The Lord’s Day
February 24, 2008
the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)”
The Genesis of Missions: Mission Impossible?
“The Children of Abraham Walk in Abraham’s Faith”
The Reverend Dr.
Iain D. Campbell
Dr. Duncan: Please be seated. It is our joy this
morning to hear the word of God from Iain D. Campbell, the Free Church of
Scotland minister in Back, on the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland. It has been my
privilege to know Iain for about twenty years now. We have all reveled in his
faithful proclamation of the word of God in the last days since he began to
preach it for us on Wednesday night. We are profoundly grateful to his
congregation and elders for letting him be with us, and especially his wife Anne
and their children for letting him be with us. Iain D., we wait with great
anticipation your ministry of God’s word.
Dr. Campbell: Thank you very much. And I say once
again what a great pleasure and privilege it is for me to be with you. I hope
that my accent does not come in between me and your reception of my message. It
is a privilege for me to convey the greetings of my own home congregation in
Scotland, and I trust that as we join together in this Missions Conference we
will know God’s blessing on His word and His grace enabling us to serve Him more
and more with every opportunity.
Before we turn to God’s word, let’s just bow our
heads in prayer.
Our gracious God, we give thanks today for Your
word, for all that Your word conveys to us, and for all that Your word, by Your
Spirit, will do in us and by us. We pray that You will be our teacher, that You
will give us illumination and understanding, and help us to be bearers of Your
truth as we live our lives to Your glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
We read God’s word from the first book of the Bible,
the book of Genesis, and chapter 22. And we shall read verses 1 through 19. Let
us hear the word of God:
“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 as a burnt offering on one of the
mountains of which I shall tell you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning,
saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.
And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of
which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the
place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey;
I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’ And Abraham
took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in
his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac
said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here am I, my son.’ He
said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt
offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt
offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham
built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and
laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and
took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him
from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘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.’ And Abraham
lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold behind him was a ram, caught in a
thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a
burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place,
‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it
shall be provided.’
“And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from
heaven and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have
done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless
you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the
sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his
enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,
because you have obeyed my voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and
they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.”
Amen. And may the Lord bless to us the reading of His holy,
inspired, and infallible word.
The theme of our Missions Conference is summarized
for us in the words of verse 18 of this chapter in God’s words to Abraham:
“In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
And I want to keep that perspective as we come to look at
this chapter in the book of Genesis.
I think it’s impossible to overstate the importance
of the book of Genesis to the whole of the revelation of God’s unfolding
purposes of redemption. The whole of subsequent biblical revelation builds upon
the foundations that are laid for us so magnificently in this book of
beginnings. And even within the book of Genesis, it’s impossible to overstate
the crucial role of Abraham as God through him opens up the purposes of His
grace that have been a mystery, to use Paul’s language, from all eternity; but
now, in time and on the stage of this world’s history, that purpose is
displayed, and God is going to do something magnificent through this one
individual whom He is going to make a channel of blessing to the whole of the
world. Indeed, as we come into the New Testament, Abraham’s name is one of the
first names we meet. We are reminded in Matthew 1:1 that Jesus Christ is the son
of Abraham, and at least that is telling us that in order fully to appreciate
the story of Jesus, we need to come back to the story of Abraham. Even more
magnificent is Paul’s statement in Galatians where he tells us that God preached
the gospel beforehand to Abraham.
Everything that we believe, everything that we
preach, of the good news of God’s salvation is revealed here in its embryonic
form to Abraham, and it’s displayed in Abraham’s life. And as the history of
God’s redemption is worked out in the life of this man, I want us to notice that
the principles of redemption are woven into that story–not least the principle
of faith, by which Abraham lives for God. Doesn’t the writer to the Hebrews
remind us that it was by faith that Abraham left his own homeland and followed
God, and went out not knowing where he was going, but believing that God had
prepared for him a city? Wasn’t it by faith that he dwelt in the Land of Promise
as a stranger, a pilgrim, on the earth? And wasn’t it by faith that he did
everything that is recorded for us here in Genesis 22?
In fact, James explicitly tells us (as he illustrates
the point that faith is never alone) that Abraham was justified by works when he
offered up Isaac on the altar. Not that works justify; it is faith in Christ
that justifies, but the faith we have in Christ is always demonstrated and
displayed in the works of obedience that accompany it.
And here they are in the life of Abraham. And all
of us here today, according to the teaching of the letter to the Romans, if we
are men or women of faith, we are the true sons of Abraham and are walking in
the steps of the faith of our father Abraham.
So in the context of our Missions Conference,
I want us to come to this great chapter in Genesis 22, and I want to ask what
this chapter tells us about faith. And I want to say three things.
I. Faith responds to God’s
I want to say first of all that faith responds
to God’s call. That’s what’s happening here. God spoke to Abraham — not for the
first time. In fact, it was God speaking to Abraham that initiated Abraham’s
pilgrimage of faith, and it is the word of God and the voice of God that is
driving the whole narrative. God speaks to Abraham. Abraham rarely speaks to God
explicitly in the text of Genesis. I’m sure he spoke to God often, but it’s not
often explicitly stated. It’s God who is speaking. And God, who called Abraham
to leave his home and his family in the first instance, comes to him again. And
here is Abraham recognizing God’s call.
We know that at this point God is testing Abraham.
Abraham didn’t know that. He simply heard God saying to him to take his son and
to offer him up to God.
It’s very interesting that the first time Abraham
does speak to God explicitly on the pages of Genesis is in chapter 15. After
Abraham has received the promises of the covenant and he is told that he will be
a blessing to the whole earth, Abraham asks the question, ‘God, what will You
give me so that I will know that what You are saying to me is true? What will
You give me?’ There is maybe just a little measure of doubt to that, even in the
heart of the father of the faithful. But God’s answer to Abraham’s question is,
‘I will give you Isaac.’ And in consequence, Isaac is born. Abraham says to God,
‘What will You give me?’ ‘I give you Isaac.’ Isn’t it interesting that now
God is coming to Abraham and saying to Abraham, ‘What will you give Me? Give Me
Our attention is drawn to the timing of all this.
“After these things God tested Abraham.” After all that he had enjoyed of
God’s blessing and the privileges of the covenant and the assurances of God’s
salvation, and the signs of God’s favor, after these things God tested Abraham.
Abraham recognized God’s voice. Perhaps he was
looking forward to yet another blessing, yet another time of great assurance,
and God coming near to him again. But what he heard was altogether unexpected.
“After these things….” After having walked by still waters and in green
pastures, God is saying to Abraham, ‘Come with Me now into the valley of the
shadow of death.’ After these things…after times of rich blessing comes this
time of deep, deep trial. Isn’t that often the case for the people of God?
Our attention is also drawn to the nature of the
test. “Take your son, take your only son…take your only son, whom you love, and
offer him up.” And at every level, Abraham’s commitment to God is being
tested. It’s being tested at the level of his understanding.
God had made promises to him that depended on Isaac
being preserved alive, and yet God is saying to him now. ‘Take that son and
offer him up to Me.’ It was one thing for God to come to Abraham at the very
outset of his pilgrimage and say to him, ‘Give up your father. Leave your
father’s household and your native country, and follow Me.’ But it was
altogether something else for God to say to Abraham, ‘Give up your son.’ It was
one thing for God to say to Abraham, ‘Give me your past.’ Abraham walked away
from his past, by the power of the grace that commanded him. He left his idols.
He was just another idol worshiper on the other side of the river, according to
the book of Joshua. It was no great hardship for Abraham to give up his past in
response to the call of God, but it was altogether something different for
God to say to Abraham, ‘Give Me your future.’ And at the level of Abraham’s
understanding of God’s purposes, the great mission of God that is encapsulated
in the Abrahamic promise and that is being driven by God’s word to Abraham…how
are these to be fulfilled if Isaac is going to die?
And it’s a test at the level of his emotions:
“Take the son that you love.” Take this Isaac, this Isaac whom you looked
upon from the very outset with a heart full of love–not just as a father does
when he holds his newborn baby, but all that Isaac represented drawing from
Abraham the deepest emotions of thankfulness to God and wonder, love, and
praise–and now his emotions are being tested to the very limit as time and again
we are reminded in this chapter that Isaac was the son that he loved.
He’s being tested, too, at the level of his
experience: “Take your son, your only son….” So much of your story, Abraham,
has been wrapped up in the life of this boy, this child of promise, this son in
whom and through whom the blessings of the covenant will be channeled, and God’s
salvation will reach the ends of the earth. You’ve experienced so much.
You would expect that Abraham could be left just to
enjoy the rest of his life, but God says no, take that son and give him up to
Me. That’s the word that comes to him. And Abraham’s faith responds to that
word. Abraham responds immediately. We are told that he rose up early in
the morning. There was no delay, there was no arguing, there was no speaking
here at this point; there was simply the instant obedience that faith brings
into human life. God commanded, and it is His to command. Abraham obeyed, and
it belongs to faith to obey God immediately.
And he obeyed without wavering for three long days, journeying to the place that
God was going to show him, every step of that road so heavy, every part of it so
difficult…but without wavering Abraham simply follows the Lord completely, with
a whole heart that is devoted to the God who calls him.
And at last, without questioning, he brings Isaac to
that place, binds him to that altar, and he lifts the knife in his hand, ready
to slay his son. If that is not obedience to God’s word, I do not know what is.
And yet, I wonder…I wonder as I read this passage
who is really being sacrificed. I wonder as I read this passage who
is actually on the altar. Oh, I know on the theater of Moriah, Isaac is
literally bound to that altar ready to be offered to God. But in the courts of
heaven, as God tests Abraham, I wonder if it’s not actually Abraham who is being
offered and sacrificed in the wholeheartedness of his commitment. And I wonder
if it is not God who is actually slaying Abraham here, so that he will die to
his own self-interest; and he will die to everything about himself and be
committed absolutely to the God who called him in the first instance, as God
takes that dearest idol he possesses and tears it from his breast so that
Abraham will follow God alone.
I wonder if God is not calling you to make a
sacrifice today. Perhaps, yes, to sacrifice more time so that you will pray
for the gospel and pray for the preaching of the word, and pray for the
missionary work of the church all over the world; to sacrifice, yes, perhaps
more money to support missionary interests at home and overseas; perhaps even to
do what Abraham did and give up your future and sacrifice your plans so that you
too can serve God in a different way. And all these plans you’re ready to give
up for God. But you know it means nothing unless we have learned to say with the
Apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ,” and I take my heart and I
offer it to You (in Calvin’s great words) “promptly and sincerely.” And
everything that I ever dreamed for myself, everything that I ever longed for
myself, I simply want to take and place it in Your hands and let Your knife do
to it what You will. Here am I. Send me. And it is the sacrifice of the heart
that is pleasing to God. And it is in the death of self that we serve God
the most. And Abraham is going to be a better person as a consequence of all of
this, simply because on Mount Moriah he is the one who is put to death, and
Isaac is the one who is spared.
God has His own unique way of making us holy, and it
was for that purpose that Jesus died, according to the writer to the Hebrews, so
that He might sanctify the people, and so that His redeemed people, saved from
their sins, justified by His blood, made new people and new creations in Christ
Jesus, might be sanctified and set apart for Him to use…the death of self for
the glory of God.
John Piper talks about the supremacy of Christ in
mission through suffering. That’s exactly what happens at Moriah, as the mission
purpose of God revealed in covenant promises to Abraham now finds Abraham at
this point where he is emptied of the things he loves the most, in order that he
might be holy and consecrated to God. What a calling, and what a God to serve in
this world! Faith responds to God’s call.
II. Faith rejoices in God’s
Let me move on to say, secondly, that faith
also rejoices in God’s provision. God speaks again. The same God who asked of
Abraham that he offer up Isaac now comes to him again, and the angel of the Lord
calls from heaven and says, “Abraham! Abraham!” And he says, “Here am I.” “Do
not lay your hand on the boy,” says God, “or do anything to him. I know now that
you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from
There are some people who read that verse as if it is
teaching us that God did not know what Abraham would do at this point: that
there are some things that even God does not know, and He’s dependent on our
choices to see how we react in certain situations before He knows certain
things. Well, I’m not one of these people! There is nothing that is unknown
to God. Past, present, and future — they are all under His immediate
inspection. He knows all your choices. He knows what is in your heart.
Isn’t that what was said of Jesus in John 2? Nobody needed to tell Him what was
in the heart of man, because He knew what was in men’s hearts. God knows what
you will do with your life. He knows where you are today. He knows all about
your future. It’s not Abraham that’s testing God at this point; it’s God who has
been testing Abraham, and God knows Abraham’s heart. But Abraham needs to know
his heart, and Abraham needs to come to this point where, like the Apostle
Peter, in a subsequent moment of illumination, will cry out to Jesus, ‘Lord, You
know all things. You know all my failings — and they are many; You know my sins
— and they are plenteous; You know all my griefs and sorrows, You know all my
trials and my needs. You know all things. And I appeal now to Your omniscience:
You know that I love You.’
And here is Abraham on Moriah, and he’s been emptied
of all self-interest and all self-confidence, and all self-reliance, and with
the death of self he comes to know himself, and he comes to rejoice in what
God has been doing in his life and through his life, from the very beginning
right up to this moment.
I tell you it is the only hope that gospel
teachers have, and it’s the only hope that missionary workers have,
that God is at work in men and women to fulfill His purposes in them and through
them. And if I believed every time I entered the pulpit that the success of
the gospel depended on the logic of my argumentation or the eloquence of my
language, or the exquisiteness of my accent, or anything else about my public
performance, I should give up immediately! But I know, and I can hope and dream,
every time I am in the pulpit that a sinner may be saved, not because of what I
can do in here but because of what God does in your heart and in my heart, and
reminds me that within the Trinitarian covenant of His grace all that the Father
gives to the Son will come to Him. And those who come to Him, He will not cast
out. And I invite sinners here today to come to Jesus. And all over the world,
sinners may come to Jesus as they are, with what they have, with all the
blemishes of their past and all the hang-ups of their future, and I can say,
“Come! And welcome to Jesus Christ!” And I can believe that sinners will come,
because the Father gives them to the Son and works out in their experience what
He purposes to do in giving a kingdom to the Lord Jesus.
And so, my friends, today let’s rejoice in what God
is doing in the lives of men and women, working out His purposes and drawing
sinners to follow Jesus. We are only readers after the fact, and we see souls
saved, movements of faith beginning in hardened hearts, and tears of repentance
flowing from dry eyes, and steps of faith instead of steps of disobedience. And
in all of this…in all of this…God is doing His work. And the thirsty ground of
the human soul becomes a pool of water, and God looks at His people and sees a
well-watered garden that He planted by His grace and to His glory, and will
rejoice in the work of His grace and the provision of His salvation in the lives
of men and women.
But Abraham needed to see more. Abraham
turned, and saw a ram caught by its horns, took that animal, and offered the
animal in place of Isaac. It’s an awe-inspiring moment.
It’s very interesting that when Abraham was called
first in chapter 12, he ended up building two altars. Here he built one altar on
which two sacrifices were offered: first of all, in the binding of Isaac, the
sacrifice of Abraham’s own heart; and now, in the death of the animal, the
sacrifice of the substitute. And among the shadows of Moriah’s mountains I seem
to see a greater than Abraham here. And as this father gives up his only son,
whom he loves, only to discover that he’s going to be spared through the death
of a substitutionary sacrifice, I seem to catch a glimpse of what Jesus refers
to as Abraham’s seeing the day of Christ and rejoicing. Because the glory of
Moriah is derived from Calvary’s great transaction, where God, His Son not
sparing, offers Him up and takes Him to the place of sacrifice; that at Calvary
there is no voice to stay the sword of justice, as the voice of God stayed the
knife in Abraham’s hand; at Calvary the Son of Abraham is the Passover Lamb who
is substituted for sinners the world over. And I look at Calvary, where a
greater father than Abraham offers Abraham’s greatest Son, and Jesus dies there.
And to use the magnificent words of B.B. Warfield,
“Jesus dies on the cross, but not of the cross.” The cross was
the means by which He died, but not the reason why He died. He died through
being crucified, but not because He was crucified. He was nailed to the tree,
but that wasn’t the cause of His dying. The cause of His dying is precisely
because He is there as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of His people.
He dies bearing my sins in His body to that tree, so that I might live; so that
through His condemnation at Calvary, the Judge in heaven will say to the sword
of justice as it hangs over my head for my sins, ‘Do not slay my son. Jesus has
been crucified. He has been put to death’; and I am now pardoned through His
dying, justified by His blood, saved from the wrath to come.
And I rejoice today in the provision God has made,
and the testimony of every believing soul in this building today and all over
the world today is “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable, indescribable gift! If
He did not spare the Son that He loved, how shall He not with Him freely give us
all things?” I rejoice in what He provides fully at Calvary, I rejoice in what
He provides in my life by His grace, moment by moment, and day by day. And I
look away from myself to Calvary’s great transaction, and I rest my soul there.
Are you rejoicing today in the death of the Son of
God as the substitute in place of His people? Faith responds to God’s call;
faith rejoices in God’s provision; and, faith receives God’s blessing.
III. Faith receives God’s
Yet again, heaven speaks. Yet again, God communicates
His word to Abraham:
“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have
not withheld your son…I will surely bless you….”
Isn’t that magnificent? Could Abraham have thought
when he left home, when he closed the door behind him to sacrifice Isaac at
Moriah, he would return with an even greater blessing? Could he have dreamt that
the blessing would come this way?
I bought a gift recently, since I came here, to take
home to the family. And the assistant in the shop asked, “Would you like me to
gift wrap it?” And so I said yes, and off she went for what seemed like an
interminable age, and then she emerged from the back of the shop with a
beautifully wrapped box! And it was worth the price of the gift just to see the
wrapping around it! Of course, you can’t reason from the wrapping to what’s
inside it, but it’s just lovely to see. But then you have to open it to see
what’s inside it.
Well, you know, God has a remarkable way of wrapping
His presents. He has a blessing to give to Abraham, but He wraps it in this
terrible, terrible experience of having to offer his heart in his son on Mount
Moriah. And yet, had he not done that and gone there and experienced this, and
opened up that wrapping, how could he ever have known the blessing?
Take courage, my Christian friend. Today you may be
going through some very difficult moments in your life. I tell you this: In
God’s purpose you are in the best possible place in which you could be right
now, and will enjoy an even greater blessing as a consequence than you could
ever have enjoyed without that trial. “I will surely bless you.” Isn’t it worth
it just to hear God whisper to your soul, “I will bless you”?
But even more than that, “And your offspring….” In
this Isaac, offered and risen…in this Isaac, all the nations of the earth will
You remember what Paul does as he takes up
these words and runs with them and reminds us that God does not say to Abraham,
“In your offsprings…” (plural). But singular. Because, says Paul, God was
talking about Jesus. And when Abraham’s great Son to be revealed on the stage of
human history when the fullness of the times had come, when all of God’s
intimated purpose and the shadows of the Old Testament age at last found their
fulfillment in the one life that could fulfill every prophecy and every
prediction and every promise of the Old Testament, in Jesus and in His death and
resurrection that purpose focused on Christ now breaks out, as in the name of
the exalted Lord the church is commissioned to go into all the world and take
the good news to every nation. And in the name and by the authority of the dead
and risen Son of Abraham, the gospel commands all men everywhere to repent, and
to enjoy the blessing. And isn’t that what Paul says lies behind the cross where
Christ is made a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham will rest upon
And here we are. Here we are. Strangers to the
covenant promise, by nature far away from God, no part of the covenant family or
the covenant community, and yet we have heard a voice from inside the covenant
calling us to follow. And God brought us near by the blood of Jesus, and the
blessing of Abraham comes upon us through Abraham’s great Son, who did die and
rise again for our justification.
Maybe you’re here today and you’re not a believer yet
in the Lord Jesus Christ. I invite you to Calvary. I invite you to the cross, to
the place where this Jesus dies for sinners; who bears the sins of others in His
body to the tree. Come to this place. Come now. Come as you are. Put your trust
and all your faith and hope and confidence in Him, and look outside of yourself.
The message of our modern age is “Look inside yourself…get all your inner
strength and all your inner resources to help you through every crisis.” And I
want to say no, you look outside yourself. Look away from yourself. Look to the
finished work, and come to Calvary and know the blessing of God on your life:
sins forgiven, peace with God, justified like Abraham by faith in the covenant
And if you are a believer in the Lord, I invite you
to Calvary. See the place where Jesus died, and follow His example. And let the
mind that was in Him be in you, and go and serve Him through the power of the
cross and the grace of our living Jesus. And may we believe great things and do
great things through Him who strengthens us. Amen.
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