[Genesis 22:1-14 / Hebrews 9:11-15 / John 8:46-59]
I think it amazes us that Abraham would actually be ready to do it. We wonder: “how did he know it was God and not the devil telling him to sacrifice his son?”
God did communicate with Abraham in a way that we cannot fathom. He knew that it was the same voice that called him from Ur of the Chaldees, the same voice that promised him a child, the same voice that told him he would have offspring as numerous as the stars and the sand and that through his seed blessing would come upon all families of the earth – it was that same voice that told him now to take the child of his old age, and to give him back to God – a sacrifice.
There are hints in the first reading today, that Abraham’s faith in God’s promise was not shaken by this demand for sacrifice. After all, he told the servants: “You stay here. The boy and I will go over there and worship, and we will come back to you.” The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham simply believed that God’s promise would come true, no matter what. So if Isaac had to be killed, well, God would have to raise Isaac from the dead in order to keep His promises, for God, who does not lie, had clearly identified Isaac as the child of promise. Such was the faith of Abraham. We rightly stand amazed at it.
But if Abraham’s actions are amazing, doesn’t it trouble us that God should ask such a thing in the first place? It seems so cruel, doesn’t it? We are very quick to think that God would never ask us to sacrifice anything we truly cared about. What good is a God who asks you to give up stuff? We want a God who will give us what we want when we want it. A vending machine God, if you will. But that’s not the God that Abraham had, nor is that the living God. The living God can and does make demands upon His people, and sometimes He asks them to give up what is most dear to them, and it just about tears them to pieces. You can go one of two ways then. You can either say to God: You are ogre and I hate you and I want nothing to do with you ever again. Or, you can say: I don’t understand, I don’t understand at all, Father, but this much is true and certain. You will for me and for mine only good, and I believe that in the end I will even be able to see this as good, which now appears anything but. Holy Father, I believe, but help thou mine unbelief.
I find it fascinating that Scripture nowhere lets us in on what Abraham was thinking about God’s command here. We are not told anything about it. But I can’t help but wonder if the heart-break and agony that Abraham endured, and that Isaac must have felt too, when his father bound him and laid him on the wood, were not terribly important.
Scripture does call Abraham a friend of God, and a friend is someone who can empathize with you, who can know a bit of what you’re going through, who cares. Is Abraham called the friend of God because at the sacrifice of his beloved son he tasted something of what God would go through?
“Take your son, your only son, the one named laughter, whom you love, and offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will show you.” “Abraham saddled his donkey.” “Abraham took the wood for the offering and laid it on his son.” “Abraham bound his son to the wood.” “Abraham lifted his knife to slay his son.”
How can we not think of the Lord Jesus, whom the Father from heaven called “my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased”? How can we not think of the donkey and her colt that He rode into Jerusalem? How can we not think of the wood that was laid on him to carry, his very own cross? How can we not think of the binding of his limbs to that tree? How can we not think of the raising of the cross and how this time the Father bade the angels to furl their wings and stand back as the dreadful sacrifice was raised up and offered?
How could God ask such a thing of Abraham? How dare He ask sacrifices of you? Well, He only asked what He Himself was preparing to do. For the day would surely come, the day that Abraham foresaw, when the Lamb of God would stand a man among men. The day would surely come, the day that Abraham foresaw, when all we, who like sheep had gone astray, would discover that on Him the Father has laid the sins of us all. (Is 53:6). And that is why it was a day that Abraham rejoiced to see, that he saw it and was glad. For Abraham saw that this is the measure of the Father’s immeasurable love for this fallen race of men, for him and for Isaac, for Sarah and for Ishmael, for you and for me, that He would send His Son to be the Lamb, our Lamb. That He would die that we might live. That He live again that we might never die.
The writer to the Hebrews described what happened when the Lamb offered Himself upon the cross. In a collision of Old Testament imagery, the Great High Priest actually enters into the heavenly holy of holies, but not with the blood of some other, but with His own blood. He brings the sacrifice of Himself. He does the whole salvation, and so it is certain and for sure. He obtained an eternal redemption that those who are called may obtain the promised eternal inheritance.
“Before Abraham was,” says Jesus “I am.” They were ready to kill him for that. He was unmistakably laying claim to being Yahweh. It was as though He said: Yes, I am the one who called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees. Yes, I am the one who made him the promises. Yes, I am the one who spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Yes, I am the one who led the children out of their bondage. Yes, I am the one who fed them with manna from on high. Yes, I am the one who drove out the nations and gave them an inheritance. Yes, I am that one. But now I’ve come among you to do something far greater than anything I’ve ever done before. For I’ve come to BE your Lamb, to be offered in your place. Do you see how much I love you? Can you keep from rejoicing then with Abraham when you see my day?”
The God who asked of Abraham the unthinkable, is the God who came to do the unthinkable Himself. He goes right on being your Lamb, just as you sing to Him when you come to the table. His Body and Blood there are unquestionably “for you.” And so He is “for you.” That can be a priceless comfort, especially when the sacrifices he asks of you are great. Amen.