In Genesis 22:1-18, Abraham is tested by God. In Mark 1:9-15, Jesus is tempted by Satan. Note the difference between the “testing” in Genesis and the “tempting” of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. God “tests” Abraham, but Satan “tempts” Jesus; as St. James notes, God doesn’t tempt us (James 1:12-18).
So, God tells Abraham to take his only-begotten son Isaac and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. This is the location where Solomon later built the temple.
Now, Isaac was actually not the only son of Abraham, but he was the son of the promise. Long before, God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son and that the promise of salvation would continue through this son. The promise of the coming seed of a woman who would redeem the world, first promised to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:15), would continue through the son that Abraham and Sarah would have.
Yet, Abraham and Sarah became impatient with God’s promises. They were getting older and older and yet still did not have any children, much less a son. So, they sought to “help out” God by taking matters into their own hands. Sarah told Abraham to have a child with her servant Hagar, which he did, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Yet, Ishmael wasn’t the son of the promise; he was the result of human effort and human will, not the result of God’s will and effort. Human works could not achieve what God has promised, only God’s grace could do that.
So, finally, after a very long time, God gave Abraham and Sarah the son of the promise. Sarah gave birth to Isaac in her old age, and God reconfirmed His promise that through Isaac the promise of salvation, of the coming Christ, would continue.
And yet it’s this Isaac, the long-promised heir of Abraham, that God tells Abraham to kill on the mountain. And Abraham intends to do it. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews talks about Abraham’s faith in God. He says:
“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” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The point is that Abraham believed that God could and would fulfill the promises that He had made to him and Isaac no matter what, and that death would not get in the way, because death never gets in the way of God’s plans.
So, as Abraham is leading Isaac up to the mountain in Genesis 22, Isaac notices that something’s odd. They have the fire and the wood for the offering, but no lamb, so Isaac says something to his father about it. I wonder if Isaac realized what was going on at this point? Abraham replies, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
It’s interesting to think about Abraham’s reply here. Was it meant as just a comfort to Isaac to hide what Abraham was about to do? Or, was it really a statement on faith on Abraham’s part that God would provide a lamb to take Isaac’s place? Or, was it a prophetic statement on Abraham’s part, given him by God himself, perhaps with Abraham not fully realizing the full truth of what he was saying? Or, maybe a bit of all three.
Because, indeed, God did provide the lamb. As Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, his long-promised only-begotten son with Sarah, the “angel of the LORD” called out and told him to stop. Throughout the Old Testament, “the angel of the LORD” is the Lord Himself who comes to visit his people. He’s the pre-incarnate Christ. He had visited Abraham previously to promise that Abraham would have his own son with Sarah. He would later visit Moses in the burning bush. He would visit Joshua at Jericho to lead his people into victory in the promised land. The “angel of the Lord” was with His people in the Old Testament, just as He is with us in the New, except we know him better now, because he’s revealed more of Himself to us, as our Lord who comes in the flesh.
So, the Lord tells Abraham to stop, and then in the thicket there is a ram, a male lamb, whom the Lord provides for the sacrifice in the place of Isaac. The Lord has provided for himself the lamb for the sacrifice. The Lamb takes the place of Abraham’s son and dies for him. Then, the Lord promises that in Abraham’s “offspring” shall all the world be blessed.
St. Paul connects this promise of the “offspring” to Christ in Galatians 3:16, because Christ, as Abraham’s descendent – his “offspring” according to the flesh – is the one in whom all the nations are blessed and in whom sinful people are saved through faith in him.
And why? Because Christ is the only-begotten Son of God who stands in our place. This was prefigured in the case of Abraham and Isaac where the lamb provided by the Lord took Isaac’s place and bore the knife for him. The lamb took the place of Abraham’s son to point towards the Son of God who would take your place. For this is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who took up the cross on your behalf, enduring the punishment and suffering and estrangement from God that our sins deserve. Indeed, the Lord has provided for himself the lamb for the offering of sacrifice. The Lord took your place.
We see this also in Mark’s Gospel where Christ is baptized for you (Mark 1:9-15). He has no need to be baptized, but he did it for you. He did it so that when you are baptized, you also hear from God that you are His beloved child, and that you are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, because he has fulfilled all righteousness on your behalf through his death and resurrection.
We also see this in Christ’s temptations. He underwent the temptation of Satan in the desert to defeat Satan. Adam and Eve fell when they were tempted by Satan, but Jesus Christ is victorious. He did this for you so that you would no longer be enslaved to Satan, so that after Christ’s death and resurrection you share in this victory. He did this so that when you are tempted, Christ is there with you, along with the angels who minister to you to help you through it.
Truly, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Christ came to bring the reign of God into this fallen world. In the midst of sin, temptation, suffering, and death, Christ comes to bring righteousness, victory, peace, and life. He stood in our place as the sacrifice for our sins and as the recipient of God’s judgement on our sins. He also stood in our place to conquer Satan and to bring us out of our captivity to sin, death, and the devil and to make us God’s children instead. He defeated Satan in his temptations, and he vanquished him in his rising from the dead.
So, you are God’s child, precisely because Christ has made you His child by standing in your place. He was baptized for you and sealed this baptism with his own death and resurrection. So, in your baptisms you die and rise. Your old self, born in the fallen image of Adam, dies. And out of that death comes a new life; God re-births you into the image of Christ so that you may live forever with him, since you’re now family and freed from an eternal hold of sin, death, and the devil.
And all of the Old Testament pointed to what Christ would do for you. Again, this is seen very vividly in the text from Genesis 22. Abraham takes his long-promised son to Mount Moriah, the future site of the temple, to sacrifice him. But, in his son’s place, God sends a lamb for the sacrifice. This is pointing to Christ’s work on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice for sin, where God’s only-begotten, long-promised Son was sacrificed in your place.
And, there were other things up there on the cross with Jesus Christ. Along with his body were your sins. All your failings as people, all your faults, all your sins were up there, being killed along with Christ.
St. Paul summed this all up very nicely in his letter to the Colossians where he said:
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:8-15).
Christ died for your sins, canceling their hold over you, and then rose from the dead to cancel death and Satan’s hold over you. He did what you could not and credits you with what he did for you. Human works and efforts could not achieve salvation, only God’s grace can do this, and you have this grace freely through Christ.
So, you are now alive in Christ, baptized into God’s triune name, and a child of God. You’re free from Satan’s hold, don’t let him drag you back, don’t let him bring you down into the muck, don’t let him trick you into trying to rely on your own works or merits to be saved. He’s a loser, he’s already been defeated, and you already have the victory, because Christ died and rose in your place and won it for you. The Lord has indeed provided the lamb for the sacrifice, Jesus Christ, and this lamb is all you need. Amen.
(Picture by Andreas Schwarzkopf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALamm_8432.jpg)