When God Doesn't Make Sense

Let's turn to Genesis chapter 22.

GE 22:2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about ."

GE 22:3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. [4] On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. [5] He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

GE 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife . As the two of them went on together, [7] Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"

"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

GE 22:8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

GE 22:9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. [10] Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. [11] There Abraham slew his son and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the mountain. [12] Then Abraham went back to his house alone. [13] Abraham's servants asked Abraham, master, where is your son, Isaac. [14] And Abraham said…

Whooa! Wait a minute. That's not how the story goes.

In the story, God stops Abraham right in the nick of time. A voice from heaven. Abraham! Abraham! Don't lay a hand on your child!

I'm sure Abraham breathed a huge sigh of relief at that point. He'd committed to do whatever it was that God asked of him, even if it meant doing something that went against all of his intellectual understanding, all his emotional instincts, even all his spiritual understanding. Well, once the voice showed up, it all made sense. God just wanted to see if Abraham was willing to give up his only son Isaac, but when all was said and done, he wasn't asking him to literally sacrifice him.

But what if he was?

It's interesting that this is the first mention of the word “sacrifice” anywhere in the Bible. It's also the first time a burnt offering is recorded.

By Moses' day there were a variety of offerings, and it's probably safe to say that the means of offering was the same in Abraham's day..

There was the Grain offering, an offering of grain, flower, or cakes, given in recognition of God's goodness and providence. There was the Fellowship offering, an offering of an animal given in thanksgiving and fellowship, accompanied by a communal meal. There was the Sin offering, a mandatory offering given to atone for certain sins…to confess sins, ask forgivness, and be ceremonially cleaned from defilment. There ws the guilt offering given to atone for certain sins requiring restitution.

In our prayers today, we make the same kinds of offerings to God. We pray to God for forgiveness of sins. We pray to God in thanksgiving. We pray together in communal fellowship.

But of all the offerings, the burnt offering stood alone. It represented a totality…in one sacrifice, the person sacrificing was asking for atonement of sin, was expressing devotion to God, and was making a commitment and complete surrender to God.

During Moses' time, a burnt offering was offered every morning and evening. On the Sabbath, there were double burnt offerings. On special feasts, additional burnt offerings were held, and anyone could offer a special burnt offering to express special devotion to God.

The animal to be offered was to be male….male animals were of greatest value. People offered animals according to what they could afford…the average wageearner could afford a young sheep or goat. The more affluent could afford bulls, and the less wealthy were to sacrifice doves or pigeons.

No matter what the animal was, it had to be unblemished, without defect.

As in all offerings, the offerer was to lay his hand on the head of the animal to express identification between himself and the animal, whose death would then be accepted in "atonement" (v. 4).

The blood was sprinkled on the sides of the great altar.

The whole sacrifice was to be burned up (v. 9), including the head, legs, fat and inner organs. The burnt offering was sometimes called a holocaust offering (holo means "whole," and caust means "burnt"). The complete

It was the most comprehensive of the sacrifices. The completeness of its burning speaks of dedication on the part of the worshiper.

Now go back to Abraham. This is what God wanted him to do to Isaac. And notice Abraham had three days to think about it. Had God not showed up when he did, it would have been an utterly horrific sight.

Until this point in his life, Abraham really didn't have to go through many hardships at all, and certainly never had to lose anything. Then, Abraham got the call. Kill your son, your only the way, did I mention that this is the son you love?

Have you ever had an Isaac in your life? Something or someone you treasured and cherished, more than life itself? A special person? Or maybe a concept…a way of thinking? Maybe a habit. Something that if you lost, you'd be crushed.

Think of something you love more than anything else in the world? Something you couldn't do without? Something that you love, maybe even more than you love God?

Whatever it is, don't be surprised if one day, you hear a voice asking you to sacrifice it. The voice will be deafening.

I'm sorry, your husband's been in a terrible car accident and may not survive. I'm sorry, your little child has leukemia and will be facing months of painful chemotherapy and tests. I'm sorry, we appreciate your many years of fine work, but we're letting you go. I'm sorry, I've fallen in love with someone else, and I'm leaving you.

Insert your own line here.

Sometimes after we deal with the impending loss for a while, God shows up and shouts STOP. The sickness is healed, or the loved one sticks around for a while.

But what if he doesn't? What if he asks you to go through with it? What if the worst thing you ever thought would happen does? What if you never hear the voice telling you it was all a gag? What if the ram in the thicket never shows up?

That's when you have to cling on for dear life to the Word of God. Turn to Romans 8:28.

RO 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Now most of us know this verse. Nice verse. But notice that it says “the good of those who love him”. Not “the wishes of those who love him”. Or “the peace of those who love him” or “the joy of those who love him”. But “the good”.

What is the “good”?

Often we think that what's good is what we want. It's what makes us feel all nice inside. We interpret this verse to mean if we love God, then everything will go well, like in the movies…we'll beat the enemy, we'll get the girl, we'll save the orphanage from certain destruction.

Well, we quickly find out that “the good” is not only sometimes not what we want…its rarely what we want.

But if you take some time to look around the Bible, you'll see that very few people who committed their lives to God had storybook lives or got what they wanted. The Bible is filled with pain and suffering and tears. The Bible is filled with stories of human beings who desperately wanted something, but it turned out that what they wanted wasn't what God

I once heard Elizabeth Eliot defined suffering this way: suffering is wanting something you don't have, or having something you don't want.

Or put another way, suffering happens when your will and God's will happen not to be the same.

There is no more poignant example of this as in the book of Mark, chapter 14, verse 32.

MK 14:32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." [33] He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. [34] "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch."

MK 14:35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. [36] "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

Now, most people gloss over the first two prayers that Jesus makes in the garden, goes to the third, and marvels at how Jesus went from saying “take this cup from me” to “may your will be done”.

But let's spend some time on this first prayer.

"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”

In the book of Luke, it says that Jesus was in anguish. Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly. His sweat poured down until he was kneeling face down in a pool of perspiration. Picture him wailing, tears flowing down his face continually.

Imagine what was in his mind…the next few hours would be constant pain and torture. He knew that the Bible prophesied that he would die. He probably knew the words he had to say. But imagine the horrible sights he knew he would have to see. His mother staring up at his battered body, pained beyond words? His closest friends in the whole world, swearing that they didn't know him. The masses of people who just days before welcomed him into the city with cries of joy, now turning against him in disgust. The Roman soldiers, doing their duty, which happened to be to make a public spectacle of the criminals they were assigned to..

But worst of all, that moment. That moment when father would turn his head away from son and say to him, I can have nothing to do with you, the vilest sinner in the world. I think Jesus would have endured all the other pain he endured many times over to avoid that moment.

But he couldn't. There was no voice from heaven saying “don't do it”. There was no ram caught in the thicket to replace Jesus on the cross. We all know what happens next.

Now, how many times have we prayed this prayer to God? How many times will we pray this prayer in our lifetimes? Lord, you can do everything. Nothing is impossible for you. Please, just this once, take this suffering out of my life. Let me have it my way.

Well, maybe only Jesus himself could have taught us this lesson. After all, of all the things we could possibly lose in this world, what is more precious than what he lost? His job? His health? His life? His loved ones? His soul?

HEB 5:7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death , and he was heard because of his reverent submission . [8] Although he was a son , he learned obedience from what he suffered [9] and, once made perfect , he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

Now take a look at some of the key words in this verse:

Cries, tears, death, reverent, submission, son, obedience, suffered, perfect, eternal, salvation, obey.

Jesus showed up what to do. In sacrifice, we suffer. In suffering, we cry. Through tears, we learn obedience. Through obedience, we are made perfect. Through perfection, we gain eternal salvation.

This is the meaning of sacrifice, of a burnt offering which is broken and burnt completely. It's not easy to be asked to sacrifice something. Along with sacrifice come words like submission, and suffering.

That's why they call it "sacrifice".

Suffering is a process of purification. It's the process we go through to become perfect. Before we can really be called the people of God, we need to undergo suffering.

ZEC 13:9 This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, `They are my people,'
and they will say, `The LORD is our God.' "

Purification isn't a dainty or easy process. It's a violent, painful process. When gold is refined, the raw ore is placed in a kiln. The kiln is heated by intense fire, until the ore melts into liquid. The dross floats to the top and is scraped away bit by bit. If the purification is successful, the gold is used. If not, the gold undergoes the process again until it is pure.

So testing purifies us.

I Pet 1:[6] In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. [7] These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. [8] Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, [9] for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Unfortunately, when the people of the world go through suffering, rarely do they turn to God. Instead, they resent God. What's lacking is submission. So what's really lacking is humility. The faith that God is there and knows what he's doing.

We have a cat, named Desslock. Little orange fellow. Well, Desslock likes to be let outside so he can make his rounds aroud the neighborhood. Unfortunately, when the weather turns bad, when it's 15 degrees outside, I don't let Desslock out of the house. Well, he gets steamed. He would stand at the doorway for hours, scratching and scratching. After a while, he'd start meowing….actually, more like mournful wailing. It would get quite annoying. But what Desslock never realizes is that my way is mjuch better than his way. In his mind he says…come on man, I'm on a schedule here…you're cramping my style. And who can blame him…it's instinctive. He doesn't see the thermometer, or the snow, or the ice that I see. He doesn't realize that if I let him out, it's not going to be good.

Well, how many times are we like Desslock? We think that our way is the best way. Unfortunately, all we can see is the bottom of the door. We have no idea what's beyond the door. All we know is that we don't control the doorknob, and the one that does isn't turning it. And we get mad.

ISA 55:8 (read) "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

ISA 55:9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

There comes a moment in everyone's life, and the earlier it comes, the better, when he realizes that he is not God, but that God's ways are better. Even when things are bleakest, when God's ways seem so illogical, he knows that there is something better waiting ahead.

Hebrews 11. [35] Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. [36] Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. [37] They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- [38] the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

HEB 11:39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. [40] God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

HEB 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. [2] Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. [3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Now none of the people described in these verses got what they wanted out of life. Getting sawed in two is not exactly what I'd put on my top ten list of “good” things to happen to me. It says here that NONE of them received what had been promised. They went to their graves not understanding at all, at least rationally, what it was they sacrificed their lives for.

But the author of Hebrews calls them a great cloud of witnesses. Because their faith let them see what their eyes couldn't. And he goes on…Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Now often, when we talk to people we say, oh, my faith is just not good. Or “oh, that person has strong faith but I don't” We get into the habit of describing faith as something which just happens or doesn't happen to someone. In reality, faith is a conscious decision. It's a decision to have faith in Christ, and every day, we need to make a conscious effort to keep the faith.

So a burnt offering is an offering of one's totality. It involves faith that God is in control and sees what we cannot, humility before God and submission to God because of that understanding, complete obedience, often including giving up something you'd rather not give up.

Now some people in the world make sacrifices, complete burnt offerings, but not to God. They offer to other gods. And their offering is complete…they are humble to their gods, they submit to whatever their gods tell them, they obey the voice of their gods, and they freely give up everything for these gods.

You've probably heard of these gods….there's a god called money. You often hear of people spending hours and hours at the office, trying to make a name for himself, trying to add value for the shareowners. Now by itself, that's not a bad thing. But once things start to get sacrificed on the altar of the corporation…health, family, church, the unsaved souls of the world that this person was supposed to save…that's when it's time to repent and turn back to God.

Look at the workplace and how people behave. People lie and take credit for others' work. People use office politics to get their own way. People badmouth others behind their backs. People beam with pride over their accomplishments. People put in long hours of work at the expense of their families. People get stressed and ruin the temple of God, their bodies.

…on the surface, sometimes it looks like “work ethic” or “drive” or “personality”. But look a little deeper. If there weren't a paycheck in the mail every month, how many people would still do it? If there wasn't a performance appraisal where the amount of money you get next year is directly correlated to your accomplishments list and how it stacks up to your collegaues' lists, how many people would still do it?

Look carefully, and you'll understand that the motivator for all of it ultimately is money. You'll understand the truth that money is the root of all evil.

What about the god named sexual pleasure? How many families are sacrificed on this altar? How many aborted fetuses are sacrificed every year? How many souls are sacrificed because the person who should be telling them about salvation is mired in pornography?

How about other gods? The god of TV, whom we sit in front of for hours and hours worshipping instead of doing what the Lord calls us to do? The god of secular music, who provides us with a lift to our souls? The god of alcohol, which takes a human sacrifice every time there's a DWI car crash? How about the god of pride? Or vanity?

And there's this new philosophy that's seeping into society. The philosophy that God is irrelevant, and that all the answers to the universe can be found within man. It's a subtle philosophy, but keep an eye out for it…it's all over the mass media, in the schools, and at work. It's even seeping into the church. In this case, the god is ourselves.

What is a god? A god is anything or anyone you hold as more important than the One True God. If you go into ancient history, you'll find many examples of gods who were created for man to worship. The key to these so-called gods was instant gratification. Worship me, and you'll get all the desires of your heart right away.

One thing to remember is that we hold the promise. When God spoke to the people of Israel, he said this:

DT 13:1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, [2] and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," [3] you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. [4] It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. [5] That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

God was very strict to the Israelites. The verses around this one even say, if your wife, or son, or daughter, or closest friend tells you to worship anotehr god, put him or her to death. If an entire town starts to worship another god, put that entire town to death.

We are in a land where you don't see many graven images…no, our society's much too intellegent and advanced for that. But look around you. Look at the people of this world. They're not worshipping the one True God. And if they're not worshipping the One True God, they're worshipping something else. There's something in their lives which is more important than God.

And as followers of the One True God, we're in the same boat as the ancient Israelites. We need to choose to serve the One True God, or not to. There's no in between. And while we do gather together as a church, ultimately it's a decision each individual, and each family have to make.

JOS 24:14 "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. [15] But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

So in conclusion, I'll pose a question.

Say that tomorrow, you were asked to sacrifice something near and dear to you. Maybe your own life. How would you handle it?

Let me answer that with another question.

Who was the luckiest man in the Bible?

It wasn't Paul, or Jonah, or Samson.

No, the luckiest man on the face of the earth was a man who was nailed to a cross. Not the man you normally thing about, but the one next to him.

“Lord, remember me when you get into your kingdom”

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Here's a man who was condemned to die, probably justly. The Bible doesn't say what crimes he committed, but Roman law at that time was generallly just, with one obvious exception. The punishment generally fit the crime. Maybe this man had been a murderer, or a thief.

But at that moment…maybe it was a brief moment when the people hurling insults stopped to get their lunch…at that moment, this man happened to have the ear of the Savior. So did the fellow a few feet away from him, on the other side.

“Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Bad move. This was from the mouth of someone who was dealing with death unceremoniously. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, all in one sentence. He had become one of the accusers of Christ. If you don't save me, you're a liar. You have no power to save. You're a fraud. He didn't believe in Christ, but in one last ditch desperate attempt, he lashed out, caught up in the frenzy of the accusers below.

But our friend on the other side of the cross had made a decsiison. He had accepted his fate, and had confessed his sin. Who knows how he knew of Jesus's power to save, but he did. Against popular sentiment too. Everyone at his feet and the fellow on the other side of Jesus were calling Jesus every terrible name imaginable. But somehow, this criminal saw Jesus clearly. Who he was….what he came on earth to do…and what to do about it.

This criminal was humble. The other one was proud. This criminal asked nothing more of Jesus than simply to remember him. The other one demanded that Jesus do according to what he wanted. This criminal knew that he was a sinner, and accepted his fate. The other was was unrepentant, looking for escape from accountability for his crimes. This criminal worshipped Jesus. The other one accused.

Which side of the cross are you on?

Every day, we need to make the decision that the criminals on the crosses made. Some people demand that God do what they want God to do, as if God were some kind of genie, granting wishes to us, the masters. Aren't you God? Aren't you an all-loving and powerful God? Then why did I get fired? What did my father get cancer? Why is my child dying? If you're God you will do what I say. Save yourself and us.

Others are humble. Thy Will Be Done. I don't deserve a thing from you, but I hope beyond hope that you'll just remember me. Nothing else matters. I know there's something better out there.I can't see it, but I know you can. And that's good enough for me. Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.

You bet that Jesus Remembered that thief. Because Jesus never breaks a promise. And if Jesus remembered tht wretched soul, how much more will he remember us?


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