The Best-Worst Day
v.2 & 13 God 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 of which I shall tell you."….And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Dear friends in Christ, it seemed as though life was finally getting back on track for Abraham. After so many years, he and Sarah had finally conceived and given birth to their own son, Isaac—their pride and joy. He filled their home with laughter and gladness. He was a strong, growing young man—and mother and father both doted on him. Sure, there had been hard times: he had had to send Hagar and his firstborn son, Ishmael away, at the direction of Sarah, and the command of the Lord. There had been some problems with the neighbours about the use of wells for their flocks and herds, but he had finally settled the matter with a covenant treaty with the local ruler. Indeed, all seemed to finally be going smoothly.
And then God 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 of which I shall tell you." Talk about your bad day! Now you and I might encounter frustrations with family and friends, work and neighbours, but I daresay none of us have ever been confronted with a direct command of our God to slay our own beloved child. Put to death the sin in our hearts and lives? Certainly! And that is often more difficult than we can manage. But to kill our own children? Those whom we love above all others? What kind of a God would demand such a thing? Certainly the ancient pagan gods did—Chemosh, Baal, etc. But Yahweh was supposed to be different!
What must have gone through Abraham's mind at these words of the Lord? "But, but, but YOU just gave him to us, Lord! He is just a boy. He is the long awaited son of the promise. How can you expect me to kill him? My dear boy?!" The writer to the Hebrews provides some insight for us here (11:17-19), "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back."
So Abraham had faith in God—trusted that even should he slay his son—God could and would raise him back to life again—because Isaac was indeed the son of the promise. However, Abraham still wisely did not mention this to Sarah as he went on his way. He got up early the next day, took two servants, along with Isaac, and departed. On the third day of their travel, they arrived. Leaving the servants behind, he and Isaac make the long trek up the mountain. The young lad himself bearing the wood for the sacrifice, while wondering where indeed was the sacrifice? Worship involved sacrifice. Isaac knew that—Abraham did too.
Even though Abraham believed in the promise of God that He could raise Isaac from the dead, yet how awful this must have been. To take his beloved son and, after building the altar and preparing the wood, binding Isaac and laying him gently upon the wood. Abraham, all the while trusting in the resurrection, still had to look his boy in his eyes as he held up the knife, preparing to bring it down in a swift cut designed to end his son's life by quickly spilling his blood. Abraham's hand shakes—tears stream from his eyes as he looks into the face of his dear child who is looking at him questioningly, not really understanding. Talk about the worst day of your life!
Did Abraham contemplate what had brought him here to this point? Was it for his many sins—his many transgressions—that God was commanding him to sacrifice his son? Abraham knew that sacrificial worship required blood. Abraham knew that sin could only be atoned for with blood sacrifice. Mistakenly thinking his own innocent son was to pay this price was almost too much to bear. Yet it is true—this is what sin costs, dear friends. Sin requires blood sacrifice—death. For the wages of sin is death…and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Sin has a terrible price. A price so high that we cannot ever fully pay it.
Into this tragically horrifying situation, enters the Word of the Lord. Just as Abraham is about to offer up his son in sacrifice, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and ordered him to stop! Abraham discovers that this was a time of testing of the Lord, and by grace, he had remained true to God's Word. What's more, God Himself provided a substitute for Isaac. There was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, which Abraham took and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. Sin was indeed atoned for—by the innocent sacrifice of another—provided by the Lord God Himself. Abraham's worst day had suddenly become the very best day! For his beloved son had been spared—been given life.
This is the day of which Jesus speaks in our Gospel reading, when He says to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." What day could Abraham possibly have seen of Jesus when Abraham lived thousands of years before Jesus was ever born? The day of Jesus that Abraham saw and rejoiced in was none other than the day that we have read about in our text. All of this dear friends, this entire story, points to the fact of how gracious and merciful our God is. He provided a substitute sacrifice for sin to save Isaac, and He has done so for each of us in Christ Jesus Himself. Indeed, Isaac pointed ahead to the future and greater sacrifice of God's own beloved Son.
Jesus, who before Abraham was, "I AM," is the very Word of God made flesh. He is even there in our O.T. reading this morning. He is the angel of the Lord who calls out to Abraham to cease from killing Isaac. He is the one who instead directed Abraham to offer up a ram in his son's place. This Jesus would act very much like Isaac did in our text. Jesus would bear the wood of His own sacrifice in the cross that He would bear up the mountain of Jerusalem to Golgotha—the place of the skull. The very place, in fact, where Abraham was set to slaughter Isaac so many years before.
Jesus, God's only begotten and beloved Son, would willingly go to the altar of the cross in order to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world—for yours and mine! Jesus chose to be caught up in man's own sin—to take it upon Himself—to suffer the shame and suffering that was our due—having a crown of thorns upon His innocent head—to have insults heaped upon Him—to be beaten and cursed—to have His hands and feet pierced with nails—His side penetrated by a spear—all out of love for you.
The very worst day for Jesus—the day on which He suffered the wrath of almighty God for the sins of the whole world—tasting death for each and every one of us—is the same day which is the very best for us. For we know that as Christ hung there upon the cross—He was paying for the sin of all people—shedding His innocent blood in full payment—so that we would never have to. That is why we call that day of great sacrifice Good Friday. On that awful day God acted in the best way to save His people from their sin.
Abraham knew this and rejoiced. He saw in God's actions toward him and his son, the final future act of God's salvation for all mankind, which would culminate with Jesus' own resurrection from the dead on the third day. You, beloved, see this day each week. Each Sunday is a mini-Easter, reminding us of the sacrifice and victory of Christ in the cross and resurrection. Though your sins are many and great—they have all been paid for by the blood of Jesus—He who willingly gave Himself up into death—shedding His blood—for you. The judgement against your sin has been meted out upon Christ in your place. Therefore, rejoice and be glad. This is the best day: The day in which you have heard proclaimed into your ears the One who bore your sin for you. The day on which you freely receive His body and blood in bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. The day in which you have been given eternal life and salvation through faith in Him alone. Truly, this is the very best day. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.