A Kingdom of Forgiven Priests (Story Notes #6)

GoldCalfMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Things get screwy when you forget who you are–even for a little bit. For instance, when a poor college kid forgets that he’s a poor college kid, and acts like a rich one–well, that looks like years of credit card debt. The same thing is true for Christians who forget their identity–it can look ugly. Tonight we’re looking at the story of Israel getting its primary identity, and as we look at that, we’ll learn something about our own identity as a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Recap – Now, at this point in the story, God has already set the Israelites free. God basically kicked the Egyptians butts by sending ten plagues from everything like flies, to hailstorms to boils to killing the firstborn in every household and so finally the Pharoah let the people Go (Sunday school style). Yeah, and so Moses led them out of Egypt into the desert and here’s where we pick up in verse 1

Text – Exodus 19:1-6

A Kingdom of Priests — Ok, so here we are at the base of the mountain and God here is about to make his covenant with the Israelites. He’s about to make the deal that will make the Israelites his people and he tells them that if they will be his people, if they will keep his covenant, his ordinances and worship him, then the nation of Israel will be for him “A Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.”

Here we see what God was up to in saving the Israelites. He saved them out of slavery to Pharoah in order that they could be free to be for him a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation.” He saved them for a task. He saved them so that they might serve God his priests, so that they might be a holy nation “out of all the nations.”

In this context, what does it mean to be a priest? Well, in the ancient world and even today, a priest was someone who stood between God and the rest of the people. He was the person who represented God to man and brought man to God. He was the go-between, the representative, the middleman. He taught people the ways of God and led the people in the worship of God. If you wanted to know what a god was like, you’d go check out his priest.

So, what does it mean for God to call an entire nation to be his “Kingdom of Priests”? Well, God is calling these people, to be his representatives to the world. They were to be a nation that taught the rest of the world what God was like. Like Adam in the Garden, they were to live in a way that revealed God to his world.

Israel and the Church

Ok, now, if you have your Bibles I want you to go to 1 Peter 2:9. Fast-forward from Moses about a thousand years to about the year 60 something A.D. Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus is writing a letter of encouragement to Jewish and Gentile Christians, the beginnings of the Church scattered throughout Asia Minor who are possibly suffering persecution and whatnot. Towards the beginning of the letter here in chapter 2 verse 9 he drops this statement:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Hold on there, did you hear that first part? “But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Do you see what Peter is doing here? He’s writing to this early Christian community composed of both Gentiles and Jews and invokes the Exodus text about the Israelites to apply it now to the community that has formed around the person of Jesus.

He tells this group that they are now to be to Jesus, what the Israelites had been for God back in the day. They are to be the people who declare the praises of “Him” who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. Just as the Israelites were supposed to do this for the God revealed himself in the Exodus, the church is supposed to do this for that same God who revealed himself in Jesus.

This happens in two basic ways, both in the OT and in the NT:

1. Living Good Lives Among the Pagans — See, in just a chapter, Moses is going to lay down the 10 commandments (and the rest of the commands of the covenant) that express God’s expectations for the relationship. As Israel obeys those commands and observes them, the world begins to see what God is like.

It’s kind of like in your family, you have family rules. When you find out about your friends house-rules growing up, you find out about their parents. Are they uptight? Relaxed? Fun? Organized? Etc. In the same way, God’s commands are the house-rules that reflect God himself. That’s because those commands are not just arbitrary rules that God makes up, but expressions of his character. So, when you look at the commands they begin to tell you about what he’s like:

1-3 God demands we worship no other gods, we worship him and honor him properly because he cares about true relationship.

4. God tells us to rest because he is the creator and wants us to trust in him.

5. He wants us to honor our parents, and respect the authority by which the world functions.

6. Lying about our neighbors destroys the fabric of love and respect he wants for the world.

7. Stealing is the opposite of the generosity which characterizes the Creator God.

8. Murder is the opposite of the God who gives life.

9. Adultery is an affront to the value God places on relationships and promise-keeping.

10. Coveting reflects an ingratitude and lack of contentment that denies God’s provision.

The point is, in each of these commands you see something about the world and the God who made it. As Israel lives out these commands, the pagan nations around them find out something about the God that they worship. They would see that the God of Israel had just and wise laws and so was a just and wise God.

The same is true for us. As we live good, just, patient, honest lives in front of our neighbors, they should see something about the God we worship. It should be the kind of thing where, even though they don’t believe in God, or agree with our beliefs, they should be glad we’re their neighbors because of the lives we live with them.

Problem –  The problem is that Israel sucks at this. I mean, really, royally sucks at this. They hear the law, agree to it in a very sacred ceremony, and then Moses goes up the mountain for a 40 day to get the law on Tablets. In the middle of that, Israel get’s antsy and decides, “You know, let’s make an idol. That sounds like just what we need. Let’s get an idol.” Of course, right at the front of the list of commands is, “no idols”, right? Now, as usually happens, when you start worshiping other things, other sins follow. All idolatry leads to immorality somehow. In this case, they start partying, doing weird, freaky sexual stuff, and just getting crazy.

Now, I read this and kinda shake my head, but that’s totally me, right? I mean, I’ll be at church one minute, and then next I’m cursing somebody out in my car, or hating my neighbor, or back at that same sinful pattern I’ve been trying to break. I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s being at that party. The blunt in hand. Blacked out again. Sinfully controlling people around you. Lying to make yourself look better. Disrespecting your parents. Coveting and comparing yourself to your neighbor. Murdering people in your heart.

So, how are we supposed to be priests if we’re caught up in all of this? How do we represent God to the world if half the time we look just like them?

2.  Singing His Praises For Salvation. This leads us to the next way we show the world what God is like. Its something that comes up, not so much in the text of the chapter, but in all the chapters that the Story cuts out. See, over next chunk of Exodus, and the whole book of Leviticus, God lays out a pattern for worshiping him, the other key task of the priests.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.(Exodus 25:8, ESV)” Just like in the Garden, God wants to dwell with his people. He gives laws for how the Tabernacle, the traveling tent in which God met with Moses should be made. If you study it, it’s gorgeous and intricate, in-laid with all kinds of craftsmanship. Beyond that, it goes through in painstaking detail the processes involved in dwelling and worshiping the holy God. There is chapter after chapter about how to deal with ceremonial issues, and at the center of them all stands the chapter on the Day of Atonement.

See, God gives the people of God his laws, but the fundamental truth about Israel is that it can’t keep it. Inevitably, they will fail to obey God’s commands and so for them to maintain right relationship, God institutes the sacrificial system in order to deal with that. The sacrificial system teaches two truths simultaneously: God wants relationship with us, and our sin gets in the way of that. God’s holy and perfect character is opposed to our sin, while still loving us.  Throughout the system of sacrifice we see that God is totally holy, perfect, righteous, and will not tolerate sin. And yet, he loves sinners and wants to be near them, so he provisionally accepts sacrifices in their place to pay for their sins.

In the sacrifices, there were multiple levels of meaning going on, but at the heart of it was the recognition that sin deserves death. As the worshiper brought the animal to be slaughtered, they were basically saying, “God, through my sin I’ve chosen to reject you, the source of life, which deserves death. Through sin, I’ve chosen to break relationship with you, the source of life, so I shouldn’t have life with you.” And God accepted that animal in their place.

Thing is, all of this points to the Gospel of Jesus at multiple levels. In Jesus, God makes a way for the relationship to work. In Jesus, God comes near to us despite all of our failures and all of our inability to perfectly keep the Law. Jesus is God in the flesh, coming near to dwell with us. It is God saying, “I know what you’re like. I know you can’t pull this off, or make this relationship work, so I’ll go ahead and ensure it.” And so Jesus goes to the Cross, and actually substitutes himself for us to pay for our sins as they deserve, without destroying us in the process.

So, in the sacrificial system we see why we worship. We worship because God has come near in Jesus and saved us from sin and guilt, and set us free to live for him. And there’s a holy irony about it: when you see God’s grace towards you in Christ, forgiving you for your failure to keep the commands, you begin to worship him more, and the reverse of the idolatry pattern kicks in: you start to obey more.

And this is the pattern that we model to the world. We show the world who God is in our obedience, our praise to God for his mercy on our disobedience, and our renewed love and gratitude for him in that.

What does this Look like? A lot of things, but it includes people who praise God by obeying and singing about his forgiveness for the times they fail. People who strive to live holy lives in front of the world around them. People who are honest about their failure to one another. People who are gracious when others do the same. It looks like a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Soli Deo Gloria

God v. The gods in the Exodus (The Story Notes #5)

moses and ramses

My church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Text: Exod. 3

We come here to the story of the Exodus. If you’ve seen the 10 Commandments or the Prince of Egypt, or just grown up in Sunday School, you know what I’m talking about. Thing is, as far as the Bible goes, there are few books, or stories more important than this one. The story of the Exodus shapes the rest of the story to come, and the Gospel as a whole. While we can’t hit all of it tonight, I want us to see a few key points that you need to grasp if you’re going to understand the Exodus and really the Gospel itself.

So, what we’re going to do is answer three questions: What does God do in the Exodus? How does he do it? What’s the result?

Re-Cap – But first, let’s do a little recapping. So, last week we saw that Joseph led his family down into Egypt and life was good. It was good for a long time but then, his family grew and started becoming a mighty nation, so a later Pharoah enslaved them and put them to work. This last for hundreds of years and it was generally a horrible time. After about 400 years of this, things got interesting.

Pharaoh decided to kill all the little boys of the Hebrews in order to curb the population. It didn’t work too well, but one little Hebrew boy in particular was saved and, through a quirky chain of events, was adopted by Pharaoh’s sister/niece. He was named Moses. So, this Moses was a Hebrew, raised as an Egyptian in the household of Pharaoh. After he grew up, there came a point when he began to be burdened by the plight of his people. He ended up killing a guard who was beating a Hebrew slave, and it kinda looks like he might have been trying to save his people, so, the current Pharaoh got pissed and Moses had to run away.

Moses ran away to the desert, met a family, married a girl and then worked as a shepherd for 40 years. And that’ where we pick up the story.

What Does God Do? Now we can start to answer the question, what does God do? He reveals Himself in Saving Israel. That’s something you need to understand. God’s beating heart in saving Israel is that people would know him for who he is, the saving God who keeps covenants, unlike all the false gods. So God drafts Moses to head up this effort.

Encounter w/ Moses in Genesis 3

There’s a lot going on here, but the big thing is God’s revelation of his name. See, Moses asks him, “What should I call you?” In Egyptian theology, to know a god’s name is to know how he works. Well, God wants Israel know him for who he is so he gives them the name ‘I am that I am.’ That tells them a few things:

  • You can’t control me. I’ll give you a name, but the name just tells you that as opposed to all the gods you know, the God who promised your ancestors is the real God.
  • It also tells us that  “I’m faithful and you can count on me. You can’t know me fully, but I do want to be known by you.”

God wants to be known for who he is, not the false, silly ideas we make up about him. He wants Israel to know hims as faithful, sovereign, and good. And so he goes on to tell Moses that he will make himself known in saving Israel, through the Exodus.

So how does God do it?

How Does God do it? Well, what stands in the way of Israel’s knowing him? Two things: Pharaoh/gods & the Israelite’s own guilt.

a. Judging the gods – The first great obstacle in Israel not knowing who God was her slavery to Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Israel was tempted to doubt, or fail to see God for who he is because they enslaved or overpowered by other gods, other dominating forces in their lives. And this is true of us. When there’s something in our lives that just seems to own us (slavery to porn, to relationship, work, etc.) we’re tempted to doubt God, right? Or maybe, if it’s something we like, we’re just tempted to not even look for him, right? I mean, this other little god, this thing is good enough, so why go looking?

God knows this, and so He moves to dominate the false gods of Egypt, to show that these false pretender gods are no match for his glory. That’s what most of this account is about: a demonstration of God’s power, God’s true supremacy over the false gods of the Egyptians who claimed power, including Pharaoh. It starts with Moses encounter with Pharaoh and the staffs.

1. The Rod – Moses goes to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, and he puts forward God’s staff as a symbol of authority. Now, the rod, in Egypt was a symbol of royal, god-like power. So, Moses throws his down and it turns into a snake. Pharaoh has the magicians do the same thing. Then, Moses’ snake eats the other snakes demonstrating that the rod that Moses bears is a true symbol of authority, God’s authority. Pharaoh still won’t acknowledge the Lord.

2. The plagues – In the same way, the rest of the plagues are a demonstration of God’s power. The Nile river had a god attached to it, as it was the source of life for the whole Delta, but the God of Israel turns it to blood. From there, all the rest of the plagues with animals, boils, etc. are systematically taking apart the pantheon and showing his total sovereignty over nature and everything in it. You can see this again, especially in the blotting out of the Sun, “You think Ra is the sun-god? Watch me turn off my lamp for a few days.” Still, every time, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to listen to God in his stubbornness.

3. The death of the firstborn – Finally, this comes to it’s climax in the terrible judgment on the firstborn of Egypt and we see clearly God’s intent to reveal himself in judging the god’s of Egypt:

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord

See, Pharoah had exercised the power of life and death over Israel’s firstborn, slaughtering an entire generation of them. Now God claims the firstborn of Egypt in recompense and judgment on the arrogance of Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, showing that He is the true lord of life and death.

God will, over and over again judge the gods in your life, eventually showing you the way they either enslave your, or fail you. (Story of God exposing a false god in my life.) God will show you that every other god fails and is false. He will judge it and you need to pray for that, because in the end, the true God is what you need. He is the one who will not fail. He is only one who can satisfy your soul and save you in the day of trouble.

But that’s not the only way he reveals himself.

b. Showing Mercy to Israel — See, the other problem of was that Israel was guilty of sin and idolatry as well. We’ve already kind of gotten there, but while they were in the land and there is every indication that they had sinned and worshipped foreign gods as well. So, in The Passover God gives them a way of escaping the judgment they deserved.

The destroyer was coming through all of Egypt that night. While in most of the other plagues, God was separating out Israel from Egypt, to demonstrate his intent, here he would not. The destroyer would come through and take the firstborn in all of Egypt. As we talked about last week, the firstborn represented the hope and future of the whole family. To take them was atonement for the sin of the people. But God was gracious and so he told them that if they would take a Lamb, slaughter and put the blood over the doorway, they’d be saved. (For those concerned, there are hints that the Egyptians had the chance to put blood on their doorpost as well, if they had learned to fear the God of Israel at that point.)

He was saying to them, “I’m going to set you free, but realize that I know you are culpable as well. You’ve been willingly worshipping false gods that enslave you. And that deserves judgment. Instead, I will show mercy and deal with your sin by accepting this lamb in your place.” And so, through the judgment on the Firstborn and the Passover, God revealed himself by saving Israel. In that one act, Pharaoh and the gods were judged, and Israel’s sins were forgiven in mercy.

Of course, that’s how he reveals himself to us as well, through Jesus Christ. See, Jesus Christ is the Passover lamb that was slain, and in his death and resurrection is the judgment on all the false gods that enslave us. His death and resurrection reveal the powerful, merciful God who saves us.

3. What is the result?  So what is the result? We are set free from slavery to false gods, to worship/serve the real God. See, God kept on telling Pharaoh to let Israel go so that they could ‘serve’ him. That word is the Hebrew ‘avodah.’ It can mean serve, or worship. In the end, it’s the same thing. The point is, God wasn’t setting Israel free so they could go off and do their own thing. He set them free from Egypt so that they could come and serve him, worship him, ultimately, to be in relationship with himself.

That is true of us. God doesn’t set you free from false gods, just to go off and do your own thing. He sets you free for relationship with himself. To serve him because serving him is the only true freedom there is. Of course, this only happens though when you see God for who he is in the Gospel: Powerful. Real. True. Covenant-keeping. Just. Merciful. Gracious. Loving.  Basically, all the things we see in Jesus.

And when you see that, the only fitting response is to worship, to serve him with your whole self.

Soli Deo Gloria

Abraham and the Sacrifice of Faith (The Story Notes #3)

My church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

abraham and isaacText: Genesis 22 (Also, 12, 15)

One of the most terrifying and significant stories in western world, is God’s testing of Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac. Soren Kierkegaard wrote a whole book about it, meditating on the ethical issues involved in obeying the command of God to sacrifice your child. What does faith look like in that situation? What horror must Abraham have felt as he thought of killing his own child. What a terrible ‘test’ that must have been.

Now, the word ‘test’ can mean test, or trial, or tempt. So, God is putting Abraham through a trial. It’s a trial of faith. A trial of sacrifice. God wants to teach Abraham, and us, something in this test. I’ll just say that Abraham was shocked by the test as well, but probably not for the same reasons as Kierkegaard was.

Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East – See, Abraham grew up in a world of child sacrifice. A lot of the neighboring gods had demanded them. Chemosh and Molech were two that famously consumed child after child after child. Abraham had probably grown up with neighbors who had offered up their children to the flames. We have archeaological digs with pits full of the bones of little children. What’s more he’d only been following this new God, for a while now. He still didn’t know much of his character. He knew he was surprising and powerful, but how different was he from the other gods? The Bible hadn’t been written yet, so he didn’t know that this God actually hated child-sacrifice. As horrifying as it sounds, with the pagan background that he had, I don’t feel that Abraham was shocked because of the kind of request it was.

What’s more, he knew he was a sinner. More than a couple of times, he had been a coward and tried to pimp out his wife. He had been an idolater for so long that he understood the principle involved in atoning for his life with the life of his firstborn son. If I had to guess, though he loved his son as any normal father would, perhaps even more because of how long he had to wait, the request wouldn’t have horrified him for the same reasons it horrifies us.

No, you see, I think the weird thing for Abraham, the thing that would have been running through his mind during those days of walking towards Moriah, would have been the promises. What would this mean for God’s promises?

The Call – Go to the beginning of Genesis chapter 12:1-3. See, after all that had come before, after creation, the fall of Adam and Eve there was a lot of history. Things went from bad to worse. Sin filled the earth and God caused a flood and only left few survivors to start over with. From there, humanity grew again, spread over the earth, and God began to set in motion a plan to fulfill his promise to Eve that one day he would save everything. He decided to start this plan by picking Abram, an idolater who had a wife who couldn’t conceive children.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation,  and I will bless you;I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

He told him to leave his family, and strike off and that one day, he would bless him in such a way that his blessing would bless the whole world. He would make his name great. So, Abraham struck out in faith and, yes, went on a good many adventures. One thing to note here is that God chose Abraham explicitly, not just for his own sake, but so that through him, somehow God would bless the wider world around him. God always blesses us to be a blessing to others. His particular choice of Abraham was always part of a global plan to bless all.

The Covenant – Now, beyond that first promise, came a second promise. As we said, Abraham was childless and so he expected that his servant would one day inherit all that he had been blessed with by God. At one point God comes to him and tells him he will bless him even more, but Abraham’s skeptical. “What can you give me since I don’t have a child?’

God at this point makes another great promise to him in Genesis 15:

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

So here, he promises not only that he’d bless him, but he’d give him progeny, so many descendants that we wouldn’t even be able to count them. Abraham believes him, and the text says that it’s counted to him as righteousness.

Then, he goes through this weird ceremony where God has him cut up a bunch of animals, line them up in two lines with a corridor between the halves. Usually this was a covenant ceremony where both parties would walk through the animals and basically agree, “If I bail on this covenant, let me be cut in half like these animals.” Here’s the thing, God puts Abraham to sleep and then shows him a vision of himself going between the animals alone. God basically takes a death-curse on himself–if He doesn’t fulfill the covenant, then he accepts a curse. (Gen. 15:8-21) He tells Abraham to have the sign of the covenant be circumcision, yes, but basically he just promises “If I don’t make this happen, let me be cut in half.”

From there, it’s years and years of waiting. Abraham tries to take things into his own hands and has a kid with a servant girl. God says, ‘no, that’s not the one. Sara will give you a child.’ And guess what? She does. After years, I mean, decades of waiting, God fulfills his promise to Abraham and gives him a son, Isaac, a name which means laughter because the thought of having a kid that late in life had caused them to laugh at the idea when God told them. Then God laughed them.

At that point Abraham had to be thinking “This, this is how it’s going to happen! Isaac! I get it now!” But then, Genesis 22.

What now? This, this is what I think was provoking confusion in Abraham’s heart. God had come through before. Why was he threatening his promise now? How is he going to bless the earth through his line if his line is dead?

Have you ever been in a place like that? In one of those situations where you’re looking up at God and thinking, “What the heck? How is this going to work? What are you doing? This isn’t what you said? You’re killing your promise and it makes no sense. Why would you ask me to give this up? Why would you take this from me? What purpose could this serve?”

So What Did Abraham Learn? Tests are about learning. Trials are about showing. So what did Abraham learn? What was this test about?

Read rest of Gen. 22

How Much Do I Love Him? Realize, to us this is horrifying, but here, God is asking him, ‘Will you sacrifice as much for me as your pagan neighbors will for their pagan gods?’ If you were worshipping those things, you would. Will you do that for me? What do you love more? What holds your heart? Because if he’s not willing to sacrifice it, then God is not as important. One thing he wants us to ask ourselves, what is most important?

Faith Rests in God’s Promises and Past Actions Now, in light of all of this, what was Abraham’s response? He said, “Here I am, Lord.” When Adam hid at the Lord’s call, Abraham answered with a faithful response. But how? How was he able to make that choice? Well, it seems to me that the text says in  Romans and Hebrews tell us that “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.”. So while God’s promises were what was confusing about the situation, they were also what allowed him to be obedient.

See, it seems that Abraham reasoned, ‘Well, if God promised, and he’s come through on his promises in the past, despite the fact that there was no way life could come from our dead bodies, he’ll make life come from the dead again.’ Abraham trusted in God’s character and God’s promises despite his confusion at God’s request. God proved himself in the past, so he trusted him for the future.

He Rewards Faith? The next thing we see is that God rewards faith. Gen 22: 16 “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.

You have to realize that at some point, God will probably test you. There will be something that you will be challenged to give up. Some way that you’ll be asked to follow God that will test whether you love that thing more than him. What this text shows us is, not that God won’t ever take it, but that you can trust him when he does. He’s looking to bless you in the sacrifice.

Either to replace it with something better, to prepare you for something greater, or to take something that will destroy you.

Ultimately Our Sacrifice Isn’t The One that Counts: What else does Abraham see? That God is the one who provides his own sacrifice. See, there are all kinds of linguistic issues here, but there is a deep pun going on “Abraham saw the place of sacrifice (v. 4); God will provide (see) a lamb (v.8); Abraham saw a ram (v.13); Yahweh provides (lit. “sees,” v. 14a); and Yahweh appears (“makes himself seen,” v. 14b).”[1] What’s more, the land of Moriah (land of vision) is also linguistically linked to the word.

The long and the short of it is that God shows himself to Abraham as the one who provides his own sacrifice. “You’re not the one making the big sacrifice for me, I’m the one who provides it for you.” Now, this should have been obvious given that so far, God has just been promising, promising, promising and so here, once again, God takes the responsibility.

The Great Sacrifice Now, there is a big difference here for us than there was with Abraham. Abraham was able to see God’s promises and had received his blessing and had his word, yes. But, what he didn’t have that we do is the surer promises of having seen Christ. See, we know in a way that Abraham could only dimly, that God had already made the great sacrifice.

But, of course, with Christian eyes and ears we can’t help but see that this is pointing ahead to something truer, something deeper: “For God so loved the World that he have his only-begotten Son.” Abraham points ahead to the great sacrifice when God provides the ram, the true Lamb who takes away sin. Only this time, it is God’s own Son of promise, the Only Son of God who goes under the Knife for sin. This is what we see, that Abraham could not.

And the crazy thing is, in doing so, this is how the promise to Abraham was eventually fulfilled. Paul tells us that God’s promises to Abraham were fulfilled, not only in physical nation of Israel that expanded to fill and make a great nation, but ultimately in his descendant, Jesus Christ, the one through whom all the families of the earth are blessed, and through whom he has descendants of all nations that outnumber the stars of the sky.

I could draw out the implications of this text for pages here, but at the end of the day:We can trust, we can give, we can sacrifice because the Son trusted, gave, and sacrificed himself for us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Genesis 1: Meet the Author (The Story Notes)

My church has begun a church-wide, across all departments, study through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. That’s what I’ll be teaching through with my college student for the next 9 months or so. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical storyline of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Well, with that intro out of the way, here’s Genesis 1.

God-creating-creatures-by-RText: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Alright,  I’d like to have some nice fluffy intro, but there is so much to say here and  I can’t, which I hate so I’ll just start in. Note right off the bat, this is a beautifully-structured passage. Read it out loud like we just did and you notice it is a carefully constructed, poetic, balanced presentation whose structure has been arranged, measured, and given a rhythm and weight to it. This is not strictly Hebrew poetry, but it’s not just prose either. You’ll notice the repetition of key words and phrases over and over again with minor variations here.

There is a careful structure here built around sevens, which I wish I could go into in detail here, but let me ask you, which word stood out the most in that passage? What dominated it? There’s a lot of repetition and rhythm, but what was the center, the core, the heart of the passage?

“God”, right? I don’t know if any of you counted, but the word “God” is repeated 35 times, a multiple of 7, the number of perfection in Scripture. So, if you weren’t sure what the passage was about, very clearly, right out the gate, you see that, while there’s a lot going on, and we’ll get to some of it, at the center of the passage. and actually, the beginning and the end, stands God.

I make this point bluntly at the beginning because we’re going through the Story of the Bible and one thing you have to get clear if you’re going to understand it is just who the main character is and what is he like. If you think Gollum is the main character of LOTR you will be quite confused and disappointed at the ending, and well, throughout the novels. Or, if you understand that Frodo is the main character, but are under the impression that he is a wizard instead of a hobbit, you’ll be confused as to why he doesn’t magic himself out of certain situations. In the same way, if you miss that God is at the center of the story, and exactly what kind of God you’re dealing with, you’ll be rather confused as you read along.

So, it matters to know that this passage, and indeed, the series as a whole, is about God. This is what we’re trying to get out of this series: a knowledge of who God is, and really of God himself. Now, this passage presents to us a bit about who God is, by showing us the big thing that God ‘does’ to get the whole story going. And it tells us some key things about him that I just want us to start off with:

1. There is one God, ruler of all. – Against the ‘gods’ of the pagans and the polytheistic world, the Hebrew Scriptures testify to one God, sovereign ruler of all. In the Ancient Near East, the dominant creation myth had two gods fighting (Marduk and Tiamat), with Marduk coming out on top, killing Tiamat and creating the world out of her dead body, and human slaves out of her blood, with a pantheon of support gods behind him. In opposition to this, Genesis gives us a picture of a single God who simply commands things into existence. There is no cosmic battle, or fight, but the simple ordering of King God’s world. The stars, the moon, the sun that your neighbors worship? Those are lamps and clocks that Yahweh hung up in the sky. He is incomparable and unique. There is nothing and no one like him.

2. He is the Creator, not the creation. – God made stuff, he is not the stuff. Unlike some strands of modern New Age thought that says that God is the universe, we see that God made the universe. It all bears his mark, but he is not contained within it. Which is why he knows it inside out and is all-powerful over it. He made time and space so he is not contained by time and space. There is no limit to him. He is present to us here and now, but is not limited to here and now.  Something else that flows from this, is that the stuff is HIS stuff. All of it. Also, the stuff is good because he made it. The world is not something to be scared of, but enjoyed as his creation. (Next week we will talk about the fall and how things go bad.)

3. God is a Speaking, Communicating God – How does God make the world? God creates all things by speaking it into existence. He is, essentially, a communicator even in the way he creates. He ‘makes common’ the quality of existence to things that don’t exist yet. This also means that he is a God who can make himself known to us. We get skeptical about this nowadays because of our smallness, and our sinfulness, which is real. We start to doubt that we could ever really know what God is like, especially since so many people have different ideas about God. All we have are guesses.

Now, that sounds humble enough at first, but it denies what we see here in the text: that if God is a God who can effectively bring the world into existence through his words, so he can make himself known to us through his words. No, we can’t figure him out on our own, but God can make himself known to us.  And, in fact, part of our being made in his Image means that we can understand him when he does (apart from sin.)

4. God is Triune – This one is really the most important and undergirds and is revealed in the others. The sovereign King God who alone exists and is not creation but speaks it into existence has revealed himself as the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see this, we only get hints here in the text (The Spirit, hovering) but if you turn to John 1:1, you read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, ESV)”

We see that the one God who is before all things and made all things, made it through his Word and Spirit. The fact that the world was made through the Spirit and By the Word, means that they are not the world–they are eternal God alongside the Father. See, from all of eternity, God has been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delighting in perfect community. This tells you something about why God created: he didn’t need us. He was perfect and complete, full of joy, love, and endless life. He was not lonely or needy. He did not make us to amuse himself or because eh needed help with things. His life is perfect apart from us. He created the world with a good purpose, though, to share himself with us.

5. God is a God of purpose and that Purpose is to Dwell With Us – To dwell with us. God created all things with a rhythm, a pattern, a meaning, an order (6 days). We saw that earlier. What I didn’t go into yet, was the two-part structure of the first 6 days of Creation. See, if you pay attention closely, you’ll see that what God does in the passage is first, create creation kingdoms (Light & Darkness, Waters & Skies, Land), and then, the next three days he creates creation kings who ‘rule’ or keep the areas (Sun & moon, Fish & birds, animals & Humans.).

More importantly, what we have to see is that the picture we’re getting is of God the King, constructing a palace, a Temple to dwell in and ‘rest’ on the ‘Sabbath’ of creation as the Creator King.  This is what anybody in the ancient Near East would have heard. At the end of those stories, the king god would always set up shop in their palace-temple and begin their rule. Here, we see the Creator King has finished establishing his kingdom and setting up his sub-rulers and so now he will dwell in his palace-temple. In this case, the whole world. (For more on this, see here.)

The idea is to dwell in the Temple of Creation with his creations. This is, in fact, why he creates us. The idea is that he wants to dwell with us to share himself with us and bless us. For us to enjoy him, know him, and enjoy the world that he made in the way that he intended us to.

That said, we are not the point of this text. We’re important. We come at the crown, we’re significant, more so than the rest of the creation, but let’s be honest, we’re still not the point. God is. We exist for God, by God, to God, in God’s Image. He makes all things and provides all things for us, but we are his. We are supporting characters.

And here’s the Problem – We tend to forget all of this. We tend to put ourselves at the center of the story, time and time again. We’ll talk about that next week in more detail when we come to the story of Adam and Eve and the fall. Still, we tend to put ourselves at the center of the story which screws with our ability to see the story for what it is. All of the problems we encounter become our problems to solve. All of the blessings in our life are our gifts to ourselves. All the purpose we have is whatever we’ve chosen for us. All of the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, etc. is now on us or for us and to us, and the whole thing starts to lose it’s shape.

The biggest tragedy of all is that when we put ourselves at the center, we lose our ability to see GOD for who he is. It’s like losing the north star at sea, or forgetting who you’re married to, or losing equilibrium and living your life off-balance. When you lose sight of God, your life starts to lose shape.

In the Beginning –  This is what Jesus came to do: to put God back at the center of the story for us.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.(John 1:9-11, 14, 18 ESV)

This God makes himself known, not just in general, but in one way. It’s not just ‘god’ but the God of Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom God made the world. And what we see here in John is that his purposes for Creation are reaffirmed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. He came to the world he made, and although we denied him, he decided to dwell with his creation that he made.

I don’t know what you needed to hear tonight. Maybe you needed to be reminded that you don’t set the grid for your life? That you are not the one setting the agenda? Maybe you needed to remember that God is bigger than your problems? Maybe you need to remember that the God who made all things can re-create the broken pieces? Maybe you need to be reminded that God’s purpose in Christ is to dwell with you? Or maybe, just maybe, you just need to take this time to worship, praise and adore something greater than yourself.

Listen to the Spirit speaking of the Son who points us to the Father, says in his written Word. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria