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Is There Anything You’d Withhold From God?

Genesis 22:1-19 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And 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 they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 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 lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

15 And 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 and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth 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.

INTRODUCTION

The main question this text forces us to consider is this: Is there anything you would refuse God? Many in this room, I know, have made significant sacrifices as followers of Jesus (financial, relational, chronological, vocational, etc.). Truly, I know that most in this room earnestly desire to surrender entirely to Jesus as His followers. And yet, I also know that everyone in this room (and everyone on this side of heaven) is still holding back in certain ways as well. Some of the ways we’re holding back we know and some we don’t. Some we’re actively fighting and others we’re tolerating. But once again this is the question before us: If directly confronted by God, is there anything you would refuse Him? Is there a line you just wouldn’t cross concerning your finances, career, marriage, kids, friends, health, home, or family?

That’s the main question. Here are the main takeaways: (1) Obedience to God is always right, (2) obedience to God is the only path to true treasure, (3) obedience must be carefully discerned, and (4) Christ obeyed because we did not. I hope to show you each of those things as we wind our way through Genesis 22. Let’s pray that God would help us see them, believe them, and as a result cry out in one loud, unified voice, “No! Every corner of this universe and every fiber of my being belong to You, oh LORD! There is nothing I would withhold from you as You are God and every one of your commands marks the path to everlasting joy!”

GENESIS REVIEW

Well, welcome back to Genesis. I had to look up the last time we were here. It’s hard to believe but it was all the way back in October (11th). In case you’re just joining us or in case you were here but your memory (like mine) doesn’t go that far back, let me quickly bring you up to speed.

  • Genesis was written by Moses and given to the Israelites when they sat on the edge of the Promised Land (many years after the events of Genesis took place). The more specific purpose was to answer a few key questions for the Israelites: Who is God, who are we, how did we get here, where are we going, and what does God want from us. The more general purpose is to answer the question of what is our place in God’s plan. In many ways, that sums up the message of the book of Genesis.
  • Since beginning Genesis (in August of 2019) we’ve worked through every verse in the first 21 chapters. Some weeks (especially in the very beginning) we only looked at a verse or two. Typically, we’d slow way down like that in order to establish a critical principle that the rest of the bible builds on (like God as the Creator-King, God’s purposes for man, the sinfulness of all mankind in Adam, and the promise of salvation through a Son of Eve). Other weeks (like this one) we worked through an entire chapter. Much of Genesis is story (narrative) and so much of its meaning comes from the stories as a whole. For that reason, it’s usually good to keep the stories together.
  • We began in the beginning, with God’s creation of the universe and everything in it. God did it by merely saying the word. It was all good. It was also all by God and for God, and therefore, it all belongs to God.
  • We saw that God created everything, but created male and female uniquely in His image and uniquely commissioned them to be fruitful and cultivate the earth. They began their lives in the Garden where God walked with them and provided for them perfectly—with food and companionship and fellowship with God.
  • However, in chapter 3 we encountered the most horrific day since creation—the day in which Adam and Eve, having surrendered to the temptation of the serpent, rebelled against God, fell from grace, fell into God’s condemnation, fell under a curse, and took all of their posterity with them. As a consequence, Adam and Eve immediately died spiritually and would eventually die physically. They were also kicked out of the Garden.
  • Horrific as it was, God did not leave mankind without hope. Also in chapter 3 God promised to one day send a Redeemer through Eve’s offspring. Glimpses of that mercy and grace are found throughout Genesis.
  • In chapter 4 we saw the first murder as one of Adam and Eve’s sons killed the other.
  • For the next several chapters, given the fact that mankind had fallen into complete and total depravity, we followed Noah through the Flood Judgment and God’s covenant with Him. In chapter 9 we saw the first clear and explicit covenant God made with man.
  • Then, in chapter 11, we saw the idolatry and treason of the Tower of Babel along with God’s resulting confusion and dispersal of mankind.
  • And from chapter 12 on we’ve been following Abraham through his divine call and covenant, through his obedience and disobedience to it, and through God’s unrelenting mercy toward Abraham.
  • Abraham, and God’s covenant promises to him (of Land and descendants), would become the central storyline of the OT. Most significantly we saw that Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.

ABRAHAM WAS TESTED BY GOD (1)

With all of that, let’s get back to the text itself. The opening words of our passage are rather jolting. 1 After these things God tested Abraham…

If we’re being honest, something doesn’t seem quite right about that, does it? Testing His people doesn’t seem like something God should do. And yet that’s exactly what this text says God did. There are a few specific things for us to keep in mind as we consider this.

Tempting vs. Testing

First, there’s a difference between testing and tempting. Tempting entices one to sin with evil intent. Testing, in this sense, examines the sincerity of one’s faith/trust/hope in God with a righteous aim. God does test, but as James 1:12-13 teaches, He never tempts.

James 1:12-13 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

Again, God tests, but does not tempt. At least some of our initial bristling at the opening words of our text will likely fade when we acknowledge this distinction.

Abraham Didn’t Know this Was a Test

The second thing to consider is that while we know from the outset that this was a “test” for Abraham, Abraham didn’t. Again, as the narrator of the story Moses fills us in from the beginning, but Abraham didn’t know that at the time. This is important because it’s almost always the case with us as well. Rarely, if ever, do we know on the front end that God is testing us. To miss this is to think that our lives (and God’s tests in them) are fundamentally different. They’re not. Abraham went in blind just as we often do (in some ways even more blind since he didn’t have his own story or the many others after it in the bible as we do). Recognizing this helps us apply his passage.

God Always Tests for Good

Third, when God does test us it is always for our good. We see this a bit earlier in James.

James 1:2-4 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials [tests] of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full [God-intended] effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The specific good worked out through God-appointed trials/tests mentioned by James is our sanctification. God uses tests in our lives to make us more like Jesus in our steadfastness, holiness, and completeness. Again, God never tests His people for anything other than our good.

God’s Tests Are for Us

Last, to get a little ahead of ourselves, after Abraham’s test in v.12 we read the angel of the LORD saying, “… now I know that you fear God…”. But did God really need this test to know Abraham’s heart? Of course not. The LORD knows our every thought before we do and better than we do (Psalm 94:11; 1 Chronicles 28:9).

The last thing to keep in mind, then, is that God’s tests are not for God’s sake but for ours. In this way, God’s tests—including this one with Abraham—are actually gifts from God. God’s tests help us know where we really stand in our faith even as they strengthen us in it. God already knows everything about us perfectly. He knows the measure of the sincerity of our faith even when we don’t. God already knows how we will respond even when we don’t. Again, God’s tests help us know the depth of our faith and help it to grow.

Is this how you understand the tests of God in your life? Do you lean into them as the blessing they are or do you try to get out from them even if it means getting out even before God is finished with His work in you?

ABRAHAM’S TEST (1-2)

With all of that, what was the nature of God’s test for Abraham? The beginning of v.1 tells us that God tested Abraham, but how specifically did He do so?

1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

How’s that for a test? Even on the surface it’s overwhelming. And yet the closer we look the more challenging it becomes. Let me show you what I mean.

Offer Your Child

For many of us it’s hard to imagine obeying God if He were to say, “Go offer yourself as a sacrifice. Surrender your life to me right now.” That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Well, if that’s the case, how much harder would it be to hear the words, “Go offer your child. Sacrifice him/her”? Can you imagine it Grace? What would go through your mind?! But there’s more.

Offer Your Only Child

The text intentionally builds in revealing the test’s severity. It moves from “take your son” to “your only son”. (Remember that Abraham had just lost Ishmael.) Is there anything you’d withhold from God?

Offer Your Only Child, Isaac

The text builds even more. Abraham was not called to sacrifice some nameless child. God commanded him to offer his only son, Isaac. Is there anything you’d withhold from God?

Offer Your Only Child Whom You Love

It builds again. Not only was Abraham called to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, the text also says he was to sacrifice his only son whom he loved. Just like God didn’t call Abraham to sacrifice a nameless child, neither did He call Abraham to sacrifice a child that Abraham was somehow indifferent to. God called him to sacrifice one of his highest loves. Is there anything you’d withhold from God?

Offer Your Only Child Whom You Love to Flint and Fire

Again, if you have not already put yourself in Abraham’s shoes, you’re not reading this text rightly even as it continues to build. We’re meant to ask ourselves what we’d do in this situation. Would we obey even this? Is there a line God could cross? What if He called you, as He did Abraham, to set flint and fire to your child? To kill him with a knife and then set him on fire?! Again, it’s one thing to let a child go as Abraham did Ishmael. It’s another thing entirely to participate in his/her death. Is there anything you’d withhold from God?

Offer Your Only Child of the Promise

There’s more still. Implied in all of this, perhaps most severely of all, God called on Abraham to sacrifice the child of the promise. It would have been bad enough for Abraham to have to personally sacrifice his child, his only child, Isaac, his only child that he loved, but to have to give up the promised land and nation along with it?! This was certainly a test. Is there anything you’d withhold from God? Your life? The life of your beloved child? Your greatest hopes and dreams? That which you are sure it is God’s will for you to have?

ABRAHAM’S RESPONSE (3-10)

Well, what would Abraham do? Would he withhold these things from God? In one way or another, the rest of our text unpacks the answer to that question. There are four particular aspects of Abraham’s response that I want to draw your attention to.

Abraham Asked No Questions

It is truly remarkable that in light of the severity of the test put before Abraham, the text does not record a single question or any sort of clarification or pushback at all from Abraham. God made it clear what Abraham was to do. Because of that, any questions on Abraham’s part would have simply been delay tactics. The only question that mattered wasn’t for God but for Abraham: would he obey or not? That’s the first thing to see.

Abraham Obeyed Right Away

The second is Abraham’s response. Instead of questioning, delaying, or outright disobeying…

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him…

Where God commands, His people must obey immediately. We don’t need to know why. We don’t need to understand. We need to obey now. Without question Abraham obeyed and he did so right away.

Is there anything you would withhold from God? Your unquestioning, undelayed obedience?

Abraham Obeyed in Worship

The third thing to see is that although it must have been hard, this was going to be no mere act of cold, calculated obedience for Abraham. It was going to be an act of worship.

5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

Don’t miss this, Grace. Abraham obeyed in worship. He obeyed as an expression of his belief in the unending glory and worth and authority of God. He obeyed as an act of heavy-gladness in all that God was for him. He obeyed in worship. What form did his worship take?

6 And 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…9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

It would take the form, once again, of slaughtering his son! Is there anything you’d withhold from God? Your worshipful obedience even when it’s unimaginably costly?

Abraham Obeyed in Faith

Finally, we see that Abraham obeyed in faith. God commanded Abraham to go to a land (the land of Moriah) and await further instructions. This was, the text tells us, a three day journey. Again, though he didn’t even really know where he was going, without question Abraham trusted God and obeyed. He obeyed in faith.

We might ask what exactly his faith was in. What, specifically, did he trust in God for? We learn the key to all of this from the NT, in the book of Hebrews. That is, Hebrews teaches us exactly how Abraham was able to obey in these ways.

Hebrews 11:17-19 19 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead…

As we’ll soon see, Abraham was somewhat off in his thinking. God was never going to allow Abraham to kill Isaac (so Isaac would not need to be raised from the dead). And yet the point remains that even though Abraham didn’t know exactly how God would do it, he believed whole-heartedly that God would keep His promises to Abraham; that God would keep His covenant; that through Isaac God would raise up a mighty nation.

In other words, Abraham obeyed in faith. Abraham did what God required in worship because he was 100% confident in God’s commitment to keep His promises. In this remarkable act of faith Abraham was serving as a model for all who would come after him of the kind of faith that pleases God and that God accepts. This is what true, saving faith looks like, Grace. This is the kind of faith that pleases God. Look straight at it. And ask, is there anything you’d withhold from God? Belief in His promises without all the details and at the highest price imaginable?

GOD’S GRADE AND RESPONSE (11-19)

So, would God receive Abraham’s obedience? Would Abraham pass God’s test? It is with the fire ready, Abraham’s arm raised above his head, knife aimed, about to deal the death blow to his son, his only son, Isaac, the son whom he loved, that we come to v.11 and the verdict of God.

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 lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

God Passed Abraham

Abraham passed the test! The test was to see whether or not he truly feared God (that is, whether or not he truly believed what God had told him about God), and the refusal to withhold even his son proved that he did. God accepted his obedience, his sacrifice, his worship.

What follows is one of the most remarkable passages in the OT. It’s one of the clearest pictures of the gospel we get before the incarnation. It is the real reason God would accept Abraham’s faith as righteousness.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

The key to understanding the whole passage, the reason faith “works”, and even the gospel itself, is the fact that God provided what God required. “God will provide” was Abraham’s line to his son. “The LORD will provide” became the name of the place of the alter for truly God did provide. The reason Abraham’s faith was acceptable was because, although God required a sacrifice, and although Isaac would do, God instead provided it in a ram.

God Rewarded Abraham

But more than merely accepting Abraham’s faith as a worthy sacrifice, more even than providing the actual sacrifice, God rewarded Abraham on account of his faith and God’s provision.

16 …because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

God here confirmed the covenant and more (”your offspring shall possess the gates of his enemies”) to Abraham. Remember, Grace, Abraham didn’t actually do anything here. He was willing, but he didn’t actually do anything. He believed God and God credited it to him as righteousness. Amazing grace.

FOUR LESSONS ON OBEDIENCE TO GOD

From all of this I want to end with the four lessons that we began with. As you continue to contemplate the question of whether or not there is anything you’d withhold from God, remember these things.

Obedience Is Always Right

Obedience to God is always right. Even when it looks foolish, even when it is illegal, and even when it costs everything, it is right. God never commands anything except that which is truly good—better than every alternative. Grace, whatever choice of obedience you face, then, know that obedience is always right.

Obedience Is Always the Only Path to Treasure

Second, and you have to learn this, Grace, the path of obedience might lead through trial and even loss, but it always leads to the greatest treasure. Indeed, it is always the only path to true treasure. The reason we sometimes disobey God is because we’ve bought into the demonic lie that there’s greater treasure in our disobedience than in our obedience. We often can’t imagine a treasure that includes the loss of a child or the scorn of a friend or the forsaking of the known or comfortable. And yet, the greatest treasure, the only true treasure, is always and only found on the other side of obedience to God.

Obedience Must Be Carefully Discerned

The third main takeaway is this: obedience must be carefully discerned. Obeying something that God didn’t actually command, no matter how zealously, does not please God. We simply can’t make up commands of God to obey and find God’s pleasure. For that reason we need to be careful to discern God’s commands from His word.

Sometimes knowing what to obey is clear (as was the case for Abraham in this passage). Other times, it’s not so clear (as is often the case in our daily lives). I’m not sure I’ve ever lived through a year where the latter was more the case. I can’t tell you how many times in my home, in this church, among the elders, and with friends I’ve wanted desperately to know the will of God so I could obey it (I think no matter the cost), but felt as if it eluded me.

God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and His people as the three main tools for discerning God’s will. And yet, because of sin, it’s still not always clear to us. Don’t misunderstand me, Grace, God’s Word is entirely sufficient and perfectly clear for every matter of godliness. But sin in various forms (selfishness, pride, laziness, false teachers, confusion, etc.) often produces a spiritual fog that makes it hard to know what obedience truly looks like.

Obedience is always right, it is always the only path to treasure, but it must be carefully discerned.

Christ Obeyed Because We Have Not

Finally, then, Jesus Christ obeyed because we have not. The good news of the gospel, hinted at in Genesis 22, is made clear in Christ. God truly did provide for us what He requires of us.

In Genesis 22 the substitute sacrifice was a ram. In the Gospels, the substitute sacrifice was a Lamb.

In Genesis 22 it was the father Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God. On Calvary it was the Father God who willing to sacrifice His only Son for the disobedience of others.

In Genesis the sacrifice required wood to be laid upon the son. In the NT the sacrifice required the Son to be laid upon the wood.

In Genesis there was death for three days before new life. In the NT, in Christ, we see the same.

It’s impossible to miss the gospel parallels if we have eyes to see, Grace.

And so we stand under that same test today. Hate everyone and everything compared to Jesus (Luke 14:26). Surrender all. Obey God in everything. Withhold nothing. Offer your highest earthly possessions and treasures with flint and fire. Do so in the knowledge that it is the path, the only path, to true, everlasting treasure. And know full well that God has provided for us what He requires of us in Jesus. Look to Him today, in faith, and know the fullness of life in fellowship with God that you were made for and (even if you don’t know it yet) long for above all. He will receive you today.