Passover to Pentecost: Time to Mature

In John 4:34-38 that Jesus describes his own mission in terms of a harvest that is already begun, yet unseen by the world. He calls himself the vine and us the branches in John 15:1-5 in another harvest metaphor. In this case there is pruning for further growth and the bearing of more fruit later.

The time between Passover and Pentecost seems like a long time, especially since one has to wonder why it took so long before Jesus sent the Holy Spirit after his resurrection. Jesus taught his disciples during 40 of the 50 days between his resurrection and Pentecost. Wouldn’t it have been easier on both Jesus and the disciples if they had the advantage of the Holy Spirit right from the resurrection?

For a long time I believed that the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost because of the fiery demonstration recorded in Acts 2. A long time later I noticed that when Jesus appeared to the disciples the evening of the resurrection he seems to “breathe” the Spirit into them and tells them they now have authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23). It is only later, at Pentecost, that they receive the visible evidence and the power to preach.

According to Matthew 28:10, 16, Jesus immediately sends the disciples to Galilee, where he teaches them about himself and what the Bible tells about him and the Kingdom of God for forty days (Acts 1:3). From Galilee they move to Bethany, where Jesus is taken up into heaven in their sight (Luke 24:50-51). They go to Jerusalem and wait there until Pentecost, when the sound of a loud wind and tongues of fire announce that God’s Presence has moved from the Temple to an unlikely group of Galilean disciples of an executed Rabbi (Acts 2) who claimed equality with God (John 5:18).

I theorize that on Monday after the resurrection the disciples took the three-day journey to Galilee to escape the authorities in Jerusalem, who were plotting to keep Jesus’ resurrection a secret. They would surely have been executed for “robbing” the grave had they been caught. They would have arrived by the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (now known as the last day of Passover Week).

I believe that the forty days of teaching that Luke records took place in the vicinity of Galilee, with perhaps (though not necessarily) the final three days of teaching taking place on a journey back into Judea for a stay in Bethany. That would have given them somewhere between 3-7 days after Jesus’ ascension to remain in the vicinity of Jerusalem to wait for the day of Pentecost. My preference is for 40 days in Galilee (a “wilderness,” compared to Jerusalem) followed by a three-day journey to Bethany and an ascension from the Mount of Olives.

The 40 days of training by Jesus seem to echo the 40 days Jesus was tested in the wilderness, which itself was an echo of Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness. Jesus was making sure they were prepared for their ministry. Jesus had told them the night before he died that there was a great deal that he needed to tell them, but that they could not yet understand. He finishes that conversation with them over that 40 days.

Jesus had also told them that the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds what he had taught them. I suspect that this teaching session is what he had in mind. Many of their apparently strange interpretations of the Old testament probably have their origins in that marathon session in Galilee.

Somehow it was important to Jesus for the empowerment of the Spirit to take place at Pentecost. Since Passover and Pentecost are uniquely tied together with a 50-day interval between two “wave offerings”, it might be a good time to talk about harvests and time intervals.

The 50 days between Passover and Pentecost also signal the beginning and end of the two major grain harvest seasons in ancient Israel. Barley is the first to ripen, and the harvest begins after the Firstfruits ceremony on Sunday during Passover week. Pentecost signals the beginning of the wheat harvest. The empowerment of the disciples to preach in order to bring people to Christ seems to be also a type of “firstfruits” offering to God for the larger harvest.

Sooner or later it occurs to the reader that harvests, by nature, spread out over time. There must be a sowing or planting, followed by growth, followed by flowering, followed by bearing the fruit or seed, followed by harvest. It         takes          time.

Jesus by analogy was the firstfruits of the early barley harvest, which continues in the 40 day training and commissioning of his disciples before his ascension. At Pentecost we have the firstfruits of the larger harvest through the disciples by the Holy Spirit. This much larger harvest continues to this day in what we often call the church age.

The number 50 had great symbolism. In ancient Israel, a man was considered an adult for purposes of census at the age of 20, and life expectancy was about 70 years (at least according to the Psalms). The expectation of adult maturity was the same as the number of days between these harvest first-fruit offerings. 50 years was the number of years from Jubilee to Jubilee, when debt was forgiven and land returned to the family (rebooting the economy).

In that sense the number 50 may symbolize maturity or completion of a cycle or an era.

After Pentecost comes another harvest festival season in the fall, concluding with the Feast of Tabernacles. This one is a celebration of a completed harvest season.

After all this, should it be surprising that it takes time to mature in Jesus Christ? Should it be surprising that Jesus’ mission is begun – but not over yet? Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20), but there is a harvest to be completed yet (v. 21-24). Christ, those who are his at his coming, then comes the end. (Does the last phrase suggest a final harvest of later-redeemed people? I like to hope so.)

What matters is that the end is not yet. We still have time. We have time to grow in Christ. We have time to do what He has called us to do. The holy interval of redemption is not over yet, either personally or collectively for the world. What will we do with the interval we have been granted? Will we use it for the purpose Jesus sent his church for?

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The Authority of the Bible Part 3: The Purpose of God’s Authority in the Bible

This post continues a series of reflections on a lecture given by N. T. Wright about the authority of the Bible.

To this point we have looked at how the church has tried to make the Bible into things it was not intended to be, such as a rulebook or a collection of timeless principles to live by or a book of answers to difficult moral questions, and thereby have made the Bible less than it was intended to be. We have also looked at how God exercises his authority in the human realm according to the Bible. Through this look we have discerned that God exercises his authority, in Wright’s words, “through human agents anointed and equipped by the Holy Spirit” (emphasis his).

The question we now consider is one that provides the controlling factor in the exercise of God’s delegated authority. What is God’s purpose in exercising his authority according to the Bible? Knowing why God does what he does will, we hope, go a long way to understanding what God means by the word “authority.” We can hope that this understanding will shape how God’s delegated authority is intended to be exercised by the scriptures and its readers.

It does not take long to establish in the Bible that God uses his authority to 1) create, 2) maintain and improve his good creation, 3) judge his creation and 4) save his creation. We see this in the creation story, the story of the fall, the story of the flood, and the story of Israel (from promises to Abraham to the Exodus to Exile). We especially see God’s judging and saving authority in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, who is anointed to judge and save from death by dying in our stead and rising again, defeating death. He sends his disciples out to tell his story and teach them to obey Jesus’ teaching.

God is out to save humanity as well as the rest of his creation (which we are desecrating and destroying at an alarming rate). His acts of judgment are not just about human beings, even according to the New Testament. Revelation 11:18 notes that judgment is upon unrepentant humanity (the “Beast”) in order, among other things, “for destroying those who destroy the earth.”

Jesus uses his authority to save humanity from eternal death (John 3:16) and to bring liberty and freedom from oppression as typified by the ancient Jubilee Year (Luke 4:14-21 and compare with Deuteronomy 25:8-10). Jesus’ use of authority should be a clue to how we are to use the authority of the Bible: to bring salvation and freedom from fear, sin and oppression to others.

Notice that each of the items above comes in the form of a story. We know God’s will through the stories of the Bible. Because God reveals his authority to us through stories we are going to need “a rich concept of authority” to “do justice to this book” according to Wright.

The things written by these people, thus led by the Spirit, are not for the most part, as we saw, the sort of things we should think of as ‘authoritative’. They are most narrative; and we have already run up against the problem how can a story, a narrative, be authoritative? Somehow, the authority which God has invested in this book is an authority that is wielded and exercised through the people of God telling and retelling their story as the story of the world, telling the covenant story as the true story of creation. Somehow, this authority is also wielded through his people singing psalms. Somehow, it is wielded (it seems) in particular through God’s people telling the story of Jesus. We must look, then, at the question of stories. What sort of authority might they possess?

What sort of authority can a story possess? Wright likens the authority of story to an unfinished play by William Shakespeare. There is no ending written that resolves the entire play, yet there are clues built into the script about what a proper ending should accomplish. There are also characters who have been developed up to the point of the stopped work.

Here Wright imagines the Bible is like a five-act play that is unfinished near the start of the fifth act. The script is given to a group of actors who are well versed (pardon the pun) in Shakespeare’s work and know the script to that particular play exceedingly well. The four written acts are set, and no deviation from them or the plot-lines they have charted can be permitted. The actors are then set free to work out the rest of the play, but only as they stay in character of their roles and only to bring the play to a logical conclusion based on the plot outlined in the previous acts. The actors must remain consistently within their roles and within the world created by the first four acts. (Any ad-libbing that is inconsistent with either of those things will lead to the play being panned by the critics as untrue to the Bard.)

In a similar manner Christians rely on the plot and characters outlined in the Bible to form the basis of their interaction with the world. We truly need to know the book fully to fulfil our roles properly. Deviations from the story (gospel) of Jesus Christ as told by the Bible, even by well-meaning Christians, will be glaringly obvious to other Christians, who will condemn them for exchanging the truth of God for a lie.

This is a call to internalize the story of the entire Bible. Get to know the God who is the ultimate hero of the story. Get to know the plot, from creation to fall, exodus to exile and redemption in Jesus Christ and his anointing/empowerment of the disciples by the Holy Spirit to preach the good news to all creation.

Learn to love that story so much that your own life revolves around living it out and conveying it to others in whatever way is consistent with the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you.

Letting the Bible be itself, a story with authority, is the best way to fully conform to the authority of the Bible in our lives.

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The Authority of the Bible Part 2: The Character of God’s Authority

It was with good intention that I began this session with an example from N. T. Wright’s lecture about the authority of the Bible. Because of its surprising detail about God’s workings and what he allows his angels to do, we bogged down for quite a while in the story of the prophet Micaiah (1 kings 22:1-28). God intends to bring an evil king to judgment via death in battle. In a meeting of the heavenly court God seeks advice about how to lure Ahab to his doom. One angel offers to become a lying spirit to Ahab’s entire staff of prophets. God approves, telling him that the ruse will ultimately succeed.

Once we grappled inconclusively with a God who approves of a deliberate angelic deception, we looked at how God worked in the human side of the incident.

Wicked king Ahab of Israel wanted good king Jehoshaphat of Judah to ally with him in a battle with a common enemy. Jehoshaphat is willing, but want to seek assurance from God that this alliance meets his approval. Ahab’s 400 false prophets put on a great show, complete with special effects, indicating complete success in their joint venture.

Jehoshaphat, sensing that something is amiss, wonders if any prophets of his own God is available. Ahab grudgingly complies, warning that Micaiah never prophesies good things about him. Surprisingly, Micaiah at first parrots the false prophets about success.

This is so out of character that Ahab orders him to stop lying and tell him the truth. Micaiah then relates his vision of the heavenly court scene described above. (Micaiah is our only source for that information, by the way.)

At this point he orders the prophet imprisoned with rations of only bread and water until Ahab’s safe return from the ill-advised battle. During the battle Jehoshaphat barely escapes with his life, while Ahab meets his end from a random arrow while in disguise.

We never find out if Micaiah is ever released from prison.

So why do they both go ahead with the scheme – especially the one who asked for the second opinion from God’s prophet? That one has puzzled me for a long time.

Speaking about this, Wright says,

This is especially interesting, because the false prophets seem to have everything going for them. They are quoting Deuteronomy 33-one of them makes horns and puts them on his head and says, ‘with these you will crush the enemy until they are overththown’. They had scripture on their side; after all, Yahweh was thw God of Battles and he would fight for Israel. They had reason on their side; Israel and Judah together can beat these northern enemies quite easily. But they didn’t have God on their side.

Wright uses this story as an example of how God exercises his authority with this surprising statement:

God wanted to judge Ahab and save Israel. And so God delegated his authority to the prophet Micaiah who, inspired by the Spirit, stood humbly in the council of God  and then boldly in the councils of men.

He later notes that

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were writing in order that it might be the foundation documentation for the church today and might bear God’s authority in doing so. And a book which carries God’s authority to be the foundation of the church for the world is what I mean by scripture.

He concludes, “Thus it is that through the spoken and written authority of anointed human beings God brings his authority to bear on his people and his world.”

Rather than just taking the good Professor’s word for that, we read through several Gospel accounts of authority being given to Jesus as well as his disciples. For instance, Jesus claims that his Father has given him authority to judge and to grant eternal life (John 5:19-29). As he spends the last night before his death with his disciples he is aware that his Father “had given everything into his hands” (John 13:3).

We also find Jesus giving authority over sickness and demons in Matthew 10:1-15. Jesus pronounces terrible judgments on any home or city or territory that rejects his disciples or their message. This suggests that he has made them fully accredited ambassadors of both Jesus and his Father. Luke 9:1-2 and 10:1-20 record similar delegations of authority.

Once he was resurrected Jesus reiterates his authority, this time “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18) and instructs them to teach their own disciples to obey everything that Jesus commanded them. If teaching obedience to Jesus’ commands isn’t authority, I don’t know what is.

In short, God is not afraid to share his authority with his created beings who are willing to do things God’s way. This shouldn’t surprise us, since that was his whole purpose for creating humanity according to Genesis 1:26-28.

The events of Pentecost and the Book of Acts show us how God’s authority is exercised in the church by chosen human beings: through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, who gives gifts of insight, speech (whether in languages unknown to the speaker or inspired “prophetic” speech in the normal language of the speaker), wisdom, teaching ability, healings, songs, for worship or the ability to help others, etc. (1 Corinthians 12). Like a skilled conductor, the Spirit organizes the church by mobilizing the various gifts through inspiration of all of the active Spirit-led members of the congregation.

It was a diversity of such Spirit-led people who penned the words that we now call the books of the New Testament. They deliberately used the authority God gave them to record the stories about Jesus and the apostles, as well as directions and instructions for the early church and some of its next-generation leaders in letters preserved for us today.

We will discuss how these writings bear God’s authority to us in the next post in this series.

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The Authority of the Bible – Part 1: The Problem

We have been spending a few Wascana Fellowship services examining some of the points N. T. Wright makes in a lecture entitled “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” In this lecture he notes that many of the ways we believe the Bible has authority over Christians may actually reflect a low view of Scripture, notwithstanding our intent.

Oddly enough, the Bible itself does not say much about its own authority over the lives of Christians or over the church. It does say a couple of important things about this, but not really in the way we have tried to make it say. For instance we often read 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to mean that the Bible is our ultimate authority for everything we do in the church. We therefore need only read it and do what it tells us. Actually, what it says is that the Bible is useful for many things, including teaching, correcting (rebuking) and training in righteousness.

2 peter 1:19-21 is also used to show that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so we must pay attention to it. And so it is. But how, exactly? We learn (as if the stories of the prophets haven’t already told us) that prophecy comes as men speak as they are carried by the Holy Spirit. Their words carry weight because they speak about what God reveals to them by the Holy Spirit. In other words they speak as men empowered by God to speak on his behalf. But does that mean, for instance that Jonah’s message to Nineveh, or Elijah’s messages to King Ahab is what God says to all people at all times? Is Jeremiah’s warning to Zedekiah about obeying the king of Babylon applicable to me today? How does that work?

Yes, the Bible is inspired by God.

Yes, it is useful for many things.

But is it our final word about everything?

He notes that when we use the Bible as a rulebook or as a book of guiding principles or book of timeless principles, we actually are making it do something it was not really written to do.

When we make it a book of answers to theological puzzles or difficult questions, we are also making it do something it was not written to do.

When we chop it up into brief Scripture readings that are used to proof-text daily devotions, we are making it do something it was not designed to do.

Yes, the Bible does contain some sets of rules for specific times and circumstances, as well as words of wisdom that may sometimes be timeless, and even has hints that can be massaged into answers to difficult questions. The majority of it is actually written as narrative, poetry and songs. How does poetry or narrative act as our final authority? These are questions he explores in the quest to see the Bible used in the manner it was designed for. For instance, fully half of the so-called five books of the Law (Pentateuch) is narrative, not law. The Psalms is a song-book, and most of the writings of the Prophets comes down to us in the form of Hebrew poetry or song. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther are all collections of stories.

So where does the Bible say that authority lies, anyway? To quote Wright, “If we look in scripture to find out where in practice authority is held to lie, the answer on page after page does not address our regular antitheses at all. As we shall see, in the Bible all authority lies with God himself.”

God speaks and a whole universe comes into being. God acts to free his people from Egypt by mighty miracles. God sends his disobedient people into captivity. God brings a remnant back to resettle them into the Promised land. God sends Jesus, his own Son, to die on humanity’s behalf. God raises Jesus from the dead and empowers Jesus’ disciples with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. If that isn’t authority, nothing is.

We need to be careful not to displace the authority of God himself with that of the book that records his actions and the response of his people over the ages.

On the other hand, chopping up the Bible with all manner of interpretational hocus-pocus to turn the Bible’s authority into a set of rules or a set of principles or examples to follow, or doctrines to believe seems to effectively belittle the book itself by making the rules, etc. more important than the book itself. It effectively gives our reasoning authority over the Bible, thereby belittling the Bible itself.

Add to this that our notions of what “authority” itself means may also be more reflective of worldly or cultural norms than of what the Bible itself means by the term.

He concludes the introduction to his lecture by saying, “I have argued that the notion of the ‘authority of scripture’ is a shorthand expression for God’s authority, exercised somehow through scripture; that scripture must be allowed to be itself in exercising that authority, and not be turned into something else which might fit better into what the church, or the world, might have thought its ‘authority’ should look like; that it is therefore the meaning of ‘authority’ itself, not that of scripture, that is the unknown in the equation, and that when this unknown is discovered it challenges head on the various notions and practices of authority endemic in the world, and alas, in the church also.”

In the next post we will begin to cover his proposed solution to the problem of how the Bible is authoritative for the believer today.

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Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread: A New Testament Reflection

In a post from last year titled Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread I tried to refine a timeline about the Exodus from Egypt of Israel in which I concluded that the Red Sea crossing had taken place overnight during the third night after Passover. The sea came back together, drowning the Egyptian army at about dawn the third day, signalling freedom from Egyptian oppression for Israel (Exodus 14:27-31). I also tried to find a correspondence with the events of the Passover week of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A three-day journey (with no water in sight) from the Red Sea brought the Israelites to a place called Marah because of its bitter waters. Moses is shown a piece of wood, which he throws into the water, healing its bitterness. Because of this incident I had a general notion that the remainder of the week represented Jesus’ leadership with the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us through the tough times in the Christian life.

Upon further reflection, it seems that God had something specific in mind about that locale as a worship venue even before they left Egypt. In fact, God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh to let them go on a three-day journey outside of Egypt to worship him (Exodus 3:18). This order was given while Moses was still talking to God at the burning bush!

A second thing I noticed is that not only does God heal the waters – he also enters into a covenant of healing with them (Exodus 15:25-26). This includes a test, a decree and a law. I don’t think I am pushing very hard when I call it a “covenant”. Call it what you will, but there is at least a commandment involved – marching orders of a kind. “Follow me, and I will keep you in good health!”

So I scrutinized the Gospel accounts of that fateful Passover week to see if there was any mention of a journey of roughly thee days for the disciples. Nothing came into view until I read Matthew 28:1-10. An angel tells Mary and the other women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, where Jesus will meet them. Apparently they did not believe the women, so Jesus himself appears to them and tells them the same thing, “Go to Galilee.”

This Christianity Today article provides useful information about how far people travelled per day. Depending on where in Galilee you go (Nazareth seems to be a logical end-point, but it could easily have been along the Sea of Galilee, where the fishermen originally worked), a distance of between 60 and 95 miles could have been involved. Matthew 28:16-20 indicates that a mountain in Galilee is where he tells gives them what has come to be called the Great Commission – to preach the gospel to the world.

Now why would Jesus tell his disciples to get out of the region immediately after his resurrection? Actually, verses 11-15 give us the answer. The authorities were already accusing the disciples of stealing Jesus’ body. It was not safe to remain in the environs of Jerusalem under the threat of arrest and probable death.

The Apostle John, in what seems to be an epilogue at the end of his Gospel, tells us the story of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias (as the Romans called the Sea of Galilee) in John 21. In this story he tells of the miraculous catch of fish that enables the disciples to identify him as the risen Jesus. The southern end of the Sea of Galilee is about 70 miles from Jerusalem, and may well have been within a three-day walk for experienced itinerant preachers.

He also tells of Jesus’ rehabilitation of Peter as the leading apostle. He asks Peter three times if he loves Jesus, and Peter responds in the affirmative each time. Notice that this is the same number of times that Peter had denied Jesus at his trial. The triple affirmation is intended to reverse the triple denial. Not only is there a triple affirmation, but Jesus also issues a tripled command: “Feed my sheep!”

I have already noted that Jesus seems to have issued his Great Commission while the disciples were in Galilee. So we have Jesus who tests his disciples, who heals the breach between himself and their abandonment of himself at the cross, and who gives them a command to both follow him and preach his gospel – all after a three-day journey. Whether or not these events recorded in Matthew and John took place literally on the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover,) this strikes me as a reasonable idea of what the Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread represents as fulfilled in the New Testament.

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Passover Symbolism

John Valade:

This is an excellent summary of the Old Testament and New Testament Passovers by Mervyn Steadman on his blog “Mymoss.”

Originally posted on Mymoss's Weblog:

Post # 102

Symbolism in Passover and Easter Observances

The Passover was first instituted several thousand years ago in Egypt, when God fulfilled His promise to free the descendants of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) from Egyptian captivity.

Genesis 15:12-16 says, “When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. Now terror and great darkness fell on him. He said to Abram, ‘Know for sure that your offspring will live as foreigners in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them. They will afflict them four hundred years. I will also judge that nation, whom they will serve. Afterward they will come out with great wealth, but you will go to your fathers in peace. You will be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation they will come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.’ ” (WEB)

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“The Lord Will Provide”

All of my life I have heard people of faith in difficult circumstances utter words to the effect of “the Lord will provide.” Most times the things or people that they need arrive in time to help, and usually from the most unexpected quarters.

I was surprised to discover the strange context of the first time that phrase is used in the Bible (at least that I am aware of). It is used in the context of Abraham being told to offer his son Isaac as a human sacrifice by the very same God who had made it possible for Abraham and his wife to conceive him long past a normal childbearing age.

The story is found in Genesis 22:1-19. God tells Abraham, “sacrifice your only son, whom you love.” on Mount Moriah. This was a three day journey from their camp. Abraham, his son and two servants depart the next morning. It must have been a long three days for Abraham.

The strangest part of God’s order to sacrifice the boy was that God had promised that this particular lad would be the one that Abraham’s descendants would be named after. He would be the one through whose lineage God promised would bring blessing to all families (or tribes or nations) of the earth. How was God going to accomplish that by killing him?

As they approach the site, Abraham tells the servants to stay back and guard the supplies while he and the boy go up the mountain to sacrifice. He tells them that the two will return when they are done. This is a very odd thing to say when Abraham knows that his son will die on the mountain. Perhaps this is the clue that inspires the writer of the book of Hebrews to say, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

When Isaac looks around on the way up he begins to wonder where the lamb for the offering will come from, since they seem to have neglected to bring one with them. Abraham assures him that God will provide the sacrificial lamb. The reader knows, of course, that nothing good will come of this sacrifice unless something miraculous happens.

I notice that the lad’s assumption is that it will be a lamb. Was there some sort of family tradition of lamb sacrifices prior to this incident? Lamb would certainly become a very important part of a later sacrificial ritual Israel, the Passover meal and accompanying deliverance from Egypt. Jesus Christ would die centuries later as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Just as Abraham is about to bring the knife down on the boy’s neck a loud voice from heaven tells him to stop! Abraham had proven that he would obey even this most difficult test: being willing to give up his own beloved son. God provides instead a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. A ram’s blood and body substitutes for his son’s blood and body.

As a result of this turnabout Abraham names the place of this sacrifice “The Lord Will Provide.” So the reputation of what eventually became the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is based on Abraham’s prophetic utterance that somehow God will provide.

What God had provided was, of course, a substitute for the death of a human being. That is a very different thing from what we now expect God to provide for us from day to day (not that this is wrong).

Another thing to note is the phrasing of God’s command to sacrifice Isaac’s “only son,” “whom you love.” Isaac was actually Abraham’s second son. The previous one, Ishmael, had been born of Abraham to his wife’s handmaid because of Sarah’s infertility. They had had to banish Ishmael and his mother because of the family discord they were causing (much to Abraham’s sadness).

Isaac, however, was Sarah’s natural child by a supernatural intervention at age 90. He was the one God had promised to carry on Abraham’s legacy as father of a blessed nation as noted above. For purposes of the promise, Isaac was Abraham’s “only son” whom Abraham certainly loved.

Centuries later, as a small, insignificant remnant of Israel known as Judea was struggling under the yoke of the mighty Roman Empire, a Jewish prophet named John symbolically immerses (baptizes) a cousin named Jesus in the Jordan river. Something amazing happens, as recorded in Matthew 3:13-17.

As Jesus rises out of the water, the Spirit of God descends on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” A very similar expression from God in heaven appears later in Jesus’ ministry when he is transfigured (made glorious) in front of three of his disciples in Matt. 17:1-5

The expression echoes part of God’s description of Abraham’s son. Another part of the description of Isaac as sacrifice can be found in the famous passage of John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

A Judean reader of the books of Matthew and John would likely have been familiar with the story of Abraham and the commanded sacrifice of Isaac. Those expressions about Jesus as God’s only Son and as the Son God loves should have brought that particular story to mind, especially in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection. God had provided a substitute for the eternal death of all human beings.

Whereas Isaac figuratively came back from the grave, Jesus certainly literally did so. Whereas Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac resulted in blessing, Jesus’ sacrifice results in eternal life for all who are willing to believe and acknowledge Jesus’ lordship in their lives.

There is nothing new in understanding the story of Abraham and Isaac at the mountain of The Lord Will Provide as a prophetic sign and type of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

But it doesn’t hurt to remember it again.

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