Our topic for this series has been “The God of Missions.” The overarching question is “What does a study of God teach us about missions?” In each post, we are looking at one aspect of God to see how that aspect relates to missions. Each has posed a narrower question to help focus our study. First, we asked what a study of God’s character teaches us about missions, and we discovered that God’s character makes missions inevitable. Then, we asked what a study of God’s commission teaches about missions, and we discovered that God’s commission makes missions central.
This time, we will look at our third and final question: What does a study of God’s covenant teach us about missions? There are actually two ways to look at the idea of covenant, especially in the Old Testament. One way emphasizes discontinuity; the other emphasizes continuity. In this brief study, we’re going to approach the idea from the perspective of continuity. The idea of God’s unfolding covenant of grace, though, isn’t really very different from the idea of God’s unfolding plan of redemption. It simply uses a different overarching concept. We’re going to begin with the first covenant God made with humankind after the fall, and trace the way the seed of that covenant grows and blossoms using five the Old Testament passages.
We could spend multiple studies on this passage, but I’m sure you recognize that verse 15 is the key. In verse 15, God promises that a human seed (descendant) of Adam and Eve will counteract the effects of the fall. Interestingly, Paul uses the same language in Romans 16:20 when he writes, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” So, Genesis 3 is the starting point of God’s covenant: a human redeemer will overcome the work that Satan began at the fall.
After preserving Noah and his family from the destruction of the flood, God re-establishes his covenant with humankind. He promises never again to destroy the earth by water. In so doing, God makes it clear that he will continue the line of the redeemer he promised in Genesis 3:15. Interestingly, as we saw in the first study, Peter picks up this same idea in 2 Peter 3:9 when he highlights God’s patience in waiting for all who are his to come to repentance. So, Genesis 9 is the next step in God’s covenant: the preservation of the line of the promised redeemer.
You probably know this passage pretty well. When God calls Abram to leave Haran, he promises to give him a three-part inheritance: a land, a seed, and a blessing. The blessing will be both personal (v.2b) and universal (v.2c-3). It is so important that God repeats it four more times: twice to Abraham (Gen 18:18; 22:18), once to Isaac (Gen 26:24), and once to Jacob (Gen 28:14). Both Peter (Acts 3:25) and Paul (Gal 3:8) quote this specific promise in the NT. So, Genesis 12 makes explicit the scope of God’s covenant: it extends to “all the families of the earth.”
Before giving Moses and the Israelites the Ten Commandments, God makes it clear that what he is about to say is part of his covenant. Previously, that covenant had been with individuals; now, it is with the people of Israel. At the end of verse 6 God sets things in context by stating that “all the earth is mine.” Then, he promises to make his people “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v.7). We see that promise fulfilled in Revelation 5:10. In 1 Peter 2:9-10.Peter applies it to the Church and reminds us that our job as kings and priests is to proclaim God’s excellencies to those around us. So, Exodus 19 tells us what our role in the covenant will be: to represent him to “all the earth.”
Remember the promise of a human redeemer back in Genesis 3? The line of that promise passed through Noah to Abraham and on to David (2 Sam 7:8-17). Whenever you meet the king in the Psalms, it points both to David’s son and to God’s son, the Messiah. Here, we see God’s covenant with his Son. What does God promise his Son? He promises to give him the nations as his inheritance and the ends of the earth as his possession. Again, if you were to jump ahead to Revelation 7:9, you would see that promise fulfilled as men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation stand before God’s throne to worship him. So, Psalm 2 tells us that Messiah is the one who will bring God’s covenant to its conclusion.
What do we learn about God’s covenant from these verses? We learn . . .
That God initiated it.
That God preserved it.
That God intends it to bless all the families of the earth.
That God expects his people to tell others about it.
That God fulfilled it in his Son, the Messiah.
So, what does a study of God’s covenant teach us about missions? It teaches us that God’s covenant makes missions successful. Missions will ultimately be successful because God initiated it, preserved it, fulfilled it in his Son, and has set apart a people to tell others about it. There has never been any doubt that God will accomplish what he set out to do. We might fail in our role, but God has never failed in his.
When Jonah ran away from Nineveh, God sent a great fish to point him in the right direction. When his OT people failed as his witnesses (Isa 43:10, 12; 44:8), God commissioned his NT people to do that task (Acts 1:8). When the Early Church refused to leave Jerusalem, God sent persecution to get them moving (Acts 8:1).
God will succeed in his plan to bless all the families of the earth. The question is whether we will be part of what he is doing. Everyone wants to be part of a successful enterprise. Will you join God in this successful enterprise called “missions”?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary and School of Ministry
Our topic for this series is “The God of Missions.” The overarching question is “What does a study of God teach us about missions?” Each post looks at one aspect of God to see how that aspect relates to missions. Each time, the starting point is a narrower question that helps focus our study. The last time, we asked what a study of God’s character teaches us about missions, and we discovered that God’s character makes missions inevitable.
This time, we will look at a different question related to different passages. Our question is: What does a study of God’s commission teach us about missions? Again, there are five passages to explore. You know them well: they are the five “commissioning “passages in the Gospels and Acts. Let’s take them one at a time.
Verses 16-17 describe the disciples’ condition for that activity: obedience, worship, and doubt. The single task in verses 18-20 is “make disciples” (v.19a). Verse 18 provides the sovereign foundation for that activity: Jesus’ initiative and authority.
Three participles provide the practical means by which the disciples are to carry out their task: going, baptizing, and teaching (v.19-20a). Verse 20b provides the unshakeable reassurance we need to disciple the nations: Jesus’ constant presence with us. What’s the scope of this task? Of course, it’s “all the nations.”
Here again, the disciples’ condition is negative: unbelief and hardness of heart (v.14). Here the task is to “preach the gospel” (v.15). The means are going (v.15) and baptizing (v.16) The reassurance is provided by the miraculous signs that will accompany those who have believed (v.17-18). Again, what is the scope of the task? It’s “in all creation.”
Luke’s account approaches things a little differently, but the similarities are striking. The disciples need help because Jesus had to open their minds to understand the Scriptures (v.45). The task is to “[proclaim] repentance for forgiveness of sins in [Jesus’] name” (v.47). No specific means are mentioned, but the foundation for their activity is the OT Scriptures (v.46). The reassurance lies in the Father’s promise that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them (v.49). And what is the scope of their task? Again, it’s “to all the nations.”
John definitely comes at things from a different perspective, but the pieces are still there. What is the disciples condition? Fear (v.19). The task Jesus gives them is to “forgive . . . and retain sins” (v.23). That is, they are to carry on Jesus’ ministry, since he forgave sins as well as retaining them (cf. Matt 9:1-8; John 8:21-24). No means are mentioned, but the foundation for their activity is the same as Father gave Jesus for his ministry. He now delegates that authority to his disciples (v.21). The reassurance is the gift of the Holy Spirit (v.22). The scope is open-ended and extends to “any” whose sins are forgiven (v.23).
For Luke, Jesus’ commission is so important, he gives us two accounts: one at the end of Luke and one at the beginning of Acts. Not surprisingly, the disciples needed their focus adjusted (v.6). The task is to “be [Jesus’] witnesses” (v.8). No means are mentioned, but the Father’s authority is (v.7). Reassurance is provided by the power connected with the Holy Spirit’s coming (v.8). The statement of the scope is possibly the best known of all: “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (v.8).
What do we learn from these five passages? What do they have in common?
(doubt, unbelief, lack of understanding, fear, wrong focus)
(make disciples, preach the gospel, proclaim forgiveness, forgive sins, be witnesses)
(God’s presence, signs, the Holy Spirit – 3x)
(all the nations – 2x, all creation, any who believe, the ends of the earth)
So, what does a study of God’s commission teach us about missions? It teaches us that God’s commission makes missions central. When God says something five different times, it’s important. When God repeats so many ideas, they’re important. When God makes a point of the universal scope of the task, it’s important. Taken together, these commissioning accounts represent Jesus’ “marching orders” for his Church. Missions is central to what we are supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus Christ. How central is it to what you are doing?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary & School of Ministry
Our topic for this series is “The God of Missions.” The overarching question is “What does a study of God teach us about missions?” We will approach the answer to that question inductively by looking at passages related to a specific question and seeking to draw a conclusion from those passages.
In this post and the two that follow, we will look at three aspects of God to see how each relates to missions. Each post will use a narrower question to help focus our study. In this post, the question is: What does a study of God’s character teach us about missions? Let’s try to answer that question by looking at five passages.
Let’s begin with one of Jesus’ parables. What aspect of God’s character do we see in this parable? With a parable, we’re always trying to identify the central point Jesus wanted to make. What point is Jesus trying to make in this parable? It looks as though he tells us pretty clearly in verse 7. Remember that Matthew was writing to Jewish-background readers, who were reluctant even to mention God’s name. When Jesus talks about “rejoicing in heaven,” he’s talking about the place where God’s throne is. So, what is he saying? Jesus is saying that God himself rejoices when a sinner repents. In this parable, then, we see an important aspect of God’s character; we see God’s great rejoicing when a sinner repents
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? We all know these verses pretty well, don’t we? They actually tell us quite a bit about missions. They tell us that the motive for missions is God’s love (v.16), the scope of missions is God’s world (v.16), the objective of missions is God’s salvation (v.17), and the ambassador of missions is God’s son (v.17).
Let’s focus on verse 16, though. The heart of the idea is in the statement “God loved the world.” That statement tells us about the scope of God’s love: God’s love extends beyond a particular ethnic group (e.g., Nicodemus and the Jews) to all of humankind. John describes it this way in Revelation: men and women from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. That is the scope of God’s love.
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Paul says that God has chosen to extend his mercy to both Gentiles and Jews alike. Why? Because it makes his glory know. It is to his glory that he extends his mercy to the Gentiles who were Anot God=s people@ (v.25-26), and it is to his glory that he extends his mercy to the Jews who deserve the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah (v.27-29). So, in Romans, we actually see two aspects of God’s character; we see God’s mercy and his glory as they relate to both Jew and Gentile.
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Several are mentioned: mercy and love (v.4), kindness (v.7), and grace twice (v.5, 7). Since we have already looked at God’s love and mercy, let’s think about God’s grace for a minute. These verses highlight two aspects of that grace. Of course, there is saving grace (v.5; cf. v.8), and that’s where we tend to focus. But look at verse 7 – “the surpassing riches of his grace.” The Greek word translated “surpassing” means to go beyond all expectation or comprehension, and the word translated “riches” means an abundance exceeding the norm. Put them together and you get grace that is so great, it goes beyond what we could ever imagine, and there would still be leftovers.
2 Peter 3:3-9
What aspect of God’s character do we see in these verses? Take a look at verse 9. What attribute of God does Peter highlight? It’s his patience, isn’t it? Some scoffers will tell us that it’s clear Jesus will never return because he has waited so long (v.3-4). Peter tells us that the delay in Jesus’ return is evidence of God’s patience (v.9). He is waiting patiently until he brings in all those who are his. We deserve judgment, but God delays that judgment so that he can save all those who repent and turn to him. In fact Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s patience is what leads to repentance
What do we learn about God’s character from these five passages? We learn . . .
That God rejoices greatly when a single sinner repents.
That God’s love extends to all peoples.
That God does what he does out of his mercy and for his glory.
That God’s grace goes beyond what we could ever imagine.
That God is waiting patiently for all those who are his to repent and come to forgiveness.
So, what does a study of God’s character teach us about missions? It teaches us that God’s character makes missions inevitable. God must act to reach individuals from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation with the gospel because his character demands it. A gracious, merciful, loving, patient God who acts to demonstrate his own glory and rejoices when a single sinner repents must act in accordance with his character and, therefore, must make certain the gospel is proclaimed “in the whole world” and “to all the nations” (Matt 24:14). There is no other option.
What are the implications for us? As followers of Jesus Christ, the same Holy Spirit who is part of the Trinity dwells in each one of us. That means God’s character should be our character. In fact, the Spirit is trying to help us develop that character each day as we walk with Jesus Christ. So, if God must act to make certain the gospel is proclaimed to all the nations in the whole world, we must also. We will see that even more clearly in our second study, but for now, the question is: How well is your character aligned with the character of the God of missions?
Written by Dr. John Harvey, Dean of CIU's Seminary & School of Ministry