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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

What Does it Cost to Follow Jesus?

Human Sacrifice

Judica, the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2024

Genesis 22:1-14

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from the book of Genesis in the twenty-second chapter with special emphasis on verses nine through thirteen which read as follows:

 

“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”[1]

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                Can I be honest for a moment? This passage is one that I do not like. I mean, there are a lot of things in it that are likable, and the story certainly turns out all right in the end. I think that the reason I do not like it has more to do with what it makes me realize about myself. Let me explain.

                This passage sees Almighty God command Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in a test of his faith. And no matter how much a pastor or theologian might dance around this fact, it stands, glaring in its presence. Even if I point out that Abraham was a man of faith and knew that a promised son of his line would be given into death for the sins of the world, this fact still stands. Even if we understand that Abraham seems to have gotten his wires crossed concerning the promise given to Eve about the coming Messiah with the promise given to him about his son of the promise, Isaac, the fact of this imposes itself as a cruel and unflinching reality.  Even if I quote from Hebrews[2] that Abraham did this because he had faith in God that Isaac would be raised again in order to fulfill what God had promised him, this still seems stark and hard.

                In other words, no matter how I might find reasons or explanations to soften the blow of this passage, the fact remains that God asked Abraham to give up His son. More than that, God asked Abraham to kill his son. This is why I do not like this passage. I do not like what God said here to our Father Abraham.

Even more, I do not like what it reveals about me. God demands that we be willing to give up anything and everything to follow Him. For example, Jesus commands a rich young ruler to give up his possessions. This, Jesus says, is the only thing he lacks for eternal life. The man goes away from this encounter grieving because he finds himself unable to part with all of his things.[3] In another place, Jesus says plainly that his followers are expected to give up even mothers and fathers and even their children in order to follow Him![4] This is all to say that a basic and consistent teaching of our Lord Jesus is that everything, and He certainly means everything, should be given up if it gets in the way of following Him.

And this is exactly why I do not like the story of Abraham. He is willing, quite literally, to give up his son, his only son, Isaac, in order to follow God and do His will. When I look at myself, I find that I would not even come close to that. Much like the rich young ruler, I am unable to do this thing and am very glad that my Lord has not asked this of me. I am weak. I love things in this life. And since I am being honest, there are things far less important than my children that I would not be able to part with in order to follow God. I am no patriarch, no saint. I am a sinful man. And I am unable to do what my Lord expects. And I imagine that many of you are in the same boat. Much like me, you too cannot stomach the reality of following Christ and what putting Him and His Kingdom first really means.

And it is not just this big stuff either, so many today refuse to be inconvenienced at all in their devotion to Christ. If the world around us conflicts with Scripture, we choose the world. When our peers find our beliefs antiquated or backwards, we bite our tongues or, worse, change our minds to save face. One of the reasons that the Church suffers and declines in this age is simply because we refuse to pick up a cross and follow Jesus into His suffering. We have bought a false vision of faith, one which looks like material, physical success in this life and not like the suffering, costly way of discipleship taught and commanded by our Lord Jesus.

But this passage is not only an indictment of my sin and lack of faith, nor only of yours. It also shows that God does not expect our sacrifices in following Him to be the bedrock of our salvation. Isaac’s near-sacrifice here parallels and foretells much in the sacrifice of Jesus. Isaac is bound, just like the festal sacrifice of a perfect lamb commanded in the Old Testament.[5] More still, Isaac goes forth without reservation. He could have easily overpowered his aging father, yet he submits himself to Abraham’s will. Finally, after God stays Abraham’s hand and reveals a ram stuck in the thicket, Isaac is freed. Jesus, of course, is our perfect sacrifice, the unblemished Lamb that fulfills and ends all sacrifices of sheep and goats, being as He is the perfect and eternal atonement. Just like Isaac, he does so willingly, gladly going into suffering and death for us according to the will of His Father. And, just like the ram, God shows that this sacrifice is not going to come by the work or will of us human beings, even venerable and holy ones like Abraham, but instead will be provided by God Himself. Even more than this, the thorn thicket is a sign of things to come. Just as the ram has his head covered in thorns, so too will our Lord Jesus as He goes to His death for our sakes.

In other words, God knows full well that I could not give up my children or anyone else. He knows that I am weak and that there are many things I cannot part with, even though in faith I surely ought to be able to if needed. And knowing all this, He took it on Himself to do it in my place. He gave us His Son so that these, and all our sins, would be forgiven in the blood of the right and fitting sacrifice, Jesus Christ our Lord. The truth is that the things that make us Christian and keep us in God’s Kingdom and good graces are not what we do. As important as it is to seek to do what God commands and to live as God would have us, at the end of the day we are His by Christ and His work alone.

I still do not much like what this passage says about me. But I find that I rather enjoy what it says about Christ and His mercy for me in my weakness.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] Genesis 22:9-13 English Standard Version

[2] Hebrews 11:19

[3] Matthew 19:21-22

[4] Matthew 19:29

[5] Psalm 118:27

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