Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent 5 Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          Isaac was Abraham’s only son, the only son who had come to Abraham and his wife in extremely old age.  And now the Word of the Lord came to Abraham – “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you.”  Imagine, just for a moment, what must have been running through Abraham’s mind there.  God spells out in the request just how much Abraham loved Isaac, and now, offer him as a burnt offering.  And yet, Abraham goes.  He takes Isaac and a few servants and starts out to Moriah, doesn’t tell them what precisely is going on.  Eventually Abraham and Isaac leave the servants behind, and they head on their way by themselves, carrying all the supplies needed for a sacrifice.

          Young Isaac is not stupid – Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.  Abraham has raised his boy well.  Isaac knows how these offerings are done – he’s probably helped his father before.  Where is the lamb, dad?  And so, Abraham, walking to go and sacrifice his own son, hears this question from the son.  And he trudges onward.  God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.  And then they get to the place, and they build the altar – and then, the father grabs and binds his son – and Isaac is placed on the altar, and Abraham even has the knife in his hand to kill Isaac – and then something happens.  The Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”  And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.”  Now, imagine what must be going through Abraham’s mind.  All the angst, all the tension, all the strain – gone.  Isaac will live – for there will be another sacrifice.  And then Abraham looks up, sees a ram caught in a thicket – and so Abraham sacrifices it – Isaac lives, Isaac who was going to die walks down from the mountain along with his father, knowing the God Himself preserved his life.

          Now, dear friends, do you see and understand why Jesus today could say, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, He saw it and was glad.”  Jesus had been in the middle of an interesting discussion with certain Jewish leaders – and these leaders were getting quite agitated.  They didn’t like what they were hearing from this Jesus.  He had been pointing out their flaws, their sins.  He had been making claims about who He was, He claimed that the one who kept His Word would never taste death.  The leaders thought this was ridiculous – everyone dies – what is this young foolish Jesus talking about?  And on top of this – Jesus ends up saying that they are liars, and that in reality, they don’t even know God.  You people today, you are nothing like your father Abraham – Abraham would have been rejoicing if He saw Me here – I know, because He rejoiced when He saw me in the past.  Abraham rejoiced when I, Christ Jesus, the Angel of the Lord spoke from heaven and told him to spare his son Isaac, also your father.  And the leaders don’t quite get it yet – they don’t quite piece it together.  So Jesus lays it all out – you don’t know God, because you don’t know Me – and Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.  I AM.  God’s name that He revealed to Moses from the burning bush – Jesus declares that He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity – and certainly before Abraham and Isaac were around.  And the people listening, they want nothing to do with this – they take up stones to put Jesus to death – but Jesus leaves – oh, Jesus will die, but not by a hail of stones.

          They should have known and seen, these Jewish leaders.  Abraham knew – and they all knew the story of Abraham and Isaac.  I bet every one of them could have quoted Genesis 22 backwards and forwards.  What do we see and learn from Genesis?  We learn the consequences of sin.  The wages of sin is death.  There is not a one of us here who is innocent, who is free from sin – from the oldest of us here even to the youngest.  And because of sin, we deserve death.
          We kind of skip over that fact sometimes, don’t we?  We think of sin in terms of not being nice, of making things a bit rougher here and if we only listened to God and did things his way, our neighbors would like us better.  Well, that gets part of it – but the wages of sin is death.  Each and every one of us here deserves death – we have sinned against God Almighty, we have rebelled against Him – and that means we deserve to die.  Isaac – he was a sinful human being, he deserved to die.  God was completely justified in demanding his death.  We don’t like thinking along those lines – we like to downplay the consequences of sin – but sin demands death.  Isaac’s death would have been his just deserts – just as ours would be.

          But then the amazing thing.  Christ intervenes.  Abraham is right when he says that God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.  God jumps in, says wait – wait Abraham.  I’m not going to require Isaac’s life of him – I’m not going to take your son.  Rather this – The Father will provide the Lamb – the Father will provide His Son, Christ Jesus, and He will with His death take up the death that every son and daughter of Adam ever, all of them, Christ Jesus with His death will take up the death they deserve.

          This is what Jesus is on His way to do when He has this discussion with these Jewish leaders.  He is on His way to the Cross, ready to suffer and die – ready to be put on a wooden altar of His own, but this time the Father would not stay His hand – and the Son would die – the Son would die that we might live.  Note something profound – Your father Abraham rejoiced that He would see my day.  Abraham knew that Christ would come, would be the one, true sacrifice for all sin.  Because of this, Abraham had what Christ said – Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.  This is our hope – for we know that for us who have been called by Christ Jesus into His Church, into His family – death isn’t our end, it isn’t where we end up.  Christ died for us – and so we know that we will have life – that all of this, all the trials and pains and sorrows we face in this life – they will yield unto not just the joys of heaven – but the joys of the last day when we all shall rise again, and in our bodies restored – as true human beings, living human beings, body and soul united again, we shall have eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth that we have been promised.

          This is the promise Christ Jesus has sworn to you – this is the vow He made to you at the moment of your Baptism.  Again, from Romans Chapter 6, and I cannot hear these verses often enough – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  There it is, the entire hope of the Christian faith – that because Christ Jesus died in my stead and rose again – I too am forgiven for His sake, and I too shall rise again and live forever with God.  Promised, sign, sealed and delivered to each of you in the waters of Holy Baptism.

          The wonder of this is that all of this comes from what God does.  We aren’t defined, we aren’t made Christians by what we sacrifice.  Abraham wasn’t defined by what he sacrificed – rather, God intervenes and gives Abraham his son back as a simple, free gift.  We aren’t defined by what we do for God.  Now, do we do many things for God?  Indeed – whenever we show love to our neighbor, that is done for God.  That’s what Christians do – but that isn’t what makes us Christians.  What makes us Christians is this – that Jesus Christ does what is required – that God Himself has decided to be your Savior, that He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light – that He will win for you pardon and peace from all your sins.  And nothing will stop Him.  Throughout lent His march to the cross has been unstoppable – Satan will not tempt Him off course, whining disciples will not prevent Him from showing love, demons hinder Him not, crowds wanting only bread, leaders wanting to stone Him – none of this stops Jesus – He goes to the Cross to win you your salvation.  Because that is who He is – because He is the God who loves you, the God who would rather suffer in your place, be sacrificed Himself so that He can claim you for all eternity.

          Lent is drawing towards a close.  Next Sunday is Palm Sunday – we will see our Lord enter Jerusalem to start the service, and in the Gospel lesson we will hear His passion.  Know and learn and remember what this is.  God Almighty takes your place and goes to the cross in your stead, so that you might have life in His Name.  This is His gift to you, this is His love for you, this is the salvation He wins for you.  Amen.

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