Taking a break from the Sermon on the Mount to look into John chapter 8, one of the most intense chapters in the Bible. I’m just picking out one small point here, but just know that there is much going on in John 8 that I will come back to.
For today, I’m looking at just a small part of an exchange between a group of would be disciples of Jesus and Jesus Himself. The exchange does not result in a successful conversion, to say the least.
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” At this point in the exchange, neither side is holding back. It’s stunning to see Jesus telling these would be disciples that they actually seek to kill Him. These were Jews who, just a few verses earlier, we are told had come to believe in Jesus. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” John 8:31 ESV. To which Jesus immediately says, “Great, I’m glad you believe in me. If you live as I say, you will be my disciples.” They are claiming to be Abrahams children, which as part of Israel they are. But Jesus tells that if they were really Abraham’s children, they would do the works Abraham did. They seek to kill him, this is not what Abraham did. They are doing the works their father did.
What exactly did Abraham do? Is Jesus talking about leaving his homeland. No…in this conversation keeps returning to the topic of killing, as unpleasant as that may be. And now, he tells them they seek to kill Him whom they’ve just begun to believe in. What did Abraham do with regard to killing that Jesus would want those listening to imitate? When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
Abraham put down the knife. He did not sacrifice his long awaited son on Mount Moriah. Abraham abandoned the sacred violence of human sacrifice. We need to understand that this is a big deal. We see this as grotesque that God would ask someone to sacrifice his own son, but those living in the time of Abraham, especially the Canaanites he lived among, would have simply seen it as normal. The sacrifice of children was what the gods required. It was just part of the arrangement between the gods and people.
We don’t know exactly what Abraham thought about this, but we do know he travelled 3 days to Mt Moriah because he trusted the new and mysterious Yahweh God he had encountered. Abraham was discovering and learning things about God that would change the course of religion forever.
What happened at Mt Moriah, and this is interpreted many different ways, but one very powerful way to understand it is Abraham came to understand that God, Yahweh, does not want human sacrifice. Abraham is the father of monotheism, but he brought about the end of human sacrifice. He put down the knife.
Abraham put down the knife, but those listening to him might very well have been among the crowd calling for him to be crucified at Golgotha six months later. They were not ready for the truth that would set them free. They were not ready to put down the knife.
We are still sacrificing our sons and daughters around the world to our own sacred violence, violence made sacred by our monuments and our anthems. We know we are free because we have the power to kill. But we are still not ready for Jesus’ truth that will set us free. Will we ever be able to see the truth that violence is not the way of God, but the way of our father the devil?
Will we ever be able to put down the knife?
“They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.””
John 8:39-41, 56 ESV
“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”” Genesis 22:1-14 ESV