Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.
As we begin the season of Lent, one thing that some Christians do during this time is sacrifice something by giving it up during this 40-day period of solemn reflection on the upcoming passion of our Lord. When people give up something, they truly consider it to be a sacrifice, something that you can’t live without. We can live without our daily trip to Starbucks or that bag of chocolate candy that we absolutely love. Those are not necessities but are luxuries. But as we see with Abraham, he was truly called to sacrifice something, his only son Isaac.
One can only imagine what is going through Abraham’s head at this moment. I’m sure one question he is asking is, “Why me?” It doesn’t make sense of God to make this request to Abraham. Why is this happening to him and not to someone else, say someone with more than one child? Abraham might surely have asked the question, “Why me?” at God’s request and he would most certainly be justified in asking God that question. But as we see, God’s request was an amazing test of faith for Abraham.
Isaac was the son God had given Abraham and Sarah in their old age. Sarah had been unable to have children, yet God saw fit to give to them a child, a single child. Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born. Isaac was the heir who would continue God’s covenant promise to Abraham. This was not only Abraham’s personal legacy, but also the legacy of God’s covenant. For this and every other good reason, Abraham loved Isaac! He brought great joy into the lives of his parents. How could God now require Abraham to make such a sacrifice, especially since God had just granted their request for a child?
This test was not for God’s benefit, for He knew in advance that Abraham was indeed a God-fearing man. Rather, this was for Abraham’s spiritual benefit. Abraham’s love for Isaac, although right and good, might in time have crowded out his love for God. In God’s view, Abraham needed an opportunity to consciously put God first. With this test, God brought Abraham’s training in faith to a climax. The particular sacrifice God asked Abraham to bring is called a burnt offering, a blood sacrifice that in the Old Testament symbolized a person’s complete dedication to God.
Because Abraham was a righteous and God-fearing man, he took his only son Isaac to the land of Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice. As much as Abraham loved his son, he was willing to offer him to God, just as He had asked. What a faith Abraham must have had in order to go through with this. It would have been very easy for Abraham to turn tail and run away from God, as if he might be able to hide himself and Isaac from God. And really, who would have blamed him if he did? Surely not any of us!
Regardless of what this would mean, Abraham met God’s request with faith and obedience. He trusted in spite of the past challenges in receiving a son. He trusted in spite of future plans God predicted through that son. Abraham did as God had commanded. He obeyed in spite of the three-day journey to change his mind. He obeyed in spite of the emotions he must have felt as he heard Isaac’s question, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
One can look at this account and see just how horrible God is. He deprives Abraham and Sarah a child during the prime of their child-bearing years, only to give them a child when they are 100 and 90. Then, if that isn’t bad enough, then God requires that Abraham make a sacrifice to God, with his beloved son Isaac as the sacrificial lamb. How could this be a loving God who would require so much?
This is where people get God wrong. Here we have a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that earned forgiveness for the entire world. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, so also God the Father sent His son into the flesh of man in order to sacrifice Him on the cross. Surely Abraham was torn up inside as he prepared to sacrifice his son. Never the less, this is but a taste of the anguish of God the Father. God sent a ram to take Isaac’s place. There would be no ram to take the place of the Son of God.
In the case of Abraham and Isaac, God provided a substitute for the sacrifice in the form of a ram. But in order to redeem creation from its sin, God provided the sacrifice in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We could not provide the sacrifice that was necessary to redeem our sins. Yes, the people of the Old Testament provided sacrifices that would forgive them of their sins. But the results of the sacrifices were only temporary. They would have to make another sacrifice for their sins in the future. These sacrifices were not once-for-all sacrifices. The only way to obtain true, once-for-all forgiveness would be given through Jesus Christ and His all sin-atoning sacrifice.
Jesus had to become our substitute so that He could clean up the mess we made. He substitutes His perfection for our sin, His innocence for our guilt, and His virtue for our depravity. He substitutes Himself as the target of God’s wrath so that we can be the target of God’s grace. He suffered hell so that we can experience heaven. He takes all the sinful stuff that earns our eternal punishment and takes it to Himself. At the same time, He takes all His righteousness and gives it to us.
Fortunately for us, since, in the fullness of time, God provided the Lamb, since He committed His Son to the cross, we will never have to wrestle with the frightening choice that God put before Abraham. Our faithfulness to God is not in what we are willing to give up, nor is it in what we are willing to do as God’s servant. Rather, our faithfulness is in our clinging to His Son, His cross and resurrection, knowing that nothing we could give or do could ever exceed what God has already done for us in giving us His Son.
We need not ask the question of, “Why me?” because it is the wrong question to ask. Rather, we ask the question, “Why Jesus?” and the answer is “For me.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.