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You Will Be Tested

February 18, 2018

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First Sunday in Lent                                   Trinity Lutheran Church

18 February 2018                                       Murdock, NE


+ Jesu Juva +


Genesis 22:1-18


You want to talk about getting your faith tested? Ever had your faith tested by God? Maybe you have and didn’t even realize it! Sometimes when it happens it’s quite unpleasant. Quite unnerving. Unthinkable. Stretches your faith to the breaking point. The testing sometimes appears to be contrary to God’s nature and His Word. Just ask Abraham.


Abraham trusted God. Childless Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations. Then God gave Abraham and Sarah a son, an only son, Isaac. They loved him deeply. Through this boy the promised Savior of the world would come.


Now God tests Abraham’s faith. I’ll say it again: God tests faith! He refines faith in the furnace of suffering and hardship. Like gold in a refiner’s fire. Like steel tempered in a blast furnace. God closes up His hand of blessing tightly and leaves Abraham in the wilderness alone with His naked Word. God dares Abraham to believe that His Word is certain and sure by asking Abraham to do the unthinkable: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”


Just in case you weren’t listening or fell asleep earlier I’m going to say it again: God tests faith. He tests the faith He creates in you. He shapes and forms it like a master potter at the wheel. Turning a lump of clay into a beautiful vase or bowl. God hardens and strengthens faith the way a coach prepares his team for the championship game. Like a commander prepares his troops for battle. God tests and tempers faith through … SUFFERING AND CROSS. Suffering and cross are written across all three readings today. Jesus is sent into the wilderness to confront Satan. James says that you are blessed as you “remain steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.” Abraham is asked by God to make a sacrifice of his only son.


A God who tests the very faith He creates, as He did with Abraham, as He does with you, is a troubling God. Unpredictable. Can’t be tamed. Can’t put Him under your control on your agenda. You can’t make Him do things your way. Your way is the way of the easy life. A microwave generation life. No waiting. No pain. No suffering. No sacrifice. No ambiguity. NO TESTING!


Incredibly, even when God appears to be Abraham’s worst enemy, the ready-for-the-nursing-home-old-man gets up early in the morning, saddles up the donkeys, takes two of his servants, chops the wood, gets sleepyhead Isaac out of bed and sets out for the mountain! A three-day journey! Probably the longest three days in Abraham’s life! I can’t imagine the agony! It must have been unbearable as he turned over and over in his mind what God said. Was God really asking him to do such a thing? How would God keep His promise that he would be the father of many nations and that through Isaac the Savior of the world would come if he sacrifices Isaac?


When they finally come to the mountain did you notice what Abraham said to his servants? “We will worship and then WE will come back to you.” Really? Did he mean that? Or was he just saying that? When he and Isaac get to the top of the mountain the boy asks the obvious question: “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”


And then comes one of the greatest statements of faith ever recorded in the Bible: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son.” That is absolutely marvelous! How God would do that Abraham didn’t know. However, he believed that God would provide the lamb. He risked everything – trusting that God must be true to His promise. That God doesn’t break His promise. That God doesn’t lie! That His Word is sure. That God Himself would provide the sacrifice. Abraham was certain of it.


And Abraham was right. He was faithful. He trusted God’s Word even when God appeared to go against His own Word. Even when all he could see was the wood, the altar, the fire and Isaac!


Abraham was certain that God would provide the lamb of sacrifice even to the point of tying up his son, placing him on the altar and raising the knife above his head. This must have been terrifying moment. A moment when faith, doubt and perhaps unbelief are locked in an epic struggle – when heaven and hell look indistinguishable from one another.


As the knife was raised the angel of the Lord’s voice called out: “Abraham! Abraham!” Abraham’s faith was tested. Isaac was spared. In a thicket there was a ram caught by its horns. The LORD provided the substitute, the sacrifice for Isaac, Abraham’s only beloved son.


Now, let’s get right to the point. It’s taken me too long. I’ve been too long-winded. I beg your forgiveness. I know you’ve been getting antsy. So here it is. The story of Abraham and Isaac gives you a picture of your own salvation and what God has done so that you are His. In Abraham we see the love that God the Father has for you. Abraham experienced in his own soul the sorrow and agony of a father who is asked to give up his only beloved son. If there was ever a man who felt in some small measure what went on in the heart of God the Father when He sent His Son into the world to be crucified, it was Abraham.


God the Father gave up His only beloved Son FOR YOU! “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all,” (Rom 8). The Father placed His Son Jesus on the wood of the cross. He made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin, to be THE sin offering, THE whole burnt offering, consumed if the fire of God’s wrath against your sin and His burning desire to save you from the hell that your sins deserve.


Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? Let me put it this way. As the ram was the substitute for Isaac – Jesus is the substitute FOR YOU. The knife doesn’t go into you. It goes into Jesus! Jesus takes the law’s punishments in your place. Jesus is the Lamb caught on the wood of the cross – pinned there by your sin. God the Father provided the Lamb for sacrifice – His own beloved Son!


Follow my finger as I play John the Baptist this morning (as I point to the crucifix) and hear what I preach: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is the Substitute Sacrifice for sinners. “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” On the mountain of Calvary the Lamb of God slain for sinners was provided – FOR YOU! On the LORD’S mountain, the church, the benefits of His Good Friday death are provided. Given in baptism, absolution and the Lamb’s body and blood in the Supper. The Lord provides. More than you ever expected. More than you ever realized. More than you would ever dare to ask.


Finally, as I bring this to a close, I will say it one more time. Nic, Brenda, Michelle, and all the baptized — you will be tested. God will test you. If He’s letting you have a breather at the moment, rejoice and give thanks. However, remember it’s only a breather. The time of testing will come. Count on it. It’s a no-brainer. What the testing will be I can’t say for sure. It may come as a financial hardship or a gargantuan emotional distress.


I think that in the near future it’s safe to say that it will be a form of persecution for confessing Jesus as Lord. After all, one of the pretend almighty divinities on the TV show The View recently infallibly called Vice President’s Christianity “a mental illness.” Remember, these are the self-proclaimed most loving and tolerant people.


By the way folks – Jesus does talk to you. Every time you read or study the Bible He’s speaking to you. When you go the Sacrament He’s speaking to you. He categorically says: Eat. Drink. It’s my body and my blood. Truly. It is one thing for you to talk to Jesus. It is another thing for Jesus to talk to you. HE DOES! For example, in the Sacrament He says: “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s salvational by the way! Many other pretend divinities on TV, social media and capital hill contend that Christianity should be criminalized and outlawed.


The testing may come with a serious illness, a difficult marriage, a loss of income, of reputation or of opportunity. It could be the betrayal of a spouse, a child, a friend, or the death of a loved one. It will not be pleasant. Testing never is. It isn’t supposed to be!


Nic, Brenda and Michelle, at times God may seem very distant, perhaps even to be against you. You will feel isolated and alone in your time of testing. Even your best friends and family members may avoid you. But I am here to tell you that you have this promise from the Lord through preacher James: “remain steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”


Trust in Jesus and His promise of salvation in the time of testing. Abraham believed it. God provides. He has given His only beloved Son into that Good Friday death for your salvation. He has given you His divine and saving name in baptism. In absolution and preaching He speaks His divine Good Friday forgiveness to you and FOR YOU. So too in the Lord’s Supper – “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The LORD provides. He does it FOR YOU! Trust Him because “he who believes and is baptized will be saved,” (Mk 16:16) or as Jesus promised it at the beginning of the service today to Nic, Brenda and Michelle, “whoever confesses me before men I will also confess before my Father in heaven.”


In the Name of Jesus.

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