Every Christmas, our church celebrates with a Lessons and Carols service. It’s a beautiful event both musically and visually. In addition to various songs and scripture readings, multiple artists in our congregation contribute artwork to view at the reception. It’s a feast of shared gifts: some lead us in worship, some prepare food, some read passages, and some offer their paintings. For me, the combined smells, sights, and sounds are a foretaste of heavenly worship.
This past year, there was one particular piece of artwork that caught my eye. Here’s the description from the artist, Rebecca Olson:
“I wanted to reflect the anguish Abraham must have gone through when choosing whether to follow God’s command and sacrifice his son or to disobey God’s command. He could not see that God would bless his lineage. Abraham could only see the decision he had before him, but trusted in God’s divine plan and he chose to obey.”
Abraham’s Choice Pen & Ink on Paper 22 in x 28 in
The longer I gazed, the more Rebecca’s work affected me. Every line, every small dot, and every movement of her pen combines to form both a beautiful and painful image. The furrowed brow, the deep wrinkles under his eyes, and the resolute mouth all speak to the deep sorrow and profound difficulty of Abraham’s choice. I ache for him. I wonder at the faithfulness of his obedience.
Abraham did not argue with God. He did not delay. He rose early to take his son to the region of Moriah (Gen. 22). Abraham loved his son. And so, he entrusted Isaac’s life to God. By faith, he believed that God was able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:19). Rather than place his hope in Isaac, Abraham put his full trust in God. By faith, he bound his son and reached for the knife.
As I stared at this painting, remembering the story, my eyes welled up with tears. Because at that moment, I didn’t just see Abraham’s choice. I saw the reality that his choice foreshadowed. God spared Abraham the pain of experiencing the death of his son at his own hands. We are told,
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.” Gen. 22:11-14
God spared Abraham. But God did not spare Himself.
God knew that on that very mountain, Moriah, the future Jerusalem, He would face the same choice. The Father would pour out His full wrath on His son. And, He did it for us. He did it for love:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:6-11
I often meditate on the pain of the cross from the perspective of Jesus: the emotional pain of His betrayal, the physical pain of His terrible death, and the spiritual pain of being made to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21).
This Easter, I see the pain of the cross from the perspective of the Father. What did it cost God to see His son whipped and beaten? How did He bear to look upon His only Son as He was mocked and nailed to a cross? What pain did He endure to hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and not respond?
All these thoughts flood my mind as I stare into this picture of Abraham. And, I am undone. The tears freely flow. I want to look away, and yet I want to stare forever.
The pain of this choice means the Father can forever look upon me with the eyes of love. I never have to know His wrath. Jesus’ cries went unanswered so that my cries can always be heard. His loss is my gain. His sorrow is my rejoicing. His poverty is my wealth. I can possess everything because He made Himself nothing.
The pain and the beauty weave together. The joy of redemption comes at a price. And, this costly exchange came about because of the Father’s painful choice (Acts 2:23).
As soon as I saw Abraham’s Choice, I wanted to write about it for Easter. Each year all the artwork from Lessons & Carols is sold at a silent auction and the proceeds go to support a local RUF. In God’s providential timing, the auction was last weekend. As I write today, Abraham’s Choice stares back at me from my mantle. Once again, my eyes fill up with tears. I am undone.
I hope to spend my life being undone at the Father’s choice for me. I can’t imagine a better way to live.