First Sunday in Lent
February 26, 2012
“The LORD Will Provide” (Genesis 22:1-18)
Our text today is the Old Testament Reading, from Genesis 22, the account of “The Binding of Isaac,” as it is often called. The binding of Isaac, upon an altar, by his father Abraham, at the direction of the Lord God, for the purpose of offering up Isaac as a sacrifice. God tested Abraham, to the limit, in this ordeal. God tested Abraham to see if he would believe that God would really keep his promise that Isaac would be his heir, the son of promise. And, by God’s grace and strength, Abraham passed the test and kept the faith. What Abraham discovered, and what we too will learn from this account, is that the Lord does indeed keep his promises, sometimes in surprising ways. Today with Abraham we will see that, when it comes to fulfilling his promise and meeting our greatest need, “The LORD Will Provide.”
As I say, this story is called the Binding of Isaac, although you could also call it the Testing of Abraham. But I suppose we should start by asking: Who were these guys anyway, Abraham and Isaac? Father and son, of course. The father, Abraham, here is being called upon, by God, to take the life of his son, Isaac. Now that in itself would make it a highly emotionally charged, extremely stressful story. But when we know the background to this story, it becomes even more dramatic, if such a thing were possible.
For that background, we go first to Genesis 12. At that time Abraham was seventy-five years old, his wife, Sarah, was sixty-five and unable to have children, and so they were childless. Nevertheless, the Lord God gave a great promise to Abraham. He said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And then he added, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So in order to fulfill that promise, “I will make of you a great nation,” the Lord would somehow have to give Abraham a child. You need an offspring in order to become a great nation.
There was the promise. Now how would it be fulfilled? I mean, they were childless, they were old, and she was barren. How could the promise be fulfilled?
Time passed. Abraham and Sarah continued childless. Abraham told the Lord, “Behold, you have given me no offspring.” But the Lord reaffirmed his promise. “Your very own son shall be your heir,” he told Abraham, in Genesis 15. The Lord said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be.” And Abraham believed the Lord and his promise.
More time passed. Still no child. Now this is getting ridiculous. Abraham was ninety-nine years old. But God told him, one more time, in Genesis 17: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.”
And guess what? One year later, when Abraham was a hundred years old and Sarah was ninety, she did give birth, it was a son, and Abraham did call his name Isaac. Promise fulfilled. It took twenty-five years, but the Lord did come through on his promise.
But would the Lord remain true to his promise? Isaac was born, yes, but would he live long enough to continue the line, so that there would be that great nation, through which the whole world would be blessed? That is the issue in our text today.
“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 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.’”
“What?? Did I hear right? How could the Lord ask such a thing? ‘Offer him up as a burnt offering’? My son? My only son? Isaac, my beloved boy? But, Lord, this is the son you promised! I waited twenty-five years for him, and now you’re going to take him from me? But what will become of the ‘great nation’ you promised through Isaac? This would put an end to it, even before it gets started!” What questions could have raced through Abraham’s mind! And understandably so.
Yet Abraham set out to do as the Lord directed him. He took Isaac and went to the place that God had told him. “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.”
What a painful journey that must have been. Taking your own son out, alone, in order to sacrifice him, in obedience to the Lord. And of course you can’t tell the boy what you’re planning to do. Watching your son carry the wood, him thinking that it’s going to be used for a sacrificial lamb, not knowing that he himself would be the sacrifice. What conflicted thoughts must have run through Abraham’s head! Love for his son versus obedience to the Lord, with the memory of the Lord’s repeated promise of blessing and a great nation, which was explicitly tied to the life of this son Isaac. How could this possibly turn out OK? It doesn’t seem possible.
“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.”
“God will provide.” Abraham doesn’t know how, but he does know that God will provide. Faith, the faith that the Lord had worked in Abraham over all those years–faith is speaking here, faith that trusts in the Lord’s promise, no matter what, even when it looks impossible by human standards. Hebrews 11 comments on the faith that Abraham was displaying here: “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.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”
And that’s what happened: “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. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
Abraham was in the act, about to slay Isaac, when, at the last moment, there came the reprieve: “But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 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.’”
But then something even more remarkable happens. Remember, Abraham had told Isaac that God would provide for himself the sacrifice for the offering. And so he did. Abraham looks, “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.”
The Lord came through. God did provide. It came in the form of a substitute. Someone else dies in place of Isaac. “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.’”
And so God’s promise of blessing Abraham, and blessing the world, through the line of Isaac would come to fruition: “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 in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
Well, there’s the story of the binding of Isaac and the testing of Abraham. Fine and dandy. But what does this have to do with us? It’s just this: “The LORD will provide.” In a way very similar to this story, God has acted to spare our lives by providing a substitute. In fact, God sent his own Son to do the job, to be that substitute, that sacrifice in our place.
What is our greatest need? To be rescued from our sin and death, eternal death. Every one of us, even the most righteous among us, is guilty as a sinner before God and is deserving of death. We all, every one of us, could be Isaac, bound down on that altar, bound fast in the guilt of our sins, with the knife of God’s justice ready to come down upon us. That is our helpless situation, according to the law. We are sinners, and sinners must die.
But what has God done? He has provided a substitute. His own Son, his only Son, the Son whom he loves, Jesus Christ. Like the ram caught in the thicket, like a lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is our substitute. It is you and I who should be dying. But instead it is he who takes the rap. Bound by nails to the wood of the cross, bound even more so by the cords of his love, love for his Father and love for us sinners, Jesus the Lamb of God dies in our place.
“The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” Yes, on Mount Calvary, the Lord has provided the answer to your greatest need. For in the sacrifice of his Son, God has provided you with forgiveness for your sin. He has provided you with life in place of death, the life of Christ, now risen from the dead, victorious over the grave, who now lives forevermore.
“The LORD will provide.” God has provided you with the assurance of his love, knowing that, if he has provided for you in your greatest need, he will also be there for you in your every need. Every day, giving you the strength and the faith you need to carry you through all your trials and difficulties. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
Dear friends, our God keeps his promises. Even when it doesn’t look like it, even when it seems impossible, God will be faithful to his word. His promise to you is that he will give you everything you need to be and to remain his child, to see you through to the end, when we will receive the fulfillment of all the great blessings he has promised to us. “The LORD will provide.” The Lord has already provided, in Christ, and that is the guarantee that he will continue to provide, each new day, every day, and on into the life everlasting!