Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Old Testament reading is one of the most brilliantly told and emotionally heavy narratives in all the Bible. Imagine the dialogue in the first scene for a moment. Abraham heard God’s thunderous voice call his name, “Abraham!” “Yes, Lord?” Abraham was eager and willing to respond to God’s call. “You know your son?” “Which one, I have two.” “Your only son Isaac. You love him, don’t you?” “Oh, yes,” confirms Abraham, “He has brought me such joyous laughter. He means the world to me.” After a bit of a pause, God replies, “Sacrifice him for me, then, will you?”
A Father is Tested
Now, the text starts with that notice that God tested Abraham. The reader knows that, but Abraham doesn’t. Abraham was forced to choose between obedience to a horrific command, and his love for his only son. Can you feel his distress? Consider for a moment just what it took to get this child in the first place. Abraham had gone most of his life childless. He no doubt had resigned himself to having no children. Then, out of nowhere, God told the couple in their nineties that they’re going to have a son. And it obviously took a great miracle to get a ninety your old women to have a baby! Isaac is not merely any son but the son through whom God will keep the promise to Abraham to fulfill a purpose for the world. That same promise which was made in the Garden to Eve. But now that same child of the promise is threatened. Indeed, the very promise seems to be at stake, and God is the one who is threatening it!
But, hadn’t Abraham already demonstrated his faith? Didn’t he leave his home city and go to a far off country on nothing but God’s command? Yes, but at the same time, Abraham had shown some problems trusting God. Twice, out of fear, he tries to pass off his wife as his sister and Sarah ends up in the bedroom of the local ruler. He was so worried about producing an heir, that he sleeps with a woman other than his wife (at Sarah’s bidding). He had also previously questioned God about the morality and justice of God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. There are hints that Abraham still doesn’t quite trust God to do what he promised. He still has a hard time believing that God is a god of his word.
What kind of God would command the sacrifice of a child? This God promises a son, fulfils that promise, and then takes it back. Can this God be trusted? God does not demand child sacrifice. Actually, God abhors it, he said so through the prophets. Genesis 22:1 says that this is a test. God does not really intend for Abraham to make the sacrifice. God never wanted child sacrifice after all, but Abraham has no way of knowing this. Rather, God wanted Abraham to face his own conflicted and divided loyalties. It’s a test.
“Testing” usually involves hardship and is designed to discover what a person is really like. God wants to see what Abraham is prepared to give up. Every other sacrifice God had asked Abraham to make was balanced by a promise that, in a sense, made it worth his while; there was something to lose but more to gain. Here, however, there is nothing to gain. No promise balances the loss. God demands that Abraham sacrifice the promises God has made. Why? It may be that Abraham and his descendants are more attached to the promised blessings and benefits than to God.
It is one thing to claim to trust God’s word when waiting for something; it is quite another thing to trust with the same intensity after receiving the promise. This was a test to see how much Abraham would obey God’s word. Would he cling to the boy now that he had him, or would he surrender him to God? In other words, would he still obey God when it meant giving up the dearest possession he had? Did he truly believe that God would still keep his word and bless the world through the seed of Abraham?
This is the type of test set before Abraham: Are you willing to follow God if there is nothing in it for you? Would you give up eternity in heaven for God? Would you give God a chance if there were nothing in it for you? Would you give God your life if he gave nothing back but himself? It should be our desire to say, “yes!” That is what Abraham did when he built his altar on Mount Moriah and bound his son. God asks no less of us than to be our all in all. Whatever you place all your love and all your trust in, whatever you look to for blessing, help, and comfort, that is your god. Do you cherish, love, and adore God more than anything else in the entire world? God wants nothing to take His place. While God may not test you in quite the dramatic way He did to Abraham, He still requires you to fear, love, and trust in Him above everything and everyone.
After a three days journey, Abraham told his servants to stay back with the animals. “The boy and I will go over there and worship, and we will come back to you.” What does he mean? How can they both come back, if he is to kill Isaac? Or is he working on the basis of knowing that God is quite able to resurrect Isaac? If God could give him a child in his nineties, surely, he could raise him from the dead! Abraham has confidence that even after Isaac has been sacrificed, God can raise him from the dead in order to keep his promise that his offspring will be reckoned through Isaac. That’s how much Abraham trusts God.
A Substitute is Offered
Is this God worthy of our trust? Can God be trusted? The answer is a resounding: YES! God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to Abraham cost him dearly. Because while Abraham’s son is spared, God would give his own son up to death. God the Father loves His Son. They shared in eternal fellowship and communion with each other. If we can grasp what the love of a father and a son is like, we have some small idea of how God the Father loves the Son. This Son had a miraculous birth, like Isaac did. This Son was born of a virgin on Christmas day. This Son passed every test. He always feared, loved, and trusted in his Father.
If you can imagine the anguish and turmoil Abraham must have been going through, imagine now, what God the Father went through when His Son was beaten and mocked. And then, already suffering from a scourging which turned his back to bleeding ribbons of quivering flesh, the wood of the Cross was laid upon his shoulders. Like Isaac carried the wood of his own sacrifice up the mountain, so also Jesus carried the wood of the cross up a mountain. Then he was crucified. He was crucified for you, while you were still God’s enemy. God the Father has not withheld his Son, his only Son Jesus, whom he loves, from you. In Isaac’s case, an angel intervened, and he got a lamb as a substitute. When it was Jesus’ turn to lay on his altar, the wood of the Cross, there would be no such intervention, nobody would stop this sacrifice. Jesus is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He your the substitute. He is sacrificed in your place.
God put a momentary but difficult demand on Abraham, but it was an expectation God was also prepared to endure himself. If you can imagine the anguish and turmoil of Abraham, then take heart. That is what God went through. God did not ask anything of Abraham he wasn’t willing to do himself. The sacrifice of God’s own son, Jesus Christ our Lord, fulfils all the promises made to Abraham. The sacrifice of God’s beloved son fulfils the same promise which was made in the Garden to Eve. Because Christ died, your relationship with God has forever been changed. Whatever sin, whatever guilt, whatever brokenness you carry, Christ has dealt with and abolished it in the cross. The Father, despite his deep love for His Son, was ready and willing to sacrifice him. The Lord will provide and has provided His own Son. He sent his son to take on human flesh so that he might be sacrificed. The Son freely and willingly goes to the Cross for you. So then dear saints, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, how would he not with him graciously give us all things?”
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.