Vol. 11 — No. 10 March 8, 1970
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee in to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.
In Christ Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed for us, Redeemed:
When we speak of sacrificing and sacrifices, we are approaching the very heart of the Christian religion. The most important sacrifices of the Old Testament were the animal sacrifices which always involved the shedding of blood. The shedding of blood was necessary, for as the writer to the Hebrews tells us: “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” (9:22)—no forgiveness of sin. However, the shedding of the blood of tens and hundreds and thousands of animals throughout those long Old Testament centuries did not atone for one single sin. The blood of a goat or a lamb or a bullock was absolutely worthless in the sight of the holy and righteous God, but when the blood began to trickle from the whipped back and thorn-crowned head and when the blood began to flow from the hands and feet that had been torn open by the cruel nails and when the blood gushed from the pierced side of God’s own Son, who offered up Himself as a sacrifice, that blood was precious in the sight of the holy and righteous God. That blood became the fountain that washed away the sin of the whole world. That precious blood for once and for all time satisfied the justice of our holy God who demanded that the penalty of all man’s sin be paid. “For by one offering, he—that is, Christ—hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” As a result of that one sacrifice our Lord again assures us this night: “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 10:14.17) This one great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, which made an end to all sacrificing for sin and which for that very reason is the sure foundation of our hope of eternal life, is the object of our meditation this evening.
However, we shall study the sacrifice of our Lord indirectly through an Old Testament type. To that end we now in spirit pass back through the centuries to the days of one of our Lord’s greatest heroes, Abraham, the father of all believers. We in spirit cut in on his long life of l75 years at about the 120th year, for it was there-abouts that the climax of Abraham’s great life of faith occurred when one night the Lord God called him, saying, “Abraham.” And Abraham was quick to answer: “Behold, here I am.” And the Lord God said unto His servant Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” What a shock this command must have been! It must have come as a blow to Abraham’s faith, for Abraham knew that this command to sacrifice his son was contrary to two of the Lord’s previous words. Abraham knew the word of the Lord to Noah: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Abraham knew that God had forbidden the shedding of blood, and yet that very night God commanded him to shed the blood of his son. Abraham also cherished in his heart that word of the Lord: “In thy seed shall the nations of the earth be blessed.” Abraham knew that Isaac was the son from whom the Messiah was to come, and yet the Lord, who had given that promise, now commanded him to offer up that son as a burnt offering. What a trial this seemingly contradictory command must have been to the faith of Abraham! This evening we would shift our attention from the trial to Isaac, as we consider him—
Isaac, Abraham’s sacrifice unto the Lord, did not know that he was to be the sacrifice until after his father had finished building the altar and arranging the wood upon the altar. Then Abraham must have straightened up from his labor, put a heavy arm about his dear son and told him: “Thou, my son, art to be the sacrifice upon this altar that I have just built.” As little as we can imagine the shock that Abraham received when the Lord God informed him that he was to offer up his son, so little we can imagine the shock that Isaac received when his beloved father told him, probably with tears in his eyes, that he was to be the sacrifice upon that altar. Isaac knew that his father loved him. He knew that he was the apple of his father’s eye. He knew that he was the hope of his father’s yearning for the great blessing to come through him upon all nations. For these very reasons Isaac must have been unable to understand at first the words of his father, but after Abraham had told his son of the word of the Lord that had come to him three nights before, Isaac must have been comforted by the fact that he would meet his end at the hands of a loving father rather than at the hands of a revengeful enemy. In what fervent terms Abraham must have expressed his love to his son, but his even greater love for his Lord who had commanded him to sacrifice his son. No doubt Luther is right when he suggested that Abraham comforted his son with the hope of the resurrection of the body. With what certainty must not Abraham have told his son that even if his body would be reduced to ashes, still the Lord God would be able to raise him up and thus keep his promise. The writer to the Hebrews tells us definitely that Abraham believed that God was able to raise up his son from the dead. After they had made an end of talking, Abraham bound his Son, and raised his knife to slay his son. That is the picture of our text: a son sacrificed by a loving father.
And how great was not the love of father Abraham for his son! Twenty—five years before the birth of Isaac that love began in the heart of Abraham when God promised to make a great nation of him and his barren wife, Sarah. For twenty-five years the love of Abraham for his unborn son was nourished by the repeated promises of his Lord. And then finally when he was 99 years old and his wife was 90 the Lord God appeared personally in the form of a man and announced the coming birth of Isaac. When that child was born, Abraham named him Isaac, which means “Laughter.” With that name Abraham expressed the joy of his soul and the thrill of his heart-beat, for Isaac was the child of his old age. If ever a father was wrapped up in his son, if ever the hopes of a father were closely knit to his son, then Abraham was that father. And yet above all earthly and human considerations was the fact that Isaac was the Bearer of the Promise. As much as we cling to the cross of Christ, so much Abraham clung to the promise which was inseparably linked to his son. Think of the sword that must have pierced Abraham’s soul when the Lord, who had given him his son, asked him to sacrifice that son. As Abraham cut the wood for the burnt offering, he must have been able to hear the crackling of the burning wood as it would consume his son. As Abraham marched those three days to the mountain which the Lord would show him, he must have thought of the lonesome, almost unbearable return journey without Isaac. What a pang must have smitten his breast when he loaded the wood upon Isaac’s back as they were about to climb the mountain! And who can describe the anguish of his soul when on their upward journey Isaac innocently asked, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” He won’t even attempt to describe what passed through Abraham’s soul when he raised the knife to strike his son. That is the picture of our text—a son sacrificed by a loving father.
In this picture we see Isaac as a type of Christ who was also sacrificed by a loving Father. As true God begotten of His Father from all eternity, the Son was loved by His Father. The love that exists between the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity is simply beyond our comprehension, for it is not a love between man and man or between man and God, as we know it here on this earth—which love is always marred by sin, but it is a love between two divine Persons on one Godhead. When the Son took upon Himself the form of man on the first Christmas Eve, that love did not cease. We have evidence of that great love of the Father for the Son in the Gospel record. At the baptism of Jesus the voice of the Father called down from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Again on the Mount of Transfiguration the voice of the Father called down those same words. That the Father loved His Son we can see from the fact that He sent angels to administer unto Him after the forty-day temptation in the wilderness, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane the Father sent an angel to strengthen His Son. And yet in the Passion Story this great and perfect love of the Father for His Son is overshadowed by a greater love which you and I will never comprehend—namely, a love for you and me, miserable lost and condemned sinners that we are. The greater love of the Father for you and me, sinners though we be, moved Him to sacrifice His Son. Although He loved His Son with a perfect love, the Father still permitted His Son to be cruelly tortured, ignominiously mocked, and mercilessly crucified in order that He might forgive the sins of you and me, who in weakness and sometimes in carelessness, and even possibly sometimes in bold defiance daily sin much in thought, word, and deed. Although He loved His Son with a perfect love, the Father turned His back upon Jesus when He cried out on the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” in order to save you and me from eternal suffering in hell which we so justly deserve. That a loving Father should sacrifice His only Son for a world under the curse and doomed to destruction—that is the mystery of the passion story. Why did the Father offer up His Son? We can understand Abraham’s act. Abraham was moved by a higher love than love for his son. He was moved by love toward his God when he offered Isaac. He was acting according to the command of his God and so was moved by duty and gratitude. Abraham was sacrificing his son to his best friend, his God. But when God sacrificed His Son, He had no friends here on earth. The world was His was His enemy. God committed His Son unto the suffering of hell for His enemies. He was under no obligation to do that. Who can explain the greater love for a lost and condemned mankind than for His own Son? That is the mystery of the Gospel. But thank God for Christ, the Son sacrificed by His loving Father.
If we go back to the story of Isaac again we can see him as a type of Christ also for this reason—
In order to see Isaac as a type of Christ in his obedience unto death you may have to rid yourselves of a notion that you may have gained in youth—that Isaac was at the time of this event a child of some six or eight years old. That age is too young. If we think of Isaac as being a young man in his late teens or earlies twenties, we are perhaps much more close to the truth. The age of Isaac isn’t given in the text, but there is one detail that leads us to picture him at this time as being a young man in the prime of life. We note that after the sacrificial party reached the mountain that was pointed out to Abraham by God, Abraham loaded the wood for the burnt offering upon Isaac. We don’t know how much wood was used for such an offering, but it certainly was more than a few pieces because the fire had to be great enough to consume the offering. The wood was loaded on to the back of Isaac, and Abraham took the lighter burden of the pot of fire and the knife. Remember that at this time Abraham must have been about 120 years old. Together they went up the mountain, Isaac with the heavier burden and Abraham with the lighter one. Certainly this detail would seem to indicate that Isaac was in the prime of life at this time.
If we have this picture of Isaac as a young man in the prime of his strength hardened by out-door living, then we can understand what we mean when we say Isaac was obedient unto death. When Abraham announced to his son that he was to be the sacrifice, it would have been physically possible for Isaac to resist. It certainly would have been possible for Isaac to run away. He could easily have outdistanced his father. But the thought of resisting his father probably never occurred to Isaac, for he was an obedient son—obedient even unto death. When his father loaded the wood upon his back, Isaac unknowingly but obediently carried the wood which was to be used to sacrifice him. In that act we see typified the scene that occurred centuries later when the Son of God, the Christ, was forced to carry his own cross which He bore until He collapsed under the weight of it. When Abraham made ready to kill his son on the altar that he had built, he first bound him even as sheep were bound before they were killed upon the altar. We hear of no resistance on the part of Isaac although resistance was well within his power. Again we see typified the scene before the Garden of Gethsemane when the Son of God permitted Himself to be bound by the soldiers of the high priest although resistance was well within His power.
In this obedience unto death of Isaac on Mt. Moriah we see typified the obedience of the Son of God on the same mount centuries later. During the Lenten Season we stress the obedience of Christ unto death. His obedience was foretold by Isaiah who wrote, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” The obedience of Christ unto death has given comfort to countless sinners, for without that obedience He would have failed in His mission to be our Savior. When He came into this world, He was put under the law, and He was obedient to every jot and tittle of that law. But as our Substitute He also had to be obedient to the curse of the law which is death. Again if Christ had not been obedient, there would have been no Good Friday. For centuries unbelievers who deny the vicarious, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross have tried to prove that Christ died just a martyr’s death. But the whole Gospel record proves this theory a lie. Time and again the Jews had sought to kill Jesus, but no one dared lay a finger on Him until His hour had come. When the hour appointed by His Father had come, Jesus obediently walked the way of sorrow that led to the cross. During the entire passion story Jesus always had power to deliver Himself from His enemies, but thank God He remained obedient unto death, for through that obedience He made the one sacrifice that could please and satisfy the just and righteous God and win for us the crown of life. May God grant that the study of the sacrifice of Isaac lead us to a deeper understanding and gratitude for the sacrifice of Christ crucified. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.