Genesis 22:1-14: 7 April 2019, Lent V, Judica

Luther Memorial Chapel, Shorewood, WI

The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane

“BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS,” Jesus said, “I AM.” And when Abraham was, the Lord TESTED ABRAHAM. But why does God test him or any of us? Simply put: So that we might trust His word alone, despite what the eyes see and our bodies feel. So that we might believe that in the midst of death is life, so that we might believe like Abraham and Isaac in the resurrection from the dead. God test to find faith in us and to teach us to hope in things not yet seen.

Have you ever felt that God is testing you? It means that God loves you. I mean, how much did God love Abraham? He loved Him so much that Abraham’s whole life was one big, long string of tests. Just look at his life. First, the Lord called him out of his homeland and out of his idol worship to live by faith in the true God, in a new land. And without evidence, simply at the Lord’s word, Abraham left home for Canaan. And when God said that Abraham would become a great nation, he trusted God’s word. And even when Abraham saw the land filled with Canaanites, He believe it when God told him that his offspring would possess the land, and Abraham called on the Name of the Lord in that place. And when God promised that even though he was without an heir, he would have son, and through that son Abraham would become the father of many nations, ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD AND GOD COUNTED IT TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. But what did Abraham see? He saw himself—an old man of 86 years—and his wife—an old woman of 76 year. He had hope in things not seen.

But Abraham didn’t know how the promise would be fulfilled; and Sarah at 76 years didn’t believe she could bear a son. So, in an attempt to make good on the promise, Sarah gave Abraham Hagar, her slave girl, and Hagar conceived by Abraham and gave birth to Ishmael. And he saw Ishmael, but Ishmael was not the son of the promise. Otherwise Abraham and Sarah and you and I might believe that the promise depended on some human work or human effort, and something that could be made with human hands, or that salvation came by the Law. But the promise is grace and grace alone.

Fast forward some 20 years, and God visited Abraham and Sarah again. Abraham is 99 years old and Sarah 89. And against all hope, reason, and nature, He said to Abraham: I WILL GIVE YOU A SON BY SARAH. I WILL BLESS HER AND SHE SHALL BECOME NATIONS; KINGS OF PEOPLES SHALL COME FROM HER.” The promise to Abraham, is now Sarah’s. ABRAHAM LAUGHED. And Sarah laughed. But God had the last laugh, because when they saw that living child rise from a dead womb, they were filled with joy and they named him: “HE LAUGHS”, that is, Isaac. They held him in their old arms: the child of promise. They saw the impossible promise in-fleshed, fulfilled in Isaac. But it wasn’t just that boy they held.

St. Paul says it bluntly in Galatians 3:16: the heir of Abraham was Christ. He writes: NOW THE PROMISES WERE MADE TO ABRAHAM AND TO HIS OFFSPRING. IT DOES NOT SAY, “AND TO OFFSPRINGS,” REFERRING TO MANY, BUT REFERRING TO ONE, “AND TO YOUR OFFSPRING,” WHO IS CHRIST. Abraham saw His day and rejoiced. So, as far as Abraham and Sarah were concerned, Isaac is the Messianic Hope. The salvation of the whole world rested on him. If he dies, all the promises of God that were yes, become no. If he’s lost, all is lost.

And, as our text says, it was AFTER THESE THINGS, after all the tests, after Abraham had received the promise, after his OWN EYES HAD SEEN THE SALVATION promised him and his joy was complete, so that he could die assured that God is faithful to fulfill every promise He’s ever made…AFTER THESE THINGS, GOD TESTED ABRAHAM, AND SAID TO HIM: “ABRAHAM! ABRAHAM!” AND [ABRAHAM] SAID: “HERE I AM.” [2] [GOD] SAID: “TAKE YOUR BELOVED SON, THE ONE YOU’VE LOVED, ISAAC, AND GO TO THE LAND OF MORIAH, AND THERE OFFER HIM UP AS A WHOLE BURNT OFFERING ON ONE OF THE MOUNTAINS THAT I TELL YOU.” After all that He’d promised, God sounds like a monster. It’s not just that He’s breaking His promise with Abraham, He’s breaking His own law: “YOU SHALL NOT MURDER.” It’s seems like an impossible test. Abraham’s laughter must have been drowned by sorrow. His whole world was crumbling, and he didn’t, no, he couldn’t know the outcome. But at God’s word, ABRAHAM ROSE EARLY IN THE MORNING.

Maybe we think we’d have it different. We think if the Lord laid that on us, we’d take comfort in knowing that God never changes, that He’s always good, and that this is only our perception of how God is. We act as if we could have the luxury of looking back with 20/20 vision to see what the testing is all about. But that’s never the way it is when we’re tested. That’s part of being tested: you can’t escape the test. Try telling Abraham in that moment that it’s going to turn out okay. Try telling Abraham that God didn’t mean for him to slaughter his son in the LAND OF MORIAH. We say, “Call Him on His bluff, Abraham!” But, beloved, you can’t avoid the test or pretend it’s not real any more than you can pretend that cancer’s not real or death itself is not real. The test is for us and it was for Abraham all so very real!

And the amazing thing about Abraham is not that he looked beyond the command to kill his son, or that he thought that the Lord wasn’t serious about killing him; it’s that even in the greatest sadness and in the greatest affliction, he didn’t flinch to go through with it, because he believed the promise: “AND TO YOUR OFFSPRING…” Lord, help us to have such faith! Against every fiber of his being that said “No!” against death itself, Abraham trusted the promise the Lord had made from the start. And he realized what the fulfillment of that promise might require: “TAKE YOUR BELOVED SON, THE ONE YOU’VE LOVED, ISAAC, AND GO TO THE LAND OF MORIAH, AND THERE OFFER HIM UP AS A WHOLE BURNT OFFERING.”

So [V. 3] ABRAHAM ROSE EARLY IN THE MORNING. He didn’t wait for another sign; he had the promise. He ROSE EARLY IN THE MORNING, SADDLED HIS DONKEY, AND BROUGHT TWO SERVANTS WITH HIM, AND ISAAC, HIS SON. AND WHEN HE HAD SPLIT THE WOOD FOR THE WHOLE BURNT OFFERING, HE GOT UP, SET OFF [4] AND, AFTER THREE DAYS, CAME TO THE PLACE THAT GOD SAID. [5] AND THEN, LIFTING UP HIS EYES, ABRAHAM SAW THE PLACE FROM AFAR. It would have been so much easier had God let him do it quickly. But no, it was THREE DAYS, three long days of playing it out over and over again in his head. His heart must have been so heavy, I doubt he slept a wink. Parents, you understand. How many doubts must have been rolling over in his heart? But after three of the longest days of his life, HE LIFTED UP HIS EYES AND SAW THE PLACE FROM AFAR.

But Abraham believed what Jesus told us the Gospel for today: WHOEVER KEEPS MY WORD WILL NEVER TASTE DEATH. He believed that neither life, nor death could separate Him from God and His promises. So he told his servants (listen to this faith), “STAY HERE WITH THE DONKEY; I AND THE BOY WILL GO OVER THERE AND WORSHIP AND COME AGAIN TO YOU.” That is, “Even if I slay my son, yet will he live.” Which is to say: “I believe in the resurrection of the body!”  

So this was Abraham’s worship: [6] ABRAHAM TOOK THE WOOD OF THE BURNT OFFERING AND PLACED IT ON ISAAC HIS SON. And the son carried the wood for sacrificing. AND his father TOOK IN HAND BOTH THE FIRE AND THE KNIFE, AND THEY SET OUT, THE TWO OF THEM TOGETHER. They walked, the father of many nations with no nation to show for it, and his beloved son, whom God saw fit to sacrifice in the land of Moriah. The place would later be called: Jerusalem. [7] AND ISAAC, carrying the wood, SAID TO HIS FATHER, “FATHER!” AND HE SAID: “WHAT IS IT, SON?” HE SAID: “LOOK, HERE’S FIRE AND WOOD. BUT WHERE’S THE LAMB FOR THE BURNT OFFERING?” Regardless of what you know about the promise, what father wouldn’t have died there? It must have felt like a burning spear into the heart: “FATHER! WHERE’S THE LAMB?” How do you prepare a child to suffer and die? [8] But ABRAHAM SAID: “GOD WILL SEE TO HIS OWN LAMB FOR THE BURNT OFFERING, MY SON.” As if to say, “Whatever happens, God will provide, because He’s promised me you and through you everything else. You’ll see.” The Lamb is coming. God sees Him already, slain from the very foundation of the earth. AND THEY WENT, BOTH OF THEM TOGETHER. Abraham, according to God’s word, and Isaac, not according to his will, but his father’s will.

[9] AND THEY CAME TO THE PLACE OF WHICH GOD TOLD HIM. AND THERE ABRAHAM BUILD THE ALTAR, LAID THE WOOD, AND WHEN HE HAD BOUND THE FEET OF ISAAC HIS SON, HE PLACE HIM ON THE ALTAR OVER THE WOOD. Isaac, willingly stretched out over the wood and allowed himself to be bound. [10] THEN ABRAHAM STRETCHED OUT HIS HAND and did what no father could do, except by a direct word from God, AND HE TOOK THE KNIFE TO SLAUGHTER HIS SON, trusting THAT GOD WAS ABLE EVEN TO RAISE his son Isaac FROM THE DEAD.”

And just as he was about to sacrifice his son, his only son, v. 11] AN ANGEL OF THE LORD CALLED TO HIM FROM HEAVEN AND SAID, “ABRAHAM, ABRAHAM.” HE SAID, “HERE I AM.” [12] [THE ANGEL] SAID: “DO NOT PUT YOUR HAND ON THE BOY OR DO ANYTHING TO HIM, FOR NOW I KNOW THAT YOU FEAR GOD; FOR MY SAKE, YOU DID NOT SPARE YOUR SON, WHOM YOU LOVE. [13] AND LIFTING UP HIS EYES, ABRAHAM LOOKED, AND BEHOLD A RAM, ONE CAUGHT BY ITS HORNS IN THE THICKET. And on that day, Abraham saw the day of Christ and was glad. I mean that Abraham saw in Isaac everything that God would do in His Son ahead of time. Death and resurrection and the impossible mercy of God. The test of Abraham to teach us what God has planned for us. It’s for us to believe that in death is life, even when our eyes can’t see it. 

Abraham, against all hope, trusted in the resurrection when there was only death and sorrow ahead—in Sarah’s womb, on that altar in the land of Moriah, and even a freshly cut tomb. But he believed it because God said it, and God said it because God already sees it all. He saw to the ram in the thicket and He’s seen to the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world and who death couldn’t hold, and he sees you and me when we suffer and are tested. Whatever we’re suffering, imitate Abraham, who saw Christ’s day and was glad, who saw in that Promised Child life, and who trusted that the Lord would see to it all.

SO ABRAHAM CALLED THE NAME OF THAT PLACE, “THE LORD WILL SEE,” AS IT IS SAID TO THIS DAY, “ON THE MOUNT OF THE LORD IT WILL BE SEEN.” Beloved, we see the place from afar now. Holy Week is on the horizon. Let us lift up our eyes to Calvary, to Golgotha, to that holy mountain and the empty tomb, to see with Abraham and all the saints the day of Christ, and to rejoice and be glad in it. In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

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