Sermon 07-09-2023: “Abraham, Isaac, and Christ the Lamb”

Scripture: Genesis 22:1-14

n today’s sermon I’ll make three points: Point Number One, the nature of Abraham’s test—and ours. Point Number Two, an illustration of this test from the movie Up. And Point Number Three, Jesus passes this test for us.

Singer-songwriter and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan wrote a song back in the ’60s called “Highway 61 Revisited.” The first verse refers to today’s scripture when he sings,

God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”

Abe said, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”

God said, “No.” Abe said, “What?”

God said, “You can do what you want, Abe, but

The next time you see me comin’ you’d better run”

In the song, Abraham responds to God’s command to sacrifice his only son Isaac by saying,“Man, you must be putting me on!”

Sometimes, in the Bible, when God calls people to do difficult things, that is their response… in so many words.

Take Ananias, for instance… If you have your Bibles—and you should—please turn to Acts chapter 9. This chapter includes the dramatic conversion of a man named Saul of Tarsus, whose name would soon be changed to Paul, the apostle commissioned by the resurrected Lord Jesus to bring his gospel to the Gentile world.

You may recall that Saul has been given official authority by the high priest in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to persecute, arrest, and imprison Jews who had converted to Christianity. Then a funny thing happened on his way to Damascus: Saul encountered the resurrected Lord—who blinded him temporarily and sent him to someone’s house in Damascus. 

And then the Lord appeared in a vision to a Christian named Ananias. Verses 10 through 12:

The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

So I want you to get the picture: Jesus was calling Ananias to go to Saul, a former violent persecutor of the church, to pray with him, and to enable him to regain his sight.

Now, I want us to notice the third sentence of verse 10: “And he [Ananias] said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’”

Ananias doesn’t doubt for a moment that the Lord Jesus is speaking to him. We know that Ananias doesn’t doubt because he says, “Here I am, Lord.” He knows this is the Lord. So it stands to reason that what the Lord is about to tell him is nothing less than God’s Word to him… because Jesus is God. And indeed, Jesus’ word to Ananias literally becomes God’s Word in holy scripture—because the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write it down for us.

With this in mind, no matter what the Lord tells Ananias to do, we know exactly how Ananias ought to respond: He ought to say, “Here am I! Send me! Whatever you say, Lord! I’ll do it.”

But is that how Ananias responds?

Nope. In so many words, like the Dylan song, Ananias says, “Man, you must be putting me on!” Or perhaps he would say, “Lord, you must be putting me on!” Verse 13: “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.’”

Verse 13 has some troubling words: But Ananias answered…To say the least, so long as we’re confident about what the Lord is telling us to do, there should be no “but.” When we say or imply the word “but” when God speaks to us, what we really mean is, “I know better than you, Lord… Perhaps, Lord, you haven’t considered all the pertinent facts… Perhaps, Lord, you haven’t heard about this person or this situation that may cause me great harm… Perhaps, Lord, you don’t know how powerful my enemy is!”

That’s a funny response to God’s Word when you think about it. 

How presumptuous of us to offer any objections to God when God speaks his Word to us, right? 

I mean, who knows better—us or God? 

Yet heroes of the Bible—not to mention God’s people today—do this all the time!

Lord, you must be putting me on!

Of course, contemporary Christians like us don’t often have the courage of Ananias to come right out and question God or his goodness or his wisdom. “No, God is great,” we say.“We love him. It’s only a shame that God didn’t have the power to ensure that his Word to us in the Bible is trustworthy… If only we could be confident that God were telling us the truth in his Word.”

When we modern Christians don’t like something that God says in scripture, we often say, “Maybe we’ve misunderstood what God clearly seems to be saying. Maybe all the saints who went before us got it wrong. Maybe we know something today that the Holy Spirit himself didn’t know when the Spirit inspired and guided the authors of scripture to write what they wrote.” 

To make matters worse, we can always find someone with a Ph.D. somewhere to agree with our newfangled interpretation—and write a book about it. This happens all the time! 

I mean, there are plenty of people with Ph.D.s today who say that, contrary to what scripture teaches, God would never command Abraham to sacrifice his son—even if Abraham doesn’t ultimately have to go through with it. “Abraham,” they say, “must have misunderstood what God was commanding him to do.”

Yeah, right!

No, if we disagree with God’s Word, let’s at least have the courage of Ananias and tell God, “God, we don’t really like what you’re telling us in your Word.” Instead, we just ignore it. Or we re-interpret what the Bible otherwise clearly says. Or pretend that it really isn’t God’s Word. “God’s Word,” we often say, is whatever my own heart, my own reason, my own experience, tells me it is. Of course, there may be overlap with what’s written in the Bible, but I sometimes know better than what’s written there.

That’s often how we modern-day Christians treat the word of God.

But you have to believe me: I’m not saying any of this from a place of moral superiority. 

Because how often do I say, “I stand on the Word of God… Here I stand, I can do no other.” But who am I kidding? Time and again, I fail to have the faith to put into action what God clearly tells me to do here! Otherwise, why the heck am I often so angry in my life? Why do I often covet what others have? How many times do I fail to guard my tongue? How many times do I feel afraid? How many times do I worry? How many times do I… Dot, dot, dot?

No… I should not be morally superior to anyone because it’s very unlikely that I could pass the test that Abraham passes with flying colors in today’s scripture!

Because… as much as I love Bob Dylan—and, dear friends, I love Bob Dylan so much—he’s completely wrong about Abraham. Because unlike Ananias, Abraham doesn’t say, “Man, you must be putting me on”… at all. Yes, Ananias says it… And earlier in the Bible, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, says it… Moses says it… Gideon says it… Jeremiah says it… Jonah says it… I say it… Others say it… But not Abraham. Not this time. That’s what’s so astonishing about this episode in his life.

Also, notice this: according to the Dylan song, God threatens Abraham’s life if he doesn’t answer the call. “The next time you see me coming, you better run.” But that doesn’t make sense, either. A threat against Abraham’s life wouldn’t work on Abraham. Because all of us parents know that we’d gladly sacrifice our lives in order save our children’s lives. So surely Abraham would have been unmoved by a mere threat to his life: “If you’re asking me to choose between the life of my son Isaac or my life, that’s easy… take me, Lord!”

Unlike Ananias, who objects to answering God’s call because his life, or his safety, or his freedom is at stake, Abraham doesn’t object… even though something much, much worse than his life is at stake—which is the life of his only son!

This test is unbelievably hard!

Remember: about 40 years earlier, God called Abraham and his wife Sarah to embark on a special mission: to leave their home and family and native country and go to a land that God would show them. God said that he would make of them a great nation and that through their descendants the whole world would be blessed—a blessing of salvation that was ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ. 

But if God were going to make a great nation of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants, they would first have to have a child. And they were childless and infertile when God first made this promise—and already long past the point of having children anyway. Finally, after 25 years of trying to get pregnant—with a lot of trouble and heartache in between—Sarah gets pregnant, at age 90, and they have the promised son, Isaac. Then a few years after that, after some more trouble and heartache, they have a place to call home—on a small piece of the Promised Land that would later belong to Israel.

Abraham answered the call and did everything God asked of him—not perfectly, not without sin or doubt—but he did it. If there was anyone who no longer needed to have their faith tested, surely it was Abraham. If there was anyone who had nothing left to prove—to God or to anyone else—surely it was Abraham, right?

Wrong! God knows best… And God thought Abraham still had at least one thing left to prove. What could it be?

Consider this question: 

While it’s true that for about forty years at this point, Abraham had sacrificed and suffered in response to God’s call, what if Abraham did so in order to get something from God in return… in order to receive God’s promised son… in order to receive God’s many promised blessings? “Do this for me,” God told Abraham repeatedly, “and I’ll give you a promised son, and I’ll give you land, and I’ll give you descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I’ll make your name great, and I’ll make of you a great nation.”

Those are some good promises!

This reminds me of Satan’s accusation against Job back in Job chapter 1: “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” 1 In other words, “You treat Job so well, God, and have blessed him with so many children, so much land, and so many possessions, no wonder he serves you! If you remove all of these blessings from him, he’ll curse you to your face!” 2

So maybe the test in today’s scripture is similar: Is Abraham still willing to serve God if doing so means losing what he holds most dear—his beloved son Isaac—and with death of Isaac, all the promises that go with him? 

Will Abraham still love God, in other words, if all he gets in return is… God?

Will Abraham still love God, if all he gets in return is God?

Another way of describing the test is this: Is God enough for Abraham? And for that matter, is God enough for me? Is God enough for you?

I believe that’s the nature of Abraham’s test. And I think God constantly tests all of us with that question! That’s Point Number One.

Point Number Two: Let’s talk about the movie Up. In the 8:30 service, as you probably know, I preached a sermon using video clips from the Disney-Pixar movie Up. Up is an animated movie, but it stars the voice of the late Ed Asner, who played the famously grumpy Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore. So in this movie—believe it or not—Ed Asner plays a grumpy old man named Carl whose wife has recently died… The movie takes a lot to explain, if you haven’t seen it.

But the most pivotal moment in the movie involves a choice that Carl faces: Will he continue to treasure his house, and his possessions, and even the beloved dreams of his past… more than he treasures the flesh-and-blood people whom God has placed in his life right now. Or, to look at it from a theological perspective: God has given Carl a new mission, a new calling, a new reason for living… and answering God’s call, obeying God, will cost him nearly everything from his past. 

But that’s what God calls him to do!

So… Is it worth it? Is obedience to God worth it? Is loving God worth it? Is God himself worth it? Is the treasure that Carl finds in God greater than the treasure that he has in mere worldly things and people?

What do we think we need to be truly happy? Money, possessions, people, prestige, popularity… Or is God enough for us?

In the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide several years ago, I read an interview with this gifted actor and comedian. In the course of his career, Williams won an Academy Award, multiple Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys; he had a number one prime-time TV show; he starred in some of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed movies ever made; he lived in mansions; he dated supermodels; he was beloved by millions

And do you know what Williams said about all this success? 

No matter what dizzying heights of fame and fortune you achieve, he said, “You bottom out… People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork.’” 3

In other words, none of these tokens of success was enough for him… None of these things was enough to make him happy or contented or at peace in life—and I don’t think it’s just because he was clinically depressed… although that certainly made everything worse.

No, here’s the truth: If any of us are counting on people, or popularity, or money, or fame, or awards, or recognition, or any kind of material success to bring us happiness, we are going to be sorely disappointed. As Robin Williams indicated, we can’t live off those things for very long and be happy. We “bottom out”: we reach the bottom of these mere worldly treasures and say, “Isn’t there something more? This isn’t enough.”

We usually think that worldly treasures are going to be enough, but they never are!

So we face the same test that Abraham faced—except on a smaller scale… the nature of the test is the same: Is God enough for me? Is God enough for you?

And the quickest way to put this question to the test is for God to take everything away from us—which seems to be what God is going to do to Abraham. Is he willing to lose everything for God’s sake?

And of course, Abraham’s actions answer that question with a resounding yes!

That’s all well and good for Abraham, but what about for the rest of us—who fail even the dumbed-down versions of this same test constantly? Is there hope for us?

The good news is, yes there is! 

And the reason there’s hope for us—and this is Point Number Three… The reason there’s hope for us is because, while we fail this test constantly, Jesus passed this test for us… once and for all!

Because today’s scripture is at least as much about Jesus and his gospel as it is about Abraham. Abraham himself understood this. God is giving Abraham a glimpse of Jesus Christ and the cross. Jesus himself said so when he told some Pharisees, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 4 Abraham was seeing the “day of Christ,” the day of salvation, in today’s scripture. 

See verse 8: “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’” 

These words first flash forward to the tenth and final plague in the Exodus story. God sends an angel of death to kill all the firstborn sons in Egypt. But that’s not quite right: He actually sends the angel to kill all firstborn sons—including Israelite sons. Why would God kill the Israelites? They’re the “good guys.” No. Even God’s people Israel are sinners who also deserve God’s judgment, wrath, and hell on account of their sins. And since God uses firstborn sons, symbolically, to represent an entire family, it’s as if the judgment for sin that falls on the firstborn falls on the entire family.

But God does something special for the Israelites: he offers them a way, by his grace, to save their firstborn sons. If the Israelites will sprinkle the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, the angel will “pass over” their homes and their firstborn sons will be spared. Otherwise, the firstborn sons of Israel also would have died along with the Egyptian firstborn.

And this pattern continues in the law that Moses gave the people: The firstborn son represents the family—and the family’s sins. This is why, later on in Exodus, we see that God requires all firstborn sons to be “redeemed”—literally, saved from the judgment for sin that falls on the family—and how are they spared from judgment? By offering a sacrifice.

At the end of the Christmas story, for example, Mary and Joseph go to the temple to offer a sacrifice on behalf of their firstborn son, Jesus—to redeem him.

It’s not that sacrificing a bull or a goat or a lamb or a pigeon can begin to pay for people’s sins; it’s that God uses these sacrifices as a symbol to point the people to a sacrifice that really would atone for sin: the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus.

So this is what’s going on in the background of today’s scripture: Abraham knows, first of all, that no matter how costly the sacrifice, what God is asking of Abraham is the just punishment for his sin.

But he knows something else, too: He knows about God’s grace. He knows, as he tells Isaac, that God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering. And God does—literally. The lamb is a substitute for Isaac. The lamb dies for the sins of Abraham and his family. The lamb dies, literally, in order that Isaac will live. The lamb is sacrificed in order to save Isaac’s life.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Remember the words of John the Baptist to his own disciples, when he first sees Jesus from a distance? John 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus is like the lamb, whom God provides, who dies as a substitute in place of everyone else. 

Jesus is like the lamb…

But Jesus is also like the son, Isaac, who, like Isaac, literally carries the wood for his own sacrifice—the wood of the cross—up a hill called Golgotha and willingly offers himself as a sacrifice. 

And Jesus is also like Abraham, except he passed the test on our behalf. So we don’t have to worry about the fact that, as I said earlier, we fail the tests God sends us—Jesus passed the test for us.

Finally, God the Father is also like the father in today’s scripture—Father Abraham—who did not withhold his son, his only son, as the angel says in Genesis 22:12. In fact, the apostle Paul refers back to this verse in Romans 8, where he says, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” 5

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, right here in Genesis 22.

Genesis 22 is all about Jesus!

There’s a verse that’s used in our Communion liturgy, which I’m going to read in a moment. It’s Romans 5:8: “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” 6

How does Christ’s death prove the Father’s love for us? For the same reason that you and I would fail the test that Abraham passed. 

We don’t love God enough to give up the thing that we treasure above all else! We couldn’t bear the pain of that sacrifice; we couldn’t go through with it, even if we were convinced that we ought to. It would hurt us too much! 

But God the Father isn’t like us: he loves us sinful human beings so much that he suffers the pain of watching his only Son Jesus, whom he loves, die as a sacrifice for our sins. That’s what proves God’s love for us.


  1.  Job 1:9-10 ESV
  2.  Paraphrase of Job 1:9-11
  3.  Josh Rottenberg, Amy Kaufman, Lee Romney, “Robin Williams’ Friends Saw Signs He Was Succumbing to Depression,” Accessed 5 July 2023.
  4. John 8:56
  5. Romans 8:31-32 NIV
  6. Romans 5:8 CSB

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