Mountain to Mountain: Mount Moriah to Mount Zion
Genesis 22:1-14 and John 3:14-18
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
Self-disclosure: I share many of the tastes of my wife’s family, especially in their love of the movie, “The Sound of Music.” The music alone is enough to fall in love with it, let alone the plot, but one of the more standout features is the cinematography, especially the wide, sweeping panoramas of the Austrian Alps. There’s a reason why those shots are so powerful; mountains are majestic. They inspire us. They have symbolic meaning for us—as in, “Climb every mountain.” Mountains are amazing geological structures, but do they also cause us terror and dread? Maybe the early pioneers, as they forged their way west, saw mountains as obstacles and were overwhelmed by what stood in the way of their journey. Did they view them with trepidation? I don’t know, but I think it’s safe to say that Abraham in our text must have experienced feelings of dread when Mount Moriah came into view.
The Lord came to Abraham and instructed him to take his son – his only son, mind you – to Mount Moriah and offer him up, to sacrifice him on an altar on that mountain. Abraham loaded the donkey with wood, and he headed for the region of Moriah. We can only imagine what that journey must have been like! Abraham knew what lay ahead, but Isaac was clueless. What do you talk about? How do you act? When you know that the death of your child—your only child, by your own hands—lies in your path, how do you say the things that need to be said without giving away the intent of your journey? Well, after three days, Abraham lifted up his eyes and there it was—Mount Moriah. The time had come.
Sin requires sacrifice. Payment must be made to satisfy the debt. Sin has exiled man from God; the only way to return from this exile is to pay what is demanded, and the price … is blood. So, to satisfy the payment demanded, Abraham prepares to offer up his only son.
Isaac bears the wood upon which he will be sacrificed up the mount, and he wonders and asks, “Where is the lamb for sacrifice?” He knows there must be blood shed to atone for sin. He knows the ritual. He knows, and he wants to know where the sacrifice is. Abraham’s heart must have been ripped from his chest at the question. How do you answer? What do you say? Abraham responds in faith, even though the tears are, undoubtedly, pushing at his eyes. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
Abraham has faith. He trusts. He knows the Lord will provide the lamb for sacrifice, but is the lamb Isaac? He doesn’t know, and you imagine that his feet are dragging, and his heart is heavy in a way none of us can understand. Is the sacrifice Isaac? Abraham builds the altar … he arranges the wood … he places his only son upon the wood … he raises the knife to deal the killing blow . . . and the Lord stays his hand! The Lord provides a sacrifice, a ram caught in the thicket. And thus it is said, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
So powerful is this account, so intense the drama, so shocking the faith, so amazing the rescue that the Hebrew people will later build the temple on this very hill. This very hill, this mountain is where God dwells with His people. This mountain is Mount Zion! The Hebrew people revere this account of Abraham and Isaac so highly that it has its own title and place in their faith. They call it the Aqedah, the Hebrew word for “binding.” Isaac is the only “bound,” tied-down sacrifice in the Old Testament. All other sacrifices are first killed and then placed upon the altar as their blood is poured and sprinkled. Isaac is the only bound sacrifice, the only living sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the rest of the Bible, there is only one other.
“On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” On this mountain, the sacrifice of the only-begotten Son of God will be provided. He, too, is a bound sacrifice as He is nailed to the tree to suffer and die. Sin – our sin – has exiled us from God. Blood is required for payment, and on the mountain of the Lord, He provides. That sacrifice takes place on another mountain, Calvary. Here, Jesus carries the wood for His sacrifice – a cross. And from that tree on that mountain, the blood of the Lamb of God is brought to Mount Zion. Jesus Christ brings His own blood onto Mount Zion, into the temple, through the curtain, and into the Most Holy Place. The temple curtain is ripped in two, and the blood of the Lamb is poured out on the Mercy Seat. The Lord provides the final sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Abraham makes a three-day journey to Mount Moriah prior to the sacrifice of his son. Jesus makes a three-day journey, as well, but it follows His sacrifice. For three days, He lies in the tomb. For three days, the grave holds Him. But on that third day, Jesus is lifted up to new life, a glorious resurrection. God provided His Son, His only Son, as the sacrifice required for sin, and all who believe in Him shall not perish, for God provides the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, on this mountain.
Mount Moriah to Mount Zion—a return from exile. We who have been exiled from the presence of God by our sin have been restored to His presence, returned to look upon His face. We are reunited on this mountain, where God provides His only Son, and where He provides the bloody payment for sin. On this mountain, as the curtain is ripped in two, the gates of heaven are thrown open to those who believe and call upon His name. On this mountain, make no mistake, the Lord provides.
+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.