It is a terrible story, the story of Abraham and Isaac. It is terrible in what God would ask of Abraham. It is terrible in what Abraham was prepared to do. It was terrible in what would happen to Isaac. Up to the moment when the knife was poised above the body of the boy, this story of unconditional trust and sacrificial obedience is frightening. We rightly shudder at the thought of what was about to transpire.

But at that dreadful moment, God knows what he had hoped would be the case, enabling the moment to be transfigured. Death would not prevail, but life would find a way. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’

It would be God himself who would go through to the ultimate sacrifice, not Abraham. It was God who did not refuse us his son, his only Son. What God would not demand of others, he would demand of himself for others. There would be no limit placed on God’s love for us; he would deliver up his son on the cross.

Why would God take this dreadful path, spared to Abraham? As St Paul said, ‘since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.’ The gift of the sacrifice of Jesus’ life is the gift of the saving of our lives. And we need this gift. As Isaac trusted in his father, so we need to trust in God’s Son, given for us. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Trust in him, for only in him will we be saved, as Isaac was.

The transfiguration of Jesus reveals to the disciples the effects of the sacrifice God would be prepared to make, beyond what he would ask of anyone else. It could only be properly revealed through the path of the cross: ‘tell no one until I have risen from the dead.’ We are the beneficiaries of the sacrifice of God’s Son.