Sermon delivered December 12, 1998

by Pastor Donald J Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Quoatations from the Bible are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Fourth Altar

Two men journeyed together. Unfortunately their goals eventually caused them to separate. One was a mountain man, and the other chose to live where opportunities for success seemed much greater.

Genesis 13:10 Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of Eden. Lot chose that land for himself--

One major difference between Abram and Lot: Lot looked to the cities and Abram looked to heaven. Lot didn't like to erect altars and Abram was an altar specialist. Abram loved God. Lot loved the fast life.

I would like to examine the altars that this older godly man built. Each represents a phase in his life. The story begins in Genesis 12. Abram and his nephew and his father lived way out east in Ur of the Chaldees at the junction of the great Tigress and Euphrates rivers. Genesis 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Now Abram's dad was Terah. He worshiped idols, (Joshua 24:2). The moon god was venerated in both Ur and Haran and Terah would have been at home in either place. But God had other plans for Abram.

In the eyes of his neighbors, Abram was like a person whose grits were not exactly in the center of the plate. He didn't know where he was going or what he would do when he got there. But from the very start, Abram quickly obeyed God. If God calls you to leave your homeland and follow Him, you must be willing to lay all on the altar and go. Believers must look on themselves as strangers and sojourners in this world, Hebrews 11:8,13,14. We follow God wherever He leads us. But where?

Abram did not have the overhead guidance system that the wise men followed at Jesus birth. He set foot in complete trust. Terah followed his son as far as Haran which had a reputation for moon worship. There Abram and his father parted ways. You must always put God's commands ahead of your family.

It has to be a miracle that Abram did not turn out like his idol worshiping father. You don't have to repeat the sins of your father or your mother. God can help you to overcome the sins of heredity. But you may be asked to change your environment.

Genesis 12:4,5 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. This was a trip of over 1000 miles from Ur! All on foot. All In the sand and all in the desert heat. Verses 6 and 7: Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great (SHADE) tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

Altar #1- The altar of Conversion.

Up to this point God had been a voice. But when he did what God said, God himself actually appeared to him. When he knelt there in prayer, God came in person. Now for the first time he had a personal relationship with God.

This is what happens when we come to Jesus. When you come to Him you will be changed. Abram's past life was pardoned and He became a child of God.

Altar #2 The Altar of COMMUNION.

The next stop in Abram's life was Bethel. We need to come to Bethel. This beautiful Hebrew word means: "The House of God," "The house of Prayer." Here Abram built another altar. At Bethel he had deep supplication with God. Here prayer became a daily habit.

Can you begin to see the strong roots that undergirded this great man? We do not become great by accident. A great loaf of bread does not just happen by an explosion in a grocery store. Great Christians follow God's tailor made plan for developing magnificence in their life. Where do you get the ingredients of this plan? You get them at the altar of prayer and Bible Study.

Some time later Lot and Abram split up. Abram took the high road and Lot took the low road that eventually led down to Sodom, a hotbed of lust and sin. So much depends on the early decisions of life.

Genesis 13:12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents NEAR Sodom. "Near". Not in Sodom, but as close as you could get. On the city limits of sin. Are you living on the edge of immorality? Avoid the edge. That is where you just might fall. Lot was yearning for a taste of the pagan life.

Meanwhile Abram moved on. Genesis 13:18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Altar #3 the Altar of COVENANT.

Under the cooling shade of those mammoth trees God renewed His covenant with Abram, Verses 14-17. Intelligent observation here tells us that the third altar was the reward or the outcome of his experience at the first two. Here Abram is granted great promises and given all his eyes could behold.


Here Abraham was Certified. To be certified we must be tested. Genesis 22 is one of the greatest chapters in the whole Bible. God tests Abraham by asking Him to sacrifice His son on the fourth altar.

Could Abraham have chosen, he might have stopped with altar #3. But God often leads us further and allows trials to test our integrity. Abraham could not have proven true at the fourth altar except he fully experienced the first three.

#1 The altar of Pardon.

#2 The altar of Prayer.

#3 The altar of Praise.

#4 The altar of Provision! God always provides.

Actually the fourth altar was in part God's answer to Abraham's prayer. He prayed that he might see Jesus. A wonderful prayer! But dangerous! Be careful what you pray for. God just might answer!

John 8:56 your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

Genesis 22:2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

Now, Abraham had two grown sons. "Surely God does not mean Isaac, so I will sacrifice Ishmael. But God makes His will clear: He says: "your only son, Isaac, whom you love." No question which one God is referring to. Apparently God did not recognize the son of the unlawful marriage.

    Think of the excuses Abraham could have offered:
  1. . Is this really God's voice? It could be senility!
  2. . It can't be God. He says: Thou shalt not kill.
  3. . God keeps His word. He said Isaac would be a great nation. How can a dead man be a father?
  4. . I'd better ask my wife first!
  5. . How can a father spill the blood of his son?
  6. . This has to be the devil speaking.
  7. . I must ask for a sign to verify it.
  8. . Sarah will have me committed.
  9. . I can't do it anyway... 20 yr old Isaac is too strong

How would you react? Would you kill your son? Abraham was constantly ready to obey instantly.

Genesis 22:3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.

Seeking no human council, he instantly sets out to obey. He asks no more than a clear understanding of duty. He makes ready to do God's will.

Many half-hearted Christians today might arrive at the foot of the mountain and say: "Lord, I can't do your will because I can't find any wood around here." Or - "Lord, I have no matches they have not been invented yet ... you will have to send the sacrifice!"

Not Abraham! He brought FIRE with him. He carried wood up that mountain. There would be no excuse.

During that three-day trip the distressed father had time to think. At some point he came to a thrilling conclusion. God had in fact promised to make a great nation out of Isaac and thus the boy would have children. Therefore if God allowed the lad to die, God would have to raise him from the dead or else God would be a liar.

Notice what Abraham declared: Genesis 22:5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."

What a great faith in God! Hebrews 11:17-19 describes it: 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.

He believed God was too caring to be inhuman and too wise to make a fumble. Abraham believed in a resurrection even though in the total history of the world there had never yet been one! That is Faith!

Abraham was tested in his old age when he was the most vulnerable. It put the old man's heart through the wringer. After the 60 mile walk he was tired.

Submissive Isaac carried the heavy wood on his shoulder up the hill for his own sacrifice. Just like Jesus carried the wooden cross up Golgotha.

    Isaac and Jesus have much in common:
  1. The births of both were predicted. Gen. 17:15ff
  2. Both were named before they were born; Gen. 17:19
  3. Both were born on God's set time: Gen. 21:2
  4. Both were circumcised on the 8th day. Gen.21:4
  5. Both births were miracles. Abraham was 100. Sarah was past menopause. Jesus' mother was a virgin... That is fairly rare.!
  6. Both approached the supreme sacrifice on the same hill. Moriah is there near Golgotha.
  7. Both were lambs.
Just as Jesus was the Lamb of God Just so, Isaac offered no struggle. He was willing to lay down his life for his father. Genesis 22:9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there (the 4th Altar) and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Abraham sensed the high cost of sin. He knew that salvation was provided at a great price.

Genesis 22:10-12 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

Abraham passed his final exam there at the fourth altar. Friends, your fourth altar, some great test, may still be in the future. The only way you can pass it is by erecting the first three altars.

    Look at these altars:
  1. - If you receive ....Pardon from God
  2. - If you have a daily meaningful Prayer to God
  3. - If you learn to.... daily Praise God
Then God will make Provision for you. Genesis 22:13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

God provided a substitute. In fact Jesus is our substitute. Jesus died to pay for your sins and mine. Accept Jesus as the Lamb of God. Accept Jesus as your Savior. Have faith in God. Abraham believed in God and his trust was accounted to him for righteousness. Have faith dear friend in God!

Opening Hymn: 120, There's a Song in the Air
Scripture:    Psalm 113:1-5
Closing Hymn: 122, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing


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