In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
This reading has been a horror for people the world over throughout the ages. Especially for parents. They react with shock. Revulsion. Or, “I just don’t have enough faith to do that.” Why do we react this way? Because we are judging God.
There are two things you have to keep in mind: there are places where God is hidden and places where God is revealed. We are told to seek the Lord while He may be found. (Isa. 55:6) We must not to seek Him outside of where He reveals Himself. If you do that you will only find a God who has not explained Himself and has no intention of explaining Himself. Who has hidden His ways. The god of power. The god of terrible, swift, merciless justice. Or, the god who lets things go, who seems like he doesn’t care at all about wickedness or the suffering of the righteous. A god of tornados, earthquakes, natural disasters, cancer. A horrifying, merciless god whose only message to you is, “I judge wickedness. Therefore, you must be wicked if you suffer.”
This means there are two ways to view this horrifying happening: the way of the Law—which is the way of cold, hard facts, comparisons, counting, and measuring, of God’s decrees, do this and you shall live, it is impossible; and there is the way of Gospel—the way of His gifts, of His mercy, of His power made perfect in we who are weak. (2 Cor. 12:9) The way of Himself.
Abraham’s son, Isaac, is the first gift we look at—his only son, whom he loves, the son of God’s promise, given him when he was 100 years old (Gen. 21:5), whom he had waited for for 25 years. (Gen. 12:4) Over those 25 years Abraham doubted the Lord’s promises many times. So the Lord—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God in human form, Jesus—kept appearing to Abraham. He kept speaking. (Rom. 10:17) He kept repeating, renewing and revealing more of His promise to Abraham. (Gal. 3:16, 18, 22) You will have a son. (Gen. 15:4) All the nations of earth will be blessed through him. (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) And finally when Abraham is 99 years old, after 24 years, the Lord says, “Now is the time. It’s now so impossible that this is only happening by My Word, on My schedule, because it is My plan, and I will make it happen. (Gen. 17:17; 18:10) I will provide. Why? Because I promised to Eve so long ago that I would send a saviour born from her line. (Gen. 3:15) And now I am using you to send that saviour.” (Gen. 12:3)
But there are even more gifts than this son of promise. The Lord gives Himself to Abraham. He keeps appearing. Not in judgment. Not to give terrible dictates. But to call, gather and enlighten Abraham and his family. To bless them. To mercy them. To promise salvation for the whole world through them. (Gen. 12:3) This calls Abraham and his family to faith. It causes them to accomplish mighty things, impossible things. Why? Because God is gifting them. With Himself. With His promises. He does not lie. (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2) He may make you wait. He may not answer the way you think He will or should. But He does not lie. He accomplishes His saving purposes—He makes good on what He has said. His gospel promise to you. Your eternal salvation.
Thus, Abraham, knows the Lord’s promise. I will have a child because the Lord promised. (Gen. 18:10) A child of promise. A beloved child. My only child of my wife. It is through this child that God will make my name great, will make me a great nation, will save all mankind, blessing all the families of the world through my offspring. (Gen. 21:12b; Heb. 11:18) Thus, when the Lord comes knocking, saying, “Sacrifice this child.” Abraham who has, like all of us, shown that he is both a man of faith and a man of sin, simultaneously existing in one body, because God has raised faith in him who was a sinner, he doesn’t cling to the facts on the ground, thinking, “But if I kill my child how will God accomplish His promises?” No. At this moment God works faith in His promises (Heb. 11:17-19), impossible faith (Heb. 11:1), faith you or I can not have except that the Holy Spirit call, gather, and enlighten us by His gifts with such faith. And Abraham does what the Lord said. (Gen. 22:3ff)
Abraham does not lie when he says, “I and the child will go over there and worship and come back.” (Gen. 22:5) Abraham knows God’s promises. This child is promised by God (Gen. 18:10), a father of the one who will save all mankind. If a sacrifice has to happen for this to occur, so be it. Amen.
And yet we cringe. I’m sure Abraham did too. But in faith he confessed, “God will for Himself provide a lamb for the burnt offering.” (Gen. 22:8) So the father lays the wood on his son, his only son whom he loves. Isaac carries the wood of the sacrifice up the mount of Moriah—the same mount up which the Lamb of God carried the wood for His sacrifice for the sins of the world.
By His death Jesus, Isaac’s offspring, possessed the gates of his enemy. (Gen. 22:17b) Death is no longer our enemy for it belongs to Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 15:55-57) It is now the gate to eternal life with Him.
Our horror at this event is because we are staring at the hidden god. We are not seeing Jesus, God’s revealed gift to us, by whose stripes we are healed, by whose death we live, by whose promise our salvation is made sure for us. Who reveals Himself again to you this day in His Supper. Where He hides Himself under bread and wine, gifting you with Himself, with His life force (Lev. 17:11), with His righteousness.
The Lord will not tell you to sacrifice your child. He provided Himself as a Lamb. Sacrifice is finished in Him. (John 19:30) He is given to you this day. Don’t worry if you haven’t got the faith to do whatever thing you know you should. He is in you. He will do it in you or in spite of you, as He did it for Abraham.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON