The Testing of the LORD
Rev. Kurt Lantz 1 Lent B Genesis 22:1-18
February 21 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people tempted and tested,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel Reading for the First Sunday in Lent we hear that Jesus was driven into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13). And in the Old Testament Reading for today we hear that Abraham was tested by God (Genesis 22:1). There is a very important difference between being tempted and being tested. We might explain this difference by saying that temptation comes with the intent that you fall into sin and away from God. Testing comes with the intent that you are strengthened in faith by being drawn toward God. Testing offers proof of your faith, it brings it to light, much like the tests you wrote in school were the evidence that you learned what was taught in class.
That being said, Satan can use God’s time of testing in order to tempt you to give up on God, just as God can use Satan’s time of tempting in order to test you and prove your faith in Him. I’m not sure we can always determine the difference in the moment, and perhaps we are not supposed to. It may skew the results, or have us start off with the wrong premise. But in the end the situation becomes clear.
When God tested Abraham by telling him to offer up his only son as a burnt offering, it was very much like the many ways in which we are tested or tempted. Abraham was presented with a proposal that went against the very promises that God had made to him earlier: “I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2); “Your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4); “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4); “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (17:19). Then after Isaac was born and all the promises seemed to be falling into place, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2).
What was Abraham to think? Did this abominable request really come from the same God who had given him such sweet promises about future generations? Did Abraham do something that offended God in some way, so that God was going to erase all the promises that He had made to him in the past?
Are these not the very things that rend our spirit when we are so sorely tempted/tested? We receive a diagnosis of cancer or some dreaded terminal illness or debilitating medical condition, and we wonder if Satan has been allowed to afflict us as God allowed him to tempt/test Job (Job 2:1-8), or if we have done something so horrible as to undo all of the blessings in life that we expected to receive from God. A loved one dies, they are taken away from us, perhaps far too soon—could this possibly be God’s doing? Why would He allow Satan to do something like this to us? What great evil could we have possibly committed that the God who made such wonderful promises to us through Holy Baptism, now appears to have turned away and discarded us?
If situations like these were easy to navigate, then they wouldn’t be very effective as either temptations or tests. Satan would be rather ineffective and not the threat as the Bible presents him. Or God would not be much interested in showing us the strength and power of faith as a shield to defend us from Satan’s attacks, but rather just making sure we have some pittance of trust that things will get better.
God promised... but it looks so bad. He promised... but I did the worst thing ever. He promised to bless, but my life feels like a curse. The temptation/testing often have to do with the fear that God has taken back the promises that He has made to us: fear that He has closed the door to heaven; fear that He has taken His Holy Spirit away and left us to stand on our own; fear that He no longer regards us as His dear children but has cast us off like Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away (Genesis 21). The promises God gave me in my Baptism appear to be gone.
These temptations/tests set up contradictions. They force us to consider that God is not who we thought Him to be. Perhaps He is not.
The account of God telling Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and offer him as a burnt offering comes as a shock. God appears to be someone totally different than the one who made such grand promises to Abraham about his offspring. In calling for the human sacrifice of Isaac, God appears to be no better than the false gods of the nations who demanded the sacrifice of children in exchange for a blessing of fertility for land or womb. In calling for the death of Issac God appears to be no better than the forces in our own nation promoting the sacrifice of children at any point up to their complete birth; and now offering medical help for mentally ill patients to kill themselves. What we once proudly proclaimed a Christian country is not the nation we once thought it to be. Has God changed His principles, too?
When God told Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering it seemed like He was not the same God who promised that He would establish an everlasting covenant with Isaac. It seems that way when some tragic event befalls us: when a Christian marriage ends in divorce; when our baptized children leave the church; when the promise of everlasting life is made over an open grave. Where is the God who made the promises? Why has He changed?
He has not. God “is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). “I Am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). He never changes and so His promises never change, but we grow in our understanding of them as their mysteries are more deeply revealed to us through every temptation/test that we face.
Teachers do not set tests in order to fail their students. They set tests to demonstrate that the student has succeeded, or, rather, that they themselves have succeeded in teaching their students. In the same way, when God tested Abraham, it resulted in the praise of God’s glorious name. It was demonstrated that God had succeeded in teaching Abraham to trust in Him in every situation, no matter how unfathomable it might be, even when it appeared that this couldn’t be from the same God who had made the previous promises.
It is the LORD who is tested. It is His promises that are put to trial and it is His faithfulness that is revealed. The strength of our Baptism shines through when the things that it purports to guarantee are threatened. Mount Moriah proclaimed the glory of God’s name, because there the Lord was shown to provide the sacrifice Himself. A ram caught among the thorns was offered in place of Isaac, in the place where Solomon would later build the temple (2 Chronicles 3:1) and God’s people would offer sacrifices for their sins, blood to pay the guilt as from the time of the first sin an animal was killed to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve, to die on that very day for their sin of rebellion (Genesis 3:3, 21).
Until the time when God would send His own Son, the One to whom all of His promises pointed, the Offspring of Abraham, the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15), to take the place not only of Isaac, not only of the firstborn of Israel (Exodus 12:12, 13), but to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world, to be offered upon the cross, caught in a crown of thorns (Mark 15:17-20), “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the shadow of Mount Moriah God’s holy name was glorified upon the cross of Calvary.
Through the testing of Abraham we see that God does not contradict Himself, but reveals more of the mystery of His great love and grace to mankind. He provides the needed sacrifice. He does for us what He did not require Abraham to do. He gave His own Son and offered Him up as a sacrificial lamb that we and our children might be forgiven and have eternal life (John 3:16). This is what He revealed to Abraham through testing, and so Jesus declared “Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
The promises made to Abraham through Isaac were further illumined that day. God said, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:17-18). Abraham had heard the part about the stars and the sand and the nations before. But now there was added to the picture that his offspring would possess the gate of his enemies. His offspring (sg) would conquer His enemies.
Jesus, the promised offspring of Abraham, has conquered His enemies. In our trials and tribulations it is Jesus who continues to be tempted by Satan, and it is Jesus who continues to defeat Him, as He did in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). It is Christ’s faithfulness that is proven over and over again when Satan seeks to tempt us to despair, and the promises that we have in Jesus continue to stand firm: the gifts of the Spirit given to you in Baptism that are purified as gold in God’s crucible.
Because God provided His own Son as a substitute for us, we have forgiveness for all of our sins. Even when we fall Satan is defeated despite all of the temptations that he throws at us. Jesus possesses the gate of our enemy. Satan has no claim on us because we are forgiven in Jesus, redeemed by His holy precious Blood and His innocent suffering and death. Jesus has broken into Satan’s house, bound that strong man, and plundered his goods (Mark 3:27). He has rescued us from the devil’s domain and brought us home to our loving heavenly Father. Not even can the gates of death and hell prevail against our Lord (Matthew 16:18), and so the graves will have to give up their dead to Him when He comes again (Revelation 20:13). All of our enemies, even death, are placed under the feet of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).
Every temptation/test that comes upon you will reveal to you more of the mystery of Christ. Even when it seems that His promises will not stand, you will find that they are greater and deeper than you could have ever imagined. The grace and mercy of God will shine through and His holy name will be glorified in His saving love for you in Christ Jesus.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.