The following was preached at the Veedersburg Community Worship on Sunday, March 28, 2010. The Scripture for this message is Genesis 22:1-13.
When we read through the Scriptures there are several threads that weave their way throughout the different books of the Old and New Testaments. One of those threads begins in tonight’s passage, which is sometimes refered to as the “Binding of Isaac.” What I’d like to do tonight is give you a bit of a background on what is going on with a few sides notes along the way, and then do a skeleton trace on this tread through Scripture and see why it is so important for us a we come together to remember the events of Holy Week.
We first meet Abraham in Genesis 12 when he is first told to go away from his homeland, his family and his father’s household and head into the land that God will give him. Abraham takes a big step of faith and obeys this command. He packs up everything and heads away from everything that he knows towards the land of Canaan. Abraham was 75 years old when he did this. So, just a side note here, you are never too old to set out on a new adventure, especially when God is the one leading you. Keep that in mind.
So Abraham and his wife Sarah set out for the land of Canaan, and it’s important to note that they don’t have any children. Scripture tells us that Sarah was barren. She never gave birth to a child at this point. But one of the promises that Abraham receives is that he will become a great nation. This elderly couple would be the beginning of a great nation that will bless the entire world.
After several years, with all sorts of misadventures along the way, Abraham is closing in on the ripe, young age of 100, and Sarah is 90, God tells Abraham that Sarah will conceive and give birth to a son. That in one year’s time, Abraham and Sarah will have their first child together. Talk about a promise that only God can fulfill. And true to His word, Sarah conceives and gives birth to her first son, named Isaac. Abraham is 100 years old when Isaac is born. God keeps His promises, even when we don’t think He does. Things happen in His timing, not ours.
A few years after Isaac’s birth, God once again calls to Abraham. Now, we don’t know how much time passes between Isaac’s birth and the events in tonight’s Scripture. It is clear that several years have passed because Isaac is strong enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain, but we don’t know exactly how old he was at this point. This time, however, when God calls to Abraham, He asks Abraham to do something that we would think is totally unbelievable. He tells Abraham to take his son, go to Moriah and offer him up as a burnt offering.
Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes for a minute here. Abraham left everything he ever knew behind to follow God into the land of Canaan. He and his wife must have gone through so much along the way, and finally, when he is 100 years old (25 years after God first called him out of his homeland) he and Sarah have a son together. And now, after being a father for a few years, God is asking him to sacrifice his son?
What we see in Abraham is no hesitation whatsoever. We don’t see any kind of dialogue with God, asking Him to change His mind. We don’t see any pleading or begging or bargaining. Abraham is obedient to what God tells him to do. At this point, if we don’t have an understanding of God that is shaped by His revelation in Scripture, we could easily cry out that God is nothing more than a cruel dictator here. But we know better than that. We know God is nothing like that at all, so why does he tell Abraham to sacrifice his only son? It’s a bit of foreshadowing.
When we read this passage, we have to know that God was willing to do what He didn’t allow Abraham to do. Abraham and Isaac make their way up the mountain, and Isaac very estutely observes that they don’t have a lamb to use for the sacrifice. And what does Abraham say? “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham couldn’t have known what was going to happen, but he had faith in the promises of God. God promises Abraham that he will make a great nation out of his offspring, and Abraham remembers those promises. He stands on those promises, and he acts on those promises.
Abraham is obedient to God because God has yet to let him down. When he gets ready to take Isaac up the mountain, he tells his servants that they go to worship the Lord and that they will return. He didn’t know what God was going to do, but he had faith that God would provide. “God will provide for himself the lamb.” And that brings me to the thread that I want to trace.
There are a few places in Scripture where lambs are crucial. The binding of Isaac is certainly one. Just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his only son, an angel of the Lord tells him to stop. Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in the thicket. God did indeed provide a lamb. The lamb was offered up as a sacrifice in the place of his son. It wouldn’t be the last time a lamb was offered in someone else’s place either.
Several hundred years later, a lamb once again plays an important role. The descendants of Abraham have multipled into the hundreds of thousands, but they are enslaved by the Egyptians. For four hundred years, the Israelites are slaves in a foreign land. And one day, a man by the name of Moses comes along, goes up to Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh has no reason to listen to this man, after all, Pharaoh is the ruler of the world at that point, why should he listen to this shepherd from across the wilderness? After nine miracles and the continued stubbornness of the Pharaoh, God gives Moses some very explicit directions to share with the people.
The people are to take a lamb for each family. They are to kill the lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes. Because that night, the angel of death was going to go through Egypt and kill all the firstborn sons, and when the angel of death sees the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, he will passover that house. Once again, the blood of a lamb would stand in the place for the blood of a son.
After this night, Pharaoh does allow the people of Israel to leave, and every year following, the Israelites were to celebrate the Passover as the great work of redemption that God did. It was the event in Israelite history. The people of Israel would always look back at the redemptive power of God in the exodus, and remember. They weren’t always faithful, but there was no doubt as to what event was the cornerstone of the people of Israel.
For years to come, the people would remember the Passover. In Jesus’ day, it was the festival of the year. And every year, a lamb would be chosen, it would be examined, and it would be slaughtered for the sins of the people. All of the people of Israel would take part in the Passover meal.
It was a Passover meal that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating prior to his arrest in Jerusalem. It was during the Passover meal that Jesus instituted what we call the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Jesus didn’t just decide to do this at a random meal. He did it during the most significant meal on the Jewish calendar, and it was not by accident. In celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus also revisioned the Passover meal.
No longer was it just about the exodus from Egypt, but now it took on a much greater meaning. The Passover meal was about a new covenant that God was making with the people. A covenant that allowed the people to once again enter into relationship with the Almighty Creator. And like the first covenant that God made with the people after they left Egypt, this covenant was going to be sealed by the blood of the lamb.
In the Gospel of John, we hear the words of John the Baptist as he shouts, “Behold, the lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.” He is pointing at Jesus when he says this. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that it will be his body that is broken, his blood that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins. There is a new Passover lamb.
John is very intentional about the details of Jesus’ death and how they coincide with what was going on at the Temple. At the very time that Jesus died, the Passover lamb would have been sacrificed in the Temple. Jesus was indeed the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. Jesus was the Passover lamb whose sacrifice institued a new covenant for the people of Israel.
When we gather here tonight to remember and celebrate Holy Week, we gather because of what happened. We get so excited about Easter, and it’s a big celebration throughout the Church, as well it should be. But let’s not forget that the reason we celebrate on Sunday morning is because of what happened on Friday afternoon.
In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we get a foreshadowing of what God is going to do for our sake. John 3:16 sums it up so well – “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son and sent a lamb in his place. And yet, God himself did not spare His Son because His Son was the Lamb. Abraham trusts that God will provide the lamb, and God did not disappoint. We need to believe that God still provides the Lamb for us today. And He did in His Son Jesus Christ.
It leaves us with two questions with which we must wrestle. It is clear in reading the text that Isaac was the most precious thing to Abraham, but Abraham had to be willing to let him go in obedience to God. What is it in your life that is most precious to you, and would you be willing to have faith if the time came for you to let it go? As you go about your week, don’t forget these questions. Remember that God is faithful, and He has provided the Lamb.