Christmas is the season to reflect upon the greatest gift of all, indeed, the only gift that matters, namely, the gift of God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life
(John 3:16). As the apostle Paul assures us, God spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all in order that He might also with Him freely give us all things (Rom 8:32).
No gift from a father’s heart could be more costly than to surrender the life of his only son. The testing of Abraham, reported in Genesis 22, memorializes for all time the price of our redemption through the grieving yet faithful heart of a father and the obedient heart of his son. It is a human drama that invites all of us into a deeper appreciation of the priceless cost of free grace. It expresses the abstract theology of substitutionary atonement in flesh and blood reality. Redemption is portrayed in terms so striking that any parent and any child can comprehend the love of a father for his son or a son for his father. The binding of Isaac for the sacrifice is a dramatic preview of the whole Gospel. And Isaac’s question, “But where is the Lamb for a burnt offering?” is only fully answered in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Gen. 22:7).
God drives a double-edged sword through the very heart of Abraham when He demands the sacrifice of Isaac in terms that accentuate the preciousness of the son God requires: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac [laughter], whom you love, and…offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). Abraham’s instant and complete obedience to God’s demand does not mask the faith that was required of him, for his pain is betrayed by his “lifting up” his eyes to see the mountain as they approached on the third day (Gen. 22:4). Abraham fully expected to lose his beloved son to death, but there is something curious about his statement to the two young men who accompanied Isaac but who were instructed to stay behind with the donkey. Abraham assures them that after the sacrifice we will “come again to you” (Gen. 22:5). The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham expected to sacrifice his son and to receive him back from death (Heb. 11:19). That is, by faith Abraham expected to receive his son through a resurrection “on the third day” of his journey (Gen. 22:4–5).
The sacrifice of Isaac is the foretelling of the Gospel, all in unmistakable detail. Isaac is the “unique” son of Abraham (Gen. 22:2). He is the son who was the heir of the “everlasting covenant” and who was promised a “seed” after him (Gen. 17:19). Abraham’s faith could reason that Isaac could not perish without a seed, that God would give him “back from death” in order to fulfill His covenant (Heb. 11:19). And so Abraham determined to obey the Lord and he took the wood for the sacrifice and laid it on the back of his son (Gen. 22:6). From this we may reasonably infer that Isaac was now the stronger of the two and that he would have to willingly submit to his father’s will that he should be bound for the sacrifice. The picture of Isaac carrying the wood of his own sacrifice up the mountain of Moriah, which we later learn is in the region of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 3:1), and then willingly permitting himself to be bound and put upon the wood in obedience to his father (Gen. 22:9), all in the hope of defeating death (Gen. 22:5), is the Gospel in miniature.
But God who spared not His own Son spared Isaac, and God provided a ram for Abraham to substitute for his son (Gen. 22:13). The careful reader will note that before Isaac had been made aware of God’s command that he be sacrificed, he had asked his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Moses, however, tells us that God provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac (Gen. 22:13). It is as though Moses deliberately leaves Isaac’s question unanswered. The reader is left to wonder about the lamb for the burnt offering until John the Baptist finally answers Isaac’s question for all time when he sees Jesus, proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Jesus is God’s unique and beloved Son, who, like Isaac, walked up Moriah’s mountain carrying His cross on His back (John 19:17) and in obedience to His Father’s will submitted to be bound and made a sacrifice (John 18:12). Unlike Isaac, Jesus’ life was not spared, but like Abraham, God the Father received His Son back from death on the third day (1 Cor. 15:4). And this is God’s precious gift to us: He has provided a substitute in His Son! And if God so loved us when we were in our sin that He gave us His precious Son, what will be the measure of His love to us in eternity, when we are forever delivered from sin and made perfectly complete in the full righteousness of Jesus! That will be our everlasting Christmas indeed!