Slavery and Sacrifice
June 28, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 22:1-14 Romans 6:12-23
There is an old joke that says, “Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”
We’re good at telling God what we think that he should be doing and how he should be doing it rather than accepting the God is God and we are not. We get stuck in our understanding of scripture, and in our interpretation of modern culture, all because we expect God to do, and to say, what we think God ought to be saying rather than conforming our lives to the things that God actually said. But as discouraging as that might be, we are comforted, at least a little, by knowing that we are not the first people to do that.
In the story of Genesis, more than once, Abraham trusted God in a limited capacity. What I mean is, despite God’s promises to care for, and protect Abraham and Sarah, on several occasions, not least of which was when he made a baby with his servant, Abraham tried to use his own resources and ingenuity to fix God’s problems rather than fully trusting that God would fulfill his promises. And although God is omniscient, which means all-knowing, perhaps it is this habit of “helping God out” and not fully trusting that makes God test Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:1-14.
22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “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.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
For most of his life, God has asked Abraham to trust him and we remember Abraham because of his great faith and trust, except that despite his trust in God, too often Abraham tried to stack the deck and help God out. But now, God wants to know, maybe God wants Abraham to know, or God wants future generations, us, to know that Abraham has finally put his whole faith and trust in God… without holding back. God asks Abraham to sacrifice the one son that he has left, the one son that would be the father of God’s people, the son of Sarah, who was now even five or six years older than she was when Isaac was born. In asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God is really asking him to sacrifice everything. Every hope, every promise, everything. We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind. It was against God’s own law to sacrifice another human being. Sarah was now older than she was when we knew that she was old and “far past the age of childbearing” and Abraham was probably now over one hundred years old. How was God going to keep his promises if Isaac was dead? How could Isaac become the father of God’s people? None of it made any sense.
But Abraham trusted.
Abraham did what God told him to do and God worked it all out. And in the end, the thing that Abraham sacrificed on that mountain wasn’t Isaac, but it was his own, last, tight grip on control. Abraham finally let go of himself, his need to be sure, and his need to have a backup plan. Abraham sacrificed an offering of self, and finally put his whole faith and trust in God.
If we’re honest, we will admit that we’re like Abraham. We like to be sure. Trusting God is unsettling because there is too much that we don’t know. But that’s kind of the point of trust, isn’t it? But the thing is, human beings always seem to want to put their faith in something and trust in something, even if that something isn’t God. And it is that habit of ours that makes the story of Abraham real and relevant to us three thousand years later. In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We all have a choice.
Paul says that every human being eventually chooses to enslave themselves to someone or to something and our natural desires, given free reign over us, will drive us into slavery to our own selfishness, greed, pleasure, and wickedness. But, like Abraham, God is asking us to make a sacrifice, to offer ourselves, to offer our desires, dreams, hopes, our everything, to him in exchange for our rescue from death, our second chance, and the new life that we have been given. Rather than choosing to be slaves to greed, or slaves to selfishness, or slaves to greed, money, and pleasure, God calls us to choose different kind of slavery altogether. God calls us to give ourselves to him, to put our whole faith and our whole trust in him, so that we become slaves to righteousness, slaves to doing what is right, rather than slaves to wickedness and sin.
The sacrifice in the Genesis story was never really about Isaac. It was all about Abraham’s stubborn grip on control.
We are all confronted with the same question that confronted Abraham. Like Abraham, God is asking each of us where our ultimate allegiance lies. Is our allegiance on self-reliance and control? Do we swear our allegiance to the security of our bank and investment balances? Have we put our faith and trust in politicians, political parties, nations, and powerful armies, and overwhelming weaponry? Will we enslave ourselves to selfishness and sin? Will we keep our grip on control and hold too tightly to our doubts?
Or will we trust God?
May God grant us the grace, and the courage, to surrender ourselves and become slaves to doing right.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/epselMx9Ao4
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