By Linda Rex
June 28, 2020, PROPER 8—Reading stories from the Old Testament is a good reminder that human beings really haven’t changed that much over the millennia. People still make decisions that hurt themselves and others, and they behave in ways which can be loving, kind, and sacrificial, but also selfish, sinful and at times even grossly evil. Families still for generations pass on traits they have learned from their forefathers—generosity, compassion and creativity, hate and anger, abusive language and behavior, among many others.
These stories from the past tell us, when we look at them closely, of how we as humans so often turn away from God to seek our own ways, inviting the consequence of sin—death—both physical and spiritual. When God meets us in the midst of our broken ways of thinking, believing, and acting, we find we are faced with the reality that apart from his intervention and healing, we will never be truly whole.
We also learn from these stories, if we are attentive, of the love and grace of God. Even in our wrong-headedness, God meets us, draws us to himself, and offers us forgiveness and fellowship, as well as instruction on what it looks like to live in loving relationship with him and others. He allows us to participate in what he’s doing in the world, calling us up into new ways of thinking, believing, and living.
One of the stories in Genesis is that of God encountering Abraham as Abram, drawing him into relationship with himself, and making a covenant with him. He promised him a son in his old age, and after many years of waiting, Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a son whom they named Isaac. No doubt, all those years of waiting seemed as nothing as they reveled in the blessing God had given them of an heir—the child of promise, a gift of laughter in their old age.
One day Abraham believed he heard God tell him to take his son Isaac to a mountain to sacrifice him, to prove his devotion to the God who had given them this precious child. Abraham left immediately the next morning and took Isaac, some servants, and all he needed for the sacrifice and headed toward the mountain.
After three days, they came to foot of the mountain where Abraham believed God said the offering was to be made. Abraham told the servants to wait there, loaded up everything he needed, and he and his son took off up the mountain. Now Isaac was a smart child and knew there was something a little odd about this burnt offering. Up to this point, every burnt offering had involved the sacrifice of a lamb or some animal. But they hadn’t brought any animals with them, and this bothered him.
Isaac pondered the question for a while, and finally ventured to ask his father about this. “We’ve got the wood and the fire, but where’s the sheep for the offering?” he asked. Abraham replied in an almost prophetic manner: “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son.” Even though at this point he did not tell Isaac what was going on, Abraham trusted God had a reason for what he thought the Lord was asking him to do. He was obeying God in the only way he knew how and was trusting that no matter what happened, the Lord would make it right. The author of Hebrews wrote that Abraham did what he did by faith, trusting that “God is able to raise people even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19 NASB).
As the story continues, we find that Abraham laid Isaac on the altar and lifted the knife to make the horrific sacrifice—the kind of sacrifice forbidden in later years to God’s people—the sacrifice of a human child. This was not how God wanted to be worshiped—it was never in God’s plan for human beings to kill one another or to offer their children to him as a bloody sacrifice, even though many people did this as part of their rituals in the worship of idols.
The intervention of an angel stopped the deadly blade as he let Abraham know that God knew he loved and feared him and that he did not need to make this extreme sacrifice to prove it. The ram Abraham saw caught in a thicket was proof that God had provided an animal in Isaac’s place to be the burnt offering. There Abraham gave God the name YHWH-Jireh, The Lord Will Provide. He learned an important lesson that day about faith, and the love and grace of God.
In many ways, just this experience was a gift to Abraham and to the many generations of his descendants which followed. Abraham was to be the father of descendants more than the number of stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. There would come a time when a child of one of these descendants would offer himself up as a sacrifice on the behalf of all people. This would be the Son of God in human flesh, Jesus Christ. God himself would provide the sacrifice which was needed for all of us to be redeemed and restored.
In the apocalyptic letter to John, the apostle writes about Jesus entering after his death and resurrection into the presence of the Father in the Spirit and how all the holy angels bowed before him. They worshipped him, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12 NASB). This Lamb of God who was the Son of God, humbly laid himself on the altar of sacrifice for all of humanity and allowed himself to be crucified so that all of us could be adopted as the children of God, sharing in his own loving relationship with his Father in the Spirit.
We as human beings have striven to make ourselves right with God, to prove to him that we love and fear him. We have struggled to be good people—so often choosing ways which have turned us away from God’s love rather than bringing us nearer. So often our efforts cause harm to those around us rather than helping or blessing them. Our best efforts, even our most noble sacrifices—the offering of our children, whether real or metaphorical—for the sake of proving our faithfulness and love to God, have always and ever been in vain.
The Lord Who Provides has already, in Christ, done all that is needed for everyone of us to live in right relationship with the Father in the Spirit. We need to trust, as Abraham did, that in the end God is going to make everything right—that he has already provided the Lamb which was needed and that the offering that this Lamb made was acceptable and perfect in God’s sight. Our role in all this is that which we can learn from Abraham—simply, faith—trusting in the finished work of Christ who stands in our place and on our behalf.
This story teaches us much about the miracle of God’s grace and his provision for all humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. When we take the time to read these stories and look for Jesus in them, we will find that he is there—always at work in this world, from before the beginning of time even till today—providing all that is needed for life and godliness. May we trust our Lord to finish what he has begun, believing that he will make all things right in the end, so we can be with him in glory forever as God’s beloved adopted children.
Dearest Abba, thank you for providing us exactly what we need to live in loving relationship with you and one another. Thank you for the most precious gift of your Son and your Spirit. Grant us the grace to always trust in your perfect love, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:21-23 NASB
See also Genesis 22:1–14.
by Linda Rex
Sometimes I wonder what angels think about and talk about. Just imagine the conversations that went on in heaven when the Word announced that he would be joined with an embryo in a baby here on earth! No doubt the reverence and awe of the angels was tinged a bit by amazement and incredulity. The apostle Paul tells the believers of his day that the working out of God’s mystery hidden through the ages was for the edification of the angels. How fascinating!
The prophets over the millennia sought to know and understand what God was doing and would do to save his people by sending a messiah. Yet even with their best efforts, the people of Jesus’ day did not recognize him for who he was as God in the flesh, the Messiah, who would suffer and die and then be glorified, uniting himself with humanity forever.
No doubt this is why Jesus took such pains to explain the fulfillment of scriptures and prophecy to his disciples, especially after his resurrection. This awesome miracle of the incarnation and the subsequent work of Christ for us is a marvelous mystery that was unveiled at the perfect time in history and in the perfect way. Praise God for his faithfulness in keeping his Word to us and also for faithfully revealing his Word to all his creation when the time and situation were just right.
We are to faithfully search these things out, but the Holy Spirit gives us revelation and understanding. We seek not to gain more information but to deepen a relationship with the living God as revealed in Jesus Christ. We need to grab hold of this privilege of knowing what so many sought to know and seek out these marvelous mysteries of the kingdom that are revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the revelation of all that the prophets and angels sought to understand and know. As we come to know him more fully and completely, we will come to know God and ourselves more fully and completely, for in Jesus Christ, the perfect God/man, they are each revealed.
Lord, thank you for revealing to us the mystery of the ages which is Christ in us the hope of glory. Thank you for not hiding yourself from us, but by your Spirit, revealing yourself in Jesus Christ in your perfect time and in your perfect way. Please grant us the desire and ability know you more fully and more perfectly each and every day. For this is eternal life, to know you and to be known by you. Thank you for this precious gift given to us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look into these things.” –1 Peter 1:12
by Linda Rex
I recall a day many years ago when I was out in a small pasture on my mother-in-law’s farm, trying to find a missing lamb. One of our ewes had given birth to twins, and it was necessary for us to bottle-feed them. Their mother could not supply them enough milk.
That day on the farm, at feeding time, one of the twins was nowhere to be found. This particular twin had a fondness for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Sure enough, it had squeezed through the fence to the other side. Sad to say, it was not in very good condition when I found it.
That particular lamb did not survive because it would not do the one thing that would have kept it safe and strong—it would not stay near its mother. It insisted on going its own way, seeking adventure outside the safety net of the pasture fence.
Often we as human beings are much like that poor little lamb. In fact, that lamb’s story brings to mind how we as humans, from the beginning, have so often declared to God we would go our own way and choose to find our own “greener grass.” We find ourselves harried by the wolves and coyotes of life, not realizing that if we stayed within our pasture, we would be safe and secure.
The good news is that God took care of that problem many years ago in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Unlike the poor little lamb that lost its way and lost its life, we have the blessing of a Savior who joined us in our humanity and brought us up into his eternal life and love, healing us of our brokenness and our need to live out on our own. Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd” who cares for his sheep.
Our good shepherd was willing to join us in our human mess, and meet us in the midst of our search for the “greener grass.” He has reconciled us with our heavenly Father and sent his Spirit to be with us. He draws us to himself, calling to us to leave our frantic search for something more and to be content in the life and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. When we fall or suffer or struggle, when we make a wrong turn or wander off too far, he is faithful to bring us back home. We need only believe, to trust in his love and faithfulness, to trust in our loving, good shepherd, Jesus Christ.
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” Ezekiel 34:11