1st Sunday in Lent – B LSB #572 (tune #451)
Text – Genesis 22:13
And Abraham lifted up his eyes & looked, & behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went & took the ram & offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
LIFTING OUR EYES
Two Sundays ago we began by considering the nursery rhyme, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We recognized the majestic beauty of the stars our heavenly Father created as a blessing to us. We reflected upon them as a sign to us, of our Lord’s faithfulness in providing for our needs. The prophet Isaiah had written, “Lift up your eyes on high & see: who created these?”
Today we’re digging into a particular event in the life of Abraham where he lifted up his eyes in order to see. The challenge, is that Moses began recording this episode with the ominous words, “After these things God tested Abraham…”
The very word “testing” causes anxiety to well up in the heart of students around the world. “Will I pass, or will I fail? What questions will be the exam, & which questions will not?” Yet that testing, in the safe environs of a classroom, is a far cry from the exam Yahweh is going to administer for Abraham.
“Abraham! Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… & offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 ESV) To the average human being, that command creates a shocking contrast with what they believe of Jesus. The words of St. John are much more typical of what people believe:
“…we have come to know & to believe the love that God has for us. God is love…” (1John 4:16 ESV) How do you deal with that contrast? If we boil it down, there are only three ways. Hearing the command for Abraham to sacrifice his son, either we 1) doubt God’s love, 2) ignore His command, or 3) totally surrender our will to God. But if we’ve totally surrendered our will, it’s visible in the things we do. Just take a look at Abraham. “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there & laid the wood in order & bound Isaac his son & laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand & took the knife to slaughter his son.”
How has your heavenly Father been challenging & testing you these past few months? Is the cold weather & the frozen earth getting tiresome? Are there health problems making simple daily activities a lot more difficult? Have you lost your way in life to the point that you don’t really know why you bother living?
“A man rushed up to a subway ticket booth & slapped his credit card on the counter. When he didn’t immediately receive the ticket coming to him, he looked up to see what was causing the delay. He found himself staring into the ugliest face he’d ever seen.”
“Angered at what he saw, he snarled, ‘Come on, hurry up, give me my ticket. Don’t stare at me like that!’ It was only after that angry outburst that he realized the booth was empty. The ugly face staring at him was his own reflection.”
When you look up during the trials of your life, what is it that you see? Is it your own angry & therefore ugly face, or is it whatever God has provided as an answer to your prayer?
“So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, & took two of his young men with him, & his son Isaac.” Abraham was going on the journey of his life. It would be a trip he never forgot. Most of us have been on journeys, here & there, short & long.
We’ve been on many different types of journeys. Some of them fun, some of them sad, some of them serious & dramatic, others light-hearted & care free. When Jan & I began the journey to cancer treatment, we obviously had no idea where it would lead, or how it would end. Neither did Abraham. God had asked him to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son whom he loved. Yet Abraham’s words reveal that he believes he will return from the journey with his son Isaac intact. Listen especially to the final phrase: “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes & saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I & the boy will go over there & worship & come again to you.’”
Abraham tells his servants that he & Isaac will be back. In the NT, the book of Hebrews fills us in, by saying that Abraham believed in resurrection from the dead. For that reason Abraham was willing to obey his heavenly Father in spite of the horrific & impossible task that lay ahead of him.
The trust, Abraham had in Yahweh, was to be weighed in the balance against common sense, against human affection & against lifelong ambition. If Abraham had stopped anywhere short of lifting the knife, he would not have known the plan & the provision of his faithful God. Sometimes you & I have to go a long way down the path of suffering to finally see Jesus.
Along the way we are all guilty of doubting that God loves us. Instead, we surrender to the temptation of Lucifer. We wonder & cry aloud, “If God loves me, there’s no way He could allow this _________________ to happen.” You get to fill in the blank, because you & I are guilty of doubting that God loves us, especially when He allows things into our life to test us.
The next temptation is to ignore our Lord’s commands. Since we know & believe that God loves us, & forgives our sin, then it must be okay to disregard His instruction. After all, God knows, & we know, that we cannot keep His commandments perfectly. So, why bother?
For evidence that people really deal with the shocking contrast between God’s love & God’s commands in that way, we need only to look at the 3rd Commandment. Do you remember what that one says? Here’s how Martin Luther explained its meaning, “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” Have you been remembering the Sabbath & keeping it holy? If Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, whom he loved, could it be that God is asking you to sacrifice just five Wednesday evenings to attend Lenten services? Is it possible for God to bless you in that way?
The final suggestion on how people deal with the shocking contrast between God’s command & His love is to totally surrender our will in order to follow the will of Jesus. Who of us would blame Abraham if he chose not to obey his Lord’s command to sacrifice his son? Who of us would fault Abraham for railing against God’s unjust demand if God is love?
Yet, Abraham follows through on every detail & therefore discovers the amazing & incredible plan of His heavenly Father to spare the life of Isaac:
“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven & said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ ‘…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.’” With the testing now completed, Abraham lifted up his eyes & saw the ram which God had provided for the sacrifice.
To illustrate why God tested Abraham, consider this. An engineer may full well know that his bridge design is going to stand the stress & strain to which it is subjected. He knows he designed it properly. Nevertheless, construction regulations will require that it be tested – not to assure the engineer, but to assure the public that it is safe & it will stand.
Jesus knew that Abraham would pass the test, but He wanted us to know that our heavenly Father’s love is certain & real. His design will stand the test. Jesus also wanted us to know that God’s commands are not to be ignored, & following them, in spite of their hardship or unreasonableness, will bring us tremendous blessing. That is God’s promise to you.
Finally, because our Lord knew that none of us could endure the sacrifice necessary to pay for our sins, the ram in the thicket was but a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. None of us can totally surrender our will to God in this life. Our sinful nature is too strong & too corrupt. In the payment for the sins of every man, woman & child, there could be no leeway, no room for error, no cost overrun. In the fullness of time that payment had to be made perfectly & without exception.
As the ram takes the place of Isaac, this Bible reading catapults the call & mission of Abraham several thousand years into the future. It is a future filled with the sacrificial giving of God’s one & only Son. It’s an excellent reading for us to begin our Lenten Journey with.
Abraham went down the mountain a joyful man, his promise restored. Sarah would laugh again, her joy returned to her. What about our heavenly Father? Would He be grieving in the coming death of His only begotten Son, or would He be rejoicing that Abraham & Sarah believed the Words of the promise?
What journey are you on today that concerns you, or causes anxiety? Might that journey be a test from God, even if you were not aware that it is? Two weeks ago we looked at the heavens & the stars set therein to discover our Lord’s faithfulness to us. Today, we needn’t lift our eyes so high as the heavens, but only to the altar to find God’s faithful provision.
In our preparation for Holy Communion, we lift up our hearts to the Lord, as we look to Him for the forgiveness of our sins & the life & salvation which follow. As we follow Jesus, He goes ahead of us, preparing the way. In advance, He prepares the good works we are to do. In advance, He readies the strength & encouragement we need to finish our tasks.
God knows what you are going to need in your future, & He knows when you are going to need it. He works through the material things of this world, as well as through the spiritual. Sometimes we only need to lift our eyes in order to see them. At other times we need to be patient & wait upon the Lord. That is the nature of faith in Jesus. Sometimes we simply: “…cannot receive the same blessing Abraham did without also enduring the slow, three day journey up the mountain – at least in a figurative way. We can’t skip the walk & fly to the top of the mountain in a flash, on some winged horse, to steal the blessing without any accompanying pain.”
In our struggles & trials lay the hidden mystery of God’s provision for us, & the miraculous way of God leading his people from doubt to confidence, from unbelief to faith. God has the final word, hidden though it may be from us even as we walk with him.
The Word of God still endures today, through our testing & into the future, just as it was first spoken to our fathers in the faith. This is the Golden Thread, the great story woven through the pages of the Bible. God created a people to love. God created a nation to reveal His love.
In this event, in the life of Abraham & Isaac, God reveals the first signs of his plan to win us back, & the terrible price that He must pay because of His love. Our doubt concerning God’s love for us can be put away. As we ignore any of His commands they are forgiven, yet that forgiveness turns us back to Yahweh in repentance. We should not reject it.
Finally, the perfect Lamb of God surrenders His will perfectly unto our perfect heavenly Father, & this is substituted for each & every one of our failures in order that we might have life & have it to the full. Amen.
Days & months & years unfolding clearly showed what sin had wrought: fallen Adam’s children learning lessons fallen parents taught. All these sacrificial offerings crested as a crimson flood: patriarchs & priests atoning for their sins with cleansing blood. What these sacrifices promised from a God who sought to bless, come at last – a second Adam – Priest & King of Righteousness: Son of God, incarnate Savior, Son of Man, both Christ & Lord, Who in naked shame would offer on the cross His blood outpoured. Amen.
 Hebrews 11:19
 Kierkegaard’s Writings 6:52.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet