"What's Your Isaac?"
Scripture: Genesis 22:2-18, John 3:16-17
December 6, 2009
SpiritSong Worship Center
When I was eight years old I asked Santa for a Mickey Mouse watch. I daydreamed about wearing that watch; how it would look on my wrist, how wonderful and special I would feel that Santa had honored my request. I remember the anticipation of going to bed on Christmas Eve with the hope that Santa would think me "good" enough to gift me that watch. Just a tinge of doubt crept into my mind as I recalled having had "bad" thoughts the past year and setting traps for my rival on the school playground. I prayed that wouldn't be counted against me. You can imagine my glee as I entered the living room that Christmas morning to seek a cylindrical box wrapped in gold colored tissue with a beautiful bow on top. I grabbed the package and held it up for my Sister to take a picture. Mom and Dad were looking on with grins as wide as the windows as I opened that package to remove my heart's desire – that Mickey Mouse watch! "Look what Santa left me," I cried to my family. "Let me see it," said my Dad. He took it in his hands, looked it over and then looked at me with loving eyes and said; "Santa must think you're a very special boy to have left you this kind of present." "Yes, he must," I thought to myself. He must see something more than I see. That was many years ago. Mom, Dad, and my Sister are all with the Lord, and I have no clue where the Mickey Mouse watch is, but something very special remains: "God must think you're a very special man to have left you that kind of present." The feeling of being loved beyond my judgment, beyond my doubts, beyond my fears- that remains with me eternally!
There's something special about receiving gifts, isn't there? They make us feel special – set apart. And, there is nothing more disappointing than to receive a shoddy substitute that misses the mark of expectation! When we don't get what we want and or think we need, we either turn it inward to say "I must not be worthy," or spew anger towards God and or others for being so cruel as to deny our request. Acts 20:35 attributes Jesus as having said "It is more blessed to give than to receive." What's the blessing in giving?
Abraham was old and feeble. Sarah was well beyond child bearing age. Abraham's whole legacy, purpose, meaning in life had been focused around a lineage that would live on beyond him. God had promised him a son by Sarah, yet no son had arrived. You can imagine the delight he experienced when Sarah announced her pregnancy. Even greater must have been the absolute wonder and glee when Abraham held his very own Isaac in his arms for the first time. God had fulfilled His promise and had given Abraham a son. Abraham must have felt special and yet humbled that God had indeed fulfilled His promise in spite of Abraham's known shortcomings. God must have seen beyond what Abraham saw. Isaac was the hope of Abraham's lineage – the source of the great nation that God had promised through him. Abraham almost worshipped the ground upon which Isaac walked – he was so thankful to God for his son! Isaac represented for Abraham the manifestation of his personhood; the significance of a life worth living; the hope of a legacy after his death. Isaac meant just about everything to Abraham.
Then one day, God told Abraham to take his beloved son to a place up the mountain, and then to sacrifice him as an offering to God. Abraham could have said; "right, God, sure thing…I'll get back to you in a few years." Or he could have debated whether he had actually heard from God! Could the God who had promised this son, this heir, and delivered such a spectacular specimen be the same God who was now requesting the "giving back" of that promise? What kind of God would do that? (We'll come back to that!) Abraham, however, packed up the wood, gathered his servants to help carry the load up the hill, and prepared Isaac for the journey. Once there, Isaac astutely noticed the presence of the wood, the frame for the altar, but the absence of the lamb for sacrifice. Abraham, whose old and worn heart must have been beating out of his chest, took his prize possession, secured him to the altar, told his son that God would provide and raised the knife to plunge into his son. Just at that moment, we know, the Lord intervened and provided a lamb as a substitute for Isaac. Abraham had proven his faith in and love for God. God must have known at the point of Abraham raising the blade how special and set apart He was in Abraham's heart!
It was not Isaac's life that God desired…it was Abraham's heart! You see, it would have been easy for Abraham to prance around with Isaac in hand, proudly displaying the blessing God had bestowed on him. After all, in Isaac lay the hopes of a nation…or did it? Our faith and our hope are in God…not His gifts or His blessings! When we value the gift above the Giver, we have displaced the Giver in our hearts! There can be no other gods before God! Jesus told us in Matthew 22:37 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Is there anything else?
We each have our own Isaacs. Our Isaac can be anything we hold in esteem. The things we have been blessed with become the things we bless! Abraham trusted God enough to believe that even should Isaac be sacrificed, God would raise him to life again in fulfillment of the promise! He was willing to relinquish his gift in esteem for the giver! I've had numerous Isaacs in my life. One in particular I recall from the age of eleven.
One of my favorite TV shows was Lassie. I was infatuated with that dog that was so faithful, loyal, and smart. One day my Uncle Jimmy called the house to say that he had found a stray Collie mix dog and was holding him for me. My father hurried me into the family pickup that Saturday morning and we traveled the four mile trek to my Uncle Jimmy's house. I stepped out of the truck and into my arms jumped King, as I named him. He licked my face and whined like I was his long lost friend. We had an instant bond, King and I, – boy with his dog – best pals for life. King was with me everywhere I went on the farm. He was at the back door when I came out and guarded the entrance as I went in. We played ball together, we went fishing together – he even sat at the entrance to the stable stall as I milked the cow! I LOVED that dog. One Saturday as I was dressing for my sister to take me to town for piano and violin lessons, I looked out my window in horror as I saw my Dad quickly jump into the truck and start the engine. King was sleeping soundly under the motor of the truck. The engine startled him and he quickly jumped up as the force of the backward thrust of my Dad backing away slammed King head-on. I screamed through the window as I watched in horror the unfolding of a tragic accident. I ran from the house screaming NO, NO, NO… As I knelt over my best friend, my soul-mate, my trusted companion and gift from God, my tears fell on his golden fur. In response to my tears and moaning, his tail wagged, as to console me. King slipped away and he lay limp beneath me. My Isaac had been laid down…my first one. I had accepted Christ and been baptized a couple of years before. As I went through my grief at the loss of King, I briefly blamed my Dad…then I turned to God in anger…"Why did you let this happen?" A few weeks later, I got my answer. The dream was vivid – an opening in an otherwise dull and cloudy sky opened up and streams of bright light burst through. There before me was King, wagging his tail excitedly. I didn't say a word. King turned and started galloping up the stream of bright light toward heaven. When he reached the top, the hole closed, the light went away and I awoke from my dream. I lay there in my bed thanking God for showing me that King was safe with Him for eternity. It was at that time that I began to understand that God had not orchestrated my loss, but rather had gifted me with joy and companionship for a season and that my treasure was truly with Him.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Is there anything else?
This sermon is not about a boy and his dog…it's about having no other god's before God Himself. It's about an unconditional love and trust in the one who unconditionally laid down His very own Son for us. It's about reminding us that God's command to love him with all our heart, soul and mind is more than a "suggestion" for living the Christian life- it's as serious as life itself! We've become a society so pampered that love and sacrifice seem like aliens to each other. In the Biblical sense, however, love and sacrifice are twins. If it costs us nothing, it amounts to nothing! The laying down of Isaac cost Abraham everything. The laying down of Jesus for our sake cost God EVERYTHING!
What's your Isaac? Is it laying down two hours out of your Sunday to come to worship? Is it sitting through the distraction of the events going on around you to focus on worshipping Him? Is it the annoyance of having some "responsibilities" at service when you'd really like to just be here to "enjoy" the worship? Is it the grudge you've been carrying towards someone here that interferes with your hearing from His word? Is it your angst at having to participate in something that you don't like just to get to do something that really gives you joy? Is it the hurt you feel over not being invited to participate as you desired? Is it the fear that if you give your tithe, you won't have enough to cover your bills? What's your Isaac?
"Thou shall have no other gods before Me."