The End Was In The Beginning
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, October 2, 2016
The End Was In the Beginning
Genesis 22: 5 - 8
Exodus 12: 21 - 23
John 1: 29
The Whole Story
I enjoy reading many different types of books, from many different genres. You may find more non-fiction books in my catalogue than fiction books, but even most of the non-fiction books tell a story full of intrigue, adventure, and mystery. I especially enjoy the books that have many twists and turns as you read them. You know the ones. The ones where you read something, and then all of sudden you are like, “Whaaaat?” Then you start flipping back through the pages to find the part where you are certain the author made an error. Only to find out that no error had been made, you were caught in the story hook, line, and sinker.
Many authors and movie makers can do this type of positioning of the reader or viewer because they know the whole story before “Chapter 1” is typed on the first page. Did you know that J.K. Rowling pretty much had the whole story of Harry Potter mapped out before her first book was finished? Such knowledge allowed her to create twists and turns within a framework, that never caused the ending to change, but did keep the reader guessing as to where the ending was headed. Another author that is very good at this is Dan Brown. Yes, your pastor does enjoy Dan Brown books. :-) For those of you who do not know Dan Brown, he is the author who wrote “The Davinci Code” and “Inferno”. His books are fast paced, but they also take the reader down many different paths. I do not want to give anything away because the movie of “Inferno” will be coming out soon, but that book has a couple of twists that made me angry. Not so much at the twists, but at the fact that he got me with them. I even went back to the material ready to send an email to him, that he had deliberately set the reader up with false information. Only to find out when I reread the material, he had not.
Sometimes, the author can tell the story in a certain way because for the author, the end is in the beginning.
Let us pray.
But Where is the Lamb?
In our look back in the Old Testament we did not talk about the story of Abraham and Isaac that we read this morning. It is an important story though. It is a story of enduring faith and of sacrificing the most important things to us for the glory of God. To put this reading into context please consider this: Abraham and Sarah wanted one thing more than anything in the whole world, a son. As we did discuss, God grants them this blessing as part of God’s covenant with Abraham. Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah when they both are very old. Nonetheless, God has given them a child to make them whole. I am yada yada-ing a lot of stuff here, but it what is important for us to know is that Isaac is an answer to an impossible, or seemingly impossible, prayer.
One morning, however, Abraham hears the Lord’s voice and answers obediently, “Here I am Lord!” He must have been heartbroken, angry, frustrated, and in shock when he heard the Lord’s command. God demanded Abraham to take his son, his precious answer to all of his prayers, to a place outside of town and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. How could God have asked Abraham to do such a horrible thing? Abraham, I am sure, was terribly conflicted between his love of Isaac and his obedience to God. Nonetheless, he left first thing the next morning to carry out the Lord’s command.
Abraham must have been beside himself as they traveled along the road, because for three days he had to consider the task at hand. It was a terrible task, a horrible task, an unthinkable task; he was to take the life of his own son. As God showed Abraham the mountain I am positive his heart sank with grief as he stepped down from his donkey and then walked with Isaac to the place of sacrifice. He snapped out of his despair for a brief moment only when Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham, likely trying very hard to hold his emotions in tact, responded, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
The Angel of Death
The lamb. It such a small and innocent creature. I think when we consider the image in our mind, it conjures up the ideas of gentleness and purity. It’s white fleece covers its small and frail body, but it is so soft and provides warmth to all it covers. This non-threatening animal, this obedient animal, is sacrificed many times in the Bible.
Remember the plagues we discussed last week? The last plague? That horrible last plague? The one that brought death to every household in Egypt? The plague of the death of the first born. Do you remember how the Israelites prevented the plague, the angel of death, from entering their homes? They slaughtered a lamb and dipped a hyssop branch in the blood and marked their doors with the blood. Seeing the marked doorway, God’s messenger would move over the house sparing all who were inside. It was this mark, this one indication, that set aside and spared the Israelites from the agony of death that walked through Egypt that night.
Ah, but I have stopped short in both narratives. First, I left you wondering about what happened to Isaac.
Isaac must have known something was up as he and his father continued to prepare for the burnt offering with no animal in their possession. I am sure he felt fear and anxiety as he watched his father battle tears and divert his gaze every time Isaac looked at him. Then the time came. Isaac’s suspicions turned into reality. Abraham took Isaac and bound him, then laid him upon the altar to be sacrificed. The act shows a certain relinquishing of self from Isaac to Abraham and to ultimately God, because the text makes no mention of a fight or a struggle. Isaac, seemingly, accepted that this was to be his purpose for his father. But, just as Abraham raised the knife to take his son’s life, God intervened. He commanded Abraham to lay down his knife for God now knew that Abraham feared God. Looking up, Abraham finds a ram stuck in a thicket to use as the sacrifice. God spares Isaac, and in sparing Isaac, God also spares the heart of Abraham.
Next, I left you wondering about the mark of the blood of the lamb on the door posts. What was its significance? Why was it so effective in setting the Israelites apart from the Egyptians that night? The hyssop branch was a very flimsy branch with a bulb of brush at the end. The branch could not support the weight of the bulb on its own and would constantly flail about in its environment. God specifically commanded that this branch be used to mark the doors. The lamb, the passover lamb, was sacrificed and the blood was used to mark the doors using these flimsy branches. A shrub incapable of strength on its own is used to bear the strongest mark in the land of Goshen. It is the mark of the people set aside for salvation by God. Just like Isaac, Israel was spared by God. More than spared, Israel was rescued.
The Blood of the Lamb
You see, just like the authors we spoke about earlier, God knew the end at the very beginning. That is why we had to go back to the covenant and our creation. That is why we had to return to see the salvation of a chosen people from the grips of those who performed evil in God’s eyes. Because, throughout scripture, God is preparing us for the end.
If you will, please reach under your chairs and grab a Bible, or open up the one you brought to John 1:29. Let me know when you have found it.
Okay follow with me, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
Is it clear to you? Do you see it? Isaac asked, “But where is the Lamb?” in the first book of the Bible, and the answer comes in the last Gospel as John exclaims, “Jesus is the lamb of God.” The answer to a question of salvation comes thousands of years later in the story. What is the purpose of the lamb of Jesus? It to is given to us early in the narrative. We are too weak to make it in this sinful world on our own. Like the hyssop branch we are weak and we are easily influenced by the winds that toss and turn us in multiple directions and distract us from God. Yet covered in the blood of the lamb we are given strength. Strength that we can set aside ourselves and others to be the people of God. We are saved and made strong by the blood of the lamb.
Jesus, the lamb of God. This innocent creature, this person of purity of righteousness, this gentle and caring person, took on the most horrible death and in doing so freed us from our own bonds of slavery to death. He rescued us from our weak hearts and fortified us in grace. We ask ourselves, how could God have asked Abraham to commit such an act? We are horrified at the thought of all of the death that fateful night in Egypt. Yet, when it comes to Jesus being crucified, we do not have the same response. Do we feel for God as we felt for Abraham? After all, no one intervened on God’s behalf. The emotion of the sacrifice and the power of the sacrifice were described by the author of eternity from day one.
Don’t you want to turn back the pages? Don’t you want to stop the story and say, “No, I didn’t know this was going to happen! You duped me! If only I could have known earlier than maybe it would not have gone this far!” You were a hyssop branch though. You had no strength and you had no power to change the story. This story, however, had only one author. That author knew what had to be done and how things had to end in order to make the story complete with the desired ending. We were powerless in achieving salvation on our own no matter what we wrote into our detracted from the story.
This cross. This is the altar of Abraham and Isaac, this is the doorpost of the Israelites, this is the location of the offering to God to restore our righteousness as God’s creation. This is where the blood of the lamb was spilled and gave strength to the hyssop branch. But, it is not the climactic end to the story. It is not the end that the author knew.
For on the third day the lamb rose from the dead giving us new life.