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3rd Sunday in Lent - Series B

(9)

Sermon shared by Ronald Harbaugh

March 2006
Summary: Throught out history, people have felt the need to make sacrifices to please God and atone for their sin. The Cross is all we need.
Denomination: Lutheran
Audience: Believer adults
Sermon:
3rd Sunday in Lent March 19, 2006 Series B

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, to reveal you kingdom and to redeem us from sin and death. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, increase our awareness in the significance of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, and deepen our faith and trust in the saving grace his cross offers to us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Richard Jensen, in his book, The Crucified Ruler, begins his commentary on our Gospel lesson with this rather strange story.

“The young girl lay bound on the altar. It was she who had been chosen to be the sacrifice made to the gods on behalf to the people this year. She was terrified. She watched every movement that the priest made throughout the ceremony. And then, at the climax of the ritual, the priest moved toward her with knife held high. Terror flooded her consciousness.

And then the knife came down. It plunged into her heart. In just a few moments, she was dead. Her blood flowed over the altar, dripping down to the ground. The major sacrifice of the year was now complete. The people breathed a great sigh of relief. Perhaps now, perhaps with this sacrifice, the gods would smile upon them for another year.

This is a strange story, to say the least. Strange, but true,” Jensen concludes. “Many different peoples in many different cultures in the course of human history have made use of a human sacrifice in order to please the gods.” End quote.

To be sure, as I shared with my confirmation students in our study of the Old Testament, some cultures and peoples living as neighbors to Israel, practiced child sacrifice. In fact, some Biblical scholars believe that this practice is what gave rise to the story of God testing Abraham’s faith, by asking him to sacrifice Isaac.

We know the story well. Isaac was the SON GOD had promised would be born to Abraham and Sarah, even when it seemed impossible for them to conceive a child due to their age. Isaac was the HOPE of Abraham and Sarah, that from their offspring, God would bring forth a great people, too many to number. And then God tested Abraham’s faith, by asking him to sacrifice Isaac.

So Abraham led his young son up a tall mountain, where he built and altar to God. The two of them gathered wood for a fire. And when Isaac asked his father where they would find the animal to sacrifice, Abraham took Isaac, bound him and placed him on the altar. Then he took his knife, and just as he was about to plunge it into his son, God shouted, STOP! God said, "I do not desire the death of Isaac!

So Abraham unbound Isaac, and discovered that there was a ram caught in a thicket of briars. Abraham took the ram, laid it on the altar, and sacrificed it – IN ISAAC’S PLACE.

Two things might be gained from this story. First, is the fact that God’s cry to stop Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was not just an indication of God’s grace that was extended to Abraham and Isaac. Rather, it was an indication to all of Abraham’s descendents, that God did not desire child sacrifice, and that his descendents should not engage in that practice.

Secondly, since this story records that God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of Isaac, it was interpreted
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