Today’s sermon was written and preached by our field worker, Seminarian Matthew Fenn.
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 He said, “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 on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (ESV)
“God tested Abraham.” It’s one of the most brilliantly told and emotionally heavy narratives in all the Bible. Imagine the dialogue in the first scene for a moment. Abraham heard God’s thunderous voice call his name, “Abraham!” “I’m at your service, Lord!” Abraham was eager and willing to respond to God’s call. “You know your son?” “Yes, Isaac.” “Isaac is your only son, isn’t he?” “Yes,” Abraham replies. “You love him, don’t you?” “Oh, yes,” confirms Abraham, “He has brought me such joyous laughter. He means the world to me.” After a bit of a pause, God replies, “Kill him for me, then, will you?”
A Father is Willing to Sacrifice
God tested Abraham. The reader knows that, but Abraham doesn’t. Abraham was forced to choose between obedience to a horrific command he didn’t understand, and his love for his only son. God did not intend that the command should be carried out, but Abraham has no way of knowing this.
Can you feel his distress? Consider for a moment just what it took to get this child in the first place. Abraham had gone most of his life childless. He no doubt had resigned himself to having no children. Then, out of nowhere, God told the couple in their nineties that they’re going to have a son. Isaac is not merely any son but the son through whom God will keep the promise to Abraham to fulfill a purpose for the world. That same promise which was made in the Garden to Eve. But now that same child of the promise is threatened.
But, hadn’t Abraham already proved his faith? Didn’t he leave his home city and go to a far off country on nothing but God’s command? Yes, but at the same time, Abraham had shown some problems trusting God. When God promised a son, he took matters into his own hands and slept with his maidservant Hagar. That did not turn out well. Additionally, he lied on two different occasions that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. He had also previously questioned God about the morality and justice of God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
God wanted to see if Abraham trusts him now? Is he willing to give up what he loves most, his only son Isaac to God? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Could I do it? Abraham didn’t complain. He didn’t argue. He got up early the next morning, he grabbed a couple servants, and headed out. Could you do it? What is it that you love most in this world? If God came to you and asked you to give up what you loved most, could you do it? In a world where we love and cling to many things, remember the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” Whatever you place all your love and all your trust in, whatever you look to for blessing, help, and comfort, that is your god. Do you cherish, love, and adore God more than anything else in the entire world? God wants nothing to take His place. That’s what God was testing Abraham to find out. “Is your son more important than me? Where did he come from in the first place?” Everything we have in this world is a gift from God. God may not test you in quite the dramatic way He did to Abraham, He still requires you to fear, love, and trust in
Him above everything and everyone.
A Son is Led Without Complaint
After a three days journey, Abraham told his servants to stay back with the animals. “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and we will come back to you.” What does he mean? How can they both come back, if he is to kill Isaac? Or is he working on the basis of knowing that God is quite able to resurrect Isaac? If God could give him a child in his nineties, surely, he could raise him from the dead!
“So they went both of them together.”. This is a very tender moment. Isaac completely trusts his father. Off they go, Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice. If God said, “through Isaac shall your offspring be,” then God would raise Isaac from the ashes. Abraham believes in the resurrection of the dead. Up to this point in the journey, the donkey had carried the wood for the sacrifice. But from this point on, it would be just father and son. Abraham being well over 100 years old, loaded the wood for the sacrifice on the back of his son, his only son, whom he loves, Isaac.
It reminds me of my Isaac. I’ll say to him, “Come on Isaac, let’s go!” And hold out my hand. The little guy grabs my hand and excitedly follows me. Complete trust. Isaac loves his father Abraham and trusts him completely. After they went on a way, Isaac realized that if they’re going to offer a burnt offering, they forgot to bring an animal. “Wood and fire daddy, but where’s the lamb?” Abraham, like a good father, reassured his son. The Lord will provide for himself a lamb. And again, we read, “So they went on, the two of them together,” the son, carrying the wood on which he will be killed.
Abraham prepared the sacrifice in each of its painful details. Isaac said nothing. He was completely silent. By now he must realize something was going on. There was no sign of a struggle. The son went willingly in perfect obedience to his father. He didn’t say anything. He was completely silent and cooperative, because it was his daddy, and he trusts him.
But, he also knew his daddy has a powerful God who can do mighty things. Can you imagine the impression that Abraham’s actions must have had upon his son? Isaac must have seen in his father’s faith in God’s promise. Long after Abraham was dead, Isaac would remember his father’s trust in God and pass on this story to his children. How many of us fathers can hope to think that our sons and daughters will see the same in us as Isaac saw in his father? What is our legacy? What will we give to our children when we die? We like to get our wills in order because we have this desire to make sure our children get some money! But, have you made sure you’ve given them the treasure of heaven, something that’s eternal?
A Substitute is Offered
The knife is midair when Abraham’s hand is stopped by a voice from heaven. “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Isaac was spared, and a lamb was offered in His place. The test was over. Abraham feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things.
Now this bothers us to no end. Surely God could have looked into Abraham’s heart and seen the faith that the Holy Spirit had created there without putting him through this living hell. We want God to just look inside us and see our faith. But God looks at what we do as the evidence of our faith. Faith without works is a dead faith. It’s not our works that save us before
God. But let’s not kid ourselves. Our works are the outward evidence of the faith which is God’s own work inside us. As the hymn puts it, “works serve our neighbour and supply the proof that faith is living” (LSB 555).
Here in Genesis we see a picture of the Gospel. God the Father loves His Son. They shared in eternal fellowship and communion with each other. If we can grasp what the love of a father and a son is like, we have some small idea of how the Father loves the Son. This Son had a miraculous birth, like Isaac did. This Son was born of a virgin on Christmas day. The Father, despite his deep love for His Son, is ready and willing to sacrifice him. The Lord will provide and has provided His own Son. He sent his son to take on human flesh so that he might be sacrificed. The Son is led without complaint or resistance to the Cross.
God put a momentary but difficult demand on Abraham, but it was a demand God was also prepared to fulfill. If you can imagine the anguish and turmoil Abraham must have been going through, imagine now, what God the Father went through when His Son was beaten and mocked. And then, already suffering from a scourging which turned his back to bleeding ribbons of quivering flesh, the wood of the Cross was laid upon his shoulders. Then, led away to a high mountain. And there he was crucified for you, while you were still God’s enemy. God the Father has not withheld his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves, from you. In Isaac’s case, an angel intervened, and he got a lamb as a substitute. When it was Jesus’ turn to lay on his altar, the wood of the Cross, there would be no such intervention, nobody would stop this sacrifice. Jesus is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the substitute. He is sacrificed in your place. So then dear saints, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how would he not with him graciously give us all things?”