No comments yet

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups – Abraham and Isaac

Sunday School for Grown Ups

Week 4: Abraham and Isaac
Pastor Rick Henderson                June 22-23, 2024


SERIES THESIS: Let’s WONDER like children and READ like adults.

This [WONDER] should not be taken to mean that we should think like children. It does mean that we want to engage with wide-eyed curiosity. And this [READ] doesn’t mean that we should be dismissive of the supernatural, trying to find natural explanations. Not at all. Our minds should be fully engaged, open to learn, open to discover, and not at all afraid of any question from any angle. Being an adult includes wanting to learn what is true AND wanting to unlearn what isn’t true.

The story that we’re going to survey today has sparked lots of questions, for lots of people, for a long time. I want to start with two.


  • Is God sometimes cavalier, perhaps incompetent, when it comes to people’s experience of hurts, fears, anxieties, and trauma?

Some people read Old Testament stories like the one we’re going to read today, and conclude, “God is sometimes cruel.” I could be describing what you think. If I am, I’m glad you’re here. For some of us in this room, that is an urgent question. The reason that it’s urgent to some of you isn’t at all because you think he’s cruel. You’re convinced he’s not. But someone who you care about has come to that conclusion and it would mean the world to you to know how to respond well and interact well with the doubts and skepticism they have.

And then there are some of us in the room who are feeling urgency about this because it’s personal. You look at this question and it seems like it’s written with you in mind. Hurt. Fear. Anxiety. Trauma. Some of us are saying to ourselves right now, one or more of those words describe me. And there may be no more important question than this. Can you trust God with that? Is he the most competent, the most compassionate, the most careful, and the most capable—or is your hope and your confidence slipping? If you are feeling wobbly today, I’m glad you’re here.

  • Does God prefer blind faith?

How would you answer this question? Is the best kind of faith, the faith that God wants most from you, belief and obedience without knowing why? What do you think? Maybe I’m more curious about how you live out your answer to this question. What do your trust habits look like? Does trust ever come before knowing why or does it tend to come only after knowing why?

Grab a Bible and open to Genesis 22. The majority of what we’re going to talk about is from that chapter. And yet, we’re also going to have to cover things that span from Genesis 12 to 22.

If you’ve been tracking with this series, we are moving beyond Genesis 1-11 today. The genre and structure are now shifting from poetry to narrative. That means that the language is less imagistic. If that word is new for you, go back to the first couple of messages. Though the language is less imagistic, certain patterns and themes continue to repeat. Be on the lookout for them. Maybe make a note to yourself when you spot them.

GENESIS 22:1-10 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 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.” 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.” 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, 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?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 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. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

I know we’re stopping at a climactic moment, just go with it. What I’m going to ask next may be much harder for some of us. Can we all do our best to put ourselves in the head space of hearing this story for the very first time? Maybe you are hearing it for the first time. If we were all hearing this story for the first time ever, our curiosity would be on overdrive and our questions would fire at a fast and furious pace. Let’s see if we can crank that up and slow it down at the same time.

First, what’s the deal with God testing Abraham? Does God need to manufacture conflict to see if we will emerge faithful enough? Do you think that God ever tests you so he can know if you’re good enough or trustworthy enough? Let’s think through what we’ve covered so far in this series.

God created the world and the universe without any help. He brought order and goodness. Not only is he powerful, but he is mind behind all the intelligence we observe. Also, there is nothing that escapes his attention. He always knows what’s going on. He knows the future. And he knows what’s in people’s hearts—all people’s hearts. Whatever is going on with this test, it’s not so that God can learn or discover anything. This is for the benefit and development of who Abraham is becoming. And who Isaac is becoming. And the becoming of everyone who watched this unfold.

That’s an easy one. The next one isn’t. Is this story an example of divine incompetence? Maybe what God was intending to do was good, but his method was reckless and cruel? Did God really orchestrate a scenario in which a little boy was terrorized by the belief that his dad was going to murder him? Let’s recap.

Abraham, Isaac, and his servants traveled to this mountain. The servants were told stay behind. What did he say to the servants? We are going to go worship and we will both return.

I think I’m forgetting a detail. Who was carrying the wood? Isaac is carrying the wood.

What are the implications of that? Where are the dads at?

Message Notes: Sunday School for Grown Ups - Abraham and Isaac

Have you ever been that guy? This is what you look like going to the park or to the beach. Who is it that carries the heavy stuff? Isaac is carrying a load of wood up a mountain. However old he is, he’s not a little boy. He’s a strapping teenager at the youngest and 30 at the oldest. He could very likely be in his 20s. However we think of this we should not envision a child.

On the way up, Isaac asks, “So, where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham’s answer, “The Lord will provide.” So up to the top they keep going. Abraham constructed an altar. Isaac is then bound and placed on the altar.

This is another pause moment. You can’t take this seriously and seriously think that Abraham overpowered his son and tied him up. Now, let’s feel whatever we feel as we try to transport ourselves to this moment. Feeling and thinking are both part of reading like adults. Abraham is fully trusting, even to the point of raising the knife. Isaac is fully trusting, even to the point of placing himself under the knife. My question is, are they blindly trusting? What is going on that Abraham would say yes to this extreme request?

We need to know the backstory.

Starting in Genesis 12, God makes a promise to Abraham that he will be a father of nations and even kings. He was told to look into the night sky and count the stars. Abraham, the people that come from you will be like that. And it’s not just that countless masses will trace their way back to you. But from you, through your descendants all of humanity will be blessed. This was a promise that God was going to do something cosmically important through Abraham’s family.

There were a couple of big obstacles. Both Abraham and his wife were old. And his wife was unable to have to kids. Years are speeding by. God hadn’t yet come through on his promise and no one could imagine that elderly woman would become a mother for the first time. This is where you need to take some time read Genesis 15.

God made clear that this was more than a promise. It was a binding, unbreakable covenant that he was making with Abraham. You will have a son. You will have countless descendants. The whole world will be blessed from your line.

Then God said, bring me a heifer and a goat and a dove and pigeon. Cut them and half and lay them on the ground. Then God appeared to him in way that defies description. The best we can do is that it was a flaming cauldron of lightening, that then passed between the butchered animals.

Why is that relevant?

This act was a vivid, compelling, and terrifying way to define the relationship. When God said, “bring me a heifer.” No further instruction was needed. Abram intuitively, immediately knew to hack ‘em up. We know from history and archeology that this was the way that agreements were made in the Ancient Near East.

When two parties entered into a major agreement, they would cut the animals in half and then they would walk between the butchered animals as a way of saying, “If I don’t do what I agreed to do. If I don’t keep the promise I made to you, may the same thing that was done to the animals be done to me. I’m putting myself on the line. My promise is backed up with my life.”

In Abram’s day, in the Ancient Near East, this was the common way that two kings entered into an agreement. But, whenever one king was more powerful, more dominant than another king, most often it was just the weaker king who walked through. Only the weaker party put his life on the line.

There’s no way that Abraham could have expected what was coming next. Instead of both of them passing through, instead of just Abraham being told to walk through, God passed through by himself. This is God’s way of saying to Abraham, “I’m going to pass through for both of us. If I don’t do what I promised, may what happened to those animals be done to me. And if you aren’t able to do what you promised, may what happened to those animals be done to me as well.” Whoa! Think about that.

This is God saying to Abraham, “This is the definition of our relationship. This is what it means to be in covenant. Even if you won’t, I will. Even if you can’t, I will. The weight of this relationship will never rest on your ability to perform. The weight of our relationship and the weight of the promises I’ve made is on me, even if it costs me my life.”

I’m sure there was a lot that Abraham didn’t know, but he knew that. God would rather die than break his promise.

One of the reasons that soldiers, first responders, and others who operate in dangerous circumstances develop such strong bonds with each other is that they know the man next them would rather die than let them down. When you know that, is trusting that person reasonable or unreasonable? Ladies, if you knew that your man would rather die than break his vows to you, is trusting him reasonable or unreasonable? The most unreasonable thing you could do then is withhold trust. Let’s write this down.

Faith is not in COMPETITION with reason. It’s the CONSEQUENCE of reason—trusting in what is true.

God never asks us to trust him without reasons for doing so. Trusting him is never unreasonable.

Now, it’s years later. God has kept his promise. Isaac is grown and strong. No other kids are going to be coming along. How can Abraham say, “Both my son and I will return.” How can Abraham say, “The Lord will provide.” It’s because he knows who made that promise. He knows that God would rather die than break his promise. He may not know how. He may not understand why. And yet, he knows the one who made that promise. He trusts that even if Isaac dies, that God is bigger than death.

Remember the verse that I’ve been saying may be the most important sentence in the Old Testament.

GENESIS 3:15And I will put enmity [deep rooted hatred] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

If the head of a serpent is crushed, is that serpent dead. Absolutely. I’ve crushed or cut off the head of more than one rattle snake. What about this part. If there is no medicine, no anti-venom, what happens when a poisonous snakes bites a man on the heel? He’s going to die. I’m sure that Abraham did not know all that we know. He did know that God was going to keep his promise to defeat the serpent. And it meant that the one who defeats will experience. He may not have known how or why, but he knew that his God was even bigger than death. Do you know that? Let’s write this down and talk about it.

WHO is always more important than WHY or HOW.

He didn’t know God told him to sacrifice his son. He didn’t know how it was going to all work out. But he knew the who. He knew God’s goodness and power. Who is always more important that why or how. If you know this [WHO], it doesn’t matter if you know this [WHY-HOW].

And if you know this [WHY-HOW], but you aren’t confident in this [WHO], why and how will never be enough. The who is always most important. I don’t know what Isaac’s level of faith was in God at this point. There’s no doubt that he trusted his dad.

Do you want to lead well the children that God blessed you with? Do you want to lead well in your home? Let them see your faith in action. What you show them will always be far weightier and more important that what you tell you them. I’m talking to dads and I’m talking to moms too. I’m talking to grandparents and aunts and uncles. I’m talking to everyone who has influence or who wants to have influence. Think about the one with whom you have influence. What is the story that they are telling themselves about your faith? If they see you happily, joyfully trusting—that will be attractive, even irresistible. If they see faith without happiness and joy—your faith will be resistible, even repulsive. Is your life writing a story of faith?

When you know the who, you and I have everything we need to act in obedience. Crawford Loritts is a pastor whom I admire. This is what he says about the importance of faith in action.

Without the submission and obedience, which faith requires, there will be little or nothing of God about our lives...Submission and obedience allows God to write his autobiography in my life. –Crawford Loritts

All the way up that mountain, every step and every act was Abraham saying to God, write your story on my life. He was modelling to his son, there is no better life than for God to write his story on our lives. And this is what happened.

GENESIS 22:11-14 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “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.” 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. 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.”

How many of us are learning how to see that these Old Testament stories are incredibly valuable facets of a much larger story? If you wanted to go visit this spot, the Mount of Moriah today, do know where you would find yourself? The temple mount in Jerusalem. Can you see how this points to Jesus?

Andy Patton is a biblical scholar and contributor to the Bible Project. He pulls it all together so well.

The entire Bible points to Jesus, and this is especially true of Genesis 22. This passage is like a lock and Jesus is the key. Think about the parallels between this story and the story of Jesus. Both Isaac and Jesus are long-awaited ‘beloved sons’ who are born in miraculous circumstances. Both sons carry the wood that is to be the instrument of their deaths on their backs. In both stories, the father leads the son up a mountain, and the son follows obediently toward his own death. And in both scenarios, God provides the sacrificial substitute, which Abraham says will be a ram (a male lamb) and the New Testament authors identify as Jesus, ‘the lamb of God.’ –Andy Patton

Hold that in view while we read what might be the most famous line in the Bible.

JOHN 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jesus is everything in the story in Genesis 22 hinted. God would never ask us to sacrifice our own child. And yet, he has done that for us. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise in Genesis 3:15. The serpent did bite his heel and he tasted death. But by the cross and his resurrection he defeated sin, death and the serpent.

Jesus is the fulfilment of Genesis 15. When God declared that he would keep his promise upon pain of death, that’s exactly what Jesus did on the cross. There is chaos in this world and in there is chaos in us. The root of all of it is the same. It’s our sin. It’s our pervasive depravity. We deserve it. We’ve earned it. And yet this is the good news of what Jesus has done.

Jesus took what we DESERVE so that we can have what he DESERVES.

He took on death. He took on the chaos and judgment for sin. He took it all and offers grace and love and acceptance and joy in exchange. All that is required is that we trust in him. No one is more competent, compassionate, careful, and competent than him. No matter the hurts, fear, anxiety, trauma, regret, shame or whatever else we may carry—he offers new life and freedom for all who trust in him. He took what we deserve so that we can have what he deserves.

There’s a lot of whys you may not know. There’s a lot of hows you may not know. But when you know who, you know everything you need to know. Would you trust him today.