First Congregational Church
March 13, 2015
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-14, John 1:29-34
“Amazing Grace for the Faithful"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
In this Lenten season’s theme of Amazing Grace, we have looked at the promises of that Amazing Grace for the Faithful, the Tempted, the Healed, the Free, the Filled, and today it is Amazing Grace for the Faithful.
It may seems a bit odd to think of grace for the faithful, particularly when the first three verses of that famous hymn speak more to a “prior-to-faith state” of soul. It isn’t until the fourth verse of the hymn that we get to the faithful. Even famous Abraham needed grace for the breadth of his life.
Genesis 22:1-14 Cheryl Acklin
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “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 of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife.
So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then 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 I am.” 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.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
My name is Isaac, which means “he laughs.” There was a lot of laughter surrounding the circumstances of my birth. My father Abraham laughed when God promised that my mother Sarah would give birth to a son, me. “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17). How could he help but laugh?
Years passed, and there was still no natural-born son. My father’s nephew, my cousin, Lot would be his heir. But my father and Lot separated their vast herds and moved to opposite sides of the Dead Sea. My father was sad to see Lot go, but God assured father, “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth,” so many it will be impossible to count (Genesis 13:16).
But it wasn’t happening. More years went by and more words of promise came from the Lord, but still my Mother had no children. My father named his faithful steward Eliezer of Damascus as his heir. But again, God intervened. “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir!” (Genesis 15:4).
This was not just a problem for my father; it was a problem for my mother Sarah as well. So in accordance with ancient custom, as a desperate measure, she gave her slave girl Hagar to my father. If Hagar could bear a son to father, he would become the lawful child of my mother and the heir Abraham needed. Both my parents agreed that this must the solution.
Hagar’s son, Ishmael, became the heir, until at last God Almighty spoke again. God appeared to my father again, repeating the promise of a son to be naturally born to my mother. “I will bless [Sarah], ” God proclaimed, “and will give you a son by her.” (Genesis 17:16)
That’s when my father fell to the ground laughing, an old man rolling about, guffawing loudly. Then his laughter became tearful despair, “Oh, that Ishmael might have been born after this promised child of Sarah!” (Genesis 17:17). But the Lord could not be dissuaded. “As for Ishmael … I have blessed him,” God told my father, “but I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you this time next year” (Genesis 17:20-21).
Not long after that, accompanied by two angels, the Lord visited both my parents. By then my mother was 89 and my father 99. Abraham was sitting by the door of his tent when they came. After the usual hospitality of a feast for the visitors they all got down to business, except for my mother. She eavesdropped from a respectful distance. God spoke, “I will surely return to you this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” When my mother heard this news she burst out laughing as my father had done before her and asked, “After I am worn out and my husband is old shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12).
God was not laughing. “Why did Sarah laugh?” God asked. My mother denied it, saying, “I did not laugh.” “No, but you did laugh,” God answered.” And it came true, just as the Lord said. When I was born, my mother laughed for joy. To commemorate all the laughter, I was given the name Isaac, “he laughs.” Abraham disinherited Hagar and Ishmael and cast them out of our family, leaving them to fend for themselves with nothing but a skin of water and a loaf of bread. They nearly died in the desert before God rescued them (Genesis 21:10-19). Now I was the sole heir, the promised child.
It was customary in those days for nomadic princes like my father Abraham to fill many roles in their family. My father was like a king with his own army. He was a trader and merchant with thousands of animals. He was an absolute lord with life-and-death power over all his household. He was also a priest, interceding for others, receiving and speaking revelations from God, building altars and high places to offer sacrifices.
So nothing unusual seemed to be afoot that day when my father and I, two servants and a donkey loaded with firewood and a firepot set out for Mount Moriah to offer a sacrifice. I was not included in the conversation my father had with God. Only later would I learn from him that God had commanded my father to sacrifice me on the mountain.
But I was the child of promise! Repeatedly God Almighty had promised my father a son, born to his wife Sarah, through whom the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6; 17:1-8). I was that child and there was no other. And now the Lord wanted my father to slay me? My father obeyed the Lord. How could he do that? He could only sacrifice me because he had come to trust God fully. He had learned that the Lord would keep his promises. If God could give a son to a man of 100 years old and a woman of 90, he could even raise that son from the dead and so keep his promises.
In fact, that is exactly was the Bible says, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, …[because] he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead ...” (Hebrews 11:17-19). I knew my father was a man of faith, but here was a man who believed in the resurrection of the dead thousands of years before it was revealed to anyone else.
But at the time, I knew none of that. I was just a boy trusting his father and going up a mountain for a routine sacrifice. We weren’t too far along though when I began to realize this would not be routine. “My father,” I said, “the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” He replied, “God will provide for God’s self the lamb for a burnt offering ...” (Genesis 22:7b-8).
Like most boys I adored my father; I completely trusted him. We came to the place of sacrifice. I even helped my father collect the stones to build the altar. Together we untied the bundle of wood and arranged it for the fire. Everything was ready for the lamb. But where was it? There was none. There was only me. Still I trusted my father as he took cords and bound my hands and feet and laid me on the stone altar we had built together.
Perhaps it was a game. But at the last moment, I knew this was no game. With his left hand my father pulled back my head, exposing my neck. With the other he took the knife he had brought and placed it against my throat. With one swift motion, he could have sliced through my throat and I would have bled to death in seconds.
But God Almighty stopped it. At that very moment, “The angel of the LORD called to father from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham! ... Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from me’” (Genesis 22:11-13).
Suddenly, there was a bleating from a nearby thicket; a ram was caught there by its horns. My father cut me free, and together we wrestled the ram to the ground, tied it up and laid it on the stone altar. The knife that would have killed me now killed the ram instead. As my father had promised, God had provided the sacrifice. And so that all Israel would never forget what happened there, my father named the place “The Lord provides - Jehovah Jireh.”
Thank you, Isaac. What happened that day is a picture of what God has done for all of us. God promised to bless the whole world through one of Abraham’s descendants, and so God has done. Centuries after the events on Mount Moriah, another sacrifice took place on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Isaac’s flesh-and-blood descendant, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was offered up as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. God’s only Son willingly took our place on the altar of the cross, but no angel appeared to spare his life. Because he suffered and bled and died, our sins are forgiven and we are no longer eternally separated from God. No longer do the sacrifices we make happen on alters, but in our hearts. Because Christ rose again on the third day, we, too, will be raised to life on the Last Day.
Although Christ didn’t deserve to take on our sin, God in grace—God’s amazing grace—through faith in Jesus, God’s Son, we receive the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.
Let us pray. God who provides, we are truly and deeply grateful for this ultimate sacrifice that Christ took on for all of us. We may have trouble believing it sometimes, and we may not understand it at all. But our limitations do not bind you and what you have ever been able to do. Help us to be mindful of living a life as a people blessed with such a gift. Encourage and strengthen us in the ways that can help others better understand your provisions and blessings. Most especially, God, thank you for your amazing grace. And all your people say, Amen.
By Don Neidigk. © 2015 Creative Communications for the Parish, 1564 Fencorp Dr., Fenton, MO 63026. 800-325-9414. www.creativecommunications.com. All rights reserved.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.