The life of Abraham forces us to face several facts. First, is his faith. Many years earlier, God told him to leave his home and family and travel to an unknown land. Revealed to Abraham, who is now an old man, is the promise to become the father of a son. The wrinkle in this is his wife, Sarah, who is long past her monthly cycles, no longer able to bear children.
These words echoed in the old man’s ears—he will become a father, not only of a son, but of a vast nation. Crazier sounding are these words, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” through him (Genesis 12:3). After many travails and years, Isaac, his son, enters the world.
Now, this child is becoming a strapping, young man. Oh, Abraham delights in this vibrant son of his, with a spring in his step, who will become the father of so many. The swell of pride fills his chest, his eyes welling up with tears as he imagines a hopeful future.
Now, the Lord comes to him once more. “Sacrifice your son at the place where I will show you.” Again, the Almighty expects this man, now older and frail, to make a journey. This time, the words intimidate and frighten him, taking away, not giving.
The Scriptures record none of Abraham’s emotional turmoil. The word of “why,” if spoken, is left unwritten. Now, if the old man wants to scream, “No,” such a word never leaves his lips. The next morning, they begin the journey, actions of trusting in the Lord.
Hidden within what Abraham does is a grounded faith, revealing his belief in the promise remains unshaken. At the base of Moriah, when they arrive, he tells his servants, “Stay where you are. The boy and I will go up and worship, and we will come back to you.”
Did you catch the “we”? The book of Hebrews reveals Abraham believes the promise will come true, no matter what. So if his son will die, the life-giving One will raise him from the dead to keep His Word. For God, who does not lie, identified Isaac as the child of promise. Oh, such belief, rooted in Abraham, revealed by the word, “we.”
Underneath, “We will both come back to you,” is what Abraham recognizes about the Almighty. The Lord is the God of the living, not the dead (Matthew 22:32). The Creator of earth and heaven may punish to the third and fourth, but He prefers to lavish His loving kindness on the thousandth (Exodus 20:5-6).
Still, how cruel for God to command someone to take a blade and slice his son’s throat! Such a demand shocks and disturbs us. The Scriptures, over and again, tell us of Yahweh’s grace and mercy. So, what value does this God bring, who asks you to give up what you love?
In truth, we prefer a God who will give us all the cravings of our hearts. Such is not the God of Abraham, the only living God. For He can—and does—make demands on His people.
Sometimes, He asks you, or causes you, to give up what is most dear to you. Now, He does this, not because He strives to make your life difficult, but because He wants to make your life eternal. For our Savior seeks you to set your minds on what is above, to cherish and keep an unfading treasure, to love Him above all else.
The Lord asks such sacrifices to unmask what you value and trust. Now, a fork in the road stares you down. One path fills itself with angry loathing, “You aren’t a divine being, you are a monster, I hate you, and don’t want anything to do with you! How can you expect this of me?”
Another path comes with a deepening reliance, “I don’t understand, beloved Father, but I believe Your words. For You tell me You will work everything for my eternal well-being. Though I am weak in my fallen flesh, in eternity, I will understand. Blessed Father, I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.”
The Scriptures never reveal what stirred within Abraham about this command. The omission teaches us feelings are not the primary event, faith is. Despite this withholding of his inner emotions, we still learn how the Creator valued his creation, Abraham. In Scripture, God calls him, “My friend” (Isaiah 41:8).
A friend can come to you, for he understands what you’re going through and cares for you. Perhaps, Abraham became the Almighty’s friend during the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. On Moriah, he experienced the smallest trace of bitter bite of what God Himself will one day endure.
Listen to the words from Genesis again, this time from God’s perspective. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will show you.” “So Abraham saddled his donkey [, and] took the wood for the burnt offering and laid the load on his son.” “Next, he bound his son, and laid him on the altar, on the wood” [and] “took the knife to slaughter his son.”
The Lord asks Abraham to do this, not only to test and strengthen his trust. For this is a picture and prophecy of what our Redeemer will do on the same mountain, some 2000 years later. Like Isaac, Jesus is the only Son, beloved of the Father, long prophesied and long awaited, born of a woman in a way beyond mere human power.
A donkey will be saddled as Jesus makes His way to offer Himself for the world. Atop the animal, He will ride into Jerusalem, the city built on Moriah. The wood of death will burden His back, the cross of sacrifice.
The son, Isaac, went to his chosen place of death without a fight. So also does Jesus go, without a fight, to His wood of sacrifice. The grieving father, Abraham, raises the knife to slaughter his son. So also is the cross raised from the ground to slay the Son of God.
How can the Lord ask this of anyone? How dare He ask sacrifices of you? Here is why—for He only asks what He is prepared and willing to do Himself. The truth cuts deep, for what He asks of us pales in comparison to the sacrifice He makes. The Father did not ask Abraham to complete the killing. No, God told him to offer a ram, caught by its horns in a thorny thicket.
So, you now become Isaac, no longer needing to die. For God provides a substitute sacrifice. The Lamb of God, His Son, comes with a crown of thorns on His head, caught in the thorns and thicket of your sin. The Son, Jesus, is sacrificed, saving you from death. Forgiven by the blood of Him who offered Himself for you at Golgotha, you now go free.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord taught, “Your father, Abraham, rejoiced to witness my day” (John 8:56). By faith, Abraham believed the promise, which meant trusting in the Messiah to come, the Sacrifice for all sin. The scales fell from the old man’s eyes when God told him to offer up his son, Isaac. On the hill of death, Abraham, now with God-given eyes, gazed on Jesus’ day and celebrated.
At last, the believing patriarch of old understands. The son’s sacrifice, the substitute offered, and this all happening on the third day, now takes on meaning. Remember, “On the third day, Abraham caught sight of the place in the distance” (Genesis 22:4). Yes, Abraham received his son back from the clutch of death, on this, the third day. So also did the heavenly Father—on the third day.
Though we, like sheep, go astray, the Lord laid on Jesus the sins of us all. Yes, father Abraham now realizes—the Father will slay His Son, the promised Messiah, to save His fallen creation, which includes Abraham and Isaac, and you and me. “Your father, Abraham, rejoiced to witness” the day of Jesus.
The God of human form and face spoke, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Through His words, Jesus lays claim to being Divine. Let’s unpack where He is going.
Yes, I AM, who called Abraham from his homeland. For I am the one who spoke the promises, who called out to Moses from the burning bush. Yes, I am He who led my children out of Egypt, who drove out the nations and gave them an inheritance. Still, I am not done doing for my people.
Now, I come to do something far greater than anything before. For I come to be your holy High Priest, offering Myself in your place so you can receive an eternal inheritance. Do you understand? Oh, you claim Abraham as your father, so rejoice with him. For you, also, will soon witness My day.
The God who asked Abraham to do the unthinkable is the God who came to do the unthinkable—Himself. To this day, He continues to be your Lamb. For we sing as much in the Church’s liturgy, in the Agnus Dei, when we come to His Table. Today, what Jesus did on His day, the day of His death, now becomes yours.
Here, for you, is His Body and Blood. The blessing of His sacrifice, which Abraham witnessed and celebrated, becomes yours when our Lord delivers His salvation to you. What a priceless gift, today, for you—and in those times when the sacrifices the Lord asks of you seem too much to bear. Amen.