Where’s the Lamb?!

Lent 1 B, February 26, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“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.” [Genesis 22:7,8]

In 1984, Wendy’s Restaurant entered the hamburger wars with one purpose, to demonstrate their superiority over McDonalds and Burger King.  They did it with one question: “Where’s the Beef?!”  In commercial after commercial they hammered home the idea that while their competitor’s buns looked nice, there was very little substance between them.

Today, like Wendy’s,  the church has many competitors also; places of supposed worship and spiritual renewal that promise a way to give your life meaning and purpose.  They have strategies and techniques all designed to help you make sense of this world.  But each of them, have very little or nothing at all to say about Jesus’ sacrificial death.  So we need to ask, “Where’s the Lamb!?”  You’ve got to have real sacrifice in order to pay for real sin.  Techniques and strategies won’t do it, and neither will good intentions.  There must be life, death, sacrifice, and atonement.  That is God’s only way.

Sacrifice for sins, our sins has been God’s way since the very first sin was committed in the Garden of Eden.    When our first parents sinned,  God Himself killed an animal to provide clothing for Adam and Eve.  An animal had to die so that they could cover their shame.  From that first sacrifice, God regularly commanded His people to choose a spotless lamb and sacrifice it as a sin offering; a way to cover their sins.

In a way to teach Abraham about the quality of His faith, God moved him to offer a sacrifice.  I’m sure that Abraham had done this many times.  He knew the proper way to choose the spotless lamb, he knew how to bind the lamb so that it wouldn’t be able to run, and he knew how to cut its throat so that the blood would be shed for the sins that must be atoned for.  So when God told Abraham that it was time for a sacrifice, this did not come as a surprise, but what did come as a surprise, no a shock, was the fact that his son, his only son Isaac was to be the lamb; the sacrifice pleasing to the Lord.

As a Father, I can’t even imagine being asked to do this, let alone actually performing it.  I am afraid, I would have refused, and because of that truth, I would have failed the test, God’s test.  So does that mean I would have been punished for my disobedience?  No because God Himself has provided the lamb!

Recall from our Old Testament reading, Abraham and Isaac, and two of Abraham’s servants made their way to a mountain in the land of Moriah.  When they arrived at the base of the mountain, Abraham instructed his servants to wait at the base while he and his son went up to worship.  And what did he say to them?  “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”  He said that both of them would come back, and yet he knew that his son was to be the sacrifice!

And then as father and son were walking up the mountain, the son carrying the wood and the father carrying the fire and knife, the son looks into His father’s eyes and asks a very good question: “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burn offering?”  (And Father) “Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burn offering my son.””  But as far as Abraham knew, God had already provided the sacrifice; it would be Isaac himself, or would it?

So why didn’t Abraham respond as I truthfully told you I would; why didn’t He refuse?  Because He had God’s Word, God’s promise that through Isaac and no one else, the promised Savior, the once and for all Spotless Lamb of God would come to give up His life, spill His blood for the sins of all mankind!  Abraham reasoned with Himself that because God can not lie, and because God is the giver of all good things, even if He were to actually have the father take the life of his son, God Himself would raise him up from the ashes of the burnt offering because it is through Isaac alone, that the Savior would come.  Without Isaac there is no Savior and without a Savior there can be no Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So, God will provide because He always does!

There on the top of Mt. Moriah, bound in death, are both the father and son.  The son is bound with physical ropes, but both of them are bound just as tight, both emotionally and spiritually.  Have you ever felt so oppressed by an experience that physical death seemed insignificant?  That is certainly how this father and son must have felt; they both felt as good as dead.  That is always the result of God’s command, which demands, YOU MUST DO THIS, BUT I OFFER YOU NO HELP OR HOPE.  JUST DO AS YOU’RE TOLD!  But then, they both remember the promise….  “Through isaac shall come the Savior.”  Their fear has now been replaced by their trust in God’s faithfulness to provide, even in death.  In this moment, all of their pride and self reliance is taken away.  They are standing helpless in front of an almighty God!  The fathers’s hand grasps the knife, finds its mark on the throat of his son and begins to come down when God Himself calls out with the gospel: “Stop!  Don’t lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for (now you know what I know) that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”. Now instead of death, God’s Word speaks life!

And Abraham looked up, and there caught in the bushes by it’s horn was a ram.  And Abraham took the ram, bound it and sacrificed it as a burn offering instead of his son.  Where’s the lamb?  God will provide it.  Where’s the way to cover up our sins, to make all things right with God?  God will provide the way!  Abraham knew that God was faithful; He knew that He alone would provide a way out of what seemed to be a hopeless and helpless situation.  He knew that God would make all things new and right because somehow his son Isaac played a part in God’s ultimate way of making things right; through Isaac would come God’s own Son from heaven to be God’s ultimate spotless Lamb who would take away our sin.

Thousands of years latter Jesus Christ, true Son of God and Son of man would walk to the same mountain in the land called Moriah, a land that was now called Jerusalem.  As Isaac carried the wood intended to burn his own body as a sacrifice, Jesus also carried His own wood, the tree of woe that He would also obediently lay down upon.  But their would be no voice from heaven staying the execution; no, this execution must go on.  This son of man and Son of God must suffer and die.  He must spill his blood as a sacrifice for all sin.

Jesus is the spotless lamb that God has provided once and for all.  He is both the ultimate sacrificial lamb and the scape goat.  He is the fulfillment of God’s promise that was first given in Genesis, repeated in Exodus and every other book of the Bible.  At the cross of Jesus, God has provided the Lamb for the entire world.  At the cross of Jesus the fruit of redemption and forgiveness are yours.  But what good is the fruit if you do not receive it?

In your baptism God gives you the fruit of the cross.  From the fruit of one tree we received sin and the punishment, but in the fruit of the cross God gives us forgiveness and peace.  In your baptism, God washed away your identity as a sinner and he gave you the identity of His Son, His only begotten Son.  God did what you and I could never do, He sacrificed His Son.  On the cross Jesus fulfilled what Isaac could not; He laid down His life in obedience to the will and plan of the Father.  This atonement for sin, along with Christ’s obedience is what you have been washed with in your baptism.  It is Christ’s identity; it is your new identity!  Every day God’s Word of law speaks fear and death to your sinful flesh; putting it to death so that your new baptismal identity is strengthened in the proclamation of the gospel!

Each of us should forever rejoice that God called out of heaven to stop the hand of the father from taking the life of his son.  He did it so that His hand could give the life of His Son to save us.  But there was another call from heaven that day that we must also hear.  It is the call of promise; a promise to Christ’s church and a promise to you!  Listen: And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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 your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.

Friends, you are all brothers and sisters because you have one Creator Father, God Himself, but you also have one father of faith and that is Abraham, just  as the children sing, “Father Abraham has many sons, many sons has father Abraham; I am one of them and so are you!”  You are his children because you relate to God by grace, through faith, just as Abraham did!  Abraham believed the Savior would come through his son and you believe that He already has; you believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, even your sin!

Because we believe, because we are Christians, the world is watching how we live our lives.  They’re not so much worried about how good we are as how good our God and Savior is.  They want to see what forgiveness looks like, because if they can see you living out forgiveness, they’ll know that they can have it too!  Do you want to be a good witness for the gospel?  Good, then demonstrate what it’s like living as a sinner who’s been washed clean by the blood of the lamb!

Where’s the beef?  Where’s the meat of our Christian life?  It’s in the forgiveness of sins; our sins and the sins of our neighbor.  Everyone wants forgiveness, but we can’t receive it without the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

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