Walking in Obedience

I often hike the H-Trail at Thunderbird Park and stop to look at the stretch of city that can be easily viewed from the trail (Have you ever looked at it? If you haven’t, you really should. It’s amazing). Last week on my hike, my eyes were drawn to Lubben Mountain, which lies just north of the trail. At the foot of the mountain are several neighborhoods, along with GCC’s north campus. I’ve seen this view a hundred times, but this particular time, I had to stop and take a picture. I wondered if the people who live and work close to the mountain ever stop to look up at the creation before them. Do they enjoy looking at the mountain? Do they think it’s beautiful or drab? Do they wonder who created this? Do they hike this mountain? Does it go unnoticed?

As I thought of these questions I couldn’t help but think about that time in Exodus 19 when God finally had Israel to himself at the foot of Mount Sinai (go ahead…read it again!) God enters into a covenant with his people, promising to be their God and they his people. On one hand, this relationship would be full of God’s blessing and sovereign rule over Israel. On the other hand, this relationship called Israel to loyalty and obedience to God.

Remember that this covenant was based solely on what God had done for Israel—he had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 19:4-6). God’s grace and redemptive action came first. Israel was to respond in faithful—and joyful!—obedience to the law and covenant. Their obedience would be motivated by grateful response to who God is and what he had done for them. Their obedience would also enable them to be the holy people God desired them to be as they lived among the nations of the world.

And now that God had his people close to the mountain he was going to show them his awesome power and holiness. God was going to come down on the mountain to show the majesty of his presence and to give Israel his Law and covenant. But first, Moses was to set limits around the mountain, and Israel would have to consecrate themselves for two days by washing their garments and abstaining from sexual relations. The point of this was for the people to present themselves before a holy God with "minds ready unto obedience" (John Calvin). The mountain was designated holy ground, and Israel needed to be made pure and set apart. They needed to be ready with obedient minds and hearts to hear God’s covenant and Law.

Do you remember what Israel said when Moses told them all that God had said? “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). The people were willing to obey God. They were willing to consecrate themselves in order to meet God. They were ready for faithful action!

As I stood on the H-Trail I wondered if the people who gather around Lubben Mountain—in their neighborhoods, in the classrooms, on the hiking trails—have ever said the same. Have they experienced the presence of the holy God in their lives? Have they experienced the redemption that comes through Jesus the Christ? Are they walking in faithful obedience to the God of the universe?

And then I wondered the same of our Missio family. Is the presence of God set before our eyes? Does his majesty move us toward faithful and joyful obedience? Are we seeking to be a family of missionary servants sent to make disciples?

Do we read Peter’s words to the church and believe the same of us?

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The God who called Israel at Mount Sinai to faithful covenant is the same God who calls us today to walk in faithful obedience to him. Although Israel had the willingness to obey, they lacked the ability to do so faithfully and perfectly (just read the rest of the Old Testament story!).

But Jesus entered into the Story and obeyed God’s law faithfully and perfectly, becoming the “mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:15), a covenant which God promised way back in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

And now, those of us who have believed in Jesus have been redeemed by Jesus and have the new covenant written on our hearts. Now, our willingness to obey is coupled with the ability to obey—for the power of the Holy Spirit equips us to live obediently before the One who has brought us "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Are you walking in faithful and joyful obedience to God? If not, what is keeping you from doing so?

Take some time today to reflect on who God is and what he has done in Jesus to redeem us from sin’s bondage. Remember and mediate on the truth of who God has called you to be in Jesus (Ephesians 1:1-14 is a good place to start).

And then take a hike on the H-Trail and take in the view…and praise God for all he’s done to make us his covenant people.

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 4

In part 3 of our series we learned that God had granted Israel an earthly king whose role in leading the people would help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in being a blessing to all nations. God had promised this earthly king, King David, that another King from David’s line would someday come and rule over a universal and everlasting kingdom. This promise anticipated God’s continued mission though Israel—that all nations would be blessed through them and called into covenant with God. As the earthly king ruled over God’s people, he was to lead the people in God’s power in defeating idolatrous nations, encouraging righteous conformity to God’s law among Israel. Additionally, the king was to promote temple life among Israel. God had established the temple as a symbol of his presence among his people. The temple was to help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in spreading God’s holy presence among the nations (see 1 Kings 8:27-43).

We see in 1 Kings 8 and in Isaiah 56 that the temple was also to be a place of worship and sacrifice. Both would be essential for Israel’s missional identity and role. God had initiated the sacrificial system so that there could be restored relationship between God and Israel when they broke God’s covenant. We see a beautiful picture of this in Leviticus 9 as Aaron, the high priest, offers multiple offerings unto God: the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering (Leviticus 9:15-17, 22).

The sin offering was a sacrifice that secured forgiveness when sin was transferred to an animal as the priest placed his hands on it and killed it in place of the sinful individual. The burnt offering was a sacrifice that was to be completely burned and dedicated to the Lord. This sacrifice was a picture of the total consecration and dedication following forgiveness. The fellowship offering was a sacrifice that served as a celebration of the restored communion between God and the sinful individual. The emphasis on sacrifice was an important act of worship for Israel, for it was God’s way of making the unholy pure again and restoring fellowship in the presence of God. If Israel was to be a missional people in the sight of the nations, she would need to know and experience God’s forgiveness, renewed commitment to God, and fellowship with God.

The temple also nourished Israel’s missional identity and role by pointing Israel to the goal of God’s redemption: to fill the whole earth with God’s glorious presence (see Habakkuk 2:14). The temple was a place of sacrifice that provided a way of restoration for the people when they failed to keep God’s covenant, thus setting them on the right road of holiness. The temple was a place of worship that nourished Israel’s faith in God as the one, true Lord over all creation. The temple would be a place of exhortation for Israel to embrace God’s universal mission to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin.

God also used his prophets to help nourish Israel in her missional identity and role. The prophets in the Old Testament challenged Israel when they forgot their missional calling and failed to keep covenant with God. We see Israel time and again be engulfed by the darkness of idolatry and fail to be the holy nation God had called them to be. Israel’s earthly kings fail in their calling to lead Israel as well (read 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles!) Over and over the prophets would call Israel to remember their true identity and purpose for existence. As Israel continued to rebel against God’s rule over their lives, they experienced judgment and banishment from the promised land. The prophets proclaimed that Israel was being judged for their sin against God.

The Old Testament story ends with both failure and hope. Israel fails to be a light to the nations that God had called them to be as they succumb to the darkness of idolatry. God judges his people and sends them into exile. But in God’s mercy, he sends his prophets to encourage the people that all is not lost. The prophets tell of a time when Israel’s sin would be paid for (Isaiah 40:1-2) and a time when Israel would be gathered and renewed to fulfill their missional calling (Ezekiel 36:22-32). This would happen as the climax of God’s Story when his kingdom is finally restored through an anointed king in David’s line and by the power of the Spirit (Joel 2).

For centuries Israel lives in fervent hope that God will keep his promise to gather and renew Israel and establish a worldwide kingdom. Israel longs for God to send his Messiah and Spirit to rescue them from bondage and sin. Israel had a sick and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and needed a new heart—a new spirit. Israel needed God’s law written on their very being in order to live out her missional identity and role.

Would God be faithful to his promise to gather and renew Israel? Would the promised Messiah finally come and fulfill God’s mission that Israel failed to live out? How does the Story continue?

Participating in the Missio Dei | Part 3

Last time we learned that God gave Israel his law so that Israel could learn to walk in God’s ways for God’s glory in sight of the nations around them—this was Israel’s missional calling. The law was the means for Israel to live in a way that challenged the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. Israel was also to take seriously the task of instructing the next generation to know God and to walk in his ways. Idolatry would not be the only threat to Israel's faithfulness— the danger of forgetting God’s mighty acts and his way of life was also a threat, especially the danger of failing to teach the torah to their children, and to their children after them (Deut. 4:9-10). It was essential for Israel to train the next generation to walk in the way of the Lord and to live in holiness—different and distinct—in their everyday lives. Thus, God’s law was good news for Israel—and, ultimately, good news for the nations as they observed Israel’s obedience to God and heard the invitation to join the covenant community. However, Israel struggled to fulfill their missionary role in being a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). Instead of pointing the nations to God, Israel became engulfed by idolatry and chose to follow the nations around them. The book of Judges tells the tragic story of Israel’s cycle of idolatry (see Judges 3-16)—Israel sins, God’s brings his judgment, Israel cries out to God, God sends a deliver (Judge), and the land has peace. Over and over again, God demonstrated his mercy, love and judgment on Israel in order to restore them to their missional calling. Yet, Israel continued to disobey God’s law and chose to walk in the darkness of idolatry (see Judges 17-21). The refrain that ends the book of Judges demonstrates how far Israel had succumbed to darkness; however, it also suggests what God will do in the future to enable Israel to be a faithful missional people: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). The book ends with the cry for a king.

But would a king enable Israel to fulfill it’s missionary role? The people’s cry for a king is answered by God in the story of Samuel, but there seems to be little hope that an earthy king will solve Israel’s problem. Israel’s desire for a king was motivated by their desire to be like the nations that surrounded them: "But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, 'No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Israel desired to be just like the pagan nations around them—this was not God’s purpose for Israel!

God continues to show faithful love to Israel and provides them with a king who would be a man after God’s heart—King David (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). God is Israel’s true King; David would be the earthly king who would mediate God’s rule over Israel. David was called to mediate God’s blessing and rule over the people and to encourage Israel in her missional identity and calling as a light to the nations. God allowed this monarchy for Israel so that they would become a people reflecting God’s social order among the nations, living all of life under God’s torah. As David committed to living under God’s rule and covenant, Israel would be formed into a missional community that reflected God’s will for every area of their lives: social, political, economic, legal and religious. King David would also have the task of defeating idolatrous nations that threatened Israel, encouraging the people to live in holy conformity to God’s law.

In 2 Samuel 7:11-17, God makes a covenant with David, promising that one day a king would arise from David’s line who would rule over a universal and everlasting kingdom. This promise anticipated God’s continued mission though Israel—that all nations would be blessed through them and called into covenant with God. Israel’s earthly king would play a vital role in nourishing Israel’s missional identity and role.

Next time we’ll look at how God used the temple and his prophets to shape and form Israel into his missional community. We’ll also begin to look at how well Israel’s earthly king—and the kings after him—did in their missional task of fostering Israel’s missional identity and role.