Key verse: Genesis 22:8
Big idea: In the beginning, God provided a Lamb.
If Genesis 22 does not hit us as one of the most emotional moments in the Old Testament, it is only because we are too familiar with it to let it have the full effect. Remember the major plot. Abraham and Sarai were childless and on God's premise left their homeland to go across the world. Eventually, God promised that they would have a son - a promise that went unfulfilled for twenty-five years. Finally, the promise was fulfilled and Isaac was born. He is probably in his early 20s by our chapter today, when God made a startling demand of Abraham: "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest" (the repetition seems to twist the knife, "and get thee into the Land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering." The promise which he had waited for so long was now going to be given up.
Older kids: Occasionally, there will be a news story about a parent who believes God told them to kill their children. God's rejection of human sacrifice at Mount Moriah, and later explicit condemnations of it in the Law in places like Leviticus 20:1-5. No subjective experience that contradicts Scripture is from God, so while in Abraham's day there was no explicit proof that something like this was God's will, in our day there is.
Abraham acted swiftly and got up the next morning for the journey to the land of Moriah, where God would reveal a particular mountain to sacrifice Isaac. The mountain would later be the site of the Temple and be incorporated into the city of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1) and Abraham had been to the area years before when he had offered a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14). When they arrived, Isaac asked Abraham where the lamb was which they would use for the burnt offering. Abraham told him that God would provide a lamb. He meant that Isaac himself, provided by God, would be the sacrifice. But he spoke better than he knew: when they got to the mountaintop, God did not allow him to sacrifice Isaac, but sent a ram to be caught in a thicket and be sacrificed in Isaac's place.
But there is still more. A ram cannot stand as a proper substitute for a human being, because human beings are of infinitely more worth than any animal (Hebrews 10:4). But the ram was a placeholder for a better sacrifice. Abraham's hand could be held back from his son because God sent His Son to die in Isaac's place. To die in Abraham's place. To die in your place and mine (Revelation 5:12). Unlike Isaac, Jesus died on the mountain, but like Isaac, He was returned to His Father. God provided the ram that Abraham needed, and God provides the sacrifice for sin that we need. He proved His character as the one who provides the Lamb.
Discussion idea: We learn from Hebrews 11:17-19 that Abraham was convinced that even if he killed Isaac, that God would raise him up again to fulfill His promises. Would killing Isaac still have been a sacrifice from Abraham's perspective, even if he had been resurrected? How does this help us to understand the death of Christ?
Prayer focus: Ask God which of His blessings you are holding tighter than Him and pray for God to help you to love the Giver more than the gift.
Key verse: Matthew 16:18
Five years ago, because of a very generous wedding gift from my grandma, my wife and I got to go on our honeymoon in Israel. Caesarea Philippi was one of the most memorable parts. There we saw the headwaters of the Jordan River and the ruins of the temple of Pan. At the time that Jesus gathered His disciples in the region, tourists stood in awe of the gleaming white temple of Augustus (called the “son of god” after Julius Caesar’s deification). Even the ruins were impressive; I can only imagine the city in its heyday. This place, where the strength of the Emperor and pagan faith was tangible, was the place Jesus chose to ask His disciples: “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” What a loaded statement! Augustus was the dead son of a so-called god, also long gone. He may have been emperor, but his reign was limited in time and scope. But Jesus, a Jewish teacher with no palace, no chariots, and no army, but only the twelve disciples, was the Messiah and the Son of the living God. It was a political statement: Jesus is a greater King than Caesar. It was an implied oath of fealty: Jesus is King, and I recognize His authority. It was something that went beyond what Peter could have deduced. Indeed, Jesus told Him, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.”
Peter had not earned a special place but received it as a gift from God. Jesus announced that Peter would not believe this alone. He was going to build His Church on this Rock, and the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. This promise was soon tested. Jesus Himself died, but the gates of death could not hold Him. His Church marched on. The twelve disciples would all die, yet the churches they established would establish churches (which would establish churches), and the institution continued through the ages. Sometimes persecution was intense, sometimes the environment was friendly, but the gates of Hell never overcame. Like Peter’s initial declaration, this was no feat of human strength of ingenuity. It was the power of God graciously poured out on His people.
God’s success does not depend on you or me. He has preserved His work through good times and bad from the Garden of Eden and will not fail now. Our greatest success is to confess that Jesus is Lord and let Him do His work.
Discussion Idea: What anxiety in your life could be answered by “upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it?”
Prayer Focus: Praise God for His faithfulness to preserve His people, His Word, and His gospel. Thank Him for keeping you, your family, and your ministry safely in His hand.