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Sermon #18 — James Series
Title: “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD”
Text: James 2:19-24
Subject: Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac
Date: Tuesday Evening — July 14, 2015
Readings: Larry Brown and David Burge
In James 2:23 we are told that “Abraham believed God.” That is my subject. — “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD.” Let’s begin by reading James
(James 2:19-24) “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (20) But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (21) Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (22) Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect [ετελειωθη — fulfilled, finished, completed, consecrated, brought to maturity — Out of his works faith was made perfected]? (23) And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (24) Ye see then how that by works a man
is justified, and not by faith only.”
What is James talking about here? What does God the Holy Ghost teach us in this portion of Holy Scripture? What are the works by which Abraham was justified in his faith? Is James telling us that Abraham was justified before God by works of morality and outward godliness? Is he telling us that the Patriarch was justified before men by such works, works seen, approved of, and applauded by men? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding “No!” — “God forbid!” To suggest otherwise is to fly in the face of Holy Scripture.
• Justification before God is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! — Sinners are justified by the doing and dying of the Lord Jesus Christ, not by something good we do! — We are justified by the righteousness and blood of the Son of God!
• Godliness and faith, righteousness and holiness are not things carnal men can see!
God the Holy Ghost, the Almighty Author of Inspiration, has throughout the Book of God put this matter beyond dispute.
Read God’s Word to us by James again (vv. 21-22). — “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the Altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was made perfect.” James here says nothing about Abraham’s character, his outward godliness, or his moral conduct. He doesn’t say a word about something other people saw in Abraham. He speaks to us about a work of faith performed by Abraham before God alone; a work of faith, yes, but a work of faith seen by none but God. It was by his sacrifice of Isaac upon Mt. Moriah that Abraham’s faith was made perfect, not by works of virtue, morality, and goodness before men.
Proposition: Abraham’s faith was proved to be real, by his proceeding to act upon it.
We see this clearly stated in Hebrews 11:17-19.
(Hebrews 11:17-19) “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (18) Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: (19) Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
God promised Abraham a son. God declared with this son that the woman’s promised Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, would in the process of time come from his loins through Isaac. Abraham believed what God said. He took God at his Word.
Then, when Isaac was nearly grown, a strapping young man, Abraham received a command to offer up this son, as a burnt-offering. Being strong in faith and concluding that God was able to raise his son again from the dead, the Patriarch proceeded to obey God. Thus his faith was put into practice.
By this act, James tells us that Abraham our father was justified by works. Do you see that? By this act Abraham proved that his was not a dead faith, the faith of devils, but a living faith. Living faith is not lip faith, but faith by which all who are just before God live. — “The just shall live by faith!”
This was a transaction between God and Abraham alone. It had no connection whatever to the ordinary affairs of life between man and man.
MADE PERFECT BY TRIAL
From the opening verses of his Epistle, James has been talking to us about trials, the trials of faith by which faith grows, increases, is strengthened, and brought to perfection (maturity). — “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4). In our text (James 2:19-24), he shows us an example of the way God graciously brings our faith to perfection (maturity).
CHRIST MADE PERFECT
In Hebrews 5:8 we read that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” By his obedience unto death, by the things he suffered as our Substitute, our Savior was made perfect as the Captain of our Salvation. — “Being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). And that which was true of our Redeemer, when he walked upon this earth as a man, is true of us. If we are the children of God, as long as we live in this body of flesh, we will be required to learn obedience. And we learn obedience by the things which we suffer by the hand of God’s wise and good providence. Thus by our trials, like Abraham, our faith is brought to its end and we are made perfect (mature) sons of God.
“‘Tis my happiness below
Not to live without the cross,
But my Savior’s power to know
Sanctifying every loss.
Trials must and will befall;
But, with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all – This is happiness to me.
God in Israel sows the seeds
Of affliction, pain, and toil These spring up and choke the weeds That would else o’erspread the soil.
Trials make the promise sweet
Trials give new life to prayer,
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low and keep me there.
Did I meet no trials here,
No chastisements by the way, Might I not with reason fear I should prove a castaway.
Bastards may escape the rod, Sunk in earthly, vain delight; But the true born child of God
Must not, would not, if he might.”
— William Cowper
The life of the believer is a series of trials, by which our faith is tested, tried, proved, strengthened, and made perfect. Character is developed by discipline. And God will develop the character of his saints. It sometimes appears in the life of a believer that there is one great trial of faith, for which all other trials were preparatory. Certainly, that was the case with Abraham and the great trial of his faith described in our text.
True faith is obedient faith. Abraham showed no reluctance. As soon as he had God’s command, he traveled three days’ journey to the place of sacrifice. He took the wood for the burnt offering, laid it on his son; took fire, and carried a knife in his hand to slay his son. He built an altar, laid the wood in order on it; and bound his son, laid him on the altar before the Lord, took the knife, and stretched forth his hand to slay his darling son. He fully intended to kill his only son upon the mount of sacrifice.
For this, he is held before us as a great example of faith. Had God not stopped him, Abraham would have killed his son by faith. He believed God. He trusted the equity, justice, and wisdom of his God and his God’s command. Believing God, he was fully assured of the truth and faithfulness of Lord’s promises, no matter how his providence and commands might seem to contradict them.
Moreover, Abraham was fully persuaded that God would, one way or another, fulfill his promises, raise Isaac from the dead, and save his people through that Savior, the Lord Jesus, who was to come through his loins! This was great faith indeed! Being great faith, it was greatly tried.
The Lord God promised Abraham that he would have a son, — that a great multitude would be born of him, a people who would inherit the earth. — The promise of God to Abraham was that the Messiah himself, (the Woman’s Seed, the Christ, the Redeemer) would come into the world through Isaac! Then, Abraham received Isaac as one raised from the dead, in a figure, in a picture, for the purpose of teaching us about faith.
CHRIST FAITH’S OBJECT
The faith of God’s elect is the faith of our father Abraham. The singular Object of that faith is our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s look one more time at that great passage to which James refers us (Genesis 22:119).
(James 2:21) “Abraham our father [was] justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar.”
(James 2:23) “And the scripture was fulfilled [Genesis 15:6] which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of
Let me show you something of that which is revealed in Genesis 22 about Abraham believing God and being justified by his works, by acting upon his faith, faith in Christ. — “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD.” That’s my subject. Here is the text (Genesis 22) that proves it. Here God the Holy Ghost shows us how Abraham was justified in his faith, how his faith was made perfected by his works.
Genesis 22 is one of the great chapters of the Bible. Here, for the first time, God shows us, in a vivid picture, the necessity of a human sacrifice for the ransom of our souls. Because it was a man who brought sin into the world, sin must be removed by a man. Because man had sinned, a man must suffer the wrath of God and die. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. But the Man, Christ Jesus, “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God...For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:4, 12, 14).
Genesis 22 records Abraham’s greatest trial and the great revelation of the gospel that God made to Abraham. I am sure our Lord was referring to this chapter when he said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). This chapter is full of Christ and full of redemption. Someone suggested, “It could rightly be called ‘The Gospel of Moriah’.” Many, with good reason, believe that Mt. Moriah and Mt. Calvary were the same places.
This whole chapter is a picture of God’s great sacrifice of his dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the place of sinners. This is where Abraham proved his faith.
Notice first, the time when this trial was brought upon Abraham. — “And it came to pass after these things” (Genesis 22:1). — After all the other trials, hardships, heartaches, and difficulties he had already endured, perhaps Abraham had begun to think, “At last, the storms are over.”
• This is the man who had been called to leave his home and family.
• This is the man who had buried his father Terah in Haran.
• This is the man who had to endure the family strife with Lot.
• This is the man who had to go to war with the heathen kings to save Lot.
• This is the man who had to wait 25 years for God to fulfill his promise. — Isaac
• This is the man who had seen his brother’s family swept away in God’s wrath.
• This is the man who had been required to cast his son Ishmael out of his house.
Abraham must have thought to himself, after all that he had been through, “Now the worst is over. Now I will live in peace. Ishmael is gone. Hagar is gone. Lot is gone. But I have Sarah and Isaac. All is well.” But it was not so. “It came to pass after these things that God did tempt,” test, try, and prove, “Abraham.” Abraham had been tested again and again. But now the Lord seems to say, “My son, give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26).
GOD TEMPTED ABRAHAM
Second, the One who brought this trial upon Abraham was the Lord his God. — “God did tempt Abraham” (v. 1). — The word tempt here means, “to try,” “to test,” or “to prove” (James 1:2, 3, 12).
(James 1:2-3) “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (4) But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”
(James 1:12) “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
God brought this trial upon Abraham, not because he was angry at him, but because he loved him. The purpose of the trial was to prove to Abraham the reality of his faith and to reveal to Abraham the glory of his grace in Christ. When the trial was over, Abraham knew himself better than he did before; and he knew Christ better than he did before.
All through his life God had been preparing Abraham for this event; and now, “it came to pass after these things.” Our great, sovereign God does all things “in due time” (Romans 5:6).
“In the fulness of time” (Galatians 4:4) — “After these things” — After the Fall, the Flood, the Exodus, the Tabernacle, the Law, the prophets, the kings, and the priests had all run their course, it pleased God to fulfill every prophecy, pattern, and promise of Holy Scripture by the sacrifice of his only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. All that came before were preparatory events, picturing and pointing to the hour when Christ would die (Acts 10:43; Luke 24:27, 44-46).
God’s providence is always on time. — “All things are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). And God does all things well. Learn these three things:
1. Our trials always come from our heavenly
2. Our trials are brought upon us by God to prove and improve our faith.
3. Our trials reveal Christ and make him more precious.
Third, read Genesis 22:2 and try to realize something of the magnitude of this great trial. The words of this verse, taken one by one, reveal the greatness of Abraham’s sacrifice, the love behind it, and the agony he endured through it. Can you imagine...
• Abraham’s grief when he received this command?
• The sorrow he suffered as he contemplated the death of his son by his own hand?
• The faith in and love he must have had for God, to willingly sacrifice his darling Isaac?
• The supreme sacrifice he made?
Every word in this verse must have been like a sword in his heart! But, behold, a greater than Abraham is here, and a greater Sacrifice than that of Abraham is here! Here the Lord God himself is telling us what he has done for us.
“Take now thy son” — The Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sacrificed for us, is himself the Son of God. — “Thine only son” — Our Savior, whom God gave for the ransom of our souls, is God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16). — “Isaac” — Isaac means “laughter”, or “delight.” And Christ is the One, the only one, in whom God delights and in whom he is well pleased. — “Whom thou lovest” — God said, “This is my beloved Son.” Yet, he sacrificed his darling for us, the very chief of sinners! — “And offer him for a burnt offering” — Not just a sacrifice, “a burnt offering!” The Lord Jesus Christ is our burnt-offering, our sin-offering, our trespass offering, sacrificed for us by the hand of God, according to the will of God (Isaiah 53:10; Hebrews 10:9-10). — “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” (1 Corinthians 9:15)
Fourth, consider the difficulties Abraham had to overcome to obey God’s command. There were many things Abraham might have argued as reasons for disobedience. But he “consulted not with flesh and blood.” God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, but...
• The Lord gave him no reason for requiring such a sacrifice. — All Abraham had was God’s command.
• The commandment was contrary to nature, reason, and love. — But it was crystal clear.
• The commandment appeared to be contrary to the promise of God. — But it came from God who made the promise.
• If Abraham obeyed God, as he knew he was sure to suffer much ridicule, persecution, and reproach for it. — What would he tell Sarah? — What would he say to the Egyptians?
God, give me grace to give you such implicit obedience. — “God’s commands must not be disputed, but obeyed. We must not consult with flesh and blood about them (Galatians 1:15-16), but with a gracious obstinacy persist in our obedience to them” (Matthew Henry). — “Whatsoever he saith to you, do it!” (John 2:5).
Fifth, now I want us to look at Abraham’s sacrifice (vv. 3-10). When you read these verses, turn your thoughts away from Abraham. This is a picture of God’s whole purpose of grace and his great work of redemption by the sacrifice of his dear Son, our precious Christ.
(Genesis 22:3-10) “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. (4) Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (5) And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. (6) And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. (7) And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? (8) And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (9) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. (10) And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.”
“Abraham rose up early in the morning,” and prepared everything with great care (vv. 3-4). — He had three long, long days to think about what must be done. As they journeyed those days and slept through those nights, the burden and sacrifice constantly lay upon his heart. But our heavenly Father planned, purposed, and ordained the sacrifice of his Son for us, not three days, nor three thousand days, but from eternity, before ever the world was made (Revelation 13:8; Ephesians 1:3-4). And he never thought about altering his purpose!
• Abraham carefully prepared everything for the sacrifice. And our great God carefully prepared everything for the sacrifice of his darling Son for us (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
• “Abraham saw the place afar off!” — So the Lord God, from everlasting set his heart and mind upon the place of sacrifice — Mt. Calvary!
Abraham and Isaac went to the mountain of sacrifice together alone (vv. 5-8). I don’t know how to explain what I am about to say theologically. Some may think me utterly heretical for declaring it. — I know that God is pure, eternal, immutable, incomprehensible Spirit. — I know that God has neither body, nor passions. — I know that nothing moves, affects, or in any way alters the eternal God. — But I know this, too: — God is not a stone! He felt the sacrifice!
Redemption was the work of God alone, a transaction between God the Father and God the Son. — “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Twelve went with the Son of God to the Passover. Eleven went with him to the garden. Three went with him to pray. But when he went to the cross, our Savior was alone with God his Father (Hebrews 1:3).
• The wood was laid upon Isaac’s back. — Christ carried his cross.
• The instruments of death were in the father’s hands. — “Awake, O sword!”
• Isaac’s question — “Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”(v. 7) — He knew that God could not be worshipped without a blood sacrifice (Exodus 12:13; Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22).
• “God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (v. 8). This is clearly a prophecy of Christ, the Lamb of God. — The Sacrificial Lamb is for God! — The Sacrificial Lamb is from God! Whatever sacrifice God requires, it is only what God has given! — The Sacrificial Lamb is God!
At last they came to the place of sacrifice (vv. 9-10).
(Genesis 22:9-10) “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. (10) And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.”
Abraham built the altar and laid the wood upon it. — He bound his son and laid him on the altar. — Isaac willingly submitted to his father’s will. And Abraham stretched forth his hand to kill his Son! (Zechariah 13:7).
(Zechariah 13:7) “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.”
Sixth, verses 11-13 reveal a beautiful, blessed picture of substitutionary redemption.
(Genesis 22:11-13) “And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. (12) And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. (13) And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.”
Once Abraham’s faith was proved, made perfected, God intervened to save Isaac.
• When God spoke Abraham looked. — Faith.
• When he looked, he saw a ram. — Christ.
• He offered the ram “in the stead of his Son!” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Seventh, “Abraham called the name of that place, Jehovah-jireh” (v. 14).
• The Lord will see. — He sees our need: Atonement! Righteousness!
• The Lord will provide. — What we need: —
• The Lord will be seen in the provision he makes!
Last, when the whole work was done, Isaac, the object of his father’s love, was exalted (vv. 15-18; Philippians 2:9-11).
(Genesis 22:15-18) “And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, (16) And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: (17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”
(Philippians 2:9-11) “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (10) That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
• He was promised a great posterity. — “He shall see his seed!”
• He was made to be a great ruler. — “Possess the gate of his enemies” (John 17:2; Ps. 2:8).
• He became the source of universal blessedness (Ephesians 1:3).
Thus, the Holy Ghost tells us by the Apostle James, “Abraham believed God.” And “Abraham our father [was] justified by works, when he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar” (James 2:21-24).
(James 2:22-24) “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (23) And the scripture was fulfilled [Genesis 15:6] which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (24) Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Thus God proved to Abraham that he believed God. And thus Abraham, by his work, showed that he believed God. No wonder, James wrote, as he was about to tell us how Abraham was justified in his faith…
(James 1:12) “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
Abraham believed God. God proved it to him by a great, great trial. And Abraham received the crown of life.
Illustration: During an especially trying time in the work of the China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor wrote to his wife, “We have twenty-five cents—and all the promises of God!”