And to Your Offspring

Genesis 12 records the call of Abram and the beginning of his establishment as the father of many nations. God promises, “to your offspring I will give this land,” and later says, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

Paul makes it clear in Galatians 3 that this promise is ultimately given to and fulfilled in Christ. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” Jesus is the one in whom the promise is fulfilled; He is the offspring or seed of Abraham because He is everything that Israel was ever meant to be.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He met with His disciples and recommissioned them, breathing His Spirit into them. They became new men, new adams, remade in His image by the inbreathed Spirit of God. This, along with the greater outpouring at Pentecost some forty days later, was the beginning of a new humanity. He also restated the authority they had in His name, the wielding of the keys of heaven — loosing and binding, forgiving and withholding. The disciples were to go out, as Matthew records, to make disciples of all nations, carrying the name, authority and blessing to all so that in Christ and through His body, the church, all the families of the earth would be blessed.

Seeing God

John 8 is a major discourse between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Verse 19 – “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” – could be taken as the theme verse not only here, but probably for the whole book. In chapter 1, John says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John isn’t just saying that we can’t see God with our eyes. Seeing God is knowing God. The Son has come from the Father to show the Father, to make Him known. In chapter 14, Jesus reproves Philip for asking to see the Father, “‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?'” He really lays into the Pharisees in chapter 8 for their unbelief. He tells them that they are not sons of God or sons of Abraham, as they suppose, but are sons of the devil because they refuse to see Jesus as the I AM. They do not know him, so they cannot know the Father.

Kingdom Church

Deuteronomy 5 is a restatement of the Ten Words, or Ten Commandments, given to the people of Israel as they were preparing to enter the promised land. Chapters 6-26 are an expansion and commentary on each of the Ten Words. Chapter 7 is part of the section dealing with the first Word, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

The emphasis in this chapter is how the people should handle the gods of the nations already living in the land. “No other gods before me” means there can be absolutely no compromise, no rival claiming headship. All false heads are to be devoted to complete destruction. He warns that if Israel makes covenant or intermarries with them, they will be drawn away to worship other gods and will become like them; His anger will be kindled against the people and they will be caught up in their destruction.

Rather, they must destroy these things, they must be a consuming fire because they are a people Holy to Yahweh, a chosen treasured possession. This echoes back what He said about them at Sinai, that they would be to Him a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. They are to be holy because they carry His name. Just as the High Priest wore a golden flower on his forehead with the words “Holy to Yahweh” engraved on it, the same words are now engraved on this kingdom of priests.

In verses 9 & 10, He gives His name in the same expansive way He did with Moses when He hid him in the rock and declared to him as He passed by, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Because he has already rescued them from Egypt and put His name on them, they are to keep His commandments. As they abide in His word, they will enjoy His blessing. These blessings, and even the obedience, as Paul points out in Ephesians, are entirely a gift from God. Just as Israel was brought up out of Egypt, so now we are brought up out of death and made alive in Christ because of the great love with which He loved us.

Paul goes on to say that the Gentiles, who were far off, separated by circumcision from this kingdom of priests, have now been brought near by the blood of Christ. There is no longer any division or distinction between Jew and Gentile. All who are in Christ are members of His body. He has provided the circumcision of the cross, breaking down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility and creating in Himself, that is, in His body, one new man, a holy nation, the Church. And He, the Son of God the Father and greater Son of David, is building this living temple as a dwelling place for God the Spirit, laying Himself down as the cornerstone of its foundation.

Kingdom of Priests

In Exodus 19, the people of Israel have been brought to Sinai, the mountain of God. They have already been rescued from the death and slavery of Egypt. Now, after they have seen the great salvation of God in the overthrow of their enemies, they are being prepared to receive the law. God tells them that if they will obey His voice and keep His covenant, they will be His treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

The words obey and keep here are a sort of summary of the priestly duties of this kingdom of priests. Obey is shema’ in Hebrew, the same word translated hear in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” To truly hear the voice of God is to obey. To hear without obeying, James says, is self-deception. It is idolatry, looking at yourself in a mirror and seeing there only what you would expect. Hearing with obeying reveals and transforms, and the one who obeys is blessed in his doing. Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God to hold up as a mirror to themselves and to the greater Gentile world. They were to hear and obey so they could teach the surrounding nations to do the same, transforming the world and guiding them in right worship of Yahweh.

Likewise, the word keep is tied up with the duties of the priests and Levites in the tabernacle and the temple and goes all the way back to Adam’s duty in the garden sanctuary. Along with   observing and celebrating the covenant, it carries the idea of watching, guarding, protecting, and preserving. The nation acts as guardian cherubim, guarding the way to the tree of life with the flame and sword. This was not to keep everyone away, but to ensure that those who approached did so rightly. They were to keep the covenant pure, to keep it from being mishandled or compromised through intermingling with false worship.

In obeying and keeping covenant, they were being transformed into a holy nation, remade in the image and likeness of the glory of God. They were invested with this glory image in a physical way in the construction of the tabernacle and the priests’ robes which reflected the presence of the glory cloud hovering over the Most Holy place. In a similar way, Peter says we are being built into a house of living stones, a dwelling place of the Spirit. We, the church, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, the light of the image of His glory, the light that shone into the creation to bring it into the fullness of the glory and pattern of heaven.

Because we are called into the light of His kingdom, we are to live like people of the light. Our lives are to reflect the glory of God by being holy as He is holy. Our lives are to be lives of hearing and doing, of keeping covenant so that we live holy and blameless before Him.

The Implanted Word

Jesus points to the shema‘, the Hear, O Israel, as the greatest commandment, “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All the rest of the Law and Prophets is an expansion on this theme.

This word, the whole word of God, James says, we should receive with meekness, and he pictures the word like a seed planted in the ground or implanted in the womb. He moves immediately to, “be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” and then goes on to say that Abraham was justified by works in that his “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” The implanted word necessarily bears fruit in the works we do. The word of God, as Isaiah says, will not return empty or fruitless, but multiplied, accomplishing it’s purpose.

The immediate application given with the shema’ is that of teaching our children. Deuteronomy says that this word is to be taught in our sitting, in our walking, our lying down and our rising. It is in the work of our hands and written on our foreheads; it is on our doors, and on our gates. This is the implanted word. It is to be all around us, over us, and through us. Paul sums this up with, “Fathers, bring your children up in the paideia and instruction of the Lord.” This is the full inculturation of our children, training them to love and obey God in all they do, and giving them a thoroughly biblical understanding of the world as God has made it. This word grows in us to bear fruit in which is its seed and that grows up in our children to bear fruit and more seeds to be planted and grown.

Likewise, Jesus gives practical application for “love your neighbor” in his parable about the Samaritan. This neighbor isn’t neighbor in the abstract or mankind in general. It is the person you happen to meet as you go on your way. This love is only manifest in the doing, in helping the person that is before us. John folds this back over and says that the fruit of loving God, the evidence that we have the word planted in us is our work and our love for one another. “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother… If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

The King and His Kingdom

God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 is part of a larger Exodus pattern in David’s life. In the Exodus, Moses and Israel escaped from Pharaoh and came to a wilderness place. They were attacked by Amalekites, but they defeated them. Jethro, the Gentile priest blessed them and then the covenant was established and instructions were given for building the tabernacle, which was built from the spoil of the defeated Egyptians. Just so, David escapes from the pharaoh-like Saul and comes to live temporarily in Ziklag outside the land, in Philistine territory. His people are attacked by Amalekites and he defeats them. Hiram, king of Tyre, blesses David and then God appears in a vision to establish His covenant with David and give instruction for building His house, which is built in large part with the spoil of David’s defeated enemies.

David is promised that his son would build the house of God and that his kingdom would be established forever. This covenant is initially fulfilled in Solomon, but, of course, pushes beyond to Christ who builds (and is building) the living Temple and whose kingdom has no end. Yahweh says, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” In Exodus 4, God called the people of Israel collectively His son, and so now Solomon is the son of God as the representative head, the embodiment of the corporate son of God. Likewise, Jesus Christ the Son is the head and complete embodiment of His corporate son-body, the Church.

Along these lines, Paul argues that those who are in Christ, that is, those who are in this corporate son-body under His headship, will be made alive in His resurrection, while those who remain in Adam will die. And he makes a big deal of the resurrection, going so far as saying, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Evangelical Christians place a heavy emphasis on the death of Christ, saying we must individually receive His death and payment on our behalf in order to be saved, but this is not what Paul says at all. We must be in Christ, members of His corporate body and partakers in His resurrection. In this is our hope and our salvation.

Further, the fact that Christ was raised from the dead bodily and sits at the right hand of the Father bodily demands that the kingdom of heaven is not a disembodied, spiritual realm, but a physical, incarnate, hands-on kingdom. It is a kingdom of eating and drinking, of singing, of speaking, and of doing. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is here, and it is coming.

 

Light and glory

Isaiah wrote around the time of the collapse and captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel, but his dealings were with the kings of the south. He warned against the coming invasion of Assyria and the ultimate fall, exile, and restoration of a reunited Israel.

In the beginning of chapter 60, he casts the restoration in terms of Genesis 1. Darkness covers the face of the earth and the light of the glory of God shines and begins a new creation. This restoration is also a new exodus. Jeremiah says that the return from exile would be so great that the people would no longer say, “‘As Yahweh lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As Yahweh lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’” And here Isaiah says that unlike the exodus from Egypt where the people were driven out, these would be carried home on the hip, lifted up and exalted by kings. Even the particular form of the word for “savior”, moshiya’, in verse 16 carries a whisper of the exodus – “I am Yahweh, your Moses.”*

Like the building of the tabernacle, He reforms Israel in the image of His glory and makes her a beautiful house, so that all nations would come to see her beauty and to praise the God of glory. The light and glory and beauty of His new creation is heavily emphasized and the language pushes beyond the return from exile and is echoed in the vision of the beauty of the glorious bridal city of Revelation 21-22. The gold and silver of the city reflect the light of God. The wealth and worship and the kings of the nations stream into the city through the gates which never close. The sun and moon are no longer set in the heavens as rulers, but God is sun and moon, the king and light of His people.

*Thank you to Peter Leithart for this insight

Filled with the Infinite

It is not a rare thing in the Old Testament that the surrounding nations are included as participants in the blessings and worship of Yahweh. Even in the promises to Abraham, God says that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This promise is not just for the time after the inauguration of the New Covenant. The situation that existed between the Jews and Gentiles is not the same as that which exists today between Christians and non-Christians. The Jews were certainly the people of God, but they were set apart as His priestly people, a kingdom of priests, ministers to the larger Gentile world. When Paul talks about the mystery of the inclusion of the Gentiles, he’s not saying that only now, finally, they can worship Yahweh. By the time of the new testament, there are already believing Gentiles throughout the known world. The mystery is that the distinction, the dividing wall, was being removed. The book of Acts is the plundering of the old covenant. It is not taking Gentiles out of paganism, but rather taking both Jew and Gentile out of the old covenant approach to God – through animals and veils – and weaving them together into one new body that approaches the Father through the Son.

In light of this great work that God was doing, this forming of the church to be the beautiful and radiant image of His light and glory in the world, Paul prays that the Ephesians, along with all the saints, would know the unknowable, the love of Christ which is above all knowledge, and that they would be filled with the infinite, with all the fullness of God.

Kingdom of Peace

Isaiah 9 is a very familiar passage, “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” And the government will be on the shoulders of this son, this child-king. Israel was in darkness, the darkness of the shadow of Assyria, which God was bringing against Israel as a flood. They would speak to the dead rather then the living God. They ignored the teaching and the testimony because they had no dawn. Of course, the Son came bringing the dawn, bringing life to the dead, and establishing His kingdom.

It’s interesting to note that it’s not just that His government and peace will have no end, but that the increase of His government and peace will have no end. His government and peace are infinite and ever expanding. And He has already ascended and is seated on His throne, the greater throne of the greater son of David. It’s not just Jews that He rules over, nor is it Jews and Gentiles separately, but He has made one new people, grafting Jews and Gentiles together into His church and ruling over all things through His church, his body, with Christ our head.

 

The Heart with the Treasure

It’s easy to see the law as harsh and oppressive. Martin Luther counted it as an enemy sided with the flesh and the devil, set against us to destroy us. It’s understandable. We are sinners. We have broken the law. We carry guilt with us. So, when we read things like, if you turn away and serve other gods,  “then the anger of Yahweh would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly,” it can sound like God is just waiting for us to misstep so He can crush us. But that is not the case.

God is in the business of destroying evil. He tells the Israelites to destroy the idols, the empty, worthless, vaporous things of the Canaanites because these things would draw the people away from the source of all things, the source of life. We see this at the battle of Jericho. When the whole city was to be devoted to destruction, Achan took some of the plunder and hid it in his tent, at the very heart of his possessions, and he was consumed in the destruction of the city.

This is the same thing that lies behind Jesus’ warning, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It isn’t just that these things are transitory and will ultimately lead to loss and disappointment, but that “what is with the treasure must fare as the treasure; that the heart which haunts the treasure-house where the moth and rust corrupt, will be exposed to the same ravages as the treasure, will itself be rusted and moth-eaten.*”

But that cannot be with God’s own children, and it will not be with His Bride. He does not leave us to be consumed by moth and rust, but continually works to refine us, to purify us. “Love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected—not in itself, but in the object. . . Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed.

And our God is a consuming fire.*”

So, we turn to Him and He gives us His Son and His Spirit. He gives us His kingdom – that which cannot be shaken and cannot be destroyed. If we are members of that unshakeable kingdom, then we ourselves are being made unshakeable by the purifying fire of God so that we would be like Him, that that fire would burn in us and we would worship God face to face. This acceptable worship that we offer God through His purifying fire is this: that we love one another. As John says in his first epistle, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. . . If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

 

* George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons – available for free on Project Gutenberg