1st Sunday of Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who suffered for our sins, dear friends in Christ, I tried this out the other day with my 1 year old David. He definitely has a sugar tooth – more than any of my other children. Well, the other day mom made some cookies and he was busily eating a cookie in mom’s arms. Then I walked in and mom also had made some brownies and I cut one out of the pan and was eating it and talking to my wife. But when David saw that I had a brownie and he only had a cookie he started to whimper and cry and stick his hand out showing clearly he wanted my brownie. So I traded and gave him my last bite and I took his last bite of cookie. And he was good with that. Then I tried trading his cookie back to him for the brownie. No way was he going to give up that brownie- even if I was offering him the cookie. There’s a certain truth there, isn’t there? That which we value the most is the thing that we are the most unwilling to give up.
So the question is: What do you value the most in life? What are you most unwilling to give up? Some people take up the practice of fasting during lent. Setting aside something important, giving up something for lent. And perhaps there are some useful reminders in doing so: reminders of how frail we humans are or how much we so easily attach ourselves to things in this life. But God nowhere commands that we fast. But in a way our entire lives are to be a “fast” in a sense. God wants us to value Him the most and be ready to give up anything that might get in the way of our trust and reliance on Him alone. So what does the story of your life look like? What do you value the most? What are you most unwilling to give up?
The text before us is really the climactic point of Abraham’s life of faith in God so we really need to understand a bit more about Abraham’s life leading up to this point. God called Abraham, brought him to faith, directed him to travel to the land of Canaan, gave Abraham some incredible promises, promises like many descendants, a promised land that his descendants would live in, and, most importantly, through Abraham all people would be blessed, in other words, through Abraham’s descendants would come the Savior of the world. Abraham obeyed the Lord and moved to an unknown land. But then there was a famine in the land and Abraham had to move to Egypt for a time. And while in Egypt he had a choice: rely on God or rely on himself? He reasons that the king of Egypt would see how beautiful his wife Sarah is and kill him to have her. So, Abraham relies on himself, says that Sarah is his sister and Sarah ends up in the harem of the king of Egypt. So God had to intervene and get her out of there. Later, Abraham has a problem. God’s given him some wonderful promises, but they all hinge on the fact that he needs a child, a son, which he doesn’t have. Again, rely on God or rely on himself? He relies on himself and takes his wife’s maidservant Hagar, sleeps with her, and has a child with her – Ishmael, contrary to God’s will. Then once again Abraham was afraid of a local king and has a choice of relying on God or himself, and he relies on himself, lies to this king, Abimelech and says that his wife is really his sister, the king takes Sarah into his harem and God has to get her out of there immediately! Well, finally, God, in a miraculous way and according to his promise, allows Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to get pregnant. So a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman have a child and not just any child but THE child, Isaac, through whom God would fulfill the promises to Abraham of many descendants who would inherit a special land and eventually the Savior of the world – Abraham’s Savior – would come from the descendants of not just any son, but THIS son Isaac. How do you think Abraham felt about his son? How would you feel if you waited for something for some 75 or 80 years and finally had it? Do you think he loved his son dearly? Do you think he played with him? Do you think this son was the apple of his eye and the joy of his heart? Do you think he cared deeply about his son?
And then we come to our text and remember, that which we value the most is the thing we are most unwilling to give up. God tested Abraham. That’s what we’re told, not what Abraham was told, he didn’t know this was simply a test and everything was going to work out in the end. “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” What??!! Sacrifice my son! Are you kidding! Is this some kind of sick trick! Not only was Isaac the son of Abraham’s old age, the long waited for son, Isaac was the object of God’s incredible promises, Isaac was the joy of Abraham’s life, killing Isaac wasn’t just killing his own son, that meant killing God’s promise of a Savior, Abraham’s Savior! But God knew something that Abraham perhaps didn’t even know himself. Abraham was in great danger. Danger of slowly coming to the point of where he would have loved and valued his son more than God Himself.
So what did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he got up gathered the things together and set off for the 3 day, 50 mile trip to Mount Moriah where he would sacrifice his son. How it must have pained his heart! How the devil must have tempted him, “How could God be loving if he commands this?” How it must have felt like a knife in his heart when he heard his son say, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering.” How it must have hurt to think, “You my son are that lamb.” And then imagine the trust of Isaac at least a teenager at this point who then allows his over 100 year old father to bind him and lay him on the altar and stretch out his hand to kill him!
You see, with every sacrifice that took place there are really two sacrifices that God demanded. There was the putting to death of the object of the sacrifice. For, let’s say, a sheep. That sheep was to be slaughtered, killed, put to death. But there was another sacrifice, a more important sacrifice that was to take place. It was the sacrifice that happened inside the heart of the one who was doing the sacrificing. That for the Lord I am perfectly willing to surrender this thing, that the Lord is more important to me than this thing, I value my Lord more than I do this thing, the second sacrifice is the more important sacrifice. As NT Christians we don’t have sacrifices because our entire lives are to be one big spiritual sacrifice to God. “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to the Lord” (Romans 12:1). But the problem is, we all too easily become more attached to things. So, in love God sends us a test, like He did for Abraham- a test, not a temptation to sin, but a test, perhaps He removes something in our lives that we were beginning to treasure too much or something that we were in danger of treasuring more than the Lord Himself. When God removes whatever it is we are faced with a challenge, a test. We are faced to confront the issue of our hearts, much the way that Abraham was forced to confront his own heart. God already knew what was in Abraham’s heart, He already knows what’s in our hearts, but the trials and tests we face are opportunities where God opens our eyes to where our hearts really are or the direction where they are going. Have I begun value someone or something more than my God? Am I willing to lose anything and everything in my life should God in His wisdom demand it from me? What we value the most is what we are most unwilling to give up.
It could be a thing and item – my home, my car, my money, it could be a person – my spouse, my child, my friend, it could be something physical – my health, my body, my skills, it could be something totally different- my reputation, my pride, my self-sufficiency, my popularity. Any of those things – and many more – can easily become more important to me than my God. And when that happens we break the first and most important commandment. And it’s in tests and trials where God removes something from our lives and shows us just how attached we are to things or how reliant we’ve become on ourselves than on our God. And if we are so prone to value things over our God, to give up our devotion to God instead of things of this life, why in the world should He put any value on us? Why should God have any reason not to give us up to the fires of hell?
Abraham is standing over his son about to kill him, in his heart he’s already slayed his son in obedience to God, for he must value God the most and is unwilling to even let his love for his son crowd God and devotion to Him out of his heart. And then God intervenes, stops Abraham, and Abraham looks up and there – provided by God – is a ram and Abraham offers the ram in place of his son and Abraham calls that mountain “The Lord will provide.”
And it just so happens that it is this very same mountain on which the city of Jerusalem and the temple would later be built. It just so happens that just outside the walls of the city on this mountain God provided something else. A sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. That which you value the most is that which you are most unwilling to give up. On this very mountain God provided His own Son who wasn’t spared but was provided as the sacrifice for sins once and for all. Why? Because what God values the most and what God is most unwilling to give up… is…you. You and I deserved because of our sin to be given up by God, cast out of His presence forever for we are creatures who are so ready to give up on God for stuff, for things, for other people, yet in unimaginable love God gave up His own Son, so He wouldn’t have to give up on you and me!
And if you think about it, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? How will God not also see you through every trial and test? How will God not also comfort you with His never-ending, never-ceasing love no matter what you have in life or don’t have in life, no matter what you get or what you lose? In God you have it all. He has provided you with everything you need for eternal life in His Son and His sacrifice on the cross for you.
It was that sacrificial love of God that won Abraham’s heart and his devotion and it’s that same sacrificial, unconditional, never ending love of God that has won your heart and your devotion to value God most and be most unwilling to give Him up no matter what because on that mountain, on that cross God provided salvation…for you! Amen.