LENT 1, B – February 18, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Genesis 22:1-18; James 1:12-18; Mark 1:9-15

One day, while He was standing in the courts of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus had a discussion with the people there and Abraham was brought up. The people said to Him: “Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus responded with this remarkable statement: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad… For before Abraham was, I Am.” (John 8:52-58) Abraham lived 2,000 years before Jesus. When did he see Jesus’ day? He saw it when God commanded him to offer up his son as a sacrifice. In that event he came face to face with Jesus, his eternal God.

Consider the words of Gen. 22 regarding Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and see how they match up with Jesus and His being sacrificed on the cross:

Ø  Isaac is Abraham’s “son, your only son, whom you love.” Jesus is “My beloved son,” God says at His baptism. Jesus later says He is “God’s only-begotten Son.” (John 3:16).

Ø  Isaac will be sacrificed in the land of Moriah; where, centuries later, Jerusalem will be built, and where Jesus will Himself be sacrificed.

Ø  Isaac himself carries the wood for his sacrifice; and Jesus carries His own cross.

Ø  Isaac is bound and laid on the altar. What is significant about this? Well, Isaac wasn’t a little boy when this took place. He was big enough and strong enough to carry a significant amount of wood up the hill. This means he was also quite able to run away from his father and not let himself be bound. But he didn’t. He submitted to his father’s will in this; as Jesus did, also.

But the final, and most significant, connection between the sacrifice of Isaac and that of Jesus is that Isaac was not sacrificed. The angel of the Lord calls out and stops Abraham before he kills him because “you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” This angel who speaks for God is God! He then provides a substitute – a male sheep – that is sacrificed instead. Jesus – “the Lamb of God” – is the substitute for us all, and He Himself is the Angel (or Messenger; that is what the word means) who intervened and prevented Isaac’s sacrifice. He was there as Abraham prepared to sacrifice his only son; and He, the ultimate substitute for us all, provided the substitute for Isaac. And “Abraham rejoiced to see [Jesus] day… and was glad.”

Did Abraham know he was seeing Jesus’ day? Probably not. The Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write down Abraham’s story in a way that connects it to Jesus’ story in the Gospels. What Abraham did know was that his son’s sacrifice would not end in death. “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you,” he told his servants before climbing the mountain. “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son,” he told Isaac. Abraham trusted God, for He had miraculously given Isaac to him and his barren wife, and had promised that in him “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” He had to live! And so, Abraham believed that this horrible trial would not end in Isaac’s death but in his resurrection. This most significant event in his life, then, was a death and resurrection event. It was the seeing of Jesus’ day.

Ok, now: how did this event become the seeing of Jesus’ day? Through God’s Word of promise. Abraham believed what God had promised regarding his son, and so was able to trust God and carry out His command, terrible, and seemingly contradictory, though it was. His Word will also enable you to trust in Him and remain steadfast when you are tried and tested.

And you will be. Abraham is an example for us all. And if Satan tempted Jesus Himself, he will certainly not be afraid to challenge you. Expect it! One of his greatest temptations will be with God’s words, especially stories like the sacrifice of Isaac.

There are many beautiful and comforting stories and sayings in the Bible, ones that we are happy to hear and share. But, this is not one of them. Telling Abraham to sacrifice his son and burn up his body as an offering makes our God seem no better than many of the other gods that are worshiped, and worse than some.

Ø  He sounds fickle and changing, like the Greek and Hindu gods. At one time He is loving and helping and at another severe, even tyrannical!

Ø  Moloch, a god Abraham’s neighbors worshiped, demanded child sacrifice. The Incas and Aztecs sacrificed children to their gods. Is our God no different?

And, frankly, God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son as a burnt offering makes our religion seem worse than some others. Would Buddha ever make such a demand? How do you think this story sounds to unbelievers?

But, by this story we, with Abraham, learn how different is the God that we believe in and worship and follow. God may often appear to be the same, and expect the same, as other gods. Our religion is not the only one with commandments, for instance. Many religions expect their followers to be good and do what their god (or gods) says is right. But, at its deepest and most consequential – in matters of sin and judgment, of life and death – Christianity is utterly different. We have a God who intervenes and proves His love to us by giving us His heart: His Son, His only Son, whom He loves. Jesus stands in our place, willingly takes on Himself what is demanded of us, and by His sacrifice delivers us from sin and its eternal judgment, and from death. When we know this and believe this we then know that we can trust God with our lives, no matter what trials and tests may come. God may test you, and Satan tempt you, but in this you will see Jesus and be glad. He will never fail to be your life and your salvation!

And yet, how hard it can be to believe this and entrust our lives to Him. God can be so contrary! I mean, He says to Jesus at His baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” He said the same thing to you at your baptism. His Spirit was pleased to come down upon Jesus at His baptism, and upon you at yours. And then… God’s Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, where He suffered and was tempted by the devil! You can expect this yourself.

Satan is especially good at holding God’s Word before you and making it seem a lie. He will say it contradicts itself and can’t be trusted. “How could God give you a son, Abraham; promise that many descendants would come from him; and then demand that you kill him?” Abraham believed that God never lies or fails to keep His promises. This trust enabled him to prevail in his test. You have the same God and Savior, the same Angel who provided a substitute. In fact, you know more than Abraham, for you know Jesus to be the substitute. Don’t ever doubt Him or His words! Trust Him and follow them. You will see the truth of the words of our hymn (#716):

I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me;

Within His wounds I find a stay when Satan’s pow’r assails me;

And by His footsteps led, my path I safely tread.

    No evil leads my soul astray; I walk with Jesus all the way.

All through this life you will see what Abraham saw: Jesus’ day, the day “the Lord will provide.” Thanks and praise be to Him forever! Amen.