Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rejoicing to See His Day

Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2013
Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ.

For us, we look back on Jesus, as He lived and breathed and walked the dusty roads of Palestine, we look back some 2000 years ago. What was it like? What did He look like? How did His voice sound? What feelings would you have had when He spoke? When He restored someone’s sight, their hearing, their ability to walk? What would it be like to see His day, to see Him walking and talking among people like you and me?

Some 2000 years before that was another man, Abraham. He rejoiced to see the Day. The Day of Christ. The Day of the Lord, the Savior. The Day of God.

Some 2000 years before Jesus came on the scene, a little boy asked his father, “Father, I see everything for the sacrifice we are about to make, except the main part of the sacrifice. Where is the lamb for the sacrifice, Dad?”

And in response to his son Isaac, Abraham looked up, and looked off in the distance. He saw the altar upon which he would make his sacrifice, and he looked beyond that. He looked and saw something he rejoiced in: the Day of Christ. He rejoiced on that day, though with a heavy heart he carried out a heavy burden. What do you say to your son when he is asking how this sacrifice is to be carried out without the animal that is to be sacrificed? How do you explain to him that God commanded you, that you, son of mine, who was born in miracle of God to your mother who was beyond the ability to become pregnant, that you are the one who is to be sacrificed?

How you answer it is by faith. And so Abraham looked off into the distance and saw what could only be seen by faith. He saw the Day of Christ. He didn’t know who, exactly. He didn’t know how, exactly. He just knew. He knew that the promise given to him that his wife would bear a son, did in fact bear a son. He knew that the God who had promised him that he would be the father of many nations and that the Messiah would come from the very promise brought about in Isaac, would in fact be brought about.

And so God will Himself provide the lamb, my son. That was good enough for Isaac. He walked on with his father to the appointed spot. Either that, or he was thinking, “I wonder if I need to begin looking into a rest home for my dad.” We’re not given to know what Isaac was thinking, only that he obeyed his father and lay still as his dad tied him securely to the altar.

But on that day no dramatic sacrifice would be made. Nothing more than a ram, that had happened to be caught in a thicket. Sure, God brought about that ram getting caught, but what Abraham had seen by faith was not a ram. It was no animal, either. God will provide the Lamb, and so He did. God provided no animal for sacrifice. Nor did he provide Abraham’s immediate offspring, Isaac. But He did provide Abraham’s Son; that is, the Son given in promise. God the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This is who Abraham rejoiced in, the One whose Day he saw.

In the Gospel reading Jesus asks the Jews which one of them convicts Him of sin. In the Gospel reading they accuse Him of having a demon. In the Gospel reading they are incensed because they believe He blasphemes. In the Old Testament reading if one were to witness the actions of Abraham he or she might conclude that he was demon-possessed. Or not in his right mind. Abraham’s line was, “God told me to sacrifice my son, so I’m just obeying Him.” Today Child-Protective Services would see to it that Abraham never got to be alone with his son again.

You can rest assured that God will no longer call on His people to do such a thing, as the one sacrifice has been made, and it was the one of His very own Son. This was a sacrifice that was made not out of some plan of God that went horribly wrong. It was rather a loving, deliberate act, in which Jesus chose to lay down His life so that we may live. Because God, after all, provided the Lamb; just as Abraham said He would. Just as Abraham rejoiced in; as Jesus said Abraham would, rejoicing to see His Day, the Day of Christ.

Because the Day of Christ is really about the Father. Jesus says in the Gospel reading that He does not seek His own honor but rather to honor His Father. Jesus says, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” We might be sitting here today wondering what it would have been like. What would it have been like to see Jesus in the flesh? It’s hard for us to comprehend, it’s better for us simply to leave it be. The fact is, God was standing before those people. God was in the flesh. Well, that’s a little hard to wrap your mind around. And sadly, those people weren’t having any of it. Jesus, You are a heretic and a blasphemer.

But think about it, what did Abraham believe about Him? Exactly what Jesus said of Himself. Because Abraham saw Him, and believed in Him, by faith. He didn’t see Him, but he believed in Him. So you have people who saw Him, who stood before Him, and rejected Him. And you have a guy who lived 2000 years before Him, but who believed in Him by faith. We stand here 2000 years later and do not see Him. But we believe in Him. We see Him as Abraham did, looking off into the distance across history, believing in Him by faith. And while Abraham rejoiced to see His Day, we look ahead and see that there is something yet to happen that we must take on faith, as well. Jesus will return again in glory. We long for that day, we take that day on faith, we rejoice to see that Day.

Now? Now, we live by faith. Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Now we know we’re going to die. But we will not taste death. You are in Christ. Death for you will be as a sleep. You will fall asleep and be laid to rest in the grave, and then on the Last Day you will wake up and you will rejoice to the see the Day of Christ. You will enjoy the fullness of His glory in heaven. Others may think you’re crazy. Some may just lament that you don’t base your beliefs on reason. But you hold fast to the Word of Christ. You will not taste death.

Now it’s true that it’s hard to fathom this promise of Jesus. When you look at history and you see that generations after generations of people have died, when you see that people you know have died, you see a pattern. So now Jesus says that if you keep His word you will not taste death. These people battling Jesus say, “What about Abraham?” “Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

That’s when Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see His Day. Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” This is what these people were missing. They were missing the fact that God reveals Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Abraham saw that, because the only way you can see it is by faith. The people in front of Jesus saw Him with their eyes, but they shut their ears to Him and therefore did not see Him by faith. Faith comes by hearing, and therefore, they did not have true belief in God.

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is the great mystery of God. He is eternal and yet became flesh. He has always been and yet humbled Himself to be born. He is the creator of life and yet died on the cross. It was at this point, that if those people had their way, it would have been all over. When Jesus said that before Abraham was, I am, “they picked up stones to throw at him.” It’s true that Jesus had become a man, was born in human flesh, in order to die, but not this way.

No, it was in the way that Abraham had spoken of: God Himself will provide the Lamb. A bunch of Jews who were incensed at Him wouldn’t be the cause of His downfall and make a martyr out of Him. No, God himself would provide the Lamb, and Abraham, and all the angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven would rejoice to see His Day. So on this occasion “Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” He is God. He is the I AM. He is the Word made flesh. He is the one who gave all glory to His Father by being obedient to death.

The Epistle reading nails it, the sacrifice Abraham saw off in the distance, the sacrifice we see as we look back, God Himself providing the Lamb: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”

The Living God. That is who we serve. We do so because God has provided the Lamb, His Son, Jesus Christ. Abraham rejoiced to see His Day. We rejoice to see His Day. We rejoice that He comes in the flesh still, giving us His Body and Blood in and with the bread and wine of His Supper; given us to eat and drink, so that we may be filled, and strengthened, in order to serve the Living God. Amen.


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