But the family of Jesus is imperfect! In Matt. 1 is listed a genealogy of family members beginning with Abraham and ending with the birth of Jesus Christ. This is the imperfect family of Jesus Christ. Good thing because we sinners who have embraced Christ Jesus as the only way to find wholeness are also members of God’s family.
This Fall the messages are select character studies from members of God’s imperfect family. If God can bless and use these crazy folks, then there is hope for us!
Today: Isaac. Isaac is the joke of the Bible. Gen. 17 details the background to Isaac’s birth. His father Abraham had been promised by God his heirs would become a nation and all nations would be blessed. The problem is Abraham and Sarah were getting older and still no children. When an angel appeared to Abraham and Sarah and told them she was going to give birth to a son, this is the response: READ Gen. 18:11-15. She thought it was all a bad joke! Isaac means laughter.
Isaac is born. I feel sorry for Isaac in many ways, but I can relate to him! I hope I am a little bit like him in my own character, at least the good parts, not the sinful nature. There are dozens/hundreds of references in the Bible to Isaac, the vast majority his name is part of the phrase to describe God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Poor Isaac didn’t seem to have a chance, his father Abraham was a giant of a man who took great risks and acted with great courage. Abraham was the type of person that if he walked into the room, everyone noticed. It’s not easy living in the shadow of a giant. Isaac also had the same situation on the other end with his son Jacob. Jacob seemed to invite constant drama… Jacob is next week’s message….Isaac was far more passive than his father or son, one person describing him as “colorless,” the type of person that if he walked into a room nobody would notice. There’s Isaac… reliable easy going Isaac. Can you relate????
Isaac is a central figure in one of the most difficult stories in the Bible: Gen 22. Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son. I do not like that story, a crazy story foreshadowing the death of Christ in which God sacrifices his one and only son. Isaac is passive in the Gen. 22 story, helping his father gather wood for the fire, “but where’s the sacrifice” he asks, not realizing it was him. The emotions are left out leaving it to our imagination how Isaac may have been feeling as he is bound by his father, then at the last moment a substitute is given to sacrifice and Isaac is spared. Isaac is the support actor in the unfolding drama of God’s plans for salvation. He lives in the shadow of great men of faith. It almost sounds trivial to say that Isaac is willing to give sacrificially, yet that seems to be his character…
I cannot imagine the story of Gen 22, so none of my comments reflect the depth of the significance of the moment, but I can imagine what it is like to live in the shadows, to be a support person, to not be the main event. This was Isaac. I think we would all do ourselves well to be willing to take second place… to serve without fanfare… such is Isaac… a man living between two giants… Maybe there is a little bit of Isaac in all of us, and rather than fight it, screaming for attention, wanting center stage, to accept whatever role in God’s Kingdom work that he asks of us. I hope I am a little bit like Isaac, a man who lived in the shadows humbly serving God in whatever God asks of him.
I think of my grandfather and father to be giants, great men of faith who selflessly served God. When I was younger I used to fight the temptation to not want to be in the shadow of these great men, but slowly I came to the place where I can truly say whatever you want of me God I will do my best.
I think we all have a comparison problem and are prone to feel sorry for ourselves and wonder why we don’t get recognition (read FB if you don’t believe me). Thank goodness for the example of Isaac who lived in the shadow of a great man and accepted his place. We all need to shed the temptation to compare ourselves to others and instead submit to God’s will for our lives. I think there are two main reasons I can serve as pastor in the same place as my father: #1 the passage of time, over 20 years between pastorates. Many of you did not know my father. #2, for those that did know my father and me as a kid, your graciousness, acceptance and affirmation of me… The reason I commend those of you who have known me my whole life and blessed me to serve as pastor is because that is what we can all do for each other. Notice the quiet people around us… bless one another. Pay attention to those that are standing on the sidelines. In God’s Kingdom, reality is that there is no such thing as second place. In God’s great kingdom all are important.
I love the short story of Bontcha the silent. He was a man that nobody noticed on earth, he does nothing noteworthy, goes about his daily life causing no waves, a colorless man, a responsible person that is just there. One day he dies. The scene shifts to the heavenly realms. The whispers among the angels become louder and louder… did you hear, Bontcha the silent is on his way to join us, the angels are excited as more and more learn of the news that Bontcha is on his way. At last he arrives and the angels are excited. They gather around Bontcha the silent with great fanfare. At last it is Bontcha’s time to speak. The angels quiet their voices. One of the angels says to Bontcha, “What can we do for you?” Bontcha pauses. He has all the resources of the heavenly realm available. At last with the angels listening attentively Bontcha says, “Could I have some tea and cookies?” The angels are dumbfounded, and then with one voice they begin the celebration anew… For every Abraham, for every Jacob, God needs 10,000 Isaacs. And all are superstars to God! God only needed one Paul the Apostle, a towering missionary to spread the kingdom of God. Since Paul there have been millions of silent missionaries who go about their work with little fanfare, requiring very little. Isaac made it in the list of patriarchs who established God’s people: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! My theory is that God got tired of Abraham’s over the top character and he knew Jacob’s deception and drama filled life would be exhausting, so he needed Isaac to give him a break, Isaac who was just there, Isaac who did not cause waves.
Isaac’s character is submissive as demonstrated in the story of Gen. 22 in which Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. Isaac is submissive. That’s a trait we all need to increase, submit to God’s will even when we don’t get it, to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, to be willing to take second place…..
Isaac is a thoughtful and tender man. Gen. 25 tells the story of how Isaac came to be married to Rebekah. In keeping with his character, Isaac’s father sends a servant off to find a wife for Isaac; Isaac has almost nothing to do with it. As the servant returns with Rebekah, the Bible says in Gen. 25:63 that Isaac “went out into the field to mediate.” Surely meditation is a part of Isaac’s character. Meditation is to pause from life and allow God to speak, to think, to listen for God’s voice, God’s impressions, to pay attention to what God is doing and what he wants of us. I want to be like Isaac, a man who took time to mediate so he could hear. I get most stressed when the demands of the day allow me no time to pause and think… I need down time. I need rest and peace. I need an oasis to rest. That’s the times I find resolve to keep on going even when the world is hard, to give God credit, to pour out my heart to him and ask him to open doors, or close doors that even my dense brain can figure out what God wants of me. Meditation is an act of submission to God with a desire to listen to him. May meditation be part of your life.
As Isaac is meditating, the servant approaches with Rebekah, Isaac meets his soon to be wife for the first time, and the text says in Gen. 24:67, “So she became his wife, and he loved her.” That sounds standard, but for it’s day, it is a remarkable text. Love was not typically the basis for marriage, an arranged marriage was for convenience, the wife was subject to the husband ~~ Isaac loved Rebekah… he was ahead of his time to love his wife which shows Isaacs simple but amazing character. I want to be like Isaac, to be motivated by love….
Isaac is not perfect. In Gen. 26:1-11 the story is told of how Isaac imitated the sin of his father Abraham. Because of a drought, Isaac found himself among the Philistines and was afraid, and he pretended Rebekah was not his wife, but his sister…. It’s a shameful episode. Thank goodness God is willing to use us even though we are sinners.
I love the next story in Isaac’s life, the remainder of Gen. 26. Isaac’s wealth increases, his flocks and herds enlarge. He digs a well and the well is sabotaged. Isaac is told to move away to another place. So he does. The same things happen, Isaac digs more wells to water his flocks and those people sabotage his efforts and tell him to move on. So he does. Isaac is a man of peace. Stand up for your rights is what we are told. Fight for what’s yours! I’m not saying there is never a time to stand your ground and demand your rights, but many resolutions can be resolved by turning the other cheek, giving up your rights and move on…. Isaac is not a warrior; he is a man of peace. Give up your rights whenever possible and live at peace. People sometimes complain the Bible is full of wars. It’s true. But then there is Isaac who refuses to quarrel and instead moves on to another place. Ironically, after Isaac is finally settled, one of the groups that previously sabotaged the wells goes to Isaac to seek peace: READ Gen. 26:27-31. I like Isaac, no drama Isaac. A man who sought peace and spread peace. I want to be like Isaac.
The highlight of Isaac’s life, IMO, is when this man of mediation, this man who loves, this man who lives by the law of peace giving up his own rights, this man of submission seeking God’s will, the covenant to Abraham is renewed to Isaac: READ Gen. 26:23-24. God’s promise. God’s promise. Isaac lived by God’s promises.
Isaac started out as a bad joke when his mother laughed at the idea of giving birth to a baby in her old age. But God has the last laugh. Not only is Isaac in the line of God’s imperfect family leading to the birth of Jesus Christ, but Isaac also makes it into the great roll call of faith in Hebrews 11. Isaac is a man that stands out because he doesn’t stand out… he is a man who lives in the shadow of a giant of the faith, his father Abraham. God only needs a few giants, but he needs more who are willing to be humble and listen for God’s voice and obey the Lord. Isaac is a man of submission, a man of prayer and mediation, a man who loves his wife, a peacemaker. It is almost not surprising that this unassuming man is listed in the great roll call of faith also for a very humble reason ~ he is said to be a man of faith because he blessed other people. READ Heb. 11:20. Isn’t that wild. By faith Isaac blessed his twin boys for their future.
May we be willing to be like Isaac, taking on any behind the scenes roll the Lord calls us… staying away from drama whenever possible by not fighting but allowing others to have their way, submitting to God’s will, seeking peace, listening for God’s voice. Thank you Lord for Isaac, one of the quiet saints in God’s imperfect family. Thank you Lord for all those among us who quietly serve you. Amen.