Genesis 22:13 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.
Throughout the Old Testament there are specific prophesies about our Savior. He would be human and God. He would be a descendant of Abraham. He would be born in Bethlehem. He would perform miraculous healings. He would be crucified to earn forgiveness for all sinners. He would rise from the dead in victory.
Besides specific prophesies like these, God also wove little previews of the Savior into the very history of the Jewish people. We find one such preview of the Savior in the story of how Abraham offered up his son Isaac.
Throughout the whole story it looks like Isaac is done for. His father has been instructed by God to slaughter his own son as a burnt offering. But Abraham doesn't tell anyone what he is about to do. And when the wood is finally arranged on the altar, the narrative turns chilling in it's simplicity. It says, "...[Abraham] bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar..." (Genesis 22:9 ESV).
But then, out of nowhere, God puts the sacrifice on hold, and substitutes a ram for Isaac. And while Isaac stand rubbing his wrists where the ropes had held him so tightly, the ram bleeds out and dies in his place.
Just like the ropes that bound Isaac, our sin and guilt make it impossible to escape our fate. No matter how hard we try, we can't get off the road to hell. Nothing good we do today can erase a single sin we've done in the past. God's wrath is coming, and it looks like we're done for.
But then, out of nowhere, God gets involved. We are taken off of the altar, and someone else takes our place. And because He dies, we get to live.
Jesus is our "ram caught in the thicket". He is our substitute.
This is the most important foreshadowing found in our Old Testament reading. But there is another image left for our learning. Abraham is the pattern of a faithful Christian.
This man had been told to leave his extended family and travel West. God promised him that even though he was old, God would give him many descendants, and a good land that would be their own. Abraham believed God, and so he went West.
Then, after God had blessed Abraham with Isaac, he tested his faith. God told Abraham to kill his own son, and offer him as a burnt offering. Abraham didn't waste any time. The next morning he packed up and went where God had told him to go. He did not understand how God could keep his promise to give him many grandchildren if he ended his son's life, but Abraham trusted God, so he went.
When Abraham's actions made his faith in God obvious, God put an end to this test and reaffirmed his promise to bless all the nations of the world through one of Abraham's descendants. That descendant was Jesus Christ.
Prayer: Dear God, make us like Abraham. Soften our sinful and arrogant hearts so that we simply trust in you. And make our actions flow from that trust, and not from our own wisdom. When our own sinful hearts tell us that we have to save ourselves, help us to remember the mountain where you provided the sacrifice. Mt. Moriah, where you provided the ram for Isaac, and Mt. Calvary, where you provided your Son for every nation of sinners. Amen.
Mark 1:12-13 12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
REMEMBERING ALL HE GAVE UP
How would you respond if I suggested we all go without food tomorrow? Not just for fun, but in order to feed others. What if I suggested we fast tomorrow so that we can give all our meals to people who don't have as much food as we do?
We don't like to go out of our way for much, do we? It's not really in our nature to give up what is ours for someone else.
Jesus was very different than we are. When He went out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, he didn't eat. He prayed, and he fasted for 40 days.
In the past, some have used fasting as a worship tool during Lent. If fasting is done in private, between a person and God, it can be a useful expression of repentance over sin. During any part of the year, fasting can help us remember how much Jesus went without to save us from hell.
Just think about it. Jesus went without His fully glory as the Son of God every day that walked this earth. He went without food quite often because He was busy tending to the spiritual needs of the people. He went without justice, all the way to the cross, carrying our sins, suffering our pain, so that we could have life and forgiveness.
And on the cross He went without the Father’s presence. He felt the darkness of being truly and completely alone. And He did all this so that we wouldn’t have to. So that we could know the loving embrace of the Father when we leave this world of sorrow.
Maybe that’s why Jesus never commands us to fast. He’s done our fasting for us already. But, if you decide to fast in your worship this Lent, remember to do it for the Father’s eyes only. And if you don't fast this Lent, find something else to do that will turn your thoughts to all that Christ gave up for you.
Mark 1:14-15 14After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
TIME TO THINK AGAIN
The Greek word which is translated repent in Mark 1:15 is made up of two Greek words put together, roughly after + think. Or as we’d say in English, “Think again.”
The people to whom Jesus preached to were encouraged to consider their sins and “think again,” and so are we.
This past Wednesday the season of Lent began. Lent is the time in the church year when we consider our Savior’s suffering and all of the events that brought Him to the cross.
When we really get to the heart of the matter we see that the true cause of our Savior’s suffering and death was not the scribes and Pharisees. It wasn’t the soldier who scourged Him or the soldier who drove the nails. Jesus’ suffering and death was made necessary by our sins.
The events that brought Jesus to the cross were the events of your life and mine, events that are thoroughly laced with dark deeds of sin. The death of God the Son was necessary because of the evil that we have done, and the good we have failed to do.
Because of this, a seriousness and a sadness seem to descend on the season of Lent. But listen again to what Jesus preached: “Repent and believe the good news!”
Sure, Jesus directs us to look inside ourselves to see our sin, but then He calls us to look back to Him and see our Savior.
Think God wants us to be sad during Lent? Think again.
It is during Lent that we are brought to see the dark depths of our sin, but it is also in Lent that the unfathomable depths of God’s love for us is revealed and forgiveness shines on us with greatest intensity.
Romans 8:32 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Lent is a time to think about our own sins. Lent is a time to think about all that Jesus went through to take our sins away.
The purpose for examining our own sins is to take stock. See how we're doing in reforming ourselves. See how we're doing in reprogramming ourselves to do what God wants us to do and not what Satan wants.
The self examination that can happen during Lent is not meant to be a self punishment. Jesus suffered on the cross, and endured hell in my place. He doesn't want me to suffer. That much ought to be clear. He didn't suffer and die on the cross to show me how to do it. He suffered and died on the cross so I don't have to.
When I find that I've done a horrible job of following God's directions in one area of my life, I just need to bring those sins to God and ask for forgiveness. He'll give it. And I can move on - taking special care in that particular area from that point on.
Some people see the cross as a sad place. A place to come and torture yourself. They say, with each sin I commit I'm heaping more sins on Jesus. But the problem with that thinking is that Jesus' suffering is finished. He said it Himself. He is not sorry about what happened on the cross. He's not bitter about taking our sins and carrying them all the way to the grave. He did it for the joy of redeeming us. The joy of opening heaven to us. The joy of making it possible for sinners to be reborn into God's family.
Lent is a time to think about our own sins, and to think about all Jesus did on the cross to take our sins away. But, the cross is not a black hole of sorrow and guilt for us. For those who know WHY Jesus hung on the cross, the cross is a source of POWER.
You want to know why I can say this? Because when you look at the cross in the New Testament, it's not connected with guilt and sadness, but with freedom from sin because of Christ Jesus. It's connected with God's love, and peace with God and forgiveness and security.
In Romans 8:32 it says...
"32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32 ESV).Basically, Paul stands us next to the cross with God the Father and says, "Okay, the Father didn't spare his Son. You can see that. He's right there, being crucified to take your sins away. So, if the Father is willing to do even this to rescue you from something you got yourself into, than what in the world are you worried about! He's obviously willing to do whatever it takes to bring you home to heaven. Trust Him".
Now look at Romans 8:34. There Paul says...
"34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:34-35 ESV).Who's going to condemn you? That's the question Paul asks. Who's going to accuse you and get you convicted. After all, Jesus stepped in and took the hit for you. He went to the cross and died. Then, since His voluntary and perfect sacrifice was accepted, God raised Him from the dead. And now, He is STILL working for you. He's interceding - talking to the Father on our behalf.
Horrible suffering couldn't make Jesus abandon us. Death couldn't keep Christ away from us! So, what are you worried about! Nothing can pry us away from the love Christ has for us. In fact, the only way we can be separated from Christ is if WE push Him away. And even then, it's not HIS love failing, that would be us walking away.
The cross means God the Father and God the Son are invested in you. The cross means power and forgiveness and freedom from guilt.
On the Wednesdays of Lent we're going to continue going through the history of Christ's suffering and death. And we're going to feel sorrow. But there's good reason for this.
When we see Jesus being abused, we naturally feel empathy. He's a human being. We're sinners, but still most of us don't like seeing people suffer. We feel empathy.
And we know that Jesus is innocent, so we feel empathy even stronger. Our empathy is mixed with a sense that justice isn't being done. An innocent man is being beaten and punished, and that's not right!
When we see Jesus being crucified, we imagine how excruciating that kind of death must have been. That's where the world "excruciating" comes from. It means "out from + the cross".
And finally, when we listen to what the Bible says, we realize that all this suffering came on Jesus because of our sins. Because He wanted to rescue us, He had to feel this for us.
This is going to naturally produce a feeling of regret and sadness over our sins. But don't let that sadness last. Jesus wants that sadness to be burned away by the thought of His glorious resurrection. Three days after the cross came the empty tomb. Came the victory March.
The cross is power because it says, "God will provide the sacrifice". The cross is power because it says, "Sorry, Satan, the sacrifice has been made and you can't undo it." The cross is power because it stand to give forgiveness to any and all who the Spirit brings to it.
The cross means God the Father was willing to give up anything to save you.
The cross means God the Son was willing to endure anything to wash your sins away.
The cross means God truly loves you. Not in a mushy, sentimental way. But in a rugged bloody knuckles and blistered hands way. God the Son loved you in word and in action. And still does.
This Lent, don't use the cross to beat yourself up. Use the cross to beat down your guilt. Use the cross to beat down that sinful nature that still rears up inside you. Use the cross to silence the accusation of the Devil.
The cross means you debt is paid. All glory be to Jesus.