Sermon: The God Who Sees to It Himself ~Genesis 22
Have you ever heard the voice of God? I don’t think I have, at least not in the way people usually understand it. I’ve heard his voice in Scripture and in the testimony of the church, but not the direct whisper just for me. There were a few times I thought I had. Growing up in Christian school and youth group culture, it was easy as a teenager to say any thought that had popped into my head and appealed to me had come from God. I was sure God told me I would marry the girl I had a crush on. He told me I’d be a famous rock star. He told me I’d live a long life. He told me a lot of things in those years that I now know he didn’t say. I’m not married to any high school crush and I am not interested in being a famous rock star, even if I could. But it was easy to say God said what I wanted to hear from him.
There is no such confusion for Abraham. What God says to him, he never would have thought of on his own. As we meet Abraham here, he has had a long, hard life. He has left his homeland and his family to go to an unknown country. He has lost his father and his nephew along the way. He has spent decades wandering a foreign land, never putting down roots, never owning a plot of land to call his own. He has given up everything because God has promised to give to him and to his descendants a land where they can dwell in His presence. But that promise has hung in the balance for much of his life. Already an old man, the closest thing he has had to an heir has been a servant in his house. But God promised an heir would come from his own body and He sealed it with the sign of circumcision. He had a son once, with his wife’s slave, Hagar. But he and his mother are gone now. He had sent them away at his wife’s demand. But finally, he and Sarah have the son God promised them many years ago. For the first time, Abraham can see the fruit of God’s promises in this beautiful, curly brown-haired child before him.
“Abraham,” God calls. “Abraham.” It’s a familiar call, one that has cost him so much but has also given him so much more. Just as he had before, Abraham replies: “Here I am.” “Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a whole burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you.”
The shocking thing for Abraham isn’t the sacrifice itself. Human sacrifice surrounds him. It isn’t out of the ordinary in his day to day life. But Abraham has sacrificed everything because God promised him Isaac. Now, God wants to take him too. How will God keep his promise now? Will God’s promises to Abraham come to an end with the sacrifice of Isaac?
Still, Abraham gets up the following morning, takes his donkey, and saddles it. He takes two servants and he takes Isaac too. He takes the time to cut wood for the sacrifice. Who’s to say if there will be any at Moriah? When he’s finally ready, he says goodbye to Sarah with the promise that they’ll be back in a few days, and the four of them set off for the land God will tell them about. And as he wanders through the wilderness, one question hangs in the balance: what is most important to Abraham, God’s promises or God Himself?
The same question hangs over us today. We face the same test as Abraham. What is more important to you and to me, God’s promises or God Himself? I believe this choice is straightforwardly portrayed in the classic Pixar film, Ratatouille. In this film, we meet two intriguing characters. The first is a rat named Remy. Unlike other rats, he doesn’t just eat whatever he finds in the closest garbage bin. This is a rat with a taste for the finer things in life, tomme de chèvre de pays cheese and a nice glass of Chateau Latour. His one ambition in life is to create culinary masterpieces. The second is Alfredo Linguini, the new garbage boy at one of Paris’s highly acclaimed restaurants. His sole ambition is to keep his job amidst his many clumsy mistakes. After spilling a pot of soup, his only saving grace is Remy who helps him recreate the soup. Together, they make quite a team. Linguini gives Remy access to a state of the art kitchen while Remy gives Linguini the credit for a good day’s work. But once Linguini works his way to the top of the restaurant, does he still need Remy? No longer able to get anything out of him, Linguini turns Remy back out into the alleys of Paris.
I believe this children’s film gets at something very true about our relationship with God. When we aren’t getting anything out of God, do we still need Him? And when He makes additional demands, do we still need Him? More subtly, can we trust the God who made these promises? Can we trust Him with everything that is important to us? And can we still trust Him when the blessings seem to run out?
When we clock out of work for the last time and embrace the long fruits of our labor in retirement, do we still need God? When we finally marry the man or woman of our dreams, do we still need God? As we lounge in our favorite vacation spots, do we still need God? When we seem to have everything we ever wanted from God, do we still need Him? What is more important to you and to me, God’s promises or God Himself?
When we find ourselves out of work and unsure what the future holds, do we still need God? When our spouse walks out on us with no forewarning and no desire to fix our relationship, do we still need God? When we are stunned by the doctor’s diagnosis, do we still need God? When God’s promises no longer seem to deliver their blessings, do we still need Him? What is more important to you and to me, God’s promises or God Himself?
As Abraham wrestles with this very question, after three days of wandering and wondering, he lifts up his eyes and sees the place on the horizon. The answer to his question will soon be crystal clear. He turns to his servants and says, “Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go on and worship God, and then the boy and I will return to you.” No matter what happens on that mountain, God will keep his promises. Abraham takes the wood and gives it to Isaac to carry. He himself takes the knife and the fire in his own hand. And they go on their way.
They continue their walk in silence, slowly making their way up the steep hill to the place God had shown Abraham. But the silence is interrupted by a quiet voice, “Father?”. Abraham smiles at the tenor tones of his son, his only son, whom he loves. He replies just as he always does, to Sarah, to Isaac, to God: “Here I am.” Isaac asks, “We have the wood and the fire, but aren’t we missing something? Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham takes a deep breath before he answers, but it doesn’t quite steady the quiver in his voice: “God will see to the lamb for the offering, my son.” That settles the matter and they continue up Moriah in silence.
As soon as they reach the peak, Abraham begins to pick up stones lying on the ground and constructs a simple altar. Once it is finished, he takes the wood from Isaac and adds it to the pile of stones. He turns to Issac, his son, his only son, whom he loves, and carefully ties his hands. Isaac doesn’t put up a fight as Abraham carefully lays him on the altar. Abraham takes a bronze knife in his hand and raises it above his head, aiming it towards Isaac’s exposed chest.
“Abraham! Abraham!” There is no mistaking the call of God’s angel. “Here I am,” Abraham sobs. “Do not harm the boy! Don’t do anything to him! Now I know that you fear God. You did not hold on to your son, your only son, whom you love, from me.”
Abraham looks up from Isaac and sees right in front of him a ram with its horns caught in a bush. Overjoyed, Abraham takes the ram and sacrifices it to God. And God’s messenger says to him, “I will bless you. I will give you more descendants than you can imagine. The entire world will bless one another in your descendants’ name.” As Abraham walks back down the hill, he looks back at the peak and says, “I will call this place, ‘The Lord sees.’”
As I myself wrestle with this text, asking, “What is more important to me, God’s promises or God Himself?” I am not as struck by Abraham’s profound faith as I am with this God who sees to it Himself. Abraham’s faith is certainly impressive. The New Testament, in Hebrews 11:17-19, says, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham’s faith isn’t misguided or in just any old deity. His faith is in the God who will see to it Himself, yes, even to raise someone from the dead.
God does not ask Abraham to do anything He Himself would not do. Many years down the road, God sends His son, His only son, whom He loves, Jesus, to take the wood of his cross to that same hill, and to die as a sacrifice for us all. And He doesn’t stop there. He goes so far as even to rise from the dead to give us His life. When God makes promises, He will see to it Himself. He is the kind of God we can trust with everything that is important to us. And He is the kind of God we can trust when the blessings seem to run out.
When we ask, “Do we still need God?” we aren’t asking if we can still get anything out of God, but if we can exist apart for His presence. Only God can guarantee His promises. Only God can see to it Himself. Only God can go through death and rise again on the other side. St. Augustine, a prominent church leader in the 4th and 5th centuries, famously wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” What are we, if not for our Creator and our Redeemer? What are we unless our God sees to us Himself?
Our work is not a mere collection of successes and failures, of promotions and setbacks. God invites us to join His work in bringing beauty and hope into the world around us. Our marriages are not mere Instagram snapshots of a happy life. God reveals more of His love as we learn to give and accept love with another person. Our terminal illness is not an end to the life we have enjoyed. God sees to it Himself, even to raise someone from the dead, whether that is on this side of the grave or the other.
As we wrestle and come to grips with what is more important to you and to me, God’s promises or God Himself, we encounter this God, this God who sees to it Himself, even to raise someone from the dead, even to do it Himself.