Sunday, March 4, 2012

A People, A Place, A Relationship, and A Name

In this season of Lent, as we try to position ourselves out of the worldly streams and put ourselves in the direct path of God's holiness, we have been looking at God's covenants. What s the relationship that God has been seeking with his people? Last week, we looked at the covenant with Noah, and realized that it was NOT an “I'm sorry for being a jerk and killing everybody; here's a rainbow” covenant. It's an “I created everything, and now, for you, mankind, I will re-create everything” covenant. The re-creation of everything is being fulfilled through the same person the creation of everything was accomplished—Jesus Christ. He was there at the beginning—the word of God, and through him all things were made. His death on the cross and his resurrection signifies the restoration of all creation. This is a covenant not just with mankind but with animals and the earth itself: all of creation.

Now we are going to get more intimate with the Abrahamic Covenant. This is a covenant between God and his chosen people, of whom we all here are a part. Whereas the covenant with Noah was a covenant with all of creation, this covenant is one with a single man and his descendants, which number the stars, and indeed, not just Israel but all the people who have become Christians over the centuries number the stars.

There are four parts to this covenant: a people, a place, a relationship, and a name. I want to show how each part of this covenant is fulfilled in the Old Testament, but then has a new fulfillment in the New Testament that continues to this day, and then also looks forward to a future promise at the end of the age.

That is the first part of the covenant is people: God promised to make Abraham numerous. He was an old man without children, without the natural possibility of children, and here is God promising Abraham that he would not only have children, but they would so numerous that one would not be able to count them. Several places in the Old Testament reveal, through the eyes of an enemy army usually, that the nation of Israel numbered the grains of sand or the stars in the heavens. This is a visual metaphor, of course, in that even though the people do not exactly number the stars or the grains of sand, they both cannot be counted by one individual just looking at the whole group. Censuses need to be taken—a slow methodical process. The idea is that from one man, who was not able have children, a massive group of people came. As God told Abraham in our Old Testament reading, nations and kings would come from Abraham, and indeed, as we know from history, nations and kings DID come from him.

In the New Testament this group of descendants comes not from Abraham physically but spiritually, faithfully. We Christians are such because we have the faith of Abraham. We believe in the same God, we have faith in God's promises, just like Abraham. We can be called descendants of Abraham, because we have that faith of Abraham, and we are God's children. Indeed, one cannot count the number of people who follow the creator God to this day.

At the end of the age, this number of descendants will not just include the Israel of Abraham's faith, but every Christian who ever lived who had the faith of Abraham, throughout history, even before Abraham. Anyone who has ever GOTTEN IT and truly believed in a God who was present and faithful in his or her life will be counted among the numerous descendants in heaven.

The second part of the covenant is the place. A land flowing with milk and honey, like the Garden of Eden, where God and mankind can have that relationship again. In the Old Testament, the place was Canaan, which became the Kingdom of Israel, where Israel pretty much is today on the map, even though it was lost and restored. Today, many think the new place is the United States, due to its prosperity and freedom. God never does anything that mankind expects, though, so when the Holy Spirit was revealed to us as being God who actually lives in our hearts, that sounded like just the kind of place God would want to meet us on a personal level. The current place is the human heart.

However, it doesn't end there. God may live in our hearts, but that place doesn't include our neighbor, a place where all those descendants can live in harmony with God, too. Today, we can build physical communities, but they are flawed. Look at all the denominations and even then non-denomination schisms. The perfect place hasn't come yet, and when we read the end of the book of Revelation, we realize when that new heaven comes down to meet that new earth and the everlasting city is established, THAT will be where we live. THAT is the promised land.

You've heard of the Pentateuch? The first five books of the Bible? Well, how do those five books end? At the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Israel is poised to enter the promised land. They haven't gone into it yet. That is why some people call the first SIX books of the Bible the Hexateuch. Because the book of Joshua is the fulfillment of the land promise. However, there must be a reason that the Hexateuch is a rare idea, and the Pentateuch is upheld. Not just because Moses is claimed to have written the five books, but maybe BECAUSE they are open ended. We currently live in an open-ended time. If the new heaven and the new earth are the promised land, we have not seen them happen yet. We can read the Pentateuch as a complete work, as the promise of land yet unfulfilled. The anticipation of the final promised land, heaven and earth, is the final punctuation mark.

Next we have a relationship with God, and in the Old Testament that was a relationship of prophecy and epiphanies through dreams and visions. Sometimes God would speak to someone directly, or he would send a messenger to relay some details. In the New Testament, we have the greatest revelation of all time—Jesus Christ: God in the flesh. His final revelation. Now, God in the spirit is living in our hearts, guiding us toward the right paths in life, when we do not quench him and follow the wiles of the world.

As C.S. Lewis said, the whole trinity is at work when we pray. We pray to the Father, through the Son, and the Holy Spirit is what motivates us to pray—he forms the words on our lips. But once again, it is not until the end of the age, where we will be in the presence of God directly. The trinity will take us up in his lovingkindness and have a full and compete relationship with us.

Are you seeing a trend? Each of these promises of the Abrahamic covenant have been fulfilled to a point and they have yet to be fulfilled as well. This is called the already-not yet. We have all these things accessible right this second, and yet we still expect the complete fulfillment of all things, as sin is finally destroyed altogether, the enemy is destroyed altogether, there is no sorrow or sadness, and there is no death.

That's why the name part of the covenant is so important. Names are so important in the Bible. They have deep meanings, and Abraham went from being called Abram, which means “father of height” to Abraham, which means “father of multitude.” Sarah was once Sarai, which means “contentious”, and now she is Sarah, which means “princess.” The most important name in all the Bible, and most important to this day, more important than even the name of Yahweh, is Jesus, and that means “He Saves.”

Jesus is the name above all names, but there is another name: the one by which we are called: “Christians.” This is an important name, too, and one that we have to live up to. We have sullied this name so much over the centuries, that many upstanding people do not want to be called that anymore. Followers of Jesus or followers of Christ is what is preferred, but that is just another way of saying Christians, and the name itself isn't broken—we are—so why not try to live up to the name instead of changing it. It is important as a name, because it is not only what we are now, but what we will be forever. If we are a Christian on the day we die, we continue to be Christians forever. The name becomes locked in. If we stop being a Christian or stop behaving like one, we lose the name after death, and we lose the life after death, too. Being a Christian and making new Christians is the most important thing there is. It's not just a game. It's not just an annoying thing that Christians do. It's the most important thing there is: making sure that as many people as possible get the name locked on them at death—Christian—so that they can live forever.

Next week, I am going to talk about the next big covenant, which is the Ten Commandments. All of these covenants are important, but they all have one thing in common: Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, re-creation of the world is possible, as in the covenant with Noah. Through Jesus we get a people, a place, a relationship, and a name. Through Jesus, we will see next time, we get the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is everything. He is the name above all names, and when his name is at our lips in an honest and personal way, we have everlasting life, a life that includes people, a place, a relationship, and a name.