February 26 2012 Sermon
Genesis 22:1 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.” 15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
“Why me?” We have probably all uttered those words at one point or another when we’ve been hit with a seemingly unbearable trial in our lives. It just doesn’t make sense to us. How could this be happening to me? Why is this happening to me? How am I going to get through this? Do these questions sound familiar?
When we read our Old Testament reading for today, it would seem that Abraham would certainly be justified in asking God, “Why me?” but in our text we discover that EVEN AS WE’RE ASKING, “WHY ME?” GOD IS AT WORK IN THE MIDST OF LIFE’S TRIALS.
Abraham might surely have asked, “Why me?” God made an amazing request of him: to offer up his son as a burnt offering, a sacrifice to God. This surely did not make sense to Abraham. This was the son that God had given him after many long years of waiting. He and his wife Sarah were both very old. Abraham as 100 and Sarah 90 when Isaac was born. Now was some 13 years later. Isaac was the heir that God had promised who would continue God’s covenant promise to Abraham. The Messiah, the Christ, was to be his descendent. Abraham loved Isaac! As the two made their three day journey to Mount Moriah Abraham was wondering, “why me?” As they made the trek up the mountain, Isaac himself carrying the wood for the fire, asked his father, “Where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?” Pain pierced his father’s heart. “God will provide,” he responded.
God’s request was met with faith and obedience. Abraham trusted God. He trusted in spite of the years he waited for his son to be born and the hardship he and Sarah endured. He trusted in spite of the future plans God predicted through that son. And Abraham did as God commanded. He obeyed in spite of the 3 day journey that gave him plenty of time to change his mind. He trusted in spite of the pain he felt at Isaac’s question. “God will provide the lamb,” he told himself.
But why was this happening? Because of sin. Burnt offerings were for the atonement of sin. Blood was shed, “For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” In the burnt offerings we behold God’s attack on sin. There’s violence. There’s blood spilling on the ground. There’s the fire of God’s wrath consuming the victim and turning it to ashes. “Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes,” we say at the burial of the dead. It’s a terrifying thing to face an angry God. What one sees in this holocaust is what God would do to everyone of us on account of our sinful nature. As we contemplate that sacrifice, we see in it our own bloody death on account of our sinful nature. As we contemplate that fire of vengeance we see the eternal punishment that you and I deserve. None of this made sense to Abraham that day.
But while Abraham was asking, “Why me?” God was answering, “I will.” “I will provide the lamb.” And God did. God would not allow Abraham to go through with it. For in the end, the attack on sin—atonement and forgiveness—is God’s work, not ours. So God stopped Abraham’s hand and prevented him from taking his son’s life. And there in the bushes was a lamb, God’s lamb, to take Isaac’s place and be the sacrifice. “I will provide the Lamb,” says God.
God did provide the Lamb who took our place. A sacrifice is demanded on account of our sins. God’s wrath must be satisfied. There must be violence. There must be shedding of blood. There must be fiery punishment. There must be death. For the wages of sin is death.
Until this old man of sin in each one of us is crushed, shattered, and ground into dust, sin remains in our mortal flesh. It is painful to shed blood. It is painful to be burned. It is painful to be reduced to ashes. We cry out in anguish, “Why me?” But it is God’s work, not ours. The trials we endure, the pain and suffering in this life, must come. They are God working to crush our sinful nature and pulverize our love of self. We cannot do it ourselves. We cannot destroy the sin that lives inside us. We cannot change our sinful nature. Only God can accomplish that in us. “Not by works, but by faith.”
So, as God provided the Lamb who took Isaac’s place in the holocaust, God provided the Lamb for you; the substitute who hung on the cross in your place. The Christ of God took our sins upon himself. God’s fiery wrath was poured out. There was violence. There was bloodshed. There was death. And there was a dead body placed in the ground. The cross of Christ is God’s attack on your sin. But Jesus stood in your place and took God’s wrath for you; he did it for you. As you meditate on the cross this Lenten season, you see God’s wrath against your sin; you see God’s substitute taking your place, standing between God’s wrath and you.
Today, as baptized believers in Jesus, you live under the cross of Jesus. You share in his suffering and death. God is still at work pulverizing and crushing the old man of sin in your flesh. That work is God’s work, not yours. Like Abraham, God will not let you do the work, but God does it through the pruning of the vine, the painful trials you suffer, the crushing weight of all life’s problems, the illness, the disease, the aging and deteriorating body until you are finally placed in the ground. For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.
But, Isaac was given another chance to live. God provided the Lamb who took his place. Figuratively, he was raised from the dead by the Lamb. Life was given back to him. So you too shall be raised from the dead. After you have died and return to the ground, you shall be raised up and given new life. That too is what the cross of Christ is all about; resurrection from the dead. God’s “I will provide the Lamb”, is God giving life to you; raising you back to life. After the old man of sin is finally crushed and done away, you will be raised a new man, totally free from the bondage of sin, totally cleansed and purged of all sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. You will have a new nature, one created in the image of God. The old man of sin will be destroyed.
God does his work in the midst of our “Why me’s?” He is at work to provide “his will.” He will provide the Lamb in our suffering and pain; in our trials and fires. God is at work, working on you. To crush you back into dust so he can raise you again from the dead. God will provide for those who endure trials. It may seem like a fiery holocaust; but God is at work in you and he will provide the Lamb. We have probably all uttered the words, “Why me?” when faced with a serious trial in life. God would turn our focus away from ourselves and toward him when we are faced with trials. For we know that God is at work in the midst of trials. God works in us and through us in the midst of trials to accomplish his purposes. So perhaps instead of “Why me?” a more appropriate question might be, “What do you wish to accomplish in me and through me?” May God give us the faith by which he will work in us and through us.
As we go through the season of Lent and journey toward the final suffering and death of Jesus, we will meditate on the Passion of Christ. And as we place our sins upon Jesus in confession and absolution, they will receive the fiery wrath of God. In that tortured and smitten body of Jesus, God will attack our sin and lay it in the tomb and seal it tight. Then, on Easter morning we will be raised from the dead and given new life; born anew in Baptism; nourished and refreshed in Holy Communion. It is God’s doing. He will provide the Lamb.