The Offering (Us?)

The “Christian life” can be summarized into just a few statements:

  • Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul - Luke 10:27
  • Love your neighbor as you love yourself - Matthew 12:31
  • Offer the members of your body to God to be used as instruments of righteousness - Romans 6:13
  • Present your bodies to Him as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. . . this is your spiritual service of worship.” - Romans 12:1
  • To abide in Christ (that is, to remain in Him)

To teach us about that, God has given us a story, the story of one man’s life so that we can learn and grow from His example. This morning I will try to tell you this story in a way that might help us learn and grow and to be challenged in our faith. And perhaps we will better understand what it means to offer our bodies in this way.

In Genesis 22 we can read about a scene in Abraham’s life when God tested him.

V:1. I want you to imagine this scene as we step into Abraham’s life.

We are traveling back thousands of years to a very distant time. Abraham was very wealthy and a influential man. He had large herds of sheep and goats and many servants to care for them. In fact, after he left home and began his wandering life it was a bit like a small town with perhaps as many as three or four hundred families that were part of his estate. But at this time, Abraham was very settled into his life.

I imagine that when we are first introduced to this story Abraham has been busy with the normal activity of daily life. It was evening, maybe an hour or so after dinner. The sun was getting low in the sky and Abraham is resting under a tree near his tent enjoying the soft breeze of the cool of the day. This is the same time of day when God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden before their sin. Abraham watches with deep satisfaction as Isaac, his beloved son, finishes a few final chores for the day. Life is good. Every day Abraham and Sarah rejoice in Isaac, the fulfillment of the promise of God. The miracle child was now grown into a young man. Truly he was, as God says, the son whom he loved.

Suddenly Abraham hears his name being called. It is God calling to him. They know each other by now. This is not the first time God has called to him. In Abraham’s life, God is a very welcomed visitor. Although it has been quite a while since he last heard this voice, there is no hesitation, just, “here I am Lord.” He is completely available, ready to hear the voice of His Lord.

Then the test begins. And Abraham hears the most shocking request of his life. It doesn’t make any sense at all. After years and years of waiting upon God to grant the son of promise, was he was now being asked to offer him as a human sacrifice, a burnt offering?? But there was no mistake. God was very clear and direct. “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac and go . . . offer him . . . as a burnt offering on the mountain of which I will tell you.”

 We are not told about the shock and confusion this old man of God experienced. We are not told of the weakness and trembling in his knees or of the sick feeling in his heart. We are not told of the agony or the inner turmoil of that lonely, sleepless night. But whatever happened in the deep places of his heart; it was his faith and confidence in God that prevailed.

The scripture, in verse 3, tells us with simple elegance, “He arose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, took two of his young men and Isaac, he split wood for the offering, arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

For two days and two nights Abraham moves onward with complete resolution, complete trust, complete obedience. On the third day, he looked and saw the place from a distance. He said to the two young men who were with him, “stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go and worship and return to you.”

This is so important for us to notice. Now, after all the time and all the preparation they were drawing near to the place of worship. The two young men were left behind. Only Abraham and Isaac would go and worship. The others would remain distant, unaware of what was soon to take place.

As they left the young men and the donkeys behind, Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering upon his son. And just as Jesus carried the wood upon which He would hang, so Isaac unknowingly carried the wood upon which he would be sacrificed. And the two of them walked.

We now come to a most difficult part of the journey. Isaac bears the wood, but the greater burden weighs upon Abraham. We are given some insight into the heavy heart of Abraham and his inner conflict when Isaac asks an innocent question, “Father, I see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” The full revelation of what God had said was still carefully guarded in the mind and heart of Abraham.

The answer to his son’s question is, I think, very revealing of the process of Abraham’s growth. He does not answer his son, “you are the burnt offering my son” but rather, he reveals the conclusion to which his steadfast faith has led him. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” This was not what God had told him. Rather, this was how Abraham’s faith had resolved the problem. Hebrews 11:19 reveals to us that Abraham, “considered that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead. . . “ This is extraordinary. Abraham didn’t have any examples of that to look back on. But he was faced with an impossible dilemma. Isaac was clearly the promised child through whom the world would be blessed. AND, Isaac was clearly to be offered as a sacrifice upon the altar. Rather than question God, rather than hesitate to obey, Abraham moved forward in faith and reached the conclusion that God was able to raise up his beloved son from the dead.

When they finally arrived, Abraham and Isaac built the altar. They found, carried the stones and arranged the wood to make a crude altar for the sacrifice. All the while, Abraham listening for the sound of a lamb. At every movement in the bushes, Abraham stops. But no lamb is found. As the altar is finished, the wood arranged, there is only one alternative. Abraham is now fully aware that he is going to have to plunge a knife into his son’s heart. God will have to raise him up from the dead. It was not until now that the full nature of the offering was finally revealed to Isaac. We will never know the conversation that took place between father and son. We can only imagine the tenderness between them. We can only imagine the feelings, the fear, the faith.

Alone, on the mountain, on a crude altar of stone and wood, Abraham and Isaac yield before their Creator in humble obedience.

The father ties Isaac’s hands and his feet and lays him on the wood. Bees flew around the flowers, the birds fluttered nearby, the heat of the sun pressed in around them and in the distance, out of sight, the young men who were left behind at the base of the mountain talked and rested as the donkeys ate grass; and all of them were unaware of the drama of faith taking place on the mountain.

Abraham, his heart beating, his breath shallow, his arms and hands trembling, his trust in God unwavering, finally stretches out his hand and raised the knife to kill his beloved son.

And then he hears it, “Abraham, Abraham!” and Abraham answered as he had four days ago, “Here I am.” Then God said, “Don’t do it Abraham!” “Don’t stretch your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me!”

However, as great an example of loving trust as this is, I want us to look away from Abraham and turn our attention onto Isaac. What did Isaac do? What was his role in this drama of worship?

At home, when his father called to him, he immediately obeyed by preparing to leave home. He had to leave his friends, his mother, all his personal things, all the animals and servants. . . . in order to obey, he had to leave all the comforts behind and walk with his father, two servants and the donkey out into the wilderness, not knowing where he was going.

When they reached the mountain, when his father told him, “ok, this is the place,” he then had to leave the servants and the donkey behind to walk up the mountain carrying the wood upon which he would soon lie.

Once the altar was completed, finally the time came and he was told to lie down on the altar. At this time, facing death from the hand of his father, he had to leave behind all his hopes, all his desires and dreams for the future. No one, not even his father could accompany him onto the altar. As he lay there, totally alone, he watched as his father raised up the knife that would plunge into his chest.

Our Heavenly Father, speaking to us through His servant, the great apostle Paul, urges us to follow in the footsteps of Isaac. He writes, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom. 12:1)

We, however, cannot see an altar. We are not called upon to actually lie down while a knife is plunged into our heart. God is calling us to make a living sacrifice. He is asking us, as Isaac did so many years ago, to release our hopes, our desires and dreams into His loving hands. He is asking us to leave behind our friends, and our families and to kneel before Him in the obedience of a spiritual worship.