But if all you see when you read this story and think about it is Isaac and Abraham, you miss the point. And it’s the point that will capture our attention this Sunday as we see again, the profundity and prominence of Jerusalem in the history of divine salvation.
Let me offer you another angle from which to examine this story. In the early 1980s D. James Kennedy, pastor emeritus of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, told the true story of John Griffith. I’ve borrowed this story in the past and told it in my own words, but here’s Dr. Kennedy’s words without editing”
John Griffith grew up with one dream in his heart—a dream of travel. He wanted to travel to faraway places and see exotic sights. Those strange-sounding lands—that’s what he dreamt about and read about. That was his whole consuming passion in life. But that dream crashed with the stock market in 1929.
The Great Depression settled like a funeral cloak upon the land. Oklahoma, his native state, was turned into a swirling dust bowl by the dry winds, and his dreams were swept away with the wind. So he packed up his wife, his tiny baby boy, and their few meager belongings in an old car and drove away to find greener pastures. He thought he might have discovered those on the edge of Mississippi, where he got a job caring for one of those great, huge railroad bridges that cross the mighty Mississippi.
It was in 1937, Dennis Hensley tells us, when this true story took place. For the first time, he brought his 8-year-old son, Greg Griffith, to work with him to see what Daddy did all day. The little boy was wide-eyed with excitement, and he clapped his hands with glee when the huge bridge went up at the beck and call of his mighty father. He watched with wonderment as the huge boats steamed down the Mississippi.
Twelve o’clock came, and his father put up the bridge. There were no trains due for a good while, and they went out a couple of hundred feet on a catwalk out over the river to an observation deck. They sat down, opened their brown bag, and began to eat their lunch. His father told him about some of the strange, faraway lands that these ships were going to visit. This entranced the boy.
The time whirled by, and suddenly they were drawn instantly back to reality by the sound of a distant train whistle. John Griffith quickly looked at his watch. He saw it was time for the 1:07, the Memphis Express, with 400 passengers, to soon be rushing across that bridge. He knew he had enough time, so without panic but with alacrity he told his son to stay where he was.
He leapt to his feet, jumped to the catwalk, ran back, climbed the ladder to the control room, went in, put his hand on the huge lever that controlled the bridge, looked up the river and down to see if any boats were coming, as was his custom, and then looked down to see if there were any beneath the bridge. And suddenly he saw a sight that froze his blood and caused his heart to leap into his throat. His boy! His boy had tried to follow him to the control room and had fallen into the great, huge gear box that had the monstrous gears that operated this massive bridge. His left leg was caught between the two main gears, and his father knew that as sure as the sun came up in the morning, if he pushed that lever his son would be ground in the midst of eight tons of whining, grinding steel.
His eyes filled with tears of panic. His mind whirled. What could he do? He saw a rope there in the control room. He could rush down the ladder and out the catwalk, tie off the rope, lower himself down, extricate his son, climb back up the rope, run back to the control room, and lower the bridge. No sooner had his mind done that exercise than he knew there wasn’t time. He’d never make it, and there were 400 people on that train.
Then he heard the whistle again, this time startlingly closer. And he could hear the sound of the locomotive wheels on the track. What could he do? What could he do! There were 400 people, but this was his son, this was his only son. He was a father! He knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his arm and he pushed the gear forward.
The bridge slowly lowered into place just as the express train roared across. He lifted up his tear-smeared face and looked straight into the flashing windows of that train as they flashed by one after another. He saw men reading the afternoon paper, a conductor in uniform looking at a large vest-pocket watch, ladies sipping tea out of teacups, and little children pushing long spoons into plates of ice cream. Nobody looked in the control room. Nobody looked at his tears. Nobody, nobody looked down to the great gear box. In heart-wrenching agony, he beat against the window of the control room, and he said, ‘What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you care? I sacrificed my son for you. Don’t any of you care?’ Nobody looked. Nobody heard. Nobody heeded. And the train disappeared across the river.
When I first heard that story I remember the depth of my feelings. Imagine the excruciating loss of that father, John Griffith. And then quickly it all became clear. I was on that train.
You see, the story of Genesis 22 is less about God’s test of Abraham than His test of Himself. What happens on that 2,500 foot mount in Palestine 4,000 years ago mirrors exactly what happened on that same site 2,000 years later. The test God places before Abraham is only a foreshadowing of the test He will place before Himself in that same spot. The exactness of the image is shocking; far more shocking than John Griffith and his son.
As we continue to examine the importance of Jerusalem in salvation history, yours and mine, we will be digging into Genesis 22:1-14 in a message entitled, “Passing the Test.” In preparation for the message you may wish to consider the following:
1. Someone has said, “Prayer is tuning in to God’s will.” Do you agree?
2. In light of Genesis 15 what do you make of Genesis 22? What is the connection?
3. How does a burnt offering differ from other Old Testament offerings?
4. Where is Moriah?
5. What does Moriah mean?
6. How old are Abraham and Isaac?
7. Why does Abraham get up early in verse 3?
8. What is the significance of Abraham’s reply in verse 8?
9. Who is “the angel of the Lord”?
10. Why does this angel stop Abraham?
11. What is the significance of verse 14?
See you Sunday!