We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called Epic!
John Burke spoke at Gateway McNeil, and I spoke at Gateway South.
Here are some of the notes from the message:
Have you ever have to let go of a dream or a relationship? Have you ever had to make a sacrifice of something you love?
It is easy to trust in God when everything is going great! Very little faith is required! A deep faith is necessary to trust God when things are not going well. Shallow faith gives up.
Our faith is made real in the midst of suffering and sacrifice.
If you walk closely with God, there comes a time where it feels like you’re being asked to lay down something big—something you’ve put all your hope in, you’ve trusted in for life and a future. Why would God ask for such a thing?
In the Scriptures, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It seems wrong. Unless you understand this story in the context of the Big Story, you can really misunderstand.
The Bible is an Epic Story, of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and ultimate Restoration. If you zoom out all the way, on the Largest Scale it’s the story of God pursuing a love relationship with humanity. If you zoom in mid-view, you see a story of God and the nation of Israel, and if you zoom in all the way, you see a personal story of God and you. Every story, poem, command, and letter applies to you personally. If we don’t have the Big Picture, we often miss the personal application. So today, we zoom in mid-range to look at why God Chose Israel, and how he wants to choose and lead each of us in a similar way.
In Genesis, about 2000 B.C., God chose Abraham and Sarah, a couple full of faith, to create a Chosen nation—Jewish Nation. Chosen is a very misunderstood term—it doesn’t mean better than, or more valued than, it means “set apart for a purpose.” God declared that purpose in Genesis 12:1-3.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3
God chooses Abraham and Sarah to create a nation, but for a distinct purpose: To bless all nations! God says, I will lead you to a land, I will make you into a great nation, through you I will bless all peoples on earth. Close 500 times in the Bible, God speaks of all nations! God doesn’t play favorites. When He chooses some, it’s not because they’re better but for the sake of others also.
How is God going to bless all nations?
God will create a nation set apart with very distinct laws and protections to do two things:
1. Record and preserve God’s Words through the prophets.
2. To foretell and prepare His own self-revelation in Human History as the Messiah.
Abraham and Sarah had a crisis of faith. God promised them a child, yet they were not able to get pregnant. God says “trust me—I’ll make a way” and after 10 years of waiting (and a few big mistakes along the way – see Having Sex with Hagar for more on this), Isaac is born. God came through—all his promises are true. God’s going to bless the nations through Issac, and then when Isaac is about in his teenage years, God throws a curve ball: “Go sacrifice your son.”
Why would God ask Abraham to lay down Isaac?
It’s confusing because He will say again and again NEVER to offer your children as a sacrifice. Here we see a very important principle in interpreting the Bible: In confusing texts, understand the immediate context and the Bigger Context of what God reveals or you can get it very wrong.
The immediate context shows that God doesn’t want Abraham to kill Isaac, and Abraham knows this. And the bigger context shows us that this is a prophetic drama showing how God will bless all nations.
“Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called…“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” – Genesis 22:1-2
It says, the next day Abraham took Isaac and 2 servants and traveled 3 days to a very specific place God showed him—Mount Moriah.
Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” – Genesis 22:5
Abraham had seen God come through on what He promised over and over, and Abraham knew God had promised to bless all nations through Isaac—so even if God was asking him to lay down his only son, somehow God would resurrect Isaac “we will worship, and we will come right back” Abraham said.
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders.
– Genesis 22:6
On the way up the mountain, Isaac says, “Dad, we have the wood and fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? Abraham said, ‘God will provide the lamb.”
Mount Moriah means “On this mountain God will provide.” 1000 years later, King David will build Jerusalem on Mount Moriah. 2000 years later, God’s own Son, Jesus, will carry the wood on his shoulders up the same mountain, and God will provide the final sacrifice to cover the sins of all the nations.
This is real history, real places, and a real God revealing his great love for all nations – starting 4000 years ago.
All these stories also apply to us personally.
In the midst of suffering and sacrifice, we can feel God’s presence even more. He cares for us, and sometimes we will not know how much until we are in the midst of painful times.
- What are you holding onto tightly for your life and future?
- If God asks you to lay it down, will you trust that God will provide something even better?
Fast forward 400 years and the nation of Israel has grown in the land of Egypt. God sent them there to bless Egypt and the nations suffering famine. Unfortunately, the last generation of Egyptian Pharaohs forgot God’s blessing through Israel and enslaved the Israelites as cheap labor. God hears the cries of Israel to rescue them, and He raises up Moses, a Hebrew baby who should have been killed when Pharaoh decreed that all male Hebrew babies be killed. Miraculously, God leads Pharaoh’s daughter to rescue and raise Moses as her own. Moses will deliver Israel from slavery and lead them back to Palestine: the land God promised to Abraham
After Genesis, the next 4 books of the Bible (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) all cover this period of time around 1500 BC when Moses leads Israel out of Egypt and back to Palestine.
Exodus is the story of God setting Israel free from slavery.
Giving Pharoah chance after chance to free the people of Israel through 10 plagues of warning. Pharaoh hardens his heart until finally God gave him over to a hard heart. The last plague of warning is important because it became the Passover Festival of Israel which is also a foreshadowing of Christ. Moses told Pharoah 9 times you said you’d let Israel go but didn’t. “Let my people go, or every firstborn son will die.”
Then God said this as an act of mercy. “Even if Pharaoh hardens his heart, I will forbid this plague from harming any people (Jews or Egyptians) who trust in me by taking a lamb’s blood and marking their door so that the angel of death will Passover that house. The Passover celebration every year for the next 1500 years, foretold and symbolized God’s provision to pay for all our sins so that eternal Death would Passover all who trust in Him. Every year, on Yom Kippur a lamb was Sacrificed to take away the sins of the previous year. Amazingly, for 1500 years after the Exodus sacrifices were made. Then Jesus was sacrificed on Mount Moriah as the final Passover Lamb. It was on the Passover that the Jewish Pharisees and the Roman government crucified Jesus. Within just a few years of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, all Jewish sacrifices stopped because the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. That’s why Jesus is called “The Lamb of God”—the final sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world.
The Pharaoh finally let’s the people go. Exodus tells of how Moses led them out. Pharaoh chases them down and pins them against the Red Sea, yet God miraculously makes a way through for Israel and puts and end to Pharaoh’s oppression. Two months later, they get to Mt. Sinai where God will establish a Covenant with the people—called the Mosaic Covenant. On Mt. Sinai, God says:
You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ – Exodus 19:4-6
The Abrahamic Covenant was God’s promise to bless all nations through Israel and it was unconditional.
The Mosaic Covenant was conditional. God wanted them to be a Holy Nation which means “set apart” for God’s purposes. They were to be a nation of priests helping connect people to God. All the laws (ceremonial and civil) are spelled out in Leviticus so that all the nations would see how much God would bless them as they follow his will and ways. The Mosaic Covenant was conditional. If you obey then you will be blessed. If you rebel then you will suffer the consequences.
The purpose of the law was to show us there are natural consequences when you go against the ways God intended us to live and love. It’s just the law of reaping and sowing We reap what we sow.
Leviticus is the giving of the Mosaic Law – the spelling out of the moral laws and consequences.
A big question that often comes up reading Leviticus is “which Old Testament laws apply today and which don’t?”
You have to interpret Scripture in light of Scripture. The Old Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants were pointing toward the New Covenant Jesus would make to bless all people. If we don’t interpret the Old in light of the New, we will misinterpret. Jesus is what the Old Testament was pointing to, so we must interpret the less clear revelation in light of the most clear revelation of God.
I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. – Matthew 5:17
Their purpose was to show us why we need Christ and to lead us to a faith that changes our hearts. Here’s an interpretive key that Paul explains in Galatians 3:
“Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.
– Galatians 3:6-7
Faith or trust was always what made a person right with God. And we see here that all the promises to Israel had a mid-level context to the physical nation, but there’s a personal application to all who are made right with God by Faith, like Abraham.
Paul goes on to explain:
19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins… So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. – Galatians 3:19-25
We are no longer under the Mosaic “if…then” law, but that doesn’t mean we are to be less ethical or less moral or less godly than the law lays out. What Jesus was leading us to is a way for God to live among us and live through us by faith so we don’t just keep the letter of the law and resist “killing each other.” Instead, by His Spirit we learn to love even our enemies. We don’t just refrain from “committing adultery.” Instead, by His Spirit we learn to treat each other as whole, valuable spiritual creatures that we don’t want to sexually use. The Way of the Spirit surpasses the way of the Law.
So what do we do when we read Old Testament laws?
Here are some principles of interpretation and application:
1. DEVELOP UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES FROM THE TEXT
Behind the Mosaic commands for the original audience lie universal, timeless principles. Each of the Old Testament laws had a meaning for its first audience, related to the Old Covenant. But that meaning is usually based on a broader, universal truth, applicable to all God’s people. The principle:
(a) It should be reflected in the text,
(b) it should be timeless,
(c) it should correspond to the theology of the rest of Scripture,
(d) it should not be culturally bound, and
(e) it should be consistent with the character of God, the nature of sin, the issue of obedience, and concern for people across the Bible.
2. CORRELATE THE PRINCIPLE WITH NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING
Filter the universal principle through the New Testament teaching which sometimes repeats a law emphasizing it’s to be obeyed as a commandment of Christ. Sometimes the New Testament modifies or expands a law. Like Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery,” is expanded to the heart and mind controlled by God’s Spirit doesn’t want to lust. So interpret the Old in light of the New.
3. APPLY THE MODIFIED UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLE TO LIFE TODAY
In 1 Corinthians it says about Old Testament history:
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did…These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us. – 1 Corinthains 10:6, 11
We can learn from the mistakes of others in the Scriptures.
Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech after the people of Israel had wandered for 40 years.
At this point, Israel is on the edge of entering the Promised Land. Moses reminds them of God’s faithfulness and tells them that Loving God first is what it’s all about. He reminds them of the Mosaic Covenant and laws and then he says this universal principle: God chooses you and calls you to be holy to represent His love. He wants to lead you into LIfe:
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life. – Deuteronomy 30:19-20
You’ve been chosen. When you say “yes” to God and follow Jesus, like the people of Israel, you are to be set apart in your behavior and sent out in your relationships. We are to be transformed (holy) and reaching out to love, serve, and influence our neighbors.
What do you need to sacrifice in order to be the person God wants you to be?