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Tuesday 4 August

Iain Provan is leading the morning Bible teaching sessions at New Horizon this week.  Here the NH Media Team brings you a summary of his message from Tuesday morning.  Enjoy!

We live in a world birthed in divine love! It is a world that divine love has pursued right from the beginning – in the midst of darkness and despair, from the very first moment that evil touched our human hearts. All the way through, God has been pursuing his creation, at times bringing the very wicked to justice but more remarkably and consistently, seeking to turn evil to good. He has been showing love and blessing His creation in spite of our best efforts to bring it to ruin.

Yesterday we saw a wonderful picture of God’s determination to bless. The world had sunk into terrible wickedness but in Genesis 8 He promises that He will never again send a flood to destroy the earth. His blessing will rest on all of Creation until the end of time.

In Genesis 9, that promise is confirmed with a covenant. Covenant is an archaic word usually confined to lawyers’ offices and churches. A covenant is simply a solemn agreement. God makes this promise with regard to creation. “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants and with every living creature on earth…”   God so loves the world that He enters into a solemn covenant with all of it! (Not just with a chosen few.)

This is the first covenant mentioned in scripture. It is incredibly important because it answers a fundamental question: Is God still committed to the entirety of the world He has made even though it has been tainted with evil? The answer is “yes”. Evil has come in but God, from the beginning, created in order to bless and God is still intent on blessing the whole world.

This truth is mightily affirmed Genesis 12 which also contains a divine promise. This time the promise is made to Abraham but it has similar large-scale ramifications. “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. You will be blessing …all people’s on earth will be blessed through you.”

The blessing of God moves out to the whole world from His people. Abraham’s family is blessed by God, not for itself only, but so that all the nations of the world will be blessed.

One fragment of the human race is taken up in this part of scripture so that all the earth may receive God’s blessing. This story is about mission! We are all missionaries. And it all began with Abraham.  The people of God and the descendants of Abraham in the OT and all of us who are called “descendants of Abraham” in the NT, are called out to fulfil God’s promise to bless the whole of creation.

There is hope in this story that God will still fulfil the purpose He had in mind when He created the cosmos. This promise survived against all the odds because God is not subject to odds.  In the story of Abraham:

  • The promise survived the problem of childlessness, even though this is a huge obstacle.
  • The promise survived the problem of famine. You cannot do mission if you are dead – it is rather tricky. But Abraham and Sarah survived the famine!
  • The promise survived the threat to Sarah by two powerful kings / leaders.
  • The promise survived the threat posed by the poor moral character of the people of God.

In the book of Exodus, God’s purpose in setting the Israelites free is to take them to Mount Sinai to make another covenant with them. This is a covenant with a whole people group.

It is really important to notice that nowhere even at this point in the story do we escape from the idea of the missional character of the people of God. Exodus 19: “If you obey fully and keep my convenant… you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The whole earth remains God’s domain and the task of the people of God is to be priests. Priests mediate God’s blessing to other people.

God doesn’t say, “I make you my treasured possession and that means you can forget about everybody else.” They are a treasured possession with a job to do. The covenant narrows down with the view to the big picture.

That is not the end of the story. We see God working to pursue His purposes, even in the midst of dysfunction and wickedness, even among His own people. The story in the first book of Samuel about how Israel came to be ruled by kings is another illustration. The people ask Samuel for a king, like all the other nations have. They have given up on the idea of being a special nation. This is seen as a rejection of God’s own kingship! Samuel tells them how this will end in disaster! But the Israelites are adamant. This was an enormous step away from what they had been called to do.

The remarkable thing is that God says, “Okay”. He accepts their sinful request, He even goes along with it. They may have rejected Him but He does not reject them. Quite remarkably, from this point on, kingship becomes central to God’s own plans for Israel and the world.

Israel’s actual kings are not very good on the whole. It doesn’t matter. God sticks with the monarchy and in the midst of that story, He makes a covenant with King David. 2 Samuel 7:“I will raise up your offspring to succeed you and I will establish His kingdom. Your house and your kingdom will endure, your throne will be established forever.” You need to read this covenant in the context of all the other convenants…

Think of it like a Russian doll, each with a smaller one inside. Now we can fully appreciate the hope for the world articulated in the Noah and Abraham covenants because the promise has now come to include a son of David. It narrows down… all living creatures, all people groups, one people group, one person… God calls one people, ultimately one person to live in a right relationship with Him so that the whole earth will be blessed!

The promise to David becomes crucially important for what happens later in the Biblical story. Kings come and go. Eventually the monarchy fails. Israel goes into exile. Has all hope evaporated? But God is God.

Our biblical prophets look ahead to a time when all our broken relationships will be healed. God will see to it in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ who makes a new covenant with us! See the glory of this enormous story that we are caught up in.

In the Old Testament the covenant narrows down with an eye to the whole world and in the New Testament it opens up. Jesus gathers the lost sheep of Israel and forms a new people of God. That people group comes to include both Jew and Gentile and when you get to Romans 8 the apostle Paul speaks of all Creation groaning in the pains of childbirth, waiting for the redemption of the people of God. You need the redemption of the sons of God before Creation can reach the flourishing God always intended it to have.

God rescues not just Israelites, not just Jews and Gentiles. In Jesus Christ, God reconciles all of Creation to Himself. The world that was created by God is saved by God. Nothing is lost except that which refuses God.

I’m blown away by this. This is an enormous story. Too often we narrow it down. We come to think that only our people group or maybe only our church is important. Yet God’s story touches on everything in the cosmos. This is birthed in God’s love, permeated by God’s love and brought to a conclusion through God’s love. It is so important that we understand it.

Our story: We start in mystery, we end in the unknown and in the middle we are quite confused. A colleague explained, “We are inextricably ‘middled’ in our own story and therefore we are comprehensively muddled” We don’t really know who we are and we don’t really understand our own story!

Dante’s midlife crisis – Dante found himself lost in his own story.  Our own story does not satisfy our deepest desires and longings. We need a bigger story! Philosopher Alastair McIntyre said, “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ when I can answer the prior question, ‘Which story am I in?’…

“Deprived children of stories and you leave them unscripted, anxious stutterers in their actions as in their words.”

It is really important to understand the big biblical story. Many folks are drifting away from church because the story they have been given is not big enough to explain the world and what is happening in it.

This is the story of all stories. It tells us that the world in which we live is created by God who is good and loving. It tells us that God has bound Himself to this world by promise and covenant. This story tells us of God’s long term plan to bless the world through Jesus Christ. And this story tells us that this plan will succeed.  In Star Wars, the light side and the dark side are equally and finely balanced. In the biblical story, God is good and evil is  a temporary inconvenience, although it doesn’t feel that way when we are the victims of it. Good is vastly more powerful than evil and the victory of good over evil is guaranteed.

Abraham was called to leave his country, his people and his father’s household to go to a land that God would show him. He was on the move and you have got to wonder how he felt about that. Moving is very stressful.This would have required enormous trust.He knew who was calling him and he knew that God is good!

But consider Abraham in the promised land. He was the recipient of a great promise. But then nothing happens for a long time! They had made so many sacrifices but then the promise does not arrive!   Chapter by chapter… they are still waiting!

How do you trust? You have to know which story you are in and who God is.

  • Genesis 12 – God promises a son!
  • Genesis 13 – no son
  • Genesis 14 – still no son
  • Genesis 15 – still no son
  • Genesis 16 – wrong son
  • Genesis 17 – no son
  • Genesis 18 – no son
  • Genesis 19 – no son
  • Genesis 20 – no son
  • Genesis 21 – Sarah becomes pregnant and have a son
  • Genesis 22 – “Take your son and sacrifice him…” Surely that is not right? Surely this is the last straw?

The reader knows that this is in fact a test. Interestingly, Abraham does not know it is a test. Abraham does not have a clue about how the goodness of God is going to work out in this story. He is hanging by the single thread of trust in the goodness of God in the midst of baffling circumstances. When it comes to trusting in God, Abraham is the real deal!

Will you hold on to the love of God, the goodness of God, in the darkest valley when you have not a clue that is going on? These times will come and when they do, we need to know the story that we are in!