Genesis 22:1-22

1st Sunday in Lent – 2/21/2021

As you are all keenly aware, many of our fellow Americans still suffer significantly from various evils or tragedies. Severe wintery weather this past week has wreaked havoc and even death upon many of our southern fellow citizens, especially in Texas. On top of this, there are still many families across the nation, not to mention the world, who are suffering the ill effects of the COVID pandemic as well as the often devastating consequences of many ill-conceived mandates and executive orders by many government officials, such as not adequately protecting the most vulnerable, the shutting down of many small businesses causing millions of job losses and thousands of companies to close for good, the ongoing prevention of in-class learning for hundreds of thousands of students, and still in many places, preventing people from gathering together to worship

Of course, as per usual, no one is willing to take any blame for all this suffering. Instead, politicians and citizens blame everyone and everything while refusing to accept responsibility for their actions. Frequently, however, you will hear people, including some preachers, cast blame on God. The latest example I heard was from a woman who advocated that all the misery and destruction Texas was experiencing was because God was punishing them for electing so many Republican leaders. Of course, there is no suffering in Democrat-controlled cities and states, right? God must be approving of their policies and government strategies!

Come on! That is one of the oldest ploys in the book of "passing the buck" of culpability: blaming those with whom you disagree as being on the wrong side of God and, thereby, incurring God's righteous wrath or angry indignation toward all of us. Even Jesus' own Twelve disciples tried to paint God with this same brush of angry vengeance when they were confronted with a man who was born blind. They were bold to ask Jesus, "Who sinned?" and "Is it this man's or his parents' fault that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Did it not occur to them that they were accusing God of being unjust and the punisher of the innocent?

Now, it is apparent that some today are purposely doing just that, making God some uncaring, sadistic monster who loves to see the weak, vulnerable, and innocent suffer while turning a blind eye toward the sins of evildoers, whom it seems He even blesses.

You and I can even be tempted to think this way. We see all the suffering around us and, perhaps, even in our own lives, and we question God's integrity and the sincerity of His love to the point that we come this close to accusing Him of being uncaring and unloving, even a God who likes to see us in misery and pain.

What kind of God is our God anyway? Why does He allow those He says He loves to suffer through extreme trials, temptations, and seemingly impossible challenges?

The whole issue raises the question of how well we Christians understand our God. Do we truly know Him or see a god we have created in our image? a god we can quote to support our personal biases and agendas?

The Holy Bible does, after all, present us with a true paradox when it comes to God's true nature. On the one hand, he is portrayed as the God who raises His sword of wrath against the wicked, and yet, on the other hand, he is also pictured as the God who is willing Himself to suffer the humiliation and torment of the cross.

Is this not the real question confronting us every Lenten season? "What sort of God is this?" Can the same God who creates all things simply by the power of His word, who destroys wicked humankind in the great flood, and who has thundered down His holy will for us in the form of the Ten Commandments be the same God who is rejected by His people, humiliated before the gentiles, and ultimately impaled to a Roman cross? What sort of God is our God?

A person cannot read this text from the 22nd chapter of Genesis and be left to ponder: What sort of God is this? Here we see the LORD God command his faithful servant Abraham to reduce his beloved son, Isaac, to cinders and ashes. At the same time, as Mark tells us in our Gospel reading, this same God casts His own Son, Jesus, out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days! Does this sound like the God of love? What sort of God is He?

As a parent, it is hard even to fathom such a request! I know the pure agony of losing a child to death through sickness or an accident. But to be asked by God to kill your child? Why is that unthinkable? What sort of God is this?

To appreciate Abraham's dilemma, we must remember that Isaac was more than a son. He was the son of God's promise. Abraham and Sarah could not have children. God had closed up Sarah's womb. Yet, God had always promised them that even in their old age, He would give them a son. God further promised that in this son's descendant, literally a singular "seed," the whole world would be blessed. As acknowledged in many places in the Bible, this was the promise that the Messiah, the world's Saviour, would come from Isaac's line.

Doesn't God seem to be speaking contradictorily by asking Abraham to sacrifice this son of promise? Martin Luther once commented, "Either the promise is lying, or the command is not God's but the devil's. There is a plain contradiction. If Isaac must be killed, the promise is void; but if the promise is sure, it is impossible that this is a command of God" (L, p. 95).

But Abraham could not escape it. He didn't imagine things! God's voice commanded him to do such an awful thing. The devil might have delighted in the prospect, but it was God Who was being Abraham's adversary! What sort of God was this to give a son of promise only to take him away again?

Indeed, what sort of God is it, Christian, that allows you to suffer from COVID? Who permits your child or another family member to die? Who allows an infant to be born with congenital disabilities so that he will be severely handicapped for the rest of his life? Who constantly puts up one roadblock after another, preventing you from getting ahead? What sort of God would allow selfish, arrogant, power-hungry, and immoral politicians to get into places of power in our nation?

I believe a two-fold answer to the question of what sort of God ours is is given to us in this text. First, we are shown through God's dealings with Abraham that our God is a God who earnestly desires His people to hold to His promises no matter what.

As God's writer of Genesis, Moses begins his whole account by calling God's bizarre request of Abraham precisely what it is: "a test." Depending on its usage and the context, the word translated test here could mean either a test or a temptation. One has a positive connotation, and the other has quite a negative one. A test is a challenge to do well to see what you are made of. A temptation is an attempt to get one to slip up or do wrong. When God tests or tempts, it is always for the former purpose, not the latter. In other words, it is always God's attempt to put one's faith into action and do the right thing; that is, "to trust" Him. In the Epistle of James, we read: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not tempt anyone" (James 1:12).

We rightly stand in total awe and admiration of how Abraham, and yes, even his son Isaac, handled their test. It was the ultimate sacrifice. Yet neither of them balked at it or even questioned it. For his part, Abraham was resolute in carrying out this mission and sacrificed his son of promise.

And suppose the scholars are correct in their surmise that Isaac was about 13 years old. In that case, Isaac's willing submission to this scenario is also unique, as God Himself acknowledged when He spared Isaac's life at the last moment. Abraham and Isaac passed the test of faith with flying colors.

No amount of human staying power, intestinal fortitude, conviction, love, or even rationalization would have enabled Abraham and Isaac to pass this test. Their strength and their faith could not have come from within themselves. It had to come from somewhere else.

And, indeed, it had come from somewhere else. They trusted in God, even when it looked like God Himself was their enemy, because of the promise God had previously given them that the Seed of Isaac would bring blessing to all the nations. The writer to the Hebrews speaks of that bold conviction of faith. We read: "He (Abraham) considered that God can raise men even from the dead, from which he also received Isaac back as a type."

That is the sort of God our God is: He tests His children so that He might remove all false and weak supports in their lives and replace them with an immovable, solid, stalwart confidence in God's Word of promise alone.

In times of trial, some people console themselves with the thought that God will never give them more than they can handle. Indeed, God has said through His apostle Paul, "God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

The key to understanding this promise is not that God won't give us some unfathomable tests or that He won't ever give us a test that we, in and of ourselves, can't handle. After all, given all our frailties, we can handle little to nothing. Instead, the key is that God always gives us the way out. That way out is through faith in His promise. The test under God's grace is always designed to enable us to see that we have no strength, can't make it on our own, and that all our earthly supports are useless. The test then, in turn, moves us to look beyond ourselves and our resources and to see that God in Christ is our solution. As God said to St. Paul, "My strength is made complete in your weakness. When you are weak, then I am strong."

That is the sort of god you have. God tests you to look to His Word of Promise alone because you will be safe, comforted, and victorious in His grace and strength. Martin Luther wrote: "One must act similarly (as Abraham) in all other trials. Wherever we experience the opposite of a promise, we should maintain the assurance that when God shows Himself differently from the way the promise speaks, this is merely a temptation. Therefore, we should not allow this promise to be wrested from our hands." (p. 94).

With this understanding, we are now ready to see the second valuable truth about what sort of being our God is. Through God's dealings with Abraham and Isaac, we are made to see that God is the God who, in unfathomable grace and love for us, is willing to provide the sacrifice Himself!

Abraham did just as he was told. He gathered all he would need and headed off with Isaac and two of his servants for the mountain to which God had directed him. It took them three days to reach their destination. Imagine the increasing agony and trepidation that must have consumed this father's heart with every passing mile. The life of his poor, naive son was about to be brutally ended, and by his hand!

When they reached the mountain, Abraham commanded his servants to stay behind. He then loaded the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac, took up the ingredients for the fire and the instrument of his death, the knife, and walked up the face of the mountain to the place of the sacrifice.

As they walked, the most unbearable dialogue occurred between a father and a son. Isaac asked his father, "Father, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham's heart must have died within him!

However, "You are the sacrifice, son," did not come from this father's lips. Instead came Abraham's reply: "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." That was no white lie or attempt to protect Isaac from learning the horrible truth. Abraham responded with humble confidence in God's loving nature and faithfulness to His promise. As we heard from the holy writer to the Hebrews, Abraham was so confident that God would not go back on His promise that even if he allowed Isaac to die at Abraham's hand, He would raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).

Abraham's hope did not go unfulfilled. After Abraham had bound Isaac in the fashion of sacrifices and set him on the altar, he raised his knife to cut Isaac's throat. At just the right moment, when God could see that Abraham would carry it out, He immediately stayed Abraham's hand. By the mouth of His angel, the LORD called out to Abraham, "Do not lay a hand on the boy. I know you fear God because you have not withheld your only son from me."

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by his horns in the bushes beside the altar. Abraham understood. He took hold of the ram and sacrificed it on the altar in place of his son. The LORD "saw to it Himself." He provided the sacrifice. Isaac was set free from physical death and Abraham from emotional death! What a great end to a remarkable test! Abraham called the place, "The Lord will provide."

One is hard-pressed to listen to the account of Abraham's testing and not see the parallel to God the Father supplying for you and me an even greater sacrifice. As we heard earlier, the writer to the Hebrews also noted that Abraham received Isaac back "as a type" (Heb. 11:19, NASB). In other words, Isaac pictured Jesus himself.

The real story behind the story is that God did not ask Abraham to do anything he was unwilling to do himself. God the Father, willingly and without hesitation, offered up His only begotten and beloved Son. God the Father also placed the wood of His sacrifice on His son's back. Jesus was made to carry his cross. The site of Isaac's sacrifice was Mount Moriah, which centuries later became the site on which the temple of Solomon was built. Likewise, a little farther west on the same hill, at a sight called "The Place of the Skull" (Golgotha), Jesus was crucified. Who cannot also see the son's willing submission to his father's will? Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but your be done."

We can genuinely see Isaac as a type of (or figure of) Christ. But it is also apparent how Isaac can represent usβ€”those who, through faith in Jesus Christ, benefit from His sacrifice. Because of our sins, we deserve to be put to death under the wrath of God. But at the right time, God stepped in to supply the ram to be sacrificed in our place. As John the Baptist would testify of Jesus, He is the Lamb of God that takes away the world's sin." God the Father gave His Son the substitutionary sacrifice for us all in His love!

That, dear friends, is the kind of God you have! The God who bears the cross for you! He supplies Himself as the sacrifice for your sin! Abraham's cry of Lent and Easter is Abraham's: "The LORD provides the sacrifice!" That is the joy and living hope of every Christian. That also enables you to continue in faith even when God's face looks angry toward you or when He requires something that seems to contradict His voice of promise. The LORD, Who supplies Himself as Your sacrifice also in His grace, blesses you through your testing to endure in faith and hope! What a God you have!

More Sermons

Access more of our sermons