Track 1: Obedience from the Heart
In today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, God, seemingly, asked Abraham to do the unthinkable:
God tested Abraham. He 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 that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:1-2)
Incredibly, Abraham obeyed God. He had to go a great distance and to great lengths to follow God’s instructions. Can we imagine how he must have felt while on this journey with his son Isaac? There is no other test in all the Bible like this one! Isaac was the son of great promise. God has told Abraham that he would make him the father of many nations through Isaac. Isaac’s very conception was miraculous, considering the age of Abraham and his wife Sarah. Now God was telling Abraham that he must kill his son.
Let us follow this remarkable account to its conclusion:
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy 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.” (Genesis 22:9-12)
Abraham loved God and trusted him. He did so to the point of sacrificing his own son if need be. How many of us would have been willing to follow God’s commandments to this extreme? Abraham demonstrated his love for God by his obedience. Even undergoing an extreme test, he kept his faith and trust in God. He believed that God would keep his promise that he would be the father of many nations. Thus he was willing to do all that God asked of him.
The Apostle Paul wrote about obedience to God’s commandments from the heart:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
Love leads to obedience. Jesus also spoke about the importance of obedience in the Gospel of John:
“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)
Abraham demonstrated a love for God that was not dependent on circumstances. He was willing, if necessary, to sacrifice his own son Isaac. His unconditional love mirrors the love of God. The Apostle Paul helps put this love in context:
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:31-33)
Since God has given ups his all should we not respond with our whole heart. One of the best ways to respond is through obedience from the heart.
Track 2: Court Prophets
In the Old Testament there were prophets and there were “court prophets.” The course prophets worked for the king and were in charge of giving him good news about his kingdom and rule. Natural, to gain favor with the king one did not want to bring him bad news. In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Jeremiah spoke out against such “prophets:”
The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” (Jeremiah 28:5-9)
The problem was more than the prophecy given by these were in many cases untrue. This false prophecy was given in the name of the Lord. God had something to say about it. Again, in Jeremiah we read:
See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, “Says the Lord.” See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord.
When this people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, “What is the burden of the Lord?” you shall say to them, “You are the burden, and I will cast you off, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:31-33)
Do we have court prophets in the Church today? They were in the Church in the Apostle Paul’s day he warned Timothy concerning false prophecy. Paul warned his young protege Timothy:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4)
Jesus also warned against false prophets. In Matthew we read:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16)
Who are the court prophets trying to please today? Do people go to prophecy conferences to pay the seers to give them a rosy picture about their future? Of course, the situation can be a little more subtle than that. Rosy sermons about prosperity and financial blessings are all very common today. The promise of a great ministry on the way is very exciting. But where is the message about holy living and self-sacrifice?
Not all of us are going to be wealthy. Not all of us will have great recognizable ministries. In today’s Gospel we read:
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42)
Faithful service is the key. The Gospel does not need to be embellished. God will determine our rewards. The greatest reward is our eternal salvation through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.