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Posts Tagged "Genesis 22:1-14"

Via Dolorosa

March 29, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth weekend in Lent comes from our Old Testament text, where we hear Isaac ask his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” and Abraham’s response, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Hadn’t his faith been tested enough? A perusal of Abraham’s life to this point shows incredible periods of testing. When he leaves his homeland and family for Canaan … when they have to go to Egypt in the midst of a famine … going to battle in order to rescue his nephew Lot … witnessing the destruction and literal overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah … all the while, enduring the barrenness of his wife, Sarai, and yet having the promise of becoming a great nation, of having offspring as numerous as the stars. He and his wife tried to do everything that they could think of to ensure this promise came true – even going so far as to have Abram lay with Sarai’s servant girl Hagar and father a son that way; we all know how that ended. To say that it had been an emotional and spiritual roller coaster for Abram – now called Abraham – is an understatement.

But then came the promise of a son … from his own body, even though he and his wife were nearly a century old at that point. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely scenario playing out, but YHWH made this promise to Abraham and Sarah ... and it was fulfilled in the birth of their son, Isaac, the child of promise. Now, several years later, YHWH tells Abraham to do something that seems unthinkable, seems to fly in the face of all the promises made thus far: sacrifice his only son, the child of promise, and seemingly throw all those promises to the wind.

Again, hadn’t he been tested enough? For all his foibles and failings, Abraham had proven himself time and again to be faithful to YHWH, his new God. He’d listened to the call, heeded the visions, built the altars, even literally cutting a covenant with YHWH in his own flesh. So as Abraham and Isaac are walking away from the attendants, up Mount Moriah’s slope, with Isaac carrying the wood and the fire and asking his father where the lamb for sacrifice was, the question is, why? Why did YHWH test Abraham this way? Why make him endure this impossible test? Why would He ask Abraham to do something that, if completed faithfully according to God’s word, would have conceivably resulted in the destruction of all the promises that YHWH had made to this point, including the coming of the Messiah from Abraham’s seed?

It’s hard for us to wrestle with this. We who know the whole story can’t really imagine what it would have been like to be in Abraham’s shoes during the long trek up the via dolorosa of Moriah’s hill. We know how the story ends, how the Angel of YHWH intervenes just as Abraham is about to strike the killing blow, how Abraham lifts up his eyes to see a ram caught in a thicket, and how he offers it as a sacrifice to YHWH instead of Isaac. We know how Abraham passes the test. We know how he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. So, seeing as how God is omnipotent, all-knowing, surely He knew Abraham was more than willing to follow God’s command, so why did God even bother testing him in the first place?

I’m sure that’s a question you’ve asked of God yourself in your own trials and tribulations, sufferings and uncertainties. I know that it’s a thought that has crossed the minds of many in recent weeks as this new plague has swept over our nation and our world. Hasn’t our faith been tested enough, O LORD? As the body count climbs and the new cases grow exponentially, haven’t we endured enough? Why make us go through this? … We’re asking the wrong question here.

Setting aside the fact that what we are enduring is the product of living in a broken, sinful world, and the fact that, as we confessed a few minutes ago, we justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment for our sin, it misses the point entirely. Difficult as it may be to wrap our minds around, the reality is that Abraham … is a spectator in this pericope. To a greater or lesser extent, so is Isaac. God Himself is the center and focus here, and not so much His putting Abraham’s faith to the test, but rather His faithfulness.

We’re going to be singing a well-known hymn momentarily: “The Lamb, the Lamb – O father, where’s the sacrifice? Faith sees, believes God will provide the Lamb of price!” Our faith is a response to God’s faithfulness. He had shown Himself to be faithful through all the years of Abraham’s life. He had kept His word of promise thus far, even if it took Him some time to do so! Here again, YHWH proves Himself to be faithful, by not allowing the child of promise to be slaughtered! Even through the subsequent generations of Abraham’s descendants, as they proved themselves time and again to be faithless, YHWH proved Himself to be faithful. He always allowed a remnant to remain, never snuffing out a smoldering wick. Until the time came when YHWH Himself would show His faithfulness as He Himself trudged up another hill – Golgotha, by name. He carried, not a bundle of wood, nor fire, nor a blade, but rather a cross.

There’s a reason why our upcoming hymn makes the connection between this episode of YHWH’s faithfulness to Abraham and what YHWH incarnate, Jesus Christ, did on the cross of Calvary. Our faithlessness notwithstanding, our God is always faithful to His Word. It’s worth mentioning that His Word does not say that we won’t face times of testing. It doesn’t say that life will be hunky-dory and that we won’t face trials and tribulations; quite to the contrary, it says that we will face these things! But we are able to face them – not because of the faith that we have, but because Who our faith is placed in is faithful to His promises. Promises like, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Promises like, “Your sins are forgiven.” Promises like, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” We will not be spared suffering and testing, but we have God’s promise that, since Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa on our behalf, our sins are forgiven, and eternal life is ours. Yes, we should all aspire to endure times of trial and testing like Abraham did on Mount Moriah, but more than this, we trust how YHWH kept His promises to Abraham, even on that dark day of testing, and He keeps His promises to you.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion

February 28, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

Self-disclosure: I share many of the tastes of my wife’s family, especially in their love of the movie, “The Sound of Music.” The music alone is enough to fall in love with it, let alone the plot, but one of the more standout features is the cinematography, especially the wide, sweeping panoramas of the Austrian Alps. There’s a reason why those shots are so powerful; mountains are majestic. They inspire us. They have symbolic meaning for us—as in, “Climb every mountain.” Mountains are amazing geological structures, but do they also cause us terror and dread? Maybe the early pioneers, as they forged their way west, saw mountains as obstacles and were overwhelmed by what stood in the way of their journey. Did they view them with trepidation? I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to say that Abraham in our text must have experienced feelings of dread when Mount Moriah came into view.

The Lord came to Abraham and instructed him to take his son – his only son, mind you – to Mount Moriah and offer him up, to sacrifice him on an altar on that mountain. Abraham loaded the donkey with wood, and he headed for the region of Moriah. We can only imagine what that journey must have been like! Abraham knew what lay ahead, but Isaac was clueless. What do you talk about? How do you act? When you know that the death of your child—your only child, by your own hands—lies in your path, how do you say the things that need to be said without giving away the intent of your journey? Well, after three days, Abraham lifted up his eyes and there it was—Mount Moriah. The time had come.

Sin requires sacrifice. Payment must be made to satisfy the debt.  Sin has exiled man from God; the only way to return from this exile is to pay what is demanded, and the price … is blood. So, to satisfy the payment demanded, Abraham prepares to offer up his only son.

Isaac bears the wood upon which he will be sacrificed up the mount, and he wonders and asks, “Where is the lamb for sacrifice?” He knows there must be blood shed to atone for sin. He knows the ritual. He knows, and he wants to know where the sacrifice is. Abraham’s heart must have been ripped from his chest at the question. How do you answer? What do you say? Abraham responds in faith, even though the tears are, undoubtedly, pushing at his eyes. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

Abraham has faith. He trusts. He knows the Lord will provide the lamb for sacrifice, but is the lamb Isaac? He doesn’t know, and you imagine that his feet are dragging, and his heart is heavy in a way none of us can understand. Is the sacrifice Isaac? Abraham builds the altar … he arranges the wood … he places his only son upon the wood … he raises the knife to deal the killing blow . . . and the Lord stays his hand! The Lord provides a sacrifice, a ram caught in the thicket. And thus it is said, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

So powerful is this account, so intense the drama, so shocking the faith, so amazing the rescue that the Hebrew people will later build the temple on this very hill. This very hill, this mountain is where God dwells with His people. This mountain is Mount Zion! The Hebrew people revere this account of Abraham and Isaac so highly that it has its own title and place in their faith. They call it the Aqedah, the Hebrew word for “binding.” Isaac is the only “bound,” tied-down sacrifice in the Old Testament. All other sacrifices are first killed and then placed upon the altar as their blood is poured and sprinkled. Isaac is the only bound sacrifice, the only living sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the rest of the Bible, there is only one other.

“On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” On this mountain, the sacrifice of the only-begotten Son of God will be provided. He, too, is a bound sacrifice as He is nailed to the tree to suffer and die. Sin – our sin – has exiled us from God. Blood is required for payment, and on the mountain of the Lord, He provides. That sacrifice takes place on another mountain, Calvary. Here, Jesus carries the wood for His sacrifice – a cross. And from that tree on that mountain, the blood of the Lamb of God is brought to Mount Zion. Jesus Christ brings His own blood onto Mount Zion, into the temple, through the curtain, and into the Most Holy Place. The temple curtain is ripped in two, and the blood of the Lamb is poured out on the Mercy Seat. The Lord provides the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Abraham makes a three-day journey to Mount Moriah prior to the sacrifice of his son. Jesus makes a three-day journey, as well, but it follows His sacrifice. For three days, He lies in the tomb. For three days, the grave holds Him. But on that third day, Jesus is lifted up to new life, a glorious resurrection. God provided His Son, His only Son, as the sacrifice required for sin, and all who believe in Him shall not perish, for God provides the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, on this mountain.

Mount Moriah to Mount Zion—a return from exile. We who have been exiled from the presence of God by our sin have been restored to His presence, returned to look upon His face. We are reunited on this mountain, where God provides His only Son, and where He provides the bloody payment for sin. On this mountain, as the curtain is ripped in two, the gates of heaven are thrown open to those who believe and call upon His name. On this mountain, make no mistake, the Lord provides.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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