During Advent of 2010 we had only two midweek services. We saw how God described the promised Savior in the Old Testament, telling his people what he would bring and where he would be born.
Advent 2010 Midweek A
What Does He Bring?
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 just a bunch of rules and the New Testament introduces the Savior Jesus. No, the chief topic of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ.
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 about Jesus. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. This 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 no 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! This offends people. 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. Oh, I’m not saying he didn’t struggle. He did. 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 precisely 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.
But it is not the strength or devotion of Abraham’s faith to which God would call our attention this evening. Why did God commend Abraham before the whole world? Because he was devoted to a cause? 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. Even as Isaac’s mother could not conceive because she was barren and had years earlier matured beyond her childbearing years, 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. Indeed, he was to take our place, the place of all of humanity. In this way all the nations of the earth would be 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 tend to get into a bit of self-pity imagining that nobody understands what we’re going through. God’s 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. The faith of Abraham is what makes him our father. He believed what we believe. We believe what he believed. His seed was 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 the Son willingly submitted to it. For in this sacrificial death all the nations in the world have been blessed, for by this death all sin of all people of all times and places has been washed away.
Faith takes it all it. We don’t get faith by marveling over how dedicated Abraham was and seeking to do what he did. God hasn’t told us to sacrifice our son on Mt. Moriah. No, we get faith – are strengthened in the true and saving faith – as we look to Abraham’s seed and the blessing that is ours 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. This love inspires every good and noble and loving deed we will ever do. This love defines our lives. Having this love we have everything we could ever hope for. St. Paul writes:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Amen
Advent 2010 Midweek B
Where Will He Be Born?
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace.
As Christmas approaches we Christians focus our attention on the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. It was not much of a town when Jesus was born. It was the ancestral home of both Mary and Joseph because they were both descendants of King David. Bethlehem was the hometown of Jesse and his eight sons. David was Jesse’s youngest son.
When God rejected Saul as king and chose one of Jesse’s sons instead, David was the last one anyone expected to be chosen. But God doesn’t judge as men judge. God wanted David. God chose David. And so, as the prophet Micah would later prophesy, it would be out of David’s town of Bethlehem that the Ruler in Israel would be born.
He had two births: temporal and eternal. He was born outside of time and space and he was born in time and space. His eternal birth outside of time and space cannot be investigated by historians. No one was there. God alone is eternal. There wasn’t a “when” when God begat God. There wasn’t a “where” where God begat God. In eternity – outside of any measurements of time or place – the Father became the Father of the Son. The Father has always been the Father of the Son.
But there was a time and a place when Jesus was born. The time was when Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the entire Roman Empire. The place was King David’s home town of Bethlehem in Judea. At that time and at that place God became a man. Aristotle said it was impossible. Something about the finite not being capable of the infinite. But God isn’t bound by Aristotelian categories of thought. Here’s what God says about it:
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.
His goings forth are from everlasting. He is eternal. Nevertheless, in time he joined the human race. This is what God promised.
Most of his people didn’t believe him. That’s the history of the human race. God’s truthful word is met with stubborn unbelief. The ancient people of Israel rejected the word of the prophets such as Micah. So the prophecy continued:
Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace.
He gave them up. They didn’t want his word. He permitted them to be taken into captivity. After the captivity, most of them never returned to their homeland. But God always preserved a remnant. There was always a portion of Israel that kept the faith and didn’t run off after false gods and false teachings. God’s true church has never disappeared from this earth, even though at times she appears to be so very, very small.
When she who was in labor gave birth, the promise – the despised, rejected, forgotten promise – was fulfilled. He appeared as a shepherd feeding his flock. He appeared as the Prince of Peace. He came to his people as he said he would come with what he said he would bring.
Caesar Augustus knew nothing about the prophecy of Micah. He had never read the Bible. His decision to order a census was for the purpose of raising revenue. First you count the people and then you tax them. Caesar cared nothing about God’s promise. But he was God’s servant in bringing that promise to fulfillment. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem in obedience to Caesar’s decree. Thus, the prophecy of Micah was fulfilled.
Today Bethlehem has about 30,000 souls. When Jesus was born it had less than a thousand, though there were many more people there on account of the census. The only way you could have known that it was to be the birthplace of the Christ would have been because you were familiar with the Holy Scriptures. When the Wise Men asked Herod where the newborn King of the Jews was to be born he didn’t know. He had to ask the Bible scholars to find out.
Oh, details, details. Yes, and that’s just the point. God remembers the details. He knows that our lives are made up of details. It is in addressing the details that he comes to us and brings us true peace.
He governs the details. I’ve got my life figured out. I do this and that will result. But I do this and this doesn’t work out and neither does that. So I’m stuck. I’m not in control. God is.
He was in control when Micah prophesied. Ancient Judah was threatened by Assyria. Today Assyria lies in the dustbin of history. Most people have never heard of the place. But it was a very real military threat. What they could do to a nation was well known and it was terrifying. You might recall that the prophet Jonah hated the Assyrians so much that he refused to go there to preach. He didn’t want them to repent. He wanted them to be destroyed. Now they are gone. An historical detail, if you will.
But there are no details when you are living through them. And when God chooses a second rate town like Bethlehem to be the time and the place where the infinite meets the finite and brings about a union of the human nature with the divine nature you learn something about God and life and the details of life. You learn that it’s not the devil that’s in the details. It’s God. And you learn that there is nothing in our lives that is insignificant to him.
He is eternal and he joins time and space. He joins us here and now. You can’t pay the bills. You’re making less now than you used to make and you owe more. Your health is failing. You’re afraid of the future. God is there but he’s not saying anything. You wish he’d say something to let you know that things are going to be alright.
God chooses a time and a place to address all human need. The One who shall be peace is the One who brings peace. The peace on earth of which the angels sang isn’t just for then and there. It’s for here and now. Whatever the specifics of our troubles might be, God knows. He knows exactly what’s wrong and why. He knows exactly how he’s going to make what is wrong right. He knows because he knows all things. He knows because he lives outside of time and sees all that we see from the perspective of the promise already fulfilled.
The source of all our troubles is inside of us. What kills the body wars against the soul. We turn away from God to trust in ourselves, in our plans, in our dreams, in ourselves. This is why troubles compound into troubles and we lack peace.
Then Jesus is born. Peace comes to earth. God brings us peace where there was fear and trembling. He does so by feeding us as his flock. He does so in the strength of the LORD because he is the LORD made flesh. He joins us in our weakness. David appeared to be insignificant. Bethlehem was not important. Our problems are just ours and what are we?
But God makes our problems his problems. He who went from Bethlehem to Calvary did so by bearing every single detail of our burdens on himself. Nothing that troubled us escaped his attention. There is no sin he did not bear. From Bethlehem to the rest of the world – the God who joined us in that time and place has remained in our time and place and he has never failed to bring us peace. It is the peace of his joining the human race on Christmas. It is the peace of his bearing our sin on the cross. It is the peace of sin forgiven and reconciliation with our God. It is ours, because we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Amen