The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Our Old Testament text tells us that Abraham—after the whole attempted sacrifice of his son and the Angel of the Lord intervening to stop this great act of faith, providing instead a ram caught in a thicket of nearby bushes—named that mountain “the Lord will provide,” because on that mountain the Lord provided. Here’s the thing: That translation is not wrong, but it’s not exactly right either.
The original Hebrew text says that “Abraham called this mountain ‘Yahweh Yirah,’ because on this mountain Yahweh yirah’d.” Okay…we know what “Yahweh” means, but what about “yirah”? Well…it can mean “to provide,” which would make perfect sense, given the fact that after young Isaac had asked dad, “I see the fire, I see the wood, but where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham replies, “The Lord will provide.” And that’s exactly what He did too. We’re told that once the Angel of the Lord stayed the hand of Abraham, he saw a ram stuck in the bushes. Again, the Lord provided. Yahweh yirah.
But…what if I told you that “yirah” also means “to see”? Okay…that makes sense too. Yahweh yirah’s. The Lord sees. The Angel of the Lord (who we all know is Christ Jesus, pre-incarnate) flat-out tells Abraham “I know that you fear God, for I see that you have not withheld your one and only son from Me.” The Lord sees. Yahweh yirah’s.
But wait, there’s more! To “yirah” can also be understood as being seen. It all depends on the context and how it’s being used. This would make sense too. The Angel of the Lord—our Lord Jesus in the form of an angel—was seen on that mountaintop. Abraham saw Him and interacted with Him, and not only did he live to tell about it, but he was blessed by Yahweh a second time right then and there. “By myself I have sworn,” declares the LORD, “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of His enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Yahweh yirah. The Lord was seen.
So, within just this one single Hebrew word we have three different possibilities for translation/understanding. The English translation misses all of this, doesn’t it? The Lord provides, the Lord sees, and the Lord is seen. None of these understandings are wrong, and all of them are right, and it’s all wrapped up in one single phrase—Yahweh yirah.
Now, we could call it a day right here and now, but there is something more we need to look at and pay attention to. You see, Jesus Christ Himself refers to this very event in today’s Gospel lesson when He’s speaking with some arrogant Jews who used to believe in Him but now no longer did. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and he was glad.”
And here is where some very interesting interpretations and explanations arise (most of which are all wrong). Now, did Abraham see the Lord that particular day? Yes. We’ve already established that. But…that’s not what it means to “see My day.” Jesus isn’t referring to one particular day in history, no different than when some of you say, “back in my day….” You’re not referring to one particular day in your brief history. Neither was Jesus.
And this is where good Christians start doing “theological gymnastics,” introducing all kinds of weird theories and hypotheses as to what Jesus might have meant by these words. So many good-intentioned people have taken those words regarding Abraham’s gladness to mean that Abraham was looking down from heaven and smiling the night Jesus was born. He saw and he was glad. That’s what we want to hear, because we want to believe that our loved ones are looking down and smiling. They’re not, and neither was Abraham. Others surmise that Abraham must have been given a vision of the future on that particular day. Sorry…but that’s NOT what the text tells us, and that’s NOT what Jesus was saying here.
Abraham saw—past tense—as in, on that particular day on that mountaintop Abraham saw the day of the Lord. Jesus makes this crystal clear, and the Jews understand what Jesus is saying. They make that perfectly clear. “He saw and was glad, huh? You were there? You saw this? He’s been dead for over two-thousand years, and you’re not even fifty years old! There’s no way he saw you on that particular day!”
Maybe the best way to explain this (before we get too far down the rabbit trail) is to simply say what it is that Abraham saw; what it is that Jesus was saying when He said that “Abraham saw My day and was glad.” The key here is to remember the fact that God promised the birth of the Messiah; a birth which would descend from Abraham and Isaac. Abraham knew and believed that God would make this happen. He had promised it. If the Messiah was to come from Isaac’s line, then Isaac couldn’t die. He didn’t have kids yet. He would have to live. He would have to grow up and have sons of his own. Abraham assumed that this meant that God would resurrect Isaac after Abraham had sacrificed him. But that wasn’t the case. Isaac was spared from death. Something else took his place.
Abraham saw all of this. He saw the Messianic “day” of the Lord beginning right then and there atop that mountain with the staying of his hand and the sparing of his son. He saw and recognized the first steps being taken in the long journey that would eventually end at the manger. The Lord was reigning, right then and there. His promise was being kept and fulfilled, right then and there. Abraham didn’t need to see the manger in Bethlehem to be glad. He could look right at his own son, who just a few moments before was bound up and lying on the altar. He could see these very real and tangible things in front of his face and, in faith, rejoice that God was keeping His promise. The “day” of the Messiah had begun. Isaac was living proof. Abraham saw and was glad.
The big question out of all this: What about you? What do you see—present tense? Do you rejoice? Do you see, and are you glad? The day of the Lord isn’t just some future-tense particular day when He will return in all glory to judge both the living and the dead, nor is it one particular day in past-tense history when He was born or died or rose again. The day of the Lord is NOW! It’s the time of almighty God’s reign and rule. We are living in the day of the Lord. Christ lives—present tense. Christ reigns victorious—present tense.
Just consider your own baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” Folks: You have been baptized. In fact, your baptism isn’t just a past-tense thing; you ARE baptized—present tense. You stand before God—right now—as one clothed in Christ’s perfect and victorious righteousness. No matter what befalls you in this life, you are baptized into Christ. You are united with Christ, and God will resurrect you to perfection with the resurrected Christ on that last day. You have been baptismally sealed with this sure and certain promise. Look to this sacramental reality and rejoice.
Look in the mirror. You are living proof of why Abraham was glad and rejoiced that day. You are one of the offspring God promised him. You are one of those stars in the sky and grains of sand on the seashore. You are a child of Abraham; a child of faith. You are God’s promise in the flesh! How can you NOT be glad?!
Look to this rail. Here is Christ. It’s not a mere going-through-the-motions in sentimental remembrance of a past-tense event two thousand years ago. No! This is Christ, right here and right now, keeping His promise to abide with you always. Here is your perfect and complete substitute; the Lamb of God, who shed His blood for you and your sin in your place, laying down His life in place of yours as a perfect and all-redeeming sacrifice. And it is here that He continues to kneel down from heaven to feed you and nourish you with this same victorious Body and Blood.
Folks: Look at all these real and tangible realities! Yahweh yirah’s—present tense! The Lord sees you and your weakness, your sin, and your inability to save yourself. He sees you, and He loves you. He has mercy and grace for you, which is why He continues to come to you with His life-giving Word and Sacraments. He continually holds out His pierced hands to you, reminding you that your justly-deserved death sentence has been stayed; paid in full by Him, your holy substitute. The Lord sees you here. Here the Lord is seen. Here the Lord provides. Here you see Him richly and graciously providing all that you need for eternal life: His Body, His Blood, His mercy, His grace, His unconditional love and His peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Yahweh yirah! This is the day of the Lord. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
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