Read Genesis 22:1-19
Today we are going to play a game called “What’s The Point?” I am going to tell you a number of stories that have something in common. You have to figure out what that common theme is. It is simple but let’s practice. What do these things all have in common: apples, lemons, bananas and tomatoes?
They are all fruits. (Yes, a tomato is a fruit.)
We have just heard the story of Abraham being told, by God, to sacrifice Isaac. OK, can anyone already tell us what the point is?
I will give you a clue. At one point in that story the angel of the Lord said, “Now I know that you fear God.” What was it that convinced the angel? And how can we know that we have faith?
This is one of the greatest stories of faith in the Bible. Abraham had waited many, many years for a son and God had promised many descendants through this son. He was dearly loved. He was the key to the promise but then God told Abraham to kill him and Abraham was willing to do it! Abraham clung onto that promise even though he couldn’t reconcile that with killing his son. Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead. If God was going to keep His promise (and Abraham believed that) and if God had commanded that Isaac be killed (and Abraham believed that) then Abraham also believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead. That is faith.
Surely, God could see Abraham’s heart. Surely God knew that Abraham trusted Him. Couldn’t Abraham have simply said, “Yes, Lord, I trust You. Sure, I am willing to sacrifice Isaac. I believe that, if I did, you would raise him to life again.” Isn’t it enough just to say it? Why did Abraham have to travel for three days, build the altar, arrange the wood, bind Isaac, and get to the point of actually picking up the knife?
Second story: In Matthew 14, the disciples were out on the lake in a boat and it was rough. Shortly before dawn, Jesus came walking across the lake. They were afraid, thinking they were seeing a ghost. Jesus reassured them that it was He. Peter said, “Lord, if it really is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”
That was slightly reckless, wasn’t it? What was Peter expecting to happen next? Presumably, he really believed that if this really was Jesus, Jesus really had the power to do this. So this would test if it really was Jesus.
Then Jesus said, “Come”. Uh oh! Now it is a test of Peter! What would he do? Well, Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water! That is what you would have done too, wouldn’t you?
It is also true that when Peter looked at the reality of the wind he became fearful and began to sink. Jesus said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” He showed faith and then doubt undermined it.
What is the common thing between those two stories?
Let’s recall the stories we have looked at recently. While all of the Israelite army quaked in fear, David believed that God would enable him to defeat Goliath. So, we went out and did it.
What is the common thread?
Elijah believed that crying out to Baal would be pointless but that God would send down fire to consume his sacrifice. And so he challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest.
What is the common thread?
3000 people in the crowd at Pentecost were convicted about having killed the Messiah. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said, “Repent and be baptised”. Those who believed were baptised and God saved them.
Then look at the very next words.
Acts 2:42-47 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
What is the point?
The next story is not from the Bible but it is a common illustration of the point. You possibly know it.
Charles Blondin was a French acrobat and tightrope walker who walked across the Niagara Falls, between the United States and Canada, 300 times in his life, each time making it more and more daring. He did things like crossing it blind-folded, doing flips on the rope, carrying a stove and cooking an omelette in the middle. The story goes that, on one occasion, he pushed a wheelbarrow carrying a sack of potatoes across on the tightrope. He then asked the crowd if they believed he could push a person across in the wheelbarrow. The crowd of thrill-seekers excitedly cheered and shouted. Yes, they believed he could do it.
Blondin then asked the crowd who was willing to sit in the wheelbarrow – and there was silence.
What is the point?
That story might not even be true. It might be a legend that has grown around Blondin and that Christians repeat endlessly because it illustrates the point. However, Blondin did once piggyback his manager, Harry Colcord, over the Niagara Falls. Even if that story is not true, it illustrates the point.
The next story is actually a list of stories. Hebrews 11 is a catalogue of people of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and more. There is a regular pattern in the chapter: By faith so-and-so did such-and-such. Did you hear that? By faith so-and-so did such-and-such. It is all about what people did because of their faith. Let’s see if we can identify the faith actions.
- By faith Noah… built an ark.
- By faith Abraham… left his homeland and journeyed to the promised land even though he didn’t know where God would lead him
- By faith Sarah… was enabled to bear children
- By faith Abraham… offered Isaac as a sacrifice
- By faith Moses’ parents… hid him for 3 months
- By faith Moses… identified with the Israelites not with the Egyptian royal family
- By faith Moses… left Egypt not fearing the king’s anger
- By faith Moses… kept the Passover – putting blood on their doorposts believing that God would keep His promise to spare their firstborn.
- By faith the people of Israel… passed through the Red Sea on dry land
- By faith the walls of Jericho fell
- And there are many more but they are all about what people did because they trusted God.
Last week we talked about Ephesians 2:8-9 but let’s read it again adding on v.10.
Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Very clearly that passage says that we are not saved by good works. WE talked about that last week. We are not saved by good works but that we are saved for good works. People of faith serve, trusting God.
READ James 2:14-19
The central statement there is that faith without action is dead. This is illustrated a number of ways.
- We can claim to have faith but if there are no deeds, that faith will not even save us.
- Faith without action is like kind words without any action addressed to a person with no food or clothes. In other words, faith without action is an empty mockery.
- James said, “I will show you my faith by what I do.” It doesn’t matter what I claim, I will show you my faith by what I do.
- We might claim to believe. But even demons believe in God. It is not about believing intellectually that God exists; it is about trusting God. And that is demonstrated by our actions.
When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham could have said, “Haha, I get it. I know what you are up to. You are testing to see if I have faith. OK, yep, I do. I believe somehow you will work this out. You could provide another sacrifice or You could raise Isaac from the dead. I believe You can do that. We don’t need to actually go to that mountain that You specified. And we don’t need to actually build an altar. And I don’t need to actually sacrifice Isaac. I just need to tell you that I have faith.”
But God said, “No, show me.”
Abraham had to actually tie up his son and lay him on the altar. It was when he actually took the knife – really willing to sacrifice Isaac – that God told him to stop and said, “Now I know that you fear God.”
What good would it have been if David had declared to the army that he believed God would enable him to kill Goliath, and then simply gone home? Faith without works is dead.
What if Peter had said to Jesus, “Tell me to come to you on the water” and Jesus had said “Come” and Peter said, “Oh yeah, well I know I could – of course. But I’ll just stay in this boat thanks all the same.”
When we think about faith we often think about the beginning of the Christian life and the end of the Christian life. We think about being saved by faith in Jesus (like we talked about last week) and we think about going to heaven when we die. But what about everything in the middle? The Bible says that the righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17; Hebrews 10:38). Are you living by faith?
How can we know that we have faith? Our faith is proved by our actions. What are we doing that shows that we trust God? Every one of the stories and passages that we have talked about involves taking risks. I remember John Wimber saying that faith is spelt r.i.s.k. In every instance, God spoke and the person trusted God enough to take the risk. Abraham took a risk. David took a risk. Elijah took a risk. Moses took multiple risks. The converts at Pentecost took a risk even associating with the Christians but they also risked their eternal salvation by putting their trust in Jesus.
I know I have faith when I am obedient to God; when I am doing the works He has prepared for me to do; when there is a risk but I trust Him.
What risks are we taking because God has called us to do it and we trust Him?