Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent: Abraham and Isaac

So for my first blog post in Advent, I'd like to talk about Abraham and Isaac. Probably not what one would expect. After all what does this story have to do with the coming of Christ? Nothing. And everything!

  Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.

 The first lesson we learn from this story is that Abraham immediately responded to God's call! This is something many of us still need to work on. When God calls us in our daily lives often we think, if He would just call me again; then I'd know it was really Him. Remember the story about the man who kept praying for deliverance form the flood, and every time someone would show up with a boat or a helicopter he'd say, "My God will save me!" Then after he died, he demanded from God, "Why didn't you save me?" God said, "I sent you two boats and a helicopter! As we go through Advent we need to learn to listen to God's voice! To prepare ourselves for His will, that we may be found ready for the Master's call!

Now imagine the amount of courage it would take for Abraham to walk up the mountain after being told to sacrifice his only son. Remember, Abraham had waited for years for this child! He had been promised by God that he would have a son, and here God wants that very son to be sacrificed. We often complain about having to cut back on supplies, or about having to get rid of this or that; or even complain because we have to go to Church an extra day this week, etc. Here Abraham is told to give up something that none of us can imagine, and he climbs the mountain with his son to do so!

 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 

Here again from this story we learn a valuable lesson. Not only did Abraham trust God, but Isaac trusted Abraham! Think about how our kids would react if we were acting this way. If we were telling our kids we were going camping, and not taking a tent, that God would provide the tent! They'd think we were crazy! Yet it doesn't say that Isaac complained, or hesitated or went to play his X-box. Instead, "the two of them went together."

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

Now think about this again! Isaac was probably a teenager at this point. We don't know his exact age, but he isn't traveling with his mother on a three day journey AND he seems to be asking very intelligent questions. Most think he would have been between 16 and 30. Abraham was over 100! Yet there is no recording of Isaac struggling. He still trusted his dad! (Just as we should be trusting our Father!) How many of us would trust someone to bind us, put us on the altar of God and raise a knife over our head! Even more so, imagine what it must be like for Abraham! This father is standing there trusting that God will do something! In fact, he even told his son that God would provide the lamb for the burnt offering! He clearly thought God was going to perform a miracle! He trusted in God to do so, no matter how crazy what God had asked him to do was!

  But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”  The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time  and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,  and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

What does all of this have to do with Advent? Everything! Let me quote part of the story again. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” In English that seems to say one thing, but it could also be read another way in Hebrew. It could even be rendered in English as "God will provide Himself, the lamb, for the burnt offering my son." Think about that for a moment! In the very first book of the bible God is already telling us about the Lamb, about Christ!  What do we learn from this story? We learn about the attitude that we should have everyday of our lives.

First we should be trusting God! Enough to do whatever He asks, when He asks! Not waiting or complaining, but going out of our comfort zone and doing what He has called us to do! Go over to the crying mother and comfort her, don't wait uncomfortably until He tells you again. Go pray for the man who is in rags on the corner! Do what God calls you to do!

Secondly, we see the attitude of anticipation we should have. Can you imagine how much Abraham wanted to see that ram in the thicket? How about Isaac? How much were they looking forward to God providing that lamb? We should have that same sense of anticipation throughout our lives. We are waiting for the Lamb! He is coming back! Just like Isaac on that altar, we should be looking around, anxiously! Knowing that God is going to provide! Trusting enough to put our lives at risk!

So let us look into the thicket! Let our eyes search the skies, the ground, and the faces of every man, woman and child we meet! Looking for God! With great anticipation and hope! God promised to provide the Lamb, Himself! He has also promised to return! Let us hold firm to those promises!

In Christ,

* This story takes on even more meaning when we look for similarities to the passion. The thicket of thorns capturing the ram - the crown of thorns. The fact that the mountain that this occurred on WAS the mount of Olives. The ram was placed on the wood, Christ was sacrificed on wood. The list goes on and on.