The Land Principle

Giving attention to that which is significant to our mission and cultural engagement, the next major point of the biblical story is that of Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan. As we know, this was the land that was promised to them. Canaan was to be their new home. The act of claiming this land, however, would call for an immediate adjustment to their pilgrim practices of cultural engagement. No longer were they to think of themselves as a pilgrim people. Rather, under their great military leader, Joshua, they were to be viewed as a holy and theocratic army.

It is important to note the biblical story’s progression in connection to the theme we have already started to consider; as soon as this covenant community enter the land (promised to them by God) their paradigm for cultural engagement changes. Where before this issue had been regulated by ‘a pilgrim principle‘, now (as they once again fall under God’s geo-politically dimensioned rule) they are under a theocratic principle–or ‘land principle’.

If not before, the effect of this principle is clearly noted as they receive their commission to drive the Canaanites out of the land, and thereafter, to maintain a complete separation from them. This is, of course, very different to that which we have already observed of the patriarchal community under Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (cf. Joseph in Egypt).

With this change of paradigm noted, in the next post we’ll discuss why it is significant in terms of the greater story, and of course, our own mission as the church.

 

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The Pilgrim Community

Moving to consider Abraham and the early patriarchal community, one of the key things to note is that they do not yet possess the land. Unlike Eden in the past, and unlike Canaan in the future, at this stage there is no geopolitical dimension to God’s rule. Rather, as a pilgrim community, they must share a common world-stage with those who do not believe.

In this regard, what is significant is that while Abraham and the patriarchal community are indeed clearly shown to be religiously distinct, this is not so when it comes to matters of culture. To say it another way, they are religiously distinct, and yet culturally common.

This is further clarified as we read of the covenant that God made with Abraham. Unlike the Mosaic theocracy (where God’s people once again are in possession of a land), at this point the Abrahamic covenant is shown not to contain any instructions relating to Abraham’s activity in the common-grace realm. His place in culture was much as it had been before; both as he continues to involve himself in business with those around him (Gen. 23:16) and even as he is brought to interact with various kings (Gen. 20:17). This type of interaction, however, is very different from what happens in theocracy. Nevertheless, it is a sanctioned approach at this point of the story. Why is it sanctioned? There is a simple reason. God’s people don’t yet possess the land. In the next post we’ll further discuss the importance behind this idea. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Promised Seed and the Covenant Community

As the narrative moves forward, we see that the seed of the women is protected. God would stay true to the promise made in Genesis 3:15. This is so even through the great judgement-ordeal of the flood, where (as we know) Noah and his family were kept safe in the ark.

Once these waters of the flood had subsided, we are led quickly once again to idea of common grace (within the the Noahic Covenant). And once again then, the stage is set. God first promised to send a Saviour; now he covenants to preserve a humanity from whom this Saviour would come.

As the story of the seed progresses, it further narrows its focus upon this vital theme of promise and fulfilment. While it is true that God would bring the Saviour from humanity, he later shows that this would occur through a specific race. This takes us to the next important character in the story: Abraham.

At the time of Abraham, we see one of the first clear examples of how the early covenant community are brought to interact with the world around them. As this is of obvious interest to those concerned with mission and cultural engagement, we will explore this further in the next post.

The Fall, the Gospel and the Mission

After discussing God’s theocratic rule in the garden, we come next to Adam’s rebellion. To say the very least, sin changed everything. One of the most important implications of this first transgression was that Adam and Eve brought upon themselves the curse-sanction of the first covenant.

Had it not been for God’s grace, man’s lot from this point was only that of death,  judgement, and eternal punishment. But here, against the backdrop of man’s darkest hour, we are given a powerful glimpse of the gospel.

Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This hope was given just before God exiled his people from the land (Eden), and brought the garden theocracy to a close. While this was the end of the theocracy, however, it was not the end of the story. In fact, the real story only truly begins at this point: a story of which the garden serves as but a prologue.

As already alluded to in Gen 3:15, the biblical narrative continues along in the theme of two rival “seeds”: the seed of the women and the seed of the serpent (the holy and the profane). Neither now live in the theocratic land, but instead find their dwelling on the stage of commonality. This is a crucial point; something that we will spend more time developing in the posts to come; something that becomes vital in developing our biblical missiology.

God’s Theocratic Rule

Starting at the beginning means that we must start with Genesis. More specifically, we must start with the Garden of Eden. For all the things that one might say about this key period, the purpose of this series requires mention of one main (often overlooked) point. Namely, that the time in the Garden was a time of God’s theocratic rule.

This idea is often a bit of a jolt to the system. While the word ‘theocracy’ easily conjures up thoughts of Israel during their time at Mount Sinai, it doesn’t as readily send us to the very beginning. That said, some thought on the matter shows that the idea of theocracy should indeed point us to the Garden.

To be sure, theocracy is an involved state of affairs, but at its core it simply means that their is no distinct line drawn between cult (…and no, I don’t mean ‘cult’ cult. I mean: ‘sphere of religious worship’) and culture. In other words, during a time of theocracy, rather than distinguish between cult and culture, it is all rightly seen under one main kingdom rubric.

This of course, is very different to our current situation. When we as the church, talk about ‘culture’, we are talking about something that is decidedly outside of the ‘sphere of religious worship’; something then that the church has much need to engage with on mission. Once again however, this was not the case in the Garden of Eden. Cult and culture were one. All of life was properly under the banner of the religious sphere. Not to mention that at this point there was no sin present.

The other big issue in the Garden had to do with geography. That is, before the fall, God’s rule over His people had a distinctly geographical dimension to it (the garden itself). Once again, this is a vital component of what theocracy entails. If there isn’t a divinely sanctioned piece of real-estate involved, call it what you will, but it’s not a theocracy. So, while we do indeed find a biblical counterpart to this time during God’s rule over Israel–who lived in Canaan (the Promised Land);  and also a counterpart/fulfilment in God’s final rule over the new heavens and the new earth; it should also be emphasised that during the times in between, things were (or are) very, very different.

So then, before moving forward to further explore this difference, there are two main things to note as we set out on this journey through Scripture: a) that God’s rule in the Garden was a time of theocracy, and b) that God’s rule in the church is not a theocracy.

This is a colossal idea. The implications of which are far reaching for mission and cultural engagement. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Paying careful attention to these first two observations, we’ll move on the next thing in the following post.

 

The Story of Scripture

Last week I attended the A29 conference in Australia. It was a great privilege to serve as one of the speakers for this. But also, it was a super refreshing time for me personally; both to sit under such passionate gospel preaching, and to spend the week hanging out with my fellow A29 planters.

On the flipside of all this conference blessedness however, the blog has taken a backseat for the last two weeks (nope, I’m not quite at the level of blogging fluency that would allow me to write and travel at the same time). But now that I’m back at my desk, it is time to remedy the situation. I’ll start things off properly in the week to come. Until then, for your convenience, here’s the summary of the series that I’ve just finished:

The Story of Scripture

Part 1  – Creation and Probation

Part 2 – High Treason

Part 3 – Bad News and Good News

Part 4 – Light Shines Amidst the Darkness

Part 5 – From Humanity to a Specific Seed

Part 6 – Closer to Christ With Each Covenant

Part 7 – The Covenant at Sinai

Part 8 – God Saves

Part 9 – Saviour, Judge and King

Part 10 – A New Covenant for Sinners

Part 11 – Broken Silence

Part 12 – The Lion and the Lamb

Part 13 – The Crucifixion and Resurrection

Part 14 – Now We Work and Wait

The Story of Scripture, Part 14 – Now We Work and Wait

Before Jesus was lifted up to heaven, He gave his disciples the following commission;

Mat 28:18-20;

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

They were to announce to all the world that God had fulfilled His promise. A promise first given to Adam, and then later expanded upon to Abraham. Now, finally, all the nations would be blessed. There was good news to be proclaimed to every tribe and tongue; and the promise of salvation for all who would receive it. 

Before they were to set out on this task, Jesus gave instructions for them to wait in Jerusalem. Once he was ascended to the Father, he would baptize them in the Holy Spirit. The power received from this baptism, would enable them to set upon their mission. 

Fifty days later, just as was promised, they were indeed filled with the Spirit and given a great boldness in their witness. They went forth proclaiming that;

Act 2:21;

…everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 

Upon this Spirit-empowered proclamation, the church quickly spread outwards from Jerusalem to Judea, then to Samaria, and then throughout the whole Roman empire (just as Jesus said it would). As we know from history, this became point from which Christianity would then spread to the whole world, over the two thousand years that followed. 

It is at this very point then, two thousand years later, that we find ourselves in the story. Now we, along with those who have gone before us, are given the very same commission as we wait for Jesus to return in glory. And although times of great difficulty are promised in the interim, we are to press on in our task, trusting in Christ and waiting in sure hope. Jesus promised that, as surely as he came the first time, one day he would once again return. The first time he entered this world as a lowly servant, the second time would be as a mighty warrior and the very King of Kings. Then would be that final consummation of all that he had already achieved on the cross.

The last book in the Bible tells us what will take place in end. Here we read that everyone who ever lived will have their turn to stand before God. Every sin ever committed will be exposed by the light and condemned by the Law of God. When those books are opened, it is only the ones who have trusted in Christ that will be saved.

After judgement is the redemption of all things, and as the Bible opens with a garden, so it closes with one. With complete finality, the Great Priest of God will then have executed judgement upon the serpent, and never again will the garden-sanctuary be corrupted by evil. Moreover, the time of probation is completed, and the promise of eschatological Sabbath rest is finally fulfilled. Christ, who alone can stand as the champion of God’s people, will have succeeded in leading true Israel into the land. There, on the new earth, we will forever be God’s own people, and the tree of life will once again be opened to us.

Rev 22:20;

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. 

The Story of Scripture, Part 13 – The Crucifixion and Resurection

As Jesus travelled throughout the greater Palestinian region, opposition to his ministry mounted. Eventually, the Jewish leaders crafted a deceitful plan to see him murdered. Once this was put into motion, it lead to the famous betrayal and arrest of Jesus. They proceeded to put him through a mock trial and then took him directly to the Roman governor for execution. After suffering extreme injustice, severe mockery and brutal torture, Jesus was handed over to suffer the most appalling of all deaths — a Roman crucifixion.

As Jesus hung on the cross, it soon became apparent to many that what they gave witness to was no ordinary death. Even some of the most hardened, who were present at the crucifixion, were lead to confess that Jesus was indeed the one he had claimed to be. The land was covered in an unexplainable darkness, the earth shook violently, and Jesus uttered his final cry. The shout, “It is finished”, rung out at the same time that the cries of slaughtered lambs filled the temple. True atonement had been made. The blood of the Lamb had been shed for the sins of his people. And as terrible as the suffering of crucifixion would have been, it stood as but an external symbol of the spiritual realities taking place at the same time. While every other one of God’s judgements in history (even the flood itself) are of a restrained nature, at this moment in time the full unrestrained wrath of God was vented upon Jesus Christ.  On the cross, God’s own Son was enduring the full wrath of hell in the place of his people.

After the crucifixion, Jesus’s body was buried in a tomb that was sealed and guarded with the highest level of Roman security. However, just as Jesus had predicted, this was not the end. In yet another great display of the supernatural, the tomb was powerfully opened. Moreover, it left the Jews, Romans and indeed all of Jerusalem with a great historical conundrum – Jesus no longer lay where they had left him.  Instead, as he himself had prophesied, he had risen from the dead.

While all of Jerusalem puzzled over this seemingly impossible event, Jesus met his disciples once again, and allowed them to examine him carefully so as to be sure that he was alive.  Indeed, over a period of the next forty days, he appeared to many witnesses–at one stage even to a crowd of five hundred people. During this time,  he explained to his disciples the great significance of all that they had witnessed, saying:

Luk 24:44-47;

…everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

Through Jesus’ own exposition of the Scriptures, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they finally came to understand. This is the very revelation now recorded for us in the books of the New Testament;

1Co 5:7b;

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

2Co 5:21;

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Heb 9:12-15;

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.