The Savior in the Old Testament: Jesus & Isaac

Genesis 22:1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
Can you imagine how Abraham’s heart ached as he was told to kill his son? He had waited so long for a son. All the promises – many descendants, a great nation, the Savior – were tied to that son. But God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Abraham had plenty of time to meditate on this sacrifice. It was a three day journey to Mt. Moriah. Each day, each step, must have been harder than the last for Abraham. When they arrived, each stone he lifted to build the altar must have been heavier than the last, matching the growing heaviness of his heart. And when he bound his son, the knots in the rope were probably nothing compared to the knot in his stomach as he laid his son on the altar.
Abraham is silent as father and son walk up Mt. Moriah together. Isaac breaks the silence, “Father, where is the lamb for sacrifice?” The answer must have cut Abraham like a knife. He answers, “The Lord will provide.”
And the Lord did provide!
Isaac is the sacrifice. He carries the wood for the sacrifice upon his shoulders. Silent. Innocent. Bound. Laid upon the altar. His father gives him a parting kiss (perhaps an extra kiss from Sarah). Abraham takes the knife and raises his hand to give the cut to Isaac’s throat, as he had done countless times to the lambs’ throats for sacrifice. One Bible commentary describes it this way: “Here is an act of faith and obedience which deserves to be a spectacle to God, angels and men. Abraham’s darling, Sarah’s laughter, the Church’s hope, the heir of promise, lies ready to bleed and die by his own father’s hand, who never shrinks at the doing of it.” (Matthew Henry Commentary on Genesis)
Until … until the Angel of the Lord calls out with a doubly urgent, “Abraham, Abraham.” “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looks up and there in a thicket he sees a ram caught by its horns. He goes over and takes the ram and sacrifices it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
As we begin our Lenten sermon series of seeing our Savior in the Old Testament, we see Jesus all over this text. He is the Angel of the Lord who announces, “You have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” This is the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament, the Son of God before He takes on human flesh and the divine name of Jesus in the New Testament. The Lord has provided a substitute. A ram caught in the thicket.
We can examine this account and marvel at the Abraham’s strong faith or Isaac’s humble obedience. But the main point of this account is to connect this text with Jesus. And Jesus is all over this text. We see Jesus who is the Angel of the Lord announcing, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”
We see Jesus in Isaac, the obedient son who humbly accepted being his father’s sacrifice. We see Jesus as the ram caught in the thicket as Isaac’s substitute.
But as we see Jesus in these verses, we also see ourselves. For if Jesus is going to become our substitute, our sacrifice, our Savior, then there must be something wrong with us that we need a substitute, and a sacrifice, and a Savior. That something wrong with us is simply called “sin.”
We can compare ourselves to Abraham and see how we have not been faithful like him. We question. We doubt. We talk back to God. We have difficulty traveling more than 15 minutes for worship. We could never travel three days for our Lord. We love the things God has given us too much – our home, our family, our possessions. We are unwilling to devote our time or energy or money or ourselves to God. When life becomes difficult and God asks us to endure more, we don’t surrender our will to our Lord. We object and fight back. We complain and cry out the whole way. We have failed to learn God’s promises in Bible study and worship so we fail to trust God’s promises when we are away from our Bibles and church.
We can compare ourselves to Isaac. Though he did nothing to warrant his death, we have. We all stand individually in Isaac’s place. We are dressed for the sacrifice in the poor clothing of our sins. We are bound by the ropes of our guilt and over our heads is poised the knife of God’s justice. Isaac did not deserve to die. We do. We deserve the wrath of God to fall upon us and take the life from us.
As we begin this solemn Lenten season, we may consider giving up certain things for Lent. But the things on our list are all superficial things – giving up coffee or beer, refraining from popcorn or chocolate. Lent isn’t about giving up the things that go into our bodies. Lent is more about giving up the things that come out of our bodies. Jesus said, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:15). Then Jesus goes on to list the things that come out of us – the things we should be giving up for Lent: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21-22).
We often consider our sins as doing the wrong thing or failing to do the right thing. Our problem goes much deeper than what we do wrong or fail to do right. Our problem is much more than what goes into or comes out of us. Our problem is what resides within us. It is sin. The sin that separates us from God. That won’t allow us to surrender our whole selves over to God. That causes us to fail to worship God, or refuses to dedicate our most important possessions to God, or recoils at the thought of sacrificing ourselves to God.
The sin that causes this text to be all about Jesus. And praise God! Jesus is all over this text! The Lord provides!
Once, when Martin Luther read this Bible story to his family, his wife Katie could not contain herself. She burst out, “I do not believe it.” She was incredulous that God could do something like that, ordering a man to kill his own son! Even though it turned out that Isaac did not die at Moriah, Katie thought this whole episode seemed pretty cruel on the Lord’s part. She said, “God would not have treated his son like that.” Luther simply told her, “But, Katie, he did.”
Indeed He did. God killed His own Son. At Calvary, two thousand years later, there was no one to shout “stop!” when Jesus was hung on the cross. The Lord was not going to call off this sacrifice. He was going to keep His promise, even at the cost of His own Son.
Just as we can see ourselves in Abraham and Isaac, we can especially see our heavenly Father in Abraham – for God went to Mt. Calvary to sacrifice His Son on the altar of the cross. We also see Jesus in Isaac. Jesus carried the wood of His own cross upon His shoulders to Mt. Calvary. He was innocent. He did nothing to deserve this death. He was silent – like a sheep before her shearers (Isaiah 53:7). He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on the altar of the cross (Philippians 2:8). As Isaac asked, “Father, where is the Lamb for sacrifice,” so Jesus asked, “Father, may this cup be taken from me,” (Matthew 26:39).
All of the promises were contained in Abraham’s beloved son. All of God’s promises were contained and fulfilled in God’s beloved Son. Jesus was killed at the hands of sinful men, but it was also the Father behind the scenes who allowed for the sacrifice of His Son.
I asked at the beginning of the sermon: “Can you imagine how Abraham’s heart ached as he was told to kill his son?” But can you imagine how God’s heart ached as He had planned to kill His Son from eternity?
We also see Jesus in this text when we pay close attention to where these events took place. Abraham and Isaac had traveled three days to get to Mt. Moriah to make the sacrifice. About a thousand years later, King Solomon built the Lord’s temple, the place of sacrifice, on top of Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1). A little over eight hundred years later, Jesus was crucified on Mt. Calvary, just outside the walls of Jerusalem and not far from this Temple Mound.
Isaac was his father’s beloved and his mother’s laughter. Jesus was the Father’s Delight, the Promised Seed, Immanuel and the One who saves. But Isaac stopped being a type of Christ when the Angel of the Lord intervened. Then the ram became the type of Christ. For the ram was sacrificed upon the altar of Mt. Moriah. His blood was shed. He died so that Isaac might be spared. And Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was sacrificed on Mt. Calvary. His blood running down the cross. He died so humanity might be spared. He died at the hands of God the Father, who never shrank from doing it. For God knew, as Abraham did, that His Son would come back to life from the nearby tomb.
The ram became Isaac’s substitute. Jesus became our substitute. That was our perfect Substitute on Calvary’s cross. He bled so we might be forgiven. He died so we might live. He cried out to God in agony so we might offer God our praises. He suffered the righteous anger of God so we might feel the awesome love of God. He became this world’s greatest sinner so we might be made God’s redeemed saints. He experienced the eternity of hell in His hours upon the cross so we might enjoy an eternity of glory in heaven.
But after doing that for you, notice also the last similarity between Jesus and Isaac – the one we haven’t yet mentioned. That both sacrifices took three days to complete, and after those three days, both walked away from their altars alive! Both walked away unbound and completely whole!
Now you see your Savior in the Old Testament. You see Jesus first in Isaac. Then in the ram. As our Substitute and Savior. So that all nations on earth are blessed. Amen.
Watch the video of Jesus and Isaac on YouTube. 

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