In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I. Abraham as the Perfect Man of Faith
1. More than any other person, the Holy Scriptures portray Abraham as the perfect man of faith. Abraham was the perfect man of faith, but that does not mean he was perfect or sinless. When God calls him to leave behind his land and family and journey to an unknown place (Genesis 12:1), Abraham’s obedience was far from perfect. He did not leave behind all of his family. Instead, He chose to bring his nephew Lot on the journey (Genesis 12:4). When he journeyed to Egypt and later in Gerar, he failed to protect his wife, practically giving her away to other men (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). When it seemed that God was not fulfilling His promise of an heir, Abraham failed to trust in God, taking his servant Hagar as a wife to help God out (Genesis 16:1-16). When the Lord promised that He would give Abraham a son through his wife Sarah, Abraham fell on his face and laughed in unbelief (Genesis 17:17). Abraham was not a perfect man, but perfect men of faith are not perfect men. Abraham was a perfect man of faith. Perfect men and women of faith do not rely on their own morality and goodness. Perfect men and women of faith trust the Lord and submit to Him. They recognize their sinfulness and humbly repent of their evil ways, relying on the Lord’s gracious kindness to forgive sinners. Abraham was the perfect man of faith because he recognized his sin and lived a life of repentance as he learned to trust in the Lord.
2. The testing of Abraham in Genesis 22 demonstrates Abraham’s great faith in God. As the Lord tests Abraham in this bizarre and difficult manner, Abraham’s faith does not waver. He obeys the Lord’s command to sacrifice his son, reasoning that God could raise the dead (Hebrews 11:19). Therefore he told his servants, “I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). Abraham was not a perfect man, but he lived in pure confidence, trusting that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22:8). It is God alone who provides for the atonement of sins. It is God alone who raises sinners from the gates of death and hell. Abraham knew this. Abraham trusted that God would see his need and provide. This is perfect faith—to place your confidence in the one who forgives sinners. One’s trust need not be perfect because the God who is perfect in Himself makes pure those who place their imperfect faith in Him. Abraham’s faith in God then became sight as the Lord provided an innocent substitute to atone for his sins and to raise his son from the gates of death.
II. Jesus was Convicted of Sin for Us
3. But the ultimate substitute had yet to come. On the mountain of Moriah Abraham saw but a foreshadowing of the pure, innocent lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. As that perfect, sinless substitute, our Lord Jesus could rightly ask the Jews, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). No one could justly convict our Lord Jesus of sin. He was, in Himself, perfect and sinless. His nature is truth and goodness in contrast to sinful humans, who are corrupt, evil liars by nature. We are plagued with sin and destined for death, but our Lord Jesus has life in Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). He is greater than father Abraham because He is Abraham’s God: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). The Jews, however, refused to accept this. They would not accept Jesus as their God. “So, they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself” (John 8:59). The Jews had rejected their Lord. They wanted to stone Him, but Jesus would not allow this to happen. He hid Himself from them not because He was afraid to die but because He did not come to die as a martyr who dies merely for a cause. Our innocent, sinless Lord would die as the ultimate burnt offering which would atone for the sin of the world. Upon the cross, our Lord was convicted of sin so that, as the spotless Lamb of God, He might atone for the sin of the world. Jesus was convicted of sin for us so that Abraham’s faith in the one who raises the dead would become reality.
III. Abraham Rejoiced to See Jesus’ Day
4. And so, our Lord Jesus said to the Jews: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). When the Lord promised Abraham the birth of his own son by his wife Sarah, Abraham laughed in unbelief (Genesis 17:17). When that son was born, Abraham and Sarah laughed in joy (Genesis 21:6). Abraham saw the day when the Lord began to fulfill His promise to bless the nations through his offspring (Genesis 12:3). Abraham saw that son and was glad. Then and there, in that event, Abraham saw the day of Jesus begin. In that wonderful gift of Isaac, the promises of God became reality. Prior to the birth of Isaac, all that Abraham had was hope. Hope certainly does not disappoint (Romans 5:5), but when hope is realized, when faith becomes sight, believers rejoice exceedingly. In the birth of Isaac, the first tangible fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations came into being. This was a fulfillment which could be seen. But then Abraham saw a further glimpse of the day of Jesus on Mount Moriah. There, as his only son was about to be sacrificed, the Lord provided a substitute. And once again, one day in the future, on that same mountain, the ultimate substitute would be provided. Jesus, the only son of God, would be sacrificed in place of Isaac in order to atone for the sin of the world. Abraham rejoiced that he saw this day begin.
5. We, too, are invited to join our father Abraham in seeing the day of Jesus. As our Lenten journey begins its final stretch, we turn our thoughts and minds to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein we see clearly the day of Jesus. Through the hearing of God’s Word, we see all that our Lord Jesus endured on our behalf. And as we do so, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to increase our faith so that we receive afresh the benefits of our Lord’s atoning work on the cross. We begin Holy Week with a journey to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We will join the crowd in crying out, “Hosanna!”, which means, “save us.” Unlike the crowd, though, we know full-well the manner in which our Lord would accomplish this salvation. Beginning on Sunday and concluding on Friday, we will hear the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded by each of the four Gospel writers. Saint Matthew’s account is on Sunday. Saint Mark’s account is on Tuesday. Saint Luke’s account is on Wednesday. And Saint John’s account is on Friday. These passion narratives detail all that our Lord endured for us—the betrayal, the false trial, the abuse, the torture, the suffering, and the brutal death. All this He endured so that you might be spared eternal death—so that you might be granted eternal life. On Thursday, we recall the institution of the Lord’s Supper, where our Lord Jesus invites us to eat of the new tree of life and receive tangibly the benefits of His cross. Through the Word and Sacrament, we see the day of Jesus clearly. He has died for us, not as a helpless martyr, but as a spotless sacrifice for our sins.
6. We ought not forget, however, that our journey through Holy Week is not meant to be a self-inflicted penance. It is not as if our re-living of our Lord’s Passion will earn us salvation. Our journey through Holy Week prepares us for that matter which we hear confessed so clearly on Easter morning by Job: “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). Our Lord Jesus’ Passion was for you. He endured the rejection, the mocking, the torture, and the suffering so that you might have Job’s confidence—so that you might stand next to Job and Abraham and all believers in Christ and witness this hope realized. After your body has been destroyed, you will stand upon the earth again. The Man who hid Himself from the unbelieving Jews will not hide Himself from you on the last day. Because of His atoning death, He will raise you up on the last day. You will see God in your flesh. You will be granted eternal life. This is the promise which Holy Week gives us. We see Jesus’ day by faith during Holy Week so that we might be assured of seeing His day in all its glory when He returns to make all things new. May our heavenly Father grant us afresh this confidence through the working of His Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.