The Providence of a Lamb
Mark E. Ryman • A sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
Genesis 22:1–8; Psalm 105:1–6; Psalm 105:42–45; Revelation 5:11–14; John 1:29–34
A popular TV preacher said, “I think a big test we all face in life on a regular basis is that discouragement test. Life’s not always fair, but I believe if you keep doing the right thing, God will get you to where you are.”
This not-so-popular preacher does not believe that, but first let’s look at how poorly the statement is phrased. I mean, who would want what this guy says? “If you keep doing the right thing, God will get you to where you are.” Who wants to get to where they already are? “God will get you to where you are”? To be fair, this highly subjective opinion comes from a guy that maybe just doesn’t think very clearly.
He really does, though, believe you can sort of will your way to a lovely life. This is the same guy who said on the Larry King Show that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. Clearly, he believes this to be true, no matter how much he has back-peddled since.
At this point, I know you all want to know what TV preacher I’m referring to, but I’m not going to tell you. I will say that his name is the 29th book in the Old Testament.
Now don’t you wish you carried your Bible to church?
Let us pray. We give you thanks, gracious God that through your foresight and providence, you call all your people, young and old alike, through baptism into new life in Christ. By the power of your Spirit, help us to daily trust your sovereign providence so that we may love you with a faithful heart that follows your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever one God. Amen.
I don’t believe that we can white-knuckle our way through life, simply persevering at doing good, or at staying on a certain path, and that by doing so, God will bless us. Nor is this the big test in life.
Indeed, we may pick the wrong path, persevering at it through our years, hoping that God will get us where we want to go. But it isn’t about where we want to go. It’s about where God wants us to go. It’s about following Jesus, being his disciples.
A wise man named Solomon said, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov 16:9). You can plan out where you want life to take you, but it’s God who takes people of faith where he wants them to go.
Take Abram for example. Early on, he probably thought that he’d open a restaurant in Ur…or something like that. The young man surely had his own dreams about life, his own plans, when along came God and told him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). Whatever path Abram had determined, the Lord was about to direct his steps.
Why was God directing Abram’s steps? It wasn’t really for Abram—at least not just him. Contrary to what popular books and television spout, it isn’t about us. God worked in Abram’s life for the sake of others—even for us, these millennia later. And he works in our lives along the same lines: for others.
Let’s see how that worked in Abram’s life. He was fairly determined to accomplish what he wanted out of life. He desired land. A wife. Children. Maybe, if he was really committed and focused and positive-thinking, God would give him all these things. But finally, when at long last, in their very old age, Abram and Sarai—renamed by God Abraham and Sarah by this time—had an only child, Abraham wanted, of course, the best possible life and opportunities for the boy. And then God told him to take his son, his only son Isaac, up on a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.
I can assure you that this was never in Abraham’s plans. Yet, it was God’s will that he do so. Now at this point…when God tells us to do something that we don’t want to do, we can end up having a good, old-fashioned crisis. What would Abraham do? As God willed, or as Abraham wished? Would he stay the path where he ended up getting what he wanted to go, or worse, to where he already was—or would he switch gears and do as God directed.
What would you do? I am sure that a healthy dose of rationalizing would have accompanied my thinking about such a command. What about the fifth commandment, after all?
But that isn’t what Abraham did. Instead, he rose early in the morning, got his ride ready, and rounded up some help, presumably to help with cutting the wood. He called his son Isaac, and they headed out. Once again, he was headed to a place of God’s choosing. In chapter 12, he was called away from his father’s house to a land that God would show him. Now, he sets off with Isaac to a mountain that God would disclose to him on the journey.
These are the kind of church leaders we love to follow, right?
Come on, guys, let’s go!
Where are we headed, pastor?
I don’t know yet but God said go, so I’m getting up early tomorrow morning, and setting off. Who’s with me?!
< Crickets. >
But Abraham is determined to do the Lord’s will instead of his own. He sets off and, after three days of walking, finally spots the mountain far off. At this point, knowing that God has told him to sacrifice the boy as a burnt offering, Abraham tells the servants that he and Isaac are headed to the mountain to worship and that they will return together.
Now, that’s odd because Abraham continued the journey with four things: Isaac, ironically loaded down with the wood, the fire…and the knife. The knife! What’s he going to do with that? Isaac may have been thinking the same thing, because they should have had a lamb with them too. So, he asks his Dad about the missing lamb for the burnt offering. Where is it, father?
And now, here are these marvelous words in Scripture—Genesis, chapter 22, verse 8. Put it in your memory box. Remember Genesis 22:8. This is what it says: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
See how early in Scripture… (We are only 22 chapters in to the first book.) See how early in Scripture God shows us that he is the one who provides the sacrifice.
It was not to be Abraham’s son who would be the offering God provided. That lamb would be God’s own son, his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Later in our service, as we do each Sunday, we will sing these words from John 1:29, at the baptism of Jesus. We call it the “Agnus Dei” and sing it right after the Lord’s Prayer. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is the Lamb that God provided for Abraham. Oh, he probably thought it was that ram caught in the thicket. That ram was what God provided to spare Isaac, and to keep his covenant with Abraham. But the Lamb that the Father provided as a sacrifice for Abraham, Isaac, and for us, the “offspring of Abraham,” “the children of Jacob, his chosen ones” was Jesus, the Father’s own Son—a precious Lamb indeed. He is the providential Lamb provided by the Father, to save us all from the deaths we deserve.
Do you believe that God has provided his Lamb as sacrifice in your place for the penalty of your sin? Then come to the Lord’s Table and feast on that body and blood of the Lamb of God, knowing that the sin of the world has been taken away, that God’s mercy is as much “for you” as it was for Isaac of old, and that he has granted you forgiveness, eternal life, and peace right now, wherever you may be in life—his peace—in this providence of a Lamb.
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). “Amen!” (Rev 5:14).