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The Sacrifice

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: Genesis 22:1-14

What was God thinking?

Isaac was the child of the promise,

The one giving Abraham descendants,

Who would become a great nation

And inherit a promised land,

Who would bring blessing

To all the families of the earth.

“Through Isaac your descendants

will be named,” God said.


Isaac was the key to the promise,

Abraham’s only son

Now that Ishmael was gone.

Abraham was over a hundred,

Sarah over ninety.

No more children in that womb.


And now God wanted Abraham

To sacrifice him.

A whole burnt offering,

With nothing left of Isaac

Or of the promise.


What was God thinking?

Jesus was the child of the promise,

The hope of the prophets,

The descendant of King David,

To deliver Israel from its enemies,

And establish God’s kingdom,

To cast down the proud

And lift up the lowly,

To give sight to the blind

And food to the hungry,

To bring peace on earth

And goodwill to all people.


Jesus was God’s last best hope,

God’s only Son.

“Unto you a Savior is born,”

Said the angels.

“You are the Messiah,”

Said Peter.

“You are the Son of God,”

Said Nathanael.

Even the demons knew who he was,

And trembled.


And now God wanted to sacrifice him

On the altar of Pilate’s tyranny,

Watching the dreams of the prophets,

And the disciples, and Mary,

Bleed to death, or suffocate

On a Roman cross.


Abraham’s son, his only son,

Himself carried the wood of the sacrifice

To an altar on Mt. Moriah.

Not far from the spot

Where Solomon would build the temple,

And future generations of Israelites

Would sacrifice bulls and sheep.


God’s son, his only Son,

Himself carried the wood of his sacrifice

To a hill called Golgotha,

Not far from Mt. Moriah.

Not far from the temple

Where Solomon offered bulls and sheep.


Abraham’s son, his only son,

Was bound and lifted onto an altar,

Stretched out on the wood,

Ready to be pierced

By Abraham’s knife.


God’s son, his only Son,

Was bound and lifted onto a cross,

Stretched out on the wood,

Ready to be pierced

By the soldiers’ nails.


At the last second an angel intervened,

Halting Abraham’s knife

In mid-air.

A voice from heaven cried,

“Abraham, Abraham,

Do not hurt the boy!”


But on that second altar,

No angel intervened,

No voice from heaven

Told them to stop.

The only voice came

From the victim:

“My God, my God,

Why have you forsaken me?”


In the end Abraham’s son

Was taken off the altar

And restored to his father,

A ram offered in his place.


In the end God’s son

Was taken off the cross

And laid in a tomb.

No one offered to take his place.


Now it is true that on the third day,

God’s Son was raised.

The tomb was emptied,

The wounds healed,

The disciples rejoiced,

And the story had a happy ending,

Just like for Isaac.


But what do we do with the suffering

That happened along the way?

What do we do with those agonizing steps

By which Abraham dragged himself

To Moriah, step by step,

Carrying the fire and the knife,

Watching his son carry the wood,

Getting closer and closer

Day after day,

Pausing only while his son said,

“Father, where’s the lamb

for the sacrifice?”


We are told this is a test?

But of what?  Abraham’s faith?

Abraham shows no sign of wavering,

Even when he gets to the spot,

Even as he builds the altar,

Stone by stone,

Even as he binds his son,

Lays him on the altar,

On top of the wood

And stretches out his hand,

And takes the knife,

And raises it to plunge into his Son.


There is no question that Abraham

Intends to obey.

The question is what God

Intends to do.

How far will God let this go?


This is not the last time Abraham’s children

Wondered about this.

When they were slaves in Egypt,

Pharaoh drowning their sons in the Nile,

Their cries rose up to God,

“How long, O Lord, will you let this go on?


And later when the Israel was defeated,

Slaughtered by Babylonians,

Homes destroyed, children killed,

People bound and taken away as slaves,

They too asked, “How long, O Lord?

How far will you let this go?

When will you intervene to save

The promises to your people?”


And what about that other Son,

God’s only Son?

What was it like for him,

Day after day,

Heading for Jerusalem,

Knowing what lies ahead?

What was it like for him,

Sitting at supper with his disciples,

Knowing it was his last?

Or praying in that garden

Waiting for his betrayer to show up?

What was it like being bound

And led away by the authorities

Knowing that his fate was sealed?

He never asked,

“Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’

He knew.


I know that both of these stories

Have a happy ending.

But along the way there is a depth

Of suffering, understood

Only by those who have been there.


And maybe that is the point,

Or at least part of it.

God does not ask of Abraham,

What God would not also do.

If Abraham was asked to sacrifice

His only son,

Then so was God.

And if you understand the Trinity,

If you believe that Father, Son, and Spirit

Are one,

Then the lamb for the sacrifice

Was God Himself.


The Bible never explains the suffering

We must go through

On the way to resurrection.

The Bible never offers an excuse

For God putting Abraham

Through that trial

Or Jesus through his.

The Bible never glosses over

The anguish of a parent for a child

Or of God for God’s children.


But one thing is clear:

God is not aloof from this anguish.

Where is God in these stories?

Lying on that altar,

Hanging on that cross.

God is the lamb for the sacrifice,

And far from destroying the promise,

The sacrifice fulfills it.


"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7