Everyone talks about sacrifice, but few people know its history or the full understanding of its principles. Every year I try as a pastor to make the message of the cross fresh and effective. When the full brunt of the Gospel of the Cross is not preached, it is not God’s fault or the fault of the content I work with, but my own.
When I think about the cross, as I often see so many facets to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I try to focus on one or two of these aspects in my preaching and in my articles. So this year, I want to focus on the image of sacrifice in the Old Testament.
Jesus is God’s Son, and therefore, as His child, offering Jesus as His son brings into light a very old story from the book of Genesis. In the twenty-second chapter, we read an incredible story about Abraham and his own battle with learning how righteous and unique God is compared to the gods he had known before he met Yahweh.
That faith in God had been tested and found wanting before. Abraham had received a great promise from God that he in his old age and with his barren wife, would bear a son that would make him the father of a great nation.
He had no children and was way past the opportunity to produce them. His wife, Sarah, had been barren since he had known her. And God’s promise demanded that he trust His word over his circumstances. But he and Sarah failed to do this.
Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham, and he tried to fulfill God’s promise through human means. Instead of waiting on God to do what He promised, Abraham took matters into his own hands and forced the issue, and Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Abraham rushed God’s promise and set in motion a war between brothers that has been going on ever since. He failed to wait on God and to see the promise fulfilled by God’s power instead of his own. But God is merciful, and gave him another chance.
This time, God called His shots. He came to Abraham and told him within Sarah’s hearing that she would bear a son in the next year from His visit. She laughed, and Abraham began to believe.
A year later, this woman was holding her newborn son, Isaac, whose name reminded her to trust in the Lord, because his name means, “He laughs.” Never again should she challenge the word of the Lord and the promises of God.
And so we come to the moment in history where Abraham learned what it means to be in God the Father’s shoes. There came a time after all of this where God wished to test Abraham’s trust in His word and promises once again. This time, it was not at the risk of waiting on God, but at the risk of destroying the promised son through child sacrifice.
Yahweh was a different God than the false gods around in Abraham’s time. Abraham had learned from another time that God is fully righteous. God told him that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lived in Sodom, and so Abraham ventured to speak with God Almighty about His righteousness. Abraham asked God if there were fifty people who were righteous if He would not destroy the city, and God said He would not.
He took God the whole way to ten. And every time God proved He was righteous. Abraham was satisfied with God’s righteousness at ten people. The problem is that there were less than ten.
But in a shocking revelation to every reader, God still saved the only righteous ones in Sodom before He destroyed the city. There were less than ten, and though Abraham was satisfied, God went the extra mile and saved the less than ten righteous people before destroying Sodom.
God always surprises us with His full righteousness. The challenge is for us to trust that He is completely righteous. And so it was with Abraham, who had a history of not trusting in the promise God gave him.
Now that Isaac, the promised son was real, God wanted to see if Abraham would be willing to give up His special son of the promise. The question: Can Abraham trust the Promise Giver or must he hold on to the method of the promise? The methods may change, but the promises never do.
So one day God asked of Abraham a horrible thing even in his former culture, to offer his son as a child sacrifice. Child sacrifice was readily done by parents who cared more about having a false god on their side than they did about their children.
The very idea of sacrificing a child to Yahweh would have dramatically affected Abraham’s faith, had he not been shown the kind of God Yahweh is. And that record of faith told Abraham that God was not like the false gods.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham was willing to kill his son because he had faith that God could raise the boy from the dead (Heb 11:17-19)! His faith had come a long way indeed!
So they traveled three days journey to a place God showed Abraham. The hardest part must have been heading up the mountain and having Isaac question his father about where the sacrifice was going to come from.
Even worse for the young man would have been when his dad put him on the altar to slaughter. And yet, amazingly, there is no hint of his disobedience or any kind of response to his father’s actions! Isaac doesn’t put up a fight at all. Just as Abraham is about to bring the knife down on his special son, God stops him and offers a ram instead. The story had a happy ending.
But that’s not all to this story. While Abraham was spared the sacrifice of his precious and unique son, God the Father was not so blessed. The sin of humanity had become such that God had to do something. He sent His precious and unique Son to the earth. Jesus would tell the world about the Father and He would show the world what Yahweh was really like.
But the world hated Jesus. It came down to the fact that Jesus, the promised Son, must be sacrificed for the sins of the world, to make a way for humans to know God. Jesus went to the cross willingly, like Isaac. This promised Son followed the will of His Father, despite its difficulty, as shown us in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus was obedient to His Father as Isaac was obedient. The Bible tells us that like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so Jesus did not open His mouth (Isa 53:7). But unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, this story’s happy ending would not be that fateful Friday.
Although Abraham was spared from the sacrifice and death of his son, Yahweh must endure the death of His Son. This was the only way to save humanity. And so the Father did what no earthly parent can find easy to do. He let His Son suffer the full wrath of death on a cross, and this time, the Father’s hand was not stayed.
I would imagine that God turned away from His Son on that tree on that day and darkness was upon the world not only because God cannot look upon the sin that Jesus became for the world, but also that God could not bear to see His precious and unique Son die.
I know of no parent who is ever the same after having to watch their child die. I know of no parent that would be able to stand by as their child died. But I know a Parent who allowed it, despite the grave pain and excruciating separation from His Son, who fought through the pain of His Son’s death, so that I could also become one of His sons.
God is all-powerful in that He allowed what no parent would ever allow. He gave His one and only Son because He loved you and me that much.
But as we all have been told, Friday’s sacrifice is not the end of our story. While Friday ended in the death of the Son, Sunday yielded the provision of the Lord. Just like Abraham was proved right and the sacrifice of the ram was provided, the Son of God was not forever in the grave.
In fact, on that Sunday morning, He was raised to life again! Once again He was united with His Father. But there was a major difference.
Because God was able to allow the death of His Son, now He has many sons and daughters who will be brought into His family! The unbearable pain of that moment brought forth the unspeakable joy of our lives and our privileged place in God’s family.
Don’t ever take for granted the death of God’s Son. Both Abraham and God received back their sons of the promise, and the promise is that we all will be blessed through Jesus! Leave a comment and tell me what you have gained as one of God’s children.