Advent Midweek 3, 2016
Genesis 22; Hebrews 11; Psalm 117
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Continuing with the theme of the Resurrection, especially in the Old Testament, we heard from Moses in Genesis regarding Abraham and Isaac.
If you’re like me, you noticed that the readings this evening were longer ones, except for the Psalm.
And, if you’re like me, at times, the readings are too long for our attention spans to bear. Sometimes the prayers drone on, what with the Lord-in-your-mercy’s and the Let-us-pray-to-the-Lord’s.
But what should we leave out?
You need to know that God tested Abraham.
You need to know that God tests your faith all the time. You need to know, even, that the devil tempts you constantly to sin.
And you need to know that tests from God expect success, God expects and desires faith. You need to know that God tempts no one (cf. James 1:13).
And you need to know that temptations, when they come, expect sin, unbelief, and failure.
You need to know that Abraham was told, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him [at Moriah] as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2).
You need to hear Abraham’s words, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5).
You need to know that Abraham wasn’t lying. He meant what he said. He said what he knew to be true.
But you need to hear that this father made his son carry the wood of his own sacrifice on his back.
And you need to hear Isaac say, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).
That’s a great question—Where’s the Lamb for the sacrifice?
You need to hear Abraham say, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).
You need to hear of and even envision Isaac, bound on the altar, silent as a sheep before its shearer, with Abraham reaching out knife-in-hand to slaughter his son.
You need to hear the angel of the Lord stop the sacrifice, saying: “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” (Genesis 22:12).
And, of course, you need to hear and remember that, behind Abraham, “was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns” (Genesis 22:13).
You need to hear and remember, again and again, what Abraham, Isaac, and every believer knows to be true: God provided for himself the lamb for the offering, because “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided” (Genesis 22:14). It was provided.
We need to read it all so we can hear it all. We need to train our bodies to wait patiently for the Lord, even when the readings and prayers and hymns and sermons are longer than we’d like them to be.
We need to hear it.
And with the reading from Hebrews…
We need to hear that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). That we deal, really, with certainties, even though they are unseen certainties.
We need to hear that by faith the people of old received their commendation (cf. Hebrews 11:2).
We need to hear that, by faith, “we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). Otherwise, we’ll believe the lies that we’ve all been taught about evolution and death.
We need to hear that, by faith, Abel offered a faithful sacrifice while Cain did not.
Abel trusted in God, and Cain trusted in himself.
We need to hear that, by faith, we please God. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
We need to hear that, by faith, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, though they died, still speak to us (cf. Hebrews 11:4). That is, we need to hear that the saints are good examples for us to follow.
We need to hear that “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ [Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
We need to hear it.
But I haven’t yet told you why you need to hear it.
Consider this: if we don’t hear Abraham say, “I and the boy will return…” If we don’t hear that “God will provide for himself the lamb…” If Abraham didn’t or won’t receive Isaac back from the dead…
Then God is cruel, taking the son from the mother and never giving him back.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations, through Isaac, that the nations would be blessed in him.
Then, the father of the promised child was commanded to sacrifice his only son.
These two words from God are completely contradictory.
This is child abuse from a negligent God, unless…
…Unless we believe in the resurrection.
…Unless Abraham believed in the resurrection.
It wasn’t an accident that Isaac walked away from Moriah. It wasn’t an accident that Jesus walked out of the tomb.
The resurrection is the plan.
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting is so important, because it is so different from what we experience.
Here’s what we observe:
Children get sick, and some die.
Adults get sick, and some die.
There are tragedies, and slow fades, there’s sadness and sometimes even relief. But all flesh is like the grass: “The grass withers, the flower fades…”
But it doesn’t end there. That verse doesn’t end there.
“…but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
And thus says the Lord: “‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided’” (Genesis 22:14).
And on the mount, it was provided.
Isaac walks away primarily because he’s not Jesus.
Only one promised son will die at God’s command.
God our Father sent His son from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from cradle to cross, with the wood for the sacrifice on His back.
We are Isaac, Barabbas, even, doomed to die and deserving of death, but ransomed by the Lamb that the Lord provided.
And it gets better.
Our’s is the God of the living—not of the dead (cf. Mark 12:27), that’s what Jesus says. So, if Jesus is your Lord and Christ, if you are a Christian, you’ll never die.
Now, based off experience, that’s laughable.
But Jesus says, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). How can this be, when what we experience is so different?
We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Death isn’t natural. It’s not part of life. Not part of what God intends or wants or promises or gives.
Life is natural. Life is what God intends, and desires, and promises, and gives. And everyone who lives in Christ, “everyone who lives and believes in [Jesus] shall never die.”
That is, God will return your loved ones to you. In Christ, they are alive.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!