The prepared text of this morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church is below. Given the current national debate about abortion and infanticide, this message distinguishing child sacrifice and the sacrifice of Isaac is a timely one. The sermon audio from this morning, which is better spoken than I even wrote it, is available at this link. Next Sunday I plan to preach on Genesis 23 where we read about the burial of Sarah. My commentary on this section of Genesis is available at this link.
One of the most abhorrent religious practices of the Canaanites was the sacrifice of children. The Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice was Molech. There are strong condemnations of it in Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2-5. The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the leaders of Israel and Judah and the people of Jerusalem later “built the high places of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I [God says] did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” (Jeremiah 32:35). They profaned the name of YHWH. The modern equivalent to this ancient religious practice is abortion. It has been pointed out that abortion is a demonic parody of the Lord’s Supper. It profanes the holy words of the sacrament, “this is my body,” by using them with the opposite meaning. Indeed, abortion is child sacrifice to the demonic on the altar of convenience, career, and choice. It is an abomination. But for those who are cut to the heart realizing that they have done the unthinkable—sacrificing a helpless innocent baby—the good news is that it is not unforgivable. Jesus explained to the Apostles that the sum of the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures is: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47). Our passage is a case-in-point. It points us to all of these things. But given what we’ve said about child sacrifice, what God asked Abraham to do in this passage should come as quite a shock. Hear the Good News of the Gospel:
- This story of the sacrifice of Isaac isn’t actually a story about child sacrifice, it is about the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
- Abraham didn’t take his son, his only son, up on that mountain for selfish or evil reasons. To the contrary, like the Christ to whom he points he was being selfless and obedient to God. The sacrifice of Isaac was an act of self-sacrifice on the part of Abraham. He was a hundred year-old man when Isaac was born. This was his son and only heir. It was only through Isaac that God’s promises to Abraham would be fulfilled. God was testing Abraham and, unlike Adam, Abraham passed the test. Perhaps the reason the story is so confusing to us is that Abraham and Isaac together are a type of Christ in it and that Abraham also acts as a type of God the Father in this passage. After all, God the Father would one day offer up His only begotten Son, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Thus in this story God repeatedly calls Isaac, “your only son.” This is a rather striking phrase considering how the previous chapter talks about Abraham’s son by Hagar the Egpytian. Nevertheless, in this story Isaac is his only son—even his beloved son, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love….” And God told Abraham to take Isaac to the land of Moriah and to offer his son as a burnt offering on one of the mountains there. What you need to understand is that Abraham would go up on the very same mountain to sacrifice Isaac where King Solomon would one day build the Temple in the city of Jerusalem. They arrived there on the third day—the day of resurrection—and listen again to these words of faith: Abraham says, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you” (Gen 22:5). The verb translated “come again” is first person plural – “we.” It is often translated as return. He’s saying, “We will both return to you.” I was reading through Genesis a couple weeks ago and when I came to this verse I recognized for the first time that these were words of a deep faith. Abraham believed this to be true. He knew that God had said to go to this mountain to sacrifice his son but he believed that the two of them would return to the young men waiting with the donkey. And here’s Isaac who is carrying the wood for his own sacrifice like Christ would one day carry his own wood cross and Isaac begins to realize that things don’t quite add up—they have the fire and the wood but they don’t have the lamb for a burnt offering—and Abraham again says in faith, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And Isaac also believed him. The author of Hebrews in the New Testament 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 (Heb 11:17-19). As we read, the angel of YHWH stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son and Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket and he took this ram, also a type of Christ, and “offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Gen 22:13). And then, because of Abraham’s obedience of not withholding his son, his only son, God says, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:16-18). We’re meant to understand Abraham’s obedience as his being a type of Christ whose obedience, especially His obedience in going to the cross, secured the blessings for us and ensured the defeat of His enemies including death itself. And we’re meant to realize that the offspring of whom God is ultimately referring in these lines is that same Christ. It is in Him that all the nations of the earth are to be blessed. Even the angel of YHWH who told Abraham to stop was the pre-incarnate Christ who would one day take up His cross and on the third day rise from the dead.
- This is a story teaching the gospel “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47). That’s why they were on that particular mountain. That’s why God calls Isaac, your only son whom you love. That’s why Christ stopped Abraham from slaughtering his son, Isaac, and the ram was sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Christ Himself would do it. He would be offered up for our sins. That’s why Abraham obeyed. He pointed to Christ who would do it. That’s why they arrived there on the third day and Abraham expected to return with his resurrected son. That’s why God speaks of the blessing of Abraham going to the nations and his seed possessing the gate of His enemies. This story shows us why repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in Jesus’ name. This isn’t a story primarily about us. It is about God the Father and His only begotten Son, His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. We show up in it in the sense that like Isaac, the ram who points to Jesus would be offered up in our place and Jesus’ sacrifice would be applied to us by faith just as it was to Abraham and Isaac.
- There is one other place that we show up in this chapter—that’s in the genealogy that highlights the woman named Rebekah who would be the bride of Isaac and thus is a type of the church.
- I didn’t read those last few verses of the chapter, but you may recall when I preached on the story of Abraham’s servant finding Rebekah to be the wife of Issac. Rebekah was renowned for her beauty and purity. Right now we don’t feel very pretty. We still sin. But when God looks at Christ’s church, He sees a beautiful and pure bride because Jesus died for her.
- We are not our own—we were bought with a price—so Paul says, “Glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). We no longer say, “This is my body.” We no longer say that we should be able to do with our bodies what we want to do with our bodies. We belong to God and His Christ who calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him. We offer ourselves up as living sacrifices. Therefore, we go to the high places of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom where people offer up their sons and daughters to Molech and we offer alternatives to abortion, we offer to adopt the child that survives one rather than let it die of neglect, and we share the good news of forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name with all those who have worshiped at the shrines of Molech. The gospel we have to share isn’t a story of child sacrifice that some sadly today believe is good news—it’s the story of the Son of God’s sacrifice for sinners. Thanks be to God. Amen.