Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What You've Always Wanted

Part 3 of Keep Yourselves from Idols

Text: Genesis 22:1-14

You can listen to this sermon here.

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:1-2). 

The Worst Thing That Can Happen to Us 

In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie desperately wants a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. But the adults in his life—his mother, his teacher, even the department store Santa Claus—keep telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” It appears unlikely that Ralphie will get what he most wants for Christmas. But on Christmas morning, Ralphie’s father surprises him with one last present: a Red Ryder air rifle. An excited Ralphie goes outside to try out his gift. His first shot ricochets off a metal sign and hits the lens of his glasses. He almost shot his eye out. Getting what he wanted for Christmas almost became the worst thing to happen to Ralphie.

What have you always wanted? People say, “If I could […], then I’d be happy.” We are all prone to think, “If I could get what I’ve always wanted, then I’d be happy.”

Getting what we’ve always wanted can be the worst thing to happen to us. 

Tim Keller tells about a woman he knew who desperately wanted to have children. Eventually she did have two children, but she didn’t live happily ever after. She wanted to give her children perfect lives, but she became so overprotective and so demanding that she made her children and herself miserable. Keller comments, “There’s a good chance her drive to give her children won-derful lives will eventually be the thing that ruins them.” Her problem was not that she loved her children too much but that she loved God too little. [1]

In the book of Genesis, Abraham desperately wanted a son—a son who would fulfill the promises given to Abraham by God. Eventually a miracle son was born to Abraham and his wife Sarah. But years later God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there was a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). [2] God wanted to make sure that that Abraham getting a son would not be the worst thing to happen to him.

Now I Know You Love Me

God didn’t really want Isaac to die. God’s command was a test of Abraham’s devotion (“God tested Abraham,” v. 1). Whom did Abraham love more: God or Isaac? John Calvin writes that idolatry is “to worship the gifts in place of the giver himself.” [3]

1. When God gives us what we’ve always wanted, there is the danger of loving the gift more than the giver. 

Just before Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the angel of the LORD stopped him. He said to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). Are there any “Isaacs” in our lives that need to be demoted (not necessarily removed).

2. When our love for God begins to fade, we must remember that he gave up his Son for us. 

What God asked Abraham to do, God actually did. [4]  He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). When we understand what God has done for us, we say, “Now I know that you love me.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

God Is Not Merely a Gift-Giver 

Some of you probably remember the Cabbage Patch craze. Cabbage Patch dolls were the must-have gift of 1983. Children desperately wanted them, and parents were desperate to give them—sometimes even resorting to violence. According to Wikipedia, “Reports of violence included hitting, shoving, trampling as well as some customers attacking others with hand-held weapons such as baseball bats in order to obtain a Cabbage Patch doll.” [5]

God is not a means to an end (i.e., just a gift-giver).Would you be happy in heaven if it contained all of God’s good gifts but not God himself? That would be like a child saying he would like to have Christmas if it included all the gifts but not his parents.

[1] Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 1-3.
[2] It’s unclear how old Isaac was at this time. The text provides a few clues that suggest he was not a little boy and that he might have been willing to die.
[3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.17.36.
[4] Skeptics often try to discredit the Bible by saying that God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was im-moral. But if the incident was meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus, the heart-wrenching nature of the test helps us further appreciate God’s love for us in the giving up of his Son.
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabbage_Patch_riots.