Abraham knew God. A special relationship. What it must have been like for him to talk to God as we talk to each other. He knew what God wanted from him, and what a terrible thing it was. But Abraham knew God, worshipped God, trusted God. And because of that special relationship, and the knowledge that Abraham would follow his instructions to the letter there came the reprieve, the ram in the thicket that would take Isaac’s place at the sacrifice.
In this time of lent we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, when we remember another ‘son’ led to the sacrifice, but on this occasion there would be no reprieve. In today’s gospel reading, from Luke, Jesus spoke of the time coming when the ‘son of man’ would be put to death by the scribes, the chief priests and the elders. He also said that on the third day he would be raised, but even thought the Gospels show he told the disciples three times they didn’t understand. Peter was cross with him. ‘As if we would let that happen to you!’.
Somehow even in Jesus time on earth, things were not so simple as that relationship between Abraham and God. For one thing not many people recognised who Jesus was. When Jesus asked the disciples ‘Who do people say I am?’ the answers came: ‘Some think you are John the Baptist, others that you are Elijah.’ A blind man he had healed reported to the scribes and Pharisees, ‘He is a prophet’. The people knew he was special, the numbers that followed him proves that. Remember the time when five thousand men sat down to lunch, or when there were so many people wanting to listen to him that he had to speak from a boat out on the lake? A special man indeed, but who was he? Abraham, who could not see God, knew God. These people actually met him, but many didn’t recognise who he was.
But there were some who did recognise him for who he was. Peter for one, always the first to speak, Nathaniel, a man Jesus called ‘incapable of deceit’, and Martha the sister of Mary. The sister who was so cross when Mary listened to Jesus and neglected her chores; Martha recognised who Jesus was even before he raised her brother Lazarus from the grave.
Jesus himself told them to keep quiet about their recognition. Some people were not ready to see who he was yet. For those that were, those who knew him, who followed him and for those who would later seek to follow him, he had instructions every bit as difficult as those God gave to Abraham. He told them, and he tells us today, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’.
Abraham put God first, before any other consideration. Jesus tells us if we worry about our own life we will lose it, but if we are able to give that life for Jesus it will be saved.
Abraham was prepared to give God the most precious thing to him, and so God saved Isaac. We should ask ourselves whether we are prepared, recognising who Jesus really is, to stand up for Jesus, to put him first in our lives, to give our lives to him.
When Abraham’s son Isaac was saved from that sacrifice he went on to make his father the ancestor of a great nation, the chosen people of God.
By allowing ourselves to be saved, recognising Jesus for who he is, and making that commitment to him we can play our part in the establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth.