Live Like Death Is the Beginning

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Guest Contributor

Where did Abraham find the faith to lay his one and only son on the altar?

He did not lay his incarnate promise on the altar because it made sense or he could prove it doctrinally or because the promise was dispensable. Abraham’s obedience that day was not the fruit of an anemic self-help pep talk. He was willing to plunge a blade into his son because he figured God would raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19) — because God had spoken things that had not yet come to pass, and he “is not man, that he should lie. . . . Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19).

Abraham’s confidence was that the voice that called him to Canaan was likewise the Lord of the resurrection (John 11:25). For Abraham, this meant and changed everything.

He Saw Jesus’s Day

Abraham “believed God” when he spoke, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; James 2:23). At God’s instruction, the father of the covenantal faith laid his son of promise out on the altar on a certain hill in what would later become known as Jerusalem. The twenty-second chapter of Genesis, where God calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, is an uncomfortable episode, confronting what we believe to be true about the kindness of God and the cost of conforming to his image.

For all Abraham had experienced up till the word came to let death swallow his promise on the altar (Genesis 22:1–2) — all the wanderings, all the waiting, all the wondering between Chaldea and Canaan — we have to ask what he knew about God to follow such a bewildering command. Scripture says that he somehow “saw [Jesus’s day] and was glad” (John 8:56). But what else did he see or know? This aged man did not bind his son on the hill of Moriah because he’d read something sweet in the Bible. No, his precious revelation originated in encounters our Bibles would later be built from. Abraham knew God.

It was an unflinching conviction in the veracity of God that freed him from the devil’s candied delusions and led him to bank everything he had — even the life of his precious son — on the integrity of his word. This confidence carved a beautiful witness into this man’s life that shadowed the fullness of holy promises to come. In our gratitude and reflection on the cross and resurrection of Christ, we do well to ask ourselves if we have anchored our hearts like the man from Ur.

The God of Resurrection

In an appalling and beautiful poetic twist, Abraham and Isaac’s time on this hill of sacrifice ended with Abraham bestowing a name upon its ridge, “Moriah,” a reminder for all generations to come what had and would take place there: the Lord will provide himself a lamb (Genesis 22:14).

Isaac did not have to die that day for the promises to take shape in days to come. Better blood would be shed to secure their stead on this modest hill, where a covenantal father led a covenantal son bearing the weight of his own wood for his private execution altar. On the day a ram emerged from the thicket, a covenantal son was spared (Genesis 22:8, 13). On a later day, the promised Lamb would follow Isaac’s steps, and this covenantal Son would not be spared.

That Son, the greater Isaac, would, through death, “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14), and plunder “the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18) to secure eternal life and victory to all who share Abraham’s confession. The Lord provided himself: both “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5), who will rule the nations from that very ridge of shadowed sacrifice and promised provision: Mount Moriah.

Reality That Changes Everything

Scripture inextricably knits Jesus’s cross to his second coming. Paul’s cry in closing 1 Corinthians echoes the same sung by “the Spirit and the Bride”: “Maranatha!” The Lord has come. The Lord is coming. Come, Lord! (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:17). The whole of Scripture attests to this (Luke 24:27, 44–49), and the revelation of Christ within his words empowers us to make decisions that only make sense if he is coming to raise us from the dead.

During a powerful moment worth mentioning every time we declare the gospel (Matthew 26:13), the penny dropped for a young woman who’d seen Jesus pull her dead brother, Lazarus, from the tomb. Suddenly, the sand passing through the hourglass of this age felt finite. Her days felt numbered. His days felt numbered. And “the cares of the world” felt trivial (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:19). She saw her future beyond death’s defeat — and it empowered her to pull her “Isaac” off the shelf and shatter it on the floor. Mary’s oil, her life’s security, anointed Jesus for his own burial and blessed him as he took the task to crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).

As we remember Christ’s death and resurrection, let us confess the creed of the apostles: the Lord came, and he’s coming again. And let this confession inspire us to go all-in the same way it did for them: not a single disciple who survived Jesus’s death and Judas’s betrayal returned to business as usual after he met his Master on Galilean shores. The resurrection changed everything for each of them. May it change everything for us.