Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Death on the Mountain

Abraham trudged across the grassy plain approaching the mountain, his heart carrying a burden heavier than the pack on Isaac's back.  For three days, the words of the Lord had lingered in his mind to fuel his grief.  "Take your son...." he heard with every measured step.  "Your only son...."  His heart twinged.  "...and offer him there...."  He slowed his pace as the path began to slope upward.  He looked at Isaac walking beside him.  So young.  So healthy.  So much potential to fulfill the promises of God.  Why must he die?  Jewish tradition calls this account in Genesis 22 the Akidah, the Binding of Isaac.  Not the Offering of Isaac.  Nor the Sacrifice of Isaac.  But the Binding of Isaac, to stress the fact that his father bound himself to the covenant with God as he bound his son to the altar of sacrifice.  What a picture of God binding Himself to His covenant with us as He bound His Son to the altar at Calvary.

            Several years ago, a rabbi in Jerusalem reviewing the Akidah, discovered more than thirty points of comparison between the life of Isaac and that of Jesus.  At this Easter season, I would like to share only a few of these comparisons with you.  For instance, both of them were children of promise.  Although Abraham and Sarah were both advanced in age, God promised them not only a child, but a son!  Centuries later, God gave to Joseph of Nazareth the promise of a son as well (Matthew 1.20-21).  In both cases, God even named the sons for them.

            Furthermore, in both cases, the "son" was the only begotten son of his father.  Of course, we know Abraham had a son by Hagar, the handmaiden of Sarah; but in the context of His promise, the Lord refused to recognize Ishmael as a son of Abraham.  So, in the Akidah, He told Abraham to "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah." (Genesis 22.2)  The Hebrew word He uses for "only" means unique, the only one, one of a kind.  If we should still miss the significance of this, the Lord interprets it for us in the Book of Hebrews, where He says, "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." (Hebrews 11.17, italics mine)  The Greek word translated "only begotten" is the same one used of Jesus in John 3.16, where Jesus Himself said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...." (Italics mine).

            In the life of these special sons, a time came for them to be offered as a sacrifice, Isaac symbolically, Jesus for real, although for Isaac, it was just as real at the time.  Here, too, the similarities abound.  Both were offered by their fathers.  God had commanded Abraham to take his son, go to the land of Moriah, and "offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains." (Genesis 22.2)  For centuries, many have blamed the Jews for crucifying Jesus.  Some have even blamed the Romans.  They drove the spikes into His flesh.  But the truth is, He was offered on the altar of sacrifice for our sins by His Father.  Remember Jesus's words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...."?  The Father offered the Son.

            Without hesitation, Isaac set out for the mount of sacrifice in obedience to his father, though he may not have known why he was going.  Jesus, on the other hand, set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem (Luke 9.51) fully knowing why He was going there.  In the entire story of Isaac, there is no indication the lad even once resisted the leading of his father.  In fact, when the time came, he carried the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain himself (Genesis 22.6).  It was as if he carried his own sacrificial altar.  How many times have we seen dramatic portrayals of the crucifixion of Jesus and not seen Him carrying the cross, His sacrificial altar, up the mountain of His sacrifice?  John tells us, "They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of the Skull." (John 19.17)

When they reached the place of sacrifice, Abraham built the altar.  Isaac asked "Where is the lamb?"  Abraham told him God will provide Himself a lamb (cp. Genesis 22.8).  And He did!  Until the Lord directed Abraham's attention to the ram caught in the thicket, Isaac himself was the lamb.  After building the altar, Abraham arranged the wood upon it.  Then he bound his son, Isaac (the Akidah) and laid him on top of the altar.  But when he raised his hand, brandishing the knife with which to slay the sacrifice, the angel of the Lord stepped in to stay his hand.  When they came to Calvary, it was God who "arranged the wood" on the altar not man.  The Son did not ask where is the lamb?  But the Father answers.  God will provide Himself a lamb in this case, too.  It was God who bound His Son and laid Him upon the altar of sacrifice called the cross.  God who lifted up the cross.  And God who raised His hand to slay the sacrifice upon the altar.  But.....but.....there was no one to stay His hand....

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