Thursday, December 09, 2010

Sermon on Genesis 22:1-18, for midweek Advent 2, "From Isaac to Jesus"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we began the Advent sermon series by talking about types, which are people or events, for example, that foreshadow a greater reality. Adam, as we saw, is a type of the Second and Greater Adam, Jesus Christ, who’s death undid the effects of Adam’s sin. In the second sermon of our Advent series, we’ll see how Isaac, the son of Abraham, foreshadowed Jesus, especially when Abraham was tested to sacrifice Isaac. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s often said that no parent should ever have to see their own child die. This is truly an unspeakable tragedy. Yet in the midst of a sinful and uncertain life, this does happen far too often. It’s a grief we’d never wish on anyone, but one that God our Father endured Himself for our sake. Other people who’ve experienced this great loss in their own lives, have often found comfort in the fact that God can truly identify with their loss as He suffered the same. In the reading from Genesis 22 today, God called Abraham to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Without reason or explanation, He instructed Abraham to go into the mountains of Moriah and offer his only beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. We can only imagine the thoughts that must have raced through Abraham’s head—although one thing we do know from the book of Hebrews—he had faith that even if he had to go through with sacrificing Isaac, that God could still raise him from the dead. So obediently he prepared to do what God commanded.

Abraham and Sarah had become wanderers when God called them from their homeland. They had already been very old when God promised to Abraham that they would have a child of their own, to be his heir. Abraham and Sarah waited (sometimes very impatiently) for more than 13 years for the promise to come true, and he aged to 100 years and she 90, before the promise came true and she conceived an bore Isaac. A miracle child born in old age, prophesied by God’s Word. Already here is a glimpse of how Isaac foreshadowed Jesus, who was a miracle child born to a virgin without the help of a man, and prophesied by God’s Word. Both were children of promise, and God’s blessing was to rest on them both. Through Isaac’s descendants, Abraham was supposed to be multiplied to be a great nation! How would this be possible if he were sacrificed? And thousands of years later, what would become of Jesus? How would He have descendants if He was sacrificed on the cross?

As Abraham’s questions remained unanswered, he and Isaac obediently continued to the place of sacrifice, Isaac now carrying the wood for his own sacrifice on his back. Christ Jesus also bore the wood for his own sacrifice on his battered and bruised back, as He carried the tree of the cross. Isaac asks his father, “Here is the fire and wood for the sacrifice, but where is the lamb?” Abraham answered, “God will provide the lamb.” Isaac trusted his father, and questioned no further, even as he was being tied to the altar for sacrifice. So also Jesus prayed to His Father if there was any other way, but obediently trusted His Father’s will, and submitted to His death sentence, even being fastened to the cross for sacrifice. But here is where the close parallels of their two stories diverge.

Abraham is stopped from sacrificing Isaac by the intervention of the angel of the Lord. God saw Abraham’s faith and obedience, and stopped him from harming Isaac, providing a ram as substitute instead. God the Father, however, did carry through with the sacrifice of His willing Son, who took all of the world’s sin and guilt to the cross. Jesus did die, and there was no ram to take His place. There was no substitute for Jesus, because He was the substitute. Jesus died and the Father sacrificed, because He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, the son was saved from death. In the greater fulfillment of Jesus Christ, the Son died…to save others from death. Jesus’ death meant that for us, we could be saved. Our loving heavenly Father provided a lamb caught with His head in a crown of thorns, to be our substitute, to take away the sin that demanded our punishment.

And here the parallel between Isaac and Jesus returns. Isaac lived to bear many descendants, and so God’s promise to Abraham was kept. He would become a great nation like the stars of the sky. Isaac was not cut off from seeing his descendants by a premature death. Yet what about Jesus? In the book of Isaiah, the famous 53rd chapter describes Jesus’ crucifixion and death, seven centuries before it happened. In verse 8 it says, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” Jesus was oppressed and taken for judgment, then He was cut off from the land of the living. He died, and it would seem that His premature death would leave Him no descendants. But out of the despairing situation, Isaiah prophesied hope in verse 10, “when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”

He shall see His offspring, He shall prolong His days. Jesus rose from the dead after making a sacrifice for our guilt. He rose and lives forever to see His offspring multiply on the earth. And that has happened not through the physical birthing of many children and descent by blood, but it has happened through the rebirth of generation after generation of Jews and Gentiles, born a second time through the waters of baptism. The offspring of Jesus have multiplied to the ends of the earth, not by human descent, but by the preaching of the Word of God that is sown like a seed throughout the world, and bears great fruit in receptive hearts. As Paul wrote: “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom. 9:7-8). Or, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). By faith we are descendants of Abraham, we are offspring of Jesus. We are the many generations of believers who Jesus our Risen Lord lives to see as His offspring.

Knowing that we have been adopted into God’s family by faith and our rebirth in baptism, let us rejoice that we are sons and daughters of God. Rejoice that we’ve been spared the fate that our sins determined for us, because God sent Jesus to be the substitute for us. And remember that while God the Father went through the heart-rending pain of losing His own Son, there was a sweet and joyous reunion when He rose from the dead. And for all who have lost beloved children in the faith, for all who’ve seen the life of a loved one cut short, may we find comfort in the victory that Jesus accomplished over death, and the certainty of a heavenly reunion with Him and all believers in Christ one day. Our heavenly family is built on the love of Jesus Christ, who was willing to lay down His life for us, and took it up again. What a brother, and what a Savior! Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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