The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
I think it’s safe to say that every Christian knows the story of Abraham being called to the top of Mt. Moriah to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. This being the case, we can jump right in and hit the ground running. God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac; the very son that had been promised to him for all those years. Abraham was 100 years old when God finally made that promise flesh and brought Isaac into this world. It was from this son—this promise in the flesh—that God was going to bring the promised Messiah into the world. Abraham believed this. And yet…God is now commanding something crazy and horrifying. He’s commanding Abraham to put this same son to death! And the craziest thing of all? Abraham heard and obeyed. He believed God. He trusted God. But what exactly did he believe/trust in?
The writer to the Hebrews tells us in 11:17-19 that Abraham fully believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Did you catch that? We even hear Abraham proclaim this resurrection faith when he tells his servants to “wait here, and we [the boy and I] will go and worship and then WE will return.” Abraham wasn’t lying in order to not raise suspicions. He was telling the truth. They [Abraham and Isaac together] would return. And it’s not that Abraham had some blind generic faith that believed that God would do something on that mountaintop, but he didn’t know what that “something” would be. Rather, it was a very specific, focused faith on God’s promise that his offspring that would outnumber the sands of the seashore and the stars in the sky would come from Isaac. God said it…many time over the course of twenty-five years, and Abraham trusted God. If God told him to kill his son, Abraham fully believed that God would raise him from the dead, because Isaac still had children to bear. God’s promise could not and would not die with Isaac on that mountaintop. Abraham trusted God.
Now, we don’t want to turn this into an allegory for what’s happening now in our world and in our own personal lives. Example: “What mountains is God asking you to climb? What sacrifices are you being called to make?” This isn’t allegory. There’s nothing symbolic about it. This really and truly happened. However… that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it. That’s how children learn, right? We learn from our parents, for better and for worse.
I do want you to think about all that Abraham faithfully endured. God asked Abraham to do some very crazy, scary things, didn’t he? Contrast his trials and testings with your own. Just consider the “crazy, scary, horrifying” things that we are being called to do in these dark and uncertain times [sarcasm totally intended]. Abraham was called to sacrifice his own flesh-and-blood! We freak out that we might not have a year supply of toilet paper. We might have to sacrifice going to Starbucks or eating unlimited chips and salsa at the local Mexican restaurant. We’re being called upon to wash our hands and practice common-sense hygiene, and we dare to look at Abraham and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.” Understand: I don’t want to make light of things that really are scary and uncertain in all this. A lot of people are out of work. A lot of people may lose their homes, their cars… and—yes—even loved ones. People are dying from this virus. That’s nothing to joke about or simply dismiss. It’s also nothing to utterly freak out about and rush to the bunker with your MREs and your hazmat suit and your ham radio while you smear the door posts and the lintels with Chik-Fil-A sauce, hoping that the angel of death will pass you over.
Folks: Consider Abraham. Why was Abraham so bold in his faith when faced with such a terrible circumstance? Answer: Because he heard and held fast to God’s Word. “Faith comes through hearing; hearing the Word of Christ.” This is precisely why our Lord Christ dropped the hammer on those wicked ones who were accusing Him of having Samaritan lineage and being demon-possessed. “You cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father, the devil.”
Think about that for a moment: They were the biological children of Abraham. They had the DNA of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet… your Lord, almost like a daytime TV host, delivers startling paternity results to them. “God is NOT your Father! The devil IS your father!” They may even have shared the same DNA as Abraham, and yet it can rightly be said that even he wasn’t their father. How can this be? Easy. God was Abraham’s Father. If God’s not their Father, then Abraham can’t be their father either… not in the eternal sense, at least. Abraham held fast to his Father’s Word and Promise, even when his Father was calling him to do the scariest, craziest things. By God’s grace, through the working of the Holy Spirit in faith, Abraham heard and trusted his God and Father.
This is why this Old Testament lesson is appointed for this particular Sunday in Lent, just a few short days before Good Friday. Like our father in the faith, let us focus on and hold fast to that same Word/Promise of God; the Promise made flesh for us and our salvation. Jesus—the greater Isaac; the only-begotten Son of the Father—willingly went to the altar of the cross to offer Himself as a sacrifice—the all-atoning sacrifice for the sins of all children of Adam. His Father commanded, and Jesus obeyed. “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” This obedient Son carried the wood of His own sacrifice to that mountaintop. He allowed Himself to be beaten, scourged, and bound to that sacrificial cruciform altar, the nails piercing His flesh and blood as they buried into the wood beneath. And it is on this cross—this bloody altar—that the Son of God momentarily experienced/saw true hellish death, for the just and fiery wrath of God was poured out upon Him in full. He was utterly forsaken by God. And yet…through it all He never lost faith. Even as He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” God remained His God. And when that sacrifice was complete; when the wage was paid in full for all time, He victoriously cried out, “It is finished.” He then peacefully and confidently commended His Spirit to His Father, and then fell asleep in death.
And yet… “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Those words of promise, spoken to that lowly, undeserving thief, were absolutely true, for they both reclined at the heavenly feast in paradise that very afternoon. And three days later, as you well-know, the Lord of Life arose from His Sabbath rest and proved to the world that He IS the Lord of Life. Death has no dominion over Him! “All who believe in Me shall never die.”
My fellow sons and daughter of Abraham; beloved children of God: This is our comfort, our peace, our reason to rejoice, even as we sorrow and grieve and taste of the sinful death that pervades our bodies and the fallen world in which we now reside. We have been baptized into this victory; the victory of the eternal and unchanging “I Am” (as in “before Abraham was, I am.”) There is nothing new under the sun, and that includes God’s gracious and merciful peace. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and resurrection? 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.” Death no longer has dominion over us!
That’s not always so easy to believe, though, is it? Times get tough and scary and uncertain, and Old Adam’s sinful DNA starts causing us to take our focus off of God’s cruciform baptismal promise. It comes so natural to us to doubt and get angry with God—to accuse Him of being a liar—because His workings and His timelines aren’t matching up with our notions of how things are supposed to look, sound, and work. “What do you mean ‘taking up a cross’ means actually having to suffer?! That’s not fair!” No… THAT’S NOT FAIR! [the crucifix] The innocent Son of God died for you. He died for you so that you can have eternal life and have it in over-flowing abundance. That isn’t fair.
Folks: Our Lord knows our weakness of faith; our Old Adam wicked nature to doubt when things get tough or seem dark. This is why He continually holds out to us His escrow; His proof and blessed assurance—His Word and His Sacraments. “Where two or three gather in My name, there I am among you.” *For those of you at home today because of health concerns, be at peace. Let not your conscience/faith be burdened. There is a huge difference between “I can’t be in church” versus “I don’t have to/wanna go to church.” Even if you are all alone watching this, you are still participating in good and God-pleasing worship. Your Lord sees. He sees your genuine fruits of faith (and not empty lip-service or self-serving irrational fear) as you gather to Him and hold fast to Him. Even though you can’t be here, you are holding fast to Christ, and your ever-present “I Am” is with you, and where the almighty “I Am” is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—there also are the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Just think of all you are gathered together with in worship right now!
Do you want present-tense proof of “I Am” with you now in peace? Look no further than right here at the altar/communion rail. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Take and eat. Take and drink. This is My body and My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” Though we may suffer and even taste the bitter taste of death in this world/age, yet we live. We live and we will never die, because our death has already been swallowed up and put to death in the blood of Christ; the very lifeblood He nourishes us with here at His holy altar.
As I said last week, for those who are homebound, call upon your pastor to bring the sacrament of Christ to you. He will! Nothing would give him more joy than to share the Body and Blood of Christ with you! And fear not, for this is exactly what your Lord says it is: His very Body and Blood. Hold fast to His Word and Promise. “As often you do this, remember what I have said.” Your Lord will NEVER give you poison with His Body and Blood. Ordinary bread and wine are corruptible. Ordinary bread and wine can harbor germs and rot. BUT… when your Lord says “This IS My body and blood,” it is no longer mere bread and wine, is it? It is exactly what He says it is. It is forgiveness of sins. It is Life. It is Christ, who is incorruptible. There is no death in the Lord of Life! I know what man says about these things; what our own Old Adam DNA screams out at as (along with the devil and the world whispering in our ear), but I also know what Christ says. Be at peace… and rejoice, for “It is finished, and I am with you, now and to the end of the age.”
I pray that this Good News takes root in your souls. Come what may, you belong to Christ. Come what may, the Lord of Life reigns victorious. His Word and Sacraments are the proof. May this cruciform Gospel Truth set you free; free from all doubt and worry, despair and anger. Like your father Abraham, may you, by God’s grace, ever hold fast to the Word and Promise of your God and Lord. May this faithful hearing open your eyes of faith to see your Lord providing and reigning and ruling in your midst; in the very midst of this fallen, dark and shadowy valley of death that we call “life.” May you hear and see, may you hold fast and rejoice, now and into all eternity.
In Christ’s holy name…AMEN
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