June 24, 2018
What do you withhold from God?
Note that I did not say, “are you withholding anything from God?” For, we do withhold things. We withholder obedience when it comes to our pet sins. We withhold our voice when it comes to speaking truth in love. We withhold our time when our hectic lives and commitments interfere with spiritual things. We withhold our hearts when we deep down crave things we must not have. This side of heaven, though we must not, we do withhold things from God. And it is sin and of it we must teach ourselves to repent.
So, what do you withhold from God?
Or, let me rephrase the question somewhat…
Would you, could you, be willing to sacrifice everything — even the blessings of God in this life, for the Gospel and for your Savior? Be careful how you answer, because God may just call you to do so.
Let me tell you a story…in 1810 there was a young man named Adoniram Judson became convicted that God was calling him to the mission field in the far east (he thought India — ended up in Burma). Yet, he was engaged to a young Schoolteacher he knew through church named Ann Hassletine. She was likeminded about the mission field, but Adoniram had to get her father’s permission to marry and take his daughter overseas, likely never to see her again in this world.
I want you to hear Adoniram’s letter to her father:
“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land and to her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to denigration, insult, persecution, and perhaps to a violent death?”
“Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left his heavenly home and died for her and for you? For the same of the perishing, immortal souls; for the sale of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall honor her Savior, from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair.”
So, were you Ann’s father…or were this being asked of your daughter, would you consent to this? Could you let go of her with your earthly hands knowing that she was held in God’s heavenly ones?
Ann’s father did. And she and Adoniram would end up in Burma. Her story is a remarkable one for another time and another place, but I will tell you that her father did outlive her…she died of smallpox at the age of 37 with only one short trip home for medical reasons.
Think about it…Mr. Hassletine, though he knew the chances were that he would be handing his daughter to a hard life and a young death, kept an eternal perspective where he would rejoice with her again in glory.
Here’s the thing folks, here in America we struggle with a kind fo spiritual depth perception and we are nearsighted when it comes to our priorities. We cling to earthly things that are here today and gone tomorrow rather than to eternal matters.
Let me offer an example, when someone asks, ‘how are your children doing?’ What is our first response?
- ‘Great, they are getting good grades in school’ or
- ‘great, they have a good job and are making a comfortable living’ or
- ‘great, everyone is healthy and well…”
But, ought we not say…
– “Great, they are active members in their church, they love the Lord and they share their faith with those around them” or
– “No, pray for them. They are making a lot of money and everyone is healthy but they have fallen away from the church and it grieves me.”
The money and health is not bad stuff, it just must not come first in our lives…Christ’s Kingdom should.
Isn’t it interesting how we get that turned around. Think about it, a show entitled “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” sells but were they to offer a show entitled, “Lifestyles of the Humble and Faithful” — not so much. We honor our athletes, entertainers, and powerful more than we do those who tend our souls and teach our children.
Yet, rather than be satisfied with a shallow Christianity why not train ourselves and our children to think differently…even if it means living a humble or even an impoverished lifestyle rather than a comfortable one, if we are pursuing Christ and laboring to build his kingdom. Even if it means we will let go of the ones we love never to see them again in this world.
That, folks, is Kingdom thinking and that is the kind of thinking that Abraham had when he took Isaac up to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to God.
Genesis 22 records the event in question but the author of Hebrews focuses one one thing: Abraham’s obedience that was a result of the confidence he had in God’s faithfulness.
He begins in verses 17-18:
“By faith, Abraham offered up Isaac when he was put to the test. He offered his only begotten, the one who had accepted the promises, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac shall your seed be called out.”
Now, let’s stop here and make a couple of observations…
1) First, everything about Genesis 22 is meant to reflect the Gospel.
- the father making a sin offering of his only begotten son
- the offering being a substitute for others
- the theme of the Lord providing the offering
- the assurance of God’s promise because the father did not withhold the Son
- the Son going willfully to his death — remember, Isaac is about 12 years old give or take, but his father was well over 100…do not think that Isaac did not know what was to take place nor think that he could not have escaped his father’s hand had he chosen to.
- and there is a promise of a resurrection (hold on to that idea).
These things scream “gospel!” Yes, it is easier to see from this side of the cross, but it is there clearly and it is a reminder the the Bible…all of it from Genesis to Revelation is unified and centers on Christ — his person and his work.
And to read the Bible in any other way is to miss what it is teaching — that is the error of the Jew who rejects Jesus as the Messiah, it is the error of the Muslim who sees Jesus as a mere human prophet, that is the error of the Mormon who redefines who Jesus is on their own terms, and it is the error of certain branches of what is broadly called “Christianity” either when they pick and choose what they like and throw out the rest or when they neglect the entire Old Testament wholesale.
2) Second, did you notice that Isaac is referred to here as the “only begotten” son of Abraham. But what of Ishmael or of the six sons that he had with Keturah? Were they not begotten of the father as well?
The answer is that the promise given was given to Abraham and Sarah and thus only to Isaac will it be handed down — he is the promised seed. And so, Isaac is rightfully called, “only begotten.”
Now, I mentioned the promise of the Resurrection…
“He also considered that God had the power to raise him from the dead and, as a kind of parable, he received him back.”
There is a lot packaged in this verse, but let me approach it this way…
Abraham believed in God’s promise and Abraham knew that the promise of God would be completed through Isaac. So, Abraham believed that even if he slaughtered his own son and burned his body as a sacrifice to God, that God would raise his son’s body from the ashes of the Altar… He believed that they were going up the mountain to see a miracle and he trusted that anything earthly or possible in earthly ways, was of no value compared to what God would accomplish in heavenly ways.
Also, because Abraham considered God powerful enough to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill his promise, the author of Hebrews speaks of him as “figuratively” or as a kind of parable, sacrificing his son and receiving him back…language of course that ultimately points to Christ, but I want you to wrap your head around this as an idea…
Even though God provided a substitute and even though Abraham knew he would witness a miracle (Genesis 22:5) the author still says Abraham offered up Isaac. Why is that important to us?
It is important because often in our lives we feel the call of the Holy Spirit to do something — start a Bible study, go to seminary, talk to someone about the Gospel…whatever that may be…full in the “x” on your own…and you act on it or you begin to act on it only to discover that someone else was already doing it, that you weren’t really being called to the ministry, no one shows up for the Bible Study…whatever that “x” happens to be. And we feel discouraged. We think, “Look, God, you called me and I went and I am not seeing things come together.
So, what is taking place. The answer is found in the first verse we read this morning…Abraham was being tested. Tested to prove what to whom? Surely not to demonstrate Abraham’s faith to God…no, to demonstrate the power of Abraham’s faith to Abraham…to demonstrate that he was willing to step forward and to obey, trusting in God.
Sometimes these things we face are like tests as well, to teach us our willingness to step out in faith and do the right thing, to honor God with your everything…sometimes you need to step out and grow to teach you that truth.
Okay, I wrestled with how I ought to close this morning…let me approach it this way…
So far in Hebrews 11, we have looked at Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. And in each case the theme was much the same — a faith-filled obedience to God’s call.
So, you know what that looked like in each of these people’s lives…ask yourself, what would it look like if you held nothing back and lived it out in your life? I mean, really living every moment for the purpose of building Christ’s kingdom instead of a worldly one.
And ask yourself what would have to be different in your life so that you can do that? Maybe it is a matter of the vertical relationship with God, perhaps with regards to the horizontal relationship with fellow men, likely both. Ask yourself, what are you holding back from God and make a commitment not to hold back any longer.