Category Archives: Evangelism

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 20

In Genesis 20 the promise of God to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham appears to be threatened due to the chicanery of Abraham and Sarah. In a faithless effort to preserve his life by hiding his marriage and telling a half-truth about Sarah his step-sister/wife, Abraham supposed he was preventing his death at the hands of a pagan king whom he assumed would have killed him for his wife.

Behind the scenes, the God of promise is faithfully at work bringing His promise to fruition. God is already at work in the hearts of nations whom the promise intends to include. Abimelech fears the Lord and upholds a moral standard that appears to be higher than Abraham’s at this point.  Furthermore, God in his sovereignty prevents Abimelech from taking Sarah as his wife and temporarily closes the wombs of Abimelech’s harem as a warning.

Abraham is rightly rebuked for his lack of faith; yet despite his faithlessness, God preserves him and even blesses him through the generous gifts of Abimelech.  His failure in faith does not detract from his responsibility as the heir of the promise to be a blessing to the nations, so in obedience to God, Abraham prays for the healing of Abimelech’s harem.  Abraham is somewhat embarrassingly forced into an uncomfortable act of intercession. One must wonder what kind of impact Abraham might have had at the outset had he been a man of faith.

Similar misconceptions and disbelief about the absence of God’s work in pagan hearts often exist in the minds of Christians who see the evil and fear the evil of densely and diversely populated cities. Perhaps this explains the departure of evangelicals and churches to the ‘safer’ suburbs.  Urban ministry cries out for men and women of faith and faithfulness. Cities need men and women who believe that God is at work in pagan hearts. Cities need men and women who trust that the God of promise still seeks to bring the blessing of Abraham to the nations through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Cities need men and women who believe that their God can protect them in the midst of the apparent dangers of urban life.


The Gospel for the City in Genesis 18-19

Genesis 18-19 contrast Abraham and Lot as Abraham is visited by angels and a theophanic presence of the Lord who brings affirmation of God’s promise, while Lot is visited by angels of judgment without any theophanic presence of God. These chapters also take us back to Lot in Sodom and let us know how he fared in the city culture that had allured him.  Abraham apparently had hope in Lot’s ability to counteract the allurement of Sodom’s culture and to influence others toward the God of Abraham. His intercessory prayer ends with a plea to spare Sodom, if only ten righteous persons could be found there.  But even if, and it is questionable, Lot’s family of four could be called righteous, the tepid spiritual influence of Lot leaves the city under judgment. Abraham’s intercession cannot prevent the inevitable judgment of a city that defies God.

It appears Lot did not fare well in Sodom. Instead of being an influence for the God of Abraham, Lot has succumbed to the power of the dominant culture of the city. He honors the good cultural value of hospitality and the evil cultural value of promiscuity while dishonoring his God-given parental responsibilities of protecting his daughters and of preserving the one-flesh relationship of marriage.  When called upon by his angelic visitors to flee the city under judgment, his appeal to his future sons-in-law is not taken seriously. They could not imagine why Lot would fear God’s judgment on a culture that he had come to affirm.

Lot, in God’s mercy, is forced from the city with his wife and daughters. His wife loses her life because she had already lost her soul to the allurement of the city. The deleterious impact of the depraved city culture is evident also in his daughters who get their father drunk and commit incest with him.

These chapters again contrast Abraham and Lot and affirm God’s selection of Abraham as the one through whom He will create a new humanity bringing together the nations of the world.  Lot fails to influence the city for God while Abraham relentlessly cries out to God to spare the alien city. Also the ignoble birth of sons through a drunken Lot’s incestuous acts contrasts with God’s promised gift of Isaac through an aged and doubtful Sarah. Abraham is distinguished from Lot because he believes the promise of God. It is only through Abraham-like faith in the promise of God (now centered in Jesus Christ) that we see the false promises offered by the enticements of urban culture

As we labor in cities which often display the depraved culture of Sodom, we hope, unlike Lot, to withstand the allurement of cultural values that deny God and to counteract those values with a godly life and witness to the gospel. Like Abraham we intercede for cities deserving of judgment, hoping that God in his mercy will delay judgment. We recognize as Peter did later, that Sodom-like conditions often exist in urban centers, calling out for judgment, yet God in His longsuffering sometimes delays that judgment, ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ We also realize that not all our prayers of intercession are answered in the way we desire. Sometimes the ‘Sodoms’ of this world are destroyed with only an undeserving few being rescued through God’s mercy.


The Gospel for the City in Genesis 16-17

Genesis 16 and 17 tell the story of the Abraham’s struggle with faith as the promise of an heir is delayed.  In weakness of faith Abram and Sarai take matters into their own hands rather than wait upon God for what appears to be an unlikely promise, considering their age. Abram accomplishes his goal of having an heir by his concubine but this is not acceptable to God. Consequently, rather than obtaining a legitimate heir, Abraham’s faithless act results in the birth of a nation that would perpetually afflict the chosen descendants.

Nevertheless, God shows grace to Hagar in blessing her and promising that her descendants through Ishmael would multiply in a similar way to the chosen descendants of Abraham through Isaac.  However, it is through Isaac that the promise of blessing to the nations will be fulfilled; it is through Isaac that the seed of the woman who would destroy the serpent will come.

Despite Abram’s faithless act, God is His sovereign grace reaffirms His covenant with Abraham and institutes a sign for the covenant, an outward sign that would represent the inward faith of Abraham and his descendants. In circumcision, the foreskin of the male organ for reproducing life is cut away representing one’s saving faith in God’s power alone to cut away the sinfulness of the heart of man, from which proceed all the issues of life.

Both Abram and Sarai are given new names which represent God’s assurance of their fruitfulness in experiencing God’s promises, despite their recent act of faithlessness.  What a wonderful display of God’s grace!  It is God alone who insures that the promise of a redeemer will be fulfilled and will result in a multi-national seed of Abraham.

When God reaffirms His covenant with Abraham, He emphasizes that Abraham would be the father of many nations. Ultimately, according to Galatians 3 the fulfillment of this is not about physical nations but about those from the many nations of the world who place an “Abraham-like faith” in the quintessential seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

Church planting in urban centers has the potential to reflect this multi-national faith. Often urban churches become microcosms of the diverse gathering of nations before the throne singing ‘worthy is the Lamb’ (Rev 5:9-12). Instead of the cacophony that often exists in the gathering of alien nations, the gospel creates a joyous harmony accompanied by a sweet symphony, singing and playing to the glory of the Lamb that was slain.


The Gospel for the City in Genesis 15

Genesis 15 reminds us that God is a God of promise who often allows delayed fulfillment as a test of our faith in His Word. Abraham had God’s promise of descendants, yet time had passed and he had no children by his wife Sarah. His heir at that point would have been one of his servants.

God reaffirms his promise to Abraham that he would have innumerable descendants. Abraham believed God and is counted as righteous on the basis of his faith. He yet had no son; he only had the Word of God.

God also reaffirms the promise of an inheritance, a land for the descendants of Abraham to call home.  But even then, there is no immediate possession of the promise; rather God tells him that it will be another 400 years before the promise of land is fulfilled. The fulfilling of the land promise is tied to a time when God would judge those who enslaved His people and when the overflow of sin in the land of promise would finally call for God’s judgment on that land.  In and through His judgment on the enslavers and the inhabitants of that land of promise, Abraham’s descendants would be granted new life in the land.

In an unusual act, God then symbolically participates in an ancient covenant ceremony in which He vows death to Himself should he break his promise to Abraham. The subsequent history tells us that God fulfilled His promise of descendants and land.

This instance in the life of Abraham foreshadows the greater judgment, deliverance, and granting of an inheritance that occurs in the New Covenant. However, in the New Covenant, the Covenant-maker does die, but not for His own covenant breaking. He dies the death that covenant-breakers deserve. In his own body, sin is judged; through his death, deliverance is brought about; in his resurrection, an inheritance is granted to the true seed of Abraham, those who believe.

As we minister in urban places, we have the privilege of looking back on God’s faithfulness to Abraham, having even more reason to live by faith in the Word of God. We live on this side of the cross and resurrection so we know that the great judgment on sin has taken place and the great liberating power of the resurrection has been displayed. We have tasted in the Spirit, the down-payment of our inheritance, but like Abraham, we still wait for that eternal land, that city whose builder and maker is God.

We can joyfully tell city-dwellers that the sin which plagues their guilt-ridden consciences has been judged on the cross; they can be set free from the sin that enslaves because Christ in His resurrection has broken sin’s power; they can live above the false promises of urban idolatries by tasting in the Spirit the promise of the world to come.


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.