What is God really doing in the world?

August 20, 2020

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As a ministry intern and Bible school student, I earnestly prayed to "know God's heart". He answered that prayer as I simply opened up the pages of scripture and understood the larger narrative of redemptive history. In this video, I talk a bit about the covenants that God made with the nation of Israel and how the causes and tasks that many are passionate about best fit within the context of those covenants.

Transcription

Hey everyone, it’s Josh. When I was a ministry intern and Bible school student years ago, I remember hearing from all sorts of different people who would come and speak to our class about what God had put on their heart or what nation they were serving in or what cause was really on God’s heart and what they had committed their life to. A lot of these speakers were really encouraging and really made me passionate about what they were all about and what they were into. So one week maybe it was a missionary doing church planting in Africa and how God wants to raise up church planters. And then the next week it was the leader of an anti-trafficking ministry, calling believers to put their energy and money and prayer behind the ending of human trafficking. Then still the week after, we heard from someone else about how God was raising up a new generation of revivalists who would do street evangelism and crazy signs and wonders would accompany them. And so I felt my heart getting excited about all of those things, but to be honest, deep down, I was confused - was God all about signs and wonders or was he all about planting churches, or was he the most passionate about ending human trafficking? It all really boiled down to the question of: “What’s God really doing in the world, and what was HE focused on?” I mean, I would pray all the time - “God, give me your heart, I want to know your heart”. I really wanted to know what God was most passionate about so that I could give myself fully to that as well. Was it the ending of injustices like human trafficking? Was it church planting? Was it revival and street evangelism and signs and wonders? Or was it something else? And man, my heart was genuine in the desire to know, but let me tell you - the Lord answered that prayer in a very unexpected and yet very predictable way, at least looking back on it now years later. Now I tell you that little story because I think it’s so easy for a disciple of Jesus here in the West to sway to and fro from cause to cause and mission to mission whenever we hear a passionate speaker say “this is the most important thing” or “this is what you need to give your life to”. And so I’ve seen it in my many years of full time ministry, especially with young people like me when I was a little ministry intern. They get all into something because they hear from a passionate speaker that “this is what God’s all about” or “this is what’s on his heart”. And while there certainly can be a lot of truth to those things, I realized that we don’t have to look very hard to know what God is all about, what’s on his heart, and how and when things will consummate or reach their intended end.

So where do we look? The pages of scripture. These things aren’t something new and they don’t change from culture to culture or from decade to decade. Now don’t get me wrong, church planting and the ending of injustices or any of those things that those Bible school speakers came to talk to us about are certainly important things and maybe there’s even Bible verses to back them up, but they have the greatest importance when they are put in the context of a bigger story, namely the story that God has been telling within the pages of the Bible and that he has clarified by his covenants. And so that’s what I want to spend a few minutes talking about today - the covenants God has made.

When I talk about the covenants, I’m talking about the covenants that God made with the nation of Israel or with specific people in the nation of Israel. Why? Because these covenants form the backbone of the Biblical story. In other words, they’re the lens by which we can understand God’s actions in history, God’s dealings with humanity in the present, and God’s promises for the future. There are a few major covenants in the scriptures that that I want to highlight. First, there’s the the Abrahamic covenant from passages like Genesis 12, Genesis 15, and Genesis 17. God promised to Abraham that it would be through him and his family that the other families of the earth, the nations, would be “blessed” or brought out from under the curse of death that God put upon man in Genesis 3. The second is the covenant that God made corporately with the ethnic descendants of Abraham at Mount Sinai, and that’s in Exodus 19 and 20. In this covenant, God set Israel apart as a holy and distinct nation different from the other nations of the earth by giving them a set of instructions called the Torah or the Law. These instructions were for a whole bunch of things - not just animal sacrifices for sin as is commonly thought, but for things like what they could and couldn’t eat or for things like social justice, or how one treats the widow and the poor, or how their king should rule, etc. These instructions were given by God to make Israel look different than the nations around them so that those nations could see that Israel’s God is very different than their gods, the gods of the nations. And third, is the Davidic covenant from 2 Samuel 7. There, God promised to King David that he would have a descendant that would rule over Israel forever, subduing Israel’s enemies and building God’s temple so that Israel could remain in relationship with God and continue to be a light to the rest of the nations. And finally, there’s the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31, which again is a covenant between God and the nation of Israel where God would enable them from the heart to walk out the instructions he gave them in the covenant at Mount Sinai - all for the sake of blessing the rest of the nations as God promised in the covenant with Abraham.

As I said, these four major covenants in scripture are the backbone of the Biblical story. By understanding them, we can understand how God is driving history and where it’s going. The covenants are not just some sort of celestial checklist or something that just points to Jesus and his first coming as if all of those boxes got checked when Jesus came and died and rose again. A fairly common perspective throughout history is that when Jesus came the first time, God brought the story of the ethnic descendants of Abraham to an end and launched a fundamentally different story and new people called “the church”. This is called replacement theology or supersessionism, and is not at all what the New Testament is communicating. There’s a great book on this topic by my friend Joel Richardson called “When a Jew Rules the World”. I’d highly recommend it, and I’ve linked to it in the description below. But back to the covenants. The reason why they matter is because they, in context to the story of redemptive history, tell us what God is all about, like what he cares about, what he plans to do and when he plans to do it, and how we should live in the meantime. We aren’t left wondering what’s on God’s heart or if he’s really more passionate about ending injustice or prayer meetings or missions trips than other causes. He’s not schizophrenic, he doesn’t “have a heart” for one thing one day and then change it up and “have a heart” for another thing the next day.

So what is he all about? Well, the same thing since Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 12. He wants to use the ethnic descendants of Abraham to bless the rest of the nations. He’s going to do this through the reign of a king from David’s line in Jerusalem, and there’s a day coming when he gives the whole nation of Israel a new heart to obey his instructions willingly and completely. When Israel turns back to God and takes on their role as servants to the rest of the nations, and when the Jewish Messiah rules from Jerusalem, justice will prevail across all the earth and death will be no more. According to the scriptures, this is what God is all about, and this is what the prophets and Jesus and the apostles of Jesus were all about as well.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’m saying that the burdens that those Bible college speakers had for world missions and the ending of injustices or signs and wonders are not important. On the contrary - I’m saying that when we understand from the scriptures what God is doing in the world, what he’s promised for the future, and how and when he intends to bring that future about, those things find their importance as they fit into that larger context. So often I’ve seen things like justice issues and righteous laws and missions and miracles and revival completely disconnected from the covenants and the larger story of redemptive history. What that’s led to is disillusionment where it seems like God is all about something but then it doesn’t happen or a situation gets worse and it seems like prayer or activism or evangelism just didn’t work or that we didn’t pray enough or didn’t have enough faith or something. But that’s not the case at all - it really just has to do with knowing where and when and how those things fit into the narrative of the scriptures. Again, I’m not saying that injustice or missions or prayer is not as important as being a theologian or something, I’m saying that we need to understand why there’s injustice now and have confidence in God for its appointed end on the Day of the Lord or why we do missions now, because a day of judgment is really coming. And I say these things because knowing the “why” behind the “what” has been so encouraging to my faith, again, just knowing and understanding the larger context. God really has answered my prayer to know his heart. Friends, it’s not mysterious - when we open the scriptures and read things like God saying:

I am jealous for Jerusalem - in Zechariah 1 and Zechariah 8
or
I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope. from Jeremiah 29:11 when the Lord is speaking to Israel.
or
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” from Joshua 1:9 to the Israelites as they enter the promised land
or
The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable from Romans 11:29, having to do with God’s choice of the descendants of Abraham to administer the blessing of eternal life to the rest of the nations.

We don’t have to take these things and spiritualize them or remove them from a Jewish apocalyptic framework and somehow try to apply them to our personal lives. They weren’t written to us or even about us as the Gentiles. We can read and understand what God is doing in the world, what his covenants and the larger narrative of redemptive history has promised, and we can have certainty about what the future holds. So my prayer for you is for God to do what he’s done and is still doing for me - opening up the larger story of the Bible, the details and the Jewish context - so that we, as the Gentiles, can rightly understand and love and obey Israel’s God who will faithfully and reliably bring to pass all that he’s promised in his covenants with Israel.

Amen. I know this topic was a bit more general than some of my other videos where I work through passages more directly, but I wanted to give an introduction to the covenants so that as I talk about them in future videos that you can understand a little more of my zeal behind why they’re important. If this was encouraging or if you have questions, drop a comment down below. Hit that like button and subscribe so you don’t miss future videos that I put out. God bless, and maranatha.

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