Chapter 8: The Promised Sacrifice
In case someone might think that I am making things up as I go along, let’s look at another Old Testament story from Genesis. We believe that the New Testament cannot be fully understood without some understanding of the context in which events recorded there took place. The context was a nation that sprang forth from Abraham, whose faith gave him the privilege of being called the Friend of God.
Even before Abraham the Good News from God stated that the evil one who deceived the whole world would be defeated by one who would descend from Eve. (Genesis 3:14-15). Later Abraham set the pattern for all who would follow God by acting on his faith in God’s Word, His promises. His promise to Abraham and Sarah was not only for a son in their old age, but through that son his descendants that would number as many as the sands of the seashore and the stars of heaven that cannot even be counted! Not only that, but these descendants would bring forth one particular “seed” through which all the families of the earth would be blessed! (Galatians 3:8-9,16). This is part of that “Impossible Dream” that I wrote about in the last chapter. And yes, this is also part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Kingdom to be announced 2,000 years later.
When Abraham set out with his wife to find the home God had planned for him, his faith was expressed. But after his son came into the world, his faith would be tested. In this test, we can look back and see another glimpse of what would come to be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
In Abraham’s day there were no church services to attend, no preaching to listen to or hymns to sing. His primary act of worship was to leave his home and migrate to another land, a land that his descendants would later possess. His faith, his trust in His God was already shown to be real by the great risks he had taken so far. While so many were migrating to the fertile lands of Mesopotamia, this man and his family were leaving their security and journeying into the unknown. This theme of a quest, or a journey into unknown territory would appear again and again in both the old and new testaments, and in the entire history of the church of Jesus Christ.
When the promised son finally came to Abraham and Sarah, he would face his greatest test. Would his faith sustain him?
The God who led Abraham out from his home to become a tent dweller in Canaan and gave him the son that was promised, was now asking him to give that son up as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Abraham took his son and before they went up the mountain, he told his servants that both of them would later return. Did he really believe that, or did he mislead the servants? In the New Testament Abraham was seen as a model of great faith. Perhaps he still believed in God’s promise to make a great nation from Isaac. In order to fulfill it maybe he hoped God would raise him from the dead even after offering him. (Hebrews 11:17-19). In another place he made an even greater confession of faith that would not be fully understood for 2,000 years. When Isaac asked his father about the animal that they needed for the sacrifice, he gave us another one of those statements in the Old Testament concerning Jesus! He answered: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” (Genesis 22:8).
The death of Isaac was not God’s plan all along, but a test of Abraham’s faith. In the story God intervened and did provide a ram that had his horns caught in a bush. He did provide an immediate sacrifice for Abraham but there is an even higher, deeper, prophetic meaning to his words. 2,000 years into the future God who through His great love for the world would offer His only son Jesus to atone for all of our sins. Through belief in Him we can now have everlasting life! (John 3:16, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 Timothy 2:1-6) Allow me to go even further out on a limb with this declaration. God did not only provide a sacrifice, but He provided Himself as a sacrifice! Is this a play on words or did God actually surrender Himself on the Cross for the sins of the whole world?
If you believe that there is only One God who is revealed and personified as the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, you might be able to see that He is so at one with Jesus that He suffered with the Incarnate Son, the one Who is fully Human and fully divine — the Great I AM! (John 8:58, 10:30, 14:8-11, 17:5).
So God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting our trespasses against us! (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) This great cosmic and catastrophic event paved the way for the very promise which Abraham received from God, that his descendants would be impossible to count! Through Jesus the wall of separation between Jews and gentiles would be brought down and all of us can become a part of that great family! How? By faith and trust in His righteousness and not our own! (Ephesians 2:12-22). (6 minutes)
God does have a plan for the ages! Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Christians at Ephesis:
8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
God had been preparing the world for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah from the very beginning. Even Abraham had a glimpse of Him! (John 8:56) Later, when his descendants found themselves enslaved in Egypt, they had a preview of Jesus in their deliverer, Moses. Amidst all of the miracles and astonishing events that God performed through Moses, He also demonstrated the manner in which an innocent lamb would protect them from the curse of sin and death. Only those who sacrificed a flawless lamb, consumed its nourishment and applied its blood to their dwelling would be spared the plague of death that took the firstborn of all Egypt.
From that time on, Israel would look back on that day every year without realizing they were also looking ahead to the day when God would offer His son not only for their sins, but for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2). Every sacrifice and offering they brought would remind them of their weaknesses and dependence upon God and point to the time when God would more fully take up residence in them to live His righteous and holy life in them! In Christ we are made one and complete in Him! He identified with us in our weaknesses so that we can identify with Him in His victory over sin and death!
2 Corinthians 5:21:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 8:9:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
All of this takes us back again to the original blessing in Genesis 1:26-28:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
God is still in the process of making mankind into His image. He is determined to fill the earth with His sons and daughters, in order that Jesus would become the firstborn in this great family of God! (Romans 8:28-29) Jesus died on the cross to deliver us from the curse, and also that God’s eternal purpose could be fulfilled in us! Then He sent His disciples out into the world with the Gospel, teaching all the nations His Kingdom principles of faith, hope and love. This was the time to be fruitful and to multiply in a greater and higher order!
While some would postpone this purpose until the afterlife, I find great inspiration in knowing that it can be fulfilled in space and time!
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
So let us not diminish the great sacrifice of our Lord, the spotless Lamb of God. Let us wholeheartedly, as did our spiritual ancestors, anticipate the fullness of what God desires for His creation! Let us honor and cherish His great act of love for us that cannot fail to bring about His plan for His glory!