The First Sunday in Lent March 13, 2011
1, 149, 372, 51
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now 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.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of Him who came to the cradle that He might die on the cross:
The best artists portray Abraham “the father of all believers,” as a man of action in this scene, and so he was. He did not just say that he believed in the Lord. Abraham acted out his faith. This faith was no easy thing! Can you imagine yourselves in the sandals of Abraham?
He and Isaac were not on a three-day, father-son fishing trip. They were not going off together in search of a trout stream in a mountain God would show them. Abraham was not carrying a fishing pole, but a butcher knife and fiery coals. Isaac wasn’t carrying the wood for a campfire, but the wood on which is own father would sacrifice him for a burnt offering! We talk about stress in our lives, but look at how cool, calm, and collected Abraham was as he walked to the mountain to slay his son.
We worry about how we are going to provide a living for ourselves and our families during the current economic downturn. We worry about our future. We think: “If only I could see the future, I could prepare for it. I would know what is safe for me to eat and what is not safe, what to buy, when to sell, whom to marry, and so on.
Our problem, simply put, is that we worry about how we are going to provide for our future safety and happiness. But Abraham, whom Scripture calls “the father of all believers,” says “JEHOVAH-JIREH!—THE LORD WILL PROVIDE!”
First, we see that the Lord provides the right thing. Abraham’s greatest need was for a substitute to take his son’s place under the knife! God provided the right thing: a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham didn’t seek it or chase it. The ram was provided by God.
In the same way, our God has provided what all of us need the most—the right thing—His own son to be our Savior by substitution. The world’s counselors and human religions offer all kinds of examples, laws, steps, and procedures to provide people with happiness and the hope of a secure and happy future. But these are mere band-aids to deal with alcoholism, drug addiction, marital relations, and the like. Sinners are told to follow certain rules and procedures in order to clean up their lives and become happier and more successful people. But they do not know how great man’s greatest need really is!
Mankind needs a Savior from his sins, someone to take his place under the Law of God and to suffer the penalty of eternal death for his sins. But no man could redeem his brother (cf. Psalm 49:7) or save himself by any means. Instead, as Abraham told Isaac in v. 8: “God Himself will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” So God provided the Lamb we needed as an offering for our sins. He provided it “for Himself”—to satisfy Himself completely and totally!
Our Lord Jesus was caught in the “thicket of our sins,” because His Father and our Father so loved us and the whole world (cf. John 3:16). God’s own Son is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). “He was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
So then, if our God has already freely provided us with the one thing we needed most—a perfect Savior-substitute for our sins—won’t He also freely provide us with all other good things? This is exactly what the apostle Paul tells in the Epistle lesson for today: “He who did not spare His own son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Our God also provides at the right place—on the “Mount of the Lord.” Abraham traveled until he saw the place the Lord had appointed for the sacrifice of Isaac. The right place was a mountain in the land of Moriah. More than a thousand years later, the Lord commanded Solomon to build the temple of Jehovah in the same land of Moriah which was then called the city of Jerusalem. Seemingly countless animals were sacrificed in that temple with the eager expectation and anticipation of The Great Sacrifice to come. Nearly a thousand years later our Lord Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem on Mt. Calvary and provided the final all-fulfilling sacrifice.
There, God’s holy Lamb, Jesus Christ, was “caught” among the cords and nails of the cross to be offered as payment for the sins of the whole world. At that place—the “place of the skull,” “Calvary’s holy mountain”—God provided the right thing, the Savior we needed. Now our gracious Lord continues to provide the right thing for our salvation at the right place.
But where is the right place? Do you remember the road signs that used to say, “worship at the church of your choice”? That’s what many people do. Recently, a fellow told me that he wants to find a church close to his home. For him convenience was the most necessary thing and the church nearest to his home was the “right place” as far as he was concerned. It didn’t occur to him, until I mentioned it, that the “right place” is where God wants him to worship—where God, not man, is praised, and where God’s Word, not man’s, is the authority.
The “right place” is around the Bible in your homes or in your car as you meditate upon your Savior’s Word. The “right place” is where God’s Word is taught and confessed without the errors of men. There is where our God provides for our most important needs such as love, forgiveness, faith, peace, joy, hope, wisdom, and salvation. If your God freely provides you with the right place for obtaining your great spiritual and eternal needs in Christ, will He not also provide you with those other places you need? Surely He will provide a house for shelter, a place of employment, a special place in the heart of a loved one, or whatever “place” He knows you need.
But when will He provide? Our Lord provides at the right time for his “clock” is never late!
Just as Abraham lifted up his knife to slay his son, God’s voice was heard and the ram-substitute was seen. Why didn’t the Lord command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in the hills near his home three days earlier and provide the sacrifice sooner? The “right time” is always His time.
The first verse tells us that God was testing Abraham throughout this ordeal. The Hebrew word for “test” means “to pull up on a hand scale in order to weigh something,” “to prove by weighing.” God wanted to test Abraham to “prove” and “improve” his faith. God always aims and directs the temptations or testings in our lives for our eternal good. As someone put it: “Satan temps us downward, while God tempts or tests us upward.”
Our faith will be tested in this life, sometimes to the point of despair. But our faithful, gracious God will never “allow you to be tested above what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Our Lord is always seeking to purge and cleanse our faith of its impurities and weaknesses through our trials. His aim is to bring us to “the end of our rope” so that we must fall into His waiting arms. We have to get to the end of ourselves, before we can see the beginnings of grace.
When did Abraham get to the end of himself? Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Abraham to obey what seemed to his human reason to be a harsh command from God? God had promised that Abraham would have this son in his old age. God had promised that through the descendants of Isaac would come the Savior of the world. Now God commanded that he be killed! What will happen to the promises of God? What would Sarah say?
Abraham had come to the end of himself. He had only the words and promises of God. The Bible tells us that Abraham “did not waver at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4:20-21).
We may wish that we had such a strong faith. We can have such a faith. Abraham “was strengthened in faith.” His faith was a gift from God through the working of the same powerful Gospel that first brought us all to faith.
Abraham’s faith led to thankfulness and joy after the test for so God works with His believing people. Here once again is the promise of God from Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not with Christ also freely provide us with all things?”
The Lord will provide wisdom to trump our human reason, strength for the weak, comfort for the sorrowful, faith for the fearful, grace for every need on earth, and then our escape to Heaven. He has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). So let us say with boldness: “The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:6 / Psalm 118:6). In life, in death, and in eternity, JEHOVAH-JIREH—THE LORD WILL PROVIDE!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.