Summary: The Cross of Jesus is anticipated in the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, telling of The Father’s Sacrifice, The Son’s Submission and the Lord’s Substitute.
THE CROSS ANTICIPATED
If I had to give this message a title it would be "The Cross Anticipated in Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac" (Genesis 22:1-19. 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. Let’s remind ourselves of what happened.
It’s a beautifully told story but profoundly shocking to modern ears. Nowadays, if there’s even a hint of a father abusing his child, to say nothing of human sacrifice, why, 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 2,500 years before, a foreshadowing of an even greater harrowing story. They were compelled to connect it to the Cross of the Son of God. In reading the story of Abraham the father and Isaac the son we’re reminded of:
THE FATHER’S SACRIFICE
Just imagine the shock that Abraham had one day. The conversation with God, probably not in audible voices, 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 a turmoil of questions. Kill Isaac? How could he? And why would God demand such an offering when human sacrifices were abhorrent to Him? 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, their son, Isaac, 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, but it will be something that costs in terms of time, possessions or pride.
David Livingstone went to darkest 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 to 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 God was 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.