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The Great Commission in Old Testament Law | February 2020

Dear friends,

Where do we find the Great Commission in the Bible? Most of us probably think first of Matt 28:19, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ Or maybe ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). We’d probably have to scroll way down our playlist of favorite Bible verses before it occurred to us to look for the Great Commission in Leviticus or Deuteronomy, those long lists of Old Testament laws.

But as Chris Wright reminds us, “The mission of Israel was to be a light and blessing to the nations. The ‘mission’ of the law was to shape Israel for that task.”* What does this look like? First, we see God’s mission in the relational context of the law. We also see God’s mission in the purpose of the law. And in the Old Testament law God reveals his own character.

The RELATIONAL context of the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 6:6-8. “I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians… I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.”

The Old Testament law isn’t an abstract set of moral principles. Instead it forms the contract, or covenant, God made between himself and the nation of Israel. These laws concretely lay out how they will live as ‘my own people.’ This relationship is based on God’s promise to their ancestor Abraham that “I will make you into a great nation… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:1-3), and on God’s rescue of the Israelites from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. The primary requirement in this covenant relationship is single-hearted commitment to God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5). God’s mission is to bring people from all nations into a restored relationship with himself. The most important thing Israel is to demonstrate to the nations around them living as God’s people? Absolute relational faithfulness.

 

The PURPOSE of the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 19:3-6. “Out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

God didn’t choose the Israelites because they somehow deserved it, or because he didn’t care about the rest of the world. He chose this group of people to be a ‘kingdom of priests,’ that is, to represent him to the rest of the world. They were ‘holy’ not in the sense that they were perfect or super-spiritual but in the sense that God set them apart for his own special use. The nation of Israel was to serve as a sort of planned community showing the other nations what it looks like to live in close relationship with God. The laws God gave them through Moses were their instructions for how to model that relationship in every aspect of life.

God’s CHARACTER in the Old Testament law
Read Exodus 34:4-7. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Many of the specific instructions in the Old Testament law seem strange to our 21st-century ears. But in these details not only do we see God’s love and willingness to forgive sins, we also see his compassion for the poor, for women, for the marginalized, for migrants – especially when contrasted with other ancient laws like the Code of Hammurabi or Code of Ur-nammu.

Leviticus and Deuteronomy are full of prescriptions to guarantee the just distribution of land, to assure that slaves will be treated well, to protect women through marriage and dowry rights, and to welcome the stranger. The Israelites also receive the protection and benefits (‘blessings’) of being in a contractual relationship with an all-powerful deity – the one who claims to rule over the entire earth. This is the God they are to represent to the nations.

So how does this work out? Do the Israelites remain 100% faithful to God? Do they teach the nations around them to know God? Is God’s true character demonstrated in the ways the Israelites treat each other and their neighbors?

Sadly, no. In the end Israel’s failure to keep the Old Testament law merely proves people’s need for a different way to live in relationship with God. (Spoiler alert: Jesus!) In the Bible’s unfolding story it will take a new rescue operation and a new covenant to reconstitute God’s people as a new community – the church – called in new ways to represent him to the world. But as we look at God’s relationship with the people of Israel, spelled out in the Old Testament law, it becomes clear that from the very beginning God’s people are commissioned to take their place in his mission to the nations.

*Christopher J. H. Wright, “Mission and Old Testament Interpretation,” in Craig G. Bartholomew and David J. H. Beldman, eds., Hearing the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2012), 185.

Image – Les Dix Commandements by Marc Chagall

By Rev. Dr. Stephanie Black, World Outreach Co-op Worker with Serge

Community Life

Theology on Safari

If you’d like to keep up with Stephanie and her ministry, we’d encourage you to follow her blog: Theology on Safari.

World Outreach Report

The World Outreach Report gives a look at WO’s values and mission, as well as a numeric snapshot of our progress. We hope you are encouraged by what you read.

Perspectives

Learn about God’s mission, how the global Church has responded, and what the greatest needs in the world of evangelization are today – and how YOU can be a part of God’s story as he redeems people from the nations to himself. 

A Missionary Conflict for Posterity | January 2020

Dear friends,

 

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned…” (Gal 2:11)

When Simon Peter journeyed to Antioch, he must have discovered a reality different from his ministry context in Jerusalem and Judea. The leadership there was multi-cultural (Acts 13:1) and the make-up of the church appears to have been predominantly Gentiles.

Peter was familiar, of course, with the passion of new believers and the excitement that accompanies their incorporation into the church. He had seen many thousands brought into the kingdom in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 21:20). Those thousands were Jews, zealous for the law.

Make no mistake, Peter understood perfectly that Jesus’ kingdom extended to the Gentiles. That vision of a sheet lowered from heaven provided a lesson Peter would never forget. He understood that God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34).

So what was the problem? What caused Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with the Gentiles?

It was the arrival of some of the brethren from Judea. Apparently, these Christ-followers of Jewish background held to their pre-conditioned assumptions. The shape of the new thing had not sufficiently displaced their old reality. Their old wine-skins had not yet burst…and Peter was their pastor, their apostle. The pressure must have been great because even Barnabas was led astray (Gal 2:13).

So Peter, the rock, let himself be squeezed into their mold. He held himself aloof from the Gentile believers and ate only with the Jews.

Well, tenacious Paul, with not a hint of concern for the Jerusalem pecking order, springs into action, rebuking the leader of the twelve to his face. For Paul, breaking table fellowship over the issue of ethnicity (including language, culture, religious background, etc.) violated the very heart of the gospel. He would not tolerate it.

For us who live in the contemporary atmosphere of the immigration ban and many other expressions of ethnic tension, the lesson is that the gospel does not merely include and embrace other ethnicities and cultures. The gospel, by its very nature, must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Therefore, the church (our churches) must include and embrace all ethnicities and cultures. Anything less is sub-gospel, or perhaps even anti-gospel.

The Last Supper with Twelve Tribes by Hyatt Moore

Paul’s passionate rebuke of Peter means that the inclusion of the nations is more than a “nice outcome.” It is at the core of the gospel! It is an imperative, not an option. If every Christ-follower is not of equal value at the foot of the cross, then it is not the real deal. Paul is prepared to go to the mat for this. The same conviction pours out again and again in his letters. “The dividing wall is broken down.” The true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham. There must be no distinction.

But there is another lesson not to be missed. Before Peter bids good-bye to this world, he pens his own epistles in which he makes a passing reference to Paul.

Notice the deference: Peter reasons that Paul’s letters contain many things that are hard to understand which the “ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter could have taken one last jab, right? He could have said “Paul makes simple things hard to understand, so leave it to me (i.e. the “real apostle”) to make it clear.” No. For Peter, Paul’s writings are on the same level as other Scripture. They are worth the struggle to understand and defend against unstable minds.

Peter’s journey to Antioch held a tough rebuke for him. But he must have accepted it with grace, without a hint of bitterness towards Paul. No vindictiveness. No veiled self-promotion at the expense of a fellow apostle.

It was a missionary conflict for posterity. The apostles left us with two gems of authentic servant-leadership. Paul gives us the all-nations determination of the gospel and Peter gives us the authenticity and humility of a true shepherd of the sheep. He accepted correction. We, the church, would do well to ensure that we also build on that apostolic foundation.

By Mike Kuhn, World Outreach ITEN Missional Theology Specialist

Community Life

SMJ: Sacramento

Registration for SMJ: Sacramento has been extended until February 15! Learn more about this mission trip for high school students on our website.

Finding Hagar

If you have a heart for displaced people, we’d encourage you to read Mike’s book, Finding Hagar. In it is a powerful “reminder of God’s abundant grace towards all people at a time when there is much division and animosity towards the descendants of Hagar.”

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There are many resources avaliable on our website that offer opportunities to learn more about God’s heart for our Muslim neighbors and dispel myths about Islam.