April 6, 2014 A+D
St. John 8:42-59
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus tells us very plainly that Abraham rejoiced to see His day.
Luther believed that Jesus was speaking of a specific incident in Abraham’s life, his laughing response to the pronouncement that Sarah would conceive and bear a son in her old age.
Abraham trusted the promise that God would provide the Messiah through him, but he was, nonetheless, uncertain and possibly quite confused about the details. He seemed to think the Messiah would come through Ishmael. Then the Lord spoke clearly.
“God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’” (Genesis 17:15–16, ESV)
Abraham then knew that the Messiah would come through Sarah. But, of course, this wasn’t a dry fact. Abraham’s wife was going to get pregnant and they would have a child. Moses continues:
“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”” (Genesis 17:17, ESV)
Luther’s take is that Abraham’s laughter is not doubt but joy. Abraham is full of wonder, happily astonished, and overcome with emotion. The Lord will provide. Sarah’s sorrow will be relieved. Not only will they have a son, but they are reconciled to the Father through the Messiah and have hope.
Abraham and Sarah desired not just the promised land, or a son, but a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. He prepared for them a city by grace and they received it by faith. They rejoiced in what God gave.
Luther’s thinking has the advantage of the recorded laughter, but I think he is wrong. If what Our Lord means is a single day in Abraham’s life when he clearly saw the day of the Lord and rejoiced, then I think that it must be the day that Isaac, that laughing little boy, laid down on the pile of wood he had carried up the mountain and allowed his father to tie him down and pour on the gas and set the knife to his neck. There, it seems to me, is the day of the Lord as fully depicted in type as it ever was in the Old Testament.
For if the day of the Lord is a single day, then surely it is the day that God fulfilled the Law on our behalf and forsook to the Son to the cross and Hell in order that we might be adopted as His sons. That is the day that the Lord hath made, in which we rejoice and are glad, the day which the builders rejected the corner stone and Jesus was bound to the altar of the cross by Roman nails. There is the Love of God made manifest and there is the culmination of all time and creation.
The parallels of that day and Isaac’s near sacrifice are profound. Isaac is the only son of Sarah. He carries the wood himself. He submits to his father’s will and allows the old man to tie him up and kill him. Unlike Our Lord, however, he escapes. The Lord provides for Abraham. He is spared to the need to sacrifice his son. Abraham gets Isaac back from the dead and they return to their servants as promised.
What the Lord provided for Abraham, He did not provide for Himself. The Cup was not removed. Abraham offered a mortal son for the son’s sins and was given the son back alive, declared innocent, someone had died in his place. The Father offered the immortal Son made flesh for the sins of the world. He was taken as payment by Hell. There was no substitute for Him. One Man died for the many, a worthy sacrifice and full payment. His Blood is upon us and our children and that Blood, sent by the Father, cleanses and saves us. It holds off the angel of death. Isaac goes free and Abraham rejoices.
Can we rejoice in this? If not, then we are not of God. He who is of God hears God’s Word. He who loves God rejoices in the things of God and the Day of Jesus Christ.
And, of course, that is not the end of the story. I suspect that Abraham doesn’t rejoice in a single day, but in the whole of the Messiah’s life: from His conception in the virgin’s womb, to His baptism and temptation, to His teaching and sorrows, to His death and resurrection, even to His ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. The chief thing is surely that the immortal Son of the Father has satisfied death and filled the grave on our behalf. When it was finished, He took up His life again. Chiefly do we praise Him for that! Death is defeated. Jesus rises and lives, the Victor. The ram caught in the thicket is killed, slain, but He lives. Can we rejoice in this? Must we choose a single day? Or might we rejoice in all of it? The giving of Isaac to Sarah and the giving back of Isaac to Abraham?
We do. We rejoice in all of it, but only if we first rejoice in His crucifixion. “He is risen,” and “Jesus lives” only makes sense if Jesus died, if He was raised up from the earth as a guilt offering and atonement for the sins of the world. For then, if that is true, if Jesus died for us, then “Jesus lives” means He lives for us and we have more to rejoice in than we can ever express or list.
The Lord provides on the mountain. He provides on the mountain that He might visit us here across the ocean on the plain. For if He died and if He lives then He can come to us in that risen Body and Blood and join us to Himself and to Abraham and Isaac. We rejoice in that! If He died and if He lives then He can come in His glory, hidden in bread and wine, for sinners declared saints. He can forgive us and He can enliven us in the Sacrament. And then like Abraham we will rejoice. We will rejoice in the midst of sadness and uncertainty, in the midst of fear and frustration. We will see the Day of the Lord and rejoice because Jesus died and Jesus lives and the Lord provides. We rejoice. We might even laugh in astonishment. We might even cry. Because Isaac and Abraham also live. So will we. We will live. And so will those we love who pass with the sign of faith. And we will all rejoice.
God be praised. He does all things well.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.