by Peter Kek
Pastor Of Grace Reformed Church
Alright, Hebrews chapter 11, beginning in verse 17: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received in a figurative sense.” Now let us again go to God in prayer for help.
“Our Father in heaven, we thank You once again for an opportunity like this that we can gather around Your Word. We do pray that You will help us understand Your truth. We pray that You help us not only to know Your Word but also to be doers. Help us, that our lives may be pleasing unto You. Help us, that we may walk in such a manner that people may see the glorious truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, we pray as we come together even this morning, we pray that You will indeed do good to our soul. Now forgive us of our many sins, for we know that we are sinful being, vulnerable to fall away. And also, our minds are so easily drawn away to other things. And so, we pray that You’ll grant us the attention needed. We pray that You grant us the heart that truly hungers and thirsts after Your truth. And so, we commit the rest of this time to your hands, for this we pray and ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Alright, in Hebrews chapter 11, as you might remember, we are looking at the subject of faith. And the author to the Hebrews have tried a pain to help us understand this very fundamental and very important subject, helping us to see what it really means to have faith in Jesus Christ and also why we need to have faith. For we know that without faith we are doomed and it’s only through faith that we might be made right with God. But we also learn that there are such a thing as false and true faith, and the writer helps us to understand that true faith has evidence or has proof to show. And this morning, as we come to our text, we’re looking at another facet or another aspect of faith here, and I’ve entitled it as “Faith Tested”. Faith tested.
Now, as you can see, as we study this chapter that the writer to the Hebrews is turning to the Old Testament and using Old Testament saints as examples to illustrate faith. And it should not perhaps surprise us that a large section of this chapter is devoted to Abraham. So, you can see that beginning in verse 8 right through verse 19, this section is about Abraham’s faith, more than any other character are mentioned in this chapter. And I think perhaps in a sense rightly so because Abraham is the father of faith and his life is characterized by faith. So, we therefore see in Abraham again a great example of what true faith is about. But today, as we look at his faith again alright, in this section from verse 17 through verse 19, now we see another aspect of faith being highlighted here, and that is the testing of faith, or we say, as I put here, as faith being tested.
So, we want to examine ourselves as we come to these few verses here and consider faith being tested and ask ourselves whether our faith can stand that test, or can we expect to be tested also? Or is it only Abraham, or is it only perhaps some of these people, where their faith needed to be tested? So, can we expect to be tested also? And so, as we look at these few verses here this morning, So, I’ve divided it into just two parts. Now first I want to underscore this point that God tests the faith of His people alright- God tests the faith of His people. As I say, it’s obvious in this case here because in verse 17 it clearly says that by faith Abraham, or he was tested. By faith when he was tested. And when we read the New Testament, the New Testament confirms that God does test the faith of His people. God does test the faith of His people.
So, we look at 1 Peter 1:6 and 7. And here, Peter tells us in verse 6: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials”. Why? “That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ”. So clearly, Peter tells us that as Christians, we do go through trials. The various trials, as he mentions in verse 6, and he says and that is because God is testing His people. God is testing His people, to test whether their faith is genuine or not. And so, we therefore, from the Bible, learn that God does test the faith of His people, and we ourselves should expect our faith to be tested. Now you might ask at this point: Why? Why would God test us? I can think of a number of reasons as to why God will put us through tests, giving us, you know these experiences.
Now number one- I believe the reason why God would test the faith of His people is to weed out false faith. It’s to weed out false faith. Now God has no pleasure with people who only pretend to believe in Him, who only have this false faith. And there are many, right? There are many people who profess to be Christians or to have faith are actually found to be false. And not just today, but we find them in the Bible as well.
You can think of a well-known example as Judas. Judas, for many years, has been one of the twelve disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone might be thinking: Oh, here is a great man of God! He is one of the twelve apostles, and he had been following Jesus Christ closely, entrusted with great responsibility, being the treasurer among the twelve, taking care of their money. And we find many people like that. They are like Judas. They are one of those great men, perhaps women of God, seemingly. And they are handling great and important responsibilities maybe in the church. But like Judas at the end, they were found to have false faith.
Another example, another example is that of Demas, right? In the Bible, one of the disciples of the apostle Paul, and he was a co-worker or co-labourer of the apostle Paul in his missionary enterprise in planting churches. And you might imagine a person like this: They are with the missionaries, they go to the mission field, and they are planting churches, and they are doing a lot of church work. You see the examples that the Bible raises to show to us the possibility of false faith is frightening. And the Bible is not referring to people, no, who are unknown, and they are, you know, not having great fervency or zeal in their so-called Christian life, but these are people who are very involved right, in so-called Christian activities and Christian work.
But then you see, when God tested them and revealed that these two men, in particular, Judas and Demas, they were revealed to be people who loved money more than God. It was because of money, because the love of this world that have shown them to be false believers. So true today, right? That money is such a great test right, and many will be drawn away by the same thing. And so, it is interesting that in James chapter 2, in James 2:21, and when James was talking about this subject of false faith, and he is trying to make the point: How do we know whether someone has true or false faith?
Now it is interesting that in verse 21 of James 2 that he raises Abraham as an example. He said in verse 21: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?”. So, in other words, James here is referring to this same incident of that test that God gave to Abraham, to test him whether he would give up his son or sacrifice his son for God. And James uses that to discuss this whole matter of false and true faith.
And they said this is how we can know. This is how we can know. And Abraham here with that test, he was prepared to give up or he was prepared to give up something important to him in order to follow God, in order to be obedient to God. And so, that example was in a sense used by James right, to talk about the reason why God tests His people and it is to weed out false faith. And we know that some of these people may be so-called Christian for a long time, but they, at the end when the great tests come, their true colour will be shown.
But there is a second reason I believe why God will test His people. Why God will bring us through some experiences right? And the second reason is to awaken us from lukewarmness or complacency. To awaken us from lukewarmness or complacency. Now here I draw your attention to Revelation. Revelation 3:16 and 19. Revelation 3:16 and 19, and here John wrote: “So then, because you are lukewarm, that is neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”.
Now listen to what the Lord Jesus Christ said in these two verses here. One thing we see here very clearly is that He has no pleasure with people who are lukewarm, who are neither cold nor hot. And so, He says clearly here that for these people, I will vomit them. I will spill them out of my mouth. And then He says in verse 19: but “as many as I love, I will rebuke and chasten them. Therefore be zealous and repent.”. In other words, you see, if we are His people, if we are true believers and but we are complacent, we are lukewarm in our Christian life, we are not zealous for God. And we know that there are many Christians like this, they are as described here. And it’s frightening whether they are really true believers or not.
But the fact is that it is possible to have true believers but when they are not zealous people. Now, God says for these people God will put them through tests right- God will put them through trials. Why? In order that they may be awakened, or maybe we put it another way, in order that God may kick them right, out of their complacency. Now for some people, I think in a sense all of us need that kick. All of us, you know, maybe are not as zealous as we ought to be. We are not as fervent as we ought to be, and God will put us through maybe some crisis or some experiences to get us out of those complacencies in our life.
But for others, perhaps they need a much bigger kick. It’s like they, you know, you kick them one time, they are not awakened. You kick them again; they are not awakened. And God will have to perhaps bring them through some real crisis in their life in order to kick them out of this lukewarmness in their life. Maybe through a severe illness in their life, and then they are suddenly made to realize that they ought not remain as they are. Or maybe through some financial crisis in their life. Or maybe in a relationship crisis in their life, or family crisis in their life. You know God brings us through crises like these, trials like this. And why? Well, He says here: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten them”. The reason why God puts us through to tests because He loves us. He will not be content to let us be what we are because He wants us to be better. And so, He brings us through a test.
Now I think there is a third reason why he would put Christians or believers through trials or tests, and that is to keep us from getting distracted. Now to keep us from getting distracted, I think one of the great dangers, maybe especially in our day, is to be distracted by the many cares and the many things in this life. Now I think perhaps this is one reason why God put Abraham through that test here. You see, perhaps a great danger that Abraham faced was that he could be too preoccupied with Isaac, God’s blessing. For a long time, he had been looking for this blessing from God. And sometimes we perhaps have experienced this. Maybe waiting for a job or waiting for maybe some childless couple waiting for a child or things like that.
There’s something that I’ve been waiting and waiting, and God bless you with that. And when that happens, what do you do when that happens, when the blessing finally comes? There is perhaps that tendency for us alright, to be so preoccupied with this blessing of God that we forget God, the giver of the blessing. And so, perhaps Abraham was in this danger that he forgot that his focus should be on God and not on Isaac, not the son of his old age.
I say this is the danger that we all face. It’s a danger we all face. Maybe some of us are too preoccupied with our job that God blesses with, a good job. Or perhaps some people are preoccupied with their new status, you know they are recently married, you know, and you know then they are just preoccupied with their new status. Or they have a new baby. Now there are many things that can distract us, and perhaps that is also a reason why God would put His people through trials. And so, that is the first thing I want to underscore here about this passage in Hebrews 11, about the test that God gives to Abraham. And I say, the reason could be this and perhaps many others.
Now the second part, which I want to come to as we study this passage, is to consider what kind of tests would God give to His people. So we see clearly right, from Old Testament and New Testament that God would test His people. But have you ever thought about the kind of test that God would put us through? Now here again we want to find out right, I think to find out it is helpful to look at the Genesis passage which actually the Hebrew passage is alluding to, right?
So in Genesis chapter 22 alright, in Genesis chapter 22, let me read the first two verses, The first two verses. Now it says here: “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham”. So it is again clear from both the New Testament and the Old Testament passage that this whole incident is actually a test right, God was testing Abraham. So God tested Abraham and said to him, so this is the test: “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now 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.”.
Now we shouldn’t, very often I’ve been telling people, we shouldn’t rush when we read our Bible. And especially when we read verses like this and ponder and think about the whole implication of what God is saying to Abraham and how Abraham might be actually hearing this. What God was saying to him, it is almost like incredible. Unbelievable! No, he might be saying that I cannot believe my ears! Now perhaps sometimes God may say something like this to you, and you hear it and you say it really? Is it true? Is it what God wants me to do? Now sometimes we think that all the things that God wants us to do is what we want to do. But I want to tell you that not necessarily the case. And so, we see the same thing here. And so God gives Abraham a test, and we can see here the test that God gave to him is the supreme test.
Perhaps along the way in our life, God gave us a test, and that is the supreme test. It is a test that God gave to us to show, to prove something. And as we look at this supreme test that God gives to Abraham, I believe in Abraham’s life God has given him many other tests and put him through many other experiences. But I think this is the biggest, in a sense the biggest test in his life. And I want to point out a few things about this big test that God gives to Abraham.
And number one: now this is a test of Abraham’s love to God. It is a big test and what is this test about? I say firstly it is about Abraham’s love for God. Or we might put it another way, it is a test of love. It is a test of love. And I want to tell you that this is a test that God will give to all of us, all of His people. God will give us a test to prove our love to Him right- to prove our love to Him.
You might remember right what Jesus said to Peter, Simon Peter in John 21:15. John 21:15, this very famous verse which says: “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”. Now, this is what this test is about. This test is asking us this question that Jesus asked Simon Peter in John chapter 21: “do you love Me more than these?”. As I pointed out before, now that ‘these’ is not specified but it could mean anything, anything in our life Jesus is asking: do we love Him more than all these things?
Now, this is what this test is about. God, in other words, is asking Abraham that same question: Abraham, do you love Me more than these? And ‘these’ refers to his son. Do you love Me more than your son? Now you can replace that with anything. Do you love Me more than your wife? Do you love Me more than your husband? Do you love Me more than your children? And these are hard questions. It’s hard questions. We know that there are many parents who love their children, they give their all to their children, and God says stop. I want to ask you: You love Me more or you love your children more?
You see, that is the question that God is putting to Abraham, and what kind of love that God expects from Abraham? What kind of love that God expects from us? If God asks you, do you love Me, perhaps we would have no problem saying to God and say: Oh Lord, we do love you! But that is not His question. His question is do you love Me more than anything else? Do you love Me with a supreme love? What kind of love that God expects of us? I think that is made clear in the Bible again and again, for example in Deuteronomy 6:5.
Now Deuteronomy 6:5, it is clear that this is what God expects of every one of His people, and that is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”. And we know if we are honest that we fail miserably on this, where God expects this from us but it’s an area we know. Perhaps we love God, but not with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. God says everything, every ounce of our being, ought to be about God. How God centred are we? How preoccupied with God are we?
Now we look at our life. We find so often He is forgotten. He is forgotten by us. We remember many things but not Him. Perhaps we only remember Him at the, you know final moments of our day just before we sleep and say oh I think I need to pray alright, or I need to think of God, or maybe I need to open my Bible. But the rest of the day, how much do we think of God? And that is what God is asking: do you love Me with supreme love more than anything else with your whole being, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength? Now, what does that mean in practical terms? Now we do not want to be abstract. We do not just say: “Oh, okay God wants me to love Him with the whole being. And so, sure I will love Him for the whole being.” But pause and think, and that’s why God is telling Abraham: I want you to love Me with supreme love and I want you to realize what that means in practical terms.
So what does it mean in practical terms for Abraham? Well, I draw your attention again alright, to Genesis 22 but on verse two right, particularly focusing on verse two, and read this verse again. Look at this verse again. Now God says I expect you to love Me. And then He says this is what it means: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”. Now, look at the slow-motion in the way that God speaks to Abraham because He wants Abraham to grasp fully the practical implication of loving God with all our heart and soul and strength.
What that means in practical terms, he says it means that you take your son. So don’t look elsewhere, not any other son. It’s your son. Then He says, “your only son”. No other son, your only son. And to be more specific, He mentions the name, Isaac. It’s almost like God is stabbing a knife you know, piercing His knife deeper and deeper into Abraham’s. I want your money, not just that money in your purse but your bank account. Not just your bank account or all your property. Not just of all your property but your business empire. Now it’s like going deeper and deeper to remind, to tell Abraham what exactly He expects.
So I want your son, your only son, that son Isaac. Then He says, “whom you love”. Whom you love. Make no mistake, God is telling Abraham, you know exactly what I want from you. You know exactly what I want. Then what? Then Abraham said: Then what? My son, my only son whom I love. What do I do with him? And then He goes on: “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”. Now I say, when you read a verse like this, what is Abraham to make of this? And sometimes we are thinking: What? This is what it means to love God with all my heart. It’s to give God that most precious things from my life. Now you see, the proof of love is always found in that willingness to sacrifice even the best right? The proof of love is in sacrifice. It’s always found in the willingness to sacrifice even the best.
So, I want to ask you again: Do you love God? Do you love God with all your heart? You might remember in a very well-known movie, a “Chariots of Fire”. And then that movie in a sense illustrates well what we are saying here when that man, because of his love for God, was prepared to sacrifice even what he loved most: that Olympic gold medal.
Or to give you another example, I want to quote Don Whitney right, he was sharing something about his life, and this is what he said: “In high school, I played 4 sports. My parents came to every game in every sport, no matter how inconvenient the timing or how far the drive, except the out-of-town Sunday baseball games that were scheduled at a time requiring that they miss church. Because they came to all other games, I knew they loved me. But because they didn’t come to the ones that conflicted with the worship of God, I knew they loved Him more than they loved me, and that was critical for me to know and see.” So that was Don Whitney’s testimony about his parents, that his parents loved him very much, but his parents love God more than him. Now that is what we are talking about here, show that God demanding that we love Him more than anything else. More than anything else.
Now the second thing I want to speak about this great test that God gave to Abraham right, this supreme test that He gave to Abraham. The first is that it was a test of love whether he truly loved God and how much. So second, as we look at this test that God gave to Abraham, we see that it was a test of obedience. It was a test of Abraham’s obedience. Now if someone wants an excuse not to do what God tells him to do or not to obey the Word of God, now Abraham obviously had one. What would be Abraham’s reason or excuse for not obeying God? I think his excuse would be it’s just unreasonable. God, it’s just unreasonable. God, you know that you know you can ask for anything, but why this?
Now perhaps along the way in our Christian life, maybe in some way, we have argued with God before, and we go through certain experiences. We say, God, why? Why do you want this from me? Why do you want me to do this? You see, the trouble is that we are constantly justifying our lack of obedience. We know that we have been disobedient, and we think that we have got good excuses. If you want an excuse, I think Abraham here has a better one alright, but so much or so many of our excuses are really cannot hold water, the flamers of excuse. We will not do what God tells us to do. But for Abraham right, he could have reasoned. And so, the question is: With such a demand from God that Abraham did what God told him to do, so what should Abraham do? That is the important question.
Now many of God’s commands, they are not easy. They’re hard command, right? It’s difficult to obey. But the question remains the same like Abraham in Genesis 22: So what should we do in light of this so-called impossible demands from God? Now for him, there is only one thing to consider whether hard or easy. Now his main consideration is this: Is it commanded or is it not? That is the important question for him. Is it commanded by God, or for us, is it commanded in the Bible?
And so, as we read the Bible alright- as we read the Bible, we know that there are many commands. So we ask: Is there a command to be baptized? I mean, know that I’ve come across people who come to me and say: I’m a Christian, I’ve been a Christian for many years, but I do not want to be baptized. And they give me many reasons, either because of parental objections or these or that and they do not want to be baptized. But to me, I said to them: The question is not whether you want, or you do not want. The question is not whether it is difficult or not difficult. The question is it in the Bible? Does God want us to do? Or we look at the communion or church, or prayer, or fellowship, or many other things that we are commanded to do, which actually many Christians don’t do or don’t do faithfully.
You see, Abraham is teaching us that when we live our Christian life and we look and when we read the Bible and read of the many things that once God wants us to do, the big question that we should answer: Is it commanded by God? If God commands, then it’s just a matter of obedience. It’s plainly a question of obedience whether you would obey God or not. And so with this test, that is the test that God has given to Abraham. It’s not about whether it’s easy. It’s whether you would obey Me or not.
Now that leads me to the third thing I want to say about this supreme test that God gives to Abraham. This test that God gave. And I say thirdly, it was a test of Abraham’s spiritual understanding. It was a test of Abraham’s spiritual understanding. In other words, this test reveals Abraham’s spiritual knowledge or spiritual understanding. And so, when you read verse 19 right of Hebrews 11, again in the translation that we have, it says in verse 19: “concluding that God was able to raise him up”. In other words, as you know, in verses 17 and 18, and when Abraham was faced with this great test from God, it was a difficult test. It demands the best from him. It’s something that he has to process in his mind. It was not easy. He had to think about it.
So the word ‘concluding’ is actually the word ‘reasoning’. I think some translation has it translated as ‘reasoning’ there. So he was reasoning in his mind, but he was reasoning with a spiritual reasoning. Now it is okay for us to reason as we listen to God’s Word and we face a demand from God, especially it’s a supreme test, it’s a supreme demand, we think about it. And so, what is Abraham’s reasoning? So he says ‘concluding’. What is his reasoning like? And I said he reasoned with a spiritual reasoning. Now sometimes we reason, or we think through a matter with a very worldly way of thinking through things, but not so with Abraham. So, spiritual reasoning means this: Spiritual reasoning is reasoning based on what God had already revealed.
So he, in other words, Abraham’s reasoned through by looking at the Word of God. Of course in his day, he doesn’t have the Bible like we do, but he had revelation from God. He had word from God. He heard from God. So in a sense, he did have the Word of God with him. He had the revelation of God and he was reasoning based on God’s revelation. And based on God’s revelation, what did he see? What did he learn? Well, he learned this: He learned that God’s promise was required for Isaac to be alive or to be born alright, all through his life, God made him a promise.
That was God’s revelation. God revealed to him that he would have a son. But God also revealed to him that if his son were to come about or were to be born, it would have to be from God right, it would have to come about through a miracle because we have learned that he and his wife could not bear children. And so, it had to be from God. And God gave him. So he had this revelation and he came through. God gave him Isaac. And then you see, God has also shown him right, that this child is the promised child. So he has this revelation. Now it became obvious along the way that as he thought through this whole thing, you know, as he processed this whole matter, it became obvious to him that this God who has revealed all this truth to him is a God with whom nothing is impossible. That is what God told his wife Sarah: “with Me nothing is impossible”.
So that is something that along the way in Abraham’s life. He has learned about his God through the revelation of God, and if God, if God nothing is impossible. If with God, He has power over life and death, then it doesn’t matter. I can kill this child of promise and God, that’s why in verse 19 say “concluding that God was able to raise him up also”. God hadn’t raised him up, but he believed all through his reasoning based on the revelation of God that if I kill him if God wants to, He will raise him up again. You see that is spiritual reasoning. Spiritual reasoning is reasoning based on the Word of God, and Abraham’s understanding, therefore, came from a faithful reflection on what God has earlier revealed about Himself.
As I said earlier that he did not have the Bible, but that was his devotion. He meditated on the Word of God. Now we do have a Bible. We have, we are such, we are so blessed to have the Bible in our hands, and for many people, they have not just one Bible but many Bibles. But like Abraham, we must learn to reflect on the Word of God if our faith were to be strengthened. If our faith were to be strengthened, we must have the Word of God. Study it, reflect on what God has revealed, so that we might know like Abraham the God that we believe in is a God with whom nothing is impossible.
And so, Abraham was ready right, when he was given this test. He was ready to obey and say that God knows what he’s asking. We do not know. We think that he’s crazy. We think that it’s irrational. We might think that it’s just too much or unreasonable. But when we reflect on the Bible, when we reason and our reasoning is based on God’s revelation, now we would then be able to respond to God’s demand like Abraham. And so, let me conclude and point out once again that the whole point of this passage alright- the whole point of this incident raised by the writer to the Hebrews is, as mentioned in verse 17: “when tested, Abraham obeyed”. When tested, Abraham obeyed. And I want to ask you as I conclude: When tested, what do you do? When tested, what do you do? In other words, can our faith stand the test of fire?