The Kingdom Manifest
© 01.05.09 By D. Eric Williams
The Collect furnished by the Book Of Common Prayer for the Second Sunday after Christmas says,
ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is appropriate that we ask God to "grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives through Jesus Christ our Lord" as we consider the idea of The Kingdom Manifest - the manifestation of God's rule in this realm.
Last year – 2008 – we had as our theme "cultivating the new creation." By this we mean the working out of our salvation as Paul instructs us in Philippians 2:12–13. Another illustration I used to convey the idea of working out our salvation was the picture of our need to assemble the gift of salvation. In other words, we do nothing to earn the gift of salvation but that gift requires our active "assembly" in order for it to be fully manifest.
So, last year we talked about cultivating the new creation and how we are to do that - what we need to do in order to accomplish that. As you remember we cultivate the new creation as we strive (in the power of the Holy Spirit), to walk even as Jesus walked. This means that we are to cultivate the law written upon our heart. It means that we must examine the objective standard of God's Word and endeavor to live out what we, recognizing the Bible as the blueprint for life.
This year I want to emphasize the next step in the process: the need to manifest the kingdom. In other words we cultivate the new creation so that we can display, reveal, demonstrate the rule of Jesus Christ in this realm. That may sound a lot like cultivating the new creation. But my goal this year is to become a bit more specific (when the opportunity allows), concerning what the kingdom of God looks like in this world, here and now. I realize I have covered this to some degree; the idea isn't to present some brand-new truth in this new year. My goal is to bring our focus on this issue of manifesting or giving evidence of the rule of Jesus Christ in this realm.
Now then, our text today is from Genesis 12:1–5.
And Jehovah said to Abram, Go out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house into a land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation. And I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those that bless you and curse the one who curses you. And in you shall all families of the earth be blessed. And Abram departed, even as Jehovah had spoken to him. And Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gained in Haran. And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan. And they came into the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-5)
If you take a look at the back of your bulletin you'll see that I have provided a series of helps to aid you in understanding this particular passage. As you can see, this section of Genesis Chapter twelve is presented as a chiasm.1 I've abbreviated in order to fit the outline on the back of the bulletin; I encourage you to take your bulletin and lay it side-by-side with your Bible when you study this passage later on this week.
The other thing I want you to see is that the passage is presented to us in the five-point covenant sequence. As you can see the chiasm descends to point five then ascends to point one before descending to point five again. This strikes me as a bit unusual; it throws the emphasis on the fifth point in the covenant model. In other words the emphasis in these five versus is upon the promise itself. It is upon the promise of a great name and a lasting legacy given to Abraham. By the way, I'll typically refer to him as Abraham throughout the sermon just for the sake of familiarity. At this point in the history of Abram, or Abraham, he is still called Abram.
But the emphasis provided by the chiasmic structure is on the covenant promise. It isn't on the sovereignty of God. It isn't on the government or the judicial aspects of the covenant relationship. The emphasis is on the promise of a name, a lasting legacy. Speaking humanly, that is what would have been most important to Abraham. Abraham was a godly man and there is no doubt that God's glory was his primary concern. There is no doubt that Abraham considered the will of God more important than his own will. Nonetheless, the emphasis in Genesis 12:1–5 is upon the promise itself.
You see, in that culture (much more than today I suppose), it was the enduring "house" that was of utmost importance. If you read in the book of Ecclesiastes you'll find that the Preacher, when he examines life apart from God, laments the loss of legacy. For instance in Ecclesiastes 2:16–19 we read:
For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, Since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool! Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:16-19).
Accordingly, the absence of a legacy, the absence of a name, the absence of an enduring house, is troubling to the preacher. Indeed the greatest gift that God could give to a man is a promise of an enduring dynasty. We see the same thing in the Davidic covenant. The promise to David was that he would have a son upon the throne of Israel - forever. There is nothing that is more important than the promise of an enduring legacy.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before we get into our passage I need to give you a little bit of background. Just previous to this passage were provided a brief introduction to Abraham’s family line. We are told that Abraham is the son of Terah. We are also told that Terah died in Ur of the Chaldeans. Now, when we look at the sermon of Stephen the martyr as recorded in Acts chapter seven we are told that:
And [Stephen] said, Men, brothers, and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. And He said to him, "Go out from your land and from your kindred, and come into a land which I shall show you." Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, he moved into this land in which you now dwell (Acts 7:2-4).
This means Abraham received a message or a call from God before he and his father lived in Haran. They left Mesopotamia –Ur of the Chaldeans - and moved to Haran on their way to the land of Canaan. We aren't given the reason for their sojourn in Haran but according to the witness of Scripture, Terah stayed there and Abraham travel on. Although the Genesis record may appear to indicate that Terah died before Abraham left Haran we know from the age of Terah at his death that he died many years after Abraham had moved on to Canaan. You see, Terah was 70 when Abraham was born (or thereabouts), and died 135 years later at the age of 205. Since Abraham was 75 years old when he first arrived in Caanan we know that Terah was "only" 145 years old at the time, which means Terah died 60 years after Abraham arrived in Canaan.
In any case, Abraham originally lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, moved to Haran and stayed there awhile before carrying out God's command to go to Canaan.
There is also the possibility that the son of Terah named Haran died on the way to Canaan and it is at that very spot that Terah stopped. There is the possibility that he established a city at that location and named it after his deceased son. In any case, it appears Terah originally intended to travel to Canaan with Abraham. This even though the call from God was directed to his son. However, in the end, Terah lost heart for one reason or another and decided not to complete the journey. Thus, Terah becomes little more than a footnote in history while Abraham is established as a foundational part of God's dealings with humanity.
Yahweh's sovereignty is affirmed
Chapter twelve in Genesis begins with the assumption that God is the sovereign Lord. The word translated as Lord is "Yahweh." This is God's covenant name, a name that means "the existing one." This named is translated as Jehovah in the King James Version simply because the wrong vowel points were used in translation.
In any case this portion of Genesis begins by affirming that God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. Therefore, he simply speaks and is obeyed.
We don't need to worry about the chronology here; apparently this command to Abraham was given before the events recorded in Genesis 12. Moreover, there is no reason to discount the possibility that God reaffirmed this command to Abraham at a later date. The point is simply this: Yahweh is the sovereign Lord and when he gives a command it must be obeyed.
We often forget that Abraham would have been intimately familiar with the history of mankind and God's methods of dealing with humanity since creation. If we take the time to study the chronology provided for us in the book of Genesis we will discover that Abraham was a contemporary of Shem the son of Noah. Indeed, Abram was born just a couple years or so after Noah died. Thus Abraham would have been familiar with the history of the flood as that story was passed on through Shem. Shem, by the way, was a contemporary with Lamech and Methuselah as well. And these men would have been contemporaries of Adam himself. In other words there was direct contact from Adam to Methuselah; from Methuselah to Shem; and from Shem to Abraham. In fact, Shem would have been alive during the first 50 years of Isaac's life as well.
The point I'm trying to make is that Abraham would have had intimate knowledge of the awesome power of God. He would have been familiar with the story of creation and the story of the destruction of the world by flood. There would have been no doubt in the mind of Abraham that Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of the universe.
In addition we must remember the fact that Abraham was a man of faith. I am not suggesting that displays a supernatural power or adequate means of producing faith. As we know from the life of Jesus Christ (which we will return to next week), miracles do not produce faith. They may be an aid to faith but they will never produce it. Faith is a gift of God. And it is only by faith that Abraham would have understood who God is. Clearly he did understand God.
Therefore, when God says go, you go. And it should be obvious, this is a fundamental truth which must undergird everything else we believe and do. If Abraham had fallen down at this point, there would be nothing else about him in Scripture. There are plenty of people who say they believe in God but unless they embrace the fact of God as the absolute and undeniable sovereign ruler of the universe, they believe in some sort of false god, not the God of the Bible.
And this is where manifesting the kingdom, the demonstration of the messianic reign must begin. To say we believe in Almighty God while we pick and choose what we will believe and what we will obey in the Bible is ludicrous. Certainly, had Abraham attempted to decide for himself what was right and what was wrong he would have gone no-where.
In fact, God says the obedience of Abraham and his willingness to teach his household obedience to God opened the door for a relationship with Yahweh and blessings from the hand of God. This isn't salvation based on works it is simply an example of the truth that God's choice precedes man's obedience but man's obedience is a prerequisite of knowing the full benefits of God's election.
And so we began the history of Abraham by acknowledging that God is sovereign. God commands Abraham and Abraham does what the Lord tells him to do.
This is where our story must begin as well. If we hope to get to the point where we receive the covenant promise then we must begin, as 21st century American Christians, with the firm belief that God is the sovereign Lord of the universe. Practically speaking this means he is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. This seems so obvious that you might be wondering why I even bother to mention it. Well, I focus on this simply because most of this do not live as if God is the sovereign Lord of creation. Instead, we live as if he is a limited deity. We live as if he might be in control then again he might not. We live as if his viewpoint is simply one among many. We would never admit to this out loud, but, speaking practically, we live in this fashion. Every time we decide to do something that God's Word says is wrong we are living as if God is not actually sovereign. Every time we worry about our finances or health or the state of politics in this nation we are denying – in a practical fashion – that God is in control.
I'm not suggesting we are all sinners bound for hell because we have these human failings. I simply want you to honestly examine your heart. Would you be able to do what Abraham did? He left behind everything because God told him to. There is no record in the Scripture of a discussion between Abraham and God concerning this issue. If there had been I think it would be recorded in the Bible. After all, we see the discussion between Abraham and God concerning the fate of Sodom. Therefore, we have the precedent. Yet, there is no indication that Abraham was reluctant to obey God's command to leave his homeland.
So, if we want to be able to manifest the kingdom of God – if we want to be able to demonstrate the reign of Jesus Christ in our life – we must begin with this issue. Either God is omnipotent, omniscient, the creator of this universe, truthful, trustworthy, merciful, long-suffering, – the all powerful Almighty God who loves us – or he is not.
There is no middle ground on this issue. There is no fashioning a God of our own design. We are not allowed to create a God which gives us leave to gossip to backstab and to tear people down. It is not acceptable to live in a world of our own devising. It is not permissible to while away our time wishing things were different. It is not allowable to be dissatisfied, grumbling about our lot in life.
Nevertheless many Christians do these things. Many Christians say they serve God and yet they serve a God of their own imagination. Far too many people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ live just like a citizen of Satan's kingdom.
Abraham believed God completely. Abraham worshiped the one true God. We often breeze past this story about Abraham and forget it is an accurate story or record. Abraham was an actual human being who had to leave everything behind. I'm not talking about his material possessions; I'm talking about every connection he had within the clan and everything that was familiar to him. When he did this Abraham affirmed his belief in the sovereignty of God.
Abraham is commanded to build a Universal House
Remember now, what we see here is the initial pronouncement of the Abrahamic covenant. These verses (especially Genesis 12:1–3) provide the initial presentation of the covenant relationship God established with Abraham. Thus the second thing we see is that Abraham is to be the representative of a new people. In this sense he is a type of Christ. Hence, Jesus is called a son of Abraham. If you look at how the Jews thought of Abraham you come to realize that in the mind of the Jewish people Abraham was the representative of the chosen people. One had only to be able to point to Abraham as his "father" in order to be considered part of the chosen people of God.
This is only right when we look at what God says to Abraham in this original display of the covenant. Remember, God has a single covenant throughout history which is revealed in different administrations. The administration which is most important in the old covenant era is this Abrahamic covenant, along with the Davidic covenant.
So God tells Abraham to establish a new people. He tells him to leave behind the old way. He tells him to leave behind the old country the old family and the old clan. He is supposed to establish a universal "house" in which all the families of the earth shall be blessed. In other words, this covenant is designed to supersede family, clan, tribe and nation. This is a universal covenant.
Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone is going to be saved. God isn't telling Abraham that he will establish a covenant with him which will result in the salvation of every person on earth. He does say, however, that through Abraham and the new house he is supposed to establish, that all the families of the earth will be blessed. The apostle Paul reaffirms this in his first letter to Timothy when he says:
For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10).
We've talked about this before. What Paul is saying is that all of mankind benefits from the work of Jesus Christ. Certainly not every human being will be born again. However, to the degree that the kingdom of God is manifest – to the degree that the kingdom of God is expressed by the people of God – to that degree the world at large will be blessed. We will look at this in a bit more detail when you get to the fourth point of our outline. For our purpose here in the second point we need to focus on the fact that God is calling Abraham to establish a "house" with room for every kind of person, every type of human being, every race and family of Man. This dynasty is not limited to the blood offspring of Abraham. This family is not limited to any ethnic, national, cultural or racial group. God wants Abraham to leave behind the old way of doing things which was based upon the family and clan and tribe and to build a universal "house."
It is interesting that the Scripture tells us that Lot went with Abraham. Granted, Lot was a relative but as we know from the subsequent history of Abraham and Lot they really weren't related at all. In other words, they were two very different men. Abraham was godly in every way. And Lot – although he is described as righteous in Peter's second epistle – was not of the same caliber as Abraham. And so, right off the bat this "foreigner" is included in this universal "house" that Abraham is commanded to establish.
This is how God works. He calls his people out of the world and invites them to join the universal house of God. We see Abraham called out of Mesopotamia. We see Israel called out of the bondage of Egypt. We see the Jewish people called out of Babylon. We see Jesus call true Israelites in whom there is no deceit to join him in the fulfillment of Israel.
God continues to call his people out of this world today. Jesus tells us that unless we hate our mother or father our brother or sister even our own life we are not worthy to be his disciple. We all know he isn't telling us to literally hate other people. He is telling us that there can be nothing in this world that is more important to us than Jesus Christ.
Once again we are marching toward the emphasis of this passage which is the lasting legacy of the kingdom. No doubt the kingdom of God will never fail. And I don't want you to think that if we do not recognize God as the sovereign and if we are not willing to leave behind everything for the sake of Jesus Christ that the kingdom was somehow fail. That isn't the case. God's kingdom is everlasting. The messianic reign will continue to unfold even if we as individual Christians are left behind.
You see, what Abraham was called to do was establish a government of God. Abraham (as I mentioned), was a type of Christ. He was the representative of a new people. And as a representative of a new people he had to sever ties with everything that had gone before. Likewise, if we want to be part of this completed Israel we must be willing to sever ties with everything in order to take hold of our Representative Jesus Christ.
It is only in Jesus Christ that a universal house may be built. It is the dream of mankind to establish a universal house apart from God. It is the dream of the worldly and satanic mind to establish a one world government. But that will never happen. The only one world government in existence is the messianic kingdom. And it is not like other governments. It is a kingdom within other kingdoms and in fact embracing all other kingdoms. It does not abolish national identity and yet supersedes any such thing as national citizenship, ethnic origin, cultural background and so on.
If we want to demonstrate the rule of Jesus Christ in this realm we must understand we are part of this universal house – this universal kingdom. And by the way, as we know from what the apostles Paul and Peter tell us, one of the characteristics of a citizen of this universal kingdom is a respect and loyalty toward whatever nation we live in. This universal house is not supposed to tear down the governments of this world. It is supposed to reform them. But if we want to demonstrate the reign of Jesus Christ we must begin with the recognition that God is sovereign - and hard on the heels of that must follow a willingness to turn our back on everything in his life that would keep us from taking hold of our representative Jesus Christ.
Part of the journey from the old country to the new universal house involves taking others with us. Just as Lot left the old country to follow Abraham to a new land, likewise we should seek to take others with us as we leave behind the old realm and travel to the new land of the messianic kingdom. Of course I'm talking about the demonstration of Jesus rule in this realm. And yet, I must also include the new land of heaven as well. In any case, we demonstrate Jesus’ rule when we encourage others to go with us to this new land. Lott followed Abraham and we should try to have others follow us as well.
A new dynasty providing a panoptic standard
The third point in the covenant sequence is typically labeled sanctions or ethics or law. In our outline, the third point is called a new dynasty providing a panoptic standard. What is that? How does that fit into the third part of the covenant sequence? Well, I'm glad you asked.
When we consider the language of salvation it quickly becomes obvious that a discussion of soteriology utilizes judicial language. We read about justification, we read about imputed righteousness, we read about judgments and the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Therefore on a fundamental basis inclusion in the covenant household depends upon certain judicial procedures. If we are to be counted as children of God then we must participate (in a fashion), in this judicial process of judgment and death. Obviously we participate in the death of Jesus Christ – according to the Scripture - and therefore participate in his life. This allows us to be part of this new house. Indeed it allows us to be part of a new nation. In Matthew 21:43 Jesus told the chief priests and the Pharisees ,
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Matthew 21:43).
Once again we see the kingdom of God described as a nation. Of course when we take the Bible as a whole we recognize this is a nation within nations. Nonetheless like any nation it has a system of laws. These are not laws that condemn the citizen of the kingdom; they are laws which guide the citizen in proper behavior. These laws are written upon our heart if we are in fact a citizen of this new nation. If we are members of this house of God, our very nature is described by the laws of God found in the Bible.
Therefore when we read that a new dynasty was founded, or a new nation was founded by Abraham we recognize there are rules in this house just like any other organization.
These rules don't save anyone they simply provide guidance. For instance there are rules in my house. These rules don't make the people who live in the house members of the family they simply provide guidance to the members of the family. The rules keep the house clean. We don't throw food on the floor so the cat can eat it. That's one of the rules in our house.
Likewise this nation which Abraham was called to establish was a true nation. Like any nation there are rules to guide its citizens in proper behavior. It wouldn't be a true nation otherwise. And yes that is the word God used when he made this promise to Abraham and it is the word Jesus used when he told the chief priests and Pharisees that they would be shut out of the kingdom because they did not receive him as the Messiah.
Furthermore, God tells Abraham he will be the pivot upon which blessing and cursing will turn. He says those who esteemed Abraham, those who bless him will be blessed. In other words those who are in sympathy with what Abraham is doing will be blessed. He didn’t say they have to be part of the nation he simply says they must be in harmony with Abraham and what he is doing. If they are, they're going to be blessed. On the other hand those who disesteem Abraham will be cursed.
What is interesting here is that this does not say, as the new King James version puts it, those who curse you will be cursed but simply those who do not esteem you will be cursed. In other words, cursing will fall upon those who are not in harmony with you and this new nation. Those who do not see the value of this new nation will be cursed.
I want you to get a handle on what God is saying here. He is saying that to be in harmony with this new nation, this new people established by Abraham is to be blessed. It is not required that one actually be a member of this new nation in order to be blessed. Once again we are reminded of what the apostle Paul said in his first epistle to his protégé Timothy; God is the Savior of all men especially those who believe. As I mentioned earlier this will be fleshed out a bit more under the fourth point but what I want you to understand is that God, in this promise to Abraham, makes it plain that to be in harmony with Abraham and his universal house of God brings blessing. On the other hand to disrespect Abraham and this house of God is to incur cursing.
I also included under this heading, the information that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed from Haran. This reminds us that the laws and standards of the new nation are not like that of the old country. This reminds us that Abraham established a house that had rules which were different than the way of the world. It reminds us the judicial procedure which makes as part of this house is very different than the judicial procedure followed by the world. In other words we become part of this house through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to work our way into this house. On the other hand the world believes that the way to Utopia or the Way to Paradise is through law and works righteousness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the world today the higher law that leads to salvation is human reason as expressed in "democracy" or the State in general
Every Christian should be adamantly opposed to the idea of works salvation. We have nothing to do with works salvation. We understand members of the House of God are expected to abide by the rules of the House but that doesn't make us part of the family. That just makes sure we don't dirty up the house. But when people reject faith in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation, they invariably turn to salvation by works. Works salvation takes a variety of forms but it is always offered as the “logical” alternative to faith in Jesus.
R. J. Rushdoony has this to say concerning the matter:
[In the absence of faith in Jesus Christ], or in rebellion against it, the modern state has returned to the religion of natural man and of Phariseeism, to salvation by law. The modern state is thus inevitably a priestly state and a soteriological state, dedicated to the radically anti-Christian religion of works salvation, salvation by law. The proliferation of legislation is impelled by this messianic urge, and every political campaign presents its program as a kind of true second advent. Only the right combination of laws is needed to create the good true and saving society! (Politics of Guilt and Pity, 298)
Does that sound familiar? It should. It is exactly the point of view prevalent today. Rushdoony wrote these words almost 40 years ago. It was true back then; it's worse today.
Though the rules in this house have nothing to do with our salvation; they do have something to say about every aspect of life. Thus the new dynasty provides a panoptic standard. In other words everything must be brought into the house. Every aspect of this life must be brought under the authority of the new representative Jesus Christ. Remember Abraham was a type of Christ. But in our experience, in this age of the Son of Man, in the messianic reign, we labor to bring every aspect of life into the house and thus under the rule of our sole representative Jesus Christ.
We noted that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed from Haran and that should remind us that it is never too late to learn to do things according to the standards of the kingdom of God. But it also reminds us that everything in his life – everything that is going on in the old country has a place in the new house as well, subject to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit.
Obviously I'm not talking about immoral or criminal behavior. What I am referring to is the redemption of all things by the work of Jesus Christ. Last week we talked about Jesus Christ as the revenger, ransomer, and Redeemer. As you recall when I referred to Christ as the Redeemer I focused upon his redemption of the land. And by that I meant that all of this realm is to be regained and broought under the authority of Jesus Christ. Our job is to demonstrate Christ's rule by bringing our sphere of influence under the authority of Jesus Christ and thus the laws of this new dynasty provide an all-encompassing standard. In other words there is no neutral ground. There is no part of life that we can lead outside the kingdom. There is no gray area. Everything in this created realm must be brought under the authority of Jesus Christ. That's what I mean by a panoptic standard. It is all embracing, all encompassing.
Let's look at one example: entertainment. And let's focus on the produciton of movies. There are a lot of movies made with immoral content. That doesn't mean we throw out movie making altogether; it means movie making should be redeemed. Instead of going to movies with trashy content or instead of making movies that are very much like the world's trashy films, Christians must shun ungodly fair and must produce godly entertainment. I want to point out one key issue here. It must be quality entertainment. All too often Christians produce second rate films or third rate books and fourth rate music because they can get away with it. Because it is labeled "Christian" they know that the people who live in the "Christian ghetto" will buy it. And I admit - I do just that from time to time.
Bringing everything under the authority of Christ means that everything we do is done as unto the Lord. Now I ask you; should we do something - anything - in a mediocre fashion as unto the Lord? Obviously not. Therefore, Christians should be producing the best films - technically, superior, plot and story gripping, acting top notch - all to the glory of God. And it doesn't have to be a "Christian" story per say; consider the book of Ecclesiastes. There the Preacher describes life apart from God in contrast to a life lived under God's authority. Now, how many of you remember the song, Dust In The Wind by Kansas? That song perfectly describes the point of view presented in half of Ecclesiastes - a point of view excluding God. The redemptive quality of the song was actually its hopelessness. It powerfully portrayed the emptiness of life without Christ and served to awaken one's heart to the futility of life without Christ.
So, a panoptic standard - a rule, a measure that touches on every aspect of life. That's what the Bible provides. That's what this new nation, the universal house offers to those who enter it. It is only in Christ that we have an absolute standard by which we may judge everything in this life. This standard - the Bible - is not available to any other house. It is not available to religious Jews; Jesus said that to reject him is to reject the Father. Modern Jews - indeed Jews since the time of Christ who reject Jesus as the Messiah - do not worship the God of the Bible. One need only glance at the guiding documents of the Jewish religion to understand that. The point is, no one has access to the absolute standards of right and wrong, beauty and truth, what is pure and salutary, apart from the all-embracing rule of Christ. Those who belong to another house may borrow from the panoptic standard and thereby produce something of beauty and value. But they do so in defiance of their own belief system. In a sense, anything worthy they produce, they do so by accident - even unconsciously. It is an expression of the image of God in them (something they deny exists) and it is borrowing from the panoptic standard.
And it is Jesus Christ who is the pivot upon whom blessing and cursing turns. To be in relationship with Him is to be truly blessed. To reject him is to be cursed. Additionally, those who are in harmony with Jesus and his kingdom will be blessed - obviously not to the extent of those within the kingdom but remember, God is the savior of all men - especially of those who believe. So, Jesus is the pivot. Abraham was a type, but it is Jesus who is the ultimate point of demarcation and to be in harmony with Christ and his kingdom will bring blessing; to disesteem Christ and his kingdom will bring cursing.
Of blessed people who are a blessing to others
Do you see how Abraham would be blessed and a blessing? God told Abraham, if he affirmed the sovereignty of Yahweh; and if he was willing to leave behind everything so that he might become the representative of the new people; and if he was willing to embrace the panoptic standard of the kingdom - then he would be blessed. The chiasmic structure of this portion of Genesis gives us a hint concerning the nature of this blessing. We are told Abraham took his many possessions with him when he left his homeland. It is interesting that these possessions included "the souls whom they had acquired in Haran." Some think this has to do with the servants or slaves Abraham had acquired. However, I think it has to do with the fact he was a preacher of the good news. The Genesis record indicates that part of Abraham's activity was proclaiming the good news of God in Canaan – indeed everywhere he went. In any case the blessings of the covenant are not limited to material possessions. Nonetheless that is the primary focus of this passage in Scripture along with the rest of the old covenant record.
Part of the reason for that is the nature of the old covenant administration. I've said before that God deals with humanity much like we deal with our own children. When they are younger we try to make things very black-and-white for them. You might say we deal with them in the material realm when it comes to punishment and reward. A young child understands this sort of cut and dried approach to discipline. On the other hand, an older child responds better to a more abstract form of discipline. Instead of a swat on the seat of the pants, punishment might take the form of a restriction of privilege or an assignment to research a particular topic which relates to the area of transgression.
In the old covenant administration God dealt with humanity as we deal with younger children and so much of the reward and punishment promised and given to the old covenant saints was realized in the material realm. Those rewards and punishments were actually types in a sense. Or maybe it is better to say they were illustrations designed to help a more mature humanity understand the abstract concept of reward and punishment. Therefore, when we see the reward of material possessions, we who more mature are able to understand it ultimately points to a heavenly reward. That is not to say we are not blessed in this realm in this new covenant age; it is simply to point out that our eyes must be on eternity rather than the temporal realm.
So Abraham is promised blessing in this covenant relationship. The subsequent history of Abraham provided in the book of Genesis confirms this blessing was largely material. He had great riches, many flocks and a household of servants – including at least 300 who were trained in warfare.
But God also says Abraham himself shall be a blessing. He says Abraham would bring blessing to others. We touched on this in the second point of the covenant sequence when we discussed the idea of the universal house. God is telling Abraham that as he walks in obedience he will be blessed and those who are in relationship with him will be blessed as well. This also ties into the third point; Abraham was to be the pivot point of blessing and cursing. To be in harmony with Abraham was to be blessed, to be in harmony was to be encouraged.
Therefore in this fourth point, which concerns sanctions or blessing and cursing, we see that Abraham is an actual blessing. He is himself a blessing to others.
We are likewise blessed as we live in conformity to the covenant relationship God has established with us in Jesus Christ. As we seek first the kingdom of God our father in heaven will make sure we have what we need. We tend to think of blessing as an overabundance. But the promise of having all the things we need simply means we'll have enough.
Of course, as modern Americans we do have an overabundance. We have far more than we need. Just look around your living room when you go home this afternoon. The electric lights, the carpeted floor, the books on the shelf, the comfortable sofa, the indoor plumbing (which is probably out of sight if you're in the living room), and everything else we take for granted. All of those things are blessings from God.
Last week I said this nation is a blessed nation because of our Christian heritage. We are blessed with an overabundance of material possessions not because we are smarter or better or somehow of greater value than other people on the planet. We are blessed with all of these things because we have a Christian heritage in this nation. We are one of the Reformation nations. And the blessings we experience are proof that God's covenant sequence is valid. We are a blessed people.
And we can also be a blessing to others. As we bring our sphere of influence under the rule of Jesus Christ and began to manifest the reign of the Messiah in this physical realm, other people will be blessed along with us. The blessings of technological and medical advance can be brought to others so they will be blessed as well. The blessings of agricultural abundance due to the blessing of environmental wisdom can be shared with others. The blessings of representative government which flow from an understanding of the nature of mankind and the sovereignty of God may likewise be shared with others. However, the ultimate blessing we have to share (and upon which all of this depends), is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The news of his birth, life and death upon the cross - a death endured to wash away our sins and allow us to become part of the family of God; this is the primary way we can be a blessing. In fact, none of these other blessings will "stick" without this foundational blessing of the Gospel. In other words, we cannot export our blessings and expect them to take root in a every land. That barren land must first be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Obviously I don't mean the physical land; I'm talking about the hearts of the people in that land. This is why the attempt to "export democracy" is fundamentally flawed. Our form of government depends upon a Christian heritage. Our representative form of government will not work unless it is resting upon the foundation of the Christian faith. This is not to say we should seek to export a theocracy. I'm simply suggesting to you that the only way a representative form of government will work is when people accept the truth of God as sovereign and mankind as deprived in his natural state. And by the way, because our nation has drifted from its biblical moorings – we are or experiencing the breakdown of representative government in our own country. The outward form remains; it is but a hollow shell.
As a people blessed by God we are called to be a blessing to others. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men especially those who believe. That revenging, ransoming, and redeeming work of Jesus Christ is of benefit to all mankind but only as the people of God manifest the kingdom. This is why our cultivation of the new creation must extend beyond personal piety. Christianity is a practical religion. It brings blessing to those who embrace it – beginning in this life.
With a lasting legacy
And it is a legacy of blessing that does not end. This is where the chiasm throws the emphasis. In a sense this is the promise: that God would make Abraham's name great.
The Hebrew word translated as "name" carries with it the idea of a memorial or a marker. This is to say that God is telling Abraham his name will outlast him. He is telling Abraham that his name will be majestic and honored and associated with all of these things we have looked at thus far. With the emphasis thrown on this point of the chiasm we come to realize that all of these blessings, the building of the new house all of the glory of God recognized in the affirmation of the sovereignty; all of these things focus on the everlasting nature of the covenant.
You'll note that the other fifth point in the chiasm (coupled with the promise that Abraham's name would be great), is the simple statement that Abraham departed his homeland and later arrived in Canaan. This ties together the entire covenant relationship. If you look back at the second presentation of point one (the second time we see the "A" in the chiasm), it says that Abraham went out as the Lord told him. This is an affirmation of the sovereignty of God. The other tie in is the arrival in Canaan which points to the blessing. It is the blessing of ownership and property that is emphasized in the fourth point of the covenant sequence. In other words the chiasm concludes in a way that should draw our attention to the entire covenant relationship. Once again it is an emphasis on the comprehensive nature of this covenant relationship. It is because God is sovereign and it is because of the new Universal House and because of the panoptic standard and the blessings which come to the people of God that there is a lasting legacy. If we remove any other point of the covenant sequence we are left with a temporary benefit.
Hence, the reason the chiasm brings our attention to the legacy. Because we live in the age of the messianic reign we understand this legacy is all about Jesus Christ.
In our reading from the book of Galatians we were reminded that the promise was made to Abraham and his seed and that seed is Jesus Christ. Therefore if we are in Christ then we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise.
The eternal nature of the covenant is wholly dependent on Jesus Christ. Abraham's name is great and his legacy survives only because of Jesus Christ. It is not merely the memory of Abraham's existence that is referenced when we say his name is great and that his legacy indoors. It is his relationship with Almighty God and the existence of his offspring Jesus Christ the son of man which makes all the difference in the world.
We may think the existence of the Jewish nation or even the existence of the Arabic people would somehow be enough to ensure Abraham a lasting legacy. However, that is not the case. There are any number of well-known men in history from whom nations have arisen. There are famous names from antiquity which millions of people revere. For instance, Confucius is a man with a spiritual progeny numbering in the billions. But that doesn't make his name great. That doesn't mean he is a lasting legacy – a legacy which extends through eternity. No, it is much more than physical offspring which God had in view when he promised Abraham that his name would be great. It is spiritual offspring, brought into the family of God by the blood of Jesus Christ that is the center of this promise. It is the family of God called by the name of the Messiah - a vast multitude - which is the center of this promise. Is the eternal body of Jesus Christ, the eternal bride of the Son, the eternal Assembly of God's people which is the center of this promise.
More than that, it is the reputation and the name of Jesus Christ which is the center of this promise. God's promise was to Abraham and his seed - that seed is Jesus Christ. That being the case we need to understand that the family of God, the multitude called by the name of the Messiah are to be a memorial to the name of Christ. He lives forever, enthroned in the heavens. But here on earth we are called to represent and to "mark" the name of Jesus Christ so that all who see us proclaim "great is the name of the Lord."
That's the center of this covenant promise. That is the emphasis of this covenant promise. It is the name and reputation of Jesus Christ. God will have the name of Christ be great. He will have a people who live up to the name of Jesus Christ so as to make that name great.
We do so as we manifest the kingdom of God; the name of Jesus Christ is made great in this world as we demonstrate the rule and the reign of Jesus Christ in our life on a moment by moment basis. That is how God has chosen to fulfill this promise. He could have done it any way he wanted. Yet the name of Jesus Christ is made great in this realm through the obedience of his people.