Thursday, 30 March 2017

Abraham's sacrifice and Jesus at the cross

In Genesis 22 we are given one of the most uncomfortable stories in scripture in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. While a reading of the story reveals that God may have never really intended Abraham to sacrifice this child (Child sacrifice is strictly forbidden throughout scripture), a careful reading should not leave anyone feeling altogether comfortable with this scene. And that is the point somewhat. Oftentimes we become far to comfortable with our walk with God and forget that what he might ask of us or call of us may lead us down a road which is quite uncomfortable. Furthermore, the saturation of the story of Jesus on the cross often numbs us to the reality that it is an incredibly uncomfortable scene as well.

The connections between Isaac and Jesus, once looked for, are numerous and meaningful. They are certainly not two stories that most people would put together, but they're connections which make for some good pondering. Also, it is a great example of how the covenant and promises God made to those in the Old Testament are consistent with those made through Jesus.

Question for group discussion: Everyone share a time in their life when your faith has forced you to do something uncomfortable? What is comfortable about your faith walk right now?

Here is only some of those connections;

1) Forced to carry the wood used for their own execution:

Jesus was famously forced to carry his cross from where he was whipped and beaten to the place where they crucified him. This was probably done by placing the cross-piece over Jesus shoulders with his arms stretched back and bound to the wood. In Genesis, Abraham placed the wood for the burnt sacrifice "on top of" his son Isaac. Isaac literally carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain to the place where Abraham intended to sacrifice his son. For both these scenes we see a willing sacrifice burdening itself on the way to their own death.

It's interesting to note here that Isaac would also have been bound to the wood once the altar was ready. This means that not only did they both carry the very thing they would die on, but they were also each bound to it by force.

Question for discussion: What does it mean to you for Jesus to be bound? What are you bound to in your life now? Is it negative or positive?

2) Son of miraculous birth:

Jesus was born to a virgin following the appearance of an angel to his mother, father and others. The story of Jesus' miraculous birth is one of the most famous in the world. Isaac was born to a man nearly a hundred years old and a woman about ninety. This fact, in and of itself, is proof in the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus.

But what lies behind the fact of these miraculous births is that God intervened in both of them in order to solidify a promise. Isaac was given to Abraham to show him that God intended to make Abraham the "father of many nations" and this his descendants would number "like the stars in the sky." This only reinforces the fact that for Abraham he was being asked not only to sacrifice his son, but also all his hopes and dreams for the future. Abraham was being asked to sacrifice the very promises of God. Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross many believed that this would be the end, the defeat of, the promised messiah of God. But more on this on point three.

Question for discussion: What is a promise from God that you're trusting in right now?

3) The lamb is always a substitute?

God gives Abraham a ram in place of his son Isaac. This is very meaningful to the old testament understanding of sacrifice and the temple. The new testament abounds with illustrations and allusions to Jesus as the acceptable sacrificial lamb. Jesus 'took the place' as the lamb. This was important to the temple-understanding that the Jews of the first century would have had, who believed that the sacrifice of the lamb on the day of atonement covered the sins for their nation. This is the great difference between Jesus and Isaac, that while Isaac was replaced by the lamb, Jesus became the willing sacrificial lamb himself, all the way to death.

Questions for discussion:

  • Everyone share something in your life that is precious to you. How would it make you feel to Give that up? 
  • With the stories of Abraham and Jesus in mind, what do you think these stories are trying to tell us about sacrificing what we have?

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