In just a few days, families will gather for Christmas Eve. Your Christmas Eve might include long-held traditions like attending church together, followed by sharing well-loved recipes around the table, exchanging white elephant gifts, or caroling in your neighborhood. Children will be tucked into bed, likely overloaded with sugar and perhaps sharing their space with an extra cousin or two. They will be excited to get up the next morning to find the highly anticipated presents under their tree. Before we get too distracted by all the “stuff,” let’s take a few minutes to think about this last week of Advent.
This week, light all of the purple and pink candles.
Three weeks ago, we began a journey to remember what Christmas is about. We talked about the PROMISES God made, promises that brought hope to God’s people in a very dark time. We celebrated Jesus as the Light of the World, the fulfillment of all of those promises, and the hope for the world. We’ve talked about the extensive PREPARATIONS that God made in order for His Son to be born. As God’s people saw God working, they were filled with peace, just as we now know peace with God and the peace of God through Jesus, our Prince of peace. Last week our focus was the joy that belongs to God’s people, a joy found in the PRESENCE of Emmanuel, God with us. We learned that the Old Testament tabernacle element of the bread of presence was fulfilled in the true bread of life, Jesus.
Because our final key word is love, I originally chose the word “passion” for this week’s theme, but I believe God gave me a better word: PROVISION. From the beginning of time, God intended to provide the perfect sacrifice that would secure our salvation. Tonight, we celebrate the unmerited, unconditional, eternal love of God, in giving the world the gift of His only begotten Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus. And as every Old Testament story illustrates, it was always going to be Jesus.
Luke 24:44-45 – Now He said to them, “These are My words, which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
One of the most powerful illustrations of the sacrificial love of the Father is found in a familiar passage about Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son yet waited until it was physically impossible by human expectations. Too impatient to trust God, Sarah concocted a plan for a surrogate birth and convinced Abraham to father a child with her slave, Hagar. While this plan made sense both legally and culturally, it was not God’s plan. God rejected man’s attempt to fulfill His promise, and in due time, Sarah bore a son to Abraham, just as God said.
Fast forward many days. Isaac, if not fully grown, is well into his teens, tall and sturdy enough to carry a heavy load of wood suitable for a burnt offering. Abraham loves him with a deep and abiding affection. He is the promised child, the one through whom God has promised to build a nation. How difficult it must have been to hear God’s unusual and mystifying command to take his son to the mountain and sacrifice him.
Genesis 22:1-3 – Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Perhaps even more mystifying than God’s command is Abraham’s unwavering faith that translated into unhesitating obedience. After three days’ journey, he and Isaac leave the other two and go a short distance away. As he walks toward the place of worship, burdened only by the wood, Isaac realizes something very important is missing. Has his father has forgotten the sacrificial animal? This time, having learned his lesson, Abraham’s answer reveals his complete faith in God’s plan, and is prophetic in its implications.
Genesis 22:8 – Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.”
The Hebrew word translated “provide” is ra’ah and literally means “to see,” as in God will see to it. He will take care of it. He will provide. We get a glimpse into what was going on in Abraham’s thoughts in Hebrews 11, the “hall of fame” of Old Testament saints, where the highlights of his and Sarah’s faith fill one-third of the chapter.
Hebrews 11:17-19 – By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.”
With trembling hands, Abraham bound his son on the altar. Abandoning himself completely to the mercy and grace of God, he drew back the knife to give back to God the son which God had given him. How grateful he must have been when he heard the angel of God call out, preventing him from plunging the knife into his beloved son’s heart. How narrow the escape! Imagine the relief that filled his soul. Hearing the bleating of the ram, he turned and saw that indeed, God had provided for Himself a lamb.
Abraham received Isaac back “as a type.” A type of whom? Who else would the words “only begotten son” point us to, but Jesus, the One who would be raised from the dead. Everything about this event in Abraham and Isaac’s lives points to the sacrifice God the Father would make in sacrificing His own Son, Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Abraham offered Isaac “on the third day” – the day he escaped death and in Abraham’s eyes, was brought back from the dead…just as Jesus rose from the grave on the third day. Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice…Jesus carried His own cross. Abraham “did not withhold his only son” from God…just as God did not withhold his only Son, Jesus, from us. Isaac was taken to Mt. Moriah…Jesus was taken to Mt. Calvary. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son…Jesus was tested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Isaac was replaced by a substitute, a ram; Jesus became the substitute, the Lamb of God.
Abraham gratefully embraced the son given back to him and knelt at the altar he had built as an indication that he completely believed in the God who required his unwavering obedience and trust. As the scent of the sacrificial ram spiraled upwards toward heaven, he proclaimed the name of the place where his faith found purchase in the grace and mercy of God.
Genesis 22:14 – Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”
This Hebrew name for God, Jehovah Jireh, was fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose birth we celebrate tonight. Jehovah-jireh, or “Jehovah will see (to it).” Jesus came because God promised Adam and Eve four thousand years earlier that He would “see to it” that mankind would be redeemed, and our sins paid for by the ultimate sacrifice.
John 1:29 – The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Tonight, we celebrate the baby in the manger, but we do so looking forward thirty-three years to the cross. Mary’s “little lamb” was destined from the beginning of time to become the Lamb of God, sent from the Father because of His great love for us. Christmas finds its full meaning in our hearts as we acknowledge the Savior. Like Abraham, we must lay down our lives as a living sacrifice in full and complete trust that God’s plan is the only way of returning to the Garden to be in fellowship with our Creator, as we were meant to be, for eternity.
One day, we will gather around the throne and worship the Lamb with all the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. Until then, we celebrate in anticipation, knowing that God has provided, just as He said He would.