by Rev. Brian J. Thorson
Lessons: Genesis 22:1-14, John 8:46-59
Many of the Jews at the time of Jesus were very sure of their faith, which was not founded on the truth of God’s Word or their Savior, but on their heritage. They figured that since they are children of Abraham, they are saved. They thought this blessing of God is simply their birthright. Their figuring was foolish. There has always been—and will only be—one way of salvation: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. In today’s Gospel, the Jews were becoming increasingly upset at Jesus’ words, for He taught them the truth. They said to Jesus, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’”
Despite their pride in being descendants of Abraham, they still lived with the reality that, as great as Abraham was, Abraham was dead. At 175 years (Gen. 25:7), his lifespan was longer than the people lived at the time of Christ and longer than anyone today.
People die because they are sinners. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). As we heard last week, we have all inherited the sin of Adam. This means that we not only commit sins, but we are born as sinners. We were not born innocent. In fact, we’re born without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with evil lusts and inclinations.
Because of our sin, we cannot make atonement for our sin. It doesn’t matter what we render to God to make satisfaction for our sin; we would still be infected with sin. It’s a little like COVID-19. Make all the precautions we can, and the virus is still making its way across the globe. It’s everywhere. At least six confirmed cases in our own county. Just as this virus is infecting people everywhere, so also sin infects everyone. And just as there’s no way to prevent the virus through vaccinations, there’s also no way to prevent the passing on of our sin to our children and to their children. Therefore, we cannot offer to God the acceptable payment for our sin.
Yet Someone did. The One who said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” By saying this to the Jews who were angry with Jesus, Jesus is announcing to them that He is God Himself. He is the same God who visited Moses and told Moses that His name is “I AM.” So, how did the Jews react to Jesus’ words? In hatred, they picked up stones to kill Jesus. Yet, He hid Himself and left the Temple.
Today is Passion Sunday. Because today is Passion Sunday and because Jesus hid Himself in today’s Gospel, we veiled the altar cross and it will remain veiled through Good Friday.
Now, if we cannot save ourselves, how do we receive salvation? As we heard in our Old Testament lesson, “The Lord will provide.” Let’s take a closer look.
As I stated, Abraham lived to be 175. His wife Sarah lived 127 years (Gen. 23:1). In Genesis 12, God instructs Abraham to get out of the land where he was living, away from the house of his fathers, and go to a land that God will show him. Abraham, Sarah, and their nephew Lot travel to the Promised Land. Throughout their days, they never become landowners (except the small plot of land known as Machpelah which Abraham bought to serve as a cemetery for Sarah).
In Genesis 15, God promised to Abraham that he will become great and his descendants will be as numerous as the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky.
But there was a big problem with this promise. They had no children. Sarah had advanced beyond the age of childbearing. Finally, when Sarah was 90 years old and Abraham was 99, God told them that they will have a child. Sarah laughed at the thought. Sure enough, she conceived and gave birth to Isaac (his name means laughter).
Now, I skipped many details in Abraham’s life up to this point. He was far from perfect. He usually listened to God. But there were times when he didn’t. He proved to be a sinner.
Now he’s about to be tested with his biggest test yet. That’s where our Old Testament lesson begins. God told Abraham to take his son up a mountain to sacrifice him. Abraham didn’t argue. He got up early and took his son, some servants, and some supplies and they began traveling. On the third day, they are almost at their destination. (It sure is interesting that, just as Jesus rises from the dead on the third day, so also they arrive to the place for the sacrifice on the third day).
Abraham traveled with some servants and told them to stay while he and Isaac will go worship the Lord and will return. Except there’s one problem with this. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. I cannot imagine how heavy Abraham’s heart was becoming or the thoughts that were entering his head. What if God wouldn’t provide some sort of way out of this? What if Abraham were to come down the mountain alone with blood-stained hands? How could he face Sarah?
The sad reality is that children are sinners. And so it is possible for them to die. Countless parents live with torn hearts and shed many tears because they were forced to bury a child. Death is an evil foe. It is not what God intended when He made a perfect creation. But death comes to all, for all sinned. As we look at the growing death tolls from the coronavirus, we are all reminded of our own mortality and frailty. And we are reminded of our need for a Savior. We are also reminded of our children’s need for a Savior.
So Abraham and Isaac go up the hill for the sacrifice. Isaac carries the wood, not knowing that Abraham intended to obey God and use it on him. Isaac, though, asks a good question. “Where’s the lamb for the sacrifice? Abraham answers, “The Lord will provide.”
Such a great response of faith! The Lord will provide. When we suffer great tragedy and loss, we can say, “The Lord will provide.” Similarly, God reminds of this in Romans 8:35-39. St. Paul asks the question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” He answers his own question, saying, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We are more than conquerors through Him! He provides! And nothing separates us from His love!
So, when we endure hardship, suffering, or loss, remember that nothing separates us from His love, we are more than conquerors, and the Lord will provide!
So Abraham and Isaac arrive at the place for the sacrifice and Abraham builds an altar. He binds his son and lays Isaac on the altar. He takes out his knife to slay his son and suddenly an Angel of Lord speaks, “Abraham, Abraham! Do not lay your hand on him! I see that you fear God and have not even withheld your son Isaac from Me.” Clearly, Abraham commended himself, his body and soul and all things to the Lord’s hands. Even his son.
We do not know what the future will bring with this virus. It will likely kill people we know. It has taken the life of one of my cousin’s friends who leaves behind her husband and young daughter. Yet we commend ourselves and our loved ones to the Lord, as Abraham did.
When Abraham looked up after hearing the voice of God, he found a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. That animal was offered in the place of Isaac. Surely, the Lord provided.
The Lord provided a substitute. God fulfilled His promise. The descendants of Abraham are numerous. In fact, by being a Christian, you are a child of God and you are considered to be a descendant of Abraham. You are counted as part of that multitude that is as great as the sands of the seashore and the stars of the sky.
How so? Because the Lord provided. Through Isaac’s lineage came the Messiah, who was promised first to Adam and Eve after they sinned. And just as the Lord provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac, so also the Lord has provided a substitute for you. Remember, you deserve death for your sin.
Jesus carried His cross up the hill to Golgotha. In fact, he carried something worse that we cannot see. For the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus carried our sins in His body to the place of crucifixion. He is our Substitute. He shed His innocent blood in our place. He died to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He died to free us from our sin, place us into His family, and grant us the gift of everlasting salvation.
The Father sent His only-begotten Son to die for you. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, so the Father was willing to do the same. Except the sacrifice of God the Son means redemption for us, adoption into God’s family, and the promise of eternal life.
Truly, the Lord has provided. He provides for the wants of body and soul.
He even provides for us at the time of our death. For to live is Christ but to die is gain. Jesus takes us from this veil of tears to be with Him in Paradise. That is why the psalmist is guided by the Holy Spirit to write, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
God has a plan and purpose for everything. We do not always know why He chooses things to happen. But we do know that, as Abraham so rightly understood, “The Lord will provide.” And He has provided by sending His Son to pay for our sins and give us the gift of life. “Abraham believed and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). We, too, are righteous by faith. This means Abraham lives. And so shall we. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen