By Mark Buetow
“But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” (John 8:55-56)
“Um, Dad?” “Yes, Isaac?” “Well, we’ve got wood here. And we’ve got some fire. But, um, where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?” And what do you suppose Isaac was thinking as Dad tied him up and laid him upon the altar and raised the knife? Do you think Isaac at that moment remembered Abraham’s words, “God will see to the Lamb for Himself?”
Abraham kept God’s Word. That doesn’t mean what we probably think it means. We usually think it means he “obeyed” God’s Word. True, he did; he was ready to sacrifice his son at God’s command. But why could Abraham do that? Simply this: Abraham was keeping the Word of God.
HOLDING FAST TO GOD’S PROMISES
Keeping God’s Word is about far more than mechanically doing what it says. Keeping God’s Word means having a lively faith and trust and confidence in God’s promises. The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that even if he went ahead and killed Isaac, God would have raised Isaac from the dead in order to keep His promise to Abraham to have a descendant (Hebrews 11:19). In other words, Abraham kept God’s Word not simply by obeying its outward command, but by holding fast to the Word and promises of God. It is why he could drag his own son to an altar on a mountain and still confidently proclaim, “God will take care of the lamb for Himself” (Genesis 22:9). And Isaac did not die that day. But the promise of God was fulfilled: Abraham had offspring, all the way down the ages to Jesus, the Lamb that God provided for Himself for an offering.
NOW FAST FORWARD TO JESUS’ DAY
We catch up to Him in a heated argument with the scribes and Pharisees. They’re the experts in the Scriptures, yet they don’t keep God’s Word. What drives them is not a sure confidence in the promises of God but a boastful attitude that they know the Bible and most other people don’t. What runs their thinking is not the joyous Good News that their sins are forgiven in Christ but that they are special to God because they are so holy and can keep the Law. This is how Jesus knows they don’t know the Father.
JESUS KNOWS THE FATHER
Jesus keeps the Father’s Word. He has a sure and certain and perfect trust in His Father’s Word and Promises. So much so that He can be the Lamb that Abraham spoke of. If Abraham believed God could give him his son back, how much more so the Son of God believed that He could give His life for sinners and not be destroyed. So much so that the Son came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin’s womb. So much faith and hope did Jesus have in His Father’s Word that He could be baptized with sinners. So much did Jesus keep His Father’s Word, that is, trust in His Father, that He could resolve even while covered in bloody sweat to go ahead and be that Lamb. Far more than Abraham who raised the knife but was kept from killing Isaac, Jesus goes the way of the Cross knowing full well the Father is NOT going to spare Him but will instead lay upon Him the sins of the world and forsake Him. Jesus keeps the Father’s Word. He holds fast to it. He prays, “Into your hands, I commit my spirit” trusting that the Father will raise Him up on the Third Day. Christ, with perfect fear, love, and trust in God the Father has kept God’s Word. Above all, Jesus keeps the Father’s Word, by being the Lamb that Abraham promised Isaac God would provide for Himself.
But these Jews, these Pharisees and scribes and other religious folk don’t keep God’s Word. What drives them is not a happy and glad trust in their Savior but a small and shallow trust in their own goodness and ability to please God. And when Jesus dares to threaten their religion by calling them to trust in Him instead of themselves, they mock Him, call Him names, and say He has a devil. Rather than hear and learn what Jesus is actually teaching, what the Scriptures actually say, and how the Lord would rescue them from trusting in themselves, they circle the wagons and pick up the stones and are ready to throw! This is because they don’t KEEP God’s Word. They may even look like they outwardly OBEY most of it.
GOD’S PROMISES ARE FOUND IN HIS HOLY GIFTS
Jesus says “Whoever is of God hears God’s Word” (John 8:47). If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). These words of Jesus are not a whip-up-some-religion-in-yourself command. They are words that rescue us by calling us away from trusting in anything else in this world other than Christ and His Word. To KEEP Christ’s Word means to live like Abraham: no matter what you see with your eyes, you know by faith what God has in store for you. To KEEP God’s Word means to cling to HIS Word and promises which rescue you from having to save yourself! And what promises are those? Everything that the Lamb has accomplished for you on the Cross of Calvary delivered in His Holy Gifts. To KEEP Christ’s Word is to live in the waters of your Baptism, believing that you are a child of God and your sins have been washed away. To KEEP Christ’s Word means to live in the sure and certain knowledge that because your pastor has forgiven your sins, they are forgiven before God in heaven. To KEEP Christ’s Word is to run to His Supper to receive Jesus’ own Body and Blood, your certain promise that your sins are forgiven and that you will rise on the Last Day. God grant that we hear and believe His holy Word and KEEP it that we never see death forever!
Rev. Mark Buetow is the pastor of Mt. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in McHenry, IL.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in March 2008.