Okay, I’m posting some sermon notes again. But this time someone asked me to. The writing below is a bit rough (they were notes, not intended for reading exactly). But I think there are some things in here that many of you will find interesting.
Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently read something very interesting about the book of Genesis. “The purpose of the book of Genesis is to recount why Adonai chose the family of Abraham and made a covenant with them” (John Walton and Andrew Hill, A Survey of the Old Testament).
Why do I say that is interesting? Well, Genesis is one of the most important books in the Bible. It deals with major themes that affect every aspect of our existence. This is a book that tells us about creation, about who we humans are, and how things go so bad. This is a book about origins and good and evil and meaning and purpose.
So, amid all those themes, what is central? What is most important?
According to the author I just quoted, the most important thing is the story of a family from 4,000 years ago. And I agree with him.
Of all the things that should be so important, are we really to believe some ancient family is central? You’d better believe it.
It’s a good thing you or I do not have God’s power. If we had God’s power but only our brains, we’d never do things the way God does them. You and I probably would not save the world the way God does.
EVIL is in the world and the world is BROKEN. EVIL was here before Adam and Eve, which is why the Serpent was already there. EVIL started as a rebellion before the creation of the world … a rebellion of the heavenly beings.
How would we fix the problem, you and I? We’d probably attack it directly with our power. We’d choose direct attack/destruction/forced repentance.
God? He chose another way. He chose a family. He chose a covenant. He gave us a plan of MUTUAL BLESSING.
We would seek to ROOT OUT THE CANCER and kill the patient. God is healing the world from within. And the world is made up of families. So God’s plan, far more brilliant than anything we would ever devise, is to save the world through a family.
Genesis 12:1-3, 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. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
I want you to notice two things:
1. God’s plan of MUTUAL BLESSING: “I will bless those who bless you…”
2. God’s ONLY MEANS OF SALVATION: “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
This is not what we would expect. God is going to heal the world through people blessing one another?
Every family on earth has to look to one family for blessing? Yes, exactly. That is God’s plan.
God works through the WEAK things and not through the mighty. God doesn’t need to use all his power to save. God saves from within, in a plan so brilliant all we can say is, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Now, I want to make clear from the beginning than Abraham was not chosen because he was a believer.
Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.
Abraham had no idea about the true God. He was a pagan. But one day God called out to him. He came to serve the God who spoke to him. Abraham is not like Yeshua. He was not the perfect man. He was as ordinary as you and I.
But there is one thing he did very well: he believed God and kept believing God despite many problems and a lot of time!
Abraham was seventy-five when God made the promise to him. By the time he and Sarah had their child, Isaac, Abraham was one-hundred years old when Isaac was born. He had waited for twenty-five years for God to keep his promise!
How long can a person keep believing in a promise when God does not bring it to pass? How old would a person have to be to finally decide God would not give them a child?
Throughout the story of Abraham’s life, the covenant promise of God is continually threatened. Many times Abraham’s own actions threatened to keep the covenant from coming to pass.
12:10-20 Covenant Threat #1: Sarah Almost Taken
13:1-13 Covenant Threat #2: Abram Nearly Gives the Land to Lot
14:1-16 Covenant Threat #3: Abram Almost Killed Rescuing Lot
15:1-4 Covenant Threat #4: Abram Wants to Name Eliezer His Heir
16:1-16 Covenant Threat #5: Abram Seeks an Heir Through Hagar
17:17-22 Covenant Threat #6: Abraham Offers Ishmael as Heir
Yet for all the times Abraham nearly lost God’s promise to inherit the land and father a great nation, no covenant threat comes close to the time God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.
He had waited twenty-five years to realize the promise in his extreme old age. Now Isaac was older and Abraham was past being old. Now after all this, after Abraham’s faith over many years in an impossible promise, God says: give it all back.
SO, ABRAHAM’S LIFE WAS A LIFE OF FAITH. His faith was shown the most when he was willing to sacrifice his own son.
But, still, how is Abraham so special that from his family all the other families on earth will be blessed?
How can God’s plan involve one family and a system of mutual blessing? Well, consider how the story continues after Abraham.
God continues narrowing the family:
It’s not through Ishmael’s line but through Isaac’s.
After Isaac, it’s not through Esau’s line, but through Jacob’s.
God works through the small things, the ordinary. It’s like in the story of Gideon’s army. God didn’t need 10,000 soldiers. 300 worked just fine.
God didn’t need for Abraham’s family to be the largest or greatest family. If he had chosen all Abraham’s descendants, we might be talking most of the Middle East. But no, God narrowed it down even further. From just one child, the only child Abraham had, God narrowed it down further. It was only the line of one son of Isaac, only through Jacob.
And Jacob got another name: Israel.
The family that is at the center of God’s plan for the whole world is Israel.
Through Israel God will bless all the families on the earth. Those who bless Israel will be blessed. Those who curse Israel will be cursed.
A FAMILY — A PLAN OF MUTUAL BLESSING. This is God’s way…and we really should try to understand it.
And the story continues after Jacob. In fact, the story moves into a perfect example of God’s plan.
The story of Joseph going into Egypt is a perfect example of the way God works:
Israel goes into the nations — Joseph into Egypt.
God blesses: a) Joseph and b) all who bless Joseph.
Joseph/Israel in turn blesses the nations (rescuing them from famine).
Israel (Jacob & family) come into the nations and are blessed by the nations who were blessed by Joseph!
(cf. R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, pp.128 and following, for more about the Joseph narrative and God’s plan of mutual blessing.)
It’s a circle of blessing. Some in the nations (Potiphar) bless Israel and are blessed in turn. Israel blesses Egypt, saving them from famine. Israel is blessed by Egypt in turn and saved from starvation.
It’s blessing — blessing returned — blessing again.
Blessing is the opposite of vengeance. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, and the whole world is blind and toothless. But good for evil and blessing for curse and the whole world is blessed.
Consider how the Joseph story pictures God’s plan for Israel through the ages:
Israel is scattered among the nations just as Joseph was exiled in Egypt.
Messiah, who is the ideal One from Israel, entered history and brought blessing.
The nations received blessing from Israel, as many thousands turned to God and to Messiah from the nations.
Gentile believers in turn make Israel jealous, thus returning the blessing to Israel.
In the last days, as Zechariah 8 tells us, Israel blesses the nations again, as Jews lead many Gentiles to God and to Messiah.
Let me share it with you another way. It’s in Genesis 22:18:
in your seed shall all the nations be blessed
To understand this you have to understand that SEED is a COLLECTIVE PLURAL. Seed can mean one seed or many seeds.
In the original context, God speaking to Abraham right after he had offered Isaac, it meant PLURAL. “Abraham, in your seeds/descendants shall all the nations be blessed.”
God planned to bless the world through the family of Abraham. Israel brought the SCRIPTURE. Israel brought the MESSIAH. Israel is still being used and will be the center of GOD’S END-TIME PLAN.
The world knows God and Messiah through Israel and it is to Israel that Messiah will return.
But Paul in Galatians 3 makes a MIDRASH, a more fanciful interpretation, of Genesis 22:18. Paul says, isn’t it interesting how God did not say SEEDS but instead he said SEED?
Galatians 3:16, Now the promises were made to Avraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, “and to seeds,” as if to many; on the contrary, it speaks of one — “and to your seed” — and this “one” is the Messiah.
So how is God going to save the world through the family of Abraham. Messiah is the ultimate Son of Abraham.
Genesis 22:18 means both, as Paul realized. God saves the world through Israel and through Messiah.
So how does this plan of mutual blessing work? You bless Israel and God blesses you. This is the master plan.
The principle extends to other relationships as well:
2 Cor. 9:6, The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Proverbs 19:17, Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will repay him for his deed.
We give and in turn we are blessed. It works on two levels.
When we give to others, we find that in our time of need people give to us.
When we give to others, God gives us reward in this life and the life to come.
MUTUAL BLESSING is the way we ought to live. It’s a circle of blessing.
Every day and in every place we are, we ought to say, “Who can I bless here? How can I be a blessing?”
All around us people have needs. Most of those needs don’t even cost money. We can bless by helping, encouraging, being kind, returning good will for bad will, blessing instead of cursing.
MUTUAL BLESSING works in families. Bless your parents, your spouse, your kids. It works in the workplace. Bless your colleagues. It works in the congregation. Bless one another and all people will know we love Yeshua.
Blessing others is God’s way of Tikkun Olam. The world is full enough of curses and pain. When we bless others, we leave the world better than we found it. When we curse others we leave the world worse than we found it.
MUTUAL BLESSING is the way of Yeshua.
Did you know that there are a few sayings of Yeshua recorded in the writings of Paul that are not found in the gospels? That’s interesting because Paul did not know Yeshua during his earthly life. Yet Paul learned more about Yeshua than the gospels reveal. People remembered more of his sayings than those that are in the Bible.
History has preserved only a few of these sayings of Yeshua outside the gospels. And one of those sayings is about mutual blessing. It is God’s way. It is Messiah’s way:
Yeshua said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35).