Fifth Sunday in Lent – Judica
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. John 8.42-59; Genesis 22.1-14
21 March 2021
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Many years after the time of Abraham, God instituted the sacrificial worship of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. The purpose of the sacrifice of lambs, goats, oxen, and the occasional turtledove was to make it possible for mortal man – all who sin and fall short of the glory of God – to stand before God by covering his sin. The word for “atonement” in the Old Testament means to “cover over” or “protect”. God says of these sacrifices in Leviticus, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev. 17.11)
Sacrificial offerings were a constant reminder of the seriousness of sin. St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death – there is a blood-guilt imputed to each man for every sin. The sinner, by bringing a sacrificial animal in his own place, acknowledges that blood-guilty-ness for which he was accountable, bows before God’s judgment and at the same time through faith accepts the help God offers the sinner when He instituted these sacrifices, and the priesthood and divine service of the Tabernacle and Temple that go along with them.
The high priest, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, once a year on the Day of Atonement entered the holy of holies in the tent made with hands, the copy of the heavenly reality, and offered up the blood of goats and lambs sprinkled on and around the Ark of the Covenant to cover his own sins and the sins of the people.
Today, we hear of a sacrifice asked of Abraham, a strange one in fact. Not a sacrifice of a lamb or a goat or ox – but God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son, the child of promise for whom Abraham and Sarah had waited for many years – Isaac. “Go to Moriah… offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Abraham says nothing – but obeys. He rises early in the morning, saddles his donkey, takes two servants and Isaac along and off they go. Our Easter Day chief hymn says that it is a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contend. But Abraham brings no strife, no contention. God has spoken. There is only one thing to do. Go. Sacrifice. Bow before God’s judgment. Through faith, accept the atonement God offers the sinner, even at the cost of his promised son. When Isaac inquires of his father about a lamb for sacrifice, Abraham simply says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Left unsaid: even if that sacrifice is to be you.
Christians claim Abraham as their spiritual father. No one else can. He believed in Jesus as we believe in Him. We read in Genesis 15:5, “[Abraham] believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (see also Romans 4.3ff)
God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” All the families of the earth would be blessed in Abraham because all the families of the earth would be blessed in Jesus, who would descend from the promised son, Isaac. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day because he rejoiced to see the child of promise, Isaac, born. It is only through faith in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice that one is a true child of Abraham. You believe the Lord and His Word, and He accounts it to you for righteousness, along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all believers of all times and places.
When asked to sacrifice Isaac by God, an action which seems to contradict God’s earlier promise, Abraham held that promise so strongly that he did not withhold from the Lord his only son on the altar of Mount Moriah – to the point of binding his own son on the wood and raising the knife to strike down his son. Abraham in that moment was ready and willing to be the most profound high priest of them all.
Abraham shunned not suffering, shame, or loss – but willingly bore that cross of giving over his own son unto death by his own hand – the cross of our Lord foreshadowed by the wood he laid on Isaac’s back to carry up the mountain to the altar they would build. Abraham kept God’s Word that closely – which is to trust that Word, to totally obey that Word, and to let no thought contrary to it hold sway. He trusted completely God to work all things for the good of those who love Him and His Word, so that even this gruesome act would be to his blessing and that of his son and all the families of the earth.
Yet, for our sake, God was testing Abraham that we might see him fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and so the Angel of the Lord appears and stays his hand. God provides the ram as a substitute for Isaac – that we might know God would provide a greater ram, the Lamb of God who substitutes for Isaac and all of humanity with him and takes away the sin of the world.
The Father in heaven would offer His only-begotten Son, who took upon Himself our flesh as our brother, to make the atoning sacrifice as the guilt-offering to bear the transgression of His people – Jesus Christ would pour out his life in death and be counted among the transgressors, even though He alone was righteous, that by His shed blood on Calvary’s cross, our sin would be covered over, our iniquity pardoned.
The Father accepts the sacrifice of His Son, raising Him to new life – declaring through the Easter Day resurrection our justification, our righteousness on His account, to be received through faith. On account of His atoning blood given over in the heavenly holy of holies, Jesus can openly promise to all of Abraham’s children by faith, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” (Jn. 8.51) This reminds us of another promise of Jesus we heard earlier in Lent: “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
Whoever believes with Abraham in the promised Lord, Jesus Christ, receives the gift of forgiveness He earned with His blood shed on the cross, and will never see death – will never see eternal death, separation from God and His love for you for all eternity. You may grow old and die to this life in your bed, but you will not see death. You may be laid across an altar on a far off mountaintop and the knife may come down and strike its blow, but you will not see death. You may contract a disease that will slowly or more quickly take away your life, but you will not see death. You may be killed without warning, suddenly by accident, but you will not see death. For Jesus also promises, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness [in eternal death] but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11.25-26)
Today, looking forward to Our Lord’s passion and death and resurrection, we remember Abraham as our spiritual father in the faith. We remember him as our father in the faith not as an example of doing some good work to justify himself, and certainly not because we think he is our blood-father as the angry Jews did who confronted our Lord with such hatred in today’s Gospel reading, as if that familial line would suffice for righteousness before God – when they were ironically standing in the very Temple where animal sacrifice to atone for sin was taking place. There, false children of Abraham, argued with, hated in their heart, and sought to murder the very Lamb of God, the price for their sins, who was standing before them, the great I AM Himself yet veiled in human flesh. We remember Abraham because by grace, through faith, he rejoiced to see Jesus’ day and even to the death of his only son rejoiced in Him, believing His Word of promise and heavenly hope in the great sacrifice for sins to come on Calvary’s cross, and so was accounted righteous for Jesus’ sake.
St. Paul memorializes Abraham in Romans 4 this way:
“In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom. 4.18-25)
God grant us this Passiontide and for all our lives to be faithful children of Abraham, rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God grant our prayer for Jesus’ sake.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +