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Category Archives: Biblical Theology

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 14

Genesis 14 begins to show the consequences of Lot’s choice to live by sight rather than by faith in the promise of God.  Along with others he is caught in the middle of a territorial war that results in his being taken captive. It falls upon Abraham and his small army of 318 men, armed with faith in God, to deliver him.

Abraham continues to show his faith in God’s promise and power to care for him. He does this in two ways.  He refuses any material reward from the King of Sodom, lest that king, and not God, would get credit for making Abraham prosperous.  He further gives one tenth of all he possesses to Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God. Again, he demonstrates faith in God’s ability to provide and acknowledges Yahweh’s ownership over all his possession by paying a tithe.

Melchizedek, as we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews, foreshadows the greater high priest, Jesus Christ. Melchizedek acknowledges that Abraham is blessed by God and he blesses the God who blesses Abraham. He recognizes that the God of Abraham is not a provincial God (“Lord of heaven and earth”) and that He is the God who delivers.

As the fulfillment of what is shadowed by Melchizedek, Jesus not only affirms for us this dual recognition of Melchizedek but is Himself the embodiment of the God who is not provincial and who is the only deliverer for all men in all places.

The cities of the world overflow with people who pursue the economic opportunities lying therein. Yet like Lot, they often become captives to the allurement they pursue. The ‘Sodom-like king of this world promises riches which, even though obtained, cannot fill the void of the soul. Unwittingly, the hearts of urban dwellers long for a God who is not tied to a particular time and place, a God who truly delivers, not only from the temporal ills of this world, but from the enslavement of sin. Jesus is that Deliverer.

Acts 4:12   12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Augustine   “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our souls will never be at rest, until they rest in You.”

 

Posted by on September 26, 2016 in Biblical Theology, Gospel, Ministry, Promise

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The Gospel for the City in Genesis 13

Genesis 13 shows the sincere trust that Abram had in the promise of God. He is set in contrast to Lot who walks by sight not by faith. Abraham builds altars and worships the true and living God wherever he goes. Lot fixes his eyes on what appears to prosper him in this world. Lot makes his own way in choosing through the eyes of human wisdom while Abram walks in simple faith. Lot in his choice moves dangerously close to the ensnarement of sin; Abram in his choice comes to a sacred altar where he worships.

In response to Abram’s faith, God reaffirms the promise of land (i.e. a kingdom) to Abram and his descendants. The temporal land of Canaan becomes a foretaste of the eternal inheritance that awaits the people of God. Abram pitched his tent there, but not permanently. He looked for the eternal city and rejoiced to see the day when the promised Redeemer would come.

The descendants of Abram, though initially appearing to be ethnically defined, are eventually identified both in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant as those who have the same faith of Abram in the Creator becomes their Redeemer.

Abram worshipped God because he believed His promise of the gospel. The promise of the gospel is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, his enthronement, and perhaps soon, His coming.

It is not hard to empathize with Lot. The cities of this world are alluring. Though they give ample evidence of the fall and the darker side of humanity, they also remind us that though the image of God in man is effaced, it is not erased. Human beings, despite the fall, continue to demonstrate their ability to be creative in their development of business, arts, architecture, sports, media, etc. The best of human culture often found in cities makes them attractive. The diversity and density of people add to the flavor and allurement of the city.

We can choose the city, like Lot did, for all the wrong reasons. Cities are full of younger and older people who followed the attraction only to look more deeply into the emptiness of their soul. The sights and sounds, the bustle and hustle, the density and diversity eventually only amplify the lonely cry of the soul.

The amplified, lonely cry of the soul is what makes cities such an inviting place for the gospel. People have access to the best and worst of human culture, yet their soul searches for more. As Augustine said, “Thou has made us for thyself; and our souls will never be at rest until they rest in Thee.”

At Grace Church of Philly, we hear the cry of empty and lonely souls, searching for the rest that only the gospel can bring.

 

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 10-11

Genesis 10-11 show again the effects of the fall in the revolt of humankind against their Creator God. Here fallen mankind seeks to find security and peace through their united efforts in city building. Instead of scattering throughout the earth to fulfill the creation mandate, they build a tower to symbolize their united effort to develop human society their own way. Their common language, which is a gift of God designed to make possible God-centered community, is instead used in an attempt to secure their lives apart from God.

God confuses their language and scatters them in judgment. Yet, in the midst of that judgment there is grace. Hopefully, as humankind begins to experience the fragility of their idolatrous, self-made security, they may begin to seek the True Prince of Peace.

Acts 17:26-27   26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,  27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.

Humankind scattered in judgment and in grace awaits God’s redeeming intervention. That intervention is anticipated in the genealogy that leads to Abraham who will model the way of justification by faith.

The geographical and linguistic divisions of the human race are largely being erased today in a world where travel, commerce, and technology transfer people, products, and information across all boundaries. Also, institutions like the United Nations attempt to bring together this divided world, pursuing a Babel-like security. Cities often become, not the melting pots, but the stews, where these diverse people live in the same city but yet remain separate. Despite all the programs on multiculturalism and diversity, all human attempts to unify the nations that ignore the need to be first reconciled to the Creator God ultimately fail.

The way to re-unify the nations of the world is modeled in Abraham who exemplifies the way of justification by faith and whose descendant, Jesus, will eventually be the One who reconciles people to God and to each other.        

Urban church planting has the unique opportunity and joy of experiencing the unity of the nations that only the gospel can bring. People who were formerly divided by economic, racial, and educational barriers now gather together in the gospel to worship Jesus Christ as Lord and King of all the nations. We are beginning to taste this at Grace Church of Philly (www.gracechurchphilly.org) and we long for more.

 

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 6-9

Genesis Six through Nine reveal the severe holiness of God and His particular mercy.  Noah from the godly line of Seth finds favor with the Lord. He is called upon to become a deliverer in the midst of a terrible judgment. The method of salvation (i.e. the flood and ark) dictated by God was curious, if not laughable, in a world of violence, rebellion, and godlessness. Noah obediently fulfills his calling and  also experiences God’s saving grace as God shuts him in the ark to protect him and then later remembers him to give him new life in a new world. An entire world perishes and a new world begins.

God in His grace establishes a covenant in which he promises the continuity of the world, despite its sin, until His purposes in redemption are accomplished.  God also establishes the rule of civil law in society for the protection of life so that society has the possibility of redemption, if not self-destructing through the kind of violence that existed prior to the flood.

But, even the new world shows its flaws at the outset. The human savior, Noah, and his family reveal the effects of the fall. Though he and his family worship, they fail to serve God in perfect trust and covenant faithfulness. Noah ‘s story leaves us looking for that Deliverer who will not disappoint us – the Deliverer who will deal the final blow to evil and bring about a perfect world where the curse is gone forever.

Often urban life displays a similar disregard for God as did the world of Noah’s day, reflected in the violent crime that takes place. Today there is no less of a reason for God’s judgment on cities. One day at a Police Clergy meeting, the Captain of the 19th Precinct commented on the percentage of decline in violent crime and murders. He then added, “But since the overall numbers are so large the percentage decrease is really insignificant.” Yes, there is enough violence taking place in urban centers that cry out for a similar flood-like judgment.                  

But God continues to keep his promise to Noah that he would sustain the created world until His redeeming purposes are accomplished. Meanwhile, urban church planting often happens in places that are less safe, but in desperate need of the gospel of God’s saving grace. The rescue takes place not from a devastating flood, but from the kingdom of Satan, sin, and death; the deliverer is not Noah, who would eventually disappoint us, but One called Jesus, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and now sitting at the right hand of His Father.

 

Posted by on September 6, 2016 in Biblical Theology, Gospel, Promise

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The Gospel for the City in Genesis 5

Genesis Five confirms God’s earlier threat to Adam that death, both spiritual and physical, would be the consequence of rebellion against the Creator. Though it would appear that some might escape the threat of death, living for as much as 969 years, inevitably death comes to all – except for one. God takes Enoch from the death-cursed world demonstrating that He alone rules over death and can rescue anyone from death. He also shows His power over an evil world by raising up Noah, a type of the Messiah, who witnessed a world devastated by rebellion and evil and through whom God brings about a new world.

The new world of Noah would again be ravaged by sin, necessitating One, the promised seed of the woman, who would finally deliver the world and its inhabitants from the curse. The Deliverer has come; He has borne the curse for us; He has inaugurated a new creation in which we now participate.  We are tasting the new creation in Christ and longing for its consummation at His coming.

 Though we still read obituaries in the city newspapers, being reminded of the reality of death, we do so understanding that the One who conquers sin and death has come. Though urban centers, perhaps more than any other place, bear witness to the devastating ravages of sin, we have the joy in church planting of raising up new communities, bringing the presence of Christ’s kingdom into an alien and fallen kingdom. This New Covenant Kingdom radically differs from the kingdom of this world: www.firstimportance.org quotes from Neil Williams on the radical newness of the Kingdom of Christ.

“The kingdom of God is the new and final age that began with the coming of Jesus. His kingdom is not part of the present age — an age where the flesh reigns; where people are divided, relationships are broken, and suspicion and competition dominate; where money, sex, and power are abused; where leaders are first and servants are last; where behavior is controlled by laws, and identity is defined by race, gender, or social standing; and where gifts and resources are used for the advancement of oneself. Rather, the kingdom of God is the new age. It is the age of the Spirit (Matt 12:28). It is the age of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). The kingdom of God is about the renewal, restoration, and reconciliation of all things, and God has made us a part of this great story of salvation.” – Neil H. Williams, Gospel Transformation (Jenkintown, Pa.; World Harvest Mission, 2006), iii.