By Frank Pollard (Used with permission. More of Pollard’s sermons can be found on the Internet at sermonsearch.com)
Summary: We are not told of Abraham’s anguish—only of his obedience. A faith to sacrifice must have a determination to obey. Obeying God at times may not seem to be the most expedient deed.
Trust and Obey (Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #590)
Narcissus, son of a river god and of a nymph, was known for his beautiful face. It was prophesied that if he never looked upon his own features, Narcissus would have a long life. One day, however, Narcissus looked at his reflection in the water, and fell in love with his own reflection. So focused did he become on himself, that he missed the length and fullness of life. From this Greek mythology comes the word narcissism meaning an excessive preoccupation with oneself.
From Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then to Canaan, Abraham traveled with God, showered with blessings from heaven. Although he struggled many times to completely trust in God, Abraham grew to become a friend of God’s. With the ultimate miracle, the birth of Isaac, Abraham had a degree of security. The question at this point in Abraham’s life was, Will he fall in love with himself and what he possesses? On the basis of this question, comes the supreme test of Abraham’s faith. God asked Abraham for his son. God asked Abraham to offer Him the ultimate sacrifice.
Sacrifice begins with affection
God’s promise of an heir had been honored. Ishmael had been sent away, leaving Abraham with Isaac alone. With a sense of triumphant faith, he looked to the future. Abraham was at a time when it seemed like the struggles of faith were over, and life could move along its cool, sequestered path. Then came the supreme test of Abraham’ s life. It involved, not only a father’s love for his son, but also his faith in God’s promise. God tested Abraham (Gen 22:1). Satan tests us to prove us evil; God tests us to prove us genuine. God wanted to prove the genuineness of Abraham’s affection for Him. The Lord’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac related to the time and religious environment in which Abraham lived. In a culture where the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice in their worship of the fire god, Molech, God’s test to Abraham seemed to be asking the patriarch if he loved Jehovah as much as the pagans loved their god. As soon as God gave Abraham the command to go and sacrifice Isaac, he made plans to do as the Lord said. Nothing could have prompted Abraham to make this type of sacrifice other than great love for God. Abraham’s faith was capable of sacrifice. Throughout Abraham’s life, his love for God was visible. Isaac was all he had. To sacrifice him would be to give up his present and his future. No other test of love could have been harder than this one. Sacrificial living begins with affection for God.
The capacity to sacrifice
No one is prepared to sacrifice unless they have great love for the Lord. In a similar test of Abraham’s faith, Jesus tested the love of Simon Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter went back fishing. The Lord sought out Peter and questioned him Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? (Jn 21:15). The expression more than these could have referred to several matters. It could have referred to the fishing nets or to the disciples. Regardless of what Jesus was referring to, He was testing Simon Peter to discover his genuine affection. If Simon Peter did not love the Lord with all of his heart, soul, and mind, he could not be a worthy disciple. Faith that has the capacity to sacrifice is one that has a distinctive love and affection for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Abraham proved that he loved Jehovah as much as the Canaanites loved Molech. Being willing to sacrifice Isaac was difficult, but it was not impossible for Abraham because he loved God, and none of the Lord’s commands were too grievous or burdensome. The primary element of a sacrificial life is abounding love. Another equally important element is obedience to God. Throughout Abraham’s lifetime, God gave him various commands—Leave Ur; circumcise every male among you; sacrifice your son!
A determination to obey
Abraham’s biography can be summed up very simply: God commanded and Abraham obeyed. Even when God confronted Abraham with the extreme command to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham obeyed. We are not told of Abraham’s anguish—only of his obedience. A faith to sacrifice must have a determination to obey. Obeying God at times may not seem to be the most expedient deed. Without a doubt Abraham must have questioned God’s seemingly unreasonable command that was a contradiction to the promise of a heir and a family as innumerable as the sands of the sea. But regardless of how paradoxical God’s command was, Abraham obeyed. A faith that is willing to sacrifice must hear God’s word and venture to do what the Lord commands. Remember God always seeks the best for his subjects, and our best response is obedience to his commands.
Come, follow me
Without obedience to God, one cannot have the faith to make sacrifice. This fact can be seen in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The Lord selected twelve apostles. Knowing that following Him would involve sacrifice, He sought to prepare them with lessons in obedience. On one particular occasion some of Jesus’ disciples had gone fishing. They toiled all night, but caught nothing. Jesus then gave a strange command: Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch (Lk 5:4). Simon Peter criticized this command: Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything (Lk 5:5). Nonetheless, Peter, along with the other disciples, obeyed the Lord. Although the result was an unbelievable amount of fish, the number of fish they caught was not the issue. Jesus used this opportunity to teach them obedience. He gave an unusual command. Yet obedience to the Lord’s command produced a dedicated response on the part of the disciples. So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him (Lk 5:11). Jesus taught them that whatever he said was the best for them, and they learned to obey. Because Jesus taught them to obey, the apostles were capable of sacrificing.
The Lord’s command to sacrifice often invokes both anguish of soul and profound questions about the future. But we must cling to the promise, believing that God, in His own way and wisdom, has our lives in full control. Just as Abraham was about to let the heavy blade fall upon the fragile body of his son, the angel of the Lord stayed his hand and prevented the fatal act. Do not lay a hand on the boy . . . . Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son (Gen 22:12). Abraham’s trust in the Lord was realized.
Oftentimes the act of faith means acting beyond one’s knowledge. Faith to sacrifice means going farther than we can see or understand. It means to live by faith and not sight. It means trusting God when we cannot understand. Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1).