–By Elizabeth Ahlman
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together (Genesis 22:7-8 ESV).
In the one year lectionary, the reading for the final Sunday of Lent is the account of Abraham being instructed by Yahweh to sacrifice His Son, Isaac. What a moment this must have been for Abraham. The child of promise who had long been awaited becomes the child that must be the sacrificial lamb. Yet Abraham speaks words of faith in the moment when he is questioned by Isaac. “Father, where is the lamb?” “My son, God will provide the lamb for Himself.”
Surely, there is more than one sense in which these words of faith from Abraham can be understood. In that God Himself had given Abraham and Sarah Isaac, He had provided the lamb in providing Isaac. However, Abraham’s words seem to contain more than that nuance. Abraham knows that Isaac is the child of the promise. He knows that God has promised that through Isaac, Abraham would father many children. He knows that though God is requiring the unthinkable of Him, in some way, God will provide the sacrificial lamb and still keep His promises. So he leads Isaac up the mountain, binds him and lays him upon the altar.
And then Yahweh vindicates Abraham’s faith and trust. He stays Abraham’s hand with a word from heaven through His messenger as a ram rustles behind him in the brush, and Abraham releases Isaac. He sacrifices the lamb which Yahweh Himself provides.
We, like Abraham, come with nothing in our hands to offer God as a sacrifice, except that which He has already given us. Our poverty in our sins calls us to realize that we have nothing to give that is not a dirty rag. Due to our fallen, sinful nature, nothing that we can give can ever suffice. We ask, “where is the lamb? Where is the gift that I can bring to the altar of the Lord?” And we are answered: “Yahweh will provide the lamb.” That is just what He did for Abraham in that moment when His messenger called down from heaven. And that is just what He does for us. He sent that very messenger into the flesh, that messenger Who is Yahweh’s very own Son. He was sent to this earth as a baby born of Mary so that we would not be required to bring the sacrifice we do not have. Instead, Yahweh provides His Son as the Lamb who sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross so that we might inherit the promises given to Abraham. And He gives us to eat and to drink of that most holy sacrifice so that we, too, might be made holy, forgiven and free from our sins.
So come. All is prepared beforehand. The altar is ready. Journey through the end of Lent and then through Holy Week to the once empty altar with your empty hands and find there the Lamb, provided by Yahweh, given into death for you. Come empty-handed, and leave full, for Yahweh has provided.
Let us Pray: Lord God, Heavenly Father, You provide all good things that we need; we thank You for Your greatest gift of Your Son, our sacrificial Lamb who takes our sins upon Himself and makes us children of the Promise; grant that we may ever live in the sure faith that You have provided for us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.