The Knife. The Ram. The Gospel.
We’ve all read the story in Genesis 22 of how God tested Abraham by telling him to give Isaac as a sacrifice, after Abraham had waited 25 years for Isaac to be born. Isaac was no longer a young boy by this time. Abraham loved Isaac like no other. But he said ‘yes’ to God. The story is often retold, emphasizing and commending Abraham’s great faith and obedience, since that is the obvious emphasis of the Biblical narrative. We have heard countless times how this story is a parallel, a foreshadowing, of the gospel. It seems to me, then, that we should seek to understand our place in this gospel-centered Old Testament story. Abraham represents God, and the ram represents Jesus.
Now, think with me for a moment. Put yourself in the story. As Isaac.
You’re a young man now, and you couldn’t have asked for a better family and home. You’re as secure and happy as you could be. You have an honest relationship with your dad, who obviously loves you very much. One day, he asks if you would like to accompany him on a journey to make sacrifices to God. You agree; you’ve always loved traveling. As you near the altar, you began to wonder… where’s the sacrifice? When you ask him about it, your dad just says, “God will provide.” So you leave it at that, content in his wisdom. And then… he tells you to lay down on the altar. The confusion sets in. Then, the panic. What’s happening? What’s he doing? And you wonder all the while he is tying you down with rope. Outside, you are still and quiet. Inside, chaos reigns.
But it gets worse, because several minutes later, your dad unsheathes his knife and raises it above his head. You can’t resist screaming now. He’s lost his mind! He must hate me!
Then. A voice.
“DON’T TOUCH HIM!”
You strain to catch a glimpse of who spoke, and your eye catches a ram caught in the thicket. Your dad must’ve seen it too, because he unties you and captures the ram to use for the sacrifice instead. You watch it die.
Your appreciation of the ram in that moment is incalculable. Why? Because you were about to feel the wind as the knife came towards you. Your life flashed before your eyes. Moments ago, you were numb with panic. Now, you are speechless with gratitude. You saw what could have happened, so you rejoiced all the more when that didn’t happen.
That’s the sort of reaction that the gospel is meant to instill in God’s children. In order for that to happen, though, you have to ask yourself how well, how closely, you identify with Isaac in this story. Do you picture yourself still miles away from the mountain, without even giving a thought to what’s about to happen? Are you nearing the altar, beginning to wonder where the sacrifice is? Are you laying on the altar, beginning to assume that your dad is a lunatic? Are you staring, wide-eyed and paralyzed, as the knife hovers above your helpless body?
If you and I are going to appreciate Jesus – I mean really appreciate Him – then He will have to show us what it means to be on the edge of eternal destruction. Because that’s where we were. Children of God’s wrath. Nearly obliterated by His knife.
But God. Jesus.
Jesus is the ram. He’s the one who took our stabbing, our bruises, our obliteration. He didn’t deserve it. We did. Yet it happened to Him.
If you call yourself a Christian, and the gospel feels boring, repetitive, and irrelevant to you, then you need to ask God to open your eyes to this cosmic salvation epic. I need that every day. It’s easy to presume upon God’s mercy. Ask Him to help you feel just how close you were to His blade of judgment apart from His grace. And ask Him to help you feel the beauty and worth of the Perfect Ram, Jesus Christ, who was slaughtered so you wouldn’t have to be.