It later became the place where sacrifices were regularly offered. Some 1100 years later the mountain of Moriah would be the mountain where Solomon was guided by God to build the Jerusalem temple. It would be the place where people confidently offered the sacrifices commanded by God to cover their sins. That was later. In Genesis 22 it’s just wilderness. It’s a wilderness full of uncertainty and testing.
Abraham is given a strange instruction from God. Go sacrifice your only son. Simple enough right? No, very strange. Very weird. This is the son that God gave Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The son they never should have had because of the biological limitations of old age. The son at whose birth announcement Sarah laughed because of the absurdity of it. Isaac was named laughter because of the laughability of his birth. Now the father of the laughable son is told to do something quite unfunny. Go sacrifice your only son. What a test.
God provides testings of our faith. Things He leads us to and asks of us that are quite serious and quite often unfunny. Forgive the people who have harmed you the most. Not funny, God. Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you. Not funny, God. Live in this world, be loving to the people in this world, but do not give into the things of this world. Not an easy ask, God. Believe that the words of your pastor deliver eternal life. Seems impossible, God. Take heart because you have been washed with a simple sprinkle of water combined with the name of the triune God. Seems that would not cut it, God. Enjoy the meal of immortality found in a bland wafer of unleavened bread and in the small sip of wine. Really, God?
God provides testings of our faith. He leads us through trials in this world, but he does not tempt us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, lead us not into temptation, and as we find in the beautiful prayer the Lord has given us, we know God’s answer is yes to each and every petition. We know that God tempts no one. Yet, we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray in this petition that we may finally overcome them and win the victory. And God says, yes. Yes, my beloved child, I will not lead you into temptation.
Yet here we are alongside Abraham in the wilderness. Abraham found himself following the unimaginable instructions from God. Early in the morning, he 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. A three day journey to the future site of the place of temple sacrifice, yet Abraham did not know this. For him it was just the place where God was asking him to do the unthinkable.
Yet God is all about doing the unthinkable. Who could imagine God dwelling among humanity. For us it seems old hat. Of course God becomes man in Christ Jesus. This is the story we have always heard. We love Christmas because of the joy of knowing Jesus dwells among us. But think for a moment about how unthinkable this is. This is just straight up unreasonable. Almighty God taking a place among sinful, hurtful, hateful humanity in order to save all. All the people who fight against God. All the people who deny God. All the people who hate God and love themselves more than anything else. God came to take up residency among his greatest enemies. And He didn’t do it with a sword or with the vengeance you might expect and all would deserve, no he came to endure trials and testings and temptations, just like every other person.
God may certainly lead us into trials and testings, but these things are for our good. Not for evil. Temptations come, many temptations come in the midst of the wilderness, in the midst of trials and testings. Yet temptations are not from God, they come from the brokenness that sin brought into the world. The devil, the things of this world, and the twisted state of our sinful human flesh all tempt us. Temptation is the lure to do something we are not supposed to do. Temptations are the easy way out of difficult uncomfortable situations. We don’t get a specific mention of it in the text, but knowing the kind of man Abraham was, I am sure Abraham was tempted to ignore God’s audacious ask.
We are tempted in the midst of our many testing and trials from God to give into the easy path. Lured to do the things we are not supposed to do. It is easy to say, someone who hurts us is undeserving of forgiveness from us. It is easy to let enemies be enemies rather than people we place before the throne of God in our prayers. It is easier to do good to our friends and the ones we love rather than to do good to those who would do us harm. It is easy to find happiness and pleasure in the things of this world which really don’t seem that bad, really especially since EVERYONE else is doing these things. It is easier to go through the motions of being a church member without dwelling on what it means that someone has stood before me in the place of God and said my sins are forgiven. It is easy to forget the gifts given to me in baptism. It is much easier and reasonable to say that the meal we will receive today at this altar is just a remembrance meal of a day when Jesus did something great rather than realizing that today Jesus is still doing something amazing through it. It is so easy to give into temptations that hound us.
Yet here we are alongside Jesus in the wilderness. Immediately after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days, Jesus filled with Holy Spirit does what God’s people had the chance to do for forty years but could not. For forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness and for forty years they were continually giving into temptation. There was no happy dwelling with the beasts for them. Rather they were bitten by snakes because of the sinful disobedience of their obstinate hearts. Yet Jesus, taking His place among mankind, demonstrates what God always intends and God always enables by His Spirit. He withstood the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh. And he was with wild animals showing us what God will bring for us when all the perfection will be unfurled in the new world. The angels were ministering to Jesus.
We see Jesus in the wilderness and we see what Jesus came to make us be. In Christ, we are perfectly able to do the incredible. Looking at all the gospel lesson we can see some clues as to how this can be. Looking at Jesus baptism, we see God the Father, speaking of His Son as the Spirit descends and God says of Jesus His Son, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” This pronouncement is key for you to be able to withstand and overcome temptation too. God says of you, “You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased.”
God is saying this to you today, and with this pronouncement all the schemes of the devil, all the lures of the world, and all the falsehoods of the flesh become undone. And God is perfectly able to say this to you today because Jesus road did not end in the wilderness temptations. And Jesus’ temptations did not end in the wilderness. All the way to the cross he was tempted as he faced the biggest trial any human could ever endure. Abandoned by friends. Tormented by enemies. Taunted by the devil all the way. Persecuted by leaders. Spit on. Beaten. Tortured. Nailed to a cross. All the way there the temptation to tap into His divine get out of dodge card never was played. And there it got even worse as the shame you feel for the times you gave into temptation became his shame. He who knew no sin became sin for you, by taking your sin from you. He hung there on the cross guilty of all you have done so that your guilt could be undone. He died a miserable embarrassing death in your place, the death you deserve for all the miserable embarrassing things you have done and have had done to you. And this is good news because those things are no longer yours. The shame and embarrassment that sin brings, the shame and embarrassment that Satan would love you to dwell on and to keep and to draw on for motivation for revenge and more are not yours to use anymore.
Jesus has owned these things and has left them in the tomb buried where they cannot rise again. And while your sin is gone, Jesus is not. He is risen again, showing you the way that he is bringing you. He is risen again and just as his death was supposed to be yours, now today, his new life is supposed to be yours and God makes that happen. It seems unbelievable, I know. It seems unreasonable and ridiculous, I know. But Christ has taken your place, just as the ram caught in the thicket took the place of bound up Isaac in the place that would become the temple. Christ has become the sacrifice that made good all the sacrifices of that temple. Jesus has become the one to make you good and good you are. God is able to look at you and say, “You are my beloved Child, with you I am well pleased.” And what God says God does. You are made his child in Christ. You are pleasing to God because you have Christ on you from baptism, and you have Christ in you from the holiest meal we receive here together.
All this is yous are you are driven and filled by the Spirit in the midst of this wilderness world we walk in. You’re able to withstand temptation and make it through the trials that God leads you through because you are different. You are a Christian, that is literally you are a little Christ. You do the unthinkable in the midst of the wilderness because you are kept steadfast in the wilderness by the spirit of God that fills you with and through the word of God.
Christians who pray “lead us not into temptation” do the unthinkable. We allow God to make our broken marriages work. We allow God to heal the awfullest of relationships. We allow God to work on the lives of those who have wandered far and hurt us in the process. We ask God for patience and we allow His peace to fill us. We allow God to lead us away from temptations of the flesh and the alluring perversions of the world. We ask God to lead us and allow him to drive us into the lives of others around us with the love he has given us to share with the world.
You are blessed by God with faith to believe and do the unimaginable. You are blessed to remain steadfast under trial. You will receive the crown of life because it is given to you in Jesus. It is promised to you because you love Him, having been loved first by Him. He has brought you forth by the Word of Truth, you are one of the first fruits of His creatures because you are in Christ who is THE first fruit of the perfection that God is restoring through us.
In Jesus’ name.