Everyone knows this story, and I’m sure you don’t need me to retell it: God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering to God, and Abraham obeyed God’s instructions. At the last moment God stopped him and provided a ram as a substitute for the boy.
The theological implications of this scene could (and does) fill hundreds of volumes of scholarly discussion. Since we are looking at this through the lens of the Christmas story, I thought we might focus on these verses today:
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (22:15-18)
The entire story of Abraham is centered around the birth of Isaac, for Isaac was the key to God’s covenant relationship with Abraham, the Son of Promise. The Hebrews author tells us that Abraham’s faith was so strong by that time that he was thinking God would simply raise him from the dead if he had been sacrificed, and I’ll take his word on that. Yet Isaac, as critical a player as he was, was not the Son who would die for our sins and be raised again from the grave… but this story sure points us in that direction!
In this case, God provided the sacrifice in Isaac’s place, and in the case of the Son of God, God provided the sacrifice in our place; amazing.
The faith and obedience, yes obedience, that Abraham displayed in this scene resulted in God’s restatement of His promises to Abraham, a sort of confirmation of their covenant. Perhaps this took place because of Abraham’s lapses during the course of their relationship, or perhaps it was to instruct the generations that would follow; I don’t know. What I do know is that Abraham, as a model of faith for all of us, sets the bar very high in this scene, and I doubt strongly that any one of us could meet his standard; I know I wouldn’t.
Thankfully, God has already provided the last sacrifice for sins.
It would be easy for me to say here that we need more faith, and I would imagine everyone would agree with that. Yet it would also be a bit absurd, for faith isn’t the kind of thing you just pick up at the store, or force upon yourself. Faith is the natural outgrowth of relationship, in this case that would be relationship with our Lord and with others who follow Him; it is a lifelong pursuit and all of us are works in progress.
I suppose we could call it a journey; it certainly was a journey for Father Abraham.
Where will our journey take us in the weeks that lie ahead? That’s the real question.