Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Homily for Lenten Vespers In the Week of Reminiscere (The Second Sunday In Lent)

 22:24-46; Genesis 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord Jesus teaces you to pray, “lead us not into temptation.” You confess in the Small Catechism, “God tempts no one. [But] we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and to other great shame and vice.” “God tempts no one.” Therefore, what does the Scripture mean when it says “God tested Abraham?” Are not “testing” and “tempting” the same thing? Well, yes, and no.
Testing does not necessarily have a negative connotation. After all, you test your children in school with the intention of proving, or making certain what they have learned. The Scriptures use testing in the sense of proving the refinement and purity of precious metals like gold and silver. Gold and silver ore, when mined from the earth, are impure, containing bits of copper, iron, platinum, cadmium, and other metals and minerals. Impurities are removed from the precious metals by subjecting them to extreme heat. The gold and silver will melt without being destroyed so that the impurities, the dross, may be separated and filtered out. Similarly, God tests you with the extreme heat of trials and tribulations, not to punish you, but to prove you (to yourself!) and to improve you. Few of God’s children were tested more fiercely and consistently than St. Paul to whom the Lord famously said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
However, temptation is also a form of testing, but it is the type of testing that Satan brings, not God, though the LORD does permit it to befall you. Satan tests you by manipulating circumstances, within the limits that God allows him, in an attempt to make you abandon God’s will. Therefore, you must constantly be watchful and active against the devil, for he is always at work trying to make you fall. Satan’s desire is not to prove you and to improve you, but to destroy you. Thus, it is true that both God and the devil test you, but only one of these means the testing for your good and for the good of others that they might believe and be saved.
“God tempts no one,” but He does test you. When you pray, “lead us not into temptation,” you are asking that the LORD would guard, keep, and protect you from the temptations and testing of the devil through the means of the world and your own sinful flesh. Nevertheless, when temptation comes, the LORD promises that He will always provide a way of escape that you may be able to endure and persevere. As I said in my homily for the First Sunday In Lent, the way of escape, at times, may be death, for you are called to be faithful unto death with the promise that you will receive the crown of life.
Thus it was that the LORD tested Abraham. As with the Canaanite woman this past Sunday, the LORD already knew Abraham’s faith. This was the man who believed God at His Word and the LORD credited his faith to him as righteousness. The LORD already knew Abraham’s faith. But, Abraham didn’t know his faith. The devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh conspire against you, tempting you to place your faith, your fear, love, and trust, in things other than in God, most often in yourselves. The LORD tested Abraham so that his faith would be strengthened, so that Abraham would know all the more that his faith was in the LORD and in His Word alone, and not in himself, or even in his faith.
The test was whether or not Abraham would trust the LORD and His Word, His promise, despite what his God-given eyes, ears, and reason told him. The LORD had promised Abraham a son from his own flesh – meaning, of his union with his wife Sarah, not with her handmaiden Hagar. Abraham had already doubted the LORD’s promise once and conceived a child with Hagar. But, then, the LORD kept His Word of promise and gave Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. But, then, to drive Abraham’s faith back to the Word and promise of the LORD, the LORD commanded Abraham to sacrifice His son Isaac. Granted, this is a pretty extreme test, but Abraham had already experience the LORD’s miraculous faithfulness. He knew that the LORD was both faithful and capable of keeping His Word, even if that required raising the dead.
This time, Abraham does not falter. Abraham’s faith is so incredibly strong that we are scandalized by it. He was actually going to kill his son and offer him as a sacrifice! He was going to do it. Don’t think for a moment that he wasn’t! He bound his son, laid him upon the wood, took the knife, and he was ready to plunge it into his son’s heart! But, why? Because he believed the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength, and with all his mind.
But, what did Abraham believe the LORD was going to do? How would the LORD keep His promise if Abraham killed his son? Well, we are given a couple clues to what Abraham was thinking, what Abraham believed. First, Abraham left his servants at the base of Mount Moriah and told them, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Here Abraham indicates that, one way or another, he would return with his son. Either the LORD would spare him and provide a substitute or, if he had to go through with it, Abraham believed that the LORD would raise his son up again from death. One way or another, Abraham believed that Isaac would live, even if he had to die.
The second clue is Abraham’s answer to Isaac when he asked where the lamb was for a sacrifice. Abraham replied, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Likely this is what Abraham truly believed all along – that God would provide a substitute, a sacrificial lamb, and spare his son Isaac. And, that is precisely what the LORD did. Abraham turned around and, behold, there was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. Abraham released Isaac and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering to the LORD in his place. Then Abraham named that place, “The LORD will provide.” And, yet, that substitutionary ram was but a foreshadowing of what the LORD would ultimately do. Abraham’s only son was spared, a ram substituted in his place, in foreshadowing of the sacrifice God would make of His only Son, Jesus. There was no substitutionary lamb for Jesus, but Jesus was the Lamb of God’s self-offering, sacrificed for the sins of all people.
The LORD tested Abraham, and Abraham’s faith was strengthened. Abraham’s faith in the Word and promise of God was strengthened. But, that does little good for you. Abraham believed for himself. Likewise, you must believe for yourself. Is your faith as strong as Abraham’s? I know that mine is not. That is why I am thankful and grateful that the LORD also tested Jesus. The LORD permitted Jesus to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness as we heard in the Gospel for the First Sunday In Lent. And the LORD Himself tested Jesus in the garden in this evening’s reading from the Passion. In both cases, Jesus resisted and overcame testing and temptation by faith in the Word of God and in prayer. Jesus prayed three times that the Father might release Him from being the substitutionary Lamb for the sins of the world, but He submitted to His Father’s will and Word and was strengthened in prayer.
Likewise, Jesus exhorted Peter and the disciples to pray that they may not enter into temptation. And, this is what Jesus has taught you to pray saying, “Lead us not into temptation.” “God tempts no one. [But] we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and to other great shame and vice.” May the God who has vindicated the innocent blood of Isaac in the innocent blood of His Son Jesus Christ preserve, guard, and protect you in faith through all testing and temptation.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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