Sermon for Fifth Week in Lent - Judica (PDF) open for a PDF version for viewing and downloading, including the prayers of the church and the hymn of the day.
Readings: Genesis 22:1–14; Hebrews 9:11–15; John 8:(42–45) 46–59
Dear Father in heaven, help us to grow in the knowledge of Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to remain firm in the confession of His blessed Word. Give us the love to be of one mind and to serve one another in Christ. Then we will not be afraid of that which is unpleasant, nor fear the rage of the arsonist, Satan, whose torch is almost extinguished. Dear Father, guard us so that his craftiness may not take the place of our pure faith. Grant that our cross and sufferings may lead to a blessed and sure hope of the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, for whom we wait daily. Amen.
Dear friends, this Sunday in the church year is also called Dominica Passionis, or, the Lord’s Day of the Passion. Another name was Dominica atra, because on this day, in some traditions at least, the church altars were draped in black. Just take a look at today’s readings and you’ll see why. Those readings you just heard are all turning us toward the cross, Jesus atoning sacrifice, and His merciful covering of our sins.
We Christians don’t shy away from the cross! We revel in it! We confess that Jesus became our Lord by dying on the cross for us in order to rescue us from our captivity to sin, death, and the devil. The very fact that we are semi-quarantined in our homes amid a worldwide pandemic is a reminder that despite all of our scientific and technological progress we have not and we cannot overcome these deep-seated problems that plague our human race. We pray therefore that all people everywhere would take this opportunity to acknowledge and joyfully confess that only Jesus and He alone, can rescue us and reclaim us from powers we cannot overcome.
He’s done it all by His death on the cross where He fully endured and appeased the wrath of God toward all people, thereby reconciling us to God in heaven. He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. He rose triumphantly over death and the grave for us. By His death He destroyed death, and now ascended to the right hand of God, where He rules over all things for our benefit and salvation. This Lord of ours will return in glory as judge on the Last Day and bring us into His new creation – a glorious kingdom that has no end! May God preserve us always in this confession and faith until all that we believe in our hearts we might see with our very own eyes!
As you read and pray at home this morning I’d like to guide you through today’s readings in a simple and straightforward way. As I said, keep in mind that these readings are moving us steadily toward the cross. Our first reading is the sacrifice of Isaac. There are few Bible stories more disturbing and challenging to us than the account of God asking old Abraham to sacrifice his son. How could God possibly ask a thing like that anyways? And why in the world did Abraham actually seem willing to go along with it? Especially when you consider the circumstances! After all, Abraham had been waiting nearly a century for this child. When old Sarah heard that she would give birth to a child at 90 years old she laughed out loud and therefore that promised child would be called Isaac, meaning “laughter.” God had promised that “through Isaac shall your descendants be.” There’s a lot riding on this child, like the promise that Abraham would become a great nation, with kings coming from his body. All that would be fulfilled in the offspring of this boy.
But now God asks him to sacrifice his son. How contradictory to God’s own promises! How cruel and merciless you might think. But Abraham knew God was neither. He had learned a long and painful lesson through many years of walking with his God. He had learned that God makes promises. And He also learned that this God keeps those promises, every last one, even when they don’t line up with our ways of thinking. So what God says will be!
Something else you should know about Abraham too and this sacrifice. We make the mistake by thinking there’s nothing worse that can happen to a human being that death. But not so for faithful Abraham. For him there is something far worse. Abraham feared unbelief more than he feared death. He knew that death was no barrier at all to God keeping His promises.
So keep that in mind as we see Abraham trekking up Mount Moriah with Isaac to sacrifice his son. As he departs he prophecies to his servants. Did you hear it? He says to them “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and COME AGAIN TO YOU.” Behold the stunning faith of Abraham! He’s confessing the Gospel, the resurrection, and the blessed life of the world to come with those words! He’s confessing Jesus! Then Abraham takes the wood of the burnt offering and lays it on Isaac his son. Isaac can see the fire and the knife in his father’s hands so he curiously asks “I see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Faithful Abraham prophesies again, “My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”
Abraham built the altar. Heaped the wood up on top and bound his son to it. He lifted up the fire and the knife but an angel from heaven stopped him. And Abraham looked up with his eyes and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. You see, God made good on that promise. He provided the sacrifice. And the Ram laid down on that altar that Isaac escaped from.
I hope you can see this awesome connection with our Gospel text this morning! We should be overcome with awe when we hear Jesus speak those words in our Gospel, saying, “Your Father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So what did Abraham see when he lifted up his eyes? Well, he saw a Ram, to be sure! But better yet with those eyes of his he saw Good Friday. He saw Jesus on the cross some 2,000 years before that Lamb was laid in the manger.
Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day; that he saw it and was glad. Abraham saw and knew that from his many descendents, God would raise up One who would be different, who would bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. Abraham saw with the eyes of faith just what John the baptist did, when he lifted up his eyes and saw Jesus, and proclaimed of Him “Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.”
The sentence of God for this sinful world was this “in the day that you sin you shall surely die.” But now, this morning in the temple, Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my word (that, is believe in Him!) he will never see death.” For Jesus came to taste death for us – to drink the cup of suffering to the dregs in order that we might be released from its power.
Clinging to His life-giving words, we are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment. Our epistle this morning teaches us that Christ is our High Priest, who entered the Most Holy Place and with His own blood obtained everlasting redemption for His people. He is the One who was before Abraham was, and yet is his descendant. He is the promised Son who carries the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice, who is bound and laid upon the altar of the cross. He is the ram who is offered in our place, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin, and who wears the crown of thorns upon His head for our salvation.
Think again on Abraham and that dreadful request God made of him. You must know this! God asks nothing of us that He does not Himself fulfill! Saint Paul put it this way “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things!”
As you prepare for a new week, you’re not exempt from suffering and God asking troubling things of you too! How about enduring a time of pandemic, uncertainty, and new trials? This too you’ll endure by His grace and Holy Spirit, remembering that God faithfully delivers on every last promise, especially when things look anything but promising! But how comforting to remember that He who asks of you hard things is He who has given you His all, His Son. Therefore, when our crosses do come, and come they will, you may receive them cheerfully knowing that they come from the very heart of Him who loves you and raises the dead! In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
For all the baptized, that we would be led by the light and truth of God’s Word to see, with Father Abraham, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He went uncomplaining forth to the cross to suffer and die in our place and make atonement for all our sins, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the men who have been called and ordained to serve Christ’s Church in His stead and by His command, that they would be protected from sickness, blessed with faithfulness and fortified with courage as they carry out all their duties in the midst of this pandemic, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our partner churches around the world with whom we share altar and pulpit fellowship, that they would be kept steadfast in the saving doctrine of the blessed apostles drawn from the Word of God, and that they would be blessed with wisdom and safety in their endeavors to share that saving doctrine with their communities, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the gift of family, let us give thanks to the Lord; that the Lord would bless all families, protect them from harm and evil, draw them together into His Word and prayer, give them hearts of love for one another, and provide for all their needs, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all those who have been placed in authority over us, that they would be protected and granted God’s wisdom to serve with integrity and honor as they promote the common welfare of all, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our fellow Christians and our whole world in isolation and in illness, together with all who suffer in body and soul, that they would be blessed with patience and strength, and that they would receive healing and restoration in accordance with the Lord’s will, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who come to the holy hill of the altar today to feast upon the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, that they would approach with reverence and awe and be filled with exceeding joy as they receive the forgiveness of their sins and the strengthening of their faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all the saints who have gone before us and now reside in heavenly bliss, let us give thanks to the Lord; that we would be kept in the faith and, with them, receive the crown of glory as we enter into the life of the world to come when Christ returns on the Last Day, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.