Tag Archives: Abrahamic

The Jesus Covenant, Part 11: Building My Model

building-my-modelFor this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Ephesians 3:1-13 (ESV)

Why is Paul doing this to me? No, he’s not doing this to me, but why did he say, “this grace was given (to Paul), to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…”

But why is he bothering to preach the unsearchable riches of Messiah to the Gentiles? I mean, why go through all the trouble?

Oh yeah. There’s this:

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Acts 9:10-15 (ESV)

Jesus declared Saul (Paul) to be his “chosen instrument…to carry my name before the Gentiles…” So Jesus had this in mind all along.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

I’m indebted to Marc’s comment on Derek Leman’s blog for making me think of Ephesians 3 in relationship to the “mystery” of the New Covenant for Christians and to Proclaim Liberty’s comment on my own blog for attempting to take my investigation of the “New Covenant connection” one step further. film-noir-mystery

It seems clear that Messiah intended the Gentiles to be made into his disciples and that through him, we would be saved. He specifically commissioned Paul to be the emissary to the Gentiles and to preach the Gospel to us. Those facts are indisputable as we see them presented in the scriptures, but the “mechanics” of how we enter into any sort of covenant at all with God through Messiah remains a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to paraphrase Winston Churchill. I’ve been forced to reduce it down to a simple formula just to keep from going crazy. It is obvious to me from my reading of the Abrahamic covenant that the nations were always intended to benefit in connection to the Messiah.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

I created a detailed breakdown of the covenant God made with Abraham to illustrate that of all the provisions God created in the Abrahamic covenant, only one of them (see Genesis 12:1-3) has anything to do with the nations being blessed by Messiah. That provision is the starting point for my understanding of my connection to God through Christ. My simple formula for understanding “the Jesus covenant” is this:

  1. God creates a provision in his covenant with Abraham that allows the Gentiles to be blessed through Messiah (Abraham 12:1-3).
  2. The New Covenant (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) renews, affirms, and amplifies all of the previous covenants God made with the people of Israel and the people of Judah which, by definition, includes the Abrahamic covenant.
  3. Messiah alludes that the (new) covenant is poured out in his blood (death), (see Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20) for all people.
  4. Paul interprets the Abrahamic covenant provision referring to Gentiles as Messiah being our connection to God (see Galatians 3:15-16).
  5. Paul describes the process of Gentiles being made co-heirs to the Messianic promises through Messiah as a mystery (Ephesians 3:1-13).

Somehow in all of that is enough of a connection from the days of Abraham to the apostolic era (and forward in time to us) for me to be able to say that I really am attached to God in a (more or less) demonstrable way through Messiah Yeshua; through Christ Jesus. And as Proclaim Liberty states:

I can point to Zechariah and the Sukkot celebrations incumbent upon non-Jews in the messianic era. Remember that their participation was a requirement for rain upon their lands. Midrashically, there is a lot of significance to be derived from the concept “rain”. In fact, all manner of benefits upon non-Jews specifically can be derived from it. Combine this with Is.56 and Yehezkel 31 & 36 references, and one begins to see the formulation of a special vision for non-Jews — much better than mere “crumbs off the floor” (and, by the way, “dogs under the table” generally eat offerings from the childrens’ willing hands rather than from the floor).

There’s a lot I’ve left out such as the prophesy of Amos (Amos 9:11-12) referring to the “Gentiles who are called by My Name,” and of course, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples…” (Isaiah 56:7), but you get the idea.

Somehow, in some way, God has made a lasting provision for the people of the earth to be able to become attached to Him through the Messiah. Messiah directed the Jewish apostles to make Gentile disciples. Peter witnessed the Gentile Cornelius receiving the Holy Spirit and thus salvation without having to convert to Judaism. Paul was specifically commissioned by the Master to be his emissary to the nations and to preach the gospel of Christ to the goyim. Putting it all together should present us with a path for the Gentile to God. path-to-godIt’s there. It’s all there. It’s just hard to nail down the specifics.

My commentary on Brother Yun and Pastor Saeed Abedini shows us that being a faithful Gentile servant of God is more about faith, heart, devotion, and drive than the little bits and details we find in the Bible that make us (me) crazy, or the petty bickering we often find ourselves embroiled in on the Internet.

What is the purpose of the Torah in the lives of Jews today? When Messiah rebuilds the Temple in Holy Jerusalem, what role will the sacrifices play in the Messianic age? These are vitally important questions and they cannot be left in the mud waiting for the Messiah to come and pull them out, clean them off, and present them to us in pretty wrapping paper and tied up in a bow. But especially for the “Gentiles who are called by His Name,” it’s equally important to answer the basic questions, “Who am I?” Where do I belong?” “Does God care about me?” “What is my role in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40 (ESV)

If we Christians are searching for our “Torah,” I can think of no other teaching that we need to start out with than those words of the Master. If we are searching for covenant, we have it in Messiah. Having a relationship with God is like being married. While the marriage certificate is important, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless we actually live out the relationship in love and devotion. As time passes, the “marriage” grows, matures, and finally realizes its own magnificent potential, which was created by God for us through Messiah.

Addendum: One more valuable piece to this puzzle can be found by reading Gifts of the Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh.

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The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

For the past several installments of this series including Part 7, I’ve been focusing on aspects of the New Covenant, mainly because the little bits and pieces that relate to Christianity can only be tracked down in different parts of the New Testament. However, recent conversations have shown me that I should probably return to the foundation of my understanding for a bit to illustrate its solidity, or at least describe the trail of reasoning that I’m pursuing.

As you have probably guessed, it all goes back to Abraham and the covenant God announced to him in Genesis 12. But what exactly did God promise Abraham and what does it have to do with us, that is, with Christians?

Here’s my understanding:

  1. Genesis 12:1-3 – God promises to make Abraham into great nation, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.
  2. Genesis 15:18–21 – God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and this area is later referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel.
  3. Genesis 17:2–9 – God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants.
  4. Genesis 17:9-14 – God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

This covenant is then reaffirmed to Isaac in Genesis 21:12, and again reaffirmed to Jacob in Genesis 26:3-4. (the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 affirms and expands upon this and the Mosaic covenant) God confirmed that the promise of the covenant is specifically for the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the Children of Israel, in many places in the Torah, not the least of which is in Deuteronomy 34:4 (ESV):

And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

As far as the land of Israel goes, there is no provision in the covenant to give it to anyone or any other people group besides the Children of Israel and their descendants forever, the Jewish people.

That takes care of the Land. But what about us?

We learn from Galatians 3:15-16 which I quoted above, that through Abraham’s seed, through his offspring (singular) we among the nations would be blessed. Paul declares that the offspring in question is specifically the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our blessings that issue from the Abrahamic covenant are directly transferred to us through the Messiah.

So far, of the four items in the above-referenced list, only one of them seems to apply to Christians, the blessings of the Messiah.

What else do we know about the Messianic blessings in the Abrahamic covenant?

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

We see that it was Abraham’s faith that was counted to him as righteousness, and this was before the sign of the covenant was placed upon Abraham. We too, the “uncircumcised” of the nations, are called “righteous” because of our faith. Thus Abraham Avinu is our father, according to Paul, not just the father of the Hebrews. No, that doesn’t mean we are Hebrew (Jewish) too, nor does it mean we inherit the total body of covenant blessings and responsibilities that are incumbent upon the Jews, but it does make us connected to Abraham as the father of our faith, and through his covenant and the Messiah, with God.

This is kind of a delicate trail to negotiate, and we have to be careful that we don’t slip off the path and fall into erroneous thinking. The promise of the Land, and I believe the other specific promises, including the covenantal sign of circumcision, are for the physical descendants of Abraham and of Isaac, and of Jacob. That’s not the rest of us. That’s just the Jewish people.

In other words, all of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, including the blessings of the Messiah, flow to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The single blessing that we can be attached to through the Messiah is attached to Abraham alone, as he was before his circumcision, as he was before Isaac; a man of faith and righteousness before God.

That’s the split, the demarcation line between Christian and Jew, the slender thread of “covenanthood” by which we Gentile Christians are connected to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, and thus, to God.

So what do we get out of it? Well, first of all, a cautionary tale:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17-24 (ESV)

Paul seems to be toggling back and forth between addressing the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. “You wild olive branches, you Gentiles,” Paul is saying. “Don’t get cocky just because you were grafted in. Remember, it’s the root that nourishes you, not the other way around. You think you are so hot just because a few Jews were knocked off the root to make room for you Gentiles? So what,” he might be saying. “If you fall away from the kindness of the Messiah, you can be knocked off and the Jews can be put back twice as fast!”

So to the Jews, don’t be arrogant to the Gentiles because they’re “newbies.” To the Gentiles, don’t be arrogant because some Jews were removed from the root to which you are now attached. Nothing is necessarily permanent. Anyone can be “ungrafted.”

That’s a terrific lesson for many non-Jewish believers to learn because, through one process or another, we have come to feel superior to the Jewish people who God, in the end, will reattach to the root, all of them. Remember, any of you out there who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (apart from legitimate converts to Judaism) don’t get cocky. God not only didn’t get rid of the Jews, it is through them that your salvation and covenant connection to God is established and nourished in the first place.

And for those of you who feel that being “grafted in” has whitewashed any physical and covenant distinctions between you and the “natural branches,” think again:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Romans 3:1-8 (ESV)

Being Jewish is not beside the point just because we Gentiles have been grafted in. There remains much advantage to being Jewish. Even those Jews today who do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah are not permanently condemned as many Christians seem to believe. They are not discarded and cast aside.

Israel will be saved:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29 (ESV)

I’ve probably wandered from the strictly Abrahamic path, but with good purpose. The purpose is to illustrate that just because Jews and Christians share the Messianic blessings that are part of the wider Abrahamic covenant through faith, that does not mean we share all of the blessings attached to that covenant. Paul was extremely clear that there is a distinction between Jewish (native) and Gentile (wild) olive branches. They all didn’t “morph” into a single type of branch with no way to tell them apart.

Also, Paul was extremely clear that there were many advantages to being a Jew. Further, he said that even if some of the Jews were temporarily removed from the root for the sake of we Gentile Christians, in the end, God’s promises to the Jewish people are irrevocable; they cannot be revoked!

The really interesting thing about all of this is that a Christian must choose to become part of the covenant with God through Jesus and Christians can also “unchoose” Christianity for another religion or no religion at all. Not so with the Jewish people. If you are born a Jew, you are automatically born into the covenant (actually covenants, but I’m only talking about Abraham for the moment). God has temporarily turned His face away from His people Israel in the past, and He has temporarily exiled them in the past, but as “temporarily” implies, He always takes them back and He always will take them back.

In spite of the fact that this missive is longer than I intended, I didn’t get to say everything I could have said about Christianity and the Abrahamic covenant. Hopefully, I’ve said enough for now.