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1st Sunday of Lent

In the name of Jesus our Savior and our sacrificial Lamb, dear friends in Christ:  Many good movies or books try to mimic it, but the worst is when it’s real.  The climax.  The hero, exhilarated, pumped, ready to make a stand against his mighty enemy with his friends standing by him.  Oh, but wait, what’s happening?  Faces fall, the hurt cuts deep, the sinking feeling, the gut wrenching pain, the hero’s friend has become… a traitor.  Sold him out.  Betrayed and deceived.  How suddenly everything changes!  The close companion has become the rival.  The ally has become the adversary.  The friend has become the enemy.  Oh, it’s worse when it’s real, so real.  Was Abraham a victim of betrayal?

Things were looking pretty good for Abraham, weren’t they?  The son whom God promised, whom he had in his old age, through whom God said all nations would be blessed, that son, Isaac, was born- that was taken care of.  Then Ishmael started to mock Isaac and God told Abraham, “Listen to what Sarah says and send the child away because it’s through Isaac that your offspring will come.”  So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael off- that was taken care of.  Then Abraham signed a treaty with Abimelech the local ruler so there would be peace- that was taken care of.  And just before our text we read, “He (Abraham) called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God.”  Things were looking pretty good for Abraham.  And then it all seems to change…(read text)

The God who had been Abraham’s best friend, who spoke with Abraham now comes to Abraham and appears as if He were his worst enemy.  How could He ask this?  How could God demand such a horrible thing?  Could God be more cruel?  Look how God demands of Abraham the one gift, the one gift that he values above everything else in the world, his son, his son through whom the Savior would come!  Look how God even twists the knife into Abraham “your son, your only one, Isaac, whom you love!”  Then God sets him off on a three day journey to mull over not only the seeming loss of the wonderful gospel promises attached to Isaac but also the committing of an act that seems to go against natural law. The thought that Abraham had to sacrifice his own son must have just about killed him!  Can God be serious?  Has God betrayed him? Is God an enemy?

Ah, that same question still haunts us today, doesn’t it?  Just take a look at our own lives.  It would make much more sense that after coming to church we would all leave with our pockets full of gold, in perfect health, and all of our problems taken care of, right?  Boy, then people would flock to be Christians, right?  But instead we face the constant threat of tragedy, loss, and trouble.  And when trouble comes into our lives our own frightening thoughts haunt us, “Why would a good and gracious God allow this to happen to ME!”  What’s God doing? Is God our enemy?

But it sure doesn’t seem like God had been Abraham’s enemy up to now.  God promised him a son and Isaac was born.  God promised him, “I will make you into a great nation and bless you…you will be a blessing…all nations on earth will be blessed through you…I am your shield, your very great reward, etc.”  Are those words of an enemy?  And to us, has God really revealed Himself as an enemy?   Listen to how God describes Himself: “the LORD, the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.”  Are those words of an enemy?  Certainly not!

But then how did Abraham explain it?  How far could his reason go at explaining this horrifying command of God: “Go sacrifice your son as a burnt offering?”  Relying only on his mind Abraham must come to one of two conclusions.  Either God is a liar and His promises about Isaac were all lies or God’s command is from the devil.  He’s faced with a contradiction he can’t explain.

Does God contradict Himself?  When wars spill the blood of thousands, when earthquakes and hurricanes cause insurmountable damage, when terrorists attack, my mind must ask, “Where is my all-powerful God who holds all things in the palm of His hand?”  When everything around me seems to be crashing down and falling apart, when my health fails, when financial security slips away, when friends forsake, when family passes away, my mind to all appearances must conclude the God of the universe, who rules all things, is not with me.  Is He with me or against me?

Abraham has the answer.  As a heartbroken father and yet also as an obedient child of God, Abraham got up early in the morning, immediately set out on the trip, and didn’t delay or disobey God’s command.  Why?  Because he took God at His Word.  He believed that God does not lie; he believed that even though his son would soon be dead – God, the gracious, compassionate, all powerful God- could and would raise his son Isaac from the dead and through him keep the promise of a Savior (Hebrews 11).  God’s Word trumped his reason.  Abraham’s faith in God’s grace remained steady in the face of all that seemed to deny it.  God was not the enemy!

What a lesson we learn from Abraham!  We too live by faith, not by sight.  We look at our God, our Jesus, betrayed into the hands of sinners, mocked and beaten, sentenced to death, crucified and died- our reason must conclude that it can’t be the God who created all things, it can’t be the God through whom all things live, move, and have their being!  Can it be true?  But, it is, God says so.  And because it’s true we live in confidence.  We live knowing we have the greatest problem of life taken care of: God Himself paid for our sins.  God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all!  We live by faith, not by sight.   This world and its troubles are passing away, but we have something far better to look forward to because God Himself has seen to it!

Acting in faith, not by sight Abraham told his son, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  Abraham then prepared the altar, put down the wood, bound his son, and lifted the knife to kill his son.  And not a moment too soon and not a moment too late, “Abraham!  Abraham! Here I am!  Do not lay a hand on the boy…Do not do anything to him.”  Then Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw a ram caught by its horns and he offered the ram in place of his son Isaac.  God provided the substitute.  The son was spared, the ram was slaughtered.  Suddenly all was clear, the son of the promise lives, a Savior will still come, God’s graciousness lasts, questions were answered, trust in God was strengthened.

Oh wouldn’t it be nice if God would dramatically answer our questions like that!  To intervene, to calm those unsettling questions that stir in our minds, questions like: Is this trouble happening to me now because God is punishing me for some past sin I committed?  Is there some part in getting to heaven left for me to do?  Is there anything I must do to earn God’s favor?  Do I have to prove my worth as a child of God by my actions?  Are my sins really paid for?

He does answer these questions.  Look past this incident on Moriah, look past it a couple thousand years later on this very same mountain.  Look to the Father who did not spare His Son, His only Son, Whom He loves, but graciously gave Him up.  Oh, our fate was doomed; eternal death had its arms around our necks.  But look!  Look, at the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  Look at the Lamb of God who went to the altar of the cross!  Look at the Lamb of God who sacrificed His life in our place.  Look at the one who went bearing our sins as though they were His own.  Look at the one who took on our sins as though He had actually committed them.  What gracious injustice that makes justice!  Your suffering suffered.  Your death died.  Your sins atoned for.  Your sinful life taken away.  Jesus’ suffering suffered in place of you.  Jesus’ death died in place of you!  Jesus mocked and ridiculed in place of you!  Jesus suffered hell in place of you!  Jesus’ perfect life given to you!

Has God betrayed us?  Is God our enemy?  Oh no!  Absolutely not!  Just the opposite!  Reason can’t explain it.  Yet, God’s love is certain.  Your sins paid, once and for all!  Oh yes, on the mountain of the Lord it has been provided!  Indeed, on that mountain God provided the substitute for YOU, the Lamb of God!