If you go north on High Street, a few blocks from Milton, you’ll pass a house with a huge message written on the front: “Abraham believed,” it says. The letters are a bit worse for the wear, but you can still read it easily enough. I pass by it frequently, usually several times a day, and so I have often wondered about that message.
I have no desire to question or criticize the intentions of whoever wrote “Abraham believed” on that house. The words themselves are a very brief quote from the Holy Scriptures, with which I cannot argue; nor would I want to argue with them. There is a problem, however, in taking such words out of context, because doing so results in ambiguity, confusion, and uncertainty.
There are many people who would like to hold up Father Abraham as a common denominator between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, since each of these religions holds Abraham in some esteem and finds him in its scriptures. I’m sure that we can all agree that, in this world, we would prefer to see less violence and hostility, and a mutual respect for human life and dignity.
What cannot be found or claimed is any common ground of faith in Father Abraham; leastwise, not in the man himself, nor apart from the actual story of his relationship with the Lord. For it is not the great Patriarch, but his God, who is the Source and Center of faith and life and all things.
It is necessary, then, to confess the object and content of Abraham’s faith. In other words, What did Abraham believe? And, again, Whom did he believe? Even to say, with the Holy Scriptures, that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” still begs the essential questions: One must know what Abraham’s God is like, and what He says and does. More than that, if you would be a child of Father Abraham, you must know Abraham’s God; that is, not just “about” Him, but you must know the Lord God Himself. And it is only by His Word that you do.
Abraham knew the one true God, believed in Him, worshiped Him by faith, and was justified by Him, in the Word and promise of the Son. That was the object and content of Abraham’s faith: namely, the promise that he would have a son, and that in his Seed both he and his family and all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Abraham saw and rejoiced in that promise, in the birth of his son, Isaac. And he clung to that same promise, even still, when the Lord God told him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved. He trusted that God would raise Isaac from the dead, as needs may be, in order to fulfill the promise He had given. As it was, the Lord prevented Abraham at the last moment, and spared his beloved son. Instead, the Lord provided for Himself the Lamb, a Ram caught in the branches by its horns, to be sacrificed as a whole burnt offering on Mt. Moriah. For there the Lord saw, and He provided. And there, again, Abraham saw and rejoiced in the Word and promise of God.
Now the Lord Jesus reveals that what Abraham saw and rejoiced in was the Day of Christ Jesus Himself. That is the audacious claim that He makes concerning Himself in this Holy Gospel, which would be blasphemous and conceited in the extreme, if not for the fact that it is the Truth. For it is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, God in the flesh, in whom Abraham believed, and by whom Abraham is justified and saved.
We are all quite sensitive to boasting in others, because we are so prone to boasting in ourselves. But Jesus is not boasting, except in His own God and Father. He does not glorify Himself, but He honors the Father who sent Him. This is not to make of Christ Jesus a “lesser god,” but it is to recognize the one and only God in Him. To know the Father, is to know and love the Son; and to know the Son, is to know Him in the flesh as the true Seed of Abraham, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is no other God.
That is the great scandal of Christianity, which does not tolerate any other claim or confession, and which, therefore, cannot be tolerated. It is this fact, that the one true God is known only in Christ Jesus, that causes the world to hurl abuse at Him, and to pick up stones to throw at Him. And yet, the fact remains; and it is actually confirmed by the hostility of those who thus dishonor Him.
The world in its wisdom has not come to know God (nor could it). Therefore, God, in His wisdom, has made Himself known by the foolishness of the Cross, by the Crucifixion of the Christ, and by the preaching of this foolish message of the crucified God.
Like Father, like Son. You all know how that goes; but, all the more so in the case of this Son. You know both God the Father and Father Abraham in Him. For He is a true Son of Abraham, but He is also Abraham’s Savior and Lord. The faith of Father Abraham is found in Him, the promised Seed, who lives by faith in His own God and Father in heaven. So, too, is Abraham’s faith fulfilled in this Son, who is conceived and born miraculously, according to the Word and promise of God, and is sacrificed upon the Altar of the Cross, as the Lamb that God has provided for Himself; and this same Christ Jesus, God has also raised from the dead for the justification of the world in Him.
You see both Abraham’s faith in the promise, and God’s fulfillment of the promise, in the flesh and blood of Jesus. Thus, He is indeed greater than Father Abraham, and He is more than all the prophets; not because He does not die, but precisely because He does, and by His death He conquers death for all who love and trust in Him by keeping His Word.
In His Baptism, He received the promised Spirit of the Father, which was both the consecration of His Body for the Cross and the pledge of His Resurrection from the dead. And having thus received the Spirit in His crucified and risen Body, He now pours out the same Holy Spirit upon His Body, the Church, in that which you see and hear.
This is the Wisdom of God: Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified. By His willing sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection, He has established His Church; and, as a Master Workman, He builds her up in Himself by the catechesis of His Word and by the preaching of His Gospel. Thus, His New Eve is crafted from the flesh and bone, the water and the blood of this New Adam. And His own beloved Sarah conceives and gives birth to the children of God, from a womb once dead and barren. By the Word and Spirit of the Father, in Christ, she has become at once both a Virgin Bride and a Royal Mother. And so are you, with her, both cleansed and sanctified by faith and fruitful in love. For out of death you are raised to newness of life in Christ.
It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you know and love the Father and receive the Holy Spirit, unto the life everlasting in body and soul. For by His death, He has defeated death and removed its power over the children of men. He has entered Hades and burst it asunder from the inside-out. He returned to the dust of the earth, whence man was taken, and yet, His flesh has not suffered decay, but He has risen from the dead as the very Image and Likeness of God, the First-fruits of the New Creation. In Him, the fellowship of God and man is perfectly and permanently embodied and is always actively accomplished; so that man now lives and abides in the undivided Unity and the blessed Communion of the Holy Trinity.
That which is sure and certain and forever true in Christ Jesus, is given to you by the Ministry of His Word: by the preaching of His Cross for the forgiveness of all your sins; by the promise of His Resurrection, which is your righteousness and reconciliation with God; and by the Word-made-Flesh, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink in the Sacrament of the Altar.
So does God the Father make Himself known to you in the Person of His beloved Son. And this, indeed, is the knowledge of profound and personal intimacy. That is to say, the one true God gives Himself to you, and makes His dwelling with you, and He abides in you, in your body and soul, with His Word and Spirit, and with His own flesh and blood. Thus does He pledge Himself to you against the condemnation of the Law, against the assaults and accusations of the devil, against the experience of sin and its consequences, both in yourself and in others, and against the seeming inevitability and finality of death and the grave.
None of these enemies (not even God’s own holy Law) can harm you or destroy you, because all of these have been placed beneath the feet of Christ. He has honored the Father, and the Father has glorified Him, for the life and salvation of His good creation (and in fulfillment of His Law). Therefore, all things are made brand new by the gift of His Spirit, and all the nations of the world are blessed by the Seed of Abraham, that is, by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
That is the promise that stands fast in the face of every contradiction. Death and dishonor do not and cannot undo it, because they have been undone. You cling to the promise for dear life, come hell or high water against you, because, by and with this promise of Christ, God the Lord clings to you and will not let you go. Even when He preaches the Law, and calls you to repentance, and lays the Cross upon you, He does so in love, in order to lay hold of you in peace. He abides with you, that you may abide in Him. He will not abandon your soul to Hades, nor leave your flesh to decay back into the dust forever. But as He keeps you by His Word, so shall you not die, but live.
The promise is sure. It is solid and secure. It shall not be shaken, nor removed. It is as real as the Body of Christ, as eternal as the Son of the Living God. In the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, God has sworn an oath by Himself, and has established an everlasting Covenant within Himself, that is, the Father with His own dearly-beloved Son in the Holy Spirit. As surely as He is God, He is faithful, and He will do what He has promised. He cannot deny Himself. He will not deny you.
As Abraham once rejoiced in the promise of the Son, and saw the Day of Christ in his own beloved Isaac, so has the promise been made more sure for you in the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection of your dear Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the Day of His grace. Now is the Day of His Salvation.
Today, as you hear His Voice, He pours out His Spirit upon you by the forgiveness of all your sins; and so does He give you His own divine eternal Life. In the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus, you know the Father in His Son: You know Him as “He is,” and ever shall be. And you dwell, now and forever, in the Temple of God.
Rejoice, therefore, and let us give glory to Him — to the Father in His Son and by His Spirit — because He has shown His mercy to us. Blessed be the Holy Trinity, and the Undivided Unity, the true and only God, now and forever. Amen.