Timothy was our first born child. That means our experience with him will always be unique. There is only one first time through all of the new things that come with a baby. You can only be first time parents once. When Timothy was born, I didn’t know how to put a diaper on a baby. After Amy showed me how, the repetition soon made it second nature, and it was for every child after that.
Timothy was our first born child. And then there was a time we thought that perhaps Timothy would be our only child. Timothy is four years older than Matthew and Abigail. None of that was what we expected. There was a baby that we never got to know – a child that was lost through miscarriage when Amy was in the second trimester.
We grieved for this child, but had to accept that God’s ways are not our ways. And so after the appropriate time had passed, we began trying to have another child. Now trying to have a baby is not exactly what I would call a hardship. But the dynamic begins to change when month after month after month there is no baby. When the term “infertility” begins to arrive on the scene things have changed. And it was at that point that I began to wonder if Timothy was going to be our only child.
A first child is one thing. An only child is something very different. Every child is precious, but if you have only one, then all of the hopes for the future are tied up with that single child.
No one knew that feeling better than Abraham and Sarah. Yahweh had called Abraham when he and Sarah were old and childless. God told Abraham, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” He promised to make Abraham into a great nation, and to give the land of Canaan to his descendants. Yahweh promised to make Abraham’s descendants numerous like the dust of the earth and the stars of the night sky.
They waited for years, but eventually Yahweh kept his promise. Sarah, who was far beyond the age when it was possible for her to have a child, did in fact give birth to Isaac. It was a miracle that brought joy to Abraham and Sarah. In Isaac, their only child, they could see God working out the fulfillment of all his promises.
And then we learn in our text that God tested Abraham as he said to him, “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.” Our text says that God tested Abraham. This is a reminder that God actually cares about what we do. It really does matter to him, because our actions demonstrate what is in our heart. They show the place that God holds in our life.
God has made a promise to Abraham. And now he commands him to do something that contradicts that promise – that destroys the promise. The language used hammers home this fact. Abraham is told to sacrifice “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”
In our text we learn that Abraham obeyed Yahweh. He cut wood for a burnt offering, and took Isaac and two of his servants. We learn that on the third day Abraham looked out and saw the place from afar. We realize that for three days Abraham travelled knowing what he was about to do.
For three days he bore this burden as he journeyed. It would have been easy to come up with reasons not to go through with it. But Abraham believed and trusted in Yahweh. Martin Luther commented on this: “I have stated what Abraham’s trial was, namely, the contradiction of the promise. Therefore his faith shines forth with special clarity in this passage, inasmuch as he obeys God with such a ready heart when He gives him the command. And although Isaac has to be sacrificed, he nevertheless has no doubt whatever that the promise will be fulfilled, even if he does not know the manner of its fulfillment.”
Like Abraham, we too live on the basis of God’s promise. He has promised that we are his forgiven children because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has promised that we belong to him, and that he loves and cares for us. Luther commented that, “These events are recorded for our comfort, in order that we may learn to rely on the promises we have. I was baptized. Therefore I must maintain that I was translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God.”
Because this is so, Luther goes on to say, “One must act similarly in all other trials. Wherever we experience the opposite of a promise, we should maintain the assurance that when God shows himself differently from the way the promise speaks this is merely a temptation. Therefore we should not allow this staff of the promise to be wrested from our hands.”
Luther’s words are particularly relevant for our situation, because they were made in 1539 when a plague had struck Wittenberg. In fact the disease had just killed a law professor at the university, and Luther took the orphaned children into his own home.
In our text we learn that Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. As Isaac bore the wood he asked an obvious question to Abraham: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And in poignant words filled with irony, Abraham replied: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
Finally, they arrived at the place God had indicated. Abraham built an altar, placed the wood on it and bound Isaac. He drew the knife, ready to kill his son, when the angel of the LORD called Abraham by name from heaven and 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.”
Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw that behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. And so he called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide,” because God had provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac.
Abraham obeyed God because he had faith in God’s promise. He continued to trust that God would be true to his word. During this time of a global pandemic that has disrupted all of our lives and caused concerns about our health and that of those around us, we are reminded that we live by faith in God’s promise. But it is a promise tied to what God has already done.
In our text Abraham is told to sacrifice “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” These words call to mind what we heard God the Father say at Jesus’ baptism during the season of Epiphany: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We hear today about how Abraham laid the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac, as he carried it to the place of sacrifice. In Jesus Christ, God gave his only Son whom he loved as the sacrifice for our sin. Jesus carried the wood of the cross to the place of sacrifice – to the place where he was nailed to the cross to die as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus’ dead body was taken down from the cross and buried. Yet God’s saving action through his Son was not done. Instead, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. In Christ he provided atonement for our sin. And in Christ he defeated death itself. The risen Lord Jesus is the source of forgiveness now, and resurrection life on the Last Day.
Through his Spirit, God has called you to faith in the risen Lord. In your baptism you were buried with Christ. But to share with Christ in his death is also to share in his resurrection. St. Paul told the Colossians that we have “been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
You were once dead in sin. But now, everything has changed. Paul went on to say, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” Through baptism and faith your sins are forgiven and you are a child of God.
Because of Jesus Christ, you have the living hope of the risen Lord. This is God’s promise to you. And it is this promise that allows us to face every challenge. In our text we see that Abraham trusted God’s promise, and put that trust into action. We now do the same thing, because we know the promise of the forgiveness and eternal life we have in Jesus Christ.
We face the uncertainty of these days confident of God’s love and care. We trust in his promise because we know what he has already done in Jesus Christ. There is no virus that can overcome the risen Lord. He has conquered sin. He has conquered death. Through his gift of baptism he has given us forgiveness and our resurrection future. This is the One who holds our times in his hands, and so we can face the future in faith and trust in God’s promise.