THE OLDEST EASTER STORY EVER TOLD
1 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 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. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 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.” 13 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. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
— Genesis 22:1-19
Every sermon is a story defined by a particular text or topic. Normally I preach texts, but on Christmas and Easter I prefer the topic of the day. Besides, some people only attend church on Christmas and Easter, so I want to be sure to tell the story in a way that gives a full dose of the gospel.
Now, you may think it peculiar to tell the story of Abraham and Isaac on Easter Sunday. But though it is from the Old Testament, it has all the contents necessary to highlight this holy day in the New Testament church. There is a faithful father and an only son. There is the specter of death and the belief in resurrection. There is a substitutionary sacrifice. There is worship. There is a gospel promise for all the people of the earth. Surely this is one of the oldest Easter stories ever told.
An Old Story
Normally on this date we turn back the clock two thousand years and tell the story of Jesus, the Son of God. This year we go back approximately two thousand years before Christ and tell the story of Abram, the son of Terah, better known by the name given to him by God, Abraham.
Abraham may not be the oldest man in the world, but he may be the most foundational. The three great religions of the world — Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — all trace their roots back to him. All that happened in Genesis before Abraham is prelude, and all that unfolds after Abraham is the keeping of a promise God made to this old, foundational man.
I do not think we can properly understand the greatest story ever told, the gospel of Jesus Christ, without understanding one of the oldest stories ever told, this foundational story of “father Abraham” and his “only son Isaac.”
Abraham was saved by grace through faith in God, just like every other saved person in the history of the world. But everyone else in the world who is saved, is saved because of the covenant promise God made to Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah, a childless old couple, that they would have a son, name him Isaac (which means laughter, because Sarah laughed at the prospects of having a child in such old age), and “in your offspring shall all of the nations of the earth be blessed.”
Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, whom God named Israel, Israel begat twelve sons, one of whom is named Judah, Judah’s descendants include kings David and Solomon, a young couple named Joseph and Mary, and a baby who grew up to be the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
But how could this promise be kept, if Abraham killed Isaac? That’s what makes this old story so unique.
A Unique Story
One of the great mistakes people make when interpreting the Bible is to claim every text or story as normative. In other words, some people think God and God’s people can do every time what God and God’s people do anytime in Scripture. But sometimes God only does things some times, like allow men to marry multiple wives, give men the power to perform miracles, or enable His people to instantly speak in other languages. Other times God does something only two times, like have a father offer up his only son as a sacrifice.
Actually, this latter thing only happened one time, and this is not it. God never intended for Abraham to kill Isaac. God is no monster, but God is Master. Look at the first verse, “God tested Abraham.” This was a test, this was only a test, had this been an actual order to kill, Isaac would have died on the spot. But God would not have done such a thing, not then, and in a great theological irony, “the angel of the Lord” was present to make sure Isaac was not touched. We will have much more to say about “the angel” in a minute.
By the way, Abraham knew Isaac would not die, also. He had that promise from God. Isaac had to live. And even if Abraham had gone through with the sacrifice and took Isaac’s life, he believed God would resurrect him from the dead on that very spot (ref. Hebrews 11:17-19). And by the way, that spot is called Mount Moriah, where the Temple was built, torn down and rebuilt, and torn down again. An Islamic mosque sits on the spot now, but the true Temple of God will be standing there when the world as we now know it comes to an end.
But that’s another story. For now, let’s stick with this version of the Easter story, the oldest, most unique, extremely personal story every told.
A Personal Story
A story is only as good as its characters, and this Easter story has the best. There is Abraham, and whom Abraham represents. There is Isaac, and whom Isaac represents. There is the one true and living God, who represents Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there is you, and me, or at least everyone ever saved by Easter grace.
Abraham you know, but do you know whom he represents? No, not God the Father. Abraham represents a true believer in God and a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes what God wants him to believe, he repents when God tells him to repent, he obeys even the hard commandments of God, and he worships the Lord, regularly and wholeheartedly. These things separate true Christians from the Christmas and Easter kind.
Isaac you know, but do you know whom he represents? No, not Jesus the Son. He represents all children born to covenant, believing parents. He obeys his parents, as his parents obey the Lord. The son is watching his father, intently, to see if his father’s faith is hypocrisy or sincerity. The son learns a lesson from his father, and his Heavenly Father, that he will never, never forget.
Apart from these two men, and God, there is one final character in this old, unique, personal story. It is “a ram, caught in the thicket by his horns.” Surely you know who this character represents, because, ultimately, this old, unique, personal story is a Jesus story.
A Jesus Story
The earlier irony I alluded to is the presence of “the angel of the Lord” at this event, watching over Abraham, protecting Isaac, making sure all went according to God’s sovereign and providential plan. There are a lot of angels in the universe, and many are mentioned in the Bible, though only three by name: Michael, Gabriel, and, not “an angel” but “the angel of the Lord.” “The angel” is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of the second person of the Trinity, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus was there, in person, to see all of the pictures of Himself unfold during the story. A father sacrifices his only son, knowing the son will somehow be alive when the sacrifice is over. The son has to bear on his back the wood for the sacrifice. The sacrifice takes three days to accomplish. It is accomplished in a place that will one day be called Jerusalem. The sacrifice turns out to be a substitute. After the son is laid down onto the wood for sacrifice, he rises alive and well. His life gives gospel hope to the world, for it is written, “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
This is not merely an Old Testament story. This is not merely a story about an old man named Abraham who passed God’s toughest test with flying colors, nor his promised, miraculous son Isaac. This is a Jesus story, a beautiful picture of the life, death, and resurrection of the spotless, sinless, son of God. And, this is a gospel story, and I pray it is yours.
A Gospel Story
For Abraham so loved the Lord, that he gave his only son, Issac, believing that he would not truly die, but somehow have life.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (ref. John 3:16).
There it is, that’s the gospel! So you see, this is an old, unique, personal, Jesus, gospel story. It is my story, by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. I pray it is your story, one you will want to hear not just one day of the year, but every day for the rest of your eternal life.