It Happened in Jerusalem (Genesis 22:1-2)Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis, April 9, 2017
Palm Sunday held the first rock concert—“the rocks and stones will sing!” On our recent trip to Israel, an exciting experience was walking up to the walled city of Jerusalem, a city with a four thousand year history. It’s the centerpiece of heaven come to earth in Revelation, where God will live among us and there will be no more sorrow, tears, pain or death.
Jerusalem is the focal point of the world’s present international tug-of-war. One thousand years ago, the Crusades happened, with Christians combating the Muslim Invasion. Two thousand years ago, Jesus was there. Three thousand years, ago it was David’s city – Jesus’ lineage.
Our text takes us back four thousand years, when it became the most Holy spot on earth. The Dome of the Rock is presently located where the Jewish temple resided. It’s also the location where God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Abraham is enjoying God’s promised child for 30 years. Then God asks the unspeakable: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, take him to the land of Moriah and offer him up to me as an offering.” The first time the word “love” appears in the Bible is a love of a father for his son. The first usage of the word “love” in the New Testament is God saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This is the first time love is used in all the first three gospels. But in John’s gospel, where the term love is used more than all the other gospels combined, we see God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” God loves His Son then turns that love towards us!
Critics accuse God of being a moral monster for making such a request. There is a tension in this request; God calls Abraham to a lifestyle different than the pagan nations surrounding him, who worshiped their gods by sacrificing their children to them. Now it appears God is asking Abraham to do this for Him as well.
Abraham’s life is an illustration of God the Father and God the Son.
Mt Moriah’s offering is a type of offering of Christ at Calvary. Mt. Moriah is where Jerusalem was established, where Jesus was sacrificed for our sins. Notice God sacrificed His son, which He did not require of Abraham. Nor does God ever want that from His people. God says a couple of times in the Bible, “It never crossed My mind you would throw your children into the fire.”
The fact that God had to sacrifice His son, is not an indication of a blood thirsty God, but the radical price of sin that was paid on our behalf. Sin requires death, so God stepped in and took the punishment He pronounced over sin on our behalf. That is the love of God for you.
But why this bizarre test? The test is an evaluation of Abraham’s first love: God or Isaac. Often we love the gifts of God more than God Himself. We love God for what He does for us more than just enjoying the fact the Creator wants to have a relationship with us. If the Lord withdrew all the physical blessings from your life, would you still stay connected and pursue God? Seek him out for conversation? Stay loyal if He left you in prison for standing up for Him?
Jerusalem is where all the sacrifices to God would be offered in the future and ultimately where the sacrifice for our sins occurred. The white, sweet smelling smoke of the temple sacrifices turned dark and rancid after Jesus’ death, no longer pleasing or necessary.
When they arrived at the location, Abraham leaves the two servants and tells them “We are going to worship and then return to you.” Note the faith Abraham has in God’s promises. “I don’t understand what you have me doing, but I trust You.” We learn from Hebrews 11:17-19, Abraham reasoned in his heart that God would resurrect his son from the dead, which God did for His own Son, Jesus.
Abraham has learned God keeps His word and Isaac is going to be a great nation through whom all other nations of the world will be blessed. This cannot happen with a dead Isaac. Therefore, Isaac must live. Abraham is reckoned as righteous because He believed God, but we see Him putting his beliefs into action.
People freak out that God would request the sacrifice of a life, but we are to be a living sacrifice, which means we’re to die to ourselves.
Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham says, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb.”
Isaac could have overpowered his 130-year-old father, but allowed himself to be bound and offered to God, like Jesus who laid down His life.
When the Lord interrupts Abraham, it is Jesus showing up in the Old Testament. “God will provide for Himself the Lamb”… and who shows up? The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Abraham walks away from that place with a new name for God: Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide.
Interesting that the most contested location on earth, happens to be where God brought the world salvation.
Let’s move to another incredible place in Jerusalem: the Garden of Gethsemane. It was Jesus’ favorite prayer spot, but this night, He’s there to work things out with His Father. Jesus says, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”
Jesus wrestles with humanity’s greatest temptation, to embrace the self and not surrender to God. No doubt Satan repeated his initial offer from the temptation in the desert, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” You don’t need to go to the cross.
This is Satan’s last chance to ruin God’s plan of redemption? In the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus and left Him until an opportune time. This is that moment. If Jesus passes on the Father’s assignment, the wrath of God will be poured out on humanity because of sin.
The emotions are intense as the cup Jesus is about to drink means suffering, rejection, hatred and death. Jesus is experiencing stress, anguish and physical weakness. Hebrews 5:7 “He offered up prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears.” Do you realize Jesus, cried over saving you from hell? We assume Jesus sauntered up to the cross, “I regret I only have one life to lay down for humanity.” Jesus struggled. A woman in England mocked, “Your Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross; look how He fell apart in the garden.”
He’s sweating blood, why? The upcoming denial, betrayal, torture, mocking, and crucifixion leading to death? No. It was because a pure, sinless Deity had to absorb all of humanity’s filth and pain - your sins included. The author of life was facing death, separation from the Father which Jesus would experience for the first time ever.
The consequence of sin is God turning away from us. Jesus is about to be separated from God, for you. “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken Me.” This is Deity talking to Deity, a moment so intense the sun did not shine as humanity crucified its Creator. The darkness lasted three hours and was an outward sign of the darkness that now wrapped itself around the soul of Jesus. Wave after wave of evil swept over His consciousness: the awful legacy of mankind’s wickedness, evilness, horror--laid upon Jesus. “He who knew no sin became sin, for us.” “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken Me…” Jesus was forsaken because He was choosing you. The reason He came to earth was to drink the cup of God’s wrath so we would not have to taste it.
Notice that Jesus sweat blood not before Pilate, not when facing the Chief priests, not when being arrested beaten or crucified. His anxious moment was in prayer. This is also where we work things out with God.
Let’s zero in on Jesus’ prayer: the ultimate spiritual battle is my will versus Thy will. We face this same temptation of being seduced into not picking up our cross. “God, can’t we find another way?” Satan was suggesting to Jesus an easier path. You don’t need to die. Or for us, why bother denying yourself; you’ll be forgiven.
Sometimes God stills the storms, and other times, He stills the storms within us. That night Jesus needed God to still the storm within Him. It was this time of prayer that gave Jesus strength, courage and power to face the pain, humiliation and horror of the cross.
Asking “why” is a statement of faith, not doubt. It presupposes God exists, that He loves us and is in control of our destiny. Prayer is the declaration, “God has the power to help me walk through the darkness.” God is to be wrestled with. Our suffering causes us to press into God. Prayer is not about moving God to our will, as much as moving us toward God.
The skeptics at Oxford ridiculed C.S. Lewis for praying to God when his wife was dying. He said, “I pray not to bring God to my point of view, but for God to bring C.S. Lewis to God’s point of view.” Then comes the moment we say, “Not my will, but Thy will.” Prayer changes things, primarily the person praying. In our personal darkness, our Gardens of Gethsemane can be a hospital room, court room, funeral home… prayer gives us God’s presence and promises.
Jesus knew what was about to happen, and what had to be done. Don’t forget Jesus informed Peter, “I can call down a legion of angels.” If He really didn’t want to do this, He could have bypassed it; He is God. But He cared more for us than Himself. He wanted to stop sin from destroying His children, so He took our badness so we could enjoy God’s goodness.
There is a sign that reads over the rock where Jesus prayed and sweat blood: “No Explanations.” We need His presence, not words.
The Garden of Eden was where God walked with Adam and Eve. It was all destroyed because Satan lied and inspired us to pursue our own desires instead of God’s will. The Garden of Eden was where the first sting of death began, rendering every person a dead man walking—alive, but destined to die.
Fast forward to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus restores paradise and reestablished God walking in our presence again. Jesus became the dead man walking. He submitted to death, which is separation from God. Jesus is rectifying the bad decision in the original garden, reversing the curse in this one.
By the way, the Garden of Gethsemane has the same tree shoots from Jesus’ day. Where the blood of Christ has been dropped, life doesn’t stop! He dropped it on you! Now your life has no end!
The most incredible place in Jerusalem is where the cross is located. You can touch the rock where Jesus was crucified for your sins. The cross was a tool of death. Caesar Augustus when dealing with the slave rebellion (retold in the story of Spartacus) crucified the 20,000 slaves who revolted along the Apian Way, the major road leading into Rome. In Palestine, 2000 were crucified along the road to remind the Jews what happens when you rebel against Rome.
The Old Testament said, “Cursed is anyone hung on a tree,” implying God has rejected you. The cross beyond being an excruciating way to die by slow suffocation, was a symbol of spiritual shame.
The cross is the chosen symbol of the Christian faith. It is an empty cross because when Jesus died on it, He overturned the power of evil by resurrecting from the dead.
Jesus went to the cross so we might have a personal relationship with God, and might know its power in every area of our lives. The cross is where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.
It is interesting how people look at Jesus and Christianity as one of many spiritual options, just one more plate on the great buffet of religious teachings to pick from. Jesus’ credentials make Him worthy to consider: healing the sick, raising the dead…teaching a love unparalleled in any other religion.
Jesus came to earth not only to teach a great set of lessons, but He personally paid the price for our sins. Because He did this, He has claim to a much higher truth than any other religion can give us, because while other religious founders taught some good, none of them ever gave their lives for us.
The cross of Christ becomes personal. Our personality changes as we think differently, caring about people we never used to give a second thought. We sacrifice for others, whether it’s overlooking a slight or a serious offense. This is just part of the lifestyle because we follow Jesus. A Christian was sharing her faith with the man who sexually abused her. He disdained her, but she urged him to accept Jesus. Sharing Jesus was more important than her hurt.
Who was Jesus talking about when He was on the cross and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do?” He died for the sin of the world as all of us played a personal role in crucifying Jesus. Christ’s forgiveness was for everyone who has ever sinned. In uttering these words from the cross, our Lord interceded for us, which according to Hebrews, He lived to intercede on our behalf.
Case in point is the thief on the cross. Jesus is dying for the sins of humanity, ridiculed, spit on, while slowly being suffocated to death and He saves one more soul. Yes, even the vilest sinner may be saved.
Then comes the words, “It is finished.” It has been accomplished; it is the end of an era in humanity. Sin no longer has the last word. The penalty of death has been removed. Finished means there is nothing left to do, but enter into the results of Christ’s finished work.
Back in 1988 in Armenia, a father squatted by his son as he was going off to school and said, “Have a good day and remember no matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” They hugged and the little boy ran off to school. Hours later, an earthquake rocked the area.
The radio announced hundreds of casualties so the father made his way to the school yard. Before his eyes, his son’s school was a pile of rubble. Other parents were standing around crying. The father found his way to where his child’s class should have been and began pulling away beams and rocks. An authority yelled, “What are you doing?” The father said, “Digging for my son.” The man said, “The area is unstable” and tried to pull the father away from his work. But the father disregarded him and kept removing the rubble. As time wore on, parents left one by one. A firefighter tried to get the father to stop, but he would not be dissuaded. All through the night and into the next day, the father kept removing the rocks. The next day, parents showed up with pictures and flowers for their children. Towards the end of the day, he thought he heard a faint cry. He stopped to listen, but heard nothing. Then he moved a large beam and heard, “Papa?” There was his son. He yelled, “Give me your hand and come out!” But his son said, “Father, let the other children come out first.” Fourteen kids were rescued from their tomb and finally his son came out. The boy said, “I told the other kids not to worry because you said you’ll always be there for me.”
When sin covered us with certain death, Jesus came back for us. He has promised, “I am with you always!” This is our focus for Holy Week.
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22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 2 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.” (ESV)