ST. STEPHEN’S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
Striving to speak God’s saving truth in love. Ephesians 4:15
St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School | Beaver Dam, WI | 920.885.3309
Sermon on Genesis 22:1-18 for the 1st Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2018
Grace, mercy, peace, victory and life are yours from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
I’d like to reminisce a little; back to my high school years, spent at one of our Synod’s preparatory high schools – Michigan Lutheran Seminary. Like just about every other high school, we would often have school-wide pep rallies, especially during football season and occasionally during basketball / wrestling season. But my reminiscence today is about pep rallies we had during football season in the boys’ dormitory. Every Thursday night during football season, after our mandatory study hall (7:30 – 9:40 p.m. Sunday through Thursday), all the boys in the dorm would gather in the 2nd floor hallway; Freshmen on one end and Sophomores on the other end, with upperclassmen on the edges. This would be a cheer competition between the 9th and 10th graders. We’d pull a desk from a room, set it in the middle of the hall, and one Freshman and one Sophomore would be selected to stand on the desk and lead their classmates in cheers, seeing which class could out-cheer the other. With all the yelling and jumping up and down, it’s amazing that old building built in 1910 managed to stand another four years until it was torn down to make room for the current dormitory! One of the cheers in those pep rallies, as well as the school-wide ones, went like this: Cheerleader: “Freshmen, freshmen, don’t be shy; let us hear your battle cry! Group: V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! That’s the freshman battle cry! Of course, pep rallies are about getting everyone, especially the athletes, excited about the upcoming game so that they might gain victory.
This first Sunday in Lent, and all the Sundays in Lent, are about victory in battle. The Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent; they’re different. The rest of the season focuses on the battle, the suffering and death that Jesus our Savior went through to gain for sinners like us victory over sin, death, the devil, the grave, and hell. The victory was proclaimed when Jesus triumphantly rose from the grave, taking back life and giving it eternally to all who are connected to him in faith. The Sundays in Lent are little “previews” of that victory. The Gospel reading for the 1st Sunday in Lent is always the victory of Jesus over the temptations of Satan (today, from Mark 1:12-15). In our Old Testament lesson (Genesis 22), we are also shown a victory that came through Christ, for Abraham and his son Isaac. Pointed to our Victor, Jesus, we are reminded that there is a “battle cry” for Christians; the same as we yelled in our dormitory pep rallies –
V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! THAT’S THE CHRISTIAN’S BATTLE CRY!
Tests come to a Christian’s faith and relationship with God. There is no getting away from them. We live in a world still full of sin. But tests serve a good purpose. They let you know how you are doing and where you stand. So, too, in our Christian walk. They also let you express your love, thankfulness and trust to your heavenly Father and Savior!
Have you ever noticed, though, at what times the “big” tests come? Consider Abraham, and also Jesus when he faced tests through temptations thrown at him by Satan. Our lesson in Genesis 22 begins, “Some time later …” Later, after what? For starters, after the birth of that son, Isaac, whom God had promised to Abraham and Sarah at least 30 years before; the son they had so desperately desired. Finally, when Abraham and Sarah were approaching 100 years of age God gave him to them. But the other “event” which preceded this test of Abraham was a peace treaty with a Philistine named Abimelech. Abraham had been living in “foreign”, Philistine territory, and establishing this treaty would ensure peaceful living for a while. Life was good! Abraham perhaps felt strong.
And then consider Jesus and his tests via Satan’s temptations. Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist. As he stepped away from the Jordan River he had seen the Holy Spirit descend and land on him in the form of a dove and had heard the voice of his Father say, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with you.” Here we go! Into Galilee and Judea I go to openly announce that I am here to bring God’s kingdom of salvation to people! He’s “pumped up”. He’s feeling strong. Things are good! And then, for both Jesus and Abraham, BAM! Temptations by Satan for Jesus. And for Abraham, God’s command to offer that dear son, Isaac, “your only son, whom you love, whom you have named”, in a burnt offering to God! Don’t those “big” tests to our faith and relationship with God often come when things are good, when we are feeling strong? I’ve come to realize over the years, and have sometimes said it, that when things are going smoothly in life it’s time to look over your shoulder to see if some challenge is coming! Perhaps you’ve notice, too, that it is at these times that our Lord allows the “big” tests to come. Seemingly out of nowhere comes that phone call about a tragedy to someone you know and love. Or those results from the medical tests come, and they aren’t good.
Such tests always pit the Lord and his will against something or someone we hold dear, and force us to ask what / who is most dear to us. For Abraham, it was God’s will expressed in his command over against Abraham’s love for that son Isaac. For Jesus it was God’s will expressed in his commands over against his physical life. And for you and me, it’s usually God’s will expressed in his commands for our lives over against our love for someone or something, and ultimately for ourselves.
And so, the tests come. Did you ever think about Sunday morning being a test? It is. What will you do with “your” Sunday morning? Since it might be a day off of work or school and a chance to serve self by sleeping in or doing some relaxing activity, it gets pitted against giving our Savior the first and best time of our week for worship and for encouraging fellow believers. Payday becomes a test. How will I use the pay I earned, which God gave me the ability to earn? Is it all mine? Or does my Savior have a “right” to the first part of it, a generous part, to express my gratitude to him for his blessings, now and forever? Other people in my life become a test every day. How will I answer when they encourage ungodly activity?
There is no escaping the tests!!! Take them! Seek victory! Again, tests let you know where you are. Tests are encouragers when passed. Abraham passed this one, tough as it was! He had his son on the altar and the knife in hand ready to sacrifice his son, when the Angel of the Lord stopped him! And God blessed Abraham through that victorious effort of obedience. But Abraham had also failed many tests. Most notably he failed the test of trust and patience in God’s promise. Perhaps a decade of more before this test, Abraham failed the test when he and Sarah took matters regarding the son promised by God into their own hands, when Abraham fathered a child at Sarah’s urging with her servant Hagar (Genesis 16). What now?
Abraham had failed. God didn’t. God kept his promise. He gave Abraham and Sarah that son he had promised. And so, Abraham was strengthened for the tests to come. And as God had promised before to Abraham, he did so again at the end of this test, “through your (Abraham’s) offspring all nations will be blessed.” That blessing came through Abraham and Isaac’s descendant who would be the Substitute sacrifice for all sinners, just as the ram stuck in the bush became a substitute sacrifice provided by God for Isaac. That “Substitute” for Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, and for all disobedient, faith-test-failing sinners is God’s only Son, whom God dearly loves, and whom the Father named “Jesus”. Jesus passed every test of faith before God – for you, as your Substitute!
You and I also have had our victories in these tests to our faith, just like Abraham. We’ve also had our defeats, which separate us from God. What makes the difference between victory and defeat in these tests?
The difference maker is the OBJECT of your faith! We have V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, and make that our battle cry through Christ, the Object of your Faith.
In this entire situation, this test, we do not hear Abraham talk about himself or his faith in God. He does not talk about his strength! I find it hard to believe Abraham, sinner like you and me, did not have questions and doubts. Those would have been his! Perhaps the same questions we ask during times of testing: Why? What will this accomplish? How will God carry out his good and gracious will for me through this, if Isaac is dead? How can I go through (with) this? But we do well to listen to what Abraham did say, and what he did answer to Isaac’s question. His statements and answers were always based on the LORD’s promises and commands, not his own thoughts.
Abraham’s statement to the two servants who went with him and Isaac is a subtle confession of faith in God’s promises. Abraham told them when they reached the point of being able to see the mountain for sacrifice, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go on over there. We will worship, AND THEN…WE WILL COME BACK TO YOU.” Was Abraham just covering up what was going to happen? Two will go, but only one will come back? The boy will be dead? Based on what God says in Scripture about Abraham (read Romans 4:13-21), we know that wasn’t the case. God is the One who had made it known to Abraham that He “gives life to the dead”. Abraham had seen new life come from the bodies of him and Sarah, who at their ages were “as good as dead” as far as bringing new life into the world is concerned. God has promised RESURRECTION TO LIFE from death to his children!!! Abraham believed this. God, if he so willed it, would give Isaac back to him, then and in eternity. Also, consider Abraham’s answer to Isaac’s question, “Father, we have wood and fire for our offering, but where is the lamb?” He didn’t answer, “I’ll figure something out” or “I’m pretty good at finding animals by looking for their droppings”. He pointed Isaac to the Savior! “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering.” God had promised Abraham that through this son, Isaac, He would bring the true “Lamb” that would be the sacrifice for the world’s sins. If someone were to have interviewed Abraham after this, and asked him “how did you go through with that?”, I don’t think we’d hear him answer, “I have a strong faith.” He would point the interviewer to his Savior God, to his Substitute in having perfect faith in God’s promises.
You see, faith or trust is only as strong and good as that in which the faith or trust is placed – it’s OBJECT. What / Whom do you believe in or trust? For example, we place our trust in many people; our husband, our wife, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our associates, our friends. How many times have you been failed by them? How many times have you failed someone who trusted you? The outcome didn’t depend on your trust, but on the person you trusted! The outcome didn’t depend on someone’s trust in you, it depended on you, the object of their trust! The OBJECT of Abraham’s faith was his Savior God, through his promises about providing eternal rescue for Abraham the sinner, and through God’s promises that His ways and commands are right and good for us.
The OBJECT of your faith is the One God provided to be your Substitute in living by his commands and in enduring what our faithless failures deserve. In Him is your victory! In Him is your strength for the battles. In Him, V-I-C-T-O-R-Y is your Christian battle cry, every day in this life of tests, and for eternity! Amen.