“22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ge 22:1–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
This portion of the Bible is one of the hardest for me to read. At face value it seems to challenge everything I know about God. As I read this account it challenges my heart, especially as a father of two. My mind races with thoughts like, “Why would God test someone like this?” “What is really going through the mind of Abraham?” “What is this doing to the Father/Son relationship of Abraham and Issac?” But my ultimate questions is this, “God, why is this sacrifice necessary?”
A Necessary Sacrifice
At the heart of Christianity is substitution. At the Passover a lamb’s blood was spilt as a substitute for the life of the first born son in Israel. This sacrifice caused the death angel to passover them without ill effect. On the Day of Atonement animals were sacrificed in place of the Israelites as substitutionary sacrifices. So what is the point of all these substitutes and why does God make a point of it in the recordings found in the Old Testament?
All of these cases point to the ultimate sacrifice that was needed in order to fully save mankind from the penalty of sin. Each picture of a sacrificial substitute points to when Jesus Christ would be the ultimate sacrificial substitute for sin. God provided His one and only Son to be the substitute for mankind.
“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Co 5:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
“Faith is trusting in God to keep His promise to provide salvation.” -Gospel Project
All to often I can forget about the seriousness of Christ being my substitute. The atoning work of Jesus Christ as He gave Himself on the cross on behalf of sinners is what the sacrificial system of the Old Testament is pointing to. And it is what fuels the Gospel message of the New Testament.
The sacrifice of Jesus is what gives me hope. A hope that stares at death and does not fear what will come next. A compassion for others to also share in this same hope. This sacrifice provides a drink that quenches the thirst of every soul.
And so what God puts Abraham against is no different then any other time a substitutionary sacrifice is put before our senses. It causes an emotional response. I think of the scene in “Act of Valor” where the soldier throws his body on the grenade to protect his brothers in arms from the harm that would be caused if something didn’t shield them from the blast. That moment brought tears to my eyes as a life is cut short in order that others may live theirs.
It is with agony as Christ is gasping for air that He asks the Father to forgive those who crucified Him. And the torment of relational separation is seen in the final moments when the Son of God cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27:46. This is the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice that cost the Father His one and only Son.
What About Me?
This leads me to asking myself some questions.
- Do I have the kind of faith that is influenced by the sacrificial substitute of Christ?
- Are my priorities reflecting the high price it cost my heavenly Father for my soul to be with Him in eternity?
- Am I living with a sense of urgency and responsibility for the sake of the Gospel?
Sacrifice is never easy. Substitutionary sacrifice causes an emotional response. So the ultimate question we are left with, that all of mankind must answer on either side of death is, how will you respond to what Christ, the one and only Son of God, did for you?