Sunday, September 23, 2018
Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 1, James 1:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11
The first census was held in the Bible. It appears in the Bible’s Old Testament Book of Numbers. In Numbers 1:2, Jehovah said to Moses, “Take a census of the whole Israel community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.” In Numbers 1:20, “All the men 20 years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families.” If you look closely, you will find that women are not included in the number. Only adult men who were part of the labor force for the agricultural & pastoral society, and those of age for war and fighting were required to be counted. It is a general view that the Bible was written from a masculine perspective. Even in the United States, which is arguably known as the greatest democracy in the world, it is only recently that women were given the right to vote. The law passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in the U.S. It seems that the world needs more time to achieve the gender equality we want. The belief that everyone, whether male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew, is the same in God is truly a biblical concept. Humans have the instinct to produce their own offspring. That is, to create and raise progeny to be better than the self. From ancient times, mankind has been immersed in the ideology of male preference. But, God allows equal proportions of men and women. At the time, Abram and Sarai had a lot of property and reputation, but, there was one thing they lacked. There was something this couple eagerly hoped for, but it was biologically impossible for Sarai because she was barren. Sarai herself knew it and laughed at God’s promise when He declared to Abram, “As many as the countless stars of heaven, your descendants will be many.” Still, Sarai became impatient and took matters into her own hands because she felt God’s promise was not unfolding as quickly as she had expected. So, Sarai had Abram lay with the Egyptian maid servant, Hagar, who later bore his son, Ishmael. At age 99, God appeared to Abram and said, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations.” And so, Abraham and Sarah were to have a son, as God had promised Sarah; and they had Isaac. Can you imagine how happy they were? Hallelujah! Amen? Are you glad to hear that Abraham got a son at the age of 100? Abraham got a son at the age of 100. Hallelujah! Amen! The value of a son that Abraham miraculously obtained by the grace of God was worth more than his own life. However, this happiness was short-lived as Abraham was to sacrifice his son to God as a burnt offering. Burnt offerings were fairly common in those times but were ordinarily done through cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, or flour. But this was much different as God demanded Abraham’s son as the burnt offering. So we can understand that Abraham was confused both faithfully & mentally. Abraham probably lamented at the heartlessness of God, providing him with a son after being barren for so many decades, only to take his precious son in such a cruel way. Sorrow over losing a son cannot be expressed in words. But, God was to test Abraham. A test is typically used to determine what standards are being met to fulfill certain requirements or to identify a person’s capabilities and what they can be entitled to do. There is usually only pass or fail. In this way, God wanted to test whether Abraham was qualified to be a ‘father of faith in the nations.” To receive a private pilot license, the FAA requires student pilots have a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. However, the national average is 60 to 70 hours. So someone should be able to earn their private pilot license in 6 to 8 months. But without a pilot’s license, you cannot fly or control an aircraft because planes are expensive and dangerous. It is only after you pass the flight test and obtain a license that you are entitled to enjoy the expansive blue sky. Looking at today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was tempted by Satan immediately following a 40-day fast. Satan wanted to interfere with Jesus’ ministry and prevent the ministry of salvation. Even now Satan is trying to overthrow us and destroy the ministry of the church. But there is a difference between being tested and being tempted, for God does not tempt. (James 1:13) Satan tempts us in order to make us fall; (1 Co 7:5) God tests us in order to conform our faith (Ex 20:20) or prove our commitment. (Dt 8:2) As Abraham and Sarah experienced obstacles in their lives, there are many good and bad things that happen in our lives as well. But, we do not have to be overjoyed and saddened about what happens. There once was a Chinese farmer named Sei Weng who owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day, this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.” A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.” Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.” Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But, Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.” (1) How did Abraham interpret this difficult situation? ‘God is so cruel and doesn’t care about me. He gave me Isaac, but now wants me to offer my son as a sacrifice. If He takes my son, when will I have another, as I am already so old. If God asked me to offer 100 bulls as burnt offering, I would offer even 1,000 bulls …’ We can be sure that Abraham had doubts and came up with countless excuses in making his decision. By that time, Isaac was an adolescent or had even entered manhood. So he was not a senseless child when he asked Abraham, “My Father, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the Lamb for the entirely burned offering?” As a father, this is a question that tears his heart. “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” Thereafter, Abraham begrudgingly, but obediently, built an altar and arranged the wood on it. He trusts God and decides to kill his only son Isaac according to the Word of God. God calls out to Abraham, who is about to kill Isaac with a knife to offer a bunt offering according to God’s Word, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham looked up & saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. It was an ‘Unexpected ram.’ Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering, in place of his son. Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” [NIV reads “The Lord Will Provide”; KJV says “Jehovah-jireh” or “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen”] And Isaac would have experienced the deep work of God through the faith of his own father, Abraham. God may test you to see if you are ready to receive blessings, and if you are qualified to receive blessings. Only those who demonstrate their qualification through a test can receive the blessing and use it in the right place. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3) Blessed are the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12) Indeed, the Lord watches over the way of the righteous. Amen.
Image credit to Bible Study Resource Center