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 ( 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: 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.”