Covenant: God’s Plan to Restore Relationship

How Did you Become A Christian?

Take a moment to think about how you became a Christian. Or, if you’re not yet a Christian, what prompted you to check out more about it? Odds are there was a person in your life who first told you about Jesus. There are, of course, exceptions, but the overwhelming majority of believers have someone in their life who first introduced them to faith in Christ. For me, it was my parents. I would suggest that the norm has always been that God would draw people to himself, bless them, and they would, in turn, have the responsibility to bless others.

CORRUPTION IN CREATION 

Scripture opens with the story of creation. In the first couple chapters of the Bible we read that God created the world and when everything was put together and functioning as it should, God looked at it and said it was very good. But then sin entered the world and that which was very good got corrupted, the effects of which we still see today.

crowd-of-people-corruption-creation

As the opening chapters of Genesis roll on we see that by chapter 11 things have gotten so bad that people are being scattered across the face of the earth and there seems to be no hope for the unsullied relationship between God and people that were presented in Genesis chapter 2.

GODS PLANThen we roll into Genesis 12 and we read of God’s plan to begin restoring his relationship with people. He calls Abram, later Abraham, and tells him to go to the land God will show him and that God is going to bless him and make his name great and that Abram’s job is to be a blessing to the nations. The basic idea is that God is

  • pulling Abram aside
  • pouring out his blessing on him
  • commanding Abram to be a blessing to the nations.

This was God’s missions plan to reach the nations. People would look at Abram, see that he was being blessed, and desire to know who his God was.

GOD MAKES A COVENANT 

Fast forward to Exodus 19 and we see the same basic idea on the national level. Here we have the nation, freshly released from slavery in Egypt, gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and God is going to make a covenant, a treaty, with them to bless them so they can be his representatives to the nations.

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. –Ex 19:3-8 (NIV)

SAVED FROM SLAVERY The first thing to notice from this passage is that the people are already saved from slavery. They could go their own way at this point, but God is giving them the option of entering into a treaty relationship with him where they will be his people and He will be their God. The law comes in the next chapter because God has always been about drawing people into a relationship with himself prior to addressing issues of behavior. In other words, we shouldn’t expect unbelievers to act like believers prior to coming to faith.

GOD PROMISES

There are a few key promises God is making to the Israelites in this passage.

  1. They will be a holy nation. This simply means that they will be set apart from the other nations to be God’s special people.
  2. They will also be a kingdom of priests. In other words, they are to be his representatives to the nations. Just like Abram, they will be blessed by God and they will in turn be a blessing to the nations.

SPECIAL AND SET APART

The next big concept in the passage is that Israel will be God’s special possession or his ‘special treasure.’ The word here indicates that Israel will be what the special treasure was to kings in the ancient Near East. The Assyrians were masters at this. They would have foreign dignitaries walk down special halls full of unique, exotic treasures and wall reliefs depicting the many Assyrian military victories. The goal was that by the time the delegate reached the presence of the Assyrian king he would be completely overwhelmed by his majesty. It’s a similar idea to a foreign ambassador visiting the White House. They don’t typically go to McDonald’s. Rather, they have a lavish meal at the White House designed to show off the wealth and prosperity of the US. What God is saying to Israel is that she is to function like the royal treasure, showing off to the world how amazing the Lord is.

This was God’s missions plan to reach the nations, and it’s the same for us today. Peter wrote,

As you come to Jesus, the living Stone, rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

–1 Peter 2:4-5, 9

Peter was writing to believers scattered through the provinces of Asia Minor and his message holds for us today. We are built into a spiritual house, which likely means we are made into a house for the Spirit of God. As we are built into this house, we are to be God’s special treasure that he uses to show his glory and draw people to himself. Our job–our mission–is to declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

Advertisements

The Unexpected Commission to Harden Hearts: Jesus

 

Here we are, absorbing the idea that sometimes God chooses to divide people and force a choice—follow God or walk away. Some will walk away. I’m not suggesting that we are called to divide, but we need to understand why twice in the Bible it was necessary. In the case of Isaiah, his prophetic words set the stage for exile, which in turn resulted in the healing and redemption of God’s people.

Delivering a Vague Message

Let’s turn our attention to Mark 4 where Jesus teaches the parable of the sower. This simple lesson in agriculture illustrates what happens to seeds when a farmer sows them—some grow, some don’t. The crowd of people crammed along the shoreline to listen to Jesus likely sensed that he was using a metaphor, though Jesus chose to leave the meaning unclear. Jesus later explained to the disciples that his message was purposefully ambiguous. “They may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12)

Tearing Down the Middleman

Why would Jesus be so exclusive and leave people so confused? Jesus did this for the same reason that Isaiah preached decisively and with the mandate for action. While the initial result was the rejection of God, the bigger goal was to bring God’s judgment to fruition.

Jesus’ ministry sought first to bring judgment to the temple system, not because the system was flawed but because human sin made it unsustainable. The temple system, exposed to sin and legalism, destroyed the very thing it was meant to protect—the relationship between God and his people. The people made it their middleman, relying on the temple system to cover their sin and facilitate their relationship with God, so it had to go; Jesus’ death rendered it obsolete.

Forcing the Issue

Jesus’ second objective was to bring judgment upon the sin of human beings; his obscure parables hardened hearts and provoked hearers to stop wavering and make a choice. Their rejection would bring about the fulfillment of God’s judgment and it would be poured out, not on the people, but on himself. Jesus would take on all the wandering, rebellion, and foolishness that prevented people from knowing God; he made it possible for people everywhere, not just those living among the temple, to live in relationship with their Creator.

When I consider all this, my response is worship. God set up the temple system to engage in relationship with us and then when we ruined it, he replaced it with the infinitely more glorious work of his son.

The Unexpected Commission to Harden Hearts: Isaiah

 

How many of us have ever interviewed for a leadership/pastor/ministry position and when asked to describe our calling answered, “I believe that God has called me to preach the word in such a way that it will harden people’s hearts and they will reject God”?

I’m guessing none.

An answer like that is sure to stop an interview right in its tracks. “Thank you for your time. We’ll be in touch.” And yet two people explicitly said this was their intention in the Bible—Jesus and Isaiah.

God Gives Isaiah a Tough Assignment

This isn’t new information but it’s important to keep in mind that Isaiah’s role as a prophet was not just to predict the future but to call people to action in the present. Isaiah appears on the scene hundreds of years after the Israelites earned their exile from the Promised Land; generations have rebelled against God, worshipped idols, and finally completely rejected God. God waited hundreds of years for the Israelites to repent, return to him, and dwell in the land. He withheld the exile and sent judges and prophets to help free them from their oppressors and plead with them to return to him.

 We already know this didn’t work. Isaiah was commissioned to preach in such a way that it would force the Israelites to make a choice. No more waffling. Isaiah’s prophecies were delivered with such decisiveness that the people were forced to commit one way or another. The Lord already knew they would choose rejection.

Healing and Grace for Self-inflicted Wounds

As promised, Babylon invaded and carried the Israelites into exile. It was long overdue and yet God still extended his grace. The exile was ridiculously short and it cured the Israelites of their idolatry. So you see, God knew his people would self-destruct and he knew what it would take to heal them of their self-inflicted wounds. God used Isaiah to bring this to fruition—to give the people one last chance to repent and then to set the stage for judgment.

Isolated Events Distort Our View of God

We tend to think of the Old Testament God as harsh and full of wrath and the New Testament God as patient and full of grace. He hasn’t changed. This is the difference that context makes; when we look at isolated events in the Bible and use those to build our understanding of God, we build a deeply flawed and confusing picture of God. When we look at the entire picture—the flow of historical events—we see that the God of patience, mercy, and grace we read about in the New Testament was there all along. What changed was how he drew us into relationship with him. It’s time we re-evaluate our understanding of the Old Testament God and gain a greater understanding of his love for us.

That’s where Jesus comes in and we’ll get to that Thursday.

What’s With The Snake?

12994139_web-newer

Am I the only one who has ever wondered why snakes were significant in the Bible? Sure, the snake has a key role in Genesis, but why did God choose the snake to convince the Egyptians that Moses was sent by God? Why did God choose this as a sign of his power and authority? It was more intentional than you might think.

Pharoah Loved The Snake

I’m not sure how he felt about the snake as a pet or part of the family, but as far as the Egyptians were concerned, the snake was a symbol of protection for Pharoah. It was part of Pharaoh’s headdress (called a uraeus) and Pharoah believed the uraeus actually went into battle ahead of him.

God Was Not Impressed with Pharaoh’s Snake…

Moses realized at the burning bush that God was calling him to go before Pharaoh and declare the very words of the Lord. He knew that unless he could give some sort of sign to confirm that his message was from God, Pharaoh wouldn’t believe him. God tells Moses and Aaron that when Pharaoh asks for a miracle, they are to throw down the staff and it will turn into a snake. If you’ve read the story, you know that Moses and Aaron do as they are told only to have Pharaoh’s magicians turn their staffs into snakes as well using their “secret arts” (chapter 4). Aaron’s staff swallows the magicians’ staffs; it was a message that God’s uraeus was bigger than Pharaoh’s.

…Or Moses’s Capabilities

Moses was well aware of the fact that Pharaoh would be well within his rights to simply look at him and say “you’re dead”. Imagine the fear and trepidation that Moses must have felt; it makes sense why he argues with God and asks him to send someone else. This makes God angry, not because Moses is afraid, but because Moses doesn’t get it. God wants Moses to know that he’s not after his capabilities; he’s after his heart. When Moses needed a win and a sign that God was in control, God hit Pharaoh where he was his most confident, in the symbol of his protection.

There will be times when God puts us in uncomfortable situations and we realize we are in over our heads. So what? Moses is proof that our inadequacies are powerless to derail Gods plans. 

Our Anemic View of The Gospel: Part 1 of 3

10538269_web

It’s time to redefine our understanding of the Gospel. If you believe the primary message of the Gospel is Jesus saving us from our sins, we have a problem. That’s nice, it feels good, but it’s weak. Anemic even. I may have just ruffled your feathers, but keep reading. My intention is to strengthen your grasp on the gravity of Jesus’ story. To do this, we need to look at—yep, you guessed it—the Old Testament.

God’s Pursuit of Intimacy

The Old Testament is the story of God’s desire for intimacy with us. It starts with the creation of the world. We had perfect intimacy with God and it was beautiful, until we messed up the entire plan with one apple. From here, things just got worse. We started killing one another and the nations were scattered across the earth. Genesis 12 is the beginning of restoration.. God promises Abraham that his descendants will be blessed for generations to come.

The Law Never Saved Anyone

Exodus opens with the Hebrews in slavery in Egypt, not quite the mighty nation we envisioned. But God had a better story and bigger plan in mind. God uses Moses to free the Hebrews. At Mt. Sinai, God tells his people that of all the nations, they will be his treasured possession (chapter 19). Boom. The relationship with God is now official at a national level. By chapters 25-40, God is dwelling in the tabernacle among his people.

Leviticus details some intense regulations for keeping the tabernacle pure and clean. If this is a book you tend to dismiss, you need to read this next sentence. The laws of Leviticus were never intended to cleanse our souls or make our way into heaven. This amazing book illustrates God holiness; those laws make is possible for our holy God could to dwell in the midst of a very unholy people.

Another Bad Breakup 

It would have been nice if we could have kept this intimacy in tact. Unfortunately, in Judges a new generation of Israelites has takes up idolatry. By 1 Samuel 8, the people who had never needed a king other than Yahweh, request a king. Once again things goes from bad to worse until God finally exiles these folks.

God Never Gave Up

Here’s the thing about God; he’s not one to abandon his people.. God knew that exile was the only way for them to overcome their sin. And it did, the exile cured the Israelites of their idolatry and they later returned and rebuilt Jerusalem.. Even in exile, God was there, working to bring them back to a place of intimacy with him. Isaiah 40 is God’s message of hope. Even when all seems lost, “here is your God.”

God’s desire from the start has been to have a relationship with us and he has never wavered in his pursuit of intimacy. The Old Testament tells that story—a story where God makes himself tangible, meets us where we are, and redeems our sins over and over.

So why did Jesus come? We will discuss that on Thursday.

Present in the Absence

14591805_web

If you’re like most of us, at some point, you have felt like God was missing. I’m not talking about the time you spilled coffee down your shirt right before a meeting or left $30 worth of perishable groceries in your trunk on a hot summer day. I’m talking about a season in which you felt abandoned; you wondered what happened to the miracles, or why God seemed so distant and unconcerned. If this is you, the book of Exodus is your book.

Reconnecting with God 

If an Old Testament book seems irrelevant to your life, take a closer look. Exodus is about the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt, but that part of the story is over by chapter 15. The bigger picture and overarching story is about God’s move from apparent absence to a tangible, undeniable presence. It’s a story about movement, both the physical movement of God’s people and the more subtle movement of God’s company.

Has God Forgotten His People?

During the first two chapters of Exodus, God appears to be conspicuously absent. There is a new king who has no regard for Joseph or the nation. The Hebrews are put under slavery and harsh oppression. Pharaoh orders the death of Hebrew children, and the list goes on.

All of this would have the Israelites wondering: Where is God? Has he abandoned his covenant with Abraham? Is he angry? I have been there too, wondering if I missed something or what I did to cause God to turn away from me.

But God wasn’t far away. God heard their cries for help. In Exodus 2:23-25, God “took note” of their groaning; a very Hebrew way of saying God is about to take action.

God is Sometimes Silent, but Never Absent

We find later that all of this took place to give way to the fulfillment of God’s promise to make the Hebrews a mighty nation. The giving of the law at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19-24 serves as the official fulfillment of this promise. The Hebrews later build the tabernacle where God is dwelling at the end of Exodus in the midst of his people. The truth is that he was never absent at all; he was actively orchestrating events for the good of his people.

The next time you’re wondering why God’s gone radio silent on you, remember the Hebrews. I want God to dwell in the midst of my life. I want to be smack dab in the middle of whatever he is planning, even if it means I don’t understand it.