The Way of the Cross

The final heavenly download was about to come Abraham’s way but not before another failure.

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Again surprisingly the failure was followed by another act of grace; the birth of the miracle child. It would seem all those years of waiting were now over. Abraham and Sarah could raise Isaac in peace.

But then came the biggest challenge of all, the command to sacrifice Isaac on an altar. They were faced with not only losing the son they had waited so long for, but also the means to fulfilling the God-given vision.

On a personal note, I have observed and experienced that the challenges of life can kill a God-given vision. Every heavenly vision is impossible to achieve in human strength. Over time it is all too easy to give up on the vision and settle for a vision that is less challenging and humanly achievable.

The story of Abraham is that in the end God came through. To repeat, it is through faith and patience that the promises are inherited. (Heb. 6:12)

Patience is a needed virtue in the western church. I was challenged in this area by reading Alan Kreider’s book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church. He cites examples of a church that patiently endured persecution resulting in fruitful witness to the watching pagan world.

Back to Abraham who was still learning faith with patience.

Genesis 20 reveals yet another failure when Abraham passed off Sarah as his sister to Abimelech the king of Gerar. Fortunately God stepped in and saved a potential disaster.

Again on a personal note, I am so thankful for the many times God has stepped in to save me from potentially foolish decisions.

The grace of God knows no bounds for once again, immediately after this failure, Isaac is finally born to Sarah. God constantly “comes through” when least expected or deserved.

“Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.” (Gen. 21:1 NASB)

What God had promised and what was humanly impossible happened: Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham. The church today, still called to bless nations, is built on this event in history so long ago.

Then came the supreme test for Abraham. (Gen 22:1-14) The call by God to sacrifice his son, was a call to lay down the very vision and call of God on his life. It was a call to forgo the God-given vision of a heavenly city. Everything that Abraham believed in and was working towards was now on the line.

Except for one thing.

Abraham had grown in his knowledge of God. He had come to see that the God of the “way of the cross” was also the God of resurrection. As a result the promises of God were assured. Of course the cross had not occurred as a historical event but the cross is an eternal principle written in the heavens before the creation of the world. (Rev. 13:8)

Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, the very vision and provision of God. Such was the confidence he had in God.

Romans 4:17 explains that Abraham had discovered the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. The result was that Abraham had learned to be a man of faith. “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” (Rom. 4:20-21 ESV)

The story in Genesis 22 is well known. God stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a substitute sacrifice.

Abraham had become a man of faith as he learned to walk the way of the cross, coming to believe in the God who raises the dead.

No faith is required to lay down that which is not of God but great faith is needed to lay down that which is of God. To do so would seem to cut off the future but actually this is what God uses to create the future for the believer. Faith in the God of resurrection is the fruit of walking the way of the cross.

The following New Testament scriptures are well known to believers, but Abraham discovered them pre Christ as he walked with God through the challenges of life. Thus he became a man of faith who is still the believer's model to this day. (Gal. 3:9)

Jesus put these words to His followers. “And He (Jesus) was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23.NASB) “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 13:24 NASB)

Paul walked in the faith of the God of resurrection. “... that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11 NASB)

Walking the way of the cross with faith in the God of resurrection creates an effective people of God capable of discipling cities and nations.

In other words the “safest” place in the world is to lay everything, including God given visions and ministry, at the foot of the cross. The church is forged into all it should be, as together, believers meet YHWH Jireh (The Lord will provide) at the foot of the cross.

After this amazing death and resurrection experience Abraham was given his final download from heaven. This word was the climax of his commissioning and holds true to this day. Abraham was now in the faith position to receive detail on how the original vision to bless all nations was to be fulfilled.

Abraham had been tested by God. (Gen. 22:1) He had come through with “flying colours.” Now came the climax for Abraham on which the rest of The Bible unfolds right through to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22.

Sacrifice releases the future for the God given vision.

“Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” “ (Gen. 22:15-18 NASB)

The key addition to the Abrahamic vision given by God in Genesis 12 and 17 is the portion in bold type and underlined, “and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” A modern translation of verse 17 would be, “Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.” (NLT)

Brian Simmons in his Passion translation makes this margin note on verse 17. “Possessing the city gates of their enemies is a figurative expression that refers to conquering, defeating, and taking possession of the enemy’s city. It means simply, the seed of Abraham will have great authority to conquer cities.”

This promise was fulfilled in Christ and is to be outworked through His church in every city of the world. The church is called to bring the light of the gospel into cities confronting and driving out the enemy’s darkness. The earth and its cities and towns belong to Jesus not Satan.

To possess and conquer cities means war. Adam Clarke in his 1831 commentary suggests that Jesus could have had Genesis 22:17-18 in mind when He told His disciples that the gates of Hades would not over power the church. (Matt16:18)

Warfare for the cities of the world will feature in the rest of the biblical story. Christ has won the war with victory on the cross, and now outworks this victory through His church in every city and town.