FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT February 21, 2021
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 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 they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” 15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 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, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
A most odd story. Surely one of the strangest accounts in Scripture, it almost seems bizarre. A man taking his son up a mountain to give sacrifice. And the sacrifice would be his son. And he was told to this by God.
Our eyes are on the man, on Abraham. Will he do it? Every step up that mountain ripping his heart out. Every step tearing at him with doubt. Does he really want to have faith in a God who would have you give up your own son?
How are you to feel about a God like that? You doubt him, how could you not? Loathing, even hatred would enter in, would it not? How can you love a God who rips from you a person you love? Even hatred had to be there, it would seem.
Our eyes are on Abraham. What does he feel? How far will his faith go? What will he do?
God can raise from the dead, that is true. He is the God of life, the God of creation, the God who brought every living being, including Abraham’s son Isaac into life. Can he not raise from the dead? Yes, Abraham knew he could. But did God say he would? Genesis 22:2:
After, these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
In that command, we hear nothing of God speaking of resurrection—no promise to Abraham that he would see Isaac alive again. Yet, Abraham did know that God could bring life from death, he did have faith in the resurrection (Hebrews 11:17ff.). But is that what God would do with Isaac? How is Abraham to have certainty?
So Abraham goes up the mountain. Just him and Isaac. Isaac asking,
“Father, behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering”?
How do you answer your son a question like that? You know God has told you to sacrifice your son, and now your son, in all innocence, asks, “Where’s the sacrifice, Dad”?
What a sorrowful trip up the mountain when Abraham answers,
“God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
What did Abraham even mean by that? Was it just line to divert his son? Did Abraham really think God would provide a sacrifice other than Isaac? If Abraham did believe that, we don’t see it in his actions. For the next thing he’s doing is binding Isaac up as sacrifice—hardly the actions of a man confident that God will provide a sheep.
Our eyes are on Abraham. The distress, the pain, the thoughts of faith and of doubt, of love for God and hatred for a God who would demand such a thing; the turning stomach, the thoughts of what he would have to say to Sarah, his beloved wife and Isaac’s mother, when he returned home with no son.
Our eyes are on Abraham. What will he do?
But let’s turn our eyes to God. The one who created Abraham. Who gave to Abraham Sarah as bride, and gave to Abraham and Sarah Isaac as son. Turn our eyes to God who created all life, who names himself as the God not of death but of life, who put all people under the command to not kill, but to uphold life and care for one another.
Let’s turn our eyes to God. What is God doing in this account?
It’s clear he’s commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son. But what is he doing with that? What is God’s end game, and why does he have this strange account written down in Holy Scripture so that the Church throughout the generations would hear it and live from it?
What is God doing?
A strange thing about covenants. We think of a covenant as a promise from God, and that is, indeed, what a covenant is. A promise by God of grace and life; a promise that God will be with his people and will keep them, will continually cleanse them of all sin and make them holy.
Throughout the Old Testament, God gave the promise many times by covenant.
To Adam and Eve, he gave the covenant that through Eve’s lineage would come the one who would crush the head of Satan and save Adam and Eve and those who followed in the faith.
Later, to Moses and Israel he gave the covenant promise that Israel would be saved and would be brought into the promised land and in that land one would then be raised up from Israel as Savior.
He gave the covenant promise of salvation and eternal life to Noah and his family. He gave the covenant promise of the kingdom of Heaven and eternal life to David as he made him king.
And to Abraham, God gave the covenant promise that the sinner is saved not by works but by faith and that from Abraham’s lineage would come the Savior of mankind.
So what is God doing on that mountain with Abraham when he tells him to sacrifice his son Isaac but then doesn’t let him, providing to him the ram for a sacrifice?
Here’s the strange thing about these covenants God has given throughout history from Adam and Eve, through Noah then later Abraham, then later to Moses, later to David, all the way up until God the Son himself came in the flesh by Mother Mary.
The strange thing about these covenant promises is, when God gave a covenant, he was not just giving the promise of grace and cleansing and forgiveness and eternal life; he was, in all of that, giving by promise his own Son over to death.
That’s what God did when he promised Adam and Eve that from Eve’s lineage would come forth a Redeemer to save all sinners from sin and death. He was promising that his own Son would be born in the human lineage of Eve, and that his Son would crush the head of Satan and redeem sinners.
That’s what God was doing on that mountain with Abraham.
He was, in this most extraordinary way, a way never seen before and never to be seen again, giving the promise that there would be a sacrifice to save all nations—for he gave to Abraham the promise that he would be the father of many nations—and the promise was that that sacrifice to save sinners of all nations would be a son of Abraham. Not his son Isaac, for God withheld Isaac from sacrifice, but Abraham’s greater son, Abraham’s son many generations away—the son born of Mary.
The promised sacrifice would be God the Son in the flesh, given as the full, complete, final sacrifice to atone for the sins of every sinner of every family, tribe, and nation, of every generation.
That’s what God did on that mountain. He sealed a covenant, he made a promise in blood, an oath by his own Name, that he would give his own Son to die for the sin of Abraham, of Sarah, of Isaac, of you and me, of the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever has faith in him will not perish but will have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through him.