By Paul Koch –
The great tale of the testing of Abraham is a powerful and emotional journey. Every time it hits me in a different way than the last time I encountered it. This man had been directed by the Almighty God to look toward the heavens, to take in the great expanse of the stars in the sky, and he said, “So shall your offspring be.” Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. According to the Word of God, he was going to be the father of vast multitudes and yet he was old, very old. He was too old to begin a family, but not too old for God to do His great work. The name given to their son was Isaac, which means “he laughs.” For both Abraham and Sarah had laughed when they heard the promise of God. But finally, he had a son through whom the promises of God would be fulfilled.
So, imagine the shock. Even the terror of the moment when God called to Abraham and 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.” Take your son, your only son, whom you love; it’s like a spear that pierces into your heart. This is the promise. This is the blessing. This is the key to handing on the blessing to others. This is his son! And now Abraham is to sacrifice him?
But he goes. Early in the morning he saddles the donkey and cuts the wood and brings two servants along with Isaac. He heads off to the place God had selected for such a deed. Now this man’s faith is unshakable. He holds to the promise of God despite the command to destroy it. So, when they get to the place, Abraham says to his servants that they are to stay while he and the boy go and worship, and then they will come back. As they head up the mountain Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham says, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” He trusts God despite everything that seems to be pointing in the opposite direction. The author of the book of Hebrews says that Abraham believes that even if he kills his own son, God will raise him up from the dead. In other words, God’s promise is God’s promise and He will see it through.
But the problem for Abraham isn’t his faith. The problem that is laid out before him is this command of God. I’m sure he would love to do away with it, to ignore it or pretend like he didn’t hear it. Perhaps he should pull a Jonah and get on a boat to go in the exact opposite direction. Although, that didn’t work out too well for him. The thing is, there are times when God doesn’t seem like a friend. There are times when God becomes something altogether different. There are times when He becomes our enemy. His word is the source of life and hope and joy. It is laced with His promises and offers wisdom and guidance for the daily living of your life. But then there are times when that Word tears and rips at you. It makes demands that you cannot fulfill. It calls for obedience you are not prepared to give. At such times we want to run from God, hide away from him if we can. But where can you hide? Where can you run that God won’t find you?
You see, God has spoken a brutal and hard word into your life. By his Word he has found you in the darkness of your life. He has taken ahold of your wandering heart and engulfed it in His light. And what does that light reveal? What does God find when He investigates your hearts? Why, He finds the things you don’t want Him to know. He finds your cowardice and your anger and your ugliness. He finds the thoughts words and deeds that you have conjured up to hurt others, to make yourself feel better, to get ahead in this life. He finds how you misuse His blessings how your addictions consume His gifts. The biggest problem in your life is your God: and He wants justice. He demands perfection.
And you can’t solve this problem. You don’t have the answer. Before the living God you are doomed.
The sacrifice of Isaac is given a special name by the Jewish people. They call this story “Akedah” which is Hebrew for “The Binding.” It is a nod to the special type of sacrifice this would be. You see, in all the sacrifices established throughout the Old Testament this would be the only living sacrifice. It is the only time that the offering had to be bound up because it was still alive when it was laid on the altar. All the other sacrifices were first killed and drained of their blood. Then and only then would they be placed on the altar as a burnt offering to the Lord. But here we find Abraham building the altar, binding the hands and feet of his only son, and laying him on top of it. He then takes out his knife and raises his arm to slaughter his son. For he could not escape his God.
But then the angel of the Lord cries out, “Abraham, Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God.” Lifting up his head he looked behind him and there caught in the thicket was a ram. And so, Abraham releases his son and sacrifices the ram instead. Indeed, the Lord had provided the sacrifice after all. Only God could solve the problem of God. Only He could provide Abraham a way out, and He does.
And so it is with you. You cannot solve the problem of God, you cannot escape the wrath that you have earned by your sins. They are too numerous to be counted, yet your God knows them all. And with nowhere else to run, with nothing but despair in our own effort and skill, we find that our Lord is a Lord who continues to provide.
Isaac had the wood placed upon his back as they climbed up the mountain. He carried the means for his own sacrifice. How similar to our Lord, who is forced to carry his own cross the place of the skull. Like Isaac, our Lord was bound for his sacrifice was to be a living one. He was not bound, though, with rope or leather straps, but with nails that fixed him to the cross. But as you lift up your eyes and behold the death of your Lord, you see your substitute. You see the cost of salvation, the ramifications of your life of sin.
In the binding of Christ, God has provided a substitute. The script is flipped as He takes His Son, His only Son, whom He loves and sacrifices Him for the sins of the world. This sacrifice is complete. There is no part of it left over for you to work out on your own. God has done once and for all what you could have never done. The debt, then, has been paid. In Christ, God is not your enemy but your friend. He says to you that He will never let you go, never forsake you, never cast you out of His blessings. For you, my friends, are forgiven. Thanks be to God!