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Easter Sunday: The Power of the Resurrection

“Believing God can raise the dead is vital to being a Christian… but this belief did not begin with the resurrection of Jesus, it is even more ancient than that.”


Every Sunday is Easter Sunday. There is a long-standing debate between the churches on when exactly Easter should be celebrated, should it be celebrated on a fixed date, every year, should it follow the changing of the calendar? You can read books about this discussion, it literally divides the eastern and western churches. But this debate was really settled before it even began, because the reason Christians began celebrating church on Sunday, instead of Saturday, is because Jesus rose on a Sunday.

Therefore, every Sunday is Easter Sunday, because every Sunday is resurrection Sunday.  

I don’t have a problem with having a special Sunday that coincides with the time of year that Jesus died and rose again. Not at all, I think it is a good thing. But it is vital to understand that the resurrection IS Christianity. The resurrection is the hope that drives believers and it always has been. Without the resurrection we are just a sad social club, that’s not very popular in the world. Believing God can raise the dead is vital to being a Christian, it is vital to being a believer and it is vital to following God.

But this belief did not begin with the resurrection of Jesus, it is even more ancient than that.  

I want to take us back well before the Christian era this morning to reflect on the resurrection, to one of the most powerful, and probably controversial passages in the whole Bible, the sacrifice of Isaac on Mt Moria. And then we will come back to the New Testament. Let’s begin.

God Tests Abraham (Gen. 22:1-2) – Our passage begins this morning with God testing Abraham, we read,

“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 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.”

This is a significant statement to any parent, at least any parent who loves their children, not every parent does, which is a sad reality in our sinful world. But a bit of context about the things that happened before this draws out just how big a statement this was from God to Abraham. Let’s go back to the start of Abraham’s journey.

God called Abram, which means father of one, out of Haran away from his family and kin. But originally Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees, in other words, Babylon and that is where God originally revealed himself to him.

So, God called this pagan man to come and follow him. Nothing in this early account mentions that Abraham was a good man, or a righteous man, or an excellent man. We just know that God called him, Genesis 12:1-3,

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Rather than make the case that Abrahm was good, the Bible actually makes the opposite case, that Abram was not a good man at this point, Ezekiel 16:1-5,

“16 Again the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.”

God points out here that Israel’s father and mother were an Amorite and a Hittite. How is this possible, when Abram was an Aramean?

Well, the Amorites were a group of peoples that likely came from the Caucasus mountains, down into the ancient Near East and then moved back West later on. These Amorites founded Babylon. The famous Hammurabi, the King who wrote the famous ancient Babylonian law was an Amorite. They also eventually moved back West and settled in Canaan and in the land of Aram.

So, the Arameans, were a subgroup of the Amorites, as were many other Canaanites. Hittites were also known in this region and further West as well. So, Abraham was an Aramean and an Amorite in the same way that an American can be a Texan and an American, or a Victorian can be a Mexican and an Australian. So, this is not a contradiction when you understand the history of these terms and who these people groups were.

Babylon is the ancient evil of the Bible, and the final evil. What God is saying to Israel is, “You are of the Babylonians, when I found you, you were the worst.” Joshua confirms this for us,

“24 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods”(Joshua 24:1-2).

God didn’t choose Abraham because he was better, or special, or more handsome than other men. God did not choose him because he was smarter, wiser or better than other men. God chose him for his own reasons, probably because he was such a pagan, and then he promised this man with no kids, that he would be the father of many, “And I will make of you a great nation.”

Biblically, a nation is a people born of similar kindred, that is by decent from a common family line. God is promising Abraham that he would have many descendants, Genesis 15:1-6,

“1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

God took this pagan man, revealed himself to him, and then consistently showed him that he would be the father of many. And God did fulfil this promise. But before it happened, Abraham faced many threats:

Pharoah stole his wife, which threatens to impregnate her.

Abraham goes to war with armies that include Nephilim (Rephaim), placing his life in danger.

Abraham’s wife offers him the slave girl, causing an issue in the family line.

Abraham challenges God over Sodom and Gomorrah, potentially putting him at odds with his greatest benefactor.

Abimelech steals his wife, again threatening his ability to have a child with her.

“After these things” – After all of these threats finally Isaac, the child of promise, has been born. Abraham has literally crossed from the other side of the ancient Near East and followed the commands of a God different to that of his fathers, he has been slowly transformed and proved himself through many challenges, and now the promised child is finally here, and God says,

“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 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.”

Can you imagine this? Abraham, by this time is obviously a good man, a transformed man. His faith in God has had him credited righteousness, just as any believer today is. But he is still of pagan origin and thinking in many ways. You see it in how he handles certain situations, he is quick to lie, or tell half-truths, and a few other tells. And in this ancient pagan world. One of the things that false gods did was that they asked for firstborn sons as a sacrifice. This event is a bit like God redeeming a man out of alcoholism and then asking him one night to go into a pub, alone, with money to buy drinks. It is a clear test. So, what does Abraham do? He trusts.  

Abraham Trusts God (Gen 22:3-8)

“3 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. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 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.” 6 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. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.”

Abraham does exactly what God asks him to do. He prepares the boy, he gathers everything that is needed for the sacrifice, the fire and the wood. This is one of the most controversial events in all of the Bible, and many a sceptic or an atheist has questioned how can God be good if he asks Abraham to commit such a terrible crime. And the innocence of the child is driven home by this innocent childlike question,

“7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together”

Here is an ancient man, in an ancient land, being asked by an ancient deity to sacrifice his first-born son. To modern ears this is beyond wicked. This is the very definition of evil. Many people believe that this world is ruled behind closed doors by evil globalist elites who sacrifice children in secret, and we correctly think this is evil. In Abraham’s day they did it out in the open. In Abraham’s day, they did not have to hide it.

Abraham must have been incredibly tense here, because up until this point he knew he had been redeemed from this kind of religion. But he is not called the man of faith for no reason. So far God had never failed him. God had brought him this far and protected him from much. And God had provided him with the promised child, along with much, much more.

But God has not just provided him with the promised child, he has also said this, Genesis 17:18-19, “18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” In other words, Abraham, who has learnt that God never abandons his promises, had the promise that God was going to go establish his covenant with Isaac and his descendants. He did not know how God was going to do it. But he knew that God was going to do it, because God never lies.  

Many people read this account in Genesis 22 and think that Abraham knew that God was going to provide a ram or a lamb. Because he says, “8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.” But that is not how the Bible itself says Abraham was thinking. What he was actually thinking about was that God was the God of the resurrection. We read this in Hebrews 11:17-19,

“17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

This is Holy Spirit inspired insight. In other words, Abraham, this redeemed pagan from the land of paganism, Babylon, was going to do it. He was going to sacrifice his son, because he trusted God, and believed God could raise him from the dead, and give him back to him.  

If we stop here, this sounds terrible. That the father of our faith is what most people in our culture would consider a religious lunatic. But Abraham trusted God like this, because so far he had shown himself to be good, and just and righteous, and faithful and God would not fail to prove this again.

God Changed Religion Forever (Gen. 22:9-19)

God was testing Abraham in this act, but he also inverted and changed religion forever. People bring up this passage to criticize God, for asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, but those who do so, have not read the full story and don’t understand what God was doing. God showed Abraham there was a better way,

“9 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 am I.” 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.”

When those who are critics of the Bible say that God is awful, because, God asked this man to sacrifice his son, they do not realize how subversive God’s actions in this situation are.

God is dealing with a man who is of Babylon, not by ancient descent, he took him actually from there. This is the place where systematized idolatry was originally created. The star signs that silly women follow in the magazines originated in ancient Babylon. Magic originated in Babylon. Many of the wicked pagan practices condemned in the Bible find their origin in this place, as Revelation says, Revelation 17:5-6, “5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” This was an ancient evil and will be the final evil, as well.

What God is doing here is transforming a man of Babylon, an Amorite, into a man of God.

God never intended to let Abraham kill his son. Child sacrifice, which today most often takes the form of abortion, is an abomination, something God hates. God always intended to do this to test Abraham, but also to teach him. To test that Abraham truly believed and trusted in God above everything else. But also to teach him this important truth, God will provide the sacrifice,

“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.”

Through this event, God was transforming how humanity should see religion.

The ancients believed that the more powerful the blood, the more powerful the sacrifice. Therefore, the blood of innocent children was the most powerful sacrifice in their view. God hates this. He hated the ancient religious practices of this world. They needed to change, and to help change them he began with this moment. He taught the father of our faith this important point, “God will provide the sacrifice to fulfil his promises”, “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.”

It is impossible to overstate how significant this was. Abraham’s hope was focused on looking to the fact that God could raise his son. Which he could. But God showed him something better, “I don’t want your son, I want your whole heart, and I will give you more than you could ever offer me.” This was the opposite of any other god in the ancient world.

This points us to what the blessing of Abraham, for today, actually is.

Some people think the blessing of Abraham is all about some land for one people in a small part of the world. But those who think this haven’t read how the Apostles understood it. There was another blessing in this, a blessing that is thoroughly Christian and you don’t want to miss it.

The Gift of Transformation (vv.15-19)

God rewards Abraham mightily here, and says something powerful that many people know, but misapply in strange ways, God says,

“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.”  

God’s intention is to bless the whole world through Abraham. So, what is the blessing of Abraham? What is the blessing that God intended for Abraham to have to bless the whole world with?

Some people think this blessing that God wants to bless the world with, is that if you give to Israel you will be blessed. Bless Israel and you will be blessed.

Some people think that as Abraham prospered so will his descendants prosper, if they just have the right kind of faith and sow in the right kind of way, like Abraham did.

But I want to ask a question: why did God give Abraham the land of Canaan? Why? It was so Israel could live there.

Why did God want Israel to live there? So, they could have their own nation and establish righteousness as an example in the land. Correct?

Now why did God want this to happen? So, there would be righteous people there that knew God, knew God’s love and knew God’s ways.

Why did God want this to happen? So that there would be a righteous line and a righteous remnant from a treasured people through which the Messiah would come.

In other words, the blessing of Abraham, which was always intended for the world, was not a land, not even just a nation. These were just means to the end, and the end, the goal, the fulfilment, was Jesus and the resurrection. Which brought the blessing of Abraham to “all the nations of the earth…”

We can know this for certain because this is what the Apostle Peter himself said, Acts 3:22-26,

“22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Do you see that, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which can turn us from our sins, is the fulfilment of the blessing God spoke about in Genesis 22:18, “18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

This is powerful stuff, in the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, God was transforming Abraham, turning this newly converted pagan, into a man of God, who had shed his own pagan ways, and looked forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises. And in this same event, God points him to the better sacrifice that God would provide, the sacrifice of his own son, who laid his life down of his own accord and rose again, proving he was God, and through whom all who trust in him can be forgiven from our sins and turned from our sins.

The same God that redeemed a Babylonian like Abraham took him from the most wicked region of the ancient world, and turned him into the founder of the line of the Messiah, is the same God who rose Jesus from the grave.

And what does Paul say about that? The same power that rose Jesus from the grave is at work in those of us who believe, Ephesians 1:19-20, “19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,”

It is vital that we have this focus on believing in the resurrection. Because it was Abraham’s faith in being resurrected in the next life that motivated his obedience to God, no matter what God asked, Hebrews 11:8-10,

“8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Abraham himself knew that the promise would be ultimately fulfilled in heaven, not on this earth. He knew the land was a means to an end. In other words, his hope was not in the things of this world, his hope was in a greater promise.

Paul even points to this, in Romans 4:13, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Abraham knew God, who was the creator, the giver of life, the one who could make his old wife pregnant and who could raise up his son Isaac after death. He knew that this God was promising far more than just a nice block of land. And this transformed him.

You see when we believe, when we truly believe, that God has in store for us more than we could ever ask for in the next life, it means the things of this world lose their hold over us, and what God asks of us becomes so much easier.

Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection, we’d be sorry losers, who were giving up much of what the world has to offer, for a foolish hope. With the resurrection, we are capable of not letting anything in this world get in the way of us reaching “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

This is what Abraham really looked forward to. Those whose hope is in this life, must fight, scramble, scrape, and do what it takes to get as much as they can, without hope that they will even succeed.Those of us whose hope is in the God that could have resurrected Isaac and did resurrect his Son, just need to trust and rest in that trust. “By faith…by faith…” It’s the better way, the way of Abraham, the father of us all. As Paul says, Romans 4:15-17,

“16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

The faith of Abraham means to believe in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”The blessing of Abraham means to be among those who believe this. To be among those who have been transformed by the death AND resurrection of Jesus.

Application

So how do we apply this? One simple question, do you believe that Jesus is Lord and died for your sins, and confess that God raised him again from the grave so you can be saved? If yes, then you are among those blessed by the blessing of Abraham. Let’s live it out.

Never forget that Jesus rose from the dead and is coming again.

Never forget that if God can transform an ancient Babylonian, he can transform us.

Never forget that the power God raised his son from the dead with, is at work in us.

Don’t let people confuse the blessing of Abraham with the things of this world. The ultimate blessing he was looking forward to was the transformation that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We should mourn for those who seek to find their fulfilment in this world and seek to share the message of Jesus with them. The only hope is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christos Anesti…Alithos Anesti, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.

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