Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you." So Abraham 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 wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you." And 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. So the two of them walked on together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place 'The LORD Will Provide,' as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Once again we enter the solemn season of Lent. We enter the season in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and all that it means to us and for us. But to celebrate the resurrection means nothing other than to celebrate the forgiveness of sins, and to do that we must repent. So Lent has become a season of repentance.
Lent is a penitential season, which we reflect in the church by the color of the altar paraments and by abstaining from the more joyful and celebratory parts of the liturgy. Some might even exercise the Lenten fast by giving something up for Lent, although it is not a required observance by any means. Our sermons may dwell on our sinfulness more in this season than in the others, but that is about all. We cannot be too sorrowful or too somber, because our Lord has risen from the dead, He has forgiven us all our sins, He has promised us resurrection to new and eternal life and salvation. So we cannot be crushed, even by Lent. But we do focus somewhat on repentance.
Our Lenten series this year is not focused specifically on repentance, although the subject will arise from time to time. We will, instead, look at the Mountains of Faith. The mountains are real mountains, named in the Bible, which serve as the stage upon which several critical events in Bible history were played out. Tonight we consider Mt. Moriah, where Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice him to God. Next week we will travel in our sermon to Mt. Sinai with Moses and the Children of Israel as they begin their long trek called the Exodus. We will visit Mount Carmel with Elijah and the prophets of Baal; consider Mt. Zion, the temple mount, where King Solomon the Wise built a house for God; eavesdrop at Mt. Olivet as our Lord prays in Gethsemane, and finally end our journey at Mt. Calvary, where history was summed up in just a few short hours on the cross. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday will not be part of the topical series, but we will look at Footwashing Love, and Promised Pain on those days.
Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could move mountains. We, however, will merely visit them, with the eyes of faith. This evening our triptych reads Mt. Moriah. Let us consider Abraham and Isaac, and the mountain which came to be called "The Lord will provide."
How could Abraham have done it? He waited ninety nine years for Isaac, and then, when the Lord called to him, Abraham was ready and willing to sacrifice his only son. We would all like to imagine that we would make the same choice if God came to us with the same command, but I doubt it. I harbor no illusions about myself. I would have great difficulty in believing such a command came from God, and once I knew it, I don't know that I am so self denying. I have trouble focusing my thoughts on what is good at times. I wrestle with temptations that make no sense to me, but still entice me powerfully. If I cannot discipline myself in these things, how could I imagine that I would willingly make such a sacrifice?
Many of you are uncomfortable with telling your family members or your neighbors that they should come to church - the Lutheran Church - more often. We recoil from being gently honest with them for their own good. I find it difficult to imagine that we could be brutally honest, honest enough to sacrifice them physically. When we consider how little time and energy and money we each devote to God and the things of God, it is not realistic to think that we would surrender the lives of those we love most to God willingly.
But Abraham did. He wasn't exactly willing and eager, but he was obedient. In Hebrews, God tells us that Abraham could do it only because he trusted that God would raise Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice. When he told Isaac that the Lord Himself would provide the lamb for the burnt offering, he was being facile. He making the convenient explanation, fully expecting that the lamb was to be Isaac. When the angel called to him to stop the sacrifice, no one was more surprised than Abraham. And when he saw the ram caught in the thicket, no one was more amazed or delighted with the providence of God.
God did provide the lamb for the sacrifice. He provided Abraham with a substitute for his son - in more ways than one. Abraham and Isaac and 'the Lord Himself will provide a lamb' clearly foreshadowed the Gospel. We all stand individually in Isaac's place. We are dressed for the sacrifice in the poor clothing of our sins. We are bound by the chains of our guilt and over our heads is poised the knife of the justice of God. We deserve to die. We deserve the wrath of God to fall upon us and choke the life out of us. We have sinned!
But the stroke of justice which we have earned has been stayed by the mercy of God. He has found the Lamb for the sacrifice in His only begotten Son. He has laid upon Him the guilt of us all. He has poured out His wrath on Him. His own Son has been caught in our place, and killed for our offenses, and punished for our misdeeds. God didn't use a knife, however, He used a cross.
The message of this mountain is two fold. First, this mountain teaches us of the mercy of God. God will provide the lamb for Himself for the sacrifice. His love for us and His goodness combine to comfort us. See what a love the Father has for us! If God will give us His Son, what will He withhold? The answer must be nothing - at least, nothing good or necessary!
God looks to our needs, and plans ahead of us to meet them. He plans our days, not in terms of making us do specific things, but in terms of our needs. He plans to meet them. He also plans things that we may do to please Him - but there is no compulsion, no determinism about it. We have same opportunity as Abraham. We can demonstrate our faith and our love for God by living out that faith in the opportunities God provides, or we can reveal that we are faithless and unloving by rejecting those good things which God planned in advance for us to do. But wen we make that choice, we are walking through life without trust, doing what seems best to us or for us, rather than doing what God has revealed to us as right and God pleasing!
We each face Abraham's choice, if not his dilemma, all of the time. When we face a choice between being expedient or being faithful, we face the test of Abraham. When being faithful will cost us personally - or it appears to us that it will - we face the choice: be honest, or be smart, stand in our values or compromise for the sake of peer approval, spend our free time on ourselves or spend our free time on Bible Study, buy that new toy or increase our offering to the Lord. The list of questions here is by no means exhaustive, I am aiming at being simply representative. God has so worked our lives that we daily face the choice between doing what we know clearly that God would have us to do, or do what serves or saves or comforts or protects or prospers ourselves.
When we do what is right and God pleasing, then we share in the approbation of Abraham; "Now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me." The only difference is that we would replace the word "son" with "time," or "money," or "reputation," or "popularity," or "convenience," or "comfort," or "personal dreams and desires," or whatever. In every case of such faithfulness, we place God first, and self second, trusting that God will make it all work out right. And He will.
The second lesson of the Mountain called Moriah is simply that God provides. We may trust God to provide, no matter what the need. Let's face it, if God can provide a ram for the sacrifice on the top of mountain, how hard can it be for Him to provide what you need, right where you need it? We can utterly depend on God God who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. He will provide. That is the lesson Abraham took home from this experience, for that is the name that Abraham gave to the mountain, The Lord will Provide.
The lesson we need, this Lenten tide, is the one we see pictured, with Abraham as the justice of God, and Isaac representing us in our sin, and the ram caught by its horns as the Lamb of God sacrificed in our place. Abraham said that the Lord will provide for Himself a lamb for the sacrifice. He did. Jesus Christ. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And never forget what you have learned on this mountain of faith, Mt. Moriah.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
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