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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 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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Seven reasons why I do not join the popular, secular fight against racism!

Seven reasons why I do not join the popular, secular fight against racism!

Yes, I write this as a white man, who has been a racist in the past, who seeks to experience gospel grace to fight internal racism in the present, and who believes that the gospel alone can resolve the evil of the human heart which fosters racism. Here are seven reasons why I do not join the popular, secular, fight against racism.

  1. I do not believe we can have redeemed structures and institutions within society without having redeemed individuals. The conversion of Nicodemus, the religious leader, and Matthew, the tax collector, are good examples for me of how Jesus engaged the evil religious and political structures of his day
  2. The depersonalization of evil by focusing on systemic evil undercuts and confuses the purpose of the gospel which is to redeem sinners and bring them together in one body. Systemic evil exists only because there are individuals who embody and institutionalize that evil. Whether that embodiment of evil is depravity or demonic influence, it is still individuals who foster that evil. Temporal societies and institutions are not redeemed; individuals are.
  3. We do not wrestle with and defeat individuals, institutions, principalities and powers through political and societal means. The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly uses of power through protest, riot, or legislation, but the gospel declaration, commitment, and assurance that Jesus Christ has triumphed over the powers of evil
  4. The energy and resources given to battle the symptoms of evil, such as racism, dilute the mission of the church to make disciples of all nations. I do not believe there is a better answer for racism than making disciples and nurturing churches that unite a diversity of peoples in Christ.
  5. I do not desire to promote and participate in a narrative amplified by those who reject the Lordship of Christ and do not reflect the grace of God. My narrative seeks to be gospel-centered, grace-oriented, God-focused.
  6. I am committed to the church of Jesus Christ, which is alone is a counter-kingdom with structures that should reflect the grace of God. I have the joy of being a part of Grace Church of Philly where the gospel is bringing together whites, Afro-Americans, Latinos, East and West Africans and more.
  7. I cannot join with others in a battle when we do not see a common enemy, do not have a common commander, and have a different war manual.


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: 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.


The Gospel for the City in Genesis 4

Genesis 4 gives evidence of humankind’s downfall. The brokenness of human relationships brought about by sin is seen in fratricide. The seeds of false religion begin to sprout in Cain’s tokenism through which he seeks God’s favor in the deficient works of his own hands.  The jealous hatred of the true way is seen in the murder of Abel.  Yet, the mercy of God is evident as He allows Cain to live and the common grace of God is seen in that fallen, rebellious humans advance culture and civilization in God’s world. The image of God is effaced but not erased; however, their creative endeavors serve rather as an idolatrous refuge instead of acts of faithful worship to their Creator God. In rebellion they seek to build a city in which they find refuge, while the godly, like Seth, begin to look for a ‘heavenly city, whose builder and maker is God.” Through Seth, God’s promise to give a ‘seed’ that will destroy the Serpent begins to take shape.

Those in rebellion against God at times seek to develop culture and civilization as an idolatrous refuge from the ravages of sin. The highest expressions of human culture are found in urban centers with their magnificent art museums, orchestras, theaters, and institutions of learning. Cities are the temples where economics and commerce are worshipped. Yet, these man-made temples become empty substitutes as one seeks vainly to find meaning and significance in life. Instead of advancing culture and commerce as an expression of worship and service to God, we seek in cultural advancement the fulfillment in life that only a relationship with God can bring.

On the other hand, cities often give evidence of the kind of jealous and violent rejection of true worship that Cain had for Abel  Christianity has not often done well in the cities, overwhelmed by the appealing lure of high culture and overly challenged by the problems of crime, poverty, poor education, and racism. Consequently, Christianity is marginalized, considered irrelevant, deemed powerless to compete with the appeal of high culture, and fearful to coexist with the challenges of a broken society. The Christian answer has been to flee the city and to seek refuge in a monocultural, more pristine, suburban world, instead of seeking refuge in the living God. “White flight,” as it has been called, is the sad public confession of an anemic Christianity that has lost faith in the power of the gospel to transform lives and societies.

Nevertheless, there are some who believe that the seed, promised through the line of Seth, who would ultimately destroy the works of the devil, has come. They are neither enamored by the appeal of high culture nor dismayed by the brokenness of urban communities. They see the beauty of the gospel and the deep –soul-satisfaction of the gospel as the answer for the empty worship of cultural advancement. They see the power and forgiveness of the gospel as the answer for the broken relationships with God, with family, with the world, and within themselves that are the root of most of the social ills of the city.

Those who know the true and living God through the promised Redeemer King seek through the gospel the transformation of people, culture and civilization as sub-regents under His rule and as priests who seek to worship Him in all they do. Nevertheless, as they do so in their temporal cities, they continue to look for the eternal city that God builds.  “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”