A few weeks ago our college students were sweating out their final exams. It was testing time and testing time is often traumatic.
I still remember the lists I made for my college Ancient History final and the acrostics of A= Alexander the Great who lived from....and B= Byzantine culture from.
In fact we still laugh about that college ancient history final which I sweated over for days. I had taken all the important information from the course and placed it on a recording tape. Then I would turn the tape on and have it playing for hours at a time. I went to bed with the tape playing right alongside the bed...much to my wife's delight.
And then test day came and I faced the final exam.
I remember another test I took when I was 35 years old. I spent hours and hours practicing and preparing for that test. It was the test for my motorcycle license. I showed up on test day and sat in this line of people with mopeds, motor scooters, and little 150 kawasaki. I found out that these people all borrowed the smallest motorcycle they could find because it was easier to pass the test with a small bike. And there I sat with my 750 Honda. But the preparation paid off and I passed the test even though I brushed the curb while doing the figure 8's.
Life is full of tests, isn't it?
At times God's people are tested by the world around them. This was also true for Jesus who was often tested by the Pharisees. There are also the kinds of tests which reveal our true heart condition. The Psalmist prayed "test me O Lord and try me." The scriptures tell us that when we stand before the Lord our works will be tested by fire. Paul wrote words of correction to the Corinthian church to see if they would stand the test of being judged by the truth and be obedient.
We are told in Galations 6:4 to test our actions. Paul teaches us that those being considered for church leadership must first be tested before being chosen as deacons.
We are told that God tested the children of Israel in the desert in order to see if their hearts would be loyal to Him. We know what that testing revealed.
James tells us that the testing of our faith produces patience and perseverance.
And we are warned over and over in scripture not to test God except in one particular area of life. Do you know what that is? In Malachi 3:10 we read, "Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty. In regards to the tithe. It is a test having to do with God's ability to provide life sustenance.
Abraham's faith was tested by God...and he passed.
Abraham was tested by God and commanded to give up...to offer up his son Isaac. We can only barely imagine the horror he must have felt and the anguish in his heart as he wrestled with the rationale of such a command.
What would you be thinking if you had been Abraham? He must have thought: "But he is the son of promise, the one through whom God is going to fulfill His promise. Surely there must be some mistake. It must be a bad dream; its the silly notions of an old man suffering from senility. It is a foolish thought and I must get it out of my head. It can't possibly be true."
Certainly his wife Sarah would have been glad to help knock such foolish ideas out of Abraham's head!
Yet the command persisted. And so Abraham made a choice and the bible says that "by faith he offered up Isaac as a sacrifice."
In God's eyes the sacrifice was carried out because God saw that Abraham had made the decision. He would obey God no matter what the price, no matter what the sacrifice. The proof of Abraham's faith was his willingness to give back to God everything he had... everything which God had given him...including the son of promise. What a test!
The scriptures teach us that everything we have comes from the hand of God. Our faith is tested when God asks for something back.
Do you understand that that is why God asks us to test Him in the tithe? It is one of the things that God is very clear about that He wants back from our lives. And God has the right to ask for anything back as a sacrifice because He is the Giver.
What kind of things might God ask you for? Think about it for a moment. Over the course of your life what has God asked for and how have you responded? (congregation response)
[a son or daughter in full time pastoral, missions, etc. work. Your savings or retirement fund. Your vehicle, hospitality, time, etc.]
What will you say when God asks for your son or your daughter? (My dream was for him to be a lawyer, surgeon, etc.)
It may be that like Abraham, you have had a dream or promise which has been years in the making and now the dream has been realized and God is saying, "Give it up".
I have had the honor of serving on a committee which interviews those applying for ministerial credentials. I have observed the kind of faith which Abraham displayed in action. When you sit and talk with people in their 30's and 40's who are giving up their security and making a vocational change in order to obey God and respond to His call on their lives, you are seeing faith in action.
When people are giving up their dream house, their successful business ventures and saying, "It's only a house, they are only things. We want to do the will of God no matter what the price."; you are seeing people who are taking the test of faith and passing.
Some people's hearts get angry with God and stubborn with God when they discover the price that must be paid to be faithful to God and obedient as His servant.
Abraham made the mental choice. In his mind he gave up his son. In his mind he said, "yes" to God.
The proof of Abraham's faith was his willingness to give back to God everything he had. And Abraham not only said, "yes"...he went through with all the plans in preparation to carrying out the "yes" decision he had made. Note in Genesis 22 what Abraham did in order to carry out the command. He prepared for a made a journey, he brought wood, fire, rope, a knife; and he built an altar upon arriving on the mountain.
Abraham's faith was tested by God...and he passed!
But why the test? Surely the God who knows all of our tomorrows knew what was in Abraham's heart and knew what decision Abraham would make. Surely God was not surprised by the result of the test. So, why the test?
Who is the test for, who does the test benefit...the teacher or the student? Well my ancient history professor is dead and gone. But it is my college transcript that has the final grade on it.
The test revealed what was in me to me. I discovered that I knew enough about ancient history to get an A on the final exam. If I had quit the course...if I had not studied deciding that I couldn't pass the test anyway...if I had rationalized that the course was too hard and the teacher unfair...what would I have to show today? What would I have revealed about myself?
Do you see that the tests of life are used by God to reveal to us what is true about us...to show us what is in us. The results can be good or bad, yet God is working to correct, encourage, strengthen, and equip us to do His will.
Some of you are going through testing times in your life. What have you discovered about yourself?
Sometimes we discover that having our own way is very important to us. Sometimes we discover that we don't have all the wisdom and strength we thought we had. Sometimes we discover that the things of this world mean more to us than being faithful to God.
Thank God that in His mercy he lets us fail some tests in order to show us our great need! Thank God that redemption is for us as God's people and if we will bring what we learn about ourselves to God...there is grace to help us in our time of need!
At other times we discover that God has produced a perseverance and endurance in us that we did not know was there. We go through loss, suffering, broken dreams, physical hardships, financial reverses and instead of quitting or avoiding the pain...we face it and see God's hand bringing us through...we see the test results and we get a glimpse of the good work that God has done within us.
Then we say: "Thank you Lord for the good work you are doing in me and the fruit you are bringing forth from my life. Thank you for showing me the new person I am becoming in Christ Jesus...a person who passes the tests I would have failed at one time in the past."
There is one more thing we need to see about Abraham's faith...the kind of faith that can pass a hard, difficult, traumatic test. The kind of faith that obeys. A faith that proves itself with a willingness to sacrifice.
I see something that is very true about this kind of faith. It is not a thoughtless faith based on feeling. It is a faith that thinks and reasons...but it is not the human reasoning of common sense.
Some folks call this the power of positive thinking, or the power of possibility thinking, or power thoughts.
The reason I do not like such descriptions of faith is that they often leave out God as the source of right and faith-filled thinking.
Let's call it "faith thinking" or "biblical thinking". For there is a way which faith thinks and there is a way in which unbelief thinks.
The thinking of unbelief is one we are more familiar with because it is rooted in the common sense of our world. Unbelief is the kind of thinking that trusts in our ability to figure out what makes sense. It is exalting my mind and thinking abilities to the level of deity. So I make my decisions, not on what God has said...but on what common sense dictates. This is how the carnal mind works.
How does faith think? Remember that Abraham did not have a bible. But what he did have was a history of walking with God. He had learned some things about this God. This God was not bound by man's thinking or what man called common sense. In fact there was nothing common about this God at all.
So Abraham, in faith, does some reasoning. Verse 19 describes the process of what I call biblical reasoning.
With the limited knowledge he has about God Abraham makes an astounding faith-filled obedient decision.
What do I know about God? I know He brought me out of the idolatry of my father's house. He led me on an adventure into a new land. He made a promise to me of offspring that cannot be numbered. He brought about the miracle of conception and birth for me and my wife in our old age.
What has God told me? So, faith reviews the promises. Faith reviews the covenant. Faith thinks it all through and says: "If you God can do this...and if my God has said this...then my God can also do this." The conclusion of this reasoning is that God must have a plan. And God did have a plan. We see it revealed in Genesis 22:13-14.
It's almost like an algebra problem where you discover the value of X because of what you already know.
So what did Abraham reason in faith? This is faith thinking in testing times.
His reasoning must have gone something like this: "The God who gave me this son as the fulfillment of His promise must have a plan for him because I have been promised grandchildren. Therefore, if I offer him up to God, God must have a plan for bringing him back. Therefore, God must be able to raise the dead."
Now up to this point in human history nobody had ever been raised from the dead. But Abraham did some figuring in faith and made up his mind that God could do even that.
Believing that God could do the impossible, Abraham did the unthinkable and obeyed.
The writer to the Hebrews is issuing a great challenge here to us as new covenant believers. If Abraham could believe in the resurrection without any evidence except what he knew of God... then surely with the evidence we have...and the evidence these first century believers had....surely we can believe God and in faith obey Him.
And so Abraham acted in belief. And know this church....when we act in faith, God gets into the act!
I have a question for us to ask ourselves today: "Do I have a thinking faith for life's testing times?"
God wants to renew our minds so that we can think with faith instead of with unbelief. God wants to teach us a new way to think using Biblical reasoning so that the carnal mind does not rule us but rather the mind of the Spirit or a spiritual mind rules our lives.
The tests of life will show you what is in you. The test results reveal our present level of faith showing us how far God has brought us and how far we still have to go.
Abraham passed his test. He had a thinking faith for testing times. That's what we need! Now, it's test time! You are about to leave this room. You will walk from this protected spiritual atmosphere into the tests of life. Today, tomorrow, this week...you will take the test.
Are you ready? Let's ask God to help us prepare!
Other sermons by Pastor John.