After these things…
That’s one of the important phrases that loudly and clearly resonated from our Sunday study of Genesis 22, which contains the famous account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice.
Indeed, it’s one of the Bible’s most well-known messages — but what many people so often miss are the rich details and poetic parallels that can help us increase our understanding of the passage and the broader truths it carries.
First off, I was right there with Pastor Scott when he said he couldn’t have done what Abraham did. Many of us are parents, and our first reaction is, “No way would I be able to obey the Lord and be willing to sacrifice my child.” And that’s where the phrase that starts off chapter 22 — “After these things” — becomes so important. Those three words point to the fact that God has brought Abraham through many circumstances and problems already — he’s experienced fear, loss, deceit, weakness, triumph … and along the way his faith in God has increased with each experience.
We tend to look at Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and say, “No way.” But if we view this account in a vacuum — without considering the context surrounding it — we’ll miss the bigger picture. Abraham had his mountains to climb prior to that moment, and God brought him a point in chapter 22 where his faith was strong enough that he was able to obey the Lord’s heart-wrenching command. And what about you? What mountains has God placed before you to climb? What has he brought you through to this point in your life? Wherever you are in your journey with Christ, God will use the faith you’ve already acquired through trials and triumphs to help you take your next step of faith. God only asks us to place one foot in front of the other — not to ascend to the top of Mount Everest in a single bound! Just to take the next step. And amid that next step, we can look back and see how far the Lord has brought us.
Another phrase that stood out Sunday: There is no Plan B.
One of the difficult things God brought Abraham through was his son Ishmael departing with Hagar earlier in Genesis. But why does the chapter 22 describe Isaac as Abraham’s “only son”?
As Pastor Scott explained, perhaps it’s because Isaac is directly connected to God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah — and Ishmael, while indeed Abraham’s biological son, is connected to Abraham and Sarah’s human attempt to make God’s promise happen by having a child through Hagar. And at this point, with Ishmael gone and Isaac left as Abraham’s only son, there is no “Plan B” if Abraham sacrifices Isaac. Had Ishmael still been around, it may not have required as much faith on Abraham’s part to obey the Lord — and things seem to have been orchestrated by God in just the right way in order to bring about the most faith within Abraham.
Another crucial phrase: God will provide for himself the lamb…
It’s so helpful to meditate on the poetic parallels between Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and God’s willingness to sacrifice Jesus. Both sons carried wood on their backs and ascended hills to places where their sacrifices would be carried out. Both were bound. But the difference is that the Lord halted Abraham prior to the sacrifice — and God allowed Jesus’ life to be taken. No doubt our human hearts cannot fathom the depth of sorrow the Lord endured over his only son’s death on the cross — nor can we do anything to “repay” the Lord for the gift of eternal life that Jesus’ death and resurrection has given us.
In both cases God provided for himself the lamb. After Isaac was spared, Abraham found a ram caught in a thicket; and Jesus — the Lamb of God — was offered up for our sakes.
As we each ascend our new mountain today, let us remember that God will provide for us — even when it appears all hope is lost, and there’s nothing but sorrow waiting for us. Let us remember that Jesus is our everything: There is no “Plan B” for us. He is our only answer. Our salvation. The way, the truth, and the life. And finally, let us remember that we each have our own “after these things” stories of God bringing us through tough times. Let’s harness those things we’ve gone through so that we can take the next steps of faith upward to the summit of the next mountain with confidence.
We are God’s church — and nothing will stand against it. No matter who is in the White House, no matter what world leaders do, no matter how strong and scary viruses are, we are still advancing the kingdom of God. The score is settled; we are on the winning side. So, let us complete the race before us with strength and joy.