Church calendar readings for the week leading up to Sunday, April 29
MONDAY Genesis 22:1-18 – Abraham and Isaac tested on Mount Moriah
TUESDAY Psalm 22:25-31 – Test of believing for unlikely people turning to the Lord
WEDNESDAY John 15:1-8 – Teaching on the test of abiding in Jesus
THURSDAY Acts 8:26-40 – Philip the Evangelist tested with a nudge from God
FRIDAY 1 John 4:7-21 – The test for believers of living out the love they profess
MONDAY, APRIL 23
Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. The Lord sees and provides, and establishes a covenant principle
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Tested” – the Hebrew verb nissah means to prove the quality, not incite to do wrong as implied by ‘tempted’ in some versions.
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.”
Mount Moriah is generally agreed to be the site of Solomon’s temple, 2 Chronicles 3:1, and also Calvary. This sacrifice of Abraham’s precious and only son foreshadows the place of sacrifice which the temple became, and Calvary nearby being the place of the full and final sacrifice of God’s only son.
3-4 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.
“Early the next morning” – There is a lot of detail about the preparations and the early start, implying facing up to a very difficult assignment resolutely.
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.”
“We will come back to you” – Spoken in faith. Abraham was certain that God’s promise would be fulfilled through Isaac – “it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” – and the writer of Hebrews explains that he expected Isaac to be resurrected, Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:17–19.
6-7 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?”
This brings to mind the hard-to-grasp partnership expressed in Isaiah 53:7, 10. Both foreshadow the Cross and force us to relinquish our perspective, in order to grasp God’s higher purpose.
We can have all the arrangements and means in place for worship – the wood; and the fire of the Holy Spirit is always ready to be invited to ignite the wood. But where is the lamb? Where are our hearts in making the sacrifice? It was Abraham’s heart that was being tested.
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
“God Himself will provide” – Abraham’s life motto and an example for us of the faith principle of speaking out what has been ‘seen’ in faith, not as empty presumption but in the way of agreeing with what is being revealed dimly.
For further study: Does Abraham’s practice follow God, who spoke the Creation into existence? Romans 4:16-18
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.”
The pace of the story slows right down as it reaches its climax. Abraham is prepared to offer to God in sacrifice what is most dear to his heart, what represents the whole of his life’s purpose and God’s promise, to build a nation.
13-14 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.”
“The Lord Will Provide” – This translates ‘Yahweh Yi’reh’ or more popularly, Jehovah Jireh (which is easier to say and read and work into a song). The ‘Yi’reh‘ component is from ‘ra’ah‘ which means ‘to see’. It can also have the secondary sense of ‘see to it’, or ‘provide’.
We hardly need reminding that God ‘provided’ His own Son for the ultimate sacrifice that would positionally spell forgiveness for mankind, on this very mountain. Also v.8.
15-18 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
“I swear by Myself” – If we swear, it would be by someone or something greater than ourselves, but who is greater than God? This is explained in Hebrews 6:13-18.
Abraham’s life story was about successive tests of his devotion, loyalty and obedience to God, which are always followed by a new encounter and renewed assurance – as in Genesis 13:14-15 and here in v.17.
There is a principle here, that we cannot out-give God. As we give to Him, He gives back to us.
The test was whether Abraham was prepared to risk all that was most precious to him, prepared to give up Isaac who was not only his precious son but also the living representation of his life’s purpose. Abraham was brought to the point of being prepared to trust God in giving it up.
The sets out a wider principle in how we walk through our lives with God.
It is the test that comes to each of us at the point of deciding to ask Jesus to be Lord of our lives, which by definition involves giving up to Him all that is most precious, and trusting Him in that. The encounter and new life that people recount in their stories of how they found Christ is what follows a difficult step of obedience.
It is the test behind our decision to tithe the first tenth or first part of what the Lord gives us as income or provision, giving it back to Him in faith – typically giving to church and/or other mission representing the Lord’s work. Can we afford it? Of course not. Will the Lord honour it? Again, many testimonies demonstrate how God’s economics seem to overturn the rules of ours.
For reflection and discussion
Abraham had been through some tests with the Lord before – and most likely you have known what it is for whatever faith you had to be stretched. How have you grown through it?
Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise
Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples
Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’
The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’
God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.
Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.
We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.
David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.
Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.
We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.
Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’
|13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.||
13 Now in Paul’s words Abraham is seen, not just as the father of many nations, but the father of all who relate to God by faith.
13 Abraham’s heritage in the sense of its geography lies between the River Euphrates and Egypt Genesis 13:14-15, Genesis 15:18. However the NT sees the promises in a spiritual sense, as world-wide and enduring as the Gospel itself, Romans 10:18. The Promised Land in Hebrews is not on a Middle East map marked ‘Canaan’ but “a better country – a heavenly one”, Hebrews 11:16.
13 The promise that Abraham would be “heir of the world” is not so explicit in Genesis. Paul is seeing a bigger picture here. Abraham is a man of huge faith, influencing faith down the centuries.So this “world” is the world of the faithful for whom Abraham is our “father” because, like Him, we are justified by the means of faith. All people of faith are blessed through Him – well in excess of two billion worldwide and growing, which Abraham might have wondered at.
For further study, read Genesis 12:3, Gen. 22:18
|14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…||14 A promise which is hedged about with inflexible conditions (in the manner of the law) doesn’t look like a promise anymore.|
|15 …because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.||
15 “The law brings wrath” because it demanded obedience and performance; violations were likely so the law may even have encouraged sin, Romans 7:7-11. If the law was violated, wrath ensued – it was not a system of grace.
15 People can certainly sin without the law. The point Paul is making is that can be no transgression – crossing a line – without having a benchmark of law to measure the transgression against. His argument is that the law serves to show people where they have transgressed, but living right by God is all about faith, not about rules. Keeping the rules is not the same as walking with God by faith, and it is the faith relationship He is looking for.
|16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.||
16 Abraham had physical offspring, but ethnic descent is secondary compared with spiritual descent – “children of the promise”, Romans 9:11-13.
16 The promise to Abraham was not through the law, which would not come for another four centuries, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
For further study, read Galatians 3:16-18
|17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.||17 God called the earth into being from nothing. And so God can speak something into being as if it already exists. God is all powerful and His words have this creative ability. And He operates outside time. Our understanding is on a ‘then – now – to be’ timeline, but in a way we cannot explain, God does not have to operate within this constraint.|
|18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”||
18 “Against all hope” – from human perspective, impossible.
18 “So shall your offspring be” – The “count the stars” passage quoted from Genesis 15:5.
|19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.||19 Abraham and Sarah kept a stance of hope for a quarter-century. Both hope and faith are in this passage. Hope is confident expectation in God; He is good, His purposes are good, He is faithful, fair and just. Faith is more specific and stands on a bedrock of hope. When God has spoken something concrete, a confirmed word, through any of the ways God speaks to us, that is when hope moves into faith.|
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
|19-21 Abraham’s outlook changed as God spoke to Him with the original promise, Gen. 15:5, and after waiting till it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have children, spoke again, Gen. 17:5. With no naturally possible way out, he was shut up to God and “strengthened in his faith”, not weakened. His faith grew through this test.|
22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone…
|22-23 Abraham’s experience was more than individual – it had broad implications. If justification by faith was true for him, it is true for all (and all people)|
|24 …but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.||24 Justification in the specific faith that Jesus is who He said He was, and the resurrection really was the Resurrection of the Lord who lives and speaks to us as Lord of His church today.|
|25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.||25 The core of the gospel. What we couldn’t pay for, he paid for. A justification we couldn’t earn by any amount of good works, He secured for us and still intercedes for us as those justified in Him.|
Abraham was counted a righteous because of his deep faith – he believed God and was tested in this over a quarter century. When we wonder where God is, in a situation that stretches our trust and patience, it is worth remembering that Abraham came to the deep – an iconic – place of faith and trust as he grew through the test. God wants to grow us!
Justification by faith, the keel timber of the Christian gospel and indeed the Reformation of the 1520s, is as old as the patriarch Abraham – and much older than the law which Moses expounded.
Judaism has tended to view Abraham as a great man of obedience to the law, an oversight of history as well as theology. Paul redresses this by showing that justification by faith been taught by Scripture from the beginning.
Justification by faith was the great biblical discovery of the Reformation. Yet, strangely, much of the Christian church is in a muddle, with a stress on ritual and obedience and a ‘salvation by sacraments’ which is seldom overtly taught but preached persuasively in what we emphasise. Yet what was credited to Abraham as righteousness is what God looks for in His church today – faith that simply takes Him at His word.
For reflection and discussion
If you think of your own faith and values – how much is based on faith and believing and trusting, and how much leans towards observance and obedience?
Would Paul need to write to us today and remind us that we are not under law?
Melchizedek, acting as a priest, brings out bread and wine and blesses Abram, who in turn gives him a tenth of everything.
Blessing comes from a deep desire to walk closely with the Lord as a partner in life.
The first miracle of Jesus, turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana, Galilee relied on the willing participation of others.
The sound of heaven: the cry of an immense gathering praising God for the ultimate partnership, the wedding on the Lamb of God and His prepared and presentable Bride, the Church.
The message that emerges – God’s provision but also partnership
Partnership with God, provision of land for Abram
Abram, or Abraham as he became, was a man who heard from God and had a close walk with God. He lived his life in partnership with God, trusting God to be ahead of whatever situation he faced; when he and Lot needed to diverge, to give their livestock and herdsmen more room, he gave Lot first choice and trusted God for his own provision. Lot’s own choice took him to Sodom and Gomorrah where he encountered problems.
Abraham simply trusted God who brought him to Mamre, near Hebron, a better place altogether.
In the short passage for this week, we see how Abraham initiated two life principles which we do well to emulate. When he experienced success and victory, he gave God the glory for that. He also honoured God by giving Him the first part of everything. This practice, giving back to God the tithe (or tenth) endures as part of Christian worship today and is seen as God’s provision for His church based on our faith and trust. Abraham’s trust of God and willingness to give God the first part didn’t leave him impoverished. His faith made him the wealthiest man of his time as well the founder of a nation. As we give God the glory due to Him, and honour Him with the first part of all that He gives us, He trusts us with more.
Partnership with God in a close walk, Psalm 128
Psalm 128:1 sets out the blessings of the kind of close walk that Abraham practised and defines the “fear the Lord” phrase for us: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to Him.” These blessings cover every area of life: family, health, work and provision in a prosperity that is rooted in the “blessing from Zion”, the sense of keeping the focus on the Lord in the place of worship.
In Judaism, there is the concept of earning salvation, and of sanctions (sacrifices) for sin, both known and assumed. Christianity turns this on its head at the Cross. Guilt and shame and struck out. So is merit and entitlement. Grace, the undeserved favour of God, is what we find for us at the Cross, where the price was paid. However, our response to this is surely to revere God, want to walk with God and follow His ways. Perhaps the best way to understand this is the transformation that takes place when we give ourselves to Jesus, and the greater facility to be like Jesus that comes from our willingness to be continually filled again with His Spirit, and experience His love. At this point, we will be motivated and guided to walk a close walk – who would not want to walk closely to such love – and to do what is right in God’s sight – releasing His blessings into our lives.
Partnership in the miracle of provision, John 2
It was shameful, not just an embarrassment, for a wedding host to run out of the only drink available, after preparing for a week-long event. For Jesus, ministering to shame and every other emotional need is as important as other dimensions of healing, deliverance and salvation.
The miracle of water turned into fine wine at the wedding celebration teaches us how faith works in our willing participation in what then becomes a miracle. Here the servants went about an unnecessary task, filling the jars with water, and then they served out what they knew was water when it went in – as they did so, the water became wine. Later, in the feeding of the five thousand gathered on the hill, it was as the bread and fish was shared out, not by Jesus, but by the disciples, that the multiplication took place. The servants at Cana didn’t have much choice – they were doing what the Master told them. What about us, as the Master tells us something? For us this is usually a prompt from the Holy Spirit. We have a choice to hear and act on what we have sensed or glimpsed or caught uncertainly, or to do nothing. As we move out tentatively in our little bit of faith, so God moves in with blessing.
Partnership with God’s eternal purpose: Jesus’ return for His bride, the Church
The “wedding of the Lamb” and “His bride… made… ready” can seem a remote and future concept to us – hardly at the top of today’s priorities. However, heaven’s purpose and practice is intentional and ongoing. Everything is directed towards this end, when Jesus will return in glory and take hold of His church.