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"The Strangest Request"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 17, 2024
By Rev. Dr. Hector Hoppe, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2024 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Genesis 22:1-14

The text today is Genesis 22:1-14. 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." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." 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. 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.

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. 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." And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, 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. 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."

We begin under the blessing of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have to confess that I never found a boring story in the Bible. Many times the characters of these stories are my inspiration. Abraham is one of these characters.

The story of Abraham begins in Genesis 12 and ends in Genesis 25. Abraham occupies only a small portion in the biblical narrative; however, his name appears in 27 books of the Bible, where it is mentioned more than 230 times. Why is his story so important? What has Abraham done so that to this day many, many men are named after him? I remember being in some small towns in my country, Argentina, where half of the men were named Abraham!

The passage we study today summarizes the importance of Abraham in universal history and especially in the history of the salvation of humanity. Abraham did not arise by himself. He did not become famous because he conquered empires and set the course for a new society after the catastrophic flood—but because God called him. From any given place to any other given place on earth, God directed Abraham to, through Him, resume the story of salvation. In Abraham, God begins the formation of the people of God from whom, many years later, the Savior of the world would be born.

After leaving his family and his land, Abraham settled in what later became the Promised Land. He became very rich. He owned much land and much livestock. He had many servants, but he had no one to leave all of his possessions to. Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children. Everything they owned was going to be left in the hands of some servant after Abraham's death. Against all hope, God promises him that his wife Sarah will bear him a son. Both were too old to have children. Both were literally "dead" to the possibility of giving life. But God fulfilled His promise, and Abraham and Sarah had a boy, and they named him Isaac. God had promised Abraham that his descendants through Isaac would be as countless as the grains of sand on the beach and the stars in the sky.

This is how things were like when God called Abraham with the strangest request: "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." Something doesn't add up here. On one hand, God does not promote human sacrifice. What is more, the Bible strictly prohibits it. On the other hand, what about the promise He made to Abraham? Didn't God tell him that through Isaac He could establish His covenant? At first glance, God is asking for something that totally contradicts His promise. If it was me, I would say to God: "Please explain to me a little about what You just asked of me. I don't understand this request."

It is clear from the biblical story that Abraham did not understand. Yet he did not open his mouth, even once. He did not ask God a single question. He didn't question His request. Abraham saw God fulfilling early promises. But how would He accomplish this? How will He establish His covenant with Isaac if Isaac dies now? In silence, and probably with an overwhelmed heart, Abraham took his son whom he loved very much, a donkey, firewood, and two servants, and set out on a three-day journey to the site of the burnt offering. Too much time to think, to listen to Satan's voice that continually repeated to him that this request from God was not logical. It was not rational. It was not going to lead to anything good.

We run with an advantage over Abraham. This story begins by saying that God tested Abraham and asked him to offer his son as a burnt offering. But Abraham did not know that this was a test. He also didn't know how everything was going to end, like we know. However, after three days of travel, Abraham leaves his servants with the donkey, with these words: "Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." Abraham and his son will worship God. His obedience was his act of worship. In these words to his servants, Abraham expressed his faith in God that somehow Isaac would return with him back to his home. Abraham believed the incredible, the unthinkable. There was no experience yet of resurrection of the dead! The book of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us 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.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back" (Hebrews 11:17-19). It is in that faith, in that hope, that Abraham continued on his way.

Isaac breaks the silence: "[Father] Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Isaac was already realizing that something was missing in this worship experience. Where is the lamb? "God will provide," was Abraham's response. And Isaac was, for a moment, the lamb tied to the wood.

I was very young when I saw the image in a black-and-white illustration of the sacrifice of Isaac in a children's book. Even today that image is engraved in my mind and gives me a strange feeling. I knew that human sacrifices were very common in ancient times because the pagans wanted to appease their gods. But I could not conceive that God would ask for something similar from those He Himself had chosen. What would Abraham have thought of all this? There is nothing in the biblical story that tells us what Abraham thought of this strange and contradictory request from God. We are only told that, by faith, he obeyed God.

And once again the miracle occurs. God intervenes and where there is death He preserves life. The angel of the Lord—that is, the pre-incarnate Christ Himself—stops Abraham, saves the child's life, and provides a ram for the sacrifice. Was God testing Abraham because God wanted to discover something? What did He want to know? Doesn't He know everything? Yes, He knew from beginning to end what was going to happen. This test was for Abraham, to affirm him in the faith, and so that this faith would serve even us today. Because Abraham went on to be part of the cloud of witnesses that God provided His church to encourage her and sustain her in the faith until the end of time.

Abraham called that place: "The Lord will provide." We can add that God provides in the most irrational way, against all logic, when there is no hope other than death, and when everything seems lost. This story could not be complete if we do not associate it with what happened many centuries later in exactly the same place where Isaac was to be sacrificed in a burnt offering. Bible scholars assure us that Mount Moriah, where the story of Abraham and his son took place, is the place where Solomon later built the temple, where Jerusalem is today.

The early Church Fathers recognized this testing of Abraham by God as a sign of what happened at Golgotha. God loved His only Son, that Son through whom He promised to bless all humanity, through whom He established an eternal covenant of salvation for all sinners. And against all logic or reason, God handed over His Son Jesus to be sacrificed. In Christ, God provided the holy Lamb that was sacrificed on the cross to pay for the sins of all people in the world.

God did not give up His only Son to prove something to Himself. Jesus' death on the cross is proof that God loves us as His own children. The promise that God made to Abraham that He would be his God is also for us. Because Jesus took our place in the sacrifice, we receive eternal life even when we do not deserve it. God did not sacrifice the sinner but His holy Son. Through Him, God provided a substitute in the hour of punishment for our sins.

Thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, those of us who have received God's gift of faith through the Holy Spirit have peace with God and live as His children who were reconciled by His blood shed on the cross. And while we await the day when we will enter eternity to be with the Lord, here on earth we will be tested, against all human logic and reasoning. Surely, we wonder why God tests us; however, we have to remember that our questions are not more important than our obedience in faith. Even when bad things happen to us, we trust that God already has the end of our trial prepared in His mind and in His love. The resurrection of Jesus is our warranty.

On the path to eternal life, God walks with us. He reaffirms us. He supports us through His Word and His Holy Supper. Use these means of God's grace frequently, dear friend, so that your faith won't question God, but cling instead to the victorious sacrifice of Christ for you. And as we close this devotional time, I ask you that you join me in prayer.

Dear Father, thank You for sending Jesus to pay for our sins on the altar of the cross. Thank You for guiding us with Your Word to walk in Your ways and to trust You in any situation. May Your Holy Spirit comfort and empower us always. Amen.

Reflections for March 17, 2-24
Title: The Strangest Request

No Reflection Segment this week.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth" by Paul Gerhardt, arr. Gerhard Krapf, Richard Wienhorst, et al. From Heirs of the Reformation: Treasures of the Singing Church (© 2008 Concordia Publishing House)

"Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted" The Hymnal Project of the Michigan District, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Used by permission.

"Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow" by William J. Sparrow Simpson & John Stainer, arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"My Song Is Love Unknown" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

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