By Jimmy McCarty
I try to imagine God the Father’s face the day His son was baptized. While an eternity was passing and 30 years on earth had gone by, this defining moment was all of God’s glory shown in a moment. The Father looked down, swelling with pride and releasing the Holy Spirit in dove form to join the exhibition of all the unity and intimacy shared by the Godhead. This day was special, this daythe Father was beaming.
Maybe it was this event that made what happened three years later that much more horrific. Those who remembered heard the heavenly voice proclaim “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.” Yet, maybe for the first time in eternity, God the Father turned His back on His son. A separation occurred as Jesus, in excruciating pain – who had pleaded not a few hours ago to be spared this process, died not just a physical pain, but a separation from God the Father.
Abraham knew Isaac was the fulfillment of the promise. Not only had he and Sarah experienced a miracle birth in their old age, but time and time again, Yahweh, the patience of whom is unparalleled, confirmed and reiterated that it was to be Isaac. Not Ishmael, not some other redemptionIsaac. People have argued that God never intended to go back on this promise and actually kill Isaac, but whatever God’s intentions, Abraham still trusted.
I can imagine the tears in his eyes. Tears of an old, quiet resignation walking up the mountain of sacrifice with his confused son. “Where is the lamb?” Isaac asked. “God will provide,” was the only response Abraham could muster. God would provide.
Maybe it’s my personal viewpoint, but I’ve always considered the narrative in the Gospels of the rich young ruler to be a display of ultimate immaturity. How many of us would truly give up eternal life for a few (or in his case, many) material possessions? I mean, is delayed gratification so distasteful that it is not worth my eternal wellbeing? The truth is, I think while some of us would struggle with the surrendering of a livelihood, of comfort or even of luxury, it is when my sacrifice affects another that it reaches a new level.
What happens when God demands not something, but someone from me? God’s command to “sell everything and follow Christ” is easier somehow than “anyone who would follow me must hate his father, mother, sister and brother.” A family, a friend, a lover, a child. What happens when others get caught in the crossfire of my sacrifice? Abraham was the first to realize that Isaac was never the issue: God wanted Abraham’s heart. The testing of Abraham’s faith put Isaac bound and on an altar.
It’s not fair. By nature, the people most important to us are those we have the deepest desire to protect. Why should another hurt because of my stinginess with my allegiance, faith or trust in God? Why should my pain bleed over into another’s journey – they didn’t ask for it, volunteer for it or really even deserve it. There was no justice in Christ dying on the cross – He was sinless and innocent. Isaac would have died a martyr’s death, an innocent bystander in God’s grand scheme – and Abraham knew it.
What is our response to God’s request of sacrifice? Do we protect those around us as much and as long as possible? Do we bring them into our pain and let them decide whether to join the process or not? Do we sever ties, break bonds or alienate ourselves until the sacrifice is complete?
Isaac was spared, Christ was not. What if our sacrifice hurts them more than it hurts us? What kind of God would act this way?
Continued in Sacrifice for the Sake of Others, Pt. 2
If you liked this article, check out: Sacrificing Justice
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.