At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “True North.”
At times, it can be hard to keep believing that God truly has a plan, and if we could know what it is. The Scriptures reveal that God is at work to accomplish His purposes. In fact, the Scriptures share a unified story that points towards Jesus. He is God’s plan to rescue humanity. This was not an afterthought nor an accident. From the beginning pages of the Scriptures, we can see God at work to redeem His creation. This gives us hope that He is at work in our lives even now.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
“True North: The Willing Sacrifice” Next Steps
Gateway South Austin Service Video:
We’re doing this True North series to show you how God has been putting Signs along the Journey of Humanity—pointing us to True North—to God’s identity and character, revealed in Jesus. But He’s been putting these signs throughout history because God wants relationship with you. Even Friendship.
Last week we saw how the Gospel, the message of God overcoming evil through Jesus the Messiah, was forecast right from the beginning.
- God’s always had a plan to overcome evil, but what we learned last week is that we live between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22—in the knowledge of Good and Evil.
- God allows our fall—He creates us free and the first command “You are free to choose.”
- God did this because God is love, and He created us to love God and one another, but love must be free to choose, or it is not love.
- God warned us, don’t eat of the knowledge of good and evil—we already had tasted good, all we were missing was evil. But evil deceived us—and we talked about how it’s the same deception we all face every day—every day we re-enact the fall from Eden.
- We live in between Eden and the New Heaven and New Earth, in the knowledge of both good, and evil. One day, all things will be made right, but for now we live in a broken world.
But God had a plan from eternity. Through the seed (singular) of the woman would come one who would crush the head of evil, though evil would bite him on the heel. We said this is forecasting Jesus.
Today, we’re going to see in an even clearer way why this is pointing toward Jesus. And we said last week, the tests of life are often opportunities from God, they are the opportunity to prove faithful, but even more, they’re the opportunity for friendship with God.
Today, we’re going to look at a man and woman who learned how faith works.
And without faith it is impossible to please God….” Hebrews 11:6
Why? Because faith is just another word for trust, and trust is what every friendship is built on.
Hebrews 11 goes on to say: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. James 2:23
Faith made him right with God, and faith earned him the title “The friend of God.” God says through Isaiah, “But you, Israel…you descendants of Abraham my friend.” God wants to call you friend.
Think about that for a second. The God of the Universe can be a friend—someone you know well, and who calls you His friend. Isn’t that amazing—Imagine the Ruler of the Universe saying “That’s Susan, my friend. That’s Mike…my friend. It’s what God wants with you. Jesus called his disciples that:
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:13-15.
And imagine knowing God intimately as a friend.
Abraham and Sarah discovered the equation for intimate friendship with God. God allows tests, to grow our friendship with him—I learned it in scripture, but I’ve also experienced it in my life. That Tests+Trust+Time = Friendship.
And if you will let your tests be opportunities to trust God, He will take you on the adventure of your life, and in time you will discover true friendship with God.
So let’s look at 3 Tests that led Abraham into friendship with God.
The Comfort Test (Will I step out of my comfort zone?)
Genesis tells us Abraham and his wife Sarah were living in Ur of Mesopotamia in about 2000BC (skeptics said it was a mythological Bible city, until archaeologists found the city in modern Iraq). Ur was a large, modern city for its day–like a London or Los Angeles. They had the big city life, and he was doing well, they were comfortable. God asks them to step out of their comfort zone and trust Him.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3
God asks Abraham and Sarah to step out of what’s comfortable and follow Him to a new place. God promised Abraham 4 things if he would step out of his comfort zone:
- a land (Israel)
- a nation (Jewish, but also Arab nations)
- a name (we’re talking about him today aren’t we?)
- a blessing (God would bless every nation on earth through Abraham).
How? By preserving God’s Word through his prophets, and by sending a Messiah who would overcome evil in every human heart, by offering forgiveness and restored relationship to God—by faith, but trusting). It says that Abraham believed God (he had faith/trusted in the promise of God revealed to him), and as a result he was made right before God.
It was always by faith, not by our works, that we are made right with God. Paul points this out in the New Testament:
The Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. Romans 4:3-4
God said to Abraham go to a land I will show you. He was going, not knowing. His only map was God’s promise to somehow guide him—Going not knowing.
Oftentimes God asks us to step out of our comfort zone to test our faith-to stretch that faith muscle so it grows. What happens when we become comfortable is that we become self-reliant. We know the parameters of our little world (Point to the circumference of the stage (or a box?) as our circle) and feel in control, so we don’t really need to rely on God. But we don’t grow to know him. Without exercising our faith muscle, we become spiritually flabby.
So God allows tests, opportunities to step outside (step off platform) that comfort zone into a new area, so we will learn to trust (have faith) and grow in friendship with God.
Way out of what was comfortable, yet I sensed God inviting me into this adventure of faith—trusting and following. And you say, Now how did you know? Did God audibly tell you? No, but here’s how faith works. You pray first that you’d be willing to do God’s will—not just your own. Then you ask Him to make His desires your desires because he say
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Which doesn’t mean, you’ll get that Lamborgini you desire. It means if I really want God’s will, I will be able to trust my own desires more because God will give you desires that align with His desires.
So my heart’s desire, even though it was difficult, was to take say “yes” to the opportunity. I prayed as I always do in situations like this:
“Lord, if I’m missing it here, redirect me. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. So bring some people my way that will help me grow.”
Do you feel like you know God like a friend?
If not, maybe it’s because He’s asked you to step out of what’s comfortable to trust Him more, but you’ve stayed in your spiritual recliner flipping channels of distraction.
- Is God inviting you to stand up against unethical practices or prejudices at work?
- Or to get more involved in serving people who have been hurting?
- Or to share your faith with a friend or neighbor?
- Maybe it’s to change jobs?
- Or get out of an unhealthy dating relationship?
- Or to get help for an unhealthy marriage?
- Or to trust Him with your finances?
- To start giving to God through our church or meeting a financial need in your extended family?
None of that is comfortable—but it’s where you meet God as friend. Where might God be asking you to take a step out of what’s easy or comfortable—to trust Him?
Don’t get to know God by ignoring those promptings to step out of your comfort zone.
Friendship with God comes from faith—acting in trust when you think it’s God wants you to do.
The next test of faith for Abraham and Sarah was
The Patience Test (Will I wait on God’s timing?)
God had promised Abraham a land, a name, a nation, and a blessing for all nations. How would a nation come from them?
- But there was one problem–Sarah, his wife, couldn’t have children.
- Plus, Abraham was 75 when he left Ur (not your most fertile years
- The book of Hebrews says Abraham was “as good as dead”, meaning it would be 4000 years before Viagra was invented.
- She was barren, he was dead, yet he and Sarah trusted God’s promise.
- But once they arrived they waited, and waited, and Abraham’s frustrated with God. Ever been frustrated with God’s timing?
“O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?… 3 You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.” 4 Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” 5 Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Genesis 15:2-5
So God even reassures Abraham—yet still makes him wait, and wait. Sometimes our waiting is a test—an opportunity to trust God with the timing. So after 10 years, still no child. Abraham and Sarah got impatient and decide to give God a hand.
Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed…. Genesis 16:2.
So Abraham slept with Hagar, his wife’s Egyptian maid, and had a son Ishmael. When Ishmael was born, jealousy and infighting ensued. They failed the patience test. Abraham and Sarah’s sin hurt themselves and others for generations.
Whenever we short-circuit God’s timing with impatience, it doesn’t just affect us, but those around us and after us as well.
13 years after Ishmael was born, Abraham heard from God again. God had been silent 13 more years while Abraham waited. He was 99 years old when God says, next year. Sarah laughed at God. But Isaac was finally born—Issac means laughter.
But here’s the deal – God gave a promise, then asked Abraham and Sarah to wait for his timing and trust him–they failed and there were consequences, but in time as they did trust, they learned that God always keeps his promises, just not always on our timeline.
Sometimes God tests our faith by making us wait on Him. Why would God do this? He told Moses when the Israelites had to wait and trust in the desert, it was to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. Deuteronomy 8:2.
It’s about relationship Tests+Trust+Time=Friendship.
What are the areas in your life right now where you are having to wait?
- Or have you already taken a short-cut and now you’re realizing that it didn’t get you what you wanted?
- Some of you are struggling financially, and you’re tempted to take ethical short cuts, or let fear keep you from honoring God first with your money.
- Some of you are tired of waiting for the right person, God is asking you to trust Him – to not put a sexual bandaid on your loneliness, to not jump from bad relationship to bad relationship out of insecurity.
- Or maybe it’s waiting in this pandemic, not using it as an excuse to do stuff you know God says not to.
But do you see, this is your chance to know God. To exercise that faith muscle and patiently trust God’s timing—and to know God as a friend.
Kathleen Edwards was out jogging staying connected to God, out jogging, talking things over with him. She prayed, “God give me somebody to live my life with,” she said, “what I really meant was a husband. But the thought I got back was, “Do you trust me?” I kept getting this Question “Do I trust God to do that, or do I want to power through on my own. If his answer to get me there is different than what I think it should be, will I take it?” And she said to God, “I’ll trust you.” The next thought was “Adopt children.” Which she said threw her into a panic. She spent many days asking God “Is this really you? Or just my crazy thoughts? Can I say no? What if I don’t want to adopt—that’s not what I meant by “give me someone to live with.” She said, “I wrestled 2-3 months, thinking I’ll never find a husband if I’m a single mom. Some Friends would say, ‘that will help you meet guys.’ But they’re not puppies, they’re children, usually with child-like behavioral problems.” But 3 months later, she talked to an adoption agency, felt a peace. Exactly nine months after the prompting, she had 2 boys. Two young boys who had been neglected from age 2 and 4, and now she was trying to care for them with no idea how to get school supplies, lunches, homework. But her Gateway family rallied around and helped her, and eventually her two boys came to faith and both got baptized. Then a man joined her Gateway Lifegroup, he had 4 kids, and their kids started to hit it off, so they started getting both families together, and before long, they started seeing each other. And a year later, David proposed to her in the Lifegroup! Kathleen said, “If God had led them together first, she would never have adopted these two boys. And it was the boys that connected them.” God’s timing was very different than hers, but she definitely doesn’t feel alone anymore!
Tests+Trust+Time=Friendship and you get to experience His goodness.
Are you becoming impatient over a certain situation in your life? Are you tired of waiting on God? Remember that this is an opportunity to interact with God as you trust His timing. The Patience Test—to trust his timing. But the last test is the hardest.
The Alliegence Test (Will I let go?)
God promised to bless all the nations through Issac, and Isaac was the line of faith through whom Jesus would come to bless all nations. So Abraham finally had Isaac, and Isaac was the love of his life. One day God gave Abraham the mother of all tests.
“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” Genesis 22:2
Now, at first glance, God seems like a cruel monster. Test him with waiting and waiting, give him the son he waited for, then ask him to sacrifice that son? Why? Is God evil?
No, God is SO good, we can only understand by analogy. How much love would it take to sacrifice the one you love most for the good of another? This is not about Abraham and Issac, this is about God the Father and His only Son, Jesus. This is an prophetic foretelling 2000 years before Jesus.
The weird thing here is that Abraham didn’t really flinch (but it must have been confusing because human sacrifice was something God forbid and said he detested). God commanded in Leviticus:
Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice…. Leviticus 18:21
Yet for some reason, rather than focusing on losing his son, Abraham actually believed that God would raise him from the dead. Why?
- Because Abraham’s faith had grown strong one step at a time.
- He knew God had promised to give him a nation through Isaac.
- He knew that no matter how impossible it seemed, if God promised, He’ll come through.
This is the peace and assurance a life of taking baby steps out of your comfort zone, following, waiting, and building faith as you get to know God personally like a friend. Notice, this third test came after a lifetime of growing in faith. God has us take one step at a time. He builds our muscle of faith over time.
Now Understand–The test of Abraham was a type–a foreshadowing of God’s plan.
In Gen. 22 it says:
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.” …On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac”…The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. Genesis 22:2-8.
“God will provide” he says. God says “go to the region of Moriah… on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
God leads Abraham on a 3 day journey, to a specific mountain in the region of Moriah. Mt. Moriah is where Jerusalem would be built 1000 years after this by King David—God led Abraham up to Golgotha on Mt. Moriah.
Abraham took two servants with him, but instead of having them carry the wood, his son carries the wood on which he would be sacrificed. 2000 years later, Jesus would retrace those same steps carrying his wooden cross up the same mountain.
And notice that Abraham told these men, “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” He had complete trust in God that God would not take Isaac but that “God will provide the lamb.” Abraham so knew of God’s goodness and faithfulness, he trusted if God had him kill his son, God would bring his son back to life. And just as Abraham was lifting the knife, a booming voice from heaven roared Abraham Stop!
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God… 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed….” Genesis 22:12, 18.
And as terrible as the whole test seems, 2000 years later what Abraham was spared from doing, God the Father sent His own son to die as a sacrifice on behalf of the evil of humanity that we might experience forgiveness of the ways we have gone our own way. Jesus gave his life on that very spot.
Think about that for a minute. Mount Moriah, the place of Isaac’s sacrifice was later called “The Skull” or Golgotha in Aramaic also known as Calvary in Latin.
Why can we trust God with everything?
Because He gave everything for us. From 2000 years before Jesus was born, God was showing us that His great love for us would not hold back anything. When Jesus got baptized, John the Baptist called out prophetically
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
God provided the lamb. Sometimes God asks us to Let Go of something we’re tempted to love more than God—He asks us to let it go, not to take it from us, but to give us an even greater blessing.
Sometimes you’ll never know until you go.
If you walk closely with God, there comes a time where it feels like you’re being asked to lay down something big—something you’ve put all your hope in, you’ve trusted in for life and a future. Why would God ask for such a thing? Because things that become more important than God, no matter how good, will keep us from deeper friendship with God, and from experiencing God’s best. If we aren’t careful, sometimes gifts from God become our gods. Instead, we are reminded as followers of Jesus that we are to be “a living sacrifice” as Paul writes in Romans 12:2. We are to “die to self” daily to follow God’s guidance each and every day, and when we fully trust God in this way, He may surprise us.
What are you holding tightly to for your life and future? If God asks you to lay it down, will you trust that God will provide something even better? Lay it down, see God’s goodness.
Tests+Trust+Time=Friendship with God. How will you trust God more? Step by step, you will become a friend of God. In what areas do you find yourself struggling at times to surrender to God? In what ways is God calling you to sacrifice? For what are you thanking God for in your life in this season? Sometimes it’s our lack of gratitude that tempts us from trusting God. Are our hands clenched holding onto things or are they open ready to surrender to God and ready to receive from God?