Lent Is for Sinners Who Struggle

Pastor Jon Brohn

Genesis 22:1–18 (NIV) 1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” 15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

My dear friends in Christ,

Today we begin our Lenten series, “Lent Is for Sinners.” For the next six weeks, we will discover the promises God makes to all of us, promises that can help us make it through our Lenten journey. Today we will dig into the statement: Lent is for sinners who struggle.

God’s Word for today focuses on tests. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of tests. How did you feel when you heard the teacher say, “Please take out your pen or pencil and close your books. It’s time to take the test.” Most of us probably broke out into a cold sweat, especially if the class wasn’t our strongest subject. Had we studied enough? Did we understand the material? What if the teacher put questions on the test that we hadn’t covered in class? Then, the most horrifying thought of all—what if I fail?

Did that go through Abraham’s mind when he heard God say, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you” (Genesis 22:2 NIV)? Remember the story? Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. They were old—far beyond having children. The LORD promised that he would give them a son. When Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah shared the good news, “I‘m pregnant!” The joy and laughter of that day only increased 9 months later when Sarah gave birth to a healthy baby boy. They named him “Isaac,” “laughter,” because Sarah had laughed at the news she would finally have a child, and because the LORD graciously kept his promise!

Years passed. Abraham watched that baby grow into a young man. He taught Isaac about herding animals and living off the land that the LORD had promised would be theirs one day. Abraham treasured this son, his only son, the son that he loved. What could the LORD be thinking?

Imagine everything that would run through our minds, if we were Abraham. What would we be tempted to think? First, we might see the test as punishment. “I must have really done something wrong for God to hit me this hard.” We could be tempted to doubt God’s plan. “Does God really know what he’s doing?” Or, we’d doubt God’s goodness. “How could a loving, kind God ask me to do this?” We’d probably be tempted to come up with an alternate plan—our own plan. “I won’t sacrifice him. He’s too important to me! This isn’t fair! We’ll go the opposite way, we’ll do anything but sacrifice this boy.”

Did you notice how we shifted our focus from being tested to being tempted? It is easy to question God, call him out, and even blame him when life goes sour. God has everything to do with the test. He has nothing to do with the temptation. All of those things we’re tempted to think, or do, or say, come from one of three sources. They come from within us. We are sinful through and through. We want nothing to do with God, with his tests, and with his plans. The temptations can also come from the world around us—the news we listen to, the professors we learn from, the neighbors next door, the friends we make—sometimes they point us away from the truth of God’s Word and tempt us to hold onto worldly wisdom. Don’t forget about the old evil foe—Satan. We heard about him in our gospel reading for today. Satan spent 40 days bringing temptation after temptation against Jesus. Satan certainly doesn’t hesitate to tempt us. He knows our weaknesses. He preys on them. None of this comes from God. James wrote, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:13–15 NIV). Lent is for sinners who struggle with temptation, and boy do we struggle!

No, God doesn't tempt us, but he does test us. He wants to see where our relationship with him stands. King Solomon wrote, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3 NIV). Where are our hearts? Every believer throughout history has faced tests. Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, King David, us—God tests all of us so that we are convinced of his love and sure that his promises are true. How did they do with all those tests? How do we do? Not so well. That’s why we listen to God’s promises. He said, “Call upon me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Jesus understands the struggle we face. The gospel for this morning spoke of his own struggle as he faced temptation in the wilderness. Jesus fought those temptations and never sinned. How? Jesus relied on the Word of God. He called on his Father in the day of trouble. God provided everything Jesus needed, including a way out. He promises the same for us! “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

A way out, or in the case of Abraham’s test, the way through with God's Word! Abraham was a sinner who struggled in his relationship with God. He didn’t always trust him perfectly. Yet Moses recorded six different times the LORD made promises to Abraham and then said, “Abraham believed the LORD” (Genesis 15:6 NIV).

We see Abraham’s faith in action at Mt. Moriah. He told his servants, “We will come back to you” (22:5). When Isaac asked where the lamb for the sacrifice was Abraham confidently said, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Abraham’s faith even gave him the strength to raise the knife and sacrifice his son.

Abraham was a sinner who struggled, but he believed that God would keep his promise. God told him that Isaac was the one from whom the Savior would come. Abraham was so confident in God’s Word that the book of Hebrews says, “He [Abraham] who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:18-19). Abraham fully trusted that if he sacrificed Isaac, God would give Isaac back from the dead. What an amazing faith!

We are sinners who struggle too. We can pass every test and fight every temptation the same way Abraham did—with God’s Word! God’s Word doesn’t change depending on our circumstances. Even when we feel like we won’t survive, he won’t forget us. Our hope and faith is not built on a loser who has never kept his promises. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” (CW 382 v.1). Can you see and hear the Father’s love echo centuries later on another hill? The Father was willing to sacrifice his Son, his Only Son, the one whom he loved. The Father sent a substitute, the Lamb who would die for the entire world. God kept his promise to bless the nations of the earth through Isaac’s descendant. Jesus came. Jesus willingly carried his cross to a hill outside the city walls. Nothing stopped Jesus’ death—not even a voice from heaven. Then God brought his Son back from the dead, just as he had promised.

Has God been testing you? Has the test been painful? Long? Difficult? Remember what Paul said in our second lesson? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:35-36).

The tests we face can be difficult, and the challenges of life can be brutal. This same Father who raised his Son from the dead is able to do something about it. The apostle Paul understood it. He had suffered many things as he shared the good news about Jesus. Paul was still able to say, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Good? In all things? Yes. God will bring us through every test we face, and he will, as Solomon once wrote, make “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV).

Not so sure? Let me share a brief story. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch watchmaker—the first woman in Holland licensed to produce watches. She and her family loved Jesus, and in 1942 when a Jewish woman showed up on their doorstep because of Nazi persecution, the Ten Boom family hid her. They became a safe house for Jewish refugees. In February, 1944 Nazi soldiers arrested the entire Ten Boom family for hiding Jews. Corrie was kept in solitary confinement, then shipped to a concentration camp with her sister Betsie. In December, just before Betsie died she told Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.” Fifteen days later, Corrie was released. Afterwards, she was told that her release was due to a clerical error and that a week later, all the women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers.

Many years later, Corrie wrote a poem describing the way God made everything work for her good: My life is but a weaving / Between my Lord and me, / I cannot choose the colors / He worketh steadily. / Oft times He weaveth sorrow / And I in foolish pride / Forget He sees the upper / And I, the underside. / Not till the loom is silent / And the shuttles cease to fly / Shall God unroll the canvas / And explain the reason why. / The dark threads are as needful / In the Weaver's skillful hand / As the threads of gold and silver / In the pattern He has planned.

Still not a big fan of tests? That’s okay--Lent is for sinners who struggle. We may not see the beauty God is working yet, but we can be sure he will make it turn out for our good. Keep struggling, and keep trusting that Jesus will help us pass every test and fight every temptation that comes! Amen.