The Son of Sacrifice
As a graduate of NBC, I have written a fair share of tests in my life so far. And a question that has recurred to me time and time again is; why would professors who claim to love us put us through such awful agony over, and over, and over?
Why go through the test? What is the point of a test? The professors want to make sure we understand. They’re using the means of a test to verify that we grasp something. It show’s that we’ve gotten the point. It’s not like the test itself is the goal, or the end. The test just shows that we’ve reached the goal, which is to understand something.
Today in this famous passage, we’re going to see Abraham tested. The test itself, though amazing, is not the end game. Its not the goal. The goal is for Abraham to know God – to know that the God that’s called him is trustworthy to fulfill His promises. To know that God is good, and that whatever He asks can be done in faith. The end game is to know and to trust God.
This passage doesn’t need much introduction to make you familiar with it – it’s the climax of the Abrahamic story, and most of us are already familiar with it. But what I want you to do this morning is to take everything you think about this text – especially all of the ways it mirrors Christ, and tuck those ideas away for a little while.
We are going to get to the parallels there, but I want us to be able to walk through this text in light of the story of Abraham that we’ve been seeing so far. So, we’re going to just walk through the text before us, and see how this is such a big deal for Abraham, and then, in an even fuller way, we’ll come around to what this means for us, and how Christ is in this text.
Our passage today is asking us to read it a certain way. It’s trying to get us to focus on certain things.
Verse 22 right off the bat tells us that God is testing Abraham, which right away is supposed to give us a relief, knowing that Isaac isn’t actually going to die, since this is only a test. But that’s all the narrator tells us about God’s motives.
The rest of the scene focuses in on Abraham’s actions in specific detail, in a way that other texts really don’t. And this is supposed to help us slow down, walk with Abraham on this test of faith, and read in between the lines a bit. That doesn’t mean there’s no dramatic tension, it just means that the tension is focused on Abraham’s faith and inner wrestling.
The author is giving us lots of time and space to read into what must be going on in Abraham’s mind as this unfolds, and I think if we read the text that way, we’ll learn a lot more about Abrahams amazing faith in this passage.
So, let’s do that. Beginning with point “A”.
22:1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
We don’t have an exact date for this text, but when it says “after these things”, we can know that a good amount of time has passed since genesis 21, when Isaac was a toddler. Because, as we’re going to see later, he’s at least strong enough to carry a heavy load of wood, so he’s for sure a young teen by now.
So, for the first time in years, (after feeling secure in the promises of God with Isaac born, and settling into the land) for the first time in probably a decade, God calls Abraham’s name, to test him. God wants to see what Abraham’s really got – He wants to test his metal. But Abraham doesn’t know that yet – he just knows God called his name, and he promptly replies “here I am.”
The words “here I am” in the Scriptures are often used when a servant of the Lord is making themselves ready and available to do God’s will. “Here I am!” But I don’t think Abraham could have prepared for what God asks next. Verse 2:
2 He 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.”
You could imagine that when Abraham said “here I am”, he was eager – excited to hear again from the God that’s been so faithful to Him. Probably had a big smile on his face “here I am! Pick me!” And when God asks this, you can just imagine the smile leaving his face. You can feel his breath stop and his gut wrench.
Abraham must be absolutely confused – stunned – perplexed. The promised son he waited for so long, he is asked to sacrifice now. How will God even keep His promises now?
And God asks this of Abraham in no uncertain terms. He emphasizes to Abraham, almost twisting the knife – “your son – your only son Isaac - whom you love”…
How Abraham must have loved Isaac… I just think of how much I already love my child who’s not even born yet. I don’t know if they’re a boy or a girl, if their hair is curly or straight, what they sound like what they look like, if they’ll serve the Lord or not… Abraham knows Isaac like the back of his hand. I bet he can recognize his footsteps, he knows the sound of his laugh and his cry, he knows all of his little quirks and habits. Parents, you know - how Abraham must have loved Isaac.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first time “love” is used in the Bible. What is the defining context and first use of the word love? A father giving up his only son.
So, does he have what it takes? Well let’s look at section B.
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
Abraham doesn’t argue with God. He doesn’t question God. In jaw-dropping faith, he makes quick work of obedience, and gets up early to do what God had asked. This faith is amazing. And notice, like I said how slowly it sketches out Abrahams actions.
- He rises early
- He saddles his donkey
- He takes the servants & Isaac
- He cut the wood
- He arose again
- He went to the place God had told him.
Step by step doing all of the small steps that feed into big obedience. Every time he swings the axe for wood for the offering, he knows he’s cutting his sons death-bed. But he keeps obeying. He keeps doing all of the small steps that create an altar of amazing sacrifice.
It wasn’t a short walk to Moriah either. It was about 75KM away, and verse 4 tells us it took 3 days;
4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.
As he sees the place approaching, it becomes more real. Does he walk faster to get it over with? Does he walk slower in anguish to avoid the inevitable? With every step he probably has the promise in his head “through Isaac shall your offspring be named”.
“God, I don’t know how, but I believe that your promise will still be true, even if I sacrifice my son”. And we see that faith in verse 5:
5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”
More amazing faith! He really does believe that he and Isaac will return to the servants after this! And not only that; but as hard as this task is, he’s considering his obedience an act of worship. “The boy and I will go over there, and worship and return back to you.”
Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead if necessary to keep His promises. Abrahams never even seen a resurrection before – but he knows his God. And his faith is not based in what’s possible or reasonable – but in the power and goodness of God. So far, Abraham is passing the test.
At the base of the mountain of sacrifice, verse 6:
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So, they went both of them together.
Abraham is strong enough to carry the knife, and the materials to start the fire, but he is probably too old and weak to carry the wood at this point. Enough wood to stay lit until a whole body is consumed would be heavy. Isaac is young and full of life, so Abraham has him bear the wood himself.
And so they went – both of them – together.
While still climbing the mountain:
7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Good question Isaac. Maybe just an observation from Isaac.
Or: is Isaac starting to clue in to what’s going on? Can he feel his father’s angst? Does he feel tempted to throw the wood off of his back and run?
8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So, they went both of them together.
This statement is truer than Abraham knows. He doesn’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but he knows somehow, his God will provide a way.
And up the mountain they went – both of them – together.
Verse 9 almost paints a slow-motion picture for us, describing the actions almost redundantly;
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
Again notice, big faith composed of little steps. Difficult, non-glamourous, obedient steps.
Abraham was an old man. Isaac was a strong, young man. Isaac could have easily overpowered Abraham, and escaped. But he laid on top of the alter willingly, and let his father bind him willingly.
Did Abraham prolong process to spend some final time with Isaac? Did Isaac help build the alter? Did he bind Isaac in case Isaac panicked and tried to escape? Or to make sure one blow would be enough?
We don’t know. But one thing for sure is by now - Abraham knows that Isaac knows what’s going on, because he’s complying in silence. Can Abraham even look him in the eyes?
And then finally, verse 10.
10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.
Now freeze here! I want us to notice something. At so many points in Abraham’s life until now, he had a plan-B.
“Maybe God won’t give me an offspring, so I’ll give my inheritance to a member of my house.”
“Maybe God won’t protect us, so I’ll put my wife on the line.”
“Maybe God won’t give me a son through Sarah, so I’ll have a son by Hagar.”
But now… Now after so many journeys and growing and struggles of faith. Now after the most begrudging walk of his life. Now with a slaughter knife over Isaac, his son, his only son whom he loves – Abraham has no plan-B.
This makes no sense to Abraham, and he has no idea how God will resolve it, but it doesn’t matter because now – now Abraham is totally walking by faith and not by sight!
And this is how faith works! God is patient with us, and leads us, and protects us, as he lets us see all of the pain, and headaches that our backup plans cause, until we learn to just trust Him and only Him no matter the cost!
Think of how God has patiently prepared Abraham for this moment! When he was at his fathers house, God taught him to march to somewhere unknown in obedience. When Abraham wandered in Egypt, God taught him to depend on God’s protection and faithfulness! When Abraham took Hagar to create a son, God taught him that he should have patiently trusted Him for Isaac! When Abraham was commanded to send Ishmael away, God taught him, in a lesser way, to give up a son whom he loves!
God didn’t just throw this task on Abraham out of nowhere! God graciously, patiently, crafted Abraham’s faith, and then gave him this task. And now, ready to follow the voice of his God anywhere, Abraham stands with knife over Isaac. No backup plans. Only trust.
Right as Abraham steadies his weak hands to drive the blow! Right as the knife begins to drop! Right as Isaac is clenching his eyes shut!
11 “Abraham, Abraham!”
And he said, (sigh………). “Here I am.”
The Test Passed
12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
God already knew that Abraham had this faith, because it was God Himself who hand crafted this faith in Abraham! But now Abraham’s faith is made perfect by his works (James 2). And now, finally, Abraham breaths the breath of relief. And now it is shown beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Abraham fears God.
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
Imagine how thankful Abraham must have been.
Imagine how thankful Isaac must have been for that ram, as he watches it get slaughtered, killed, and burned up in his place! Instead of him! Imagine how he must have cringed, as he saw the slaughter knife, that was moments ago for him, meet the throat of that ram.
The Lord, did indeed provide.
Because of Abrahams faith, God’s promise, that promise we’ve heard so many times, is reaffirmed,
15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven
16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
Now watch all the way back in Genesis, in the second half of verse 17, the offspring is narrowed down to one man, with a new addition to the promise.
And your offspring shall possess the gate of his (singular) enemies,
18 and in your offspring (in this one man to come) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
God can not swear by anything higher than Himself. This is certain. Because Abraham has obeyed. Because he has shown that he has the kind of faith to be the father of all those who have faith – God has reaffirmed his promises to Abraham.
You may be wondering: Aren’t these promises unconditional? But here it looks like Abraham finally got them by his faith? Which one is it? Yes. Both. God’s promise is unconditional. It always has been. And yet God uses Abraham’s faith to bring them about.
Does that make it conditional because now He’s depending on humans? No! Because as we’ve seen, God is the one who created this faith in Abraham. He uses Abraham’s faith as a means to bring the promise, but that faith was all a work of God. All of this has been totally God’s work from beginning to end.
19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
And that is our text. That, in a sense, is the conclusion of the faith journey of our wandering Hebrew. God took a man who was nothing, and worked him in His hands until he was the father of all who would have faith. Now there is so much to glean from this text, so with that, let’s move to our final section – everlasting truths.
The first truth we’ll look at is faith. How could we not? Hebrews 11 says by faith Abraham offered up Isaac. So, let’s see what we learn from the father of faith.
The first thing we see is that God builds us for great faith. It doesn’t happen over night. Just like God used Abraham’s failures, and trials all to build into his amazing faith, God will do the same for you.
Some of us wrestle with the trials, and failures we’ve had since we began walking with God. Maybe you think everything should have been easy-breezy as a Christian. Yes, there’s a place to lament those things, but if you need a way to process those things…
If you need to know what God was doing with those experiences, trust that it all works for your good in Christ (Romans 8:28), and that God could have been using those times to build your faith today.
(1 Peter 1:6-7) 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
And these tests and trials so often happen right when we feel on top of the world.
Right when Abraham finally had Isaac and had settled in the land, God asked him for everything.
Rest assured that right as you feel established and secure in God’s will. Right when you feel you’ve “made it,” and you’ve given everything to God – He’s going to ask for more.
You may think the severity of God’s test to Abraham is an extreme one off. That God would never require such faith today, or such a dramatic commitment. And while yes, God is not asking you to sacrifice your children today, your faith and commitment and readiness are meant to be as great as Abrahams.
When this God revealed Himself in Christ, did He not say “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The bar hasn’t dropped. Our God requires the same faith and dedication of us today. Be challenged by the words of the God of Abraham today, that if you put anything or anyone before Him, you are not worthy of Him. He demands that you put everything on the alter before Him. Even the things He is not specifically asking for today, we have to be ready to give up!
We also see today that when Abraham was called by God, he said “here I am!” He made himself ready to do God’s will just like that! He had no idea what God would ask of him, but he was ready. Have a faith that says “here I am Lord! Whatever you want from me, I’m at your disposal!” Is there something you know from God’s Word that He is commanding you to do? Make quick work of it! Faith does not drag its feet!
We’ve seen that faith doesn’t have any plan B’s! Abraham had no back up plan. How often do we think things like “I’ll have to decrease my generosity this month in case God doesn’t provide” or “I’ll destroy the things God hates in my life, but I’ll only hold on to a little, in case I miss it.” The Word of God is pleading with you today to get rid of your backup plans! Live a life fully surrendered. One that has to depend on God’s promises, so you learn to trust, and so that He get’s all of the glory!
These are just a few things we learn from Abraham’s faith, and there is so much more we can’t go into because of time. But Scripture has just set an amazing faith in front of you to walk in. Maybe it looks big, and intimidating. How do you start? What can you do today to have big sacrificial faith like Abraham?
Well remember; Abraham’s big act of faith today was broken down into lots of steps. Lots of little, difficult, non-glamorous steps of obedience. Waking up early. Cutting the wood. Piece by piece to build the altar.
Every great act of faith is broken down into small everyday obedience. Show me a great man of faith, and I’ll show you a man who’s faithful with the little things. So where can you start?
Be in the Bible every day. Read it! Or how else will you know what God requires of you? How else will you see the God of Abraham to be able to trust Him? And pray… Pray! Call on the name of the everlasting God, and the God who provides! Find His promises and ask Him for them!
Every time you do these little things, it’s like you’re cutting piece after piece of wood to make the alter and burn the sacrifice.
And you’ll never get to the moment of great sacrifice without building the alter first.
You want great sacrificial faith? Stay steady in the small things, and be ready to say “here I am” while you’re doing them. Day in. Day out. That’s faith.
At the beginning of the sermon, I told you to hold onto your ideas of Christ in this passage. Of course, He’s here. So, bring those ideas back out, and let’s flood our minds with thoughts of Christ from this passage.
The only Son, & His Father
First, I want us to see Christ in the ram. The ram that was offered instead of Isaac. 1 Peter 3:18 says Christ was offered, the righteous for the unrighteous. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says He who knew no sin became sin, so that in Him we can become the righteousness of God. The great exchange. Christ instead of us on that cross.
So, imagine yourself on that alter. And each block of wood making up the alter for the sacrifice is your mistakes, and your sins, and failings. No escape. You’re bound, and God has the knife and the fire in His hand. And He raises the knife, and its set to kill, and right as it’s coming down – wait!
And you look up… “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)…
And Christ unbinds you. And Christ sets you aside. And He gets on that altar… And you watch as every blow of wrath that was moments ago intended for you, is laid on Him.
Remember how thankful and horrified Isaac must have been watching the Ram offered up? Our horror as we behold calvary and our thankfulness for the cross should be a thousand times more. Christ was the ram slain in the place of God’s people.
And how can we not see Christ in Isaac.
Look at Isaac carrying the wood for the altar up the mountain, and see Christ carrying His cross to Golgotha (John 19).
Look at Isaac, who was silent and obedient and see Christ who did not open His mouth, led as a lamb to the slaughter.
Isaac knew what was happening, and submitted. Jesus knew exactly what was happening. Nobody takes His life from Him, but he has authority to lay His life down and to raise it up again. He poured Himself out for love.
We’re going to sing after the service about how Christ is the true and better Isaac. Humble Son of sacrifice. Who would climb that fearful mountain, there to offer up His life. Laid with faith upon the alter – Fathers joy and only Son. There salvation was provided, oh what full and boundless love!
Jesus was the Father’s joy and only Son. Think of how many half sons, how many Ishmaels came before Jesus! Adam a son of God failed! David a son of God, failed! And finally here comes Jesus! The true Son of God! And He is the joy of Gods heart and the apple of His eye! God’s only beloved! And God offers Him up as a sacrifice! We can’t miss the sacrifice of the Father?
As we sang this morning, how great the pain of searing loss! The Father turns His face away! As wounds which mar the chosen one, bring you and I to glory!
In this text we also see God the Father offering up His one and only Son.
And by this! By the Father offering Jesus. By the cross – we receive the blessing of Abraham. The cross purchases the blessing of Abraham, and in this way, Jesus is the offspring who blesses all nations!
Turn to Romans 8:32.
Romans 8:32 says, speaking of God the Father, (and scholars agree that Paul’s language here is making a background reference to Abraham not sparing his son): “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” All things!
“All things” is more than just some land in Canaan, or in Israel. It’s the whole Earth & Heavens! The new Jerusalem! The whole earth that Christ will make new! It’s all things!
And, by some mystery, this is what we are told Abraham set out for in the first place; Hebrews 11:10 says: “For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:13-16 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
The first time this drama of sacrifice plays out with Abraham and Isaac, a blessing to the nations is promised.
The second time this plays out, with Christ on the cross, blessing to the nations is purchased.
God gives His people “all things” (Abraham’s inheritance, and everything else), through the purchase of the cross. If he has not withheld His own Son from us, everything else, including the Heavenly city is ours.
So, at the price of the cross, we get the promises made to Abraham. But something so much more comes to us through Abraham’s offspring.
So, finally, our last section today:
Our inheritance, Jesus Christ.
Think of the logic of Romans 8:32. Again, the language is pointing to Abraham not withholding Isaac to compare it to the Father not withholding Jesus. So let’s follow the logic here.
God knew that Abraham would give anything to Him, because he even gave God Isaac. He gave God that which was most valuable, so anything else would be easy to give up compared to Isaac, because it’s not worth as much!
Paul uses that logic here. If God has given us Christ, then all other things are ours, and God gladly gives them to us, because He’s already given us what’s most valuable – Christ!
So yes, we get all things! The blessing of Abraham! All the whole land of earth! and that’s amazing! And we should glory in that! But don’t miss that the reasoning of this text shows us that we have already been given what is most precious – Christ!
Our greatest treasure is not what the offspring of Abraham brings us! The greatest treasure is not the Heavenly City. Our greatest treasure is the offspring of Abraham Himself - Jesus! I pray you see that!
When you get to that city that Abraham set out for, that was confirmed when he offered Isaac, and that was purchased with blood when our Father offered His only Son, what do you get? You get Christ! God’s plan to bless the nations was to bring them Himself in Christ!
So, when you walk by faith towards that city. As you walk the road of sacrifice. As God requires more and more and more from you. Don’t think about what you’re losing. Think about what you gain – because it’s so much more than anything God asks you to give up! The offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ.