Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fifth Sunday in Lent, 3/26/2023. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Lent5 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.
Jesus hid Himself. And so, now we can’t see Him.
With that, we, the Church, enter 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 still, it might seem a bit dramatic. Aren’t we supposed to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus?
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 so.
But 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, in plain view, 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.
In all these things, Abraham did not see the temporary reprieve of Isaac. Abraham saw the future. Abraham saw the Jesus and His cross. And so, he did not name that place “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 manifested Himself, if He has so lavishly unhidden Himself from us, then why bother with the veils?
The veils that cover our images of Jesus, serve as a reminder that this is our fault, too; that on account of our sins, which are hurled at Him like so many stones, Jesus can be hidden from our sight.
It is our sins that have come between us and God. And it is our sins that have come between us and one another.
We do, in fact, deserve the temporal and eternal consequences of our sins: plagues and poverty; corrupt leaders and depraved schools; inflated currency and deflated hopes. We do actually deserve for Jesus to be hidden from us. But our God does not give to us what we deserve. He is just, as we will hear again this Holy Week; but He is not fair.
And what good would it do? For God to be fair? 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 the blood of Isaac upon the altar be, when Jesus has given Himself instead?
Three years ago, I prayed on this very Sunday, that on the other side of the pandemic, we would be something more like Abraham; that we would 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 truly love Isaac, but he had not reckoned with sin – the sin that separated him from God and from Isaac; the sin that separates us from one another. And so, loving his son perfectly was impossible.
Abraham learned that he couldn’t get to Isaac without going through Jesus. But once he’d given up Isaac, and once he had Jesus, revealed to him in the ram – in God’s atoning sacrifice, then 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.
He is Jesus the Christ, the Mediator of a New Covenant. Hebrews 9
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. The veil that separates God and man has been torn. The Blood of the New Covenant has been poured out for you, and is this day poured into you.
And we who have been restored to God, like Abraham and Isaac, are restored to one another.