OMMM, A “MANTRA” FOR EFFECTIVE CHRISTIANITY

OMMM, not really a mantra, but an acrostic to pursue successful Christianity.

OBJECTIVE (needing to be objectified), CHRIST-LIKENESS (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 2:5; Gal. 2:20).

MOTIVATION, JESUS (Jn. 14:15, 23; I Cor. 5:14-15).

MATERIAL, SCRIPTURE (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 17:17)

METHOD(S), CHRIST-IMITATED (Acts 1:1; I Cor. 11:1).

These create a synergistic effect that is powerful in the most extreme way. Jesus, however, must be the key in this energizing of Christianity. He must shape it, define it, motivate it, supply it, lead it, and serve as its model in every way!
This will work if we are willing to make the commitment. It is in fact, how Christianity is supposed to function (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 2:10-16; II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20, 4:19; Eph. 3:16-17; 4:11-16; Phil. 2:5; Col. 1:24-29; I Pet. 3:15, etc.).

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The Torah of Moses

The Torah of Moses

A Closer Look at the Law of Moses

Deuteronomy 1:5; 4:5-8

            Most tend to view the Bible more as a book of independent truths or facts – a rulebook consulted for the appropriate answer. While the Bible certainly does have rules, its message is designed to be understood as a complete, connected, holistic revelation concerning God, His will, and His plan. With this in mind, we will have a look at some “connect-the-dots” understandings relative to the Torah of Moses.

It is the “Torah,” not the “Pentateuch”

  •        “Torah” is the proper Hebrew word for this section of Hebrew                 Scripture.
  •        The Torah of Moses refers to the first five books of the Old Covenant.
  •         The word “torah” should be defined as “instruction” or “teaching” rather than“law.”

The Torah of Moses served as the law library for Israel.

  •           Priests taught and made decisions based on its teachings (Lev. 10:8-11; Deut.  17:8-10; 31:24-36)
  •          Kings, likewise, were to know Torah and rule under its authority (Deut.

           17:19-20; II Kgs. 22:8-13; 23:1-3).

  •       Prophets were Torah-centered covenant lawyers (Jer. 6:16).
  •       The people of Israel were to affirm and live by Torah (Deut. 30:15-16; cf. I I Kgs. 23:1-3; Neh. 8:1-8).
  •       Wisdom Literature is based on its principles.
  •       Biblical narratives in the Old Covenant illustrate Torah as it is lived out

                   among the people.

  •          The Writing Prophets present God’s Torah cases and speak of His fidelity to covenant and ultimate Torah promises.

Torah Breakdown

  •           Genesis 1-11, Universal Beginnings.
  •           Genesis 12-50, Israel’s Beginnings.
  •           Exodus 1-14, Release from Egyptian Slavery.
  •           Exodus 15- Leviticus, Laws for the Nation
  •           Numbers, The Wilderness Wandering.
  •           Deuteronomy, Making Things Clear.

Levels of Torah Instruction

  •           Management of the nation by civil law (note Gal. 3:24; 4:1-2).
  •           Religious “types” for Israel and pointing to Jesus (Heb. 8:4-6; 10:1-            2).
  •           Principles grounded in God’s nature (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-8).

                  o     Faith was always the key (Deut. 30:11-14).

                  o     Law alone led to death (Rom. 5:20-21; Jas. 2:10).

                  o     Paul put the pieces together (Rom. 10:5-8; Rom. 2:28-29).

Torah and Atonement

  •           There were limitations.

                   o     An altar 7 1/2 by 7 ½ in surface area (Ex. 27:1).

                   o     The blood of the altar could not remove sin (Heb. 10:4).

                   o     There was only one acceptable place for the Bronze Altar (Deut.               12:5, 11; I Kgs. 8:27-30).

  •           Nevertheless, there were additional factors to consider.

                   o     The Day of Atonement for the nation (Lev. 16).

                   o     Praying toward Jerusalem (I Kgs.8:27-30; cf. Dan. 6:10).

                   o     A Covenant People (Gen. 17:17; II Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51; remember the thief on the cross, Lk. 23:39-43).

                   o     Forgiveness was promised by God in the Old Covenant (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35;5:10, 13, 16, 18).

                   o     Paul, again, explains (Rom. 3:21-31).

  •           Interesting Considerations

                   o     Aliens had a place at the Bronze Altar (Lev. 17:8-9).

                   o     Women could also approach the Bronze Altar (Lev. 12:1-8; 15:25-30; Lk.  2:21-38).

                   o     Jesus’ cleansing the temple reacted to the Jews creation of a Court of the Gentiles, not found in the Old

                             Covenant, to keep them distant from the temple and then corrupting that area with merchandising (Mk. 1  1:17-18; Isa. 56:6-8; Jer. 7:11; Eph. 2:11-22).

Deuteronomy

  •          A Special role (29;1).
  •           Less than 50% of previous legislation.
  •           A “key” to understanding the focus and implementation of the law (1:5).
  •           A greater emphasis on love, faith, and the heart.
  •           Emphasis and Function.

                   o     Israel’s Potential (4:5-8; cf. Rom. 2:24).

                   o     Israel’s Loyalty (6:4-9, 20-25)

                   o     Israel’s Holiness (7:6; 14:2; I Pet. 2:9; Matt. 5:48).

            The Torah of Moses is an amazing testimony to God’s holiness, wisdom, and love. The Torah managed rebellious Israel as a civil state, constructed their religion to point forward to the fullness of Christ, and gave a holy model of spiritual conduct as high and unchangeable as God Himself!

THE CROSS

The Word of the Cross

The grace of God and the cross of Christ are inseparable. The cross is the power behind grace, the bank account necessary for God to cancel the debt of sin (I Cor. 1:18; Col. 2:14). These truths are commonly affirmed, however, are their implications commonly applied to our understandings of Christianity? Do these truths regularly make it to the “streets” or to the “marketplace of ideas”? How practical are we with the word of the cross?

While it is certainly true that an essential aspect of God’s character is “love” (I Jn. 4:8), equally true is the fact that He is just. His justice will, therefore, be served (Rom. 3:26). The combination of these two innate characteristics of the Father insists that grace cannot be cheap. The unearned nature of grace is, as with many other gifts, paid for in full before appropriated without cost. There can be no incongruity within the nature of God. No cross; no grace!

With regard to our salvation, sinful men and women have created a problem. How, therefore, could there be salvation without first having an accounting for this disturbance in God’s creation? A correction is needed. The scales of justice ultimately cannot be imbalanced; they must somehow maintain equilibrium.

Jesus dying on the cross is the balancing factor needed in a world dangerously tilting away from God. Jesus made right what otherwise could never have been brought to stability (I Pet. 1:17-19; Heb. 9:11-14, 10:4, 19-23).

This solution required the death of a perfectly sinless human being. The cross is tied to blood, totally innocent blood. This thought, however, has caused many to recoil at what they consider to be a “barbaric” concept. William Paul Young, author of The Shack, recently voiced this belief in an interview,

 He is the God who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son, so that His just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased. This God whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger — a God who is still all too familiar to many Christians — is a caricature of the true God. This God does not exist. (Shannon, Silence on Fire, p. 110, also see Manning who stated the very same thing in Above All, pp. 58-59)

The cross with all its so-called “barbarity” must be seen through God’s eyes to make sense. Men have rejected the cross because it does not fit their notions of justice. It does not fit because it is based on man’s limited understanding of the “sin problem” (I Cor. 1:18-2:2).

Consider the nature of the “sin problem” as seen from a biblical point of view. The biblical mix of ingredients must be complete before an adequate solution can be developed and understood. In such a view, the cross not only makes sense, it is indispensable. Consider the implications of the following Scriptures (I Jn. 4:8; Rom. 3:21-31; Gen. 3:1-7; Gen. 3:15; Job 9:30-35; Rom. 8:29; I Pet. 2:24; Psa. 22; Matt. 27:46; Matt. 26:39; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 5:9-14; Jn. 1:14).

1.         God is a God of love.

2.         God is a God of justice.

3.         Humans have rebelled against God.

4.         Humans are, therefore, part of the problem.

5.         Humans cannot, however, deliver themselves from their dilemma.

6.         Yet, humans must have participation since they are the cause of the problem.

7.         God, as the creator, must also be part of the solution since His nature would not allow Him to create humans

              knowing they would sin and yet give them no hope of salvation.

8.         Someone must serve as an adequate mediator for God and man to worktogether in a solution.

9.         Sin demands death.

10.       The Incarnation led to a worthy human/God sacrifice.

Many other Scriptures could be used to support the points listed above. Clearly, if we let the Bible speak for itself, the entirety of Scripture fits together perfectly to show a plan perfectly in harmony with all salient factors. No cross; no grace.

Now that God has acted to offer correction to an unbalanced creation, how are we to take advantage of the gift? To answer this question, we are taken to “the word of the cross” (I Cor. 1:18).

The word of the cross is good news—the gospel. The first sermon presenting the gospel is found in Acts 2:14-41. Its development shows the pattern for all subsequent presentations and responses.

1.         God developed and delivered the message to be preached.

2.         The message was in keeping with God’s intentions as revealed to the prophets.

3.         Jesus was preached.

4.         His resurrection validated God’s plan.

5.         Sinners were convicted by preaching and wanted to know how to find relief from their sins

6.         They were told to change their lives and be immersed into Christ for the remission of their sins

7.         Through their faithful obedience they would receive the long awaited “promise.”

The preaching of the cross reveals God’s plan and presents how sinners are to respond. The two aspects of the plan must then be well understood. The word of the cross is too important to misunderstand.

The word of the cross contains both essential primary and secondary components. The primary side of the equation is the part God has provided in a crucified, resurrected Savior. Without God’s plan being realized in Jesus, we would not need to speak any further about salvation (I Cor. 15:3; Heb. 9:28). No cross; no salvation.

The secondary elements of the plan involve our response. As sinners we are helpless to solve our problem (Rom. 3:23, 27a). This being the case, we must understand that the “law of Christ” with all its instructions cannot save us in the primary sense any more than could the “law of Moses” save a Jew. Neither the things Christians do nor the things Jews did to access a relationship with God have the power to bring about salvation by themselves (Gal. 3:21).

Our understanding the lack of efficacy found in secondary items standing alone is of greatest importance. The Jews serve as a stark reminder to us that trusting in our works is a damning error of judgment (Rom. 2:17-29; 9:30-33). Similarly, if Christians glory in their response to God rather than in the God who made possible the response, we too fall short (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). No cross; no salvation.

To illustrate, a window shade raised during the day can bring light to a dark room. The same shade raised during the night cannot allow sunlight to light the room. The necessity of the secondary act of raising the shade in daylight only worked because the primary factor of the sun was present. In a similar manner, all the commandment keeping in the world cannot make any contribution to our salvation if there is no cross. As Paul so powerfully put it, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

We must understand this clearly or we will misunderstand verses teaching that secondary matters of response save us. I Peter 3:21 is a classic example. This verse tells us “baptism now saves you.” The question here is not “if” but “how.” If baptism saves in a primary sense, we need no cross. However, the verse itself explains how baptism saves. It saves “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Baptism occupies the place of the window shade in our earlier illustration. It accesses something only because something is there to access.

Examining this concept in reverse, let us have a look at Hebrews 10:4. In the primary sense, animal blood could not take sins from a Jew.  It could, however, allow access to forgiveness later to be realized in Christ (Lev. 4:20; Rom. 3:23-25). In much the same manner as baptism, animal sacrifices allowed access into God’s salvation, but neither baptism nor an animal sacrifice has the power to take away sins apart from the cross of Christ. No cross; no salvation.

Our discussion of primary and secondary aspects of salvation leads to a practical evaluation of our teaching and preaching. What is the proper proportion each aspect is due in our presentations? In recent times accusations have been made that grace has not been preached sufficiently. It has been said that we dwell more on our response than on God’s initiative. I don’t doubt that this has been true in some cases, but certainly not in all. Additionally, at times, when the above accusations have been leveled, the desired response calls for our preaching to unduly minimize the biblical place of obedience of faith (Rom.1:5; 16:26). Secondary matters of response are necessary.

A common reaction against those who accuse others of not preaching grace has been to cite examples of sermons preached in the past that dealt with grace. Impressive lists have been developed to “prove” we have preached grace in the “mainstream.” The fact is, we have all heard sermons and read articles that emphasized grace. There is, however, more to the story.

In both cases, could it be true that when a person in opposition goes “over the top” in their broadsides others dismiss their entire argument because they have gone too far with the point? I suspect there have been at least some cases when taking a realistic evaluation of our present practices has been torpedoed by extreme reactions to extreme positions.

Biblically speaking, there are times when more pressing lesser matters must rise to the top of our discussions due to the concerns of the moment (Jude 3). These are judgment calls. However, like Jude, we should get more delight in speaking of our common salvation than in condemning error. We do not want to become like the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-4).Conversely, we do not want to be like the church at Thyatira and allow open sin to go unopposed (Rev. 2:18-23).

There must be balance. A sense of proper proportion is not a small thing (Matt. 23:23-24). Leeway must be given in matters of judgment. Local autonomy is to be respected.

Life comes at us in unexpected ways that may well call for momentary disproportions in the subjects we speak or write about. Both primary and secondary matters of necessity must be preached! It is not always easy to know the best judgment to make when we face problems. Nevertheless, we must always keep this in mind, no cross; no salvation!

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

THE BALANCE OF GRACE IN AN UNBALANCED WORLD

            Some subjects that are supposed to bring peace and comfort wind up being twisted into controversy. One such subject is grace. There is one extreme involving a hyper-grace predestination that informs God about the limits of His sovereignty. In this humans are but pawns in a predetermined game. I find this lacking in biblical reason and ultimately self-defeating. At the other end of the discussion is a checklist proudly paraded while grace becomes but a perfunctory whisper.  In this the attention comes to be focused on our actions rather than on God’s goodness. This, too, has no Scriptural support.

            I seriously suspect an unbiased Bible student would find neither of these extreme positions a fair representation of the complete discussion. Extremes are easy; they demand little thinking and require a closed mind. Unbiased searchers would find such prerequisites insulting and unsatisfying.

Consider the following combination of grace, faith and works as a balanced alternative to the extremes just mentioned. A seasonal illustration may help.

            Your shopping has finally located the much sought after gift. The gift, wrapping paper, tag, ribbon, and stickers have all been purchased. The gift is positioned under the tree until the day for unwrapping arrives. But, what if the gift remains unwrapped? The answer is simple; the gift cannot be enjoyed.

Now consider a variation of the story. All the details remain the same, but this time the gift is opened and enjoyed. Did the person who unwrapped the gift supply a penny of its cost? This also allows for an easy answer, no.

             Another illustration may also contribute to the point I wish to make. Blinds are opened in a dark room on a sunny day. The room is filled with light. The same blinds are opened at midnight. The room remains dark.

            In both illustrations, the work of enjoying either the present or the light did in no way purchase or create the thing enjoyed. Presents unopened are not enjoyed. Light blocked does not light a room. For that matter, opening the blinds if there is no light is useless. The sun gives the light, not the blinds.

            I suggest a balanced, biblical view allows for the gift of grace apart from any human merit while providing a place for human reception. Therefore, any work that seeks to earn salvation cannot succeed. Grace is a gift. However, a work of faith is to be understood in a different context. The positive, biblical context of works is merely receptive in nature, never deserving.

            Therefore, rather than seeing Romans 4 and James 2 in conflict or developing convoluted “harmonizations” may we not see them as expressing different aspects or contexts of the place of faith and works. The faith that saves puts no trust in the purchasing power of our works. The faith that does not act, however, is dead.

            Let us glory in grace, God’s incomprehensible gift! Let us also appreciate that the obedience of faith, though always flawed and never deserving, is nevertheless part of the conversation (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Jn. 1:7).

God’s Purpose for His People

Christianity and the Purposes of God

            A vital part of being transformed in our heart to be more like Jesus is found in knowing God’s purposes. In short, there is a plan. It is also true that an initial determination to be Christ-like may not result in discovering God’s plan. There are side roads and cul-de-sacs the evil one has created to take us off course.

            One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to have us accept some form of substitute Christianity. Substitutions often have a partial, though distorted representation of Jesus. Substitutions may do many good deeds and hold to various biblical positions; however, only Jesus’ church follows God’s purposes. God expects us to grow in our Christ-likeness to understand what Christianity truly means. This cannot be achieved apart from understanding God’s purposes for His people.

            Ephesians 4:11-16 is very instructive at this point. In just a few verses, a broad overview is given of how Christianity is designed to work. Applied to our day, teachers are to equip Christians with the tools they need to build up the body of Christ. The completed New Testament is the source of this equipping and it informs us fully relative to a mature understanding of Christ and His will.

            All Christians are charged with growing up individually and working together collectively. We are a body (I Cor. 12:12-27). Our identity is the identity of Jesus. We are to conduct the Father’s plan in the way of the Christ. In oneness and through love the church grows into a captivating, challenging body of believers (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23). If we do not seek and employ God’s purposes, we will fall short of our Father’s expectations.

 

Jesus and Our Heart

Jesus, Lincoln, and Paul

            Honoring God Must include Planting Truth in our Heart. Yet, while our heart is the only suitable place from which to honor God, not filling it properly presents a dangerous void (Matt. 12:43-45). Our hearts will be filled with something. Even a determination to reform, if it does not fill the heart with Christ-like virtues, will ultimately leave us the worse for the effort.

            Truth must fill the heart if God is to be honored. Yet it is here where many stumble. Filling the heart with truth is not to be confused with simply memorizing Scripture. God would fill us up with truth personalized in the form of Jesus (Eph. 4:20-24). The new mind of repentance is to be the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).

            Memorizing the Bible is certainly not to be discouraged rather it should be encouraged. My point is that simply remembering Scripture is very different from the transforming Christ being present in our heart. Let me illustrate.

            I am currently reading a book about Abraham Lincoln. It is a long book and I have learned many new things about Mr. Lincoln. I have come to admire him in many ways; he was a rare man! Like me, Paul doubtless knew many things about the famous people of his day. However, would he have said of any of them what he said of Jesus, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Gal. 2:20)?

            The answer to my question is easily given. While Paul knew many things about many men, several of whom he undoubtedly admired, he would not have said of anyone what he said of the Christ. Knowing truthful things, even about an admired person, is much different from being radically transformed into that person’s image. To honor God, we must be walking in a transforming way (Rom. 8:29). To do otherwise is to dishonor God.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit and The Promise

A PROMISED GIFT

           In Acts 2:38b-39, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is referenced and directly connected to the promise made to the Jews and all people God would call. The fulfillment of the promise was associated with the earliest preaching of the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 3:25). The Promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gen. 22:17-18; Gal. 3:16). However, though fulfilled, the significance of the Promise is not inactive today.

            The promise God made to Abraham is clearly and inseparably tied to our inheritance in Christ (Gal. 3:13-19; Rom. 4:13-16; 8:15-17; 9:8). The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is equally attached to both the promise and our inheritance (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 8:16-17; Gal. 3:14, 18-19; Rom. 4:13-16; Eph. 1:13-14; I Cor. 2:12; Gal. 4:4-7; Acts 20:32; 26:18).

            The promise has been kept and its influence is truly amazing. We are children of the King of all creation (I Jn. 3:1). The “down-payment” or “earnest” or “pledge” of our inheritance became ours when we became Christians (Eph. 1:14; II Cor. 1:22). For all faithful Christians  the blessings of the promise to Abraham are as sure as God and the finished work of His Son (II Cor. 18-22). These blessings have been revealed by the Spirit Himself rather than by the mere words of men (I Cor. 2:10-12).

            Incredibly, the full greatness of the Promise has yet to be realized. Heaven will reveal what now is seen only through analogies to our temporal world. The complete realization of the promise is indescribable (I Jn. 3:2) The God who cannot lie, His Son who has paid the price, and the Spirit who has revealed what has been freely given to all unite to declare, “PROMISE KEPT”!

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

Catching Sight of God

            I grew up in the era of Ivory Soap. There were two unusual things about Ivory, it could float and it was 99 and 44/100 % pure. I realize that someone might well ask, “Pure what”? Or, as I often wondered, “What was the 56/100% all about”? Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly high level of purity did duly impress.

            Ivory Soap’s preponderance of purity is actually a very good illustration of the point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:8. The reason for this is that purity has much more to do with what is present than what is absent. Consider this, a heart may be largely free of impurity, and yet be empty and cold. Such a heart will not, however, remain unfilled. If pure attitudes and motives do not take up residence, an empty heart will soon be occupied with evil things (Lk. 11:24-26; Matt. 15:19). 

            In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus reveals His keen interest in matters of the heart. A good heart must back up our conduct if it is to be accepted by Jesus (Matt. 5:27-28). Words and deeds must be supported by a heart of integrity if they are to please the Christ (Matt. 5:33-37; 6:1).

            Purity of heart is about singleness of purpose. The pure heart is not an unsettled sea of conflicting desires; it is a place of peace dominated by united intentions. A singular spiritual focus sorts out a host of conflicting loyalties and drives the heart toward the service of but one master (Matt. 6:24). So attentive is the pure heart to the call of Christ, it consistently turns a deaf ear to all other voices (cf. Jn. 10:1-5; II Cor. 5:14-15).

            In its captivated focus, purity of heart has a strong link to holiness. To be holy is to be set apart from commonplace priorities and concerns; it is to be like God (Lev. 19:2; II Cor. 7:1). This positive, set-apart direction of the heart correctly attunes our sight through the focus of faith (II Cor. 5:7; Matt. 6:22-22-23). In this way we come to see as God sees. This corrected vision with its purity of sight allows us to see what otherwise cannot be seen (Jn. 1:18). The pure of heart are thus among a privileged few who catch a glimpse of the greatest un-seeable sight of all. The pure of heart have an uncluttered, singular look at God!

 

The Power of Love

The Power of Love in Speaking a Good Word for Jesus

As we consider how to approach friends and neighbors with the gospel of Christ, let us continually be mindful that we are not trying to win arguments, but rather secure hearts. Of course, we do need to prepare ourselves to present intelligent and compelling answers to their questions. The thing to remember, however, is that we will be distinguished by our love for others, our love for each other, and our love for Jesus (I Cor. 13:1-3; Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23).  Isn’t it amazing God saw fit to design a plan of salvation that would be most effectively communicated by the one thing each of us is capable of doing well?  Our ability to love is not limited by our intellect, our wealth, or our social standing; it is limited by our lack of concern for the needs of others.

Paul well understood this reality. He taught this truth arrestingly to the Corinthians who were obsessed with the idea of obtaining status by gaining miraculous gifts.  Today, in different ways, we may also be consumed with secondary pursuits. Such things may seem to be keys to improving our influence for Christ, but as at Corinth, absent our genuine love for people, we are just wasting our time.

While the dynamics governing the human heart may be elusive, they are nonetheless knowable.  Our hearts are not captured by people who are smarter, more athletic, or generally more successful than we are, our hearts are touched by small, sometimes insignificant, acts of kindness. Such things go unnoticed by many, but are treasured by the individuals who receive them.  As we improve our ability to communicate our Lord’s gospel, let’s not forget to continue to work on our ability to love.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).

THE PROMISE OF GOD AND OUR HOPE

            The idea of the “Promise” runs powerfully through all eras of biblical history.  It is a unifying theme of the most fundamental sort. Without this theological binding of the Bible story via Promise, the irresistible force bringing the Old Covenant forward to meet the New Covenant would be absent. Promise is a theme that looms exceedingly large on the horizon of Scripture.

EARLY FORESHADOWING

            Implied in God’s words to Eve in Genesis 3:15, is the first hint we have of the Promise. It is a somewhat enigmatic statement mixing both human and divine elements of God’s great salvation plan. Deliverance would eventually be secured. Additionally, its satisfaction would in some way be through the special agency of a woman.

            The “rest of the story” dramatically completes its course in the Virgin Birth (Gal. 4:4) and in a derivative sense in the church (Rom. 16:20). However, the Virgin Birth and its relationship to the “Seed Promise,” great though it is, is not the more dedicated path Scripture follows. Abraham will be the key figure in God’s highlighting the significance of Promise.

GOD AND ABRAHAM

            The peg God which uses to anchor the idea of Promise is found in His dealings with Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 is the staging area from which God moves forward with the importance of His promise. It is also at this point God expresses two basic elements to the Promise. First, He will build a great nation through Abraham. In support of this, either blessings or curses await those who deal with Abraham and those who are aligned with the Promise. The nation we will come to know as Israel will fulfill its role overseen by Jehovah’s mighty arm.

            Second, there was in the Promise a universal blessing. All people would benefit from the work God would affect through Abraham and his descendants. This is a point most of Abraham’s descendants would fail to appreciate. Israel was not the end of the plan grounded in the Promise; the holy nation that would occupy the Promised Land was the means to a much greater end (Gal. 3:17-29).

            The greater conclusion of the matter, however, would be accomplished many years in the future. The journey of the Promise through the years of Abraham and the great nation’s contributions would nevertheless provide an awesome display of God’s greatness.

THE JOURNEY FROM ABRAHAM TO ISRAEL

            From beginning to end, this journey is filled with God’s unceasing work  to secure the goal of His plan. Though many faithful men and women would participate in the journey, none were perfect. All could have potentially brought this vital enterprise to an abrupt halt, but God would not have it so.

            Almost as soon as God made His promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), we encounter a problem. Pharaoh, fooled by Abraham’s ruse, takes Sarah into his house (Gen. 12:10-12). Had not the Lord intervened—end of the story! The intervention of God, however, will be present at every twist and turn of His plan’s development.

            Another very interesting point on the journey comes from Genesis 15:1-21. Here, Abraham despairs over the absence of an heir from his own body. Under the customs prevailing at the time, Abraham’s chief servant, Eliezer, would be reckoned as his heir.

            God, however, assures Abraham he will have a son of his own flesh. The Lord again lets Abraham know that his descendant will be vast in number. On this occasion, God goes even further to assure Abraham that His promise can be trusted. God will quite literally cut a covenant with Abraham (cf. Jer. 34:18-20).

            There is something unique about this covenant procedure in Genesis 15. Normally, both parties entering the covenant agreement would walk between the pieces. In this case, however, Abraham was deliberately put to sleep and Jehovah, represented by smoke and fire, passed through the pieces alone (cf. Ex. 40:34-38). God’s promise to Abraham was further guaranteed by the covenant the Lord imposed upon Himself as He walked between the divided animal carcasses alone.

            There is, however, yet another assurance. The Hebrews writer references this when he speaks of God’s twofold guarantee of His promise (Heb. 6:9-20). Here, Genesis 22:17 is quoted as providing an “oath” to further seal the promise. This oath comes immediately following the “sacrifice” of Isaac, an act directly linked to the crucifixion of Jesus and tied to Abraham’s continuing faith (Heb. 11:17-19; Jas. 2:21-23—note the tie in to Gen. 15:6).

            Yet, amazingly, there is even more.  The inseparable, companion verse to Genesis 22:17 is verse 18. This is the verse where it is explicitly stated that in Abraham’s “seed” all the nations will be blessed. It is verse 18 Paul quotes in Galatians 3:16, one of the most powerful Promise passages in the entire Bible. The singular masculine pronoun of Genesis 22:17 thus gives the special singular meaning to “seed” even though elsewhere the singular form of seed almost always has a plural denotation referencing the entire nation of Israel (note Gen. 22:17b). Abraham’s seed of the Promise was no less than the Christ!

            Consider how God took His promise from Abraham to Isaac. He overcame the “Hagar Diversion,” opened the aged Sarah’s womb, renewed Abraham’s ability to father a child, protected the promise from going through Ishmael, interceded to once again thwart Abraham’s “she’s my sister” foolishness, and delivered Isaac from death (Gen. chapters15-22; Rom. 4:16-25).

            Nevertheless, the journey from Isaac to Jacob/Israel, short though it is, remains fraught with roadblocks to overcome before arriving at the place God intends. Rebekah’s womb must be opened, Jacob, the second born, must muddle through all manner of interesting twists, Sarah’s womb must be opened, and Joseph, though given firstborn status, will be superseded by his less noble brother Judah as the one through whom would come the Messiah (Gen. 26-50; I Chron. 5:2).

            How might we summarize the meaning of these things? The short of it is that when God makes a promise, He keeps it and He keeps it in His own intended way. Human weaknesses, plots, lies, improbable odds, unlikely twists and turns, etc. cannot derail the Lord’s Promise.

            The Promise made to Abraham concerning the salvation to be offered to all men and women was always secure because it was God who made the Promise. Additionally, as we touched upon earlier, the Promise is also secure because of Jesus, the ultimate one to whom the Promise was made (Gal. 3:16). The Promise was made by God the Father to God the Son—God to God. The Promise made possible by the life of Christ was, therefore, just as secure at the point of fulfillment as it had been at the point of inception. God never fails.

A DAVIDIC MOMENT

            There is a significant, additional element in the journey of the Promise to the Christ; David immerges as a major player in the unfolding drama of salvation. Israel had sought a king so they might be like the nations around them (I Sam. 8:4-9). This request is allowed by God and results in Israel’s first king, Saul. There is, however, an odd twist here. Genesis 49:10 had clearly declared Judah as the regal tribe—Saul was a Benjaminite. This seeming problem is easily resolved when we consider a few points from the general, surrounding context.

            The people wanted a king to suit their understandings of what a king should be like. What better choice to satisfy such thinking than an exceedingly handsome and exceptionally tall man linked to might and valor (I Sam. 9:1-2)?  The people’s choice award went to Saul. Only “certain worthless men” opposed the choice (I Sam. 10:27).

            Saul, as most know, was not a good king. His heart sided with the people rather than with God (I Sam. 15:1-23). Now it was God’s turn. When God made his choice we are not at all be surprised to see that His choice came from the tribe of Judah (I Sam. 16:1, note that Bethlehem was in Judah). We also should not be surprised to find that when God chose a king He did not look at “outward appearance,” but at “the heart” (I Sam. 16:6-7; cf. I Sam. 13:14). The most impressive looking brother, Eliab, did not have the right heart (I Sam. 16:6; 17:26-28).

            David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), would add a special feature to the development of God’s Promise to Abraham. As king over the great nation God brought into being, David would not simply be a man of significance for the nation, David would be the king who, along with his dynasty, would be of great significance to God’s universal Promise (Lk. 1:30-33; Acts 13:23). While the much shorter lived Northern Kingdom of Israel would have nine dynastic families, Judah would have but one—the house of David. It is, therefore, no wonder that God chose to highlight both Abraham and David in the highly Messianic genealogy of Matthew 1:1.

            Consider the Messianic stamp God placed on David’s dynasty in II Samuel 7:12-19. David’s son Solomon would serve as a type of Christ and his kingdom as a type of the Messianic Kingdom (cf. Acts 2:29-30).

            On the first Pentecost after the Resurrection of Jesus, God, having given Him all authority (Matt. 28:18; Dan. 7:13-14; I Cor. 15:20-28; Phil. 2:9-11; Eph. 1:19-23) sat Jesus at His right hand as king over the New Israel (Acts 2:29-36). The new King sent forth the Holy Spirit of the Promise and people were invited into the New Kingdom under the New Covenant (Gal. 3:14; Acts 2:33, 38b-39; Heb. 8:7-13). God made good on His promise. It was never in doubt!

THE PROMISE CONTINUES TO BE EFFECTIVE

            As referenced in Acts 2:38b-39, the “gift of the Holy Spirit” is directly connected to the Promise. The fulfillment of the Promise was associated with the earliest preaching of the Gospel to the Jews (Acts 3:25). The Promise was fulfilled in Christ (Gen. 22:17-18; Gal. 3:16). Yet, though fulfilled, the significance of the Promise is not inactive today.

            The Promise is clearly and inseparably tied to our inheritance in Christ (Gal. 3:13-19; Rom. 4:13-16; 8:15-17; 9:8). The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is equally attached to both the Promise and our inheritance (Acts 2:38-39; Rom. 8:16-17; Gal. 3:14, 18-19; Rom. 4:13-16; Eph. 1:13-14; I Cor. 2:12; Gal. 4:4-7; Acts 20:32; 26:18). The Promise has been kept and its influence is truly amazing. We are children of the King of all creation (I Jn. 3:1). The “down-payment” or “earnest” or “pledge” of our inheritance became ours when we became Christians (Eph. 1:14; II Cor. 1:22). For the faithful Christian, the blessings of the Promise to Abraham are as sure as God and the finished work of His Son (II Cor. 18-22). They have been revealed by the Spirit Himself rather than by the mere words of men (I Cor. 2:10-12).

            Incredibly, the full greatness of the Promise has yet to be realized. Heaven will show what now can only be seen through analogies to our temporal world. The complete realization of the Promise is indescribable (I Jn. 3:2) The God who cannot lie, His Son who has paid the price, and the Spirit who has revealed what has been freely given to all unite to declare, “PROMISE KEPT”!