Text: John 8:46-59
Before Abraham was – Jesus is. Jesus is the great I AM. God in the flesh. So it is no surprise at all that Jesus saw Abraham's day. But what of this: Jesus says that Abraham saw Jesus' day and he rejoiced. How did Abraham see Jesus' day some 2000 years before the Son of God took up flesh in Mary's womb?
Abraham saw Jesus' day and he rejoiced on that terrible day on Mount Moriah. For on that day Abraham traded in his eyes of flesh for eyes of faith. And never was there an eye transplant so difficult and painful. For God himself told Abraham to take Isaac up the mountain, slit his throat and burn his body in sacrifice. Had God gone mad? Hadn't he promised Abraham to make his descendants a great nation? Hadn't God given Isaac to Abraham and Sarah when their bodies were far beyond child bearing years? Hadn't God rejected Abraham's son Ishmael – the son of the bondwoman – in favor of Isaac, saying that through Isaac Abraham's seed would be counted? And now this! Was God a liar? Was he breaking his promise?
These questions are not far from your heart, beloved. You too have wondered if God has abandoned you, if all hope was lost. You too have doubted God's goodness and wavered and been afraid. So repent. And look at Father Abraham and how this story turns out. Gain with him eyes of faith and lose your eyes of flesh.
For in the face of this madness, Abraham believes in the Lord; he trusts in his goodness; he will not let appearances deceive him. He knows that what the Lord says is always for good. So he takes Isaac up the mountain. He endures the poor boy's heart-breaking question, “Father, here is the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham replies in faith: “God himself will provide the lamb.” Little did Isaac know that his father was taking him up the mountain as the lamb appointed for the sacrifice.
For a sacrifice is what is required for sin. The wages of sin is death, as St. Paul tells us: and so throughout the Old Testament, the people are required to spill blood for the forgiveness of sin. Sin and death go together. Someone has to pay the debt that sin incurs. God showed this by example, killing an animal so that he might cloth Adam and Eve after the very first sin. And now here is Abraham, called upon to sacrifice not a mere animal, but his son Isaac. Surely, this is a sign of what we all know to be true: Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish and pagan altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or take away the stain of sin. That's just silly. What is an animal's death compared to the weight of God's wrath against sin? And why should an animal die when it is we humans who have sinned?
No, as the Scriptures say, “The soul who sins shall die.” And so Isaac is marched up the mountain to die. Every sinner has earned that march with his sin: for all people have sinned and so all deserve death. So Isaac is bound, laid upon the wood of the fire, and the knife is lifted up. The weight of sin is about about to fall on Isaac – but God intervenes. He stops Abraham's hand. The knife which held the punishment for sin is sheathed and God sends Abraham a ram to be sacrificed instead.
But how does this help? Haven't we just said that an animal's death won't do it? Haven't we said that mankind should die for mankind's sins? And now we're back to rams? And hadn't Abraham said that God would provide a lamb and not a ram? And there is the key to the mystery. God will provide a Lamb – and not a ram. The ram that was there as a substitute for Isaac could not be the be all and end all. That was not the promise. God said that mankind should die for mankind's sin and he revealed to Abraham that he would provide a Lamb for this sacrifice. But then no lamb is produced. And then Abraham sees. Then Abraham stops seeing with the eyes of flesh and starts seeing with the eyes of faith: and so he calls the place Moriah, the Lord will provide.
For now Abraham sees the day of Jesus some 2000 years in the future and he rejoices. For now Abraham looks right through his son Isaac and sees Jesus. He is the real Lamb of God. He is the Man who will die for all mankind's sin. Of course! God is kind and merciful – but God is just and holy. There must be death for sin – but there will be a Lamb to take the sin away so that Isaac and all men might go free. The Son will die by the knife of wrath wielded by his Father: but it will not be Abraham and Isaac who play these roles. Rather, Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh, shall willingly lay down his life and suffer at his Father's behest.
And so Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will Provide.” He did not call it, “The Lord has Provided” but “The Lord will Provide.” For Abraham knew that that ram caught in the thicket was not yet the full and real sacrifice. For Abraham now saw that God must provide a much greater sacrifice than a silly ram: he must provide the very life of his Son on the cross in place of the sins of the world.
Such a sacrifice ends all sacrifice. The blood of God in the flesh does what no mere man's blood could do: extinguish forever the debt owed to sin. Such a sacrificial death ends all death: for behold, Jesus does not stay dead. He rises from the dead proclaiming an end to the terrors of death. Jesus dies for the sins of the world and so finishes off death's power. The power of sin is canceled. Peace with God is made. The Sacrifice is accepted and the Lamb who was slain now reigns on high forever. Abraham saw this and rejoiced.
And you too Christian – you rejoice too. For you stand in Isaac's shoes. The Lamb has been provided for you as well. Jesus poured out his life and you shall live forever. You are made a son of the promise by being plunged into Jesus' death in Baptism. You have been raised again in the gracious word of Absolution and forgiveness. You have tasted of the only real sacrifice there is: the Body and Blood of Christ and so have the forgiveness of your sins and life welling up within you. God has provided. What Abraham had to look forward to, you can look back on and live in. The Great I AM who is the Lamb is here for you even today to fill you up with the fruits of his sacrificial cross. The day of Jesus is now. Look on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sins, and rejoice.