"The Angel Prevents the Sacrifice of Isaac," Rembrandt, 1636
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
There is more than one way to see something.
We can see with our eyes, or we can see with the eyes of faith. That’s what happened to Abraham on Mount Moriah when he offered his son Isaac to the Lord. We catch a glimpse of this in Genesis 22. Twice in that chapter Abraham hints that he expects somehow, some way, God was going to work things out so Isaac would live. When he saw Moriah in the distance, he gave this instruction to his servants:
“Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (v. 5).
Did you get that? "We" will come back to you. Not "I" will come back, but "we" will come back. Abraham believed he and his son would somehow return together. As they walked along, with Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrifice, the son asked his father, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (Genesis 22:7). Abraham's reply has become a synonym for the man of faith speaking faith into a hopeless situation. "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (v. 8).
Hebrews 11:19 tells us why Abraham could talk like that. He believed God could raise the dead.
Didn't know how.
Had never seen it happen.
He reasoned from what he knew about God to what he knew about the situation. The only thing he could come up with was, "I'm going to put my son to death, and then God will raise him from the dead." That's amazing if you think about it, especially since no one in history had ever been raised from the dead, and this happened 2000 years before Christ.
It turns out he was partly right about it. God can raise the dead, a fact proved at the empty tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem. That part was 100% correct. But he was wrong about Isaac dying that day. At the very last second, Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket, a ram placed there by God, and he offered the ram in place of his son. Thus figuratively he did receive Isaac back from the dead. In 1636 Rembrandt depicted this dramatic moment in one of his paintings. If you study it closely, you can see the ram just under the angel’s arm.
Long before Christ came, God preached the gospel to Abraham. Through the ram caught in the thicket, Abraham “saw” the coming day of salvation Christ would bring. No wonder he was glad!
Take a moment and thank God for Jesus. Remember that Christ came to die for you and me. He paid for our sins on the cross and then defeated death once and for all when he rose from the dead. On this side of Calvary, we know much more than Abraham did. We ought to rejoice too!
Our Father, may we see Jesus with fresh eyes this Christmas season. Fill us with gladness because our Savior has come and made all things new. Amen.
Musical bonus: Today’s carol got its start in a Latin poem written in A.D. 413. It celebrates the Incarnation and calls on Christians to sing praise to God. If you need a “praise uplift” today, listen to Of the Father’s Love Begotten.
"Adam and Eve Cast Out of Paradise," 1880
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed” (Genesis 3:15).
It’s a long way from Eden to Bethlehem.
Eve paid a heavy price for her part in the first sin. After the serpent had deceived her, she ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. It all happened so fast. She ate, he ate, they were naked and ashamed, and the Lord pronounced judgment. They were cast out of the Garden, forbidden to return by an angel with a flaming sword. Robert Frost wrote about this in one of his most famous poems:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Did you catch the biblical allusion? “So Eden sank to grief.” In just five words he described what happened to the human race when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Sin entered. Death became our destiny. Sadness invaded the human DNA. Pain moved next door.
As part of the judgment, God promised continual strife that started in Eden and shows no signs of ending, thousands of years later.
Genesis 3:15 is the first promise given after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. It is also the first promise of redemption. Everything else in the Bible flows from Genesis 3:15. As the acorn contains the mighty oak, so these words contain the entire plan of salvation. The great English preacher Charles Simeon called this verse “the sum and summary of the whole Bible.”
Although you may not see it at first glance, Christ is in this verse. He is the ultimate Seed of the Woman who would one day come to crush the serpent’s ugly head. His “heel” would be bruised on the cross. This verse predicts Jesus would win the victory over Satan but would himself be wounded at the same time.
Beginning with Genesis 3:15, there is now a fundamental division in the human race. Francis Schaeffer speaks of “two humanities” that arise after the Fall:
From this time on in the flow of history there are two humanities. The one humanity says there is no God, or it makes God in its own imagination, or it tries to come to God in its own way. The other humanity comes to the true God in God’s way. There is no neutral ground (Genesis in Time and Space, p. 115).
The “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent” have opposed each other continuously across the centuries. The struggle continues to this present hour.
Jesus didn’t come in the usual way; he entered the world through a virgin birth. No one before or since ever entered the world as he did. He is the ultimate “seed of the woman” since no man was involved in his conception.
When God wanted to save the world, he didn’t send a committee; he sent his Son.
When God wanted to say, “I love you,” he wrapped his love note in swaddling clothes.
When God wanted to crush Satan, he started in a stable in Bethlehem.
Even in Eden, God was planning for Christmas. He was thinking of you before you were born because he knew one day you would need a Savior.
As we begin our Advent journey, let’s remember Christ came in fulfillment of a promise made amid the wreckage caused by Adam and Eve. They sinned, and we suffer the consequences. Our sin may be great, but God’s grace is greater than our sin.
Sin, sacrifice, salvation. Jesus came because of our sin. His sacrifice paid for our sin. Because of his sacrifice, we receive salvation.
Maybe it’s not as far from Eden to Bethlehem as we think.
Lord Jesus, with your blood you kept the promise God made. Glory to you, our Savior and King. Amen.
Musical bonus: Here’s a newer Christmas song called Noel, written by Chris Tomlin and featuring Lauren Daigle.
We have just released our brand-new Advent ebook devotional called Faces Around the Manger. The ebook contains 25 daily devotions covering December 1-25. This year we’re going to take an Advent journey that starts in Eden and ends on Christmas morning in Bethlehem.
Each devotion ends with a prayer for the day plus a link to a YouTube video of a Christmas carol.
The ebook is available for free from Amazon for the next four days--November 30-December 3. After that, it will cost $2.99. If you have trouble downloading from the Amazon website, you can download the file for free from this page on the KBM website.
Our journey starts tomorrow (December 1).
Expand your faith and increase your joy by joining us on this Advent journey.
We have put together a page with 29 Thanksgiving messages. They deal with topics such as contentment, gratitude, humility, grace, and how God uses hard times to develop a grateful heart. I hope you will use these messages to prepare your own heart for the holiday. Pastors should feel free to use this material in your own sermon preparation.