The Tensile Machine

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 Ge 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
 2 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."
 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.
 5 And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."
 6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.
 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." Then he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"
 8 And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.
 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
 11 But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" So he said, "Here I am."
 12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
 13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.                                                       
 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of The LORD it shall be provided."
 15 Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven,
 16 and said: "By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son -
 17 "blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.
 18 "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."

 Eph 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints;
 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.
 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),
 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.

 Lu 11:14 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled.
 15 But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."
 16 Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.
 17 But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.
 18 "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub.
 19 "And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
 20 "But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
 21 "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.
 22 "But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.
 23 "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
 24 "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.'
 25 "And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order.
 26 "Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
 27 And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!"
 28 But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

There is so much material here. I could preach on these texts for a month of Sundays and still not cover it all. Joel Rieth and I have been spending some time studying the Word of God together and we have adopted an unofficial motto for our study sessions: “So much little time.”  If you are a praying person, you might want to pray for a spirit of brevity as we look at these texts.

Let’s start with the OT lesson and se what we can learn from the well known account of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son on Mt Moriah. (which by the way was the future site of Jerusalem and Mt Calvary!)  The first thing we notice in verse 1 is that this whole incident was a test. “God tested Abraham.”
The idea of testing here is to find out the quality of someone or something through a demonstration of stress. We have a similar test that we use for all sorts of manufactured products, from rope to wire to structural beams. It’s called tensile strength. How much stress can they handle. how much squeezing or pulling, before they give in?

This kind of “stress” testing, by the way, is the lot of the Christian. We are constantly pulled between trusting God and His Word, or giving in to the ways of the world. The devil constantly tries to separate the Christian from the love of God.

The struggle for us is to learn to trust God and continue trusting Him no matter what’s going on around us.  To trust God is to simply believe what He has said in His Word, the Bible, to the point of taking decisive action in agreement with that Word.

That’s what Hannah did today, when she came to be baptized. She believed or trusted  that part of God’s Word that tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  She  trusted that part of God’s Word that says the wages of sin is death.

She trusted that part of God’s Word that says that Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth in miraculous fashion. God taking on flesh, living a perfect, sinless life, and then dying in our place to pay the price of all the sins committed in the world, past, present, and future.

Then God,  showing that He approved of this sacrifice raised Him from the dead, and He then ascended into heaven from where He rules the earth with all authority, and one day HE will come back to judge the living and the dead.

Before Jesus  left, He told His disciples to make more followers, more disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. His disciples conveyed this truth everywhere they went.

With His authority, Jesus ordained that the blessings that He won for mankind on the cross, would be conveyed to individuals through baptism. Sort of like a UPS truck (Universal personal salvation) bringing the blessings of His grace to all who receive it.

Blessings such as the washing away of sins, the gift of faith,  the drowning of the old sin nature and the bestowal of the new nature in the form of the Holy Spirit, who now dwells in you. It is through baptism, that we receive an invisible seal that marks us as children of God.

You believed these things Hanna,  you trusted these things, you took decisive action. You were baptized and you are off to a good start! You likely had some pulling going on in your heart as you wrestled with these truths and the decision to be baptized.

This pulling between right and wrong, between God’s way and the ways of the world is the constant companion of the Christian, but the Good News is that in your baptism, the Holy Spirit was conveyed to you. He now lives in your heart, to help you follow Christ.

 1Jo 4:4 You are of God, little children, (by your baptism) and have overcome them, (overcome the devil and the ways of the world)  because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

It’s just like what was being spoken about in the Gospel lesson. “When a strong man (the devil) fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.”  There’s no struggle between right and wrong, faith or no faith for the unbeliever! Before the Word of God and the Holy Spirit enters the picture...there’s no struggle, there’s no pulling going on. “If it feels good, do it!”

But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, (Jesus overcame the devil when he died and rose from the dead,)  and that victory and all its benefits has been conveyed to us in baptism.

But, baptism, doesn’t mean the end of your struggles, in fact, it marks the beginning.  

One thing that is extremely useful for every Christian to know and believe is that God will allow testings, but He will never allow them to the breaking point. He’s not like a factory testing to see at what point the rope will break.
He will always turn the machine off before it get’s to that point.  But many times we don’t want to believe it, because it seems so difficult. So hang on brother, hang on sister and know that God will not allow you to break.

1Co 10:13  There isn't any temptation that you have experienced which is unusual for humans. God, who faithfully keeps his promises, will not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist. But when you are tempted, he will also give you the ability to endure the temptation as your way of escape.

Let me rephrase that verse to help you understand what He is promising here.

1Co 10:13  There isn't any pulling between God’s ways and the ways of the world that you have experienced which is unusual for humans. God, who faithfully keeps his promises, will not allow you to be pulled  beyond your point of giving in.  But when you are pulled, he will also give you the  ability to endure the pulling as your way of escape.

Endure, it is your way of escape. Don’t bolt for the door, (the answers provided by the world) hang in there, it is for your own benefit. God wants YOU to see what you are made of.  He already knows what you are made of, that’s why He can promise that he will never give you more than you can endure.

Evidently, Abraham was made of good material. He was subjected to a very difficult test.  He trusted God’s promises, God’s Word,  so deeply that he was willing to kill his only son Isaac. You see God had promised Abraham that his son Isaac would be blessed with many descendants.

How is that going to happen if he has a knife through his heart on Mt Moriah? Abraham didn’t know, but he trusted God anyway. “It’s your promise God...You fulfill it. In the meantime, I’m just going to do what You tell me to do. I’m going to trust you for the results.

This is the way of the testing we Christians experience. God calls us to remain trusting in Him, in spite of what seems to be impossible circumstances.

Remain in that marriage, carry that baby to term, forgive that person, stop wagging your tongue in gossip, give 10% of your income to the church...and, well you name it. Sometimes, God’s demands and promises just seem unattainable....impossible.

These are tugs between the ways of the world and the ways of the Lord spelled out in His Word.  Now God is not going to ever call anyone else to kill their child,  I guarantee it. All that He calls us to trust and do is found in this written word, and you will never find such a command.

Don’t worry, we have enough in His Word to keep us plenty busy in this tug of war we call the Christian life. There is plenty in His Word that will cause tension between us and the world. There is no shortage of testing or pulling between God’s ways and the ways of the world for the Christian.

Now, as strong as the faith of Abraham was, you need to know that there were times when he also experienced failure.

Was it God’s fault that he failed? Of course not. If Abraham would’ve endured the temptation (the pulling between what was right and wrong by purposing to do it God’s way) he would’ve made it through, God would’ve turned off the tensile testing machine,  but Abraham did what so many of us do....he panicked and stopped believing God.  

And so he lies about Sarah being his wife when he runs into the warlord Abimelech, allowing her to be taken into his harem to save his own neck. (the second time he failed on that account, don’t be surprised at your own multiple failures of the same sin) and he failed when he came up with plan B to father a child through Hagar when nothing seemed to be happening between him and Sarah.

The key thing to remember about our failures in these testings is to learn from them. Peter learned from his failure! Jesus told him on Maundy Thursday, “Peter, Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat. (that he may test you, pull you) But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” Lk 22:31,32)

Peter denied Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times! But the main part of his faith was kept intact, that part which tells us if we confess our sins, He (God)  is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (our failures) and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 jn 1:9)

And so he picked himself up and returned to Jesus in confession and humility, and Peter used his  experience of forgiveness and restoration to strengthen his brethren and that includes us today as we learn to handle our own failures, for those times when we cease trusting in God and His Word,

What was the secret of Abraham’s tensile strength? How could he endure this test up to the very last second? The secret is found in a phrase that shows up three times in this account. In verse 1 God calls, “Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.”

When Isaac called him in v7 he said, “My father!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.” Then seconds before the knife would’ve plunged into Isaac, the Angel of the Lord calls “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham said, “Here I am.”
Abraham’s secret was his willingness to respond to God. His willingness to serve God and others.  “Here I am! I’m at your service! What can I do for you! He was pliable in the hands of His Lord, and the more pliable something is, the higher it’s tensile strength. The farther, you can go with it.

The more we learn this truth. The more we learn to surrender to Jesus and trust Him, and say, Here I am,”  the more we can accomplish in our lives for Him. The farther He can go with us.  “I can do all things through Christ who (tensile) strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)

Ps 37:4 says, Delight yourself in the Lord, (the idea of delighting is to make yourself pliable in His hands) and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  The battle cry of pliability is “Here I am!”

That’s a promise.....”the desires of your heart!” will you trust it? It may involve some painful tug of wars at times, but God will give you the strength to endure it, and as you endure in Him, you move closer toward realizing the desires of your heart.

By the way, it’s not just Abraham who learned this secret. I have amassed my own “Here I am hall of fame from Scripture. It includes Jacob in Gen 31:11

 Ge 31:11 "Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, 'Jacob.' And I said, 'Here I am.'
 Ge 46:2 Then God spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" And he said, "Here I am."

 Ex 3:4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am."

 1Sa 3:4 that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, "Here I am!"

 Isa 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."

None of these men were extraordinary. I don’t care what your education status is. I don’t care what your social standing is, God can use you in mighty ways, when you respond to Him with a “Here I am.”

The 12 disciples....nothing extraordinary about them, but they responded to the call of Jesus to follow Him. When Paul was knocked to the ground on the way to Damascus he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? In effect, “Here I Am” (Paul WAS an extraordinary man, someone with a very high standing in the eyes of the world, God can use them too!)

When Ananias was to meet Paul in Damascus, he hears the Lord call his name and he says, “Here I am.” and he baptizes Paul and the gospel is brought to the Gentiles!
There are more names, but I’m honoring those who prayed for a spirit of brevity today.

Hannah, I’m here to tell you that the sky’s the limit. No! There is no limit to what God can accomplish through you as you yield to Him and His Word. The Strong Man, Jesus has come to you today in baptism. he has tossed the former strong man, the great pretender out on his ear.

Oh, he’ll bang on the door and make a bunch of noise but that door has been sealed in your baptism, and as long as you keep your trust, your faith in God, as long as you endure, the evil one cannot touch you. He can harass you, and he will, but you are safe as long as you endure and remain in the house of faith that Jesus has built and will continue to build for you..

It’s like the story of the French Poodle on the Bachelor Dog Game Show. She wanted to see how creative the bachelor dogs were, so she asked them to use the words liver and cheese in a sentence.

The first dog, a Labrador said, “I rike river and cheeze!”  The second dog, a German Shepherd said, “River and cheese sshmell gooot! The third dog....a chihuahua said, “Liver alone cheese mine!”

That’s what our Strong Man Brother Jesus Christ says in our baptism. Leave them alone, devil, they are mine! You can bark and growl all you want, but in the end, those who are baptized and remain in the house of faith will be saved.
He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe (stops trusting in Jesus) will be condemned.  (Mk 16:16)