The Fifth Sunday in Lent| March 18, 2018| Rev. Rolf Preus| Genesis 22:15-18
Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:15-18
The Bible was written to show us Jesus our Savior. It’s not as if the Old Testament is all law and the New Testament introduces the gospel of our Savior Jesus. Jesus Christ is the chief topic of the Old Testament.
Jesus said to the Jews who rejected his word:
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (St. John 5:45-47)
Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. He wrote about Jesus. The account of God appearing to Abraham on Mt. Moriah is one of the great messianic promises of the Old Testament. God had commanded Abraham to offer his son, his only son Isaac, as a burnt offering on the mountain. Abraham listened and obeyed. Just as he was about to kill his son at God’s command, the Angel of the Lord stopped him.
This Angel of the Lord was not a created angel. He was the eternal Son of God. He was Jesus Christ before he born. He was the God who would become flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb. In stopping Abraham from killing Isaac he obligated himself to replace Isaac on the mountain. The ram that Abraham sacrificed then and there pointed forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on Mt. Calvary.
How could God do what he did to Abraham? To demand that a man kill his only son just to prove his love and devotion! What kind of a god would require a man to do what is wrong to do? Killing is wrong. Demanding that a man kill his own son is about as cruel a command as we can imagine. God is good and incapable of doing wrong but here it looks like the good God is doing wrong. But how can that be?
It cannot be. It may appear to be. But it cannot be. Here our faith rests. There Abraham’s faith rested. Faith is not easy. He struggled. Who can imagine how he struggled over God’s command to sacrifice his son? God had promised him a son. God had promised that through this son he would make Abraham a great nation and would bless the whole world. Abraham’s faith rested on God’s faithfulness to this promise and now God was demanding that Abraham kill the promise. It is not for nothing that four thousand years later we are still marveling over the faith of faithful Abraham.
Let us look a bit more carefully at Abraham’s faith. Why did God commend it? Was it because Abraham was devoted to a cause? Was it because he believed in a principle? Because he stuck to his beliefs, whatever they were, and wouldn’t be budged? No, it was because he did not withhold his son, his only son, from God. In not withholding his son, his only son, from God Abraham taught Isaac, Isaac’s children and grandchildren, and all the faithful yet to be born that there is no greater love than to be willing to sacrifice your son, your only son.
The blessing would come through the seed of Abraham. Abraham would become the father of a great nation and his descendants would be like the stars in the heavens and the sand on the seashore. They would be gathered together from all the nations of the world. They would be blessed in one particular Descendant. Who would that be?
He would be God’s Son, his only Son, whom he loved. He would be born of the Virgin Mary – true God and yet true man. Just as Isaac’s mother could not conceive because she was barren and far too old to have a baby, Jesus’ mother could not conceive because she was a virgin who had never known a man. But what is impossible for us is possible for God. Isaac was born of a miracle. So was Jesus.
In speaking to Abraham, God referred to Isaac as “your son, your only son, whom you love.” In speaking of Jesus, God said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his son, his only son, whom he loved. God required of himself that he sacrifice Jesus, his Son, his only Son, whom he loved. When the time came for Abraham to kill his son according to God’s command God stopped him and saved Isaac’s life. But when it came time for our Father in heaven to sacrifice his Son for us there was no one to take his place. No one took his place. He took our place. He took the place of all of humanity. In this way all the nations of the earth are blessed through him.
Abraham did not withhold his son but offered him to God. God did not require Abraham to go through with it. God did not require of Abraham what he required of himself. This sets our God apart from all the false gods of the nations, all the idols created by man, all of the false hopes inspired by sinners seeking to make god in their own image.
God does not demand from us what he would not himself do. He commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This very command – as heartless as it seems to be – was filled with love. It was a sign. It was a promise. God obligated himself to do what he required of Abraham. God couldn’t make Abraham go through with it. He loved him too much.
How can we understand such a love? When things are going poorly for us we start feeling sorry for ourselves. Nobody understands what we’re going through. God is so far away! He can’t understand me or my problems.
God is never far away from us when we struggle with pain, with doubts, with the contradictions between faith and sight that torment us Christians as long as we live in this world. God knows our suffering because he suffered it. The God who cannot suffer or die became a man to suffer and die and by his suffering and death to bless all of the nations in this world.
To doubt God’s goodness is a sin – a very popular one, as God gets the blame for our troubles and rarely receives the thanks for our benefits. But it is a sin nonetheless. To doubt God’s goodness toward us is unbelief. Abraham’s heroic faith stands as an accusation against our weakness of faith. It indicts us all.
The Jews claim Abraham as their father. He was the father of Isaac who was the father of Jacob who became the father of the nation of Israel. The Muslims claim Abraham as their father. He was the father of Ishmael who became the father of the Arab nations.
But Abraham is neither the father of the Jews nor the father of the Muslims. He is the father of the Christians. We must make this crystal clear. In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus said to the Jews who did not believe in him:
It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:54-58
Jesus is the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Abraham on Mount Moriah. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord who identifies himself as I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It is a popular but false teaching that Jews and Muslims worship the same God as Christians. They don’t. There is no generic god to whom all monotheists pray. We sing in Luther’s hymn about Jesus Christ, the valiant One, who fights for us. “There’s none other God.” Only those who know Christ know God. Only those who worship Christ worship God. Only those who trust in Christ trust in God.
Abraham is not our father by blood. He is our father by faith. Abraham’s faith is what makes him our father. He believed what we believe. We believe what he believed. His Seed is Christ. All nations are blessed in Christ. People from all over the world have come to embrace the Seed of Abraham, the only begotten Son of the Father. The Father who did not have the heart to require Abraham to kill his son had the heart to kill his own Son and his Son willingly submitted to it. In this sacrificial death all the nations in the world have been blessed. By this death all sin of all people of all times and places has been washed away. Jesus is the Mediator of a new covenant: the New Testament in his blood.
Faith takes it in. We don’t come to faith by trying to be as dedicated as Abraham was and seeking to do what he did. God hasn’t told us to sacrifice our son on Mt. Moriah. We come to faith and are strengthened in the true and saving faith when the Holy Spirit shows us Abraham’s Seed, Jesus, and blesses us in him.
The blessing that comes to all the nations comes to those who don’t rely on their own faithfulness but on God’s. Faith doesn’t examine itself to see if it measures up. Faith looks to the love of a Father who was willing to give up his Son, his only Son, whom he loved, for us all. This love inspires every good and loving deed we will ever do. God’s love is for us in Christ. God’s love is in us by the Holy Spirit. God’s love is through us to one another. From faith to love: this is the pattern of our lives.
We marvel at Abraham’s faith. But the greatest marvel is God’s faithfulness.
I know my faith is founded
On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;
And this my faith confessing
Unmoved I stand upon His Word.
Man’s reason cannot fathom
The truth of God profound;
Who trusts her subtle wisdom
Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient,
It makes divinely sure,
And trusting in its wisdom,
My faith shall rest secure.