Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fifth Sunday of Lent 3/21/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent5 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s Old Testament and Epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the fifth Sunday of Lent, click here.
For Abraham, this had all started with a promise. God had promised to Abraham that He would make him the father of many nations, and that the whole earth would be blessed through him. And to make that happen, God gave Abraham a son years after he and his wife had begun cashing their pension checks.
He had not promised Abraham another son after Isaac. Isaac was the child of promise. It started with a promise, but by all appearances, it would end like this:
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. verse 2
It seems that everything God has given to Abraham, He is about to take away. Nothing stings like the death of a child; but this is something completely other, something unthinkable. It’s hard to relate to Abraham’s reaction.
There is no questioning of God’s morality, no complaint about His methods, no attempt to explain away what God so precisely asked. Abraham doesn’t try to bargain or strike a deal.
God doesn’t even tell Abraham why he is being told to do this, what purpose it will serve, if any. There is no promise, except one. The only promise is the one that God made to Abraham from the start: that he would be the father of many nations through his son, Isaac.
So instead of the full range of reasonable responses, there is naked trust that God will make good on His promise. For he tells the young men who traveled with him:
Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you. verse 5
In other words: “We’ll be back.” Abraham trusts that somehow, in a way beyond his imagining, God will still make good on His promise – that somehow, he and Isaac would still go home together.
We don’t trust that way. Most of us wouldn’t even want to. Because to trust like that is to give over every ounce of power and control and hand it over. That is not in our nature. We want to determine the outcome of our lives, and of our deaths. We want to be in charge, because, in the end, we are the only ones we really trust.
Abraham trusted that the same God who gave him a son in his old age, could even bring Isaac back from death – that if He could make Adam from the dust, then breathing life into a pile of ashes seems just as possible.
And [so] Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac, his son. verse 6
Nowhere does Scripture give the impression that Isaac was a dull boy. Somewhere not so deep down, he knew what was going on. And so, when the wood for the burnt offering was laid on his back, when he literally felt the weight of what was coming, it only makes sense that he would gently, probe his father to see if there might be another option.
Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? verse 7
It is as if he said:
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. Luke 22:42
God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son. verse 8
And God would. Even if Abraham didn’t know how. That’s how Abraham and Isaac go forward – not fully understanding, only trusting.
You all know how things went. At just the right moment, there was a divine interruption; and God did exactly what Abraham said He would do. God provided the Sacrifice.
The Father said, “You’ll need to go.”
The Son said, “I’ll go.”
And the Holy Spirit went with Him.
So began the divine conspiracy. When Father, Son, and Holy Spirit breathed together, they conspired for your salvation.
And so, on a Christmas morning, 2,000 years ago, when we were in darkness, as God’s people brought forth sacrifices of their own, there was a divine interruption. Away in a manger, rough wood pressed against His soft, infant back. He would have to get used to that.
Because it would not be long before his best friends would leave him for dead, just as soon as they finished their debate on who was the greatest. It would not be long before His most devout disciple pretends not to know him. It would not be long before John the Baptizer’s words would be flipped upside down: when we could all look at ourselves and say: “Behold, the sin of the world, which takes away the Lamb of God.” It would not be long before Jesus Himself is bound as a sacrifice, carrying the wood to the mount the Lord would show Him.
I don’t really know if it’s true, but I like to believe the tradition that says the mount on which Isaac was to be sacrificed is Golgotha. It just makes a lot of sense to me. For when Abraham named the mountain, he did not call it “The Lord has provided” referencing a ram, caught in a thorny thicket. No. He called it “The Lord will provide.”
For years later, on the new mount Moriah, on Golgotha, there would be Jesus crowned with thorns, bound for sacrifice. So we can go ahead and change the name. We can call that place. “The Lord has provided” a greater sacrifice than Isaac, greater than the blood of that ram, and of bulls and beasts; Jesus the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. To Him be glory forever.