2nd Weekend in Lent – March 15 & 16, 2014
A father was telling the story about Abraham and Isaac to his two little daughters. Hearing that God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac and sacrifice him on the altar, and realizing that Abraham was obeying God, the younger daughter was terrified and told her daddy to stop! She didn’t want to hear the rest of the story! But her older sister reassured her, “You don’t have to be scared. This is one of God’s stories, and they always turn out all right!” This older sister is right. Although we don’t always see, God’s stories, and those who live obediently to God’s will and His Word, ALWAYS DO turn out all right.
By God’s gift of faith, Abraham had learned this. What a test it must have been when God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2) Giving up an only son would have been hard enough if Abraham had been 30 years old with a chance to have more children; but Isaac was the child of promise born when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90! Abraham and Sarah had waited 25 years for this son and now God was telling Abraham to “give him back,” by way of a sacrifice of worship to God! What an agonizing walk that must have been those three days it took Abraham and his only son to get to the mountain! And then the question asked by Isaac, “Father… the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (v.7) NOTE WELL the answer that Abraham gave, for it serves as a model reply to all kinds of agonizing, “unanswerable” questions in our lives as well -: “God Himself will provide the lamb” (v.8) And Abraham called that place, “the Lord will provide.” (v.14) In all times of greatest TRIAL / TEMPTATION; when there seems to be no “way of escape;” God, through His unfailing Word assures us – in faithful obedience, trust that GOD HIMSELF WILL PROVIDE!
Today, we know that this powerful Old Testament story is also a foreshadowing of the Greatest Sacrifice ever made – the “once for all sacrifice” made on Mt. Calvary (very near Mt. Moriah – see 2 Chronicles 3:1), when God, our Heavenly Father “did not spare His (only) Son, but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). On that Good Friday, some 2,000 years after Abraham, there was no substitute ram “caught in a thicket.” This time “God Himself provided the Lamb” – Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” AS OUR SUBSTITUTE. And this time, God the Father did not stop from killing his Only-Begotten Son; but “He gave Him up for us all (God’s Word assures us) – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
This was quite a “test” that God gave to Abraham! Abraham could have FAILED the test – and he would have failed if he had given in to his own thinking and refused to obey God. Earlier in Abraham’s life, God’s Word tells us of numerous times that Abraham FAILED to obey God (e.g. twice, trying to do things his way, Abraham passed off Sarai, his wife, as his sister; as well as committing adultery with Sarai’s servant, Hagar as a way of having a son.) When God “tested” Abraham concerning the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham was certainly again “tempted” by the devil, as well as his own sinful nature to disobey God’s clear command for him. But God’s Word demonstrates the ONLY way to “PASS these tests”, as Abraham did NOT look to his own ability, but in confident faith CONFESSED: “God will provide.” And in his obedience to God’s “testing”, God strengthened Abraham’s faith and blessed his life.
What are the “tests”, the “temptations” in our lives? We are constantly making choices, to obey or disobey. On the one side, God encourages us to trust Him and live obediently according to His will, but our sinful, self-centered nature and Satan never ceases in pulling us in the opposite direction. Left to ourselves we would always lose. But as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus “won the most important contest”, not just during the “40 days in the desert being tempted by Satan” (Matthew 4 – last weekend’s Gospel); but as God’s Word assures us: “We have (Jesus) who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy (forgiveness when we confess to losing the contest of sin and temptation) and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The contest (“the test”) of obedience or disobedience to God’s Word and will continues in our lives. Again today, our Lord graciously gives us Jesus, through His Word and Jesus’ true body and true blood, in the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of all of our sins and to “strengthen and keep us” in the one true faith. By God’s working of faith and obedient trust God provided the faith for Abraham to obey. And by the same gift of faith and obedient trust in God, we too know that “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things! … by God’s power, growing in our lives of faith and obedience.