Posted by: Jim Black | December 20, 2010

Missio Dei: #2 The Role of Israel

    We’ve been talking this month about the Mission of God (the Missio Dei) and looking at what he has been doing in our world… what he is doing now… and what he wants to do in the future. And we’ve asked this question… because we want to know what He wants US to do as a church… what role WE have to play in this mission? We’ve seen that his intention/ goal is… to reconcile “all things in earth & heaven” back unto Himself. (cf. Col. 2) It is a rescue operation! He wants to RESCUE his fallen creation from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ! That is what he has been up to since the very beginning and will continue to work towards until all things have actually been brought back unto him.

     As we think about the Mission of God… and as we try to find OUR mission as a church within God’s mission… I want to zero in on the role that Israel has played in that mission. How did God use his chosen, covenant people to further that plan? I realize, we don’t usually begin here. Usually when we’re talking about the mission of the church we only go back so far as Acts and the “birthday” of the church on Pentecost. Or we talk about the acts of worship and Rick Warren’s five purposes of the church. But I believe it the mission of the church today is not only rooted in the mission of God but is also seen in the mission he gave Israel! WE are the chosen, covenant people of God… chosen IN CHRIST to fulfill his mission… to continue that mission!

     Let’s go back to the Biblical story… as we have it in the OT. The situation presented by the end of Gen. 3 is a bleak one! Sin had entered into God’s good creation and wreaked absolute havoc! With sin had come death, disease, decay, the curse of the ground, fracture in human relationships, separation & alienation from God! Mankind is cast out of the Garden of Eden and into a world of sin & death… ruled by the one who deceived them in the first place! And as you read further… things don’t get much better! In fact, they get progressively worse! In ch. 4… brother kills brother… the sons of Adam & Eve turned against one another. In ch. 6 & 7… things had gotten so bad (in fact it says that every inclination of their hearts were evil all the time) that God decided to bring judgment in the form of a massive flood to wipe the slate clean… choosing to save only Noah & his family.

     But the fundamental nature of man hasn’t been changed… and by the time ch. 11 comes along civilization is right back where it was before Noah. At the height of human arrogance and pride… mankind chooses to build a tower that reaches into the heavens. Driven out of an ambition to “make a name for themselves” they set about building the tower of Babel! When God acts to scatter them across the land… we get a sense for just how far mankind has fallen. Instead of glorifying God… they have sought a name for themselves. Instead of spreading out & multiplying… they have come together to see if they could be gods themselves. Instead of tending to God’s good creation as He had intended in the Garden… they had to work the cursed ground it by the sweat of their brow. Even the blessing of childbirth… would come with pain & labor!

     By the end of ch. 11 the reader is left to ask… “What can be done? What could God do?” Then he does something only God could have come up with! God sees an elderly, childless couple in the land of Babel itself and decides to make them the launching pad of his whole mission to rescue all of creation! The call of Abraham in Gen. 12 is the beginning of God’s mission to restore his fallen creation and fix once & for all the sin-problem within the human heart. Who would have thought?

Our mission begins here.

Genesis 12:1-3
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” NIV

     In spite of everything that has happened… in spite of the sin, the rebellion and all the chaos that has ensued… God still wants to bless his people! The word “blessing” is used 5 times here… in 3 verses! And indeed he was greatly blessed! As an old man he became the father of Isaac, the child of the promise! And the patriarch of a great nation! His descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashores! His flocks were bountiful and his family prosperous. But look at the WHY…
“I will bless you… & you will be a blessing.” “I will bless those who bless you & all peoples will be blessed through you.”
The purpose of the blessing wasn’t just to make Abraham or the nation of Israel healthy, wealthy & wise… it was to bless others! But the story doesn’t end there…


     Exodus tells of the incredible Rescue Operation… the sending of Moses, an unlikely hero, back to secure the release of his people from the clutches of the powerful Pharaoh! It isn’t accomplished by clever diplomacy or military might… but by the power of God as the mighty Pharaoh pits himself up against the power of God… and loses! The children of Israel are led up out of the land and into a land flowing with milk & honey. And again, so long as they were obedient & faithful they were blessed by God. They received the land of promise just as God had said.


     That was the point of Sinai and the giving of the Law. God says to his people, “I’ll be your God and you be my people.” This is the way I want you to walk… and in turn, I’ll always be there for you. I’ll give you this land and again, I will make you a light unto the world! And the bulk of our Old Testaments is the telling of this story… how as Israel did what God had for them to do… everything went well… but how so very often they forgot or failed… and God used every tool at his disposal to discipline them… to rebuke them… to teach them. He used prophets & priests & kings…

     We understand the mighty things God did… all of the mighty ways he acted in the Old Testament… but to what end? For what purpose? Again… “to bless the nations.” Over & over again in Scripture… we are told that Israel existed for the purpose of “blessing the nations.” God hadn’t called Abraham just so he could save Abraham or even Abraham’s family… but so that he could save the world! In Isaiah 49 (the text that Paul had quoted from at Antioch.) God spoke to Israel directly and says, (vs. 6) “Its too small a thing for you to be my servant and for you to just restore the tribes of Jacob… or rescue those of Israel.” In other words… I’ve got BIGGER plans for you! I want to make you a light for the Gentiles.. so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth! God chose Israel and he blessed them… so that they would be a blessing to the nations. Isn’t that what Jesus meant for the church when he told his disciples to go and make disciples of the nations?

     Israel WAS a blessing to the nations… As long as they modeled God’s character before the nations…! Did you ever wonder why the OT Law seems to be so… difficult? So harsh? Why was God so hard on the people he loved? Its because their mission was to model God’s character before the nations! God called Israel to a higher standard than everybody else—NOT because they were better or because God loved them more—but because their job was to show the world who God was! They wore the name of God… in a sense… and their conduct was a reflection of who HE was! He said in 2 Chronicles 7:14
“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” NIV
Did your Momma & Daddy ever tell you as you headed out the door with your friends… “Remember who you are”? You bear the family name and what you do out in the world comes back as a reflection on the whole family… and particularly your father.

     God didn’t want Israel doing anything out in the world that went against His nature, His character…. b/c they were representing him! Lev 11:45 God tells them, “Be holy because I am holy.” The ethical standards for Israel were high because they were representing God! By the way, that admonition is repeated in 1 Peter 1:16 to the church! “Be holy… because I am holy.” As long as they modeled God’s character before the nations… and so can we!

      Israel WAS a blessing to the nations…As long as they were faithful to God’s covenant before the nations. The promise of blessing was dependent on their obedience to the covenant. They hadn’t done anything deserving of being God’s chosen people per se… BUT in order to receive the blessings that were promised… they had to abide in that covenant relationship! As long as they were obedient, they were blessed… but as often happened, when they were disobedient, there was trouble! That’s because God created this life and he knows how to live this life in a way that brings great blessing! Israel was supposed to live the righteous life and provide an example to the rest of the world.

     It wasn’t the Pavlovian idea of performing certain behaviors and God rewards with certain blessings. That’s how you train dogs, but that’s not what God was doing! Rather, its more the idea of being in a relationship with someone… like in a marriage. As long as you are in that relationship, you receive great blessing from being in it. The relationship itself is the blessing! It’s the same with God! As we walk with him, we enjoy the blessing of fellowship with our Heavenly Father! With that comes so many good things! As long as they obeyed the commands of God… and so are we! Israel was a blessing to the nations as long as they were faithful to the covenant… and so are we!

     Israel WAS a blessing to the nations…As long as they prepared the way for Christ before the nations. Part of their mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah! John the Baptist took that on as his personal mission… but it had been what Israel was supposed to have been doing since Sinai! THAT had been the purpose of the law!
Galatians 3:24
24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ…. NIV

     The people of Israel were supposed to be looking for the Messiah and pointing the people to Him! Of course, we know this is where they didn’t do such a ‘bang up’ job because when the Messiah DID come, so many of them didn’t believe. This is what Paul & Barnabas were pointing out to them in Antioch… how they had failed in this.

Are you still asking… What does this have to do with us?
Galatians 3:29
29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. NIV

     If we are in Christ, church, then we are in Abraham as well… we are Israel today! We are his heirs… heirs of his promise… AND (could I add) heirs of his mission? So, today, WE bless the nations (as Israel) by doing the same thing! WE, too, are called to represent God’s character before the nations! (1 Pet. 1:16 “Be holy because I am holy”) WE, too, are called to abide in his covenant… to be obedient to Christ. (Jn 14:15 “If you love me, you’ll do what I command.”)

     The church is the one organization on earth that exists to bless OTHERS… those outside the church! THAT is our mission! The church does not exist for us… it exists for them! God has blessed us, not just so we can sit back in our comfortable, warm pews & nice buildings singing catchy songs about him… He has blessed us so that we will go out there and bless others! What are we doing, church, to be a blessing to the nations? Our “Give Thanks” bags are great… but they are just the tip of the iceberg of what we could be doing!

What will we do?


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