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Terrifying Love

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"Come, Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle is us the fire of Your Love.

Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Oh, God, Who by the Light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful,

grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation,

through Christ our Lord. Amen"

Today we have one of the most controversial stories from our Old Testament Lesson that Anna read today

As you heard, this is a terrifying story…

                        This story of ‘the sacrifice Isaac’ – or as it is sometimes called ‘the binding of Isaac’

As I have said before – when something is read in the service that is challenging – it needs to be commented on – it would be simply irresponsible to have such a story read and not explore and understand it better

If we know of this from our Sunday school childhood – we can forget how terrifying it really it is

Maybe that is because as a Sunday school teacher, there might be a desire to downplay the horror of the story

I mean, what child would return to Sunday school if the teachers relished in the telling of this type of story

            A story about infanticide – or child sacrifice

A tale that is more suitable to Grimm’s Fairy tales – where young Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods and then tricked and captured, to be eaten by a witch in the woods

On one level our OT lesson is in the same league

            It is nothing less than terrifying


The text begins with “After these things God tested Abraham”

            This is the God of Love?

                        What about the fact that in NT we are told that God never tempts us into sin

And yet here in first book of the bible, in one of the early tales of the Patriarch Abraham – God set a course of action to test with child sacrifice

To Isaac, whom Abraham and Sarah have been given very late in their lives – whom God declares is Abraham’s only son – forgetting about Ishmael son of Hagar the slave

Isaac, whom God promised would be the line in which all the nations of the world will be blessed by

But in fact it really does feel that God is testing Abraham in the most difficult way possible

And we Christians are faced with understanding the story within the framework of this exactly for Hebrews 11:17-19 says

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

This all trusting faith presents itself with some really challenging questions

What are the limits of faith?...

Are there any limits to Faith? …

Are we willing to be tested in the most extreme ways on our faith? …

How do we know it is really God that is putting us to the test or is the test from some spiritual forces of a much darker realm

We can all think of how extreme faith can and has been the reason for some pretty dramatic and twisted events

            There is the Jonestown massacre of 1978

Or the "Branch Davidian" and the Waco Siege of 1993 which resulted in the deaths of their leader, David Koresh, as well as 82 other Branch Davidians

Or even the following that Harold Camping received with his apocalyptic predictions for May 21st

And for many sceptics of faith – this type of behaviour is all they need to draw a close connection between faith and insanity

Even for us of the faith – these extreme examples are difficult to come to terms with

When we consider our story today – it is understandable that we too might wonder aloud … How the loving God we know could, how could such a God, who creates in love, teaches us in love, walks alongside us in love - whose very character is love

How could God command Abraham to do such a thing[1]

While it might be easy to smooth over some of the details – and raise up neat and tidy explanations from other areas of the story,

We need to first, accept the story for all its ugliness, that maybe there is a reason for all the horror and except that maybe Part of the problem is that our ideas of God and goodness are too small, too contained – too domesticated

                        God is a consuming fire – God is beyond all our explanations

God is not some idol of stone or wood carved by human hands – but the creator of all – the Lord of all

And God has a right to everything about us

In “The Lion Witch & the Wardrobe”, Susan & Lucy ask Mr. & Mrs. Beaver to describe Aslan. They ask if Aslan is a man. Mrs. Beaver replies.

“Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood & the song of the great Emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion…the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he…quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, & make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?” Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

One of the reasons that the binding of Isaac is a difficult story is that God’s Goodness is beyond our understanding

But there is a much more important message in the story – we see, very early on in the Old Testament that sacrifice is insufficient

This is Genesis after all, before the Exodus and the wandering and the set up of the sacrificial system, before Leviticus and all the Levitical laws

Before the tabernacle before the establishment of priests, and way before the temple

And yet, it is also clear that the impulse to sacrifice is part of mankind – even way back in Cain & Abel

            Yet God’s people are different

The people of the bible did not sacrifice in the ways of their neighbours

Throughout we hear that even though there are sacrifices – people are petitioning God in prayer and saying “I know that you are God over everything, that the true sacrifice is of broken and contrite heart, that is what God seeks – it is all through out the Psalms

Through-out there is an understanding of something more than merely sacrifice but a wisdom of a relationship with God

You see through the Old Testament God is not requiring of sacrifices as some form of token and exchange – blessing for actions

This is not what God says sacrifices are for – one can not earn God’s love

In fact throughout the Old Testament God gives through His grace & mercy abundantly, providentially

                        That the sacrifice is a response to God’s grace… not a means to get God’s grace

It is saying that that I am small, that I am a creature, that I am dependant

It is in fact responding to the first commandment

                        I am the Lord, Your God… that God is God and we are not

God has a claim on everything I own and everything I have

And Abraham is in fact doing just that – giving what is most precious to him

And this would not been a great surprise to Abraham – because in the ‘ancient near-east’ – that is exactly what many of the religions did – that is what many of the gods asked for

Child sacrifice – this is the world that he lived in – people sacrificed their children

The surprise is not to sacrifice what is most precious to you…

The surprise is for us to hear that God tells Abraham to STOP…

Stop, you don’t have to do this

no matter what you give up, no matter what you do – no matter at what lengths you are willing to go – God is saying YOU CAN NOT PURCHASE MY LOVE

The way that the entire world understands sacrifice, all the pagan traditions and the way that God understands sacrifice are radically different

Of course in the pagan world it is all about buying the favour of the gods

Sacrifice to one god for a good harvest… to another… fertility

And on and on… and if you didn’t receive favour from the gods than your sacrifice was insufficient or you angered the gods in some way

                                                It’s all about exchange

                                                            It’s all about putting yourself on God’s level…

But that is not how God, The true God, works … ever!

We saw that a few chapters before this in chapter 15 – Where God enters into a covenant with Abraham – and if you remember that covenant – it is God that passing through the sacrifice – it is God who takes on the burden of the exchange – while Abraham sleeps – a deep sleep

God says from the beginning – I am the one that provides the sacrifices, I am the one who is preparing everything – you only have to receive…

                        Everything lamb is provided for us

                                    For us Christians – Jesus is the lamb that is provided

                                                God says to all the sacrifices – stop that

                                                            God says “I will provide the perfect lamb”

But let us not lose sight of Hebrews 11 – where Abraham is a model for faith

Whereas we understand Jesus as the perfect complete sacrifice – and never again will we ever be asked to sacrifice a child again – never again will we be faced with even the sacrificial system

BUT - it is still true that God claims your life…

That God claims you…

God claims whatever you have

Whatever is the most precious thing in your life

God wants you to be willing to offer it –

To surrender it – to let Him use it…


Let us pray…

Gracious God, each of us has something that we don’t want to give you, some part of our lives that we want to hold on to – something that we think is really just for us. Break into our hearts and take us over… capture us… unite us with you… May the spirit of self giving surrender that characterizes Jesus, May it form in our lives – that we may also give our selves in love to you and to our neighbour. We pray in His name - Amen


[1] I am indebted to Laura Smit and much of the sermons’s structure and content is based on her sermon "Fear and Trembling" A Sermon from Genesis 22 – found on the Centre for excellence in Preaching at Calvin’s Seminary

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