Summary: Lent 1: What allowed the Apostle Paul to live through the trials in his life? What about Abraham? They were ’Persuaded’ - persuaded that nothing could seperate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Note: All three lessons for today (Gen. 22:1-18; Rom. 8:31-39; Mark 1:12-15) are used in this sermon, but the primary focus is Rom. 8:38-39.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) How did Paul become so fully persuaded in this way? How did he get to trust in God so fully that literally nothing – not even death - could dissuade him of God’s love and care?
Today marks the first Sunday in Lent – the season of penitential reflection. During this time we consider the weight of sin on humanity. We shrink as we hear the penalty that God has pronounced: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20a) And we also marvel at how the Son of God – Jesus Christ - willingly took that penalty upon Himself in order to save us.
In the Old Testament Lesson today (Genesis 22:1-18) we heard the story of the testing of Abraham. Abraham didn’t get to see the birth of his son Isaac until the age of 100. This was the son of promise – the one though whom God promised to bless the world with the Savior. Abraham understood this. And now God was telling Abraham to take Isaac up to the region of Moriah and offer the boy as a sacrifice. Even the words that God used to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac are full of pathos: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2) Take your son, your only son, whom you love… and sacrifice him. And Abraham willingly started to do exactly that. He took his son up the mountain, tied him up, laid him on the altar and lifted the knife. How did Abraham become so fully persuaded? How did he get to trust in God so fully that he was willing to obey this unbelievable command from God?
As we walk through this life, sooner or later you and I will be called to go to the mount in Moriah – that call to suffer. Moriah can take on different forms. And it’ll level us if we are not persuaded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Living through the trials is not easy. God knows this and so He prepares us to face Moriah. He shows us that his care is unfailing and that his love is enduring.
Paul went through many trials: he’d been viciously vituperated; unjustly arrested and imprisoned; held in chains; beaten; stoned and left for dead. And what about Abraham? It turns out that much of Abraham’s life was a test. “Leave your homeland and go out to a strange land,” God told him. And after Abraham had gotten there, a famine came upon the land and he had to seek food and shelter in yet another country. There was a squabble with a greedy nephew; an encounter with angels on the way to destroy two cities and their inhabitants; wars with neighboring kings; and if this wasn’t enough – there was that name that God gave him – Abraham. It meant, ‘father of multitudes’ and yet his wife was barren. And now, after a son is miraculously born to Sarah and him, God asks for the child’s life. Take your son, your only son whom you love… and sacrifice him.
Both Abraham and Paul were fully persuaded. They had great trust in God. It was battle tested trust. It was trust born out of seeing God’s hand deliver his own throughout all of history. They knew that the God in Whom they believed was greater than anything that they could possibly face. “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4b) They knew this – they believed it and so they were persuaded.
Testing and suffering are hard things for us to really grasp. You see, our reality is of a dual nature. The Christian life is an, ‘already’ and at the same time it is a, ‘not yet’ reality. We know that we are fully redeemed in Christ – that’s what the Cross was about. We sure that God has accepted us as his children and heirs of the Kingdom. But at the same time we also know that we are still growing in Christ – we’re not quite there yet. We know and believe that Christ will never forsake us and yet we feel the pressure of sin. We have God’s peace but also suffer through the problems of life - just like Paul did – just like Abraham did.