+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the most chilling stories in the Old Testament is that of Abraham being called to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham’s faith was tested in such a way that we can hardly fathom. God said, “take now 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.”
Seemingly without hesitation Abraham did as God said. He “rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”
What Abraham didn’t express is likely the very thing that crosses OUR minds as we hear of God’s unthinkable test. The whole thing didn’t seem to make much sense. Abraham and Sarah were parents of a miracle baby. They had waited a long, long time for Isaac to be born. God had told Abraham that He would make him the father of many nations and that all of the people of the earth would be blessed through him, that is, through his descendant, the one that he was now supposed to offer up in smoke on Mt. Moriah! The whole thing didn’t seem to make much sense.
Faith and reason though are often set in opposition to one another, aren’t they? “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” What parent wouldn’t be torn apart by a question like coming from their child, whom they were about to offer up as a sacrifice? “Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
God, of course, stopped Abraham’s hand before the knife was thrust into Isaac’s body. From the rest of the text in Genesis 22, and from a passage in the book of Hebrews, two things are certain about God’s test of Abraham. One, when he went up on that mountain to sacrifice Isaac he believed that if God called him to take the life of his son, He would raise him again from the dead. And two, though Abraham didn’t know that the life of his son would be spared, it was always in God’s plan to provide a sacrifice OTHER than Isaac to be offered up as a burnt offering.
In the Gospel reading for this morning, John the Baptist connects Mt. Moriah with Golgotha, when he points his prophetic finger at Jesus. “Behold, he says, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” When John said those words, the jaws of the people must have dropped in astonishment. Why? WELL, BECAUSE THEY GOT IT! They knew the story of Abraham. More than that, they lived the story of Abraham, waiting day in and day out for God to fulfill His promise. Everything about God’s test of Abraham and all of their years of offering up sacrifices on the altar in the Temple were focusing their attention to this moment and to this declaration of John. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” God had finally provided the Lamb. There would be no more bloody sacrifices in the Temple. God would do the unthinkable! He would offer up His own Son for the sins of the world!
I think the question for us today is DO WE GET IT? Not just Jesus being the Lamb that God provided, but do we get the need for Him to be sacrificed for us. Frankly, the whole notion of sacrifice is rapidly becoming a foreign concept in our culture. I don’t mean sacrifice in the sense of the Old Testament Temple rites, but sacrifice of any kind. My point is, we sacrifice, or, give up very little these days, whether for one another, or, even for our God.
To the contrary, we have become an entitled society. Things that were once considered the privilege, or, the reward of work, are now considered the right of citizenship. Even worse, things that were once considered the reward of work are considered the right of human existence.
I wonder if we’ve applied the same standard, to one degree or another, to our relationship with God? If I’ve heard it said once I’ve heard it 100 times. “I could never believe in a god who would condemn a person who was trying to live right and do the right things!” But, does God owe any of us His forgiveness? Is God required to save you from the consequence of your sin simply because He created you? Or, better yet, is there really anything so terrible, so bad about you that God should send His own Son to die on a cross in order to restore you to a right relationship with Him? I mean, is your sin really as bad as all that!? Surely there is something still good enough about you to merit God’s love and favor!
In some Christian circles, the unbeliever is encouraged to sacrifice himself to God, to “give his heart,” if you will, to God, as if sin hadn’t so captured him, so enslaved him that he had some sort of an inclination to even care about God or the state of his own soul. At the seminary a couple of years ago I heard a sermon in the chapel about this very point. The preacher illustrated how ridiculous it is to think that a person could ever give his heart to God, or, that, if he did that God would even want it. The preacher said, “a man offered a prayer to God, saying, Lord, I give you my heart.” You can hardly blame the man for praying such and for thinking his heart was even his to give. He only prayed as he had been taught. “Lord, he said, I give you my heart.” The preacher went on to say, “God, figuratively speaking, looked at the man’s heart as it beat feebly in His hand. He looked at the man and then he looked again at his heart, and He said, “what do you want me to do with this filthy thing!?”
God owes us nothing. At the same time, you and I don’t have anything to give Him. The whole situation puts us in a pretty poor bargaining position, don’t you think!? Luther, I think, summed up our condition pretty well in one of his hymns.
“Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly over me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.”
Now, from the sin and hell we so wantonly call life, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” “The holy Lamb undaunted came
To God’s own altar lit with flame; While weeping angels hid their eyes, This Priest became a sacrifice.” From Satan’s grip and sin and death’s despair, God embraces you. His face shines upon you because He gave His Son as a sacrifice for your sin! When you had nothing to give but your sin, He willing took it from you and bore it in His body on that cursed cross.
In a strange sort of twist you are now entitled to something from God. As God’s dear child, claimed, adopted and washed in the water of Holy Baptism, you are entitled to all He has to give, not, however, because of your merit, but, solely because of His.
“Behold, (my friends), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
“The veil is torn, our Priest we see,
As at the rail on bended knee
Our hungry mouths from Him receive
The bread of immortality.”
“The body of God’s Lamb we eat,
A priestly food and priestly meat;
On sin-parched lips the chalice pours
His quenching blood that life restores.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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