Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:11-13

11 And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

The day of Abraham’s offering had come, the altar had been prepared, and something needed to be sacrificed. But instead of it being Isaac, who is a representation of all humanity, the role was filled by an intervention of God instead.

But the intervention only came to Abraham when he was willing to surrender his all to God. Only by being willing to give God that which he loved best was the way opened for him to retain it.

Because if Abraham had withheld his son from God, what would he have accomplished? No matter how desperately he clutched to Isaac, he and the boy would eventually be parted by the grave anyway. Abraham was powerless to retain that which he loved any longer than mortal life allowed him.

But by giving up his modicum of control to God he invited powers that exceeded his own. Abraham couldn’t preserve his father-son relationship with Isaac, but God could. God could preserve Isaac and Abraham’s bond here and in heaven…but only if Abraham surrendered that relationship to Him first.

If there is anything that any of us want to hold onto forever, at some point we will have to surrender it to God, or else there won’t be any chance of it persisting beyond the grave.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:9-10

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Evidently Abraham had concluded that if he was going to follow through with this sacrifice, then he was going to do it fully and properly. Notice that he took the time to erect an altar, lay out the wood “in order,” and lay his son upon that altar, just as he would do for any other sacrifice. This was an offering to the almighty God, and he was going to do it with the same reverence and meticulous detail that he gave to all other such sacrifices.

It also stands out to me that the famous depiction of Abraham standing over his son, knife raised toward heaven, about to plunge it down may not be accurate. That, of course, is the most dramatic way to depict things, but all the record actually says is that Abraham had picked the knife up. Perhaps he did, in fact, step to the altar and raise his hand before the angel appeared, or perhaps not. In any case, it seems to be the grabbing of the knife that was the line Abraham had to cross before God was satisfied with his commitment.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:3-5

3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

It is hard to fathom what those three days must have been like for Abraham, traveling to the place where he is meant to sacrifice his son! That is a very long time for his thoughts to dwell on what is about to transpire.

We do get some insight into Abraham’s frame of mind from the passage in Hebrews 11:17-19. Here we learn that Abraham expected God to just raise Isaac from the dead after he had made the sacrifice. This would allow for both Abraham to keep God’s commandment and God to keep His own covenant that Isaac would become a righteous nation. After all, Isaac’s birth had been a miracle, so why not his rebirth?

Of course that solution would still require Abraham to go through the ordeal of slaying his own son, and God was going to spare Abraham from that as well. But while Abraham may have been mistaken in exactly what God’s methods would be, he was correct in his belief that God would somehow intervene to keep His promises. And that faith was enough to see him through what he had to do. So it is for us. We don’t need to know exactly how God will prevail in our lives, only that He will. If we accept that He will preserve good for us somehow, then that is enough for us to do what we have been called to.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:1-2

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

The most famous of Abraham’s stories is this, the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This can be a difficult story to grapple with. Yes, God doesn’t actually have Abraham go through with it, but even the suggestion to kill one’s own child seems torturous. God even stresses “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest,” as if to make this even harder on Abraham.

Killing is wrong, after all, especially killing one’s own flesh and blood. Destroying a child goes against every natural and paternal bond. When I hear this story it agitates me deeply, and I think the reason why is due to a key different between me and Abraham.

I just wouldn’t do it.

If I’m being totally frank and honest, I don’t love God more than my children. I don’t trust Him implicitly. I don’t assume that what He says will work itself out for good even if I don’t see how. My discomfort in this story is based around the incongruity of “I want to follow God, but I wouldn’t follow Him in this.” And that challenges and vexes me. He is a God that I am not ready to fully follow.

And honestly just acknowledging that helps me to surrender it. I’m not at that same level of trust and devotion, so I don’t get how to properly process this. I don’t have the answers, but I think for today I don’t need to. I’m still a work in progress. One day I hope to understand all, but I won’t get there by constantly agitating over things that are beyond me for now.

Solemnity and Joy- Doctrine and Covenants 20:75-77

It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus;
And the elder or priest shall administer it; and after this manner shall he administer it—he shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer, saying:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it, that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

COMMENTARY

He shall kneel with the church and call upon the Father in solemn prayer
Yesterday I mentioned Yom Kippur, a solemn day in ancient Israel with rituals that symbolized the coming sacrifice of Jesus. Now we are on the other side of that sacrifice, and we still have rituals that point backward to it.
One of those rituals is, of course, the Eucharist or sacrament. And notice in this verse how this practice calls for being “solemn.” Though different denominations may vary in the specific details of how they carry out their sacrament, they generally maintain this same solemn demeanor, due to the respect they wish to show for the sacred event they remind us of.

That they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son
And there is a second reason for solemnity in this moment. In addition to reverently remembering what has happened, we see in the words of this prayer an invitation to make a solemn commitment. All those that partake are able to renew a covenant to God to keep Christ’s sacrifice in their mind and live in a way that follows his example.
And we are best able to make a serious commitment when we are of a calm and quiet mind. Consider how it is the same with weddings. Yes those are known for their gaiety, but then everything becomes very quiet and still when the moment comes for bride and groom to make their sincere pledge to one another. It is still a happy moment, of course, but it is a moment of happy solemnity. So, too, we should be of a sober and steady mind when we make our pledges to God.

Solemnity and Joy- Numbers 10:10, Hosea 2:11

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.

I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.

COMMENTARY

Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days ye shall blow with the trumpets
Her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts
When we talk about solemn occasions what first comes to mind might be a sad event, such as a funeral or a departure. And certainly those moments do call for solemnness, but they are not the only ones.
These verses make mention of Israel’s “solemn days,” and how they were part of their feasts, festivals, annual observations, and even celebrations. One of their “solemn days” was Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. On this day two goats were brought to the priest. One of them was set free, while the other had the sins of the people placed upon it. Then the scapegoat was sacrificed, making an atonement was made for the peoples’ wrongs.
Obviously this was all symbolic of Christ’s future sacrifice, which is certainly a good and a glad thing for all of us…but also something that we hold in reverent respect due to the great price he paid.
Thus we see, there is nothing paradoxical about the idea of a good solemnity. Yes, solemn can mean a type of sadness, but it can also mean being respectful, reverential, and in awe.

Calloused Hearts- 3 Nephi 9:20

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

COMMENTARY

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit
Thus far in this study I have examined our need to give up our stony heart for one of flesh, and also the need to humble ourselves enough to receive that transplant.
Under that context, consider today’s verse. Here the Lord speaks of our old heart needing to be broken and sacrificed before we are baptized into His fold. In other words, coming to God is going to break the person that we were! Is it any wonder that fully coming to God is so difficult for us then? Is it any wonder that we shrink back into our calloused heart at the first sign of complete surrender? We edge closer and closer to the precipice, tease at taking the plunge, but there remains a world of difference between getting close to the edge and actually taking that leap of faith.
We want to have a full life, but are we willing to give up what little we already have to receive it? Because there just isn’t space for Him to raise the new us so long as we’re still clinging to the old one. It isn’t a cruelty of God to ask for a sacrifice of our heart, it is simply a necessity.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Summary

It is evident that God did not intend for us to remain static. We are not merely meant to exist, we are to thrive. To accomplish this, each one of us requires fundamental change, a complete transformation, to discover the divine potential that God has placed within us.

And, since the dawn of mankind, it has been taught that sacrifice is an essential element of that change (Moses 5:6). I have been taught this since I was young, and I believed in it, though like Adam I did not understand the full reasons behind it.

But the scriptures do not only teach us the behaviors that we are meant to follow, they reveal to us the purposes for them. It was for this reason that I began my study, and I was not disappointed. Through these passages I was able to find a few different reasons for why sacrifice is so essential to becoming who we were born to be.

Sacrifice is Choosing the Eternal Over the Temporal

When God created humanity, He commanded us to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28), and so we are justified in seeking our own preservation and well-being.
But we are also mortal, and it is in our nature to take this injunction beyond its intended measure. We do not limit ourselves to seeking security and nurturing, we fall into greed, and the appetites of the flesh are insatiable once we begin to feed them.
And so the spiritual side must strive to maintain control, to keep our ambitions within worthy bounds. God encourages this by asking us to do things that are repulsive to the mortal self, but pleasing to the spiritual. This trains us to surrender the temporary, in order to secure the eternal. These tasks, by necessity, must be hard. If they were easy for us to perform, then no lesson of self-control would be gained.
Luke 10:41-42- And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Matthew 26:41- Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Sacrifice Helps Us to Become as Christ

Sacrifice teaches us self-mastery, and weans our mortal appetites, but that is not all. As mentioned before, it also serves the purpose of effecting our transformation. Not a one of us came to Earth to stay the same, every one of us requires a fundamental change. If we come to earth and are not transformed, then we are as the servant who buried his master’s money, and was then deemed an unprofitable servant for having not improved upon it (Matthew 25:14-28).
Now I have been one of those Christians that says I need to be changed by Christ without meaning it. I have said it only because it is the thing that is supposed to be said. I have said it while still trying to save myself by my own grit and merit. I have said it believing it to be true of others, but that I was mostly alright just the way that I was.
And you know what? I have learned that I am totally inadequate just the way that I am. I have learned that I let myself down hard when I am just myself alone. I spent a long while trying to “find myself” when “myself” was the whole problem. I needed to be “finding him.” Or, I needed to be finding my “other self,” that self which is like Christ, that seed that was planted in my heart at birth and can grow to become like my savior if I stop worrying so much about being “just me.”
Galatians 2:20- I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Matthew 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Christ Makes Sacrifice Work

Once, humanity required no transformation, and no sacrifice. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve interacted with God directly. They required no mediator to do so, for they were worthy in and of themselves. After the Fall they were cast out, and from that time on were no longer capable of enjoying God’s presence. They and their children began the pattern of sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-4), but that, in and of itself, would not have been sufficient to restore them to God. The death of an animal does not unveil divinity.
Even the spiritual sacrifices which accompanied the animal offerings (things like surrendering sin and devoting one’s heart to the will of God) would not be enough to undo the effects of the Fall. Each of us have taken the Apple in our own way, and each of us know that when we did so, we stained our soul in a way that we alone are powerless to expunge. No, the only reason why our sacrifices are not lost in the cold vacuum of eternal damnation is because of the enabling power of Christ’s atonement. Out of all of us, Christ alone never partook of his own, personal Apple. Christ alone was sired with the power to break past the limitations of mortal death. Since pre-Fall Adam and Eve, Christ alone is worthy, in and of himself.
Thus when we make sacrifice, we do not do it to appease God, that could never work. We do it, as we have already seen, to surrender our fallen parts in place of Christ’s risen ones. We do it to become a part of him, to be adopted into his body, and to rise with his glory.
Galatians 3:26-27-For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
1 Nephi 10:6- Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.
Matthew 10:38-39- And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Matthew 10:28, Matthew 26:41, Luke 23:46

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

COMMENTARY

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
I am opposed to the notion of despising one’s body, seeing it as a vessel purely for temptation and imperfection. Our lives are a gift given directly by God, and by extension, so are our mortal forms. So I am grateful for my body, and I believe it is a wonderful instrument unlike any other upon this earth…. But, I do acknowledge that it truly is “upon this earth.” My body is temporal and, therefore subject to the laws of our fallen world. Laws such as physics and entropy: it must obey them. If it is cut it will bleed, that is undeniable. If it is overly fatigued, its moral resolve will decline, that is undeniable, too. It must be sick at times, it must be tempted at times, it must even die at a time.
Thus, in the eternal scheme of things, does it really matter that the body might be made momentarily uncomfortable in the service of God and others? Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it is the loss of things that were only temporary anyway.
Perhaps becoming healthy and balanced does not feed our immediate pleasures. Perhaps setting aside gratification to help another seems like drudgery. Perhaps governing our bodies by the will of God sounds less fun. What do these mortal costs really amount to, though, when compared to the eternal liberation of the soul that is gained in return?

Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost
Jesus came to fill the full measure of a man, and that included dying a painful death, even one administered at the hands of others. Though he had the power to rebuke their attacks, he did not. He willingly surrendered his body to their breaking.
Never, though, did he give them his spirit. That was reserved for one being, and one being alone. The Father. No matter what the world might do to his body, they never once had access to his divinity.
By the redeeming power of his sacrifice, Jesus is able to safeguard our own divinity as well. But in return he does ask that we follow his example of enduring whatever cross we are called to bear along the way.

The Nature of Sacrifice- Matthew 20:18-19, 28; John 15:13

Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

COMMENTARY

Even as the Son of man came not to give his life a ransom for many
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends

The way Jesus viewed his mortal life was quite distinct. Where so many of us covet our lives and insist on using them for our own purposes, he instead saw his as something to be given as a ransom, something to be laid down for others. We see our lives as a jealous possession. He saw it as a currency, one which could be spent for the redemption of others.
I think that when most of us hear the word “sacrifice” we think that we are giving something up to be destroyed. Essentially turning something of worth into no value. But the example of Christ is not that things sacrificed or made devoid of worth. Rather they are spent for the enriching of our fellow man.
While we are not called to die for the sins of all mankind, we too can make our lives a currency in the treasury of God. We can “spend” our time in the service of others. We can “give” our attention to enrich our brothers and sisters. We can “donate” our energy to spread humanity throughout the world.