Lessons for Lent 1: Genesis 22:1-18, James 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-15
Sermon Text: Genesis 22:1-18
“God will provide!” We hear that sentiment often, but we know it’s true. “God will provide.” It’s the kind of thing Christians say when the budget is tight or even non-existent. It’s heard around dinner tables and hospital beds. It’s a summary statement of a deeper truth that “every good…and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights” as James put it. It’s also a call to faith. To entrust the unseen conclusion to God’s timing and God’s will.
But, sometimes “God will provide” is used more as a cliché. A quick fix that is said to brush off someone’s concern. It’s the proverbial sweeping under the rug of our suffering; a minimization instead of a call to trust the Lord.
“God will provide!” was Abraham’s answer to Isaac when the young man quizzically pointed out the wood and the fire, but the absence of a lamb for the sacrifice. But Abraham was not just soothing his son with a cliché and he wasn’t ducking the serious nature of Isaac’s inquiry. This was life or death. “God will provide!” was Abraham’s earnest prayer and his unwavering faith.
God had promised that this miracle child given to Abraham in his old age would be the means by which God would deliver blessings and salvation to the world. “God will provide!” was Abraham’s way of holding God to his promises, even in the midst of an unimaginable trial that looked contradictory to the God he knew and loved. Isaac was the tangible and living proof that God was true to his Word. And now God was acting like the false gods, the god of pagans, to whom the Canaanites sacrificed children.
Most people would think maybe they dialed the wrong divine number if God told them to do something so terrible. Yet, somehow Abraham knew that this was the same God who promised this son, who promised that a great nation would come from this son, and that one day from this son’s line a Seed would be born who would bless all the nations. So, full of faith Abraham could say, “God will provide the lamb.” The author of Hebrews noted that Abraham believed that even if God had to resurrect Isaac from the dead He would do it. Why would Abraham think this way? Because he had God’s Word. By His Word God had attached all his promises to Isaac’s life.
That’s not to say this entire trial was easy for Abraham. He must have suffered terribly during that three-day journey up to Mt. Moriah. Some people may even call this a faith-crisis. The question of whether he would follow God’s command hangs over every arduous step. Would he stop, about face, and take his son far away? You get your answer when Abraham says, “God will provide!” Unbelief would send him barreling down that mountain faster than an Olympian luger. Faith sends him forward. Even under this terrible test Abraham’s faith draws him closer to God, going where He’s told to go, doing as he is directed to do.
And this is the way it will be for Abraham’s children too. They may become a great nation, but it will not come without trials and testing. Moses was constantly tried by the people’s complaints. Ruth willingly suffered poverty lest she lose her mother-in-law and miss the opportunity to live with the God’s chosen people. Then she would marry Boaz and become a grandmother in the line of the Messiah. David’s life had more ups and downs than a Hallmark drama. Faith in God does have its high moments like the Mount of Transfiguration, but it often can feel like a wrestling match with a painful injury like Jacob experienced.
Even the promised Seed of Abraham, the Messiah from whom all nations will be blessed didn’t have an easy road. In Mark’s gospel we hear how he was baptized in the Jordan. Their he was declared to be God’s Son, by the Father himself. This is a high moment. And shouldn’t this be it? This is my Son, done, finished! Yet, the Son’s work is not done there, no it has just begun. And immediately the Holy Spirit “throws” him or “compels” him into the wilderness to be tested by the devil for forty days.
Mark doesn’t tell us as much about it as Matthew and Luke, but Jesus doesn’t lose faith in His Father either. He trusts the Word of promise and wields the sword of the Spirit, masterfully combating the devil’s attacks.
Why do we think it should be any different for us? Why should we act surprised when testing and trials come our way? Abraham was tested and so was the promised Seed, God’s very Son, and everyone in between. Whoever told us that life with God in this sinful world would be a bowl of sunshine? Abraham didn’t ever say that and Jesus didn’t either.
Yet, both did teach us this, “God will provide…” Abraham didn’t know how, but when he lifted the knife imagine the start he had when God called out his name and gave him a new command not to harm the boy. And then what many people think is a cliché came true, God provided. A ram crowned with thorns, a gift from the Father to spare Isaac’s life. Abraham was faithful in the trial and he had his son figuratively back from the dead, full of life.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for…he will receive the crown of life.” God has provided the way through the trials that lead from death to life. Like Isaac’s our lives hang in the balance. Our sins deserve the altar, the knife, and the fire. Yet, God provided a substitute ram for Isaac. Interestingly rams would only be sacrificed by Israel to consecrate priests and on the Day of Atonement as a sin offering to atone for the people’s sins. The ram was always an atoning sacrifice for sin, a sacrifice for forgiveness.
So our God provided a sacrifice crowned with thorns for us, a gift from the Father to spare our lives too. Yet, this is the magnificent mystery of it all. God does the very thing He prevented Abraham from doing. He gives us His Son as the sacrifice. And Jesus, as obedient as Isaac and Abraham combined, willingly lays down His life as both the sacrificial victim and the consecrated priest. By his death He spares our lives and crowns us with His life.
When Abraham finished he named the place “Yahweh Provides.” Notice that he did not name it “Abraham Obeyed”, but gives all honor to God who kept His word just as Abraham knew He would. During the hour of suffering Abraham and Isaac kept their faith laser focused on the God who provides.
So, at your hour, during your testing, even when death seems to loom so close, remember it is an opportunity to exercise your faith and say, “God will provide.”
And He has provided! “[O come, let us fix our eyes on] Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In the name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Genesis 22:8a
 James 1:17
 James 1:12
 Genesis 22:14
 Hebrews 12:23, (Gradual text for Lent 1-B)