Text: Genesis 22:1-18
Date: Lent I + 2/26/12
“Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ 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.’”
God knew, of course—knew that Abraham had the faith and fear of God to do according to God’s word and command, even though he may not have fully understood it. So this test was certainly not for God as to discover anything in Abraham, nor even only for the reassurance of Abraham’s faith. It was to proclaim the Gospel—to proclaim it to Abraham and to his son Isaac, and to the countless generations of believers of both the Old and New Covenants who read of it, to include you and me today. And the Gospel is this: that God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only Son; sent Him to be the sacrifice for all sin, so that whoever looks to Him, believes in Him will have everlasting life.
We stand in awe of the man with whom God began His plan of salvation for the whole world. Abram of Ur of the Chaldeans, after all, was a pagan, an unbeliever, a sinner just like you and me and everyone else. Nevertheless it was out of pure grace that God called him to go where He would show him and make of him a great nation with the blessing of salvation for the whole earth. We stand in awe because, at this strange, unique, inspired Word from the God of Noah and Shem, Abram, just as strangely and unquestioningly told his wife Sarai to pack up and get ready to go—they knew not where. We know that the Word of God he received was not in a dream, and it certainly wasn’t in any writing, yet, whatever form it took, it was for Abram an irresistible Word, a divine Word, a Word that inspired in him faith and conviction that this was an invitation from a God he barely knew. How’s that for a definition of faith? “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1) from a God you barely know! When do you recall a time of awakening to God’s divine call of you? How is your assurance? How strong is your conviction? How’s your faith? What, after all, is the object or content of your faith? “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb 11:8). So we have been given that wonderful little prayer for faith like Abraham based on Hebrews 11:8—
Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us (#193, LSB p. 311).
On this hearing of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac it struck me to notice that not once do we have a word, a hint, an indication that Abraham ever hesitated or questioned God. When he received the command of God we’re simply told that Abraham arose, saddled up, recruited a couple of servants to go along, took Isaac, cut wood, and “went to the place of which God had told him.” There he took the fire and the knife, bound Isaac and laid him on the altar. If we were to write the screenplay for this we certainly would read more of our own emotions of hesitation, doubt, and even grief into the script of what we can only imagine must have been an excruciating experience. But what do we hear? Just the facts: the command, the response, the blessed, last minute interruption, then the substitute sacrifice and the happy ending.
Now we are not necessarily to expect such dramatic or disturbing testing of our faith, though God does blessedly have a hand in turning our various sorts of suffering into opportunities for the building of our faith. And we could go off on that tangent describing the various challenges, trials and temptations we experience and suggest a faith like Abraham’s as the weapon with which to slay the dragons that would steal us away from God’s protection and salvation. The apostle James today recommends one such weapon called “steadfastness under trial.” But even that commitment and determination must be a gift of God and of faith as it is not within our own strength or ability to muster. But to only address our trials and troubles and challenges to faith is not yet to proclaim the Gospel. We said that the purpose of God’s command to Abraham was to proclaim the Gospel. And the Gospel must always be the proclamation of what God has promised, what God is doing, what God has done for you and for the salvation and life of the world.
This is only the twenty-second chapter of Genesis, the first book of Moses, the first book of the entire Bible. As such we see God’s initial simple answers to the fundamental questions, “Where did we come from?” “Why is there evil, sin and death in the world?” and “What can be done about it?” As these fundamental questions were answered not in detail but as in broad-brush strokes in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, so now God’s entire plan of salvation is announced through this experience of the father of faith, Abraham.
The angel of the Lord that stopped the action was, after all, the pre-incarnate Son of God Himself, the One who would, at the right time, take on our human nature as the miraculous Son of the descendant of Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, of the house and lineage of David, Mary of Nazareth. As God provided Abraham and Isaac a substitute for His commanded sacrifice—the ram caught in a thicket by his horns—so would God send His Son, His only Son as the substitute, the only One worthy and equal to the task of giving His life, His holy, pure and sinless life, dying in our place, dying for us in order that we may be freed from the slavery of sin to eternal life. Because of Jesus, you see, it is not as if God has discovered anything in you, but that you have discovered something in God; so it is for you to say to God, “Now I know that You love me, seeing You have not withheld Your Son, Your only Son, from me.”
Set on His course by His baptism by John, Jesus endured the testing and tempting of the devil for you, and He won! By His death, resurrection and ascension He evicted Satan from before the heavenly throne and made him forever drop his ugly accusations and enticements of those, like you, who have become God’s own child, baptized into Christ. In Christ you are Abraham’s blessed offspring, freed from sin and death to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.