Ram and Cross
When Isaac turned three, Sarah stopped breast-feeding him and they threw a big party to celebrate. During the party Sarah noticed Ishmael teasing his young half-brother and upsetting him. That made Sarah see red. She'd really had it with Ishmael. So she stormed off and told Abraham in no uncertain terms to get rid of him and his mother, Hagar.
"I don't want Ishmael sharing in Isaac's inheritance." Sarah said putting her foot down firmly. "I just won't have it!"
Abraham was very upset by Sarah's demands, as after all Ishmael was his son. So he prayed to God about it and asked Him what he should do.
"Don't be upset over Ishmael and Hagar," God told him, "do as Sarah says, for Isaac is the son through whom all your descendants will be blessed, not Ishmael. But, because Ishmael is your son I will make a great nation out of him."
Although he wasn't really happy about it, Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael their marching orders. He handed Hagar some bread and a container of water and told them to push off and never come back.
Hagar and Ishmael (who was a youth of about 17) wandered out into the wilderness not really knowing where they were going.
When all the water had gone, Hagar left Ishmael in the shade of a bush and wandered off some distance away and then burst into tears.
"I don't want to watch my son die!" she wailed.
Ishmael was crying as well. He knew that he would soon die of thirst, so he cried out to God and God heard his cries.
An angel called out to Hagar, "Hagar, what's the matter? Don't be afraid! God has heard the boy's cries. Go and comfort him, for God will make a great nation out of him."
Then God opened Hagar's eyes and she saw a well. Immediately she filled the water container and gave Ishmael a drink.
Some years after Hagar and Ishmael left, God decided to test Abraham's faith.
Isaac, it seems, had taken first place in Abraham's heart where God belongs. So God told Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah, three days journey away and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering.
Poor Abraham, what a terrible thing to be told to do, to kill his own son!
Abraham got very little sleep that night laying awake thinking about it. How would God be able to keep His promise of blessing him with as many descendants as the stars in the sky, through Isaac, if he killed him? Abraham wondered.
But such was his faith that Abraham was convinced that if he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead afterwards!
Abraham got up and chopped the wood he'd need for the fire. He then called Isaac over and told him they were going into the mountains as he was to offer a sacrifice to God there.
Abraham saddled his donkey and taking Isaac and two of his servants, he set off for Mt. Moriah.
On the third day, Abraham saw in the distance where he and Isaac had to go, so he said to his servants, "Wait here with the donkey, Isaac and I will travel on a little further on foot. We will worship God there and then we will both come back."
Abraham placed the wood, tied into bundles, on Isaac's shoulders, while he carried the knife and the hot coals to start the fire.
As the two of them walked along together Isaac asked curiously, "Father, we have the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?"
"God will provide the lamb, my son." Abraham replied confidently and they went on together.
When they arrived where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Then he tied Isaac up and laid him on top.
With a heavy heart and tears in his eyes Abraham raised his knife to kill Isaac; his son whom he loved so dearly and who was the most precious thing in the world to him, as a sacrifice to the Lord, when an angel shouted to him. "Abraham! Abraham!"
"Yes?" Abraham replied, the knife still poised above Isaac's heart, "I'm listening."
"Lay down the knife," the angel of the Lord said. "Don't hurt the boy in any way, for now I know you truly trust God because you have not kept back your beloved son from Him."
Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering on the altar in place of Isaac.
Abraham named the place, "Jehovah Jireh," meaning, "The Lord will provide."
Then the angel told Abraham, "This is what the Lord God says: 'because you have obeyed Me and not withheld your beloved son, I will multiply your descendants into countless millions and through your descendants all the people of the earth will be blessed.'"
With a thankful heart, Abraham led Isaac back down the mountain and they rejoined his servants for the long journey home.
God's Father-heart must have been aching as He watched Abraham prepare to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. God knew that although He'd provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac, that for His own beloved Son, Jesus, there would be no substitute. Jesus Himself was to be the Lamb sacrificed for us all on the Cross of Calvary on Good Friday.
So on Easter Sunday as you eat the bread and drink the wine in church at Holy Communion, please remember what Jesus did for you and be thankful.