By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
I despise the man who is gullible enough to disbelieve in resurrection. Such a person cannot be very intelligent and trustworthy. In fact, we have a moral duty to adopt a low opinion of him. Do you wish to think highly of a person who insists that your Lord never returned from the grave? If so, there is something wrong with you, too. But I want to talk about Abraham.
God gave Abraham a son, Isaac, by an act of power. And he said that through Isaac, Abraham would become the father of many nations. But one day he told Abraham to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). This meant that Abraham was to kill his own son and burn the body. However, Abraham knew that Isaac had to live, because God had said that the promise would be fulfilled through Isaac (Genesis 21:12).
So, God made a promise that would have required Isaac to live, and now God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, and to burn the body. This would have posed a dilemma for our theologians, but not for Abraham. Abraham did not believe that there could be paradox in revelation. And he did not believe in graded absolutism, the school of ethics that says God’s commands often contradict one another, and that as long as we perform the higher ones, it is not regarded as sin to break the lower ones. Talk about “the lying pen of the scribes” (Jeremiah 8:8)! No, even when Jesus said that some of God’s commands are greater than others, he said it only to declare, “You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11:42).
The Bible says, “That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 13:5). Now if the church does not have the power of execution, at least it has the power of excommunication. On the basis of the word of God, my judgment is that any person who affirms that there can be paradox in revelation or any person who affirms the ethics of graded absolutism must be excluded from all forms of ministry, and if we are truly zealous, even from parenthood, because these people are evil and dangerous. Those who teach rebellion against the Lord deserve punishment, shame, and exclusion, not honor and authority over God’s people. Those who do not oppose them share in their sin, as Saul stood over the stoning of Stephen and gave his approval.
Abraham believed in God’s intelligence and coherence. It was certain that the divine promise was to be fulfilled through Isaac – thus he had to live. It was also certain that the divine command was to kill Isaac and burn the body – thus he had to die. Abraham considered this, and reasoned. And to a mind that had been enlightened by the faith of Jesus Christ, the implication was just as natural and sure: God would raise Isaac from the dead, even from the ashes. Although God stopped him at the last moment, Abraham was thoroughly prepared to perform the sacrifice, not knowing that God would stay his hand. Thus, as our text indicates, he indeed received his son back from the dead in a figurative sense, even from the ashes.
This is a model of Christian faith. The Bible says that the promise that came through Abraham is not reserved for those who are of the law, but it is given to those who follow his faith: “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:16-17). Spiritual heritage is what matters “in the sight of God.” Christians are Abraham’s children not because they are necessarily his blood descendants, but because they follow his faith. And this faith, the passage says, is in “the God who gives life to the dead.”
Therefore, because when the Bible talks about faith, it means the resurrection faith of Abraham, the doctrine of resurrection is a test of profession and orthodoxy. The true Christian believes that although Jesus Christ was murdered by crucifixion, and that he was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead. And he believes that God will likewise resurrect all who have believed on Jesus Christ, even if their bodies will have crumbled to dust, or if they have been burned to ashes. Unless a person believes this, he cannot be a Christian.
Non-Christians cannot accept this, because it boggles their tiny minds. They do not believe in resurrection because their intellectual horizon is narrow. Of course a person can rise from the dead, even from the ashes of his body. The impossibility of resurrection is rationally inconceivable. The denial of resurrection is foolish and irrational. It is an outworking of the fantasy world conjured by the non-Christian’s grotesque imagination. But God has cured our ignorance and expanded our horizon, so that we can believe the truth, that resurrection is possible, that it has happened in the person of Jesus Christ, and that it will happen to all those who trust in him.