Monday, March 06, 2006

Sermon - Lent 1 - Genesis 22:1-18

Lent 1 – March 5th, 2006
Genesis 22:1-18
“Where is the Lamb?”

I. Introduction –

And so we embark on the ancient church season of Lent. As Christ was in the wilderness for 40 days, struggling with the temptations of the Evil One, we mark our 40 day journey to the cross, and wrestle with our own sinfulness. But even in this meditative, reflective time, we do not forget that Christ has vanquished both the Devil and our sin, and by his perfect life and death made atonement for us. Though we put away our Alleluias for a time, we know they will return with the bright glory of Easter. Though we grow sober, we know joy is just around the corner. And so Lent doesn’t essentially change what we are about as God’s redeemed people. It’s just a different way of looking at things.

Last year on the first Sunday of Lent, I shared some thoughts on the Temptation of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel. This year, we read the shorter account of the same from Mark. But we also have this magnificent story of Old Testament faith from Genesis. It’s here we will focus this morning, and as Issac asks the pivotal question, we will wrestle with the same, “Where is the Lamb?”

II. Sin – Death - Blood

There are some things in life we don’t want to think about. Some things that are hard realities. Things that don’t make us feel good. One of these is sin. The idea that there is something very wrong with us. That we have offended God. That we, by our actions, are guilty and deserve punishment.

We don’t like to think about death- which always comes along with Sin, so God has declared, “The soul that sins shall die”. We whisper about death in hushed tones, we find less offensive euphemisms like “passing away” or “leaving people behind”. But the hard reality is still there. Sin means death. And not just you die and that’s it. There is the living death of the sinful life without God. Then there is the eternal death of an eternity without God. Death is never a pretty picture. But it’s always what we deserve.

Sin and death also mean the spilling of blood. Most of us don’t think much about blood. Some can’t even stand the sight of it. It’s gross. But more than that, it means someone has been harmed. Someone is suffering. Violence has occurred. Death is in the air. Bloodshed is a stark reminder of the reality of sin – of our sin – and its consequences. And we may not like the sight of that. But God draws our attention to it. Here in our reading from Genesis, blood will be shed. Abraham’s knife will find its mark. This is serious business.

I’m sure that Abraham didn’t want to think about what God had commanded him. We who have children can relate. For we know few stronger impulses than to protect our own children from harm. Imagine if God asked you to sacrifice your own child, with your own two hands. It’s the unthinkable. Yet Abraham knew that sin is serious business, and that it brings a heavy price.

Perhaps it was this very sentiment that the prophet Micah was aiming for when he wrote:

With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7)

We find ourselves in a similar predicament. We, like Abraham, are sinners. We, too, owe God more than we could hope to pay. Our sins are grievous, inescapable, and our powers to please God leave us no hope. And the reality that we may wish to avoid is that sin means death and blood. A sacrifice is in order. If only we had one that sufficed. We don’t. But God does…

III. Where is the Lamb?

I love the honesty of the question Issac asks. “Where is the lamb?”
And we can identify with Issac’s apparent anxiety. For the dagger of God’s judgment and wrath would hang over us all the same. We too stand at the point of the blade, which would rightly cut us down in punishment. There is blood on our hands from sin – and a price must be paid in blood. “Where is the lamb?” or must I die for my sins?

But there is good news: Abraham answers his son, “God himself will provide the lamb…” And surely, God does. Just as Abraham is about to deliver the lethal blow – a voice calls out to stop him. This was only a test, you see.
And wonder of wonders, the story doesn’t stop with the angelic cancellation. No, sin is still there. A sacrifice must still be made. But “God will provide the lamb”. And God does… A ram caught in a thicket becomes the substitute for Issac. Sin still means death and blood, but not HIS death and blood. And what a mystery that what God demands, he also provides. Well and good for Abraham and Issac, but how does this help us?

Jesus said,
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39)

And so it’s not by sacrificing a ram like Abraham that we attain eternal life. Nor is it by appreciating or emulating the story. It is by finding in them the testimony of Christ – who IS the Lamb that God provides – and having the faith of Abraham – that in Christ, “the Lord will provide”. You see…

Issac was the only son of Abraham, but Jesus Christ is the only Son of God.

Issac was the heir to the Messianic promise. Christ is the fulfillment of that hope.

Issac bore his own sins and deserved, like all of us, to die. Christ bore no sin of his own, but bore all the sins of the world.

Issac carried the wood for his own near-sacrifice. Christ carried the beam of his cross and was not so spared.

Christ takes our place. Not on the altar of Mt. Moriah, but on the cross of Mt. Calvary. He sheds his blood for us.

Not the ram caught in a thicket, but the Savior crowned with thorns. A once and for all sacrifice for us and our children for thousands of generations. His blood, his death pays the price, and takes our sin away.

“Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Good question, Issac. “God will provide” and God did. Where is the lamb for our sacrifice? We have only to look to the cross, and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – including ours.

IV. Where am I?

So where does that leave us? Like Abraham and Issac, we walk away. But we can’t forget what happened on the mountain of sacrifice.

When I hear of something happening to someone else’s children – abuse or harm of any kind, I often just want to go hug my kids. I wonder if Abraham didn’t feel the same when this was all over. Appreciating what God had done for him, Mt. Moriah gave Abraham a deeper understanding of God’s love in Christ. A God who loved so much that “he spared not his own son , but gave him up for us all”.

I suppose the events of Mt. Moriah had an effect on young Issac, too. I suspect he remembered that day quite well for the rest of his life. He probably told his children and children’s children, of the sacrifice the Lord provided. Maybe he appreciated his own life a little more after almost losing it there.

Was it a life changing experience for Abraham and Issac? Did each become a different person? Who knows? What does seem clear is that God had brought them both to faith before Moriah, and kept them in that same faith to the end. For Abraham to take the sacrifice as far as he did – what greater example of faith is there? And for young Issac, who obediently submitted to his Father’s will, he too showed a striking depth of faith.

And so Abraham and Issac went, in faith, to Moriah to worship, and returned strengthened in their faith. So too with our worship. God brings us, by his Spirit, to gather in his house. God confirms on our weekly “trip to the mountain”, that HE ALONE deals with sin. HE ALONE provides for his people. HE ALONE makes the sacrifice. We receive the blessings in his word spoken, and his sacrament received.

Some Christians seem, even today, tend to think they can please God with their own sacrifice. By living a holy life, by a long list of good works, by enthusiastic worship - by sacrificing something – something important - to the Lord. But these are all the wrong sacrifice – they are not what God truly wants of us.

And they may look at us who believe so strongly in God’s grace in Christ, and say, “Look, they aren’t sacrificing enough”. But the truth is, we sacrifice nothing. We earn nothing. We bring nothing. We have nothing. Nothing but the lamb that God provides. We have Christ alone. And that is more than enough.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with Christ. Like Issac, we are not under the knife of judgment. Like Abraham, we don’t have to pay a price for our sins. We know that Christ has done it at the cross. And we go forth from the mountain in peace. For the Lord has provided, and always will. In the name of Christ, Amen.

V. Conclusion
As Lent begins, the mood changes. We ponder the seriousness of our sin. With Issac, we ask, “Where is the Lamb?” And then we see Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.

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