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Judica, The Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 17, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
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Three Days to Think

He had three days to think about it. It all began when he was seventy-five years old. “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation,’” (Genesis 12:1-2). Seventy-five seemed quite old to pull up stakes and head off to make a new life. But Abram believed God and he went, not knowing where he was to go.


After quite a long time, Abram had come to the land and had increased his wealth and household, with servants and their families but no children of his own. “Abram said [to the LORD], ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ 5 And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:3-6).


Abram was granted forgiveness, eternal life and salvation by God’s grace through faith. Abram believed God’s promise, He had faith in God, and God in His grace and mercy counted that faith to be righteousness, holiness, sinlessness. And so God declares that if we believe His promise, if we have faith in Him, we too will be saved the same way that Abraham was. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).


Yet faith is not given like a certificate of achievement. It is not something that is handed out so that you can produce it on the day of judgment as your ticket to enter paradise. Faith is something that weakens and can even die. If it is not fed, it withers away. What is it that preserves faith when time and circumstance relentlessly erode it like the waves of Lake Erie gobbling up the shoreline?


“So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived” (Genesis 16:3-4). Abram didn’t reject the LORD’s promise. Rather, he and Sarai looked for a way for that promise to be fulfilled. Sarai in despair, now about seventy-five years old herself, did not see any power within her to bear a child for her husband. If God’s promise that a descendant would come from Abram’s own body was to come true, then perhaps Abram needed another wife.


That is not a conclusion born of faith. It is a conclusion developed from doubt. Anytime you end up asking how you have to aid God in order for His promise to come true, you aren’t stepping out in faith, you are retreating from it. The promise and its fulfillment must be entirely the LORD’s. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If God allows you to be an active participant in the cause of your salvation, then there will never be a way to conquer your doubts, to strengthen your faith, or to give you the assurance that you need in times of despair. You will always wonder: “What if I didn’t do enough? What if I didn’t do the right thing?” Abraham teaches us that faith is actually strengthened when it becomes clear we had nothing to do with the LORD keeping His promise.


“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife,... I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ 18 And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that [Hagar’s son] Ishmael might live before you!’ 19 God said, ‘No, but 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” (Genesis 17:15-19).


The impossibility of it made Abraham and Sarah laugh. Can you still believe while laughing at the impossibility of the promise? “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’ 13 The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.’” (Genesis 18:11-14).


The continued visits of the LORD to Abraham and Sarah in order to repeat His promises to them is the only way that faith can be sustained in times of doubt and incredulity. Likewise, the only thing that can conquer our doubts is the repeated visits of the LORD to again and again restate His promises to grant us salvation through faith in His Son,... that, and the ultimate fulfillment of the promise itself. So while we await the fulfillment of the promise, it is imperative that we gather where the LORD has promised to visit us, to hear God repeating the promise to us. It is His gracious words of forgiveness and salvation that keep us in the one true faith.


“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac” (Genesis 21:1-3). Finally, beyond all reason, the LORD fulfilled His promise and an heir was born to Abraham at 100 years of age, and to Sarah at 90 years of age. Their faith then confirmed in such a miraculous and tangible way as holding the promised child in their arms, what could ever bring doubt to them again?


“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ 2 He said, ‘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 on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Genesis 22:1-2). He had a three day journey to think about it.


Yet Abraham rose early in the morning, made all the necessary preparations, and walked those three days to Mount Moriah. Then he left the servants behind, laid the wood on Isaac’s back, took the knife and the fire and went up the mountain, making a promise to the servants that he and the boy would return after going on to worship the LORD. Was it a lie, or was it a confession of faith?


The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:17-19).


The testimony of God Himself, in His Word, recorded in the Letter to the Hebrews, tells us that Abraham was not lying to the servants when he and Isaac left them and went together to worship the LORD. With faith that the LORD would keep His promise to make of Abraham a great nation, to do this through a son born to him and Sarah, and that it was indeed Isaac through whom the promise would be kept, they stepped out in faith obeying the command of God although it seemed contrary to the promise. Abraham believed that the LORD would keep His word; that if Isaac was to be sacrificed, the LORD would have to raise him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise.


So his one and only son, whom he loved, went out carrying the wood himself, and ascended the mountain, where the LORD would show how the promise was to be fulfilled. God’s Son, His one and only Son, whom He loved [“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son”], went out carrying the wood Himself [“He went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha” (John 19:17)]. He ascended the mountain, where the LORD would show how the promise was to be fulfilled.


Isaac was spared when the LORD provided a ram for a substitute. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not spared. He is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There was no last minute substitute for Him. He is our substitute. His head was caught in a crown of thorns when the LORD did not restrain the hand of His killers. The LORD did not call out from heaven to stop the sacrifice of His own Son, but remained silent. And He gave the world three days to think about how His promise would be fulfilled.


Over the course of three days, Mary, the mother of our Lord, and the other women who loved Him and were at the foot of the cross, they mourned and were tortured with grief. Over the course of three days, John and Peter and the other disciples gathered in silence, wondering if there was any possibility that the LORD’s promises could be fulfilled. But over the course of those three days there was one who was rejoicing.


Throughout the days of our despair, when we are struggling with our sins or mourning the death of loved ones, we can be tempted to try to force the promises of God to fulfillment by our own actions, by taking matters into our own hands, like Abraham and Sarah thinking that taking another woman to bed would help. But if we make any action of ours the basis of the LORD’s promises we are always left in doubt about their fulfillment. Did we do the right thing? Did we do enough for our sins to be forgiven, for our prayers to be answered, for our loved ones to be raised from the dead, for us to gain entrance to the paradise of God?


Abraham had doubts. There were times when Abraham acted against faith. There were times when Abraham acted in faith against all reason. At all times the LORD kept repeating His promises to Abraham and in the end Jesus confessed of our patriarch, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).



The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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