The Church: Heirs of the Prophets

What makes a prophet a prophet? Why does Peter in Acts 3:24–26 refer to his hearers as heirs of the prophets? And what do our Old Testament readings from Numbers 12:1–9 and Deuteronomy 18:14–22 have to do with the church. Are you, this congregation, heirs of the prophets?

What makes a prophet? A prophet fore-tells and tells forth God’s Word. His job is two-fold. We often think of a prophet as giving what we call prophecy, a foretelling of the future. Certainly the Old Testament prophets did that, as Peter mentions in his message in the Temple as he preaches to the crowd attracted by the formerly lame man leaping and praising God. But a prophet also forth-tells or proclaims God’s Word. That is also involved in Peter’s view of what the prophets did, and what he was doing. The miracle of healing the lame man and the sermon went hand in hand. Why did this miracle take place? What is the blessing of the one whom Peter repeatedly refers to as the Servant? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Peter records this miracle to show you that God is going to give you whatever healing or blessing you claim. Tragically, one of America’s prominent religious exports to the third world is the health and wealth gospel—which is no gospel at all. The focus moves away from Christ and his work to the healer and his supposed miracles. Instead, Peter tells you, this miracle of healing (note that Dr. Luke describes specifically the feet and ankles that are healed) is the result of the exaltation of the Messiah. Isaiah 35 looked forward to the coming of the messianic kingdom. In it the lame would leap for joy. Peter, in effect is saying, “Look! That’s what has happened here!” This miracle, like the ones Jesus performed during his earthly ministry, are visible forms of the proclamation of the kingdom. It is a foretaste of the times of refreshing which the Servant brings about by his suffering, death, and resurrection. The kingdom Jesus established is here, ever since his resurrection and ascension. But it is also future. Times of refreshing are anticipated! “Viewed against the background of prophetic promise, these early signs of Jesus’ power to rescue and repair by his Spirit reveal that the church’s life is now a first installment and preview of the peace, purity, love, and joy of the world to come, even in the midst of the old creation’s present pollution, decay, and death.” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 56).

Continue reading
Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: Heirs of the Prophets

The Church: God’s Treasured People

What is the most awe-inspiring experience you have had? Israel had experienced much as they had been delivered from Egypt—but what God was doing at Sinai was greater. Although centuries earlier God had made his covenant with Abraham, from whom Israel descended (and you can look all the way back to Eden and find the substance of God entering into a covenant with our first parents), here in Exodus 19:3–6 God makes his covenant with his people, Israel. As we will see, this is not just historical trivia, but it is a specific instance of the covenant relationship God has with you, his people.

Continue reading
Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: God’s Treasured People

The Church: Protected by the Blood of the Lamb

“Israel is my firstborn son, let my son go,” had been the Lord’s command to Pharaoh in Exodus 4:22–23. He had refused, and the plagues began. As you come to Exodus 12, you find that this tenth plague is not just one more, like the others. It is not that this is just the last little bit that tips the scale for Pharaoh and persuades him to release Israel. Rather, it is a defining moment, not just for Israel, but for all of God’s people through the ages—including you.

Continue reading
Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: Protected by the Blood of the Lamb

The Church: Walking before the Lord

What does the Bible teach us about the church? What is the church? A key concept is that of covenant, and it comes to clear expression in Genesis 17:1–8. Abraham—and you—are called to walk before the Lord and be blameless!

Rely on God’s covenant faithfulness. Listen to God’s name, El-Shaddai, or God Almighty. The name is used four more times in Genesis and once in Exodus. It seems to refer to the sovereign power of God (Isaiah 13:6; Joel 1:15). But it is not simply raw power, but the power of God directed to the preservation and blessing of his people. God uses a name that reminds you of his faithfulness, particularly in the context of the covenant he makes.

This God has made his covenant with you. Though the word covenant is not used in Genesis 12, God’s promises (descendants, possession of the land, being blessed and being a blessing) are the same as what you see here in Genesis 17, where God explicitly makes his covenant with Abraham, changing his name to reflect his blessing. Back in Genesis 15 you read of the covenant-making ceremony that God brought to Abram in a vision. God initiates the covenant. It’s not the result of negotiations or bargaining. What is a covenant between God and man? “This covenant [with Abraham], initiated, established, defined in promises and commands, and even guaranteed to be everlasting, by the sole sovereignty of the Lord God Almighty, is nevertheless a union of God with his people. It is the same union that comes to expression in the New Testament phrase ‘in Christ.’ This is the essence of the covenant concept, the essence of all true religion. The covenant God made with the man from Ur is the union God has established with his own in Christ Jesus, himself the epitome of covenant as the incarnate God-and-man, Immanuel. There is no more glorious concept given to men than this: God with us!” (John J. Mitchell, “Abram’s Understanding of the Lord’s Covenant,” The Westminster Theological Journal, XXXII, No. 1, November 1969, p. 48). The covenant sign of circumcision denotes far more than national identity. It is a sign and seal of God’s special relationship with his people. Thus the Bible can talk of circumcising the heart and ear, Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 9:25–26. It is the blessing of God’s presence with his people—but also carries the threat, that if his people spurn his covenant, God will cut them off. In Colossians 2 Paul makes the point that what the Old Testament signified and sealed has become a reality, has been fulfilled in Christ. Note how he uses the terms circumcision and baptism in a parallel way. The church is the covenant community today—no longer primarily genetic descendants of Abraham, but all of those who share the faith of Abraham. The New Testament sign has changed, but the basic covenant relationship remains the same. Continue reading

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: Walking before the Lord

The Church: God’s Blessing to the Nations

In many ways the church is a counter-cultural institution. We gather on Sunday morning when many are sleeping in or watching sports on TV. We sing. We pray. We listen to a Book being read and preached. We eat a small piece of bread and drink a small cup of wine. Is this just a strange habit we have picked up, or is there more behind it? Is this something we just do as individuals, doing our own thing, or is God doing something to us and through us in the world? The session has asked me to preach a series of sermons looking what the Bible says about the church. Our focus this morning is Genesis 12:1–3, an important passage, even though the word “church” is not used in it.

See God working out his plan. God lays a foundation for his church. You can go back much earlier than Abram to see the beginning of the church. About a month ago, looking forward to what took place with the incarnation, we looked at Genesis 3 and 4. God created mankind to have fellowship with him. Eden was a wonderful place, not only as a wonderful garden, but God appeared to Adam and Eve. He had fellowship with them. He spoke with them. Even in Eden mankind needed God’s verbal revelation. You could say that God, as a special act of providence, entered into a covenant with mankind. That is sometimes call the covenant of life or the covenant of works. Eden was not designed to be a permanent place of testing. Adam had the Tree of Life held out for him—if he obeyed. But you know that he sinned. And as our covenant representative, that impacted you and me. You, like Adam and Eve, are made in God’s image. Thus sin, at its basic level, not just something to avoid because of bad (terrible) consequences. “The downside of sin is not only its consequences, but sin itself is an act of deprivation. For me to sin is to deprive myself of the enjoyment of God.” (from a lecture by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.). The genealogy of Shem is God preparing a line. Adam and Eve had sinned, but God promised a Redeemer. Sin continued to grow. The Flood condemned sin, while at the same time it brought deliverance for Noah and his family. Babel shows that the heart of mankind continues to be rebellious. The implication of the death of each member continues in the genealogy of Genesis 11, parallel to Genesis 5. The rest after the Flood does not mean the end of sin or its consequences. The situation is bleak and God, dealing with Abram, graciously renews the promise of the coming Messiah. Continue reading

Posted in Reflections | Comments Off on The Church: God’s Blessing to the Nations