February 27th, 2016

The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All” 

cross17“After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’. He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.'”

“So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you’. Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.”

“When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day. ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.'”

“The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.'” (Genesis 22:1-18)

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac describes Abraham’s greatest trial and his willingness to obey God’s word in all its mysterious harshness. The account presents the unfathomable will of God, whose ways are mysterious, yet whose final word is mercy and grace. It gave God’s people a model of complete obedience to God in times of testing, teaching them that God would always prove to be worthy of their trust. As the early Christians sought to understand the mystery of the cross, they found hints of God’s plan in this story of Israel’s patriarchs.

The test required that Isaac should be killed as a sacrifice. Worse still, Abraham himself was to put his son to death. Isaac was Abraham’s uniquely beloved son, the child of promise for whom Abraham and Sarah had waited interminably. He was the child on whom the future fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham depended. The test was severe, yet the response was superb.

Like Isaac, Jesus was his Father’s only beloved Son. At the foot of the mountain where the sacrifice was to take place, Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. The words remind Christian readers of the way Jesus went to the hill of Golgotha, according to John, ‘carrying the cross by himself’. Isaac, like Jesus, submitted willingly as he was bound and prepared for sacrifice. In a dramatic reversal of verse 6, where the wood was laid on top of Isaac, he himself was now laid on top of the wood. Jesus, the new sacrifice, was bound to the wood of the cross which he had carried to the place of sacrifice.

With split second timing as Abraham was about to slay his son, God’s angel called Abraham for a second time, decisively revoking the original command. Abraham had proven totally faithful and discovered that God is the Lord who provides. Abraham’s evasive reply to Isaac, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering’. God provided the ram at the exact time Abraham needed it, but God would provide for his people supremely in Christ. The Lamb God provides, the Lamb who is his Son, offers himself in sacrifice and takes away the sin of the world. God provided a substitute sacrifice so that Abraham and his son could go free and return home together with a renewed promise of blessings. The substitute sacrifice of the Lamb of God on Calvary gains our eternal freedom and offers us the promise of abundant life.

Tradition identifies Moriah, “the mount of the Lord”, as the temple mount in Jerusalem. Jesus became the new sacrifice and the new temple as he offered his life in Jerusalem. The threads of God’s plan woven throughout salvation history lead to the cross of Jesus.

Reflection

What is the most difficult thing you’ve ever been asked to do? Where did you get the strength to do it?

Prayer

God, you so loved the world that you gave your only Son for us. Thank you for redeeming me through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Help me to trust in your power to save me from eternal death.

Amen

 

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