The conflict of our sin and God's righteousness
Updated: Mar 25, 2018
“Grace, mercy and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”
22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Dear Friends in Christ:
What does a person do when it seems that there is clearly a conflict between God’s promise and God’s command? God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. God promised Abraham that through his son the Savior of the world would be born. Resolving the conflict between God’s promise and God’s command is God’s business. Abraham’s business was to put God first. Do what God says and watch for God to keep his promise … somehow, someway.
Trusting God’s promises while obeying God’s commands has never been our forte. We’ll take the promises and ignore the commands every time. We don’t know how to love God as we ought. As we listen to God’s Word today, we will learn that God expects a lot more from us than we are willing to give and that is why we are clearly sinners! Someone has to die for our sins because the wages of sin is death. So today, let us go to the mountain with Abraham and Isaac and see how God causes his promises and his commands to meet in perfect harmony. This historic mountain is very likely the mountain on which Solomon’s temple would later be built and the very piece of real estate that Christians, Muslims and Jews are still fighting over in Jerusalem today.
Conflicts Solved on the mountain
Earlier the LORD had told Abram by means of a vision: “I am your shield your very great reward (15:1).” Then God gave Abraham another promise: “My covenant (regarding the birth of the Messiah) I will establish with Isaac (Ge 17:21).” God had made a lot of promises to Abraham. Now God was giving Abraham a command to “test” him. This test was not for God’s benefit but for Abraham’s spiritual wellbeing! He loved his son – no doubt about it! But a love for a child dare never crowd the Lord out of our hearts! Abraham needed an opportunity clearly to put God first in his life. God would give Abraham that opportunity by presenting him with a conflict.
It is common for children to become a kind of idol in our hearts and lives. We are willing to make great sacrifices for them with our time and our financial resources because we want them to be happy and successful. We may not have time or money to invest in God and his work, but we always find the means to help the kids out – even when they are adults! Idolatry is placing other people or things ahead of God in our lives. Have you made an idol of your children?
We need to walk with Abraham to his mountain to resolve this conflict. It was probably by means of a vision that the Lord came to Abraham to give him a command to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah. One has to believe that Abraham didn’t get much sleep that evening after hearing the Lord say to him, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”
Abraham must have thought to himself: God does not delight in child sacrifice! Why would he ask me to do such a thing? So many questions must have raced through his mind. But notice that “early the next morning” Abraham made all the preparations for the 50-mile trip to the place the Lord had told him about. He set out – no explanation to his wife or to anyone – with his son, two servants and the supplies he would need for a whole burnt offering.
What a quiet journey! What conflict must be brewing in Abraham’s heart! When he finally spoke, this is what he said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” The book of Hebrews tells us, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ’It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death (He 11:17-19).” The conflict in Abraham’s heart was resolved when he realized that God cannot break a promise. For God’s promises and God’s command to both be true God would have to raise his son back to life again even after he had been totally consumed in sacrifice! So, he said with confidence, “We will come back to you!” That is faith – “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see! (He 11:1).
Abraham carried what he needed to make the sacrifice. Isaac carried what was necessary to be the sacrifice. “The two of them went on together.” Imagine the heavy heart with which Abraham answered his son’s question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham’s answer expresses as someone succinctly put it “considerate love” and “confident faith.” He said, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Oh! How the Lord provided! The “two of them went on together.”
When they reached the spot, Isaac does not complain as his father binds him to the wood for the sacrifice. In humble faith, he too must have come to the realization that his father had reached. Since this is God’s will, God will surely raise me to life again – our salvation depends on it. The promises of God depend on it!
“The Lord will provide” is a special name for God! Faith clings to that truth even when we don’t know how God will do it. So, Abraham drew the knife to slay his son. In his heart he had already sacrificed his son. The conflict in Abraham’s heart was resolved by faith in God’s promises!
The resolution to the conflict comes in the person of the Angel of the Lord. This is not a created angel but the preincarnate Christ himself! He prevented Abraham from slaying his son and said: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son!” The Lord himself appeared to Abraham on Mount Moriah and resolved the conflict by giving Abraham his son back again! God himself gave up his Son on the Mountain we call Calvary and then raised him up from the grave. Man’s greatest conflicts with God are caused by his sin. There is only one resolution to sin: someone has to die! Isaac is a type of Christ. This event prefigures the actual sacrifice our heavenly Father offered on the cross when he gave ups his only begotten Son.
We are told that there was a ram nearby that Abraham sacrificed as a whole burnt offering on the altar instead of his son. Abraham and Isaac were devoting themselves completely to the Lord who had appeared to them on that mountain top to strengthen their faith in God’s marvelous promises. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.” Devote yourself completely to the Lord in gratitude to the Lord who loved you enough to give his Son into death for your salvation.
The Angel of the LORD, the Lord Jesus himself, repeated God’s promise of a Savior to Abraham. The descendants of Abraham are described as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore! St. Paul says, “Abraham is the father of us all.” (Romans 4). You are a child of Abraham by faith in the same Savior in whom Abraham trusted. 500 years after Abraham another promise of the Lord would be fulfilled: “Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies.” It would remind them that God will also keep his promise to send the world a Savior. And so the promise is repeated: “through your offspring (the Messiah) all nations on earth will be blessed because you obeyed me.” Faithfulness takes God at his Word and trusts God to resolve the conflicts that arise in our hearts.
During this season of Lent, the conflict of our sin and God’s righteousness will clash on another mountain we call Calvary. The ultimate sacrifice was made to resolve all conflicts between God and man. Now our sins are forgiven! God announced it loud and clear by raising Christ from the grave! Conflict resolved … on the mountain of Calvary!