Easy Tests – Hard Tests (the world isn’t worthy of those who pass both)
Easy Tests – Hard Tests
(the world isn’t worthy of those who pass both)
A sermon based on Hebrews 11:17-19; 33-40, delivered by Pastor David Russow,
Hope Lutheran Church, Andover, MN; September 22 & 25, 2019
In the name of Jesus, who gave His eternal soul in eternal death to give us eternal life:
I’ve never liked taking tests. Have you? - Unless you’re a math genius, you’d hate the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Every year on the first Saturday in December, twenty-five hundred of the most brilliant college students of North America take this test which may be the toughest math test in the world. How tough is it? Although there are only twelve questions, the test lasts six hours. And although these are the best and brainiest young minds, the median score on last year's test was one point - out of a possible 120.
There’s harder test. It’s one we all take. It’s a test that goes on every day leading up to the first Saturday of December, and lasts every day of the year after. It’s administered on our hearts and minds. Its questions are only two: are we materialistic and earthbound, or are we spiritual and heaven-bound. It’s a test that could be summarized in this statement: "The real point of materialism is not how much we have, but what has us. It's not what we hold, but how tightly we hold it. Not what we have, but how we got it. The test of materialism is whether our goods have made us proud or grateful, self-sufficient or God-sufficient." Some aspects of this test are easy, but those could trip us up the most. Some are hard and they could crush us. But by faith in our saving God we will pass both; (and this world – that fails both – isn’t worthy of us!)
17 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, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death… (others) through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
We’ve talked of open minds, open hearts, now open hands in “sacrificial” giving. Some have called it, “giving till it hurts.” I don’t like that phrase. Giving should not hurt but be a joy. But it’s even in the joys of life, the victories, the gains, the wins, the blessings we accumulate can be a more severely tested to hold to God as our God who holds on to us.
The inspired writer gives some examples of the easy (street) tests on that many who have gone before us have had on their faith. He writes: “… (others) through faith conquered kingdoms,” (like Gideon who with his whittled down force of 300 conquered the Midianites and Amelakites whose numbers were as thick as locusts); administered justice, and gained what was promised (like Deborah who held court under palm trees and then led the Israelites in victories over the Caananites; who shut the mouths of lions, (like Daniel who prayed to God when commanded not to and wound up in the lions’ den, but the lions mouths were held shut by angels); 34 quenched the fury of the flames, (like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego) who refused to bow down and worship an idol of King Nebuchadnezzar and though the furnace was so hot it killed those who threw them in, they walked out not even smelling of smoke, alive, for a fourth was with them); and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength (like with Esther a genteel Jewish girl who became queen to Xerxes, whose beauty God used to save all the Jews in captivity from dying on the edge of swords); and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies, (like David who slew Goliath and whose faithful stand moved the Israelites to defeat the Philistines) 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again, (like the widow of Zarephath who housed and fed Elijah the prophet during a famine but whose son died and was raised. – Imagine, the best thing happening for you when the worst has happened!).
The easy tests may be the hardest! When it’s going well, when we get what we want, when we count blessings after blessings we can get so used to the easy that we can forget that it is the LORD who is the source and we credit ourselves. Forget that and suddenly we aren’t fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things. Moses wrote, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD.” DEUT. 6 God preserve from being so wrapped up in the easy aspects of life that we end up with the worst of outcomes – a denial of the Lord of our lives.
And God carry us through the hardest tests of life in which do not always expect the best of outcomes. While I may think that the easiest times of life may test our faith the most, the hardest tests of life may cause us to give up on God quickly and entirely.
Like with Abraham. After waiting with Sarah for so many years, finally Isaac was born to them in their old age. But God then told Abraham to take his one and only Son and sacrifice him on a mount he would show him. Abraham may have thought that God was out of his mind and asking way, way too much. But he went. He told the servant he left behind and that both he and Isaac would return. And he took his son, the fire, the knife and was ready to carry out what God had told him, to slit the throat of his child of promise, to bleed him dry and to burn his body like he would have an animal. What a hard test. God has never asked any of us for such a sacrifice! But Abraham believed God’s promise that through Isaac the line of the Savior would continue so he believed that God could and would raise Isaac alive from the dead from the ashes. - More real are God’s promises than the hard tests we go through. And the best will come. The Father did not withhold his one and only Son, Jesus, but bled him out and burned his soul to save us. Then he raised him to guarantee all promises he makes are true!
Or, there are hard tests like those who were stoned for their belief in the Lord Savior, like Stephen who was stoned to death for confessing Jesus as the Messiah. As Stephen was martyred, with Saul, who would become Paul, standing in approval, Stephen forgave those who murdered him. Hard test, but the best, heaven and Jesus were opened up for him.
Then, for the next three centuries the early Christians expected to die for Christ. They were cut in two and put to death by the sword. Like Perpetua, a 26 year old mother, who had her baby ripped away from her and was imprisoned. If she’d only reject Jesus and the Bible, she could have been freed and hold her child again. But she was faithful to the point of death, faced a gladiator to the amusement of others. The gladiator merely took a few weak stabs at this defenseless Christian mother, so the crowd called for his death, until she guided the sword and encouraged him to finish his task. She’d be with her Lord. Hard, but the best followed.
The Lord’s never tested us in such ways. And throughout the world TODAY monthly 322 Christians are killed, 214 Christian churches or properties are destroyed, and 772 acts of violence are carried out against Christians (including rapes, beatings, arrests). Hard, but blessings follows.
This world isn’t worthy of such those who pass the easy and the hard tests. That’s why Jesus promises to welcome all Christians who through his grace and power not only pass the tests – easy or hard – but are given the gift of Jesus own inheritance, the joys of glory.
The William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Contest is easy compared to the tests of life. When God sees it right to test us, we welcome the easy and hard tests, for the outcome is victory and blessing. And in view of Jesus’ sacrifice any we are called to make is little in comparison. Amen.