The Cross

The Cross: Genesis 22:1-19 – The cross anticipates in Abraham’s test

THE CROSS ANTICIPATED in Abraham’s Test

Genesis 22 v1-19.

It’s a beautifully told story but profoundly shocking to modern ears. Nowadays, if there were even a hint of a father abusing his child, to say nothing of sacrifice, the welfare services would have the child in care and the father behind bars! It’s difficult to think of anything more terrible than child sacrifice, but sadly these atrocities still take place in the modern world. Yet strangely enough, we can’t be other than moved by the tenderness of relationships that this barbaric scenario uncovers. The story speaks of love and sacrifice, of trust and obedience, of perplexity and loyalty, of faithfulness and reward. It was these features that rang a bell in the thoughts of the first Christians. They couldn’t fail to see in this event, played out some 2000 years before, a foreshadowing of an even greater harrowing story. They were compelled to connect it to the Cross of Christ.

In reading the story we’re reminded that the story has three characters – there’s the Father: Abraham; there’s the Son: Isaac and there’s the Voice from heaven. The story revolves around three themes – Sacrifice, Submission and Substitution.

  1. THE FATHER’S SACRIFICE

Just imagine the shock that Abraham had one day. The conversation with God, [audible or not??], went like this: “Abraham!” “Yes?” “You know your son Isaac?” “Yes.” “Your only son.” “Yes.” “You love him, don’t you?” “Yes, of course.” “I want you to take him with you to the mountains of Moriah.” “Yes.” “And kill him as a sacrifice to me there!”

Well, that must have sent shivers down Abraham’s spine! Incredible! His mind was in turmoil. Kill Isaac? How could he? Why would God demand such an offering when human sacrifices were abhorrent to Him?

Is he after all just like the pagan gods around? {Child sacrifice was very common in the ancient pagan world!!} What about God’s promise to use Isaac to bring a great nation into being? He had been born after years of longing, frustration and disappointment. How could that happen if Isaac were dead?

When God tells us to do something there’s a good reason for it although we may not be aware of it at the time. God had given Abraham and Sarah this great joy of their lives. “You know your son, your only son, Isaac, the one you love? I want him back!” This was something very personal to Abraham, yet we too may have our “Isaacs”, some gift from God we’ve received out of His great goodness and promises. Aren’t we all recipients of God’s generosity and incalculable love? It’s possible that at some time in our lives we’ll hear the equivalent to what Abraham heard: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” Gen.22:3 To be sure, it won’t be to make a human sacrifice, and it may not be as costly as Abraham’s, but it will be something that costs in terms of time, possessions or pride.

ILLUS.: David Livingstone went to Africa as a lone missionary. After some time his missions committee wrote to him saying, “Some people would like to join you. What’s the easiest road to get where you are?” He replied, “If they’re looking for the easiest road, tell them to stay in England. I want people who will come, even if there’s no road at all!”

Sometimes the pathway of the Christian life appears to change from a smooth-surfaced road to a stony track or peter out altogether. Is that what was God doing? He’s submitting Abraham to a test to find out how genuine was his faith. Of course, if God knows the end from the beginning, He already knew the end of the story. But from Abraham’s standpoint the test is real. There’s nothing to suggest to him that “it’s only a test” and that’s it’s bound to end happily ever after. God, as the heavenly quiz-master knows the answer, just as we already know the end of the story, but Abraham is ignorant of the full situation. The full horror of the demand is staring him in the face! God gave no word of explanation or reason. He just said “do it!”

The test required that Isaac should be killed as a sacrifice. Worse still, Abraham himself was to put his son to death. It’s difficult to think of a more gruesome test to confront a person. This was going to be a painful experience. It points to a principle in the life of faith. The apostle Peter wrote to Christian believers in the first century: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12). What he wrote then still applies today.
We don’t know what went through Abraham’s mind: “This can’t be happening to me!” We’re not told what a struggle he had, what a tug-of-war there was in his emotions as he tried to come to terms with this horrendous demand. But God knew that he could handle it.

The Lord will never put us through a trial that we can’t handle with His strength. God has different tests for each of us and they often involve sacrificing the things that are dearest to us. It’s His way of establishing correct priorities in our lives, of fitting us for heaven. How do we react when in the situation? We either can sit and grumble about it and sink into a depression and bitterness, or we can reach out and find God’s grace to get through it. God will always provide a way through trials, but we have to be willing to seek and find it.

NB v1 “After these things ..” What things? All the smaller tests to this point! God won’t ask us to do something big if we fail to be faithful in the small areas of life!!

Abraham is being asked whether he is wholly devoted to the Lord. It’s a stark choice as to whether he loves Isaac more than God. It’s something he can’t side step. He doesn’t have the luxury of professing his commitment in words without having to demonstrate it in action. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37) and to put all other things – possessions, persons or ambitions – in daily and total consecration.
The test facing Abraham was severe but the response was superb! He not only obeyed but also did so in a most commendable way. Abraham stands before us as a man of total, trusting obedience to God. It was a prompt obedience: we’re told that Abraham began to put his obedience into action “early the next morning.”

Sometimes it is wise to have second thoughts before acting to be quite certain we’ve heard correctly. Abraham did have the night to reflect on what God had said to him. But what a night it would have been! I doubt if Abraham slept very much! But there was no mistaking the message. He didn’t delay his response in the hope that God would reconsider His demand. Someone made the wise comment: “To linger is to court ruin. Delay is the craftiest net of Satan. It is the terrible pitfall, out of which there are rare escapes” (Henry Law). When God speaks to us (and we’re certain it is God) it’s imperative to obey Him without delay.

But not only was Abraham’s response a prompt obedience, it was a prepared obedience: we’re told “he saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt sacrifice he set out.” Abraham knew what would be needed for his grim mission and, in the spirit of humble and complete obedience, made the necessary physical, mental and spiritual preparations. When the party reached the foot of Mount Moriah he told his servants to wait while he and Isaac went up to sacrifice, adding in trusting faith, “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” When he was questioned by Isaac as where the lamb was for the sacrifice he was able to reply, “God himself will provide.”

These responses of Abraham as a father to the challenge God had thrust before him are pointers to the way we must act in our own circumstances. But of even greater importance is the fact that they were God the Father’s response to mankind’s predicament of its fall into sin. It’s summed up in the majestic words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The apostle Paul in writing to the Christians at Rome sees the story as an early model of God’s unmerited favour when he speaks of God “who did not spare his own Son” (8:32). Of course, there’s an immense difference between the father of Isaac and the Father of Jesus, but all the same the incident is a prophetic foretelling of God The Father’s Sacrifice. This leads on to:

  1. THE SON’S SUBMISSION

As the drama unfolds of Isaac as the sacrifice required by God, there emerges an unmistakable picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaac is described as an “only son”, much loved of his father. The bigger picture of Jesus is immediately visible when we remember the voice from heaven at both His baptism and transfiguration, “This is my son, whom I love” (Matt 3:17; 17:5). Another pictorial parallel is seen in the story where we read: “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son.” Doesn’t it remind you of the way Jesus went to the hill of Golgotha “carrying his own cross” (John 19:17).

Isaac was an intelligent young man. It was obvious to him that there was something unusual happening. A vital element in the projected sacrifice was missing. “Father,” he asked, “The fire and wood are here … but where is the lamb?” What was going through his mind? If there was some bewilderment as to who the “lamb” would be – was it him? – this was nothing in comparison to the anguish suffered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane! “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow,” said Jesus (Matt 26:38). But then, Christ knew for certain what His fate was going to be. “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (42). But whatever their thoughts were, both went willingly on their way and each submitted to his father’s will.

Isaac is depicted as a quiet victim and it’s here that the most remarkable similarity with Jesus is seen. It’s in their voluntary submission as they were bound and prepared for sacrifice. It’s more than likely that Isaac was a teenager. It would have been easy for him to resist his father as he “bound his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”

First the wood was placed on him – now he on the wood!

Don’t forget that Abraham was well over 100 years old and would have been quite unable to overpower a strapping young lad unless he’d co-operated. But he didn’t resist. He submitted. This isn’t the picture of a sadistic father imposing punishment on a reluctant son, but of a father and son working together in ready agreement to offer the ultimate sacrifice to their God.

This is something beyond my understanding but surely it foreshadows Jesus’ perfect obedience and submission to God. It was on the altar of the Cross that Jesus voluntarily relinquished His life into the hands of His Father. He became the ultimate sacrifice that renders all other sacrifices obsolete. He was indeed the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. He was the chosen “seed” of Adam whom God predicted at the Fall of mankind would crush the serpent of evil although He Himself would be struck. Jesus did what we are quite unable to do. He kept the law of God perfectly and so was able to undo all our disobedience towards God. The story so far of Abraham and Isaac has been a prototype of The Father’s Sacrifice and The Son’s Submission. The climax of this amazing account is seen in:

  1. THE LORD’S SUBSTITUTE

We know the end of the story but Abraham and Isaac didn’t. There’s real theatre here. The altar has been built. The wood has been laid on it and is ready to light. Isaac is tied and placed on the altar. It’s like a nightmare! There’s only one thing left for Abraham to do. He picks up the sacrificial knife, raises it high, the Bible account tells us, “to slay his son.” Just as his arm began the downward stroke towards Isaac there was a shout “from heaven, ’Abraham! Abraham!’ … ’Do not lay a hand on the boy.’” It was the voice of the Lord’s angel restraining him and then he was told why: “Now I know you fear God because you have not withheld from me, your only son.”

We may wonder why did God put Abraham through this rigorous testing programme? It’s like a rubber band – it must be stretched to be effective. Every person who has ever achieved anything for God has learned to stretch. Success only comes when you stretch to meet a challenge; failure comes when you shrink from back from it.

Of course, stretching makes us vulnerable. When a rubber band is taut, it’s much easier to break but it’s only then it fulfils its purpose. Abraham was stretched but he passed the test with flying colours. He had proved his total obedience to God and showed that he put God first. The test need not continue and the original command was halted. What a good thing he recognised the voice from heaven: “Here I am,” was his immediate response. If he hadn’t bothered to listen, the result could have been fatal. Friendship with God means talking to Him and listening to Him. The more time we spend with Him – in prayer and reading the Scriptures – the better we’ll be able to recognise His voice. It’s not for nothing that Abraham is known as “the friend of God”.

On the journey up the mountain Isaac had queried as to the lamb for sacrifice. His father had replied diplomatically, “God himself will provide.” The words proved to be prophetic because just at the right moment Abraham saw “a ram caught by its thorns” in a nearby bush. There and then the ram was substituted for Isaac. God had provided the required sacrifice. I can’t believe that the ram had wandered accidentally to the spot. No, it was the act of the same God who had set the test and now supplied the need. Doesn’t this demonstrate His generous and gracious provision for us as sinners?

God’s provision was available exactly when needed. The ram was the perfect match for the sacrifice enabling Abraham to worship God satisfactorily.

What a pointer to the fuller revelation of God yet to come, for God has provided for us supremely in Christ. What happened at Moriah happened once more in an even greater way in the coming of Christ. He was announced at His baptism as the river Jordan as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). God’s provision of a substitute sacrifice meant that Abraham’s own son could go free.

The experience at Moriah made a deep impression on Abraham. He “called that place ’The Lord will provide.’” How appropriate! The author of Genesis wrote that in his day “it is said, ’On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” How true the words came to be, for Moriah is identified with Jerusalem. It was there, as the hymn tells us “Outside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.” Abraham’s Moriah is Christ’s Calvary. But here the parallel between Isaac and Jesus breaks down because Jesus didn’t go free. He was our substitute at Calvary. Jesus said, “I lay down my life … I lay it down of my own accord … This command I received of my Father” (John 10:17,18). Yes, Jesus is The Lord’s Substitute. The apostle Paul wrote, “God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we in him might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

The Genesis story of Abraham and Isaac has been compared to the first drawing of a great artist who has in mind a master work. One day, centuries later, the same location was the scene of the unveiling of the masterpiece in all its glory.

The Father’s Sacrifice, The Son’s Submission and The Lord’s Substitute on the human level gives us a valuable insight into the life of faith and obedient trust that all believers in God are called to follow. On the prophetic level it’s an anticipation of God’s love and provision for all who will put their trust in Him. May we not be found wanting at either level. If we come to Him in repentance and faith He won’t let us down.

The Cross Anticipated – Abraham’s Test.

 

Genesis 22 v 1-19.

 

  1. 1.       The Father’s Sacrifice.

The test was severe but the response was superb.

His obedience was trusting, prompt and prepared.

 

  1. 2.       The Son’s Submission.

He was not an unwilling victim…

   … rather Father and Son work together

to offer the ultimate sacrifice.

 

  1. 3.       The Lord’s Substitution.

God provides the sacrifice.

  • The same God who sets the test …

… supplies the need.

  • God’s substitute sacrifice meant that 

Abraham’s own son could go free.

 

God spared Abraham’s son …

… BUT he did not spared his own.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16
  • He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32
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