Christmas in Genesis — Part Three
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Christmas in Genesis — Part Three

Genesis 15:1-5  (ID: 3401)

At Christmastime, Christians all around the world rejoice in Jesus’ birth. His coming, explains Alistair Begg, fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah that through their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. When Abraham heard God’s word, he laughed and questioned God’s plan—but nothing is too hard for the Lord! Sarah conceived by God’s power and bore a son, yet this child was still not the promised Messiah. God Himself would provide the Lamb of salvation: His Son, Jesus.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to Genesis, the first book in the Bible, and we’ll read just one or two brief sections, beginning at 12:1:

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And then in chapter 15:

“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’ And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”

And then in chapter 17, just a verse or two, again at the beginning:

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, ‘Behold my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.’”

Amen.

We thank God for his Word, and we seek help from him in both understanding it and then living in the light of it:

Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardor glowing.[1]

Speak, Lord, we pray, by your Word, by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus may be all the more precious to us. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen.

Well, those of you who’ve been present over these last couple of Sundays know that we set ourselves something of a task. I’ve questioned myself a couple of times, not least of all this week, about the wisdom in doing what we’ve done, and that is seeking to discover, as it were, Christmas in Genesis. By that we really mean discovering Jesus in Genesis and the way in which the unfolding pattern of the Bible leads us inevitably to him.

We would have been greatly helped in this endeavor if we could have listened in on the instruction that Jesus delivered to his disciples after he had met with them on the Emmaus road. The record of that is in Luke chapter 24. And if you are familiar with that passage, you know that in a very ironic way, those disconsolate disciples, following the death of Jesus, were met up with by an individual who was a stranger, and they were asking this stranger, “Are you the only person in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what has been going on in Jerusalem?”[2]—the irony being that they were talking with Jesus himself, who had been the center of everything that was going on. And very graciously and purposefully, Luke tells us how Jesus then gave them a Bible study, and he explained to them from the Old Testament Scriptures the way in which all of the lines lead to himself. And over a period of some forty days, if you like, there was a Bible class taught by Jesus.[3] And how wonderful it would have been to have him take us through these pages! And by the time I finish this morning, you’ll say, “Yeah, it would have been wonderful if he could have taken us through this morning as well.” But we share that together.

We are aware of the fact that when he did that with those followers, their hearts burned within them.[4] So they weren’t simply taking notes, as it were. They weren’t simply making discoveries that were intriguing to them. No, the entry of God’s Word fired them up. And then, within relatively short order, the Spirit of God filled them up. And then, as they went out onto the Jerusalem streets, nobody could shut them up. And that is another sermon that I’ll leave for another time. Fired up, filled up, and couldn’t be shut up: the story of the impact of the gospel in the life of the early apostles.

With that said, we began in 3:15 to see how there, in what is referred to as the protoevangelium, the first indication of the gospel, we saw how that verse contains a ray of hope in the context of the darkness that has come about as a result of the rebellion of Adam and Eve. And you may remember, we thought of that in terms of the entry of sin into the world. Last time, we looked at the story of Noah and pondered how the provision of an ark as a place of refuge points us to Jesus as the one who bears the judgment and is the only refuge for our souls.

In coming now to the section that begins at chapter 12, we realize that in just the same way as there is a sort of dark background and then the ray of hope—there is the darkness of judgment and then the place of refuge—so chapter 12, with the calling of Abraham, follows on from the darkness of chapter 11. And in chapter 11 we have the story of Babel and of the people saying what is not an unusual thing; we hear it regularly in our day: “Well, I think we can get up to heaven on our own. Why don’t we build a tower that would get us up there? And why don’t we see if we can’t make a name for ourselves?”[5] And, of course, the whole thing comes to a crashing halt. It is left unfinished. Primeval history just essentially comes to a fruitless climax.

The seed of Abraham is going to bring the blessing that has been lost as a result of the fall, the flood, and the scattering.

And then you turn a page into chapter 12, and you discover that God’s plan, as he intervenes, having dispersed these people and having disrupted their circumstances and scattered them throughout the world, God’s plan is to take an individual, and instead of that individual seeking to make a name for himself, as in Babel, God will make a name for him. And that was what we read in 12:2: and God said to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great.” By the time you get to chapter 17, he is regarding him as “the father of a multitude,” because it is there that his name is changed from Abram to Abraham, speaking to the fact that he is the father of these nations.

Now, of all of the studies so far, this is probably the most daunting. And I have to ask for your diligence—not now, but actually at home—because I’ve said on each occasion, we can only deal with this at a certain level; there will be inevitably many blanks. Well, the first two studies were nothing compared to this one! And so, since we have no evening service tonight, I assign the homework for the balance of the day so that you can go out, as the church in Berea did, and examine the Scriptures to see if these things are so.[6]

The melodic line that runs from this point on is essentially this: that “in you, Abraham, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” In other words, the seed of Abraham is going to bring the blessing that has been lost as a result of the fall, the flood, and the scattering. So, sin has entered into the world. God has come in judgment in the flood. There’s a brand-new beginning as they come out of the ark and as they’re encouraged once again to go forth and multiply[7]—the same exhortation that had been given to Adam and Eve in the garden.[8] And then, within short order, things begin to turn in upon themselves, and so here we have man drawing attention to himself and man being scattered. It is God who has scattered them. It is God who has discombobulated their language. And one day that is going to come when all of that is reunited. And the picture of the confusion of Babel is more than compensated for on the day of Pentecost, when this dramatic incident happens and people can hear the story of the gospel in their own tongue[9]—God coming to reverse that which he had put in motion all those years before.

And so it is that men and women today are scattered throughout the world. You’ve come in here today. I don’t know where you’ve come from. I don’t really know where you’re going to. But I hope you know where you’ve come from, and I hope you know where you’re going. Not just small picture. I don’t mean I hope you know where you’re going for lunch. I mean I hope you know where you’re going for all of eternity. I hope you know where you’ve come from, and I don’t mean where you were born in Ohio; I mean do you know that you were personally created by the living God who fashioned you in an intricate way in your mother’s womb?[10] Do you know that he made you so that you might know him, love him, and trust him? Do you know these things? Or are you just like the person who says, “Well, you know what? It’s Christmas; you gotta go somewhere. And they got the spire back up, so let’s just go and check them out.”

Well, that’d be okay. I was thinking about all the wanderers. It struck me as I was reading—it happens to me all the time—but just in my mind I came on the line:

I had a brother way back home, and he started out to roam,
And last I heard he was out by Frisco Bay.
And sometimes when I’m feeling blue,
His old voice comes ringin’ through,
And I’m going out and meet him one fine day.

But I just can’t help but wonder where I’m bound;
I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.[11]

“I just don’t know where I’m going.”

Now, the reverse of that is God, instead of seeing our lives scattered, is the wonder of the gathering—that he is gathering together a people, a multitude, that involves different colors, different backgrounds, different intelligence ratios, and so on. And God, the Bible tells us, is invested in putting this together. And it’s a wonderful picture, especially if you feel alone. Some of us feel alone—even in a crowd we feel alone. Loneliness isn’t just being by yourself. Loneliness is knowing what it is to be alone even when everybody else is around, and getting out, and going into your car, and saying, “I don’t really know where I am or what I am or where I’m going.”

Well, here’s the story of the Bible, and it’s grounded in Abraham: God is gathering together a vast company. Fanny Crosby, who wrote a lot of hymns in her day, has a wonderful hymn, and I was thinking about it again as I was driving here this morning. I was thinking about gathering. And then I thought about the movie The Gathering, part of which was shot in Chagrin Falls, and the disruption in family, and the man who was dying, and how he figured, “It’s Christmastime, and maybe we could get everything put back together again. Maybe we could gather.” Well, the wonderful story of the Bible is that that’s what God’s doing. He’s gathering people. He’s laying his hand on an individual here and a strange person there and a girl there and a young boy here and a university student over there, and he says, “Come on, I’m putting together this people.” And so it is that one day it’ll be one unbelievable gathering.

When the blest, who sleep in Jesus,
At his bidding shall arise
From the silence of the grave, and from the sea,
And with bodies all celestial
[We] shall meet him in the skies,
What a gath’ring [of the ransomed that] will be!
What a gath’ring![12]

Abraham’s children. You heard our reading in John 8. They said, “Why are you saying these things, Jesus? Don’t you realize that we are the children of Abraham?” Jesus says, “No, if you were the children of Abraham, you would do what Abraham did. But as it is, externally you are in the framework. But in reality, you’re not there at all.”[13]

Now, the promise of God to Abraham is that in his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. Will be blessed. Every so often people will say, “Well, I bless you,” or sometimes when you sneeze, they say, “Blessings!” and so on. It’s very nice. But what does it mean here that they will be blessed? It’s not a reference to sort of a general sense of well-being, a sort of cozy feeling. No. What is being proclaimed here is that through the seed of Abraham, from whose seed will come the Lord Jesus, the promise is of knowing God, is of having our sins forgiven, is essentially the reality of salvation.

Because, you see, what is it that Abram believed? When it says—did we read it there in chapter 15? Yes, in verse 6: “And he believed the Lord, and [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” What did he believe? Well, he believed the promise. What was the promise? The promise was that he would become the father of many nations. How was that going to start? With a child. Let me tell you what he believed: he believed the gospel. That’s what he believed.

If you doubt that, you need to do what we said earlier, and that is go to the back of the Bible, where you’ll find many of the answers. And in Galatians chapter 3, Paul actually expounds Genesis 15:6. And this is what he says: “… just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles”—that is, the people who did not have the promises of God and all of this by way of background—“that God would justify the Gentiles by faith”—notice, here’s the phrase—“preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”[14]

So what you have, really, in Abraham is that he’s a bit like the people that Peter mentions in his first letter, where he says that the folks that wrote these prophetic passages, they were like men standing on tiptoes, and they were looking, trying to see what it was that God was going to do. He actually includes the angels in that, and he says that if you imagine the angels, they’re sort of looking down from the parapet of heaven, longing somehow or another to understand what the answer to this question is.[15] And it is, of course, in the gospel. “Your father Abraham,” says Jesus to the Jews, “rejoiced that he would see my day. [And] he saw it and was glad.”[16] The people said, “Well, how could he see your day?” Well, he saw it in the fulfillment of the promise in the gift of Isaac.

Now, what we’re trying to say here is that here we are in Genesis; is it shooting us forward into the Christmas experience? You say, “Well, I can see you’re trying your very best to make that point, but keep going. You haven’t quite got me there.”

Well, for example, what about the Magnificat? What about Mary when she sings? It’s fascinating, isn’t it, that in that little poem that is hers, in that little song that is hers, what does she refer to? “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”[17] So she realizes what is going on here is tied directly to Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Genesis 17.

In the same way, Zechariah, who has a wife who can’t have a baby—she’s barren. Her name is Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. And when Zechariah gives voice to these things, he says, “And O God, you remember your holy covenant, the oath that you swore to our father Abraham.”[18] And if you want the details of that oath, read the second half of Genesis chapter 22. You’ll find it there.

That’s why when you come to the birth narratives—when, perhaps, we have some of these readings on Tuesday evening, all being well—someone will probably read the record of Simeon. This wonderful fellow, Simeon. And what will we read? Well, we’ll read that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”[19] You say, “Well, didn’t we sing about that?” Yeah! We sang about this morning: “Israel’s strength and consolation, [joy] of all the earth thou art,”[20] “visit us with thy salvation, enter ev’ry trembling heart.”[21] That’s what we sang. Now, we may not have understood what we sang, and we may not even have meant what we sang. But that’s what we sang. So we’re actually singing Simeon’s song.

And there in the temple there’s a lovely lady, and her name is Anna. And what is Anna doing? Well, she’s “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”[22] You say, “What a strange thing to be waiting for. Why is this?” Because these beloved ones, these righteous ones, were reading their Bibles, and they were anticipating all that God was going to do.

Now, all this and more besides is there, which you’re gonna discover in your homework. It is a significant plan. It is a picture of God’s plan from all of eternity. It is the story of the eternal counsel of God’s will, as Paul writes of it in Ephesians chapter 1.[23] This, you see, is the answer to Stephen Hawking’s question at the end of his book on time. And at the end of that—I mentioned it in one of the concerts. I changed my talks every night, ’cause I didn’t like any of them. But Hawking says, in going into those black holes, in going into physics and gravity and things that I don’t even understand, he says that what we’re really trying to do is see if we can find a unifying pattern that will explain the observable realities of the universe. And he says, “And if we can come up with that, then it will be the greatest discovery for rational man. And we will,” he says, “know the mind of God.”[24] Despite the fact that he doesn’t believe in God! But how else is he going to explain this?

So what I’m saying to you is that although this idea of Christmas in Genesis may seem far out and gone from you, think only this, then: that in this promise God is assembling a great company. He is calling out individuals by name, in the same way that was happening four thousand years ago and two thousand years ago and is happening now. And in the midst of all of that, the questions are inevitable. And I want to show you three. You say, “Oh, wait a minute! Now you’re telling me that was all an introduction, and now we’ve got the sermon?” No, we’re almost finished. We’re almost finished. That should be an encouragement, especially to the children. But three questions, all from the text.

Genesis 17:17: “Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?’” Okay? So you’re having breakfast or brunch with your children, and you say, “Have you ever met a man who was a hundred years old and his wife just had a baby?” They said, “No. I never even met anybody who was a hundred years old.”

There is nothing that God has purposed to do that he cannot do.

Well, it’s an amazing story, because it begins when he’s seventy-five years old. When God calls him, he’s seventy-five. And interestingly, he doesn’t call him because he’s a peculiarly righteous fellow. He doesn’t call him because he’s identified the fact that he’s a fairly pious chap or that he would be the kind of person that was interested in these things. No! He worships pagan gods. He’s the least likely person. God draws him out of the Ur of the Chaldees, and he says, “Hey, you’re my man.” God still does that. It’s amazing and a surprising choice.

By the time you get into chapter 16, he’s eighty-six years old. And it is at that point in the story that we have this remarkable little tête-à-tête between he and his wife Sarai. And Sarai says to him, “Listen, Abram, I don’t think this promise thing is working. I don’t think there’s ever gonna be anything here. We’re gonna have to take care of this ourselves.” And that is why she sends him in to her servant maid Hagar, and that gives birth then to Ishmael. And in the context of the day, that was standard form. If you did not have an heir, then it was legitimate to engage in such a process. And yet God says, “Ishmael is not the man.”[25]

And as he comes to him in chapter 17, he confirms what he said to him before. In chapter 15, you will find a dark passage that describes a flaming pot and the cutting of creatures and pigeons laid side by side. You look at all that and you say, “What is this about?” Well, it is God establishing his covenant. In 17, the covenant again is put out there. And in this establishing of the covenant, God gives to Abraham a sign. Now, you’ll remember he gave to Noah a sign. He gave to Noah a sign that was a big sign, could be seen universally. And it was a sign, he said, it was the bow in the sky, and when he saw it, he would be reminded of the fact that he had made a covenant to put together a people.[26] Now he gives to Abraham a sign. This sign is not universal; this sign is personal. This sign is not big; this sign is small. This sign will be a sign every time Abraham has a bath; he will remember, “God has marked me with this sign of his covenant promise.” And it is in light of that that God now speaks to him.

But it’s a laugh, isn’t it? What a laugh! He laughed. Now, we like to laugh, but you gotta laugh at the right time. “I will bless Sarah, she will have a baby, and out from her will become nations, kings; peoples shall come from her.”[27] And Abraham said, “That’s an excellent plan! Thank you very much indeed.” No. No. “Then Abraham fell on his face”—which is the second time in the space of just a few verses he’s fallen on his face, ’cause that’s how it begins chapter 17: he “fell on his face and [he] laughed and [he] said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?’” And the obvious answer to the question is “Absolutely not.” No. No, it won’t! It doesn’t. It can’t.

Go into the next chapter, and Sarah’s laughing too. More laughter. She overhears the conversation: “‘She is in the tent.’ The Lord said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’”[28] And Sarah says, “What?” She’s “listening at the tent door.” And “Abraham and Sarah were old,” they were “advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” We get it. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’”[29] We get it! The answer is categorically no. No! “Shall we have a child? He’s a hundred; I’m ninety-nine.” Now what’s the answer to that?

Well, the answer comes in the form of our second question, which is the second to the end. In [18:13]: “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Here’s the question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” That’s the question. There is nothing that God has purposed to do that he cannot do. We didn’t start at the very beginning. The beginning is actually in Genesis 11:30, where it says that Sarah “was barren; she had no child.” Why do you say she had no child? Why didn’t you just say she was barren? We got that figured out. We understand what “barren” means. Why is there the repetition? For emphasis! There’s no underlining. There’s no capitals. She “was barren; she had no child.” So the whole thing is a nonstarter right from the beginning—unless God, by the promise of his word, fulfills his purposes.

And actually, that’s what we read in Hebrews 11: “By faith Sarah herself”—listen to the language—“received power to conceive.” She had no power to conceive. Neither did Abraham have power by means of his own. She “received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”[30] So in other words, the answer is simply this: that it is only by God’s power that God’s purpose is ever fulfilled. He spoke the world into being by his power. He who has created the universe is able for circumstances like this. And the point is so very obvious: if salvation is going to come through the seed of Abraham, then it is going to come solely on the basis of God’s supernatural, sovereign power.

Now, it is at that point that some of you are already getting off the bus, because you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t even believe in a God to begin with. And even if I do believe in a God, I believe in a cosmic force,” or “I believe in an inner impulse,” or “I believe that God and the earth are interwoven; I’m really a pantheist. So you can’t take me along this line, ’cause I can’t come with you.” Well, my friends, what is being conveyed here is not actually irrational; it is suprarational. In other words, you cannot get to it on the basis of intellect alone. It is only by God’s enabling power.

Now, when you think about that and you continue through the story of the Bible, you say, “But this is a kind of a repeating story, isn’t it?” We started 1 Samuel, and what did we start with? We started with a lady. And what was her problem? She was barren. She couldn’t have a child. God gave her a child. He enabled her.[31] You get to Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth. She’s barren. God enables her, and she produces John the Baptist.[32] And then, of course, he takes it up a notch, doesn’t he, in Mary? Because in both of those cases, they had a husband. They could make a go of it and find out they couldn’t. But in Mary’s case there’s nobody even to make a go of it. She has no husband, and she is a virgin. And so she’s asking the same question as Sarah: “Shall I be able to do this?” She says to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[33] It is impossible—apart from the sovereign, supernatural power of God: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, … the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”[34]

We are not only wanderers and wayward and selfish; we’re also dead. What is the possibility of being made alive outside of the sovereign, supernatural power of God?

And interestingly—just as an aside, and we come to the end now—but this is how it is not only with the gift of physical life as comes to Mary, but it is the same process in relationship to spiritual life. The Bible’s description of us is not a group of well-meaning people, vaguely religious, who are trying to do their best, and if they can keep it up, they will eventually be welcomed into his eternal glory. No, the Bible is much tougher picture than that. The Bible says that we are not only wanderers and we’re wayward and we’re selfish, but we’re also dead. Dead. So what is the possibility, then, of being made alive—outside of the sovereign, supernatural power of God? When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he says, “God,” who is “rich in mercy,” with “the great love with which he [has] loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”[35]

I say to you again, this is not irrational; it is suprarational. You will not come to it by reason alone. That is not to say it is unreasonable, but it is to say that there is ultimately no intellectual road to God, for it is only God who wakens us up and grants to us life and gives to us this enablement, so that we find ourselves saying, “I don’t know quite why it is or how it is, but I’ve started to listen to this. I’ve started to believe some of this. I believe that I am the person that is being called out here.” It’s an amazing thing. And you can read of it in relationship to this in Romans chapter 4.

But our final question—and this I will just raise and leave with you, because it is, if you like, the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, which comes after the fulfillment of the promise and after the arrival of Isaac. All right?

Abraham sees Jesus’ day in the birth of Isaac. He’s been given the name Isaac. Chapter 17, verse 19: “You shall call [him] Isaac,” which sounds a little bit like “And you shall call his name Jesus.”[36] Not everybody gets their name given to them by somebody else before they’re actually born. But “you [will] call his name Isaac,” which means, “He laughs.” “He laughs.” That’s funny in itself, isn’t it? So, “Here comes He Laughs. Hey, He Laughs, have you made your bed? Hey, He Laughs…” Every day, the two of them would look at one another, and when they looked at their boy, they said, “You know, we laughed too. I remember I laughed. I didn’t believe. I just laughed!” Sarah says, “I laughed as well, but then I said I didn’t laugh.” And Abraham says, “Yeah, you shouldn’t have said that.” She said, “None of your business.” And they kept going. But “He laughs.”

But then you come to chapter 22, you say, “What in the world is God doing? You can’t wait for all this time to fulfill the promise and give me a son, and then I wake up one morning, and he says, ‘This is what I want you to do. Take your son, your only son, the son you love, and take him to a place that I am telling you, and sacrifice him there.’[37] What? But I thought we had a promise. I thought we had a plan. I thought through the seed that you have given me we would lead to the one who would provide salvation. How can this be?”

Now, when you read Old Testament narrative, often we as readers know more than what is being discovered by the actual participants in the event. We’ve seen that in Samuel. And so here we know from the opening verse that God sets out to test Abraham. He sent him out on a test. The test is not to see if Abraham has faith. Abraham has faith. He’s giving Abraham an opportunity to show that the faith that God has engendered in him is the same faith that will enable him to be obedient even in the midst of all of these trials.

And the command of God is unvarnished, it is straightforward: “This is what you’re to do.” No benefits attached to it. No explanations given. Just simply “Do it. Take your son, your only son.” You read the story for yourself. “Early in the morning”[38] they set out. “Early in the morning”? Do you think he was keen? No, I think he couldn’t sleep. It was one of those times where you look at the alarm three or four times, you go, “Well, I might as well get up. We’re going to have to go anyway.” And as they put things together and they begin to look ahead, they can see nothing. Forty-five miles. On the third day he will look up and he will see the mountain to which he has been sent, the same mountain on which the temple would be built in the days of Jesus.

And as they move towards that with Isaac, with the burden of the sticks on his back, and with Abraham holding the flint and the knife in his hand, he knows this question is coming: “Father, we got the fire. We got the stuff. But we don’t have the lamb.” And Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb, my son.” And then it says, “And there was a ram caught in the thicket.”[39] That’s always troubled me. I said, “Well, he said would provide a lamb; then it says ‘a ram.’” Now, I know, you know…

You know what I think? I think his prophetic word goes beyond Moriah. His prophetic word goes right into the cradle in Bethlehem, when the shepherds come around, and they look in, and they see, and their wizened faces are looking in at this scene. And one says, “He just looks like one of our little lambs.” Well, little did they know it would take John the Baptist to stand up on the stage of history and say, “[If you will look over there,] behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[40]

And here’s the story. It’s the story in sketch form. It’s a charcoal sketch of a dramatic picture. It has happened in real time. Abraham has survived. Isaac has survived. But it is pointing us to the day when God will do with his Son what Abraham did not have to do with his son because there was a substitute who died in Isaac’s place. But on that day, God will lead his Son out. He will lead his Son up the hill. It will be on that Son’s shoulders that the wood for the sacrifice is borne, and it will be in the hands of Almighty God, because it was the will of God to bruise him and to crush him.[41]

What is this? Loved ones, this is the story of salvation. This is the reality of what is happening in that manger, can only be understood in light of the cross.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That thou, my God, [would] die for me?[42]

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride. …

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.[43]


[1] Bianco de Siena, trans. Richard Frederick Littledale, “Come Down, O Love Divine” (1867).

[2] Luke 24:18 (paraphrased).

[3] See Acts 1:3.

[4] See Luke 24:32.

[5] Genesis 11:4 (paraphrased).

[6] See Acts 17:11.

[7] See Genesis 9:7.

[8] See Genesis 1:28.

[9] See Acts 2:5–11.

[10] See Psalm 139:13.

[11] Tom Paxton, “I Can’t Help but Wonder Where I’m Bound” (1964). Lyrics lightly altered.

[12] Fanny Crosby, “What a Gathering” (1887).

[13] John 8:33–40 (paraphrased).

[14] Galatians 3:6–9 (ESV).

[15] See 1 Peter 1:10–12.

[16] John 8:56 (ESV).

[17] Luke 1:54–55 (ESV).

[18] Luke 1:72–73 (paraphrased).

[19] Luke 2:25 (ESV).

[20] Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (1744).

[21] Charles Wesley, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (1747).

[22] Luke 2:38 (ESV).

[23] See Ephesians 1:11.

[24] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 10th anniv. ed. (New York: Bantam, 1998), 190–91. Paraphrased.

[25] See Genesis 17:18–19.

[26] See Genesis 9:13–17.

[27] Genesis 17:15–16 (paraphrased).

[28] Genesis 18:9–10 (ESV).

[29] Genesis 18:10–12 (ESV).

[30] Hebrews 11:11 (ESV).

[31] See 1 Samuel 1:1–20.

[32] See Luke 1:5–25, 57–66.

[33] Luke 1:34 (ESV).

[34] Luke 1:35 (ESV).

[35] Ephesians 2:4–6 (ESV).

[36] Matthew 1:21 (ESV).

[37] Genesis 22:2 (paraphrased).

[38] Genesis 22:3 (ESV).

[39] Genesis 22:7–8, 13 (paraphrased).

[40] John 1:29 (ESV).

[41] See Isaiah 53:10.

[42] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (1739).

[43] Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (1707).

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.