Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon for the fifth Sunday in Lent, 3/29/2020. A recording of the Matins service, including this sermon, is available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent V Matins Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the fifth Sunday in Lent, click here.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
So they picked up stones to throw at Him,
But Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. verses 58-59
Jesus hid Himself. And so, now we can’t see Him.
With that we, the Church, enter now into Passiontide. That’s why the images of Jesus here in the sanctuary are veiled, and the Gloria Patri has been struck from the liturgy; because Jesus has hidden Himself.
Of course, we’ve done this for years and years; but all of it seems rather unnecessary on a morning like this one; maybe even a bit dramatic. Who needs Jesus to hide Himself, and to leave the temple, when you can’t get here to begin with?
And haven’t we had enough of this anyways? Haven’t we had enough exile and enough absence? Haven’t we had enough of Jesus being removed from our sight?
Those gathered around our Lord with stones in their hands were not concerned with this. They had what they desired. They had their lineage and their laws. They had Abraham and Isaac. At least they thought they did.
And so, even as Jesus stood there in front of them – Even as He proclaimed Himself to be God, the Lord, the “I AM,” who is before Moses and Abraham, and even the world… Even then Jesus was hidden from them.
It would have been much better for these sons of Abraham if they believed like their father. Abraham saw Jesus’ day and he rejoiced in it. But they do not see it, even as it is dawning before them.
Abraham saw Jesus’ day from a distance. In the near sacrifice of Isaac; in the providence of the ram caught in the thicket; in the sacrifice that cost him nothing; Abraham did not see the temporary reprieve of Isaac. Abraham saw the future. Abraham saw the Christ and His cross.
And so, he named that place not “The Lord has provided,” but, “The Lord will provide.”
By faith Abraham saw what was hidden. As he pulled the ram from the thorns, as he raised his knife, as he felt the warm blood pour out, he knew. This is what God would do.
Abraham looked at the ram and saw the past and the future all at once. He saw Jesus, the One slain from the foundation of the world, the eternal Sacrifice that sets Isaac free, and he rejoiced.
So now, this morning. On that same mountain where the ram was slain and Isaac was released, on that same mountain where Abraham declared that the Lord would provide, there, in the temple, Jesus presents Himself to Abraham’s sons.
He is the Lord, the great “I AM.” He is the Voice that came from the burning bush. He is the Ram wrapped in thorns, and sacrificed in the place of sinners. He is the Scapegoat, the Peace Offering, the Whole Burnt Offering, He is the Guilt Offering and the Meal Offering. He is the Promise and the Fulfillment. He is the Messiah. To them and to all of us, Jesus has made Himself known.
But if this is so, if Christ has unhidden Himself to us, then why bother with the veils?
The veils that cover our images of Jesus, like the absence of the Gloria Patri and our “Alleluia’s,” like the cold distance between us even now, serve as a reminder that this is our fault; that by our sin and our sins, with our first father, Adam, we have hidden ourselves.
It is our sin that has come between us and God. It is our sin that has come between us and one another.
We do, in fact, deserve plagues and poverty. We actually deserve suffering and death, and for Jesus to be hidden from us.
But our God does not give to us what we deserve. For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
And what good would it do? What good would it do for us to die for our own sins? What good would it do for Jesus to stay hidden, when He has revealed Himself? What good would be the blood of Isaac upon the altar, when Jesus has given Himself instead?
I pray that on the other side of this we will be something more like Abraham; that we will approach God’s gifts with new appreciation; that we would see the Church, our families, our friends, and everything else with new eyes, and understand how we allowed these things to be hidden from us for so long.
Walking down the mountain, Abraham found that whatever love he had for Isaac before was just an illusion. He thought he could love Isaac, but he had not reckoned with sin – the sin that separates him from God and us from one another. And so, loving his son truly was impossible.
Abraham learned that he couldn’t get to Isaac without going through Jesus. But once he’d given up Isaac, once he had Jesus, revealed to him in the ram, Abraham found that he received Isaac back, not as he had been before, but better; not as a son to whom he had given life, but as a son whom God had raised from the dead.
Dear Christians, you have received the Holy Spirit. By faith you see what Abraham saw. By faith you behold what was hidden to the Pharisees with stones in their hands. By faith you lay hold of the One Who IS, even if now today you do so from a distance, He is yours, nonetheless.
He is Jesus the Christ, the Mediator of a New Covenant (Hebrews 9), in Baptism He has bound Himself to you in the flesh. He is nearer than He seems.
He has entered once and for all into the holy places, not with the blood of goats and bulls, but with His own Blood, securing for you an eternal inheritance.
Knowing this, that forever is secure, you are free to be patient now. This, too, shall pass. The veils will be lifted again. They will be lifted from our crosses. They will be lifted from our hearts.
The veil will be lifted once again from our chalice. The Blood of the New Covenant will cross your parched lips. And we who have been restored to God, like Abraham and Isaac, will also be restored to one another.