On Faith: A Painful Story

Attic After School starts up this week, so here’s the next installment of “On Faith” from Hebrews 11.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews 11:17-19

When I was in Seminary I had to translate Genesis 22:1-14 (God testing Abraham). Translation requires slow and careful attention to every word. It’s impossible to translate (for non-experts) quickly. The problem is that Genesis 22:1-14 is one of those stories you want to get to the end of quickly. You want to get to the part where God stops Abraham from killing Isaac and provides a ram for the offering. You do NOT want to dwell on what precedes that – God’s command to Abraham, Abraham and Isaac setting out, Isaac’s question; “the fire and the wood are here but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Isaac is bound. Abraham raises the knife… I winced every time I translated the words “son” and “father.” I believe the writer wanted this response. He wanted us to feel anxiety, pain, worry, even sickness in the pit of our stomachs.

I am, to this day, still blown away by Abraham’s response. He responded with a faith I will probably never fully grasp. He could have responded in so many different ways. He could have argued – “this is the son of the promise!” Yet, the only record we have is that he simply obeyed.

Somehow, Abraham held two (apparently) competing concepts in his head. First, he really did fear God enough to give his own son (Gen 22:12). Second, he was absolutely confident that God was true to his promise that Isaac would be the son of the promise. The text of Genesis makes this second point clear. Abraham told his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and we will come back to you.” And, in response to Isaac’s questions Abraham responds, “God himself will provide the lamb,” a phrase that prophetically echoes through the ages.

Hebrews 11:19 explains “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.”

I’m not sure how he worked it all out, but as Abraham held the knife over his son, his only son, he was both prepared to act and certain that he would be returning with Isaac down the mountain. Now that is incredible faith! I can think of no contemporary example or application but I’m not sure that I should. No other story is like it.

except one…

God the Father sent His Son, His one and only Son, the Son who he loved, into the world. There was no closer father/son relationship than this. And yet, both knew the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to be the perfect once-for-all sacrifice. Imagine the Father’s heart when his Son cried out in the garden, “please take this cup from me… but not my will, but yours be done.” Make no mistake, God did not force Jesus to go to the cross. The Son acted of his own accord. He laid down his life willingly – spurred on by the same motivations as the Father; the ultimate glory of God and love for the lost sheep. And yet, though they both acted willingly and in one accord this ought not cause us to think that the Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not really full of anguish. The Christ, fully God, fully man, experienced the full weight of the curse, of hell, as he took the guilt of our sin. He was crushed for our sake, and by his stripes we are healed.

God himself had provided the lamb for the offering, and it was His Son.

Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If God demonstrated His to us by giving us own Son, how much more will His love continue to work for our good? Indeed, Romans 8 continues “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Though he did not fully understand, this “love of God in Christ Jesus” was the object of Abraham’s faith. He reasoned that God Himself would provide the offering (which He did both with the ram in the thicket and in the once-for-all offering of His Son) and that God could raise the dead (which He did figuratively of Isaac and literally of Christ.) Because of Abraham’s faith, God credited to him as righteousness. Abraham only saw from a distance, but at this stage in history we see fully. And God now offers to us salvation through faith, faith in His promise, faith in His Son, and faith that He can, and did, raise the dead. And, like Abraham, this faith will be credited to us as righteousness because of the grace of God in Jesus.