By Jimmy McCarty
Continued from Sacrifice for the Sake of Others
I try to imagine poor Isaac trudging up the hill with the wood across his back. His aged father cautiously hiking beside him, unusually quiet and reserved. The tension thick and unnaturally awkward. Surely there is a sacrifice. Why else would they be going to the mountain? Better to ask
Isaac and his father began to build the altar. A base of stones covered by the wood carried across Isaac’s own shoulders. As the last piece of wood was laid and Isaac stepped back from the altar he looked for the next directive from his father. Abraham looked strangely as Isaac, a sad, fearful look in his eyes. He called his son over, took the string and began to bind his arms and legs.
“What?!” flew through Isaac’s head. Something did not compute so initially he did not struggle. Was his father serious? There had to be some other explanation. As his father laid him down upon the altar, there just didn’t seem to be any error in Isaac’s understanding, he was about to become the sacrifice. God HAD provided, but why him? He trusted his father, but lacked comprehension.
Did Isaac know about God’s promise? Did Abraham and Sarah tell him as he went to bed every night the legacy – nay the destiny he was to fulfill? Did Isaac consider it a matter of honor to play this critical part in history? He was the miracle child. God had providedHe had provided him!
As Abraham drew the knife, a thousand thoughts fly through Isaac’s head but he still does not struggle. He does not resist because he has no reason to doubt his father. Even in the act of ultimate betrayal, there is something right about his father’s attitude. Despite the sadness and the fear, there is a belief that God will provide. Even if God’s provision – the only visible provision available: Isaac himself it to be the sacrifice, God will redeem. Was Isaac ready to join his father to give that up?
The knife is raised, the point of no return almost reached. I wonder how long the knife was held in the air. What second guessing took place, what of a thousand questions lay unanswered in Abraham’s mind and heart? God would provide, wouldn’t He?
It is said that in the garden that night, Jesus prayed so passionately that He literally sweat drops of blood. I have heard the medical explanation of this phenomenon that it is a point almost to death when the body reacts in this way. It is painful and reflective of the anguish likely being experienced emotionally and spiritually. If there were any doubt that Jesus was serious about His request to forego the agonizing death on the cross, His physical reaction should be enough.
Not only was the Father making a sacrifice, His son, the son whom He loved, was pleading to the point of death for Him to reverse His decision. Wouldn’t God have chosen anyone else if it were possible? Why did it have to be Christ? The truth is, no one else could have played that role – not just because of who Jesus was, but because of the relationship they shared.
At God’s final word (and I can imagine this being a gut-wrenching anguish) Christ was taken that night by the soldiers. How much more painful was it to keep the angels on alert – to keep the “out” available, for it had to be a true sacrifice, a true divorcing from his deific power to be a legitimate substitute. He was led through the ridiculous formalities of a “trial” and condemned to death. Every step of the way, Christ walked in quiet confidence in His father. There was no “out,” there was no redemption. God had provided, He had provided Him.
Sometimes we think of this as God looking down from his “big picture” vantage point and quietly comforting those alarmed, patting their arms and assuring them everything is going to be okay. The truth is, I believe God’s heart was broken that night. This sacrifice wasn’t easy! This was His son!! Don’t tell me He didn’t weep, don’t tell me He didn’t scream, don’t tell me He casually waited until the resurrection. That moment was agony. The turning of His back on His only son ripped His heart out. For eternity, perfect unity was shared, and now it was gone.
We naively think that our sacrifices are isolated. We think God can only possibly be teaching us something through the process. We forget that faith, trust and dependence go both ways and that God’s redemptive process can reach a broader audience than just ourselves. We have one obligation and one obligation alone: obedience. Regardless of Isaac, Abraham had to be obedient. Though it cost him everything, his directive was simple.
Could it not be in God’s perfect will to bring others alongside us to teach us sacrifice? We trust God to provide but not to protect those we love? Abraham didn’t have a corner on the God-market. Isn’t it possible that moment changed Isaac’s life forever? Isn’t it true Isaac saw faith exhibited in its purest form? Didn’t Isaac see God provide – and didn’t that afford him an unbelievable amount of gratitude?
The purpose of sacrifice has really only one objective: to move me in a position to trust and love God more. It’s almost insultingly simplistic but it is the truth.
Jimmy McCarty received a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and a Master’s in Theological Studies from Bethel Theological Seminary. He is a native Floridian and is currently traveling around the world for eleven months. He is an avid student of leadership and missions and hopes to incorporate both into his future.