March 13, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
It would be another 430 years (give or take) after Abraham climbed Mount Moriah with his only son that the Jewish sacrificial system would be written in Law. But that doesn’t mean sacrifices were unheard of before the Levitical Law that God gave by the pen of Moses. Sacrifices had been around, in fact, they’d been around since the beginning. Abraham’s great x eight grandfather offered sacrifices in thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from the flood. Cain and Abel offered sacrifices from the work of their hands.
But it all began with the hand of God. When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, God removed their makeshift fig-leaf clothes and gave them garments of animal skin. This meant that an animal had to die in order to cover Adam’s and Eve’s nakedness and shame.
So sacrifice was not unheard of as Abraham set off with his promised son. But God’s command was a little different. After this God tested Abraham. “Abraham!” God said to him. “Yes,” he answered. “Take your only son Isaac, whom you love,” He said. “Go to the country of Moriah, and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the hills I will point out to you” (vv 1-2). Now this was something different.
The first thing that should strike you is that God commands a human sacrifice. The thing about the Jewish sacrificial system is that the blood of bulls and beasts cannot produce any lasting effect. The sacrifices must go on again and again. Their shed blood and the ashes of their sacrifice are sufficient for a temporary, outward cleansing, according to the book of Hebrews, but the mere fact that the sacrifices had to be offered again and again and again for every offense, for every uncleanness, for every profanity shows that these sacrifices fail to satisfy the debt that humanity’s sin has earned.
So God ups the ante with Abraham. The second thing that should strike you is that God is not just asking for any human sacrifice at all, but He’s asking for Isaac. Abraham’s only son. The son whom he loves. Now, recall that Isaac had a half-brother Ishmael, the son of the slave woman. Isaac was the son of Abraham’s wife, the free woman. And he was the son of the promise. In their old age, they finally received the offspring that God had promised. Isaac was the son of the promise, the long-awaited heir. And now God said, “Kill him!” he was a young boy, able to recognize what was going on, but still innocent enough to bear with him instruments of his own sacrifice and still not know that he was to be the object sacrificed.
Early the next morning Abraham harnessed his donkey. He took two of his servants and his son Isaac with him. He cut the wood for the burnt offering. Then he started out for the place God told him about. On the third day Abraham looked and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go over there and worship. Then we’ll come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac while he took the fire and the knife in his hands. And both were walking together. Then Isaac said to his father, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “We have the fire and the wood,” said Isaac, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (vv 3-7).
Abraham surely was reluctant in his duty, though he pressed on. “God will provide Himself with a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And so both walked on together. When they came to the place God had mentioned, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the wood on the altar. As Abraham reached for the knife and took it in his hand to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” he answered. “Don’t lay your hands on the boy,” He said, “and don’t do anything to him. Now I know you fear God: you didn’t refuse to give Me your only son” (vv 8-12).
The testing of Abraham wasn’t to reveal something that God didn’t know, or was unsure of. He is omniscient, and needed no proof of Abraham’s faith. God tested Abraham in order to show Abraham his faith. And not just Abraham, but also Isaac, and Isaac’s sons and grandsons, and every generation that followed. God tested Abraham so that St. Paul could write, The promise to Abraham and to his offspring, to be heir of the world, was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:13).
The denouement to the story is a partial fulfillment of the promise. When Abraham looked around, he saw behind him a ram caught by his horns in a bush. So Abraham went and got the ram and sacrificed him as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place The-LORD-Will-Provide. Today we still say, “On the mount of the LORD it will be provided” (vv 13-14). By the intervention of the Angel of the Lord, Isaac was spared, but the lamb was still not provided. The ram was just another temporary sacrifice until the Lamb came.
There is a shift that takes place. God is the One who commands the sacrifice, but it’s the Angel of the Lord that intercedes and prevents the sacrifice of Isaac. Yet, Abraham confesses by the name of the place of sacrifice, The Lord Will Provide. What’s up with that?
Jesus gives us the answer in His discussion with the Jews. They press Him on His preaching of the resurrection. Abraham, the great patriarch, is dead. How can there be a resurrection if Abraham is dead? But Jesus shows them that Abraham’s faith was precisely in the resurrection. It’s for this reason that he willingly took Isaac upon the mountain, bound him laid him on the wood, and took up the knife. Perhaps he didn’t see it clearly, perhaps he was looking at it as though through a veil or in a cloudy mirror, but he knew and trusted that the death of Isaac would not be the end of Isaac.
Then Jesus says something very disconcerting for the Jews. I tell you the truth,” Jesus told them, “before Abraham ever was born, I AM” (Jn 8:58). Here Jesus proclaims His eternity. He preceded Abraham, even though He is Abraham’s Descendent. The only way that this can be possible is if He is both God and Man. He is the eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, and in time He became the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. In saying this, Jesus makes the claim that He is the voice who calls out to Abraham, the Angel of the Lord. God the Father demands the sacrifice of the promised son, but Jesus will not let Isaac be the sacrifice. Because He Himself will be the Sacrifice.
The ram that He provided was only a temporary solution. That substitute rescued Isaac from the knife blade, but there were other sacrifices that had to follow. Bulls, goats, lambs, birds. But they were all temporary. None could be the sacrifice God demands.
But then there came Jesus. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Abraham’s prophecy was complete when Jesus became flesh. He is the only-begotten Son of the Father, who took on human flesh for the sole reason that He would die. Just as Isaac carried his own means of sacrifice to the mountain, so also Jesus carried His own cross to Calvary. He willingly laid down His life, shed His blood, suffered, and died for the sins of the world. And that means that He sacrificed Himself for you. He is your substitute, so that you would not have to offer your own blood for your forgiveness, so that you would not have to suffer the fire of God’s judgment for your own sins. Jesus did it all for you.
And just as Abraham was justified by his faith, so you are justified by faith. When you trust in this sacrifice, that Jesus died in your place, you receive the full benefit of His death credited to your account.
There is no other sacrifice that could satisfy God’s wrath and His judgment, and also offer His grace and mercy and love. Jesus’ death is the divine wisdom of God that exceeds all understanding. The blood that He shed, the life that He gave, is the only thing that can give you life. Because Abraham’s belief in the resurrection is also where your faith lies. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the only sacrifice who has ever died lived to tell about it.
Jesus Is the Sacrifice that Pleases God
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard