Where fears go to die

Where fears go to die

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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 I am, 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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 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.” 13 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. 14 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.”

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 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, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:1-18 ESV)


I know this is a familiar story for most of you, but you know that you can read the same part of the Bible five times in a year and see something different each time depending on what’s going on in your life at the moment. So do you know what stood out to me when I read these words this week. The very first verse: Did you catch how this all got started? “After these things God tested Abraham.”

This was a test that came from God. What was God testing Abraham for? You know what God commanded, the test: that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. And, as if to rub it in, God adds, “Your only son, whom you love.” Remarkably Abraham didn’t delay. He got up early. He saddled the donkeys. He cut his own firewood and loaded up supplies and then he set out with Isaac and his servants. After what must have been three long days they arrived at the place. Abraham left his servants, put the firewood on Isaac and took the knife and fire. What was Isaac thinking when his dad told him that the Lord would provide the sacrifice only to find himself bound and laying on the altar. What was Abraham thinking when he reached out his hand to slaughter his son?

But then a voice came from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Do not lay your hand on the boy.” And then we find out the purpose of the test, which also stood out to me this past week: “For now I know that you fear God.” God was revealing the true quality of Abraham’s faith.

This account from Genesis timely for us. It’s a bit ironic that for all of the talk about a lack of tests for Covid-19, we find that there is no shortage of tests that have come to us because of Covid-19.

A test reveals the truth about a thing. I could build a car and claim that it has the highest crash rating of any vehicle. My claim means very little though, until my car is tested. And of course car manufactures do this. They take perfectly good cars and in order to test how safe they are, they crash them and see what happens.

Look around and see that people are being tested in all sorts of other ways and the reality of the situation crashes into them. Your test looks very different than the tests of others and it probably changes with each day.

If you’re in the at-risk group or are someone that tends to worry about your health then you are being tested to trust that your life is in God’s hands no matter what comes. If you’ve found yourself in a financial pinch because of the shut down your test is to trust that your heavenly Father who feeds the birds will provide your daily bread even now.

There are a whole host of tests that come from the safer-at-home restrictions. I know that it hasn’t been easy in my own home to have home, school and work all shared in one space. Let me talk to the kids for a second: has your patience been tested when your brother or sister gets on your nerves? Mom and dad, have you lost your cool trying to figure out virtual learning or dealing with a lack of routine and the regular rhythms of life? Have you been able to admit when you’ve done wrong? I’m sorry. Have you been able to forgive and love?

Did this week feel really long to anyone else? I imagine that if you live alone you’re feeling especially isolated right now.

Health care workers are being tested with the added stress and demands along with the inevitable risks of being around the sick. Teachers are tested to adapt to a completely new way of doing school. Employees are facing a test of doing work at home.

The tests range from minor inconveniences, no sports! – (some of you may disagree) to life threatening risks.

What can we say about this time of testing? Well, we can say this: God uses times of testing to test to reveal what it is that we truly love and what we love most is visible by what we fear most. The two go hand in hand. For Abraham, Isaac was the object of his love; the son that he waited for; more than that, the son through whom God had promised that Abraham’s family would become great. What must Abraham have feared most? Losing his son. Yet even more than losing his son, Abraham feared God.

It would been easy for Abraham to say that he feared God. This test revealed that this was true. Why was Abraham willing to follow God’s command even when it appeared to go against everything he knew about God? The New Testament gives us some insight. The book of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed God so firmly that through his son Isaac he would become the father of a great nation, so he reckoned that even if he took Isaac’s life at God’s command God would raise him from the dead because he cannot break his word.

On that Mountain of Moriah, all of Abraham’s fears went to die. Taking that knife in his hand Abraham was not just about to slay his son but he was also putting to death his own fear of losing his Son. Why did God test Abraham? This was not a pass or fail kind of test. This was a test to build up Abraham’s faith in the LORD and his promises.

There are some questions about what the Hebrew word “Moriah” means. One interesting possibility is that it comes from the Hebrew word for fear and worship. On that mountain, what Abraham feared, who he worshiped, was revealed.

The book of 1 Chronicles identifies the place of this sacrifice as the future site of the city of Jerusalem and the location of the temple. There, at the temple animals would be sacrificed for the sins of the people but all of these sacrifices could not remove the guilt of this world. No, it was God himself who would provide his son, his only son, whom he loved, and offer him as a sacrifice on the altar of the cross not far from the place where Abraham found a ram to offer in place of his son.

This is the mountain where fears go to die. The place where peace is found in the forgiveness of our sins.

And those fears that pop into our heads uninvited and unwelcomed? Well, we can’t stop them from showing up, but we can mute them. If someone had told me a month ago that we would be doing church online and planning for virtual Easter worship this year I would not have believed them. Many of you have embraced the new normal and have jumped online to watch YouTube sermons and joined Bible Studies on a program like Zoom.

If you have you know that if everyone is trying to talk at the same time no one can hear anything so the host has everyone muted. What goes on inside our heads is not all that different than a Zoom meeting. There are competing voices in our heads that all want to talk. When fear about illness takes over, you can mute it and instead listen to God’s Word that promises our days are in his hands. When worry about finances begins whispering, mute it and unmute Jesus who promises that he will provide. When frustration over things you cannot control grabs the mic, mute it. Go take a walk outside and see how the rest of God’s creation seems unconcerned because God still reigns over all. When anger towards others chimes in, mute it. It does no good. Seek to see things from the perspective of others. Have patience as your heavenly Father has had patience with you. Forgive as your father has forgiven you in Christ.

In some small way this experience is our own Mt. Moriah of sorts, the place where we are tested; a place where our fears go to die. What can we say about this moment of testing? We can say that this too if from the hand of our loving God. Through this he will not leave us or let us down. Instead he shapes us and points us to the promises he makes us in his Word. Amen.