O Come, Perfect Substitute
Open Your Bible
Genesis 22:1-18, Romans 6:23, Luke 23:44-46, 1 John 4:7-9, 2 Corinthians 5:21
BY Guest Writer
The story of Abraham and Isaac is undoubtedly one of the hardest passages to read in Scripture. In Sunday school we sing about “Father Abraham” and his many sons, but we often sidestep this gruesome chapter. It’s uncomfortable and disturbing, bringing to light moral, ethical, and theological questions that have been debated for centuries. From Martin Luther, who praised Abraham’s “blind faith,” to Immanuel Kant, who concluded that God could not have actually asked Abraham to sacrifice his son—the list of scholars and theologians who have wrestled with this story and its meaning is long.
It is wise to approach Genesis 22 with a self-awareness of our finite understanding of God’s mysterious ways. We ought to approach it with a view of the whole of Scripture, seeing it as a single story that teaches us something about God but also as one that fits into the much larger narrative of the gospel, teaching us about sacrifice, substitution, and provision.
We can take heart in verse 1, which tells us that God set out to “test” Abraham. And Abraham rose to the occasion in faith; throughout the story, Abraham believes that God will provide (v.8).
Abraham knew he could trust God, who had promised him land (Genesis 12:1–9), an heir despite his old age and his wife’s barrenness (ch.17), and offspring more numerous than the stars (ch.15). Abraham’s faith was not blind, but it was rooted in seeing God’s faithfulness to him. And so when God said to take Isaac and bind him for sacrifice—when it seemed that by following God’s instructions, God’s other promises would be void—Abraham acted in faith, saying “the LORD will provide” (22:8).
And again, God was faithful to Abraham. He kept His original promises by sending a ram to die in Isaac’s place, allowing the lineage to continue. Abraham named the mountain they were on “The LORD Will Provide,” and Abraham lived the rest of his days in faith that God would continue to provide.
Later in Scripture, in the book of Leviticus, when God demanded sacrifices from His people, they were not tests like Abraham’s. Rather, the Levitical sacrifices were for atonement—for the covering of sin. The Israelites made those sacrifices with animals, but they were always temporary. Year after year, on the day of atonement, priests would offer the substitutionary death of animals to cover the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). Finally, God sent one perfect, final substitute: Himself. “God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
When we pray “O come, perfect substitute,” we cry out with faith like Abraham’s, rooted in the steadfast faithfulness of our God through the ages. The God who provided a ram for Isaac, who provided a system of animal sacrifices for His people to draw near to Him, has provided a perfect sacrifice, once and for all, for everyone who would believe in His Son, Jesus.
O come, perfect substitute, Jesus our King!
Melanie Rainer is a bookworm from birth who makes her days writing, editing and reading in Nashville, where she also joyfully serves as the editor of Kids Read Truth. She has an M.A. in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, spends as much time as she can in the kitchen, and can’t wait until her two daughters are old enough to read Anne of Green Gables.