Sunday, August 19, 2012

Missions in the Old Testament

First of all, I have to say that I am honored to be here. In the very few months I have been here, you all have made me feel welcome and at home, and I have grown to love you all very deeply. It is a privilege to be able to talk about God’s word here. So thank you!

If you’ll remember last week, Dax talked about the doctrine of Glorification. He showed us how the Bible says that on the last day, we will be completely freed from sin and death. We will relate to God and to one another perfectly—without any shadow of sin or selfishness! So you have on the one end of the Bible, creation, followed immediately by humanity’s fall into sin. Then on the other end, you have God bringing his work of salvation and reconciliation to full completion. And in the space between, you have God’s ongoing process of redeeming humanity. And in that space, you have two key ideas. The gospel itself, which is God saving the world through Jesus, and Mission, which is God publishing that good news to all peoples.

And Christian Missions, our topic today, is one of the means—the ordinary means—that God uses to bring that future world into existence here and now. And I think it’s absolutely fascinating—and humbling—that God invites us to join him in that work.

And so the passage we’re going to look at today is a kind of great commission. But it’s not the one in Matthew 28 or the one in Acts 1. Starting there is a bit like starting to read or watch a trilogy in part two—you miss some context. Instead, we’re going to look at the great commission that God gave to Abram in the book of Genesis. Today, I want to show how from the very beginning, it has been God’s plan to spread the gospel all over the world—to save all the peoples of the world—so that on the last day, there will be people from every tribe and tongue and nation, who will worship the Lord. So if you remember one thing today, remember that. Missions has been on God’s heart from the very beginning.

So if you have your bibles, please turn with me to Genesis 12. We’ll start reading in verse one. The passage is also printed in your notes, and it will be on the screen as well.

Hear the word of the Lord:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.
Genesis 12:1-4 (NIV84)

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our Lord will stand forever.

Let’s pray.

Father, help us to hear and understand what you have to say to us in your word. Please help us to see and to feel your desire to bless all the peoples on earth. We need your help. Thank you Father. Amen.

You can basically flip open the Bible to any passage and you find something that points to Jesus. We’re going to use Genesis 12 as a kind of paradigm and look at three other passages that show God’s heart for all the peoples.

Perhaps when we’re done, it won’t be quite so surprising, and we’ll have a bit better context when we come across the Missions passages in the New Testament.

So in our passage, Abram was called to leave his homeland and go to another land, so that other people would be blessed. Jonah was also called by God to leave his homeland and preach the gospel to a foreign people. He didn’t want to, of course, but after his fishing ordeal, he actually goes to Nineveh. In Jonah 3 it says,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. ... The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. ... When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Jonah 3:1-2, 5, 10 (NIV84)

So Jonah went to Nineveh, and the peoples of the world were blessed through him.

Back to Genesis 12. God makes a covenant with Abram in order that the whole world would be blessed. Where else do we see that kind of purpose in God’s covenant making? We see it in God’s covenant with David. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises to establish David’s family—the thing that God had promised to Abraham would be fulfilled through David’s family. And then David responds in prayer, saying,

Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? 19 And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant's house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!
2 Samuel 7:18-19 (ESV)

This is your instruction for mankind. David knew here that this promise was not just for his family, but like God’s promise to Abraham, it was for the benefit of all mankind! There is a lot more. We could scan through the Psalms and find passages in which the nations are called to praise God. We can find the same kind of language all over, but we’ll look at just one more. In Isaiah 42, Isaiah prophesies about the servant of the Lord, in whom God will delight, on whom he will put his spirit. About Jesus, Isaiah writes and God says,

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.
Isaiah 42:6 (NIV84)

So when we see “all peoples on earth will be blessed” where do we see that thing actually happening? We see it happening at the cross. We see the blessing being broadcast around the world in the New Testament Great Commission passages. All of these promises to Abraham and to the Nations have been fulfilled when we see Paul write in Galatians 3, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So what does this mean then, for us? It has been God’s plan to get the Gospel to the Nations from the very start. What do we do with that?

The first thing is that we can pray right now to thank God that he had it in his heart to save us. As it happens, the majority of us are not children of Abraham according to the flesh. Most of us are members of, as it says, “all the peoples of the earth.” So God’s heart for the nations meant that the Gospel got to us in the first place.

The second thing you can do is simply to ask yourself what God might be calling you to do with this great commission. You may never have thought about that question. God says that he will give us his spirit, and we will have the power to be his witnesses, both right here and to the farthest parts of the earth. How can you take part in that?

One way to approach that question is with the phrase, “Pray, Send, Go” We can all pray for missions. And we can start with people we know. You can start by praying for your children. And God has already given them the gift of a believing family and a gospel-centered community here at CCPC. You can also pray for our very own missionaries that we know and love and support. You can pray for the Lathrops and the Cunninghams—missionaries in our own network. You can pray for the mission and evangelism opportunities that will open up to us as a church as we move into our new facility. You can consult prayer resources like Operation World or the Joshua Project. You can start by praying for missions.

Some of you, if you’re not already, can begin giving financially to support missionaries.

And finally, you can consider going yourself. And whether that’s planning for ways to use our new church facility for ministry here in Lakeland, or considering whether God is calling you on a short-term or even a long-term mission—all of that is between you and God. How you apply the great commission in your life isn’t something I or anyone else can tell you.

But start by thinking about the question. God has been so kind to us. We have been freed from the power of sin and death, and he’s bringing us along to a world on the last day when every vestige of sin and death will be gone. So the question of what you will do with God’s great commission is not a matter of guilt and condemnation. For people who are in Christ, there is none of that—only the freedom to glorify and enjoy God in a variety of new and exciting ways.

Date: 12 August 2012
Text: Genesis 12:1-4
Title: Missions in the Old Testament
Location: Christ Community Presbyterian Church
Event: Missions Sunday

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