Father, Where Is the Lamb? - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Humanities and Liberal Arts President's Desk
August 27, 2016

Father, Where Is the Lamb?

A Geneva Chapel Message Based on the Text – Genesis 22:1-10


The New Yorker magazine is famous for its cartoons. A recent one I liked shows a mother-daughter faceoff over the kitchen table, daughter standing defiantly with hands on hips, and mother leaning towards her over the table. The caption reads, “I’ve been fifteen! You’ve never been forty. It’s you who don’t understand me.”


Twenty years ago, I was going 25mph through Drexel Park, richest part of my township - 9:30 at night. Suddenly flashing lights! I stopped. A cop ambled over, saw I was a 50-year-old white guy in an unexciting car and said apologetically, “The speed limit’s 15. There was a complaint about people driving through, so I got sent.” Then he let me go. I was relieved. But driving away I began imagining, “What if I’d been a young guy in a sports car? Probably demand driver’s license, insurance card, registration, and give me a ticket! What if I’d been a black guy? All the above, plus, “What are you doing here? Where are you going? Out of the car, now!” By now, I was getting worked up against the poor cop who was just doing his job, so I tried to see things his way: a stupid assignment, plus the danger that is always there when you walk up to a strange car.


I want you to imagine yourself today as an old man with a young son. He knew little about God. He had no Bible. All he had was a few visits from God and some family traditions about worship. The man is Abraham, the father of all who believe. His son is Isaac.


Abram’s parents worshiped idols in the city of Ur. Then God spoke to him: “Leave your home and go where I show you. I will make you famous, make you father of a great nation, give you a new land, and bless all nations through you.” So Abram headed north along the Euphrates River. When he got to Haran in the hills of southeastern Turkey, he stopped until his father died. Then slowly, he moved south with Sarah his wife, Lot his nephew, sheep, goats, donkeys, camels, and servants, past the fertile fields, orchards, and vineyards of Syria.


They got to Canaan and then went on to Egypt, where, there was a small misadventure involving his wife Sarah and Pharaoh, King of Egypt. Abraham returned to Canaan, a rich man. He had over 300 male servants and countless flocks.


God met him again and said, “I will make you a great nation.” “How?” asked Abraham; I have no child.” God answered he would give him an heir, and made a covenant to confirm the promise. But no son came. So Abraham at age 86 had a son by Sarah’s maid, Hagar. He named his son Ishmael. Abraham had his heir. All was settled.


But when Abraham was 100, God appeared to him again and said Sarah will have a son. Abraham laughed. “Impossible. I am 100 and Sarah is 90. I already have an heir, Ishmael.” But God replied, “Sarah’s son will be your heir.” Soon the old couple had a son, and Sarah too laughed. “Who would have thought an old woman like me would have a child to nurse?” So they named the boy Laughter, Isaac.


Laughter grew, Ishmael grew, and Sarah saw Ishmael picking on her son Laughter. She said, “Abraham, send Ishmael away.” God told a reluctant Abraham to do as Sarah said. So away went Ishmael, but Laughter (Isaac), the child of promise, remained. All was settled, and Abraham could live out his life in Beersheba on the edge of the desert.


Then God again upset an old man’s peace. I read from Genesis 22.


After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 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.”


Those two verses make my stomach turn. It has appalled Jews and Christians for centuries. God demanded a human sacrifice, and Moses makes us feel the horror: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him as a burnt offering.” The words mean: slit your son’s throat; drain out his blood; then burn his body whole.


Abraham did not argue with God, or put it off. Verse 3: So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.


They headed north through sparsely populated hills, toward the hill where Solomon later built the Temple. Now listen to the next sentence. I am going to ask you to use your imaginations. “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” The trip took three days. Jonah was in the fish three days. Jesus was in his tomb for three days. Imagine the three days of agony and death Abraham felt as they went.


The first night came, and they camped. Laughter went to sleep. The men watched for lions. Abraham looked at the stars, more than any of us have ever seen. What did God promise? His children would be “as many as the stars in the sky.” How could that be if he sacrificed his son Laughter? Would God give him another son? No, God had said that Isaac was the child of promise.


Another problem. Abraham, like his fathers back to Noah, worshiped God with animal sacrifices. But when they moved to Canaan, they found Canaanites worshiping by sacrificing their sons and daughters. That way wasn’t his way, but maybe the Canaanites were right. It even made sense: how could the blood of sheep and goats take away sin? There is an ancient temptation, to improve on God’s commands for worship, and the Canaanites had succumbed to it.


So I imagine Abraham finally going to sleep, full of love for his son, but ready to obey God and sacrifice him. Perhaps he was also thinking, “Maybe the people of this land are right to worship by human sacrifice: that is what will please God.”


The next day they traveled on, tired old Abraham riding the donkey, the young servants striding along, and Isaac running ahead and laughing. He was on an adventure.


The second night came. Imagine Abraham again gazing at the stars, thinking and praying. How could God keep his promises if Isaac were dead? There was only one answer: God would have to bring Isaac back from the dead. If God could make him a father at 100 and Sarah a mother at 90, He could make Isaac live again. There could not be any other way.


On the third day, they saw Mount Moriah.


Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.


Abraham leaves his servants behind so they could not interfere.


Isaac carried the wood and now felt that something was wrong. He said, “My father!” Abraham said, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” “Where is the lamb?” That is today’s question.


I have a retired friend who was a marriage counselor. Every day, she dealt with infidelity, verbal and physical abuse, anger, and hatred. Her clients were usually not believers, but she knew they needed Christ. So as things began to get sorted out, she would ask, “And what are you going to do about your guilt?” Her clients thought their problem was guilt feelings, but she kept asking, “What are you going to do about your guilt?” Finally, some would get the point and ask her, “All right! What do you do about your guilt?” Everyone carries a load of guilt, real guilt and real sin against God. “What are you going to do about your guilt?” “Where is your lamb?”


The ancients knew what to do about guilt: offer an animal sacrifice to the gods, or an even more valuable one, a human. The Canaanite, and the similar Aztec Indian practice, makes a horrible kind of sense. We are right to be horrified -- but maybe not too outraged. We live in a culture that is also ready to sacrifice unborn babies, for the convenience and comfort of fathers and mothers, just as Canaanites and Aztecs sacrificed children so that the gods would give them happy lives.


 “Father, where is the lamb?” Isaac asked. Abraham put him off, saying, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went on to the top of Mount Moriah.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.


Every time I read this story, I cringe. Here is Abraham, an old man, with his son, his only son, whom he loves, about to sacrifice and burn him. Like children in a movie theater caught by the drama, I want to shout, “Noooo, don’t do it. Don’t kill your son.”


I have four sons and five grandsons. There are two other young boys who have been living with us for many months who also call me “Grandpa.” Would I obey that command? No, surely not. And yet, and yet…Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:37).” When I meet with parents before the baptism of their child, I review the vows they will take. The first one in our church is, “Do you recognize that this child is a gift of God entrusted to your care?” I explain, “This vow means that you accept that your child is God’s, entrusted to you for a time. He may take the child at any time, illness, car accident, violence.” It is a sobering thought.


But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.


Isaac’s question was, “Father, where is the lamb?” Abraham’s answer turned out to be correct: God provided! It wasn’t children in a theater who shouted, “Stop,” it was the angel of the Lord.


After this event, Abraham knew for certain that the Canaanite way was not God’s way. The Jews sacrificed animals, not humans, until the Canaanites corrupted them, and God had to send them out of the land into captivity.


But the blood of sheep and goats cannot really take away sin. They are not valuable enough. So God eventually told Israel about a different sacrifice.


“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:6-7).


I have a Jewish friend who was converted when someone read him all of Isaiah 53, and he asked, “What part of the New Testament is that from?” It sounded so Christian. But, of course, it’s from the prophets. It’s God’s final answer to the question, “Father, where is the lamb?” When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said to his followers, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” God did not require Abraham to offer his son because God was going to send His only begotten Son for us.

A well-known Mexican writer, no friend of the church, has nevertheless pondered the astounding impression Catholic Spanish missionaries must have made on the Aztecs, and the surrounding Indian tribes who helped the Spanish defeat them. Instead of God demanding their sons, He gave His own Son for them. What a reversal! Sin demands death, and God has provided that death in Jesus Christ.


Can you imagine yourself in Abraham’s place? I hope so. He is the father of all who believe. He trusted God more than he loved his son Isaac, believing that God could raise him from the dead to fulfill His promises. When we come face to face with our sin against God, we know that what we need is not affirmation in our sin, but redemption from it. We then ask with Isaac, “Where is the lamb?” And the answer is how John the Baptist introduced Jesus. “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” not caught in a thicket but hanging on a cross, arms open to receive the world. Abraham and his son Laughter (Isaac) portray for us in human terms the most popular verse in the Bible: “For God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16).”


Many Christians begin observing Lent today, February 10. It is a time for repentance from sin, sin that needs the sacrifice of Christ to be forgiven. Lent ends 46 days from today – 40 days not counting Sundays – on Easter morning, when an angel asks some women this question: “Why do you search for the living among the dead?”


“What are you going to do about your guilt?” my counselor friend would ask. Sooner or later her clients would say, “I don’t know. What do you do about your guilt?” And she would answer, “Let me tell you about Jesus, who died for my sins.”


Geneva College Chapel

Wednesday February 10, 2016

Interim President Bill Edgar