The God of Missions: His Covenant
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