As preached by Timothy O'Day.
1) Provides a picture of the mature faith God is forming in the believer.
2) Provides a proclamation of the gospel we are to believe.
Is Anything Too Wonderful for the Lord?
Christ Fellowship Church
November 26, 2023
In high school, I was obnoxious when it came to movies. I am most likely still obnoxious in many ways, but I don’t think I am about movies anymore. I had opinions on what was best and what was worthless. If you didn’t come over to my way of thinking instantly, then I would show movies to you. But here is the most obnoxious part: I wouldn’t necessarily show you all of the movie. Instead, I would show you the parts that I thought were best, usually the climax of the film. After all, I thought, what could be better? The climax of the film is when it all comes together and you are struck with the significance of the movie. And that statement right there should lodge into your mind and make you realize why showing just the climax was a bad idea. The climax is when it all comes together and you are struck with the significance of the movie—the whole movie. That is to say, if you don’t have the weight of the whole story coming with you into the climax, then it might arouse some interest, but it won’t come across with force. To see Tony Stark say, “And I am Iron Man,” before he snaps his fingers carries more weight when you know his story. To see Frodo say, “No” once he is at Mount Doom crushes your heart only because you know him. And, if the person doesn’t know the story, then not only are they not moved, they don’t understand. “Why did he do that?” They may ask.
And so it is with Genesis 22. This chapter is the climax of Abraham’s story, but we will ask the wrong questions of this chapter and think the wrong things if we don’t carry the whole story into this chapter.
That this is the climax of Abraham’s story is clear from the beginning of the chapter, the references in the chapter, and the end of the chapter. In verse one, we read that this chapter is a “test” of Abraham, indicating that this is the finish line to see what Abraham will do. Not only that, but throughout this chapter, there are allusions to Abraham’s story from chapters 12-21.
• The promise of land and a multitude of descendants is reiterated
• The angel of the Lord, a prominent figure at various points in the story, appears again.
• An emphasis that Isaac will be Abraham’s heir
• Reiteration that the world will be blessed through Abraham
We can also tell that this is the climax of the Abraham story because of verses 20-24, which act as a transition away from Abraham and begin to lead us to the next major figures: Isaac and Jacob. Who is mentioned in this line of Nahor? Isaac’s future wife, the mother of Jacob, Rebecca. From this point forward, Abraham slowly fades into the background.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page since we’ve stepped away from Genesis for a bit, let me remind you that Abraham’s story is a story about the nature of faith. God calls Abraham, and Abraham goes, which is a display of his faith. But right away we see that at times his faith is strong (pursuing kings to save Lot! Interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah before the Lord!) And at other times weak (lying about Sarah being his wife—twice! Trying to rush God’s promise by taking Hagar as a second wife! Pleading with the Lord that he would just make Ishmael the son of promise instead of making him wait for Sarah to conceive).
When Sarah laughed at God’s promise to give her a child, he simply asked her one question, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14). When Abraham is weak in faith, his answer has been, “Yes, this is too hard and wonderful for you to do, Lord.” This question, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Is central in the climax of this story. Even though these words are never uttered, they are the question behind all of the actions Abraham takes.
As the climax, Genesis 22 has a message we need. What is it? I will just note two things about it today.
First, provides a picture of the mature faith God is forming in the believer.
As I was saying, Genesis 22 doesn’t come to us in a vacuum. This isn’t some random dad being told to go and sacrifice his son. This is Abraham and Isaac, which is a context that is necessary to understand the what and why of this chapter. If you read this chapter and ask, “Why did God command this” or “How could God command this?” Then we need to review the context of Abraham’s story.
Does God want Abraham to kill Isaac? Absolutely not. We see later in Leviticus that child sacrifice is abhorrent to God (Lev 20:1-5). Then why did he tell Abraham to do it? We are told in verse 1: it is a test. In our modern age, typically the word test draws multiple-choice quizzes and such to the mind. That is not what is meant by test here. In the Bible, tests reveal authenticity and display what is really there. While an exam does do that to an extent, the more proper image is that of a forge rather than a quiz. In a forge, metal is heated and purified—meaning that the precious metal is cleansed of anything else that might be corrupting it. When gold is put in the forge, it is “tested” and shown to be genuine and, in the doing, is made more so. It must be gold in order to remain gold, but the test also, in a sense, makes it even more pure gold.
The Test in Context
This is a test that strikes right at the heart of Abraham. Just look at the language of verse 2. God calls to Abraham and tells him to take “your son,” but not only that, “your only son.” Now, Abraham has another son, Ishmael. But if you remember Genesis 21, Sarah wanted Ishmael sent away and the Lord replied that Abraham should, since Isaac was to be his heir. So when the Lord says, “your only son,” he means the only son who remains: the heir and child of promise. Not only this, but then he adds, “whom you love.” Again, knowing the context of Abraham’s story makes this line strike all the harder. Isaac means “laughter” because he is the child that brought joy to Abraham and Sarah, barren for so many years. He is their joy, so of course he loves him.
And what is he to do with this son, his only son, whom he loves? He is to go off to an as yet undisclosed location and offer the child up as a burnt offering. As I consider this statement in verse 2, I don’t know if it or what happens in verse 3 is more shocking: Abraham immediately obeys. He arises early, saddles his donkey, and takes two servants along with his son Isaac on the commanded journey. What is striking about this is what Abraham doesn’t do. Based on what we know of Abraham from the previous chapters, I would have expected one of two reactions
First, I would expect him to try to negotiate with the Lord. This is what he did in Genesis 16. God had given him the promise that he would have an heir, but Sarah was still barren. So Abraham and Sarah negotiated a third way to get the promise: he would take Hagar as a second wife and she would bear children for Sarah. Then, in chapter 17, when God tells Abraham that Ishmael, the child produced with Hagar, would not be the child of promise, Abraham cries out the to Lord, “O that Ishmael might live before you!” (Gen 17:18). Meaning, “I am too old to have a child! Just let it be Ishmael, it is easier to believe that you will keep your promise if the heir is Ishmael.”
Second, I would expect that he would compromise out of fear of losing Isaac. After all, when he was in Egypt and feared that he would be killed because of Sarah, he lied and called her his sister (Gen 12). Again, when he was in Gerar, the same fear gripped him so he called Sarah his sister (Gen 21).
But Abraham doesn’t negotiate. He doesn’t even sleep in. He arises early and goes. Fear doesn’t grip him. What does? Faith. Faith in what? God’s promise.
Isaac—More than a Child
You have to remember, Isaac isn’t just a child. He is loved by Abraham not merely because he is Abraham’s flesh and blood. In a very real sense, Isaac is Abraham’s salvation. God promised Abraham that through him, meaning his seed, the whole earth would be blessed. This promise ties back to THE promise of Genesis 3:15, which came right after the fall of man. There, in the midst of the devastation of sin entering the world, God promised that one would come from the woman who would crush the deceiver and restore humanity to his intended place of being with God. Through the centuries, things God worse, but God remained faithful to his promise. Now, the promise has come to rest on Abraham and his seed.
Abraham, mature in faith, knows that to lose Isaac is to lose salvation, for God promised in Genesis 21:12, “Through Isaac your offspring shall be named.”
The Command Doesn’t Fit the Promise
How does this command fit with God’s promise? It doesn’t. But that isn’t what preoccupies Abraham’s mind. What preoccupies his mind is God’s command and God’s promise. Abraham does not try to figure out how the promise can come about if he sacrifices Isaac. Rather, he trusts God and busies himself with what he is called to do.
As such, he ends up in the place that God called him to go and about to do what God told him to do. You can feel the theatrical tension taking place in verse 10, dragging out the details of the sentence, “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son,” only for this tension to be broken by the contrasting conjunction of “But” in verse 11. The Angel of the Lord stays his hand and tells him that now he knows that Abraham fears God.
That’s what mature faith looks like, the fear of the Lord. While not synonyms, the fear of the Lord and faith are nearly identical. The fear of the Lord is not cowering in a corner when you think about God. The fear of the Lord is a preoccupation with his promises and power. It is giving God preeminence in your thinking, feeling, and desiring. To be preoccupied by his promises and power is, in another word, faith that he is able to do what he says, and he will actually do what he says. That is why you are preoccupied with his power and promise—he can actually bring it about. If you and I are in a conversation and, upon hearing of a financial need you have, I say, “I can just write you a check for $1 million,” then you would laugh and it would no longer occupy your mind. But if you were talking to Bill Gates and he said, “I want to give you $1 million,” then, even if you thought it unlikely, your mind would return to thinking about it often. Why? Because he could do it. We are preoccupied with the Lord’s promises when we believe he can actually do what he says.
Likewise, when we fear men, we are preoccupied with man's power and promises. When we are preoccupied with sin, we are preoccupied with sin's power and promise. Get the drift?
Mature faith is unshaken confidence that God will keep his promise; his word is not void. He will do what he promised to do. That this is Abraham’s position is made clear in verse 5. After arriving at the appointed place for the sacrifice, Abraham tells the servants to stay behind while he and Isaac go to worship, but do you see what he says to them? “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Abraham plans on coming back with Isaac, not without him. And this isn't a lie in order to get away from the servants. After all, he didn’t have to bring servants. As we read in Hebrews 11:19, Abraham is so confident that God will keep his promise that he believes God will even raise Isaac from the dead if he must in order to remain faithful to his word.
In short, he has finally reached a point where he is able to say, “Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”
When you are confident that God is faithful, you can leave the unknown to God's providence. On the family road trip, if you were to poll the 4-year-old at any moment, asking, "Where are you and how can you get home? Where will you sleep tonight? Do you have enough money for food? Can you prove that this car is up to snuff for this trip?" The four-year-old would have no answer for you, yet he or she would be carefree and calm. Why? Because the child is convinced that his mom and dad love him and have seen these things. One need not know all or be able to do all if he is in the loving embrace of the one who can do all and knows all.
Abraham knew his role was not to figure out how this command fit with the promise. His role was to walk forward in trust. And he could do that because “nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.” And, as we see in verse 12, the Angel of the Lord appears and stays Abraham’s hand. Abraham didn’t know how he would come back with Isaac, but he knew that he would, which made obedience to the Lord possible. All obedience for the Christian is possible when we have faith in God’s promise; when we are able to confidently say, “Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”
What Do You Think Is Too Wonderful for the Lord?
So let me ask you this: what do you think is too wonderful for the Lord? What promise do you hear from him and think, "That would be nice, but I don't think he can do it?" If you do not think he can do it, then you will try to bring it about in your own power. That desire will become an idol and you will become the chief servant of that idol.
Do any of these thoughts ever come to your mind or show up in your life?
“I do not really think God can forgive me of my sin, so I lie about who I really am to others and hide my sin away.”
“I do not really think that God will make known to me the path of life. I cannot trust him to justify me alone by faith, so I have to labor and earn it myself. So when I sin, I am terrified that now I am doomed.”
“I do not really think that fellowship with God will bring eternal joy, so I have to find joy in a spouse, in a job, in status, in people's praise of me as smart, a good preacher--or just a better preacher than the other guy.”
Do you see the connections between all of these things? Self. Works will make me righteous, alive, fulfilled, satisfied, joyful, happy, and content. Here is the message of the Bible: Works will never do that for you. You are a sinner who is lost and dead. Righteousness, life, fulfillment, satisfaction, joy, happiness, and contentment are gifts of God that come by faith in God.
These things are too wonderful for you to accomplish, but they are not too wonderful for the Lord.
Second, Genesis 22 provides a proclamation of the gospel we are to believe.
We not only have a picture of where we are going, Christians, in our faith, but we have God’s help to strengthen our faith in Genesis 22 itself. This chapter is filled with images that point us to the basis of our maturing and confident faith: the Cross of Christ. There are shadows and types that correspond to Christ and his work littered throughout this chapter. Let me name a few, but first, let me give a brief explanation about what I mean when I say shadows and types.
Types: the picture of what is to come
A type refers to people, places, things, and events in the Old Testament that God uses as pictures to point us forward to Christ and his work. Joel Beeke gives a great illustration in regard to typology. Imagine you are about to go on vacation to the Bahamas (someplace else if you don’t like the beach). You’ve never been, but you are able to look at pictures of the resort. You see what your room will be like, you can scan the menu and see the types of food available, and you can even see the types of people there. This would make you very excited, right? The pictures would help you think about and understand the wonderful things that await you.
But the pictures aren’t the places, the food, or the people. They merely represent the places, the food, and the people. They give you an idea of what it is like, but it isn’t a perfect idea of it. Only when you really go there will you experience the delights of that vacation. This is what typology is like in the Old Testament. It provides you pictures of the future glory coming to God’s people, but they aren’t the thing itself so they do not perfectly correspond to it.
Genesis 22 isn’t an allegory with each character or item corresponding directly to an event at the cross, but it does contain several pictures that display the gospel beforehand in order to give us greater confidence in our faith. What are these pictures?
•Abraham is called to give his son, his only son, as a sacrifice. God the Father will one day give his Son, his only Son, the God-Man Jesus Christ as an offering for sin.
•In verse 4, we see that it was on the 3rd day that Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place where he was to sacrifice his son. The language of 3rd day is prevalent throughout the Old Testament and often signifies a critical event—particularly a switch from expected death and gloom to life and joy (Gen 40:12-13; Ex 19:15; Num 7:24; 29:20; 2 Kings 20:5-8; Has 6:2). This switch takes place, as Abraham thinks he is about to sacrifice Isaac but then he receives, figuratively speaking, back from the dead. After Jesus is crucified, he is risen on the 3rd day, after turning climatically death and gloom for joy and life.
•In heading toward the selected mount, the servants are left behind and Isaac, the beloved son, carries the wood for the sacrifice on his back. One day, Jesus will carry the cross, the wood of his sacrifice, on his back toward his crucifixion.
•When all seems lost, the angel of the Lord cries out to stay Abraham’s hand and, instead of Isaac being sacrificed, a ram is provided as a substitute. Centuries later, God’s people seem to be abandoned to death and oppression, but then God the Son takes on flesh and goes to the cross, the Lamb of God who dies for the sins of the world. Jesus is the substitute for his people, all who trust in him by faith. Where sinners should expect nothing but death, they now find life because Jesus has taken the sinner's place on the cross.
•After obeying the Lord’s command only to have his hand stayed, the angel of the Lord gives an oath to Abraham in verses 15-18, saying “because you have done this,” and “…because you have obeyed my voice,” showing that Abraham has secured for Israel the promised blessing from God. While Abraham is justified by faith, he secures the promised land for Israel by his obedience. Throughout the rest of the Pentateuch, God continually pours out the refrain that Israel is God’s chosen people not because they are numerous or righteous, but because of his love for Abraham he now loves them (Gen 26:3; Ex 33:1; Num 14:23; 32:11; Deut 1:35; 7:8; 10:11; 34:4; Joshua 1:6; Judges 2:1; Jer 11:5). In this way, Abraham pictures Christ. After Christ obeys unto death, he earns for all those in him by faith the blessings of salvation: regeneration, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification.
All of these pictures point forward to Christ and God has placed them here so that we should see Christ and remember Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. It is not too hard or wonderful for the Lord to preach the gospel to us in these events.
Abraham’s faith matures as he continually sees and experiences the faithfulness of God to his promise. As we read Scripture and see Christ in all of Scripture, we are confronted again and again with the faithfulness of God. If you are in Christ, then you get to behold again and again the beauty and faithfulness of God in the most supreme way: the cross of Christ. In this way, Genesis 22 doesn’t just call us to mature in the faith by learning to trust God more and more over time as we remember his promises, it actually forces us to dwell on the faithfulness of God in the supreme event of his love: the cross.
The Climax of the Big Story
The cross isn’t just some event, but the event. The cross is the climax of the Bible’s story and, truly, your story and my story. One reason Genesis 22 is so powerful is that it calls us to faith and then lays out the foundation and hope of that faith—the person and work of Christ. Every time we read Genesis 22, we are helped in our faith because our eyes are fixed again on the reality of Christ and his work for us.
And we do not just get to do this by reading Genesis 22. We can do this as well by coming to the table and partaking of the broken body and spilt blood of Jesus. In this meal, we see, smell, taste, and feel the atoning and substitutionary work of Christ. As your faith is in Christ, we invite you to partake of this meal with us this morning and say, corporately, “Nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.”
 Joel R. Beeke and Nick Thompson, Wilderness: Family Worship in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Reformation Heritage Books, 2023), 29.