Holy Week: Looking to the Lamb
There would be no Easter story if the Lord God hadn't first called men individually to walk with Him. His desire has always been that; even in the Garden of Eden, if not for Adam and Eve's sin of disobedience. And although the Bible doesn't convey what sort of relationship they maintained with the Lord for the remainder of their lives, we know that their story of paradise, failure, and the consequences they reaped were passed down to their children from generation to generation. Eventually, God found favor in such patriarchs like Enoch (who was taken up to God), Methuselah (the oldest man ever to live), Noah (through whom the Earth was repopulated), and Abraham.
God's Provisions are Sometimes Beyond Our Understanding
For God to make a point, and for our hearts to be tested and found true, He often will repeatedly withhold that which we think we need most, replacing it with something else. It may not be what we like in the short-term, but its benefits are nonetheless eventually part of a bigger picture. So, to understand the very reason for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we must first take a closer look at how the Lord provided for Abraham, the Father of the nations.
From Abram, to Father Abraham
Abram was a man who walked in the faith of his forefathers, and the Lord God sought him out to determine his pledge of faith. First, He kept Abram's wife Sarai from conceiving, yet declared they would indeed become parents. Frustrated at the years that kept passing without receiving that gift, they took matters into their own hands, and Abram entered into a second marriage with Sarai's maidservant Hagar and fathered Ishmael (Genesis 16). And, despite that rash decision and the ensuing turmoil they created - or perhaps because of recognizing their error - they still pursued a relationship with God.
The Lord acknowledged them yet again, this time providing them with new names and purposes, and calling them out of their old way of life to test their faith. Abram became Abraham, and Sarai, Sarah. Abraham would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17), and he along with all of the males in their household present and future would require circumcision. Already familiar with animal sacrifices for the remission of sins, this was a pledge of faith of a more personal nature. Then, God sent three angels to visit with Abraham and Sarah, who revealed the news that Sarah would finally conceive (Genesis 18). And while her pregnancy itself would have been cause for much happiness, Sarah's personal pledge of faith meant enduring the anguish of childbirth.
Hagar and Ishmael
God didn't leave out Hagar and Ishmael. Knowing Ishmael was not THE promised child, they fled from Sarah's contemptuous treatment, but the Lord caught up to them in the desert and provided for them, too (Genesis 21:8-20). This consolation may not have been much by today's standards, but for a woman who was a cast-off servant and left to parent a child alone in those days, it would have been scary and agonizing to imagine what their future would hold. Instead of perishing, they were cared for at the Lord's hand, and Ishmael went on to be the patriarch of the Ishmaelites.
Abraham's Living Sacrifice
Abraham had a final test of faith by the Lord, a truly difficult one! And maybe it was because he and Sarah doted on Isaac. Was the boy spoiled? Were their hearts distracted from walking as closely with God? It's not clear, but when we come to Genesis 22, the Lord approaches Abraham and comes right out with instructing him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering in Moriah (verse 2)! Also not clear is Abraham's words or thoughts in response - we only know he got up the next morning to do exactly what God asked!
This wasn't an immediate sacrifice to perform, and who knows what Abraham would have said to Isaac as they journeyed for three days up the mountain. They had plenty of time to change course, or for Abraham to find a new sacrifice. But instead they kept going, and you have to wonder if it was because Abraham knew the outcome or was prepared to suffer the loss of his son for the sake of his faith. Either way, we know he was faithful to God because he relays to his servants who were with them: "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." (verse 5)
Somehow he convinced Isaac to continue onward, despite the lack of an offering. And when he brandished a knife and bade the boy lie down on the altar to be bound, there was no struggle. No mention of emotion on either of their parts, either. Abraham merely swings the knife, and suddenly - an angel calls his name! His faith has proven true, and his fear of the Lord is rewarded through the offering of a ram instead (verses 11-13). Only then is it indicated that Abraham was so moved by that entire experience that he went on to name the place "The LORD Will Provide" (verse 14). The angel accordingly says on behalf of God: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore...through your offspring, all nations on Earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." (verse 17, 18) And sure enough, Isaac would one day father twin sons Esau and Jacob; the latter being the one who would later be renamed to Israel, and the patriarch of the Israelites.
Jesus is Our Living Sacrifice
We can look in awe at the progression of one man's faith affecting an entire culture of people whose identity comes from serving God. Because Abraham offered a "scape goat" who did nothing wrong, but was chosen to be slaughtered to glorify the Lord, Abraham's faith was proven true. He and his family would have known that one day there would be a sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of the world. Over time, that prophecy would become clearer, so that the true of heart would know that man to be Jesus Christ, whose life and death would affect us all.
Jesus, whose perfect faith in the Father meant sacrificing His life to draw all people closer to God.
Our sins once separated us from the Lord, but they were all washed away by Jesus' blood if we choose to believe He died for us. The Lord truly has provided once and for all and that is enough. When we can take hold of that faith, die to our selfish desires, and commit our lives to Christ every day, we can partake of the eternal future the Lord wants us to have. Happy Easter!