Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homily for Judica–The Fifth Sunday in Lent–The First Sunday of Passiontide



John 8:42-59; Hebrews 9:11-15; Genesis 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Isaac was the child of promise, a child that would be conceived in a barren womb by God’s Word of promise alone, much as that Word had been spoken into the nothingness in the beginning, conceiving the heavens and the earth. That is to say, what was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah was possible for God, for whom all things are possible. There was nothing that Abraham or Sarah could do in order to conceive; there was no way to force God’s promise to be fulfilled on their own terms or by their own machinations. There was only faith, or better yet, trust – trust in God, trust in God’s Word, trust in God’s promise. There was only faith, but that was enough.

God chose Abraham. There was nothing special about him. He was an idolator amongst idolaters, a man of unclean lips dwelling amongst a people of unclean lips. God could have chosen anyone else, and probably should have chosen no one at all, but He didn’t; He chose Abraham and He called Him. And, Abraham believed God – Abraham trusted in God – and God counted Abraham’s faith, Abraham’s trust, as righteousness. That is to say, Abraham wasn’t righteous, and neither was his trust righteousness, but God chose to look at it that way; God chose to count Abraham’s faith as righteousness. So long as Abraham had faith – so long as he trusted in God and in His Word – Abraham didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t matter that he was unclean, for God considered him clean – it was His choice, His work, His mercy, and His grace, because of the Son of Promise that God Himself would provide.

It was twenty-five years later that God fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Sarah conceived when she was ninety years old and she bore the son of promise, Isaac, whom God had promised would be the father of Abraham’s offspring as countless as the stars in the heavens. All along, God had been honing Abraham’s faith, strengthening it and increasing it. Though Abraham believed God in the beginning when He first called Him to leave his father’s home and journey to an unknown land that God would reveal to him, God continued to lead Abraham by faith and not by sight, blessing him again and again, answering his prayers, and increasing his wealth and prosperity. Though Abraham faltered when God delayed in blessing him with the son of promise, after Isaac’s birth, Abraham’s faith and trust was stronger than ever before. That is why, when God commanded that Abraham sacrifice his only son Isaac, the son of God’s promise, trusting in the LORD and in His Word of promise, Abraham was prepared to do it.

This story of the would-be sacrifice of Isaac, perhaps more than any other story in the Holy Scriptures, confounds believers and unbelievers alike, and provides unlimited fuel for the fire being fanned into flame by atheists and those who hate God and His Word. They ask, “How can a good God command His faithful servant to sacrifice the son that He promised to him? Even if God knew that He would stay Abraham’s hand, what wicked perversion to put a man through such torture and terror.” These are, of course, questions of theodicy, seeking a justification for God’s actions. Sometimes they are described as the problem of evil or the problem of suffering. Countless theologians, philosophers, and armchair psychologists have written treatises on theodicy, nearly all of them unsatisfying. I will simply remind you of what I stated earlier: God owed nothing to Abraham. He called Him of His own choosing, not because there was anything special or righteous or good about Abraham, but he was a sinner just like you and me. God chose to bless Abraham. If God chose to revoke the blessing, He was free to do so. God is holy; we are not. God is good; we are not. God is God; we are not, but we are His creatures. What complaint does the pot have before the potter? If the pot develops a crack, the potter is justified in destroying it. To approach theodicy in any other way is to transgress the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” particularly yourself.

However, there is much in the story of Abraham and Isaac that the atheists and unbelievers, and, sadly, many Christians fail to see. This was a test, a test of Abraham’s faith and trust, not in God’s goodness, not even in God Himself, but of faith and trust in God’s Word of promise. Would Abraham trust in God’s Word even when it appeared to be so terribly wrong, even evil? Would Abraham kill his son of promise, trusting that God would still keep His Word and, someway, somehow, provide through him offspring as countless as the stars in the heavens? There is a powerful witness in this story that Abraham’s faith in God’s Word was precisely that strong. God was not wrong in counting Abraham as righteous, as He was not wrong in counting Job as righteous, as He was not wrong in counting Mary, the mother of the Son of Promise that God really had in mind, as righteous and blessed because she believed and trusted in the Word of God even when it seemed so terribly wrong, impossible, and even evil.

The first indication of the profound nature of Abraham’s trust comes when he first gazes upon Mount Moriah, three days journey from his camp. It was then that Abraham gave instruction to his servants traveling with him and Isaac saying, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Was Abraham lying to his servants when he said that he and Isaac would return to them? No, he was not. In fact, the preacher to the Hebrews in chapter eleven, verse nineteen says of Abraham, “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham so trusted in God’s Word that he believed that, even if God required the sacrifice of his son of promise, God would still keep His promise and would raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham truly believed that he and the boy would return.

The second indication of the profound nature of Abraham’s trust comes when the boy Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Then Abraham answered him saying, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Here Abraham confessed his faith that God, ultimately, would provide His own sacrificial Lamb. Indeed, God did just that when “the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy.’” Then “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.” Thus, Isaac’s life was spared by the sacrificial lamb God provided. Yet, Abraham knew that this gift was but a foreshadowing of the True Lamb that God Himself would provide as a substitute for all the sons of men in His only-begotten, beloved Son Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. “So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’,” and his offspring through his son of promise continued to confess, “On the mount of the LORD is shall be provided.”

This was the faith of Abraham, and this was the faith of his offspring through his son of promise, Isaac, the children of Israel – that the LORD would provide in His own Son of promise, the Messiah, the Lamb of God’s self-offering that would atone for the sins of all men, the sins of the entire world. What Abraham experienced that day on Mount Moriah was a type and foreshadowing of what God would accomplish on that very mountain upon which Jerusalem would be founded and the temple constructed, where the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus, would bear the wood of the cross upon His back and lay down His life into death for His friends, for His enemies, for those who hate Him, for the life of the world. That day on Mount Moriah was the day of which Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Therefore you too, offspring of Abraham, children of promise, not according to Abraham’s flesh, but according to Abraham’s faith – we remember that day and we celebrate that day, the day in which God had mercy upon us all, loved us all, and died for us all that we might live in and with Him forever.

All who have Abraham as their spiritual father rejoice in the day of Jesus’ self-offering just as did he. They are the true children of Abraham, and they are the true children of God. However, those who reject Jesus have another father. Jesus Himself teaches that their father is the devil, a liar, and a murderer, and the father of lies. Those who reject Jesus reject the Lamb of God’s offering, the sacrifice that God has provided as a substitute. Therefore, they will not be released and return home, as was Isaac, but they will be burned in the fire of God’s wrath against sin. For, there will be a judgment upon those who reject the judgment that has already been placed upon and fulfilled in Jesus’ self-sacrifice upon the cross. For, Christ has been judged in your place, as your substitute, for the atoning of your sins. He, who was innocent, was made to be sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Never did the blood of countless bulls and lambs atone for sin, but the blood of the Lamb of God’s self-offering has taken your sin away that you may live in peace with God. More than that, in His Son He has adopted you as sons, sons of promise: “If anyone keeps my Word, he will never taste death.” He has been judged, guilty, in your stead. Therefore, you are judged, not guilty, even innocent, righteous, and holy by declaration of God’s Holy Word. It is finished. Go, in His peace.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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