Throwback Thursday: Thoughts on sacrifice

(Originally written about 5 years ago.)

Sometimes, I think, those of us who have grown up in church (myself included) don’t take God’s word seriously enough.  It’s not that we don’t have good intentions… often we do.  We’ve just heard the Old Testament stories and Jesus’ parables so many times that we’ve “overspiritualized” them.  Here’s what I’m talking about…

Take sacrifice:  We love the story of Abraham, God’s servant, taking Isaac up onto Mt. Moriah because his God has called him to sacrifice his son… this promised, long-awaited descendent through whom many nations were to come, Abraham and Sarah’s own ‘miracle baby.’  Abraham’s got the wood, the flint, but there’s something missing.  “Hey Dad,” Isaac asks, “where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?”  His father assures him that God will provide, and God does.  At the last second, just as Abraham is preparing to plunge the knife into his son’s flesh, he hears a ram caught in the thicket nearby.  Abraham (and Isaac, I must add!) are off the hook.  Even as I write about it, the story resonates deeply with me.  I love that God provided a way out at the last moment… that they could call the place “God-Sees-To-It,” because, on that mountain, God saw Abraham’s willing heart and saw to it that His promise would be fulfilled… that many nations would come from Isaac.

It’s a great story… a definite “God moment” that ought to be remembered and celebrated!  Unfortunately, some of us church people have taken the message of this story to be a loophole in Jesus’ command to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23).  Our logic goes like this… what Jesus really means is that we should be willing to deny ourselves, be willing to take up our cross and be willing to follow Him.  God knows that I am willing to give up anything for Him, to lay it on the altar like Abraham was willing to lay Isaac there.  But that willingness is enough.  God would never actually require me to give up my lucrative career, my own ambitions and plans for my life (you fill in the blank).

Maybe… but let me remind you of the story of another father… one who, like Abraham, had a long-awaited son of promise.  We meet them in a garden, with the son on his knees.  “Father, you know I’m willing to do whatever it takes.  I’m willing to allow myself to be sacrificed.  But isn’t there some other way?”  This time there is no other way.  There is no last-minute scapegoat… only a horrifying, heart-wrenching, excruciating death.  Can you imagine the pain in the heart of the Father as he watched His sinless Son suffer and die?

We church people know that is not the end.  We remember the story of a glorious resurrection, a miraculous life after death.  We know that place could also well be called “God-Sees-To-It” because there, on the cross, God saw to it that another promise would be fulfilled… that broken humanity would have hope of redemption through the blood of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice.

So, when Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him, I think we better be prepared to do just that.  Let’s not just march our own Isaacs (treasured possessions, beloved relationships, whatever) up the mountain, haughtily expecting them to be given back to us at the last minute, getting upset and angry when God actually requires not just a willing heart but also a real act of sacrifice.  Let’s trust God’s hand and believe that He will provide for us places in our lives that we can call “God-Sees-To-It”- places where His promises are fulfilled and He sees to it that we live abundantly as we walk in obedience to Him.

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