Pastor James Preus
March 21, 2021
The Jews, who argued with Jesus in our Gospel lesson called Abraham their father. But Jesus pointed out to them that they are not Abraham’s children, because they do not do the works of Abraham. St. Paul in his epistles to the Romans (chapters 4 and 9) and to the Galatians (chapter 3) teaches that it is not the physical descendants of Abraham, who are his children, but those who have the faith of Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles, who are Abraham’s children. But what does it mean to have the faith of Abraham? When we speak of the faith of someone, we usually speak of one of two things. The faith which that person believes and the faith by which that person believes. The faith, which a person believes is what the person believes. What is the content of his faith? What is his confession? For example, the Apostles’ Creed. The faith by which a person believes is how that person believes and trusts in God.
Let us first examine the faith which Abraham believed. What did Abraham trust in? Abraham trusted in the promise God made to him that he would give him a son of promise and that through that son he would make a great nation, to whom he would give the land of Canaan, and that through his offspring all nations of the earth would be blessed. We learned about this last week when Abraham sent away the slave woman Hagar and her son Ishmael, because Ishmael was born of the flesh and only the son of promise would inherit. It was Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, who was the son of promise through whom God would fulfill his promise to Abraham and through whom all peoples would be blessed.
Yet, in our Old Testament lesson, God tells Abraham to take his son, his only son Isaac, whom he loves, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain he would designate. This was to test Abraham’s faith, but it was written down for the sake of our faith, because this episode proclaims the faith which saves both Abraham and us.
God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. You can imagine the horror Abraham felt! How could he kill his own son! Yet, added to this was the fact that Isaac was the son of promise, the son he waited decades to receive, the son born to him in his old age by his 90-year-old barren wife, the son on whose account he cast out his son Ishmael and his mother, so that this child of promise could be the heir without persecution from a rival. How could God tell him to kill this boy? Was God canceling his promise to Abraham? No. Abraham continued to believe that God could fulfill his promise, even if he sacrificed Isaac. The promise was dependent on Isaac living and having children, so Abraham believed God could even raise Isaac from the dead, as the book of Hebrews tells us (11:19).
And this teaches us about our Savior Jesus, who is a descendent of Abraham and Isaac according to the flesh. Jesus is God’s only begotten Son, whom he loves. Out of love for us and out of faithfulness to his promise, God sent his only Son Jesus to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.
For three days Abraham journeyed to that mountain on which he would sacrifice his son. For three days he was tormented by the task ahead of him. For three days he mourned his son’s death hoping for the resurrection of the dead. Likewise, Christ’s heavenly Father watched Jesus be sacrificed on the cross and laid dead in a tomb. For three days our heavenly Father watched his Son’s cold dead clay lie in the tomb as he longed to fulfill the resurrection of the dead.
When they got to the mountain, Isaac carried on his back the wood, which would be used to burn his flesh on the altar. Likewise, our Lord Jesus carried the wood of his cross up Mount Calvary to the place of his execution.
Isaac was a strapping young man at this point in his life. He was strong enough to carry a large load of wood on his back up a mountain. He father on the other hand was extremely old, well over one hundred years. There’s not a chance the geriatric Abraham could out muscle the young Isaac. Yet, Isaac did not fight back when his father stretched out his hand with the knife to kill him. Isaac had asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. His father simply responded that the Lord would provide the lamb. Isaac wasn’t dumb. He figured out what was happening. And he wasn’t weak. He was strong enough to fight back and rescue himself from being sacrificed. But instead, he trusted his father and the promise of his heavenly father, and he laid down his own life.
Likewise, Jesus was not weak, although he came in the form of weakness. He had the power to avoid the cross. With a word he knocked down the entire mob who came to arrest him in the garden. No one took Jesus’ life from him, but he willingly laid it down of his own accord. Jesus prayed in the Garden,
“Father, not my will, but thine be done.”, rather than refuse the cup of woe and death.
And in these ways, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. His sacrifice proclaims the future sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Yet, here is where the difference comes. Isaac is not sacrificed. Before Abraham can do the deed, the Angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham to not harm the boy. Abraham had passed the test of faith and God renewed his promise to him. Instead of Isaac, Abraham sacrificed a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, provided by God. This ram rescued Isaac by being sacrificed in his stead, but that ram does not rescue us, neither did it give Isaac eternal life. Yet, that ram pointed to the Lamb of God, who would be sacrificed in all our place in order to save us.
The faith of Abraham is our faith. The faith of the Old Testament is the faith of the New Testament. Yet, while the cross of Christ was hidden in Old Testament prophecies, it is revealed plainly in the proclamation of the New Testament. So, the means of proclaiming the Gospel of the future Christ needed to be more involved. The sacrifice of this ram proclaims the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. The ram was caught by its horns in the thicket. The horns of a ram represent the power of the ram. Horns are a symbol of power. So, this sacrifice is caught by its power. Likewise, Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, is caught by his power: his love. Out of love for us and for his Father, he cannot but offer himself as a sacrifice for all sins. Even the thicket around the ram’s horns foreshadows the crown of thorns, which would adorn Christ’s head.
Abraham named that place “The Lord will provide,” and it continued to be said, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” And indeed, the Lord did provide. Right near that same mountain where that ram was sacrificed in Isaac’s place, the Lamb of God was sacrificed in our place and became a blessing for all nations of the earth.
And the Angel of the Lord, who stayed Abraham’s hand, he was the pre-incarnate Christ, that is, he was God the Son before he took on human flesh. So, it is as if the Angel of the Lord said, “Do not sacrifice your son. Here is a ram to sacrifice in his stead. And may this ram be a token that I myself will come as your own offspring in human flesh and will sacrifice myself for the sins of the whole world.
This is the faith, which Abraham trusted. This is why Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see his day. Abraham believed in the promise that the Christ would ransom us from our sins. We hold the faith of Abraham by trusting in Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord, who is the LORD, who is before Abraham, yet has come after Abraham as Abraham’s son. We have the faith of Abraham by having faith in Jesus and in this way, we are Abraham’s children and heirs of the promise given to Abraham.
Yet, there is the other way of speaking of the faith of Abraham. The faith by which Abraham believed. Now, while there is only one saving faith, which you can believe, as Scripture says, “One Lord, one faith, one Baptism,” every person has his own faith by which he believes. What I mean is, we each have our own personal faith, even if we confess the same creed. I cannot believe for you and you cannot believe for me. The faith by which we believe is personal to each individual.
Yet, the faith by which Abraham believed had a particular character that is common to all who believe in Christ. Abraham was not offended by God’s Word. He was told to sacrifice his only son, whom he loved and through whom God promised to bless the whole world. And Abraham obeyed the word of the Lord. Yet, these Jews who were debating with Jesus did not have this character of faith. Not only did they not have the faith which Abraham believed (they rejected Christ), they did not have the faith by which Abraham believed (they were offended by Jesus’ words). When Jesus told them that whoever keeps his word would never see death, they said he had a demon for insinuating that he was better than Abraham. When Jesus told them that Abraham rejoiced at seeing his day, they ridiculed the young man Jesus. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”, they picked-up stones to throw at him.
They were offended at Jesus’ words, because they did not abide in Jesus’ Word. They didn’t trust in the promise, so they found Jesus’ claims offensive. But a faith, which believes in the promise of Christ will not be offended by the words of Christ.
Some are offended that Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”, because they think Baptism is nothing but water. Some are offended that Christ bids us to eat his own body and blood or that a man claims to have authority from God to forgive sins. Yet, when you trust in God’s Word above your own reason or feelings, you find great comfort in these words. It’s offensive to be told that you are a poor miserable sinner. Yet, when you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
Abraham not only teaches us what to believe, but how to believe. He does not judge God for how he carries out his promise or for the words he says. Rather, Abraham believes the word of the Lord against the objection of his emotions or reason. Above all, Abraham puts his trust in God’s promise above everything. What gave him courage to obey God’s contradictory command? He believed that all things were possible with God and that not even the death of the promised child could prevent God from fulfilling his promise.
So, how do you follow Abraham’s example in how to believe? By trusting in the word of God despite what the devil or this world throws at you. Does God’s word hurt your feelings or confound your reason? Remember that the foolishness of God is wiser than men and that all things work together for good for those who love God. Does your current experience make you feel like God will not fulfill his promise to you? Remember that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Do your sins make you doubt whether God can forgive you? Remember that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who have such faith as Abraham will never see death or be put to shame. Amen.