Abraham, because it was on that mountain just outside Jerusalem that God provided the Lamb who has the answer to your every problem.

The answer to Abraham’s need, the answer to Isaac’s need, was the Lamb. And the Lamb is the answer for us today.

Abraham shows us that we all have one great pressing need in common: the need to base our faithfulness to God on His utter, unwavering, unfailing faithfulness toward us.

Sometimes that means obeying without understanding; being willing to act before the fact. But to those who do, God’s promise rings triumphant and true—Jehovah-Jireh! God will provide!

Randy Roberts, senior pastor, Loma Linda University Church, Loma Linda, California, U.S.A.