Let’s start with a question: How have you understood the story of the Bible? Do you move right from the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 to the coming of Jesus? There are hundreds of pages and years between Genesis 3 and Jesus – Why do you think it takes so long to get to Jesus?
I ask this question, because Christians sometimes have a tendency to jump right from Genesis 3 to Romans 3 – Genesis 3 is the problem, human sin, and Romans 3 presents the solution, forgiveness in Jesus. One reason to tell the story of scripture is that the fuller story reveals that God’s mission is much greater than simply forgiving humans of our sins. Of course, forgiveness and restored relationship with God is part of the story. Yet the Bible is not a how-to manual on dealing with your or my personal sins. Nor is it just about getting our spiritual lives in order. God’s mission includes redeeming the entire cosmos, reclaiming all that God has created. As humans enter into covenant relationship with God, and as the story proceeds, God reveals more of who God is and how God will ultimately redeem the cosmos. This leads us to the clearest revelation of God in Jesus…though we are getting ahead of ourselves. God launches this rescue operation by entering into covenant relationship with one nation, Israel. The goal of this, once again, is the liberation and redemption of the entire cosmos.
To set the stage for this rescue operation, remember that the Bible begins at the beginning, with God creating a good world and placing humans in this world to live in relationship with each other, with God and with creation (Genesis 1-2). Humans were created with the purpose to represent God and care for creation. Unfortunately, humans chose to rebel against this purpose and go their own way (Genesis 3). This is traditionally called the fall into sin. Humanity’s original purpose, to care for and cultivate creation, remains though how this purpose happens is certainly affected by sin. Humans are capable of creating beauty in this world. Sin means we are also capable of causing horror. The first eleven chapters of Genesis give us a picture of a world we find quite familiar with stunning beauty alongside of grim horror. To get back on track with this purpose, humans need healing.
What will God do to heal humanity so we can get back to joining God in the project of caring for the world? We find our answer in Genesis 12:1-3:
“The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Here we read of God’s call to Abraham with the promise that through Abraham, all nations will be blessed. To put it differently, God chose Abraham for the distinct purpose of bringing salvation to the whole world. Abraham was not chosen at the expense of the rest of creation, but for the benefit of the rest of creation.
This is incredibly significant and must not be missed. Here, at the beginning of God’s mission to save, we see an important truth about how God works and who God is. God does not want a small clique of friends. God does not save people solely as an end in itself. Instead, God calls people as a means to an end, for the benefit of the whole world. As we move through the story, it is vital to remember that when the Bible talks about people being chosen by God, they are always chosen for a purpose. They are not chosen so they can take joy in being one of the chosen ones, as if there is some sort of divine “in-crowd”. Even the first humans were given the task of caring for God’s creation. They were not created simply to sit around and do be happy to exist. Continuing with Abraham, humans are chosen for a job. Abraham’s purpose was to bring blessing to the nations.
To further emphasize this, we see God’s mission echoed to Abraham’s descendants throughout the book of Genesis (18:18; 22:18; 26:4-5; 28:14). When something is mentioned this often, it is clearly important. God is emphasizing that the point of having a relationship with Abraham’s family is not because they are his special favorites. The purpose is that through Abraham’s family, all creation will be restored.
Unfortunately, we soon learn that Abraham is not up to this task. Immediately after his calling, he is given a chance to put God’s mission into action. In Genesis 12:10-20 we read of a famine that forces Abraham and his family to flee to Egypt. Abraham is in a new country; he is among those other nations that God has promised he would bless. Yet Abraham responds with fear. Abraham, like so many of us humans, is afraid of what these different people will do to him. Out of fear for his own life, he tells the Pharaoh that his wife is his sister. Abraham’s fear puts his wife at risk. The Pharaoh, noting her beauty, plans to take her into his own bed. It is only when God strikes the Egyptians with pain that the Pharaoh realizes the truth. Abraham was called to bring blessing to others and in his first real chance he instead brought curses.
God has chosen Abraham and his family to be the instruments through whom He is going to save the whole world. The problem we see emerging here is that Abraham and his family are also in need of saving. It is as if a group of people are infected with a plague and a doctor is sent to cure them. Unfortunately, the doctor is also infected with the plague and thus not only unable to cure others but in need of curing himself.
The continuing story in Genesis bears this out. We see that Abraham’s family is a complete mess. The story of his descendants is filled with lying, deceit, murder, rape and abuse. If these people are the ones bringing hope to the world, the world is in trouble!
At the same time, Genesis ends with the story of Joseph. Joseph is Abraham’s great grandson – Abraham and Sarah have Isaac; Isaac marries Rebekah who gives birth to twelve sons who are the twelve tribes of Israel. The second youngest son, Joseph, is the favorite. You may know the story – Joseph’s brothers are jealous so they sell him into slavery in Egypt. They tell their father that Joseph was killed by an animal.
Joseph’s entire story in Egypt is an illustration of the way Abraham’s descendants can bring blessing to the nations. Unlike Abraham, who ends up in Egypt and brings curse, Joseph’s extraordinary story ends with him ruling over all Egypt, just under the Pharaoh. When a famine comes, Joseph’s governing ensures not only all in Egypt have food but they can provide food for others. There’s a lot more in this story, but for our purpose, it is significant that Abraham’s mission was to bring blessing to the nations. Joseph goes to the nations, Egypt, and brings blessing. This will remain Israel’s call throughout the rest of the story. Sometimes they do it but more often they fail. It is apparent that Abraham’s children, like Abraham and Adam, even God’s chosen need saving.
This brings us to Jesus. Simply put – Jesus is the true descendant of Abraham, living out Abraham’s role and through his life, death and resurrection the entire world is blessed. Jesus ends his disciples to spread the good news of this blessing to the world. Those who believe in Jesus and are adopted in Abraham’s family receive this same mission. Paul grabs onto it in Galatians 3:7-9:
“Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Paul is showing how in Jesus the promise to Abraham is fulfilled. Jesus is the one who perfectly lives out the call of Abraham. Through this, all of us who are not literal, physical descendants of Abraham are welcomed into the family. Yet again, this salvation is not something we simply sit back and enjoy. In being welcomed into the family of God through Jesus, the call to Abraham becomes our call. We are blessed, so we can bless others.
Questions and Action Points:
Who can you bless today? What can you do to bring more beauty into the world and take away some darkness?
Abraham and his descendants often failed in bringing blessing and brought curses instead. Have you experienced well-meaning Christians who actually hurt people rather than help them? How do we avoid this?
Write down three beautiful things you saw today. Write down three things you saw that remind you of the darkness in the world. Thank God for the first and ask God to bring light into the second.
Creator God, God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, thank you for never turning your back on the world. Thank you for Creating me and loving me, even when I am unlovable. Thank you for your promises to Abraham and for never giving up on those promises even when humans gave up on you. Thank you for keeping all the promises in Jesus and thank you for accepting my faith even when it is small and weak. Give me the strength to show blessing and love to those around me. Help me be an agent of good and beauty in the world. Amen.