Text: Gen 22:1-18 (Jas 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-15)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
A woman who claims to be a Lutheran pastor in Sweden wrote the following in a national newspaper:
“There is no fallen creation and therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement is irrational! Throw out all the talk about sin, guilt, shame, blood, slaughtered lambs and other horrors! It has no place in modern times, among enlightened people!”
To put it a different way, her argument runs like this: “There is no fall, and therefore no atonement is needed. Since there is no atonement, blood sacrifice is nothing more than primitive cruelty. In fact, we should not even talk about such things because we are modern, enlightened, ever-so-smart people!”
And what is only hinted at, but not said outright in her statement, is that there is no such thing as sin. For without sin, there is no fall, no atonement, and no cross.
If this is true, dear friends, then the cross did not save us through the sacrifice of our Savior, but merely served to torture to death a man no different than you and me. If this is true, then Jesus died in vain, and that putting away such beliefs in Him as redeemer is what it means to live in “modern times among enlightened people.”
Dear friends, in the “modern times” of the last century alone, such “enlightened people” have tortured and slaughtered other human beings by hundreds of millions. Far from seeing “enlightened people” proving that belief in sin in these “modern times” is “irrational,” we have seen a hundred years of sin and evil of proportions more epic than even in the Bible. World War I brought the entire world into total war. Hitler murdered some eight million plus. Stalin killed somewhere near sixty million of his own people. Cambodia’s Pol Pot killed around two million men, women, and children in his killing fields. And with all of the injustice and terrorism in the present, the current century isn’t looking any more “enlightened” than the last one. And even if we as individuals are not in a position to murder people by the millions, we do not go a moment without sinning in thought, word, and deed.
The only way any person living in “modern times” to consider mankind to be “enlightened” and to consider the doctrine of the fall to be “irrational” a person must be deluded, deceived by the world, the devil, and one’s sinful flesh.
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” warns St. James. For what was true at the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; at the time of the crucifixion, in the age of the Christian martyrs under the Romans – is still true today. There is sin in the world, sin that must be atoned for, and sin that was and is atoned for, dear friends: atoned by Christ’s bloody death on the cross! He died for Adam and Eve, and He died also for the most so-called “enlightened” of us living in these “modern times.” As James says, “do not be deceived….” For regarding the Father, “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Dear friends, man’s sinful heart has not changed. Rather in these “modern times” mankind has used the “enlightenment” of technology to find a way to sin on a grander scale. And as St. James reveals to us, the Lord has not changed either, “no variation or shadow due to change.” Even as the wages of sin is death, it still is. Even as a Lamb had to be sacrificed to atone for sin, He still is that sacrifice. And even as the Lord was merciful, dear brothers and sisters, indeed He ever shall be. None of that has changed. It matters not whether we lived in the days of Abraham or in “modern times.”
The Lord made a promise to Abraham four millennia ago. The Lord kept His promise. Indeed, the Son of Abraham would be sacrificed on a hilltop, as a Lamb “caught in a thicket” of thorns wrapped around His head. The Son of Abraham would indeed tread condemned by decree of God up a hill carrying the wood for the sacrifice. And indeed, the One who loves us, He who would not withhold His Son, His “only-begotten Son,” from us,” would carry out the payment for our sins Himself because He loves us. God did indeed “provide for Himself the Lamb” for the offering.
The word “Son” in Hebrew means “male descendant.”
The Son of Abraham who was to die was not Isaac, but a later Son who was to come at the fullness of time two millennia later. That Son of Abraham was also the Son of God, who died as a sacrifice, an atonement, for the sake of all other sons and daughters of Abraham, sinners all of us, we who so smugly claim to be “enlightened” and “better” than our ancestors who understood all too well the wages of sin.
And shame on any so-called church that would claim to ordain those whom God has not called, who teach that which God has not revealed to us! And woe to anyone who would teach that the “holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of [God’s] beloved Son, Jesus Christ” was all in vain, that God did not actually say “you shall die” to Adam and Eve in His warning to them about sin. For in rejecting the atonement, one rejects the cross. In rejecting the cross, one rejects the Crucified One, the Son, the gift of eternal life, and ultimately, such a one rejects and snubs the very love of God. And to reject God in this way is to declare oneself a god, or in this case, a goddess.
The inability of some who claim to be Christians to confess the connection between the redemptive Lamb, the atoning cross, and the transmission of that forgiveness is baptism is stunning – especially among those who recite the Nicene Creed week in and week out. Even Hollywood sees this connection clearly, as evidenced by movies like The Godfather and Gran Torino – in which redemption through the shedding of blood is played out in connection with a church’s baptismal font. Throughout human history we have seen soldiers sacrifice their lives for love of country and hearth and home. We have seen parents sacrifice their lives for their children. Even animals will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their beloved offspring. Love and sacrifice are part and parcel of our existence in this fallen world.
The world may not embrace this truth, but it is truth. And for any so-called Christian to deny this truth is evidence of the very sin that such a person denies among the “enlightened” of the “modern age.” To deny sin is to be deceived.
Again: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers!” For “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
For the ultimate “good gift” and indeed the pinnacle of the “perfect gift” is the gift of the Son, offered upon the cross, whose blood is given to us freely as atonement and as sacrament, the “only begotten Son” of the Father, the Crucified One to whom the Father says: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”
For indeed, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
And wherever this Gospel is proclaimed, there will be blood! The cross is proclaimed and borne by those called, truly called, to preach this good news. The Church – she who bears the cross of oppression and persecution – is covered in blood, and more importantly, covered by blood – the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And upon our altars one indeed finds no blood of bulls and goats, but rather the blood of the Lamb in the cup, the blood of the one all-availing sacrifice, with the unblemished sacrificial flesh of the Lamb, offered to us as a sacramental gift, in the very words of the Lamb Himself: “for the forgiveness of sins.”
“For the forgiveness of sins,” dear friends!
Let us continue to confess “Through Jesus’ blood and merit, I am at peace with God” even as we partake of His body and blood at the altar until He comes again.
For as we observe and as Scripture testifies, there is a tragically fallen creation. Therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement of Christ Crucified is not only true, but it is the supreme act of love, “irrational” love to fallen man, maybe, but divine perfect love for those being redeemed! Throw out all the talk about what “enlightened people” we are in these “modern times,” and other such horrors! Let us freely acknowledge our “sin, guilt, [and] shame,” and let us take refuge in the “blood” of the Lamb, the Crucified One, the “beloved Son” in whom the Father is pleased.”
For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us He gave His dying breath.
O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.