Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lesson 5: A Willing Sacrifice

Lesson 5: The Fear of Isaac

When I was in England, I stumbled across a series of books called the Horrible Histories. They were graphic novels about English history, aimed at nine- to eleven-year-olds. In addition to the basic historical facts that the kids learned in school (“lots of people died in the Plague”), they also contained juicy, and disgusting, tidbits (“You would get awful pussing boils all over before you died”). They were wildly popular. By the time we reached Isaac, we had despaired of ever getting and maintaining our students’ attention, so we attempted a Horrible History strategy.

We told them, in unbelievable detail, about animal sacrifices.

They had heard that “the wages of sin is death,” but of course, they didn’t know what that meant.

Whenever a sin is committed, someone has to die for it. Like when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they were put out of the Garden, where they would have lived for ever, and sent out into the World, where they would one day die, as would all of their descendants. They would experience pain and torment, and then they would die. Rather than kill people every time they did something wrong, God gave them a way out. They still had to give something up—remember, people’s wealth was measured in livestock back then—but they didn’t have to give up their own lives. They could instead offer an animal (or grain) sacrifice to God. They would choose a really great animal—a nearly perfect animal—and they would sacrifice it in a certain kind of ceremony to let God know they were sorry. Something still had to die, but that something didn’t have to be a person.

So now Isaac. His father tells him, “Son, we’re going to do a sacrifice up on the mountain. I want you to come help me, and carry the wood.”

Now, let’s note a few important things here—first of all, Isaac was not a little boy in this case. He was at least a teenager, maybe an adult. He was strong enough to carry all the wood they would need for a burnt offering—and that was a lot of wood. So he’s a strong young man, and he is following his dad up the hill, and he knows how sacrifices work, so he asks his dad, “Where is the lamb?” and his dad says, “God will provide the lamb.”

They get to the top of the mountain and Abraham ties his son down. Abraham is a very old man, at least a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty. Isaac is young and strong. He was a willing sacrifice. He could have fought his father. He didn’t have to allow himself to be bound. He trusted in God and in Abraham, and he let this all happen.

Jesus, likewise, didn’t have to go to the cross. He could have escaped; he could have made the whole mess go away. He could have refrained from preaching and teaching—but he didn’t.

At this point, we asked the kids to use their concordances to find other instances of human sacrifice in the Bible. They found references to Isaac, of course. They also found Romans 12:1, where Paul talks about believers being a living sacrifice. “How can we be a living sacrifice for God?” we asked the kids.

“Uhm. Die?”

“No, it says a living sacrifice.”

“We could live for God?”
“What would it look like to live for God?”

“We’d be good a lot. And be nice to people. Read the Bible. Pray.”

“Ok, can you each pick one of those things to do?”

Follow up poor, don’t know if they did.

I thought the kids had understood my point about Isaac’s willingness, but their Wednesday night teacher had asked them to draw a picture of the story, and I saw David’s: a stick figure Isaac, bound on a stack of wood, his father standing over him with a knife. A speech bubble protrudes from Isaac’s mouth: “What’s up?”

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