Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent - Judica: Gen 22:1-14

                                                                                  Lent 5
                                                                                  Gen  22:1-14
It will probably not surprise you to learn that I am friends with a lot of Lutheran pastors on Facebook. It has been fun to get to know pastors around the country, and then as I have gone to speak at pastors’ conferences to meet many of them in person.

In two weeks, a yearly Facebook ritual will take place. On Easter Sunday, the pastors all post pictures of themselves in their vestments, standing in front of the decorated chancel with their wife and children. Now as I have looked at all of these pictures during the last few years, it has confirmed with certainty an impression that I already had: Generally speaking, Lutherans pastors have big families.

Amy and I have four children. But as Lutheran pastor families go, we are pretty average in size. It is very common to see pastors who have five or six children. I have seen this so often, that now I just take it for granted.

Not long ago I was speaking to Lutheran pastors and met a pastor whom I had known at the seminary. I hadn’t seen him in more than fifteen years. As we talked he asked me about my life and I described to him our family.

Then I immediately asked him, “So how many children do you guys have?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I sensed that something was amiss. In a very good natured way he responded and told me that the Lord had not blessed them with any children. They had pursued infertility options as far as they felt morally comfortable as Christians … but to no avail. I felt so bad for him and for the way I had asked the question. At that moment, I wanted to crawl into a hole.

Nobody expects infertility. When you are dating and looking to get married, it never occurs to you that there is the possibility you and your spouse won’t be able to have children. Once a couple begins to realize there is a problem, they usually seek out doctors who they hope can help them. Various problems can cause infertility, and there are often a range of morally acceptable options for Christians. When couples find themselves in this situation the ideas they once had about how many children they hoped to have in their family fall by the wayside. Instead, they pray fervently for the gift of one precious child.

Abraham and Sarah had been in this situation. They lived in a time and culture when people had huge families. Yet despite the many material blessings God had given to them, he had never given them a child. And then, miraculously, in their old age when it should not have been possible to have a child, God gave them Isaac.

It is hard to imagine how dear Isaac was to them – how much they loved their only child. Yet those emotions are just the beginning. For you see, God had called Abraham. He had told Abraham to leave his extended family and go to a new land – a land that eventually turned out to be Canaan. God promised Abraham that he would make him into a great nation. He promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants – descendants who would be numerous like the stars in the night sky. And he promised that in Abraham’s seed – in his offspring – all nations would be blessed. God had promised that through Abraham the Savior - the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent’s head – would be given.

Even when Abraham was waiting and nothing had happened, he believed. In fact when God promised that his offspring would be numerous like the stars, Moses tells us: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Our text begins by telling us, “After these things God tested Abraham.” Holy Scripture is very clear in telling us that God does test his people. While from our perspective this may not make much sense because God is omniscient and knows all things, God reveals to us that he actually cares about how we respond and what we do. It really does matter to him.
The test that God directed to Abraham boggles the mind. He said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” God told Abraham to take his precious only son – the one through whom the salvation of the world would take place – and offer him as a human sacrifice. He told him to kill Isaac and burn his body on an altar.
Now this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It is a tragedy in the making. In fact, it reminds us of the kinds of tragedies that we see all the time on the news. ISIS commits unspeakable horrors against men, women and children. Families are killed in terrible car accidents.
Or if we move closer to home, we see it when we or a friend gets cancer or serious mental illness. We see it when a son or daughter grows up and abandons the Christian faith.
When these things happen, our reaction is often to ask, “Why?!?” We want to put God on the spot and demand answers. We want him to justify to us what he has allowed. We get angry at God because it seems that either he isn’t really in control; or he doesn’t really know what he is doing; or he doesn’t really love us.
But this is not how it works. The creature doesn’t get to lecture the Creator. We don’t get to demand anything of God. He doesn’t have to do or allow anything that makes sense to you because he is God … and you are not.
Abraham didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he responded to God’s word in faith. He believed and trusted God, and so he was obedient. He made preparations to offer Isaac as a burnt offering and began the journey to the land of Moriah along with Isaac and two servants.
For three days they journeyed. For three days Abraham bore the burden of knowing what he was about to do. For three days he bore the burden of doing this thing that contradicted everything God had told him.
Our text is a masterful piece of Hebrew narrative. There is an artistry here that conveys the pathos of the moment in a way that really can’t be conveyed easily in a translation. But we see one very obvious example of this in the words of Isaac’s question directed to his father: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” To this Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” There is a gut wrenching irony here because God has provided the lamb for the burnt offering. It is Isaac who is walking with Abraham.
In spite of all of this, Abraham continued in faith. He believed and trusted in God. He believed and trusted and so the moment arrived when he had built an altar, and bound his son, and raised his knife in preparation to kill him.
At that moment – and only at that moment – did God intervene. We hear in our text, “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ The angel said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’”
Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and at that moment behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. God had indeed provided the burnt offering Isaac had asked about! Abraham offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And so Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide.”
During the course of the events in our text, God provides no explanation for why he has told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He never tells Abraham how things are going to turn out. And that’s how it is for us. But the events narrated in our text point us to the reason that we are able to walk in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith.
Our text begins as God says to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” Abraham the father is sent to sacrifice his only beloved son. These are words that remind us of what God the Father said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In Isaac we see a type that points forward to Jesus Christ. Jesus entered into the water of his baptism to take our place. There he took on the role of the suffering Servant. God the Father sent him to be sacrificed for our sin, not on an altar, but on a cross.
At the critical moment in our text, Isaac was spared and a ram was sacrificed in place of Abraham’s son. But it was not so with Jesus. Instead his mission was to die on the cross in the place of every sinner – in your place. Jesus said that he had come to give his life as a ransom for many. He was the One who fulfilled Isaiah’s inspired word: “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
Jesus was sacrificed on Good Friday and buried in a tomb. But on the third day, God the Father raised Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ resurrection we find that not only has sin been forgiven, but that the product of sin – death – has been defeated.
This is the reason we cling firmly in faith to Jesus Christ – because he is our crucified and risen Lord. Through our baptism into his death we have forgiveness and the assurance of resurrection life on the Last Day. Because of Jesus, we know that we are saints – forgiven sinners who already now have eternal life.
This is God’s answer to us. It is the only answer he has given. It is the only answer we need. God has never promised to give an answer to our “why?” questions. The almighty God is not bound to do things in ways that we understand and approve. He is God and we are not. As he said through Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
But what he has done is to reveal his love in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. And this love has provided the answer to the source of every evil – to the source of death itself. This love in Christ has forgiven our sin and brought the beginning of new bodily life that will never die.
This is God’s answer. And so like Abraham we walk in faith. We believe and trust in God because of what he has done in his Son. There may be times when we feel like Abraham, burdened as he journeyed during those three days to the mountain. But we walk in faith and hope, because we know that on the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

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