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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.”

Understanding Muslims

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.

Fueled by Wonder | December 2019

Dear friends,

The story of Jesus’ life on earth begins and ends with people looking up into the sky.

“Behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and are come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” (Acts 1:11)

It is often said that Christmas is a time of wonder. And there is, indeed, much about Christmas that is wonderful. But there is danger too – the danger of getting stuck in the wonder instead of letting it fuel action. That was the warning of the two angels at Jesus’ ascension. The disciples had been given a job to do – to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth – and it would not get done by looking up into the sky.

The festival of Epiphany comes twelve days after Christmas and commemorates the manifestation of God to the nations as represented by wise men from the East. One of the most striking aspects of the epiphany story is that the Magi, after seeing an amazing astrological event, did so much more than just wonder. They cleared their calendars, reworked their budgets, and launched out on a long, expensive, difficult journey. Their seeing resulted in going. 

On Christmas Day, 1622, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (the general editor of the King James bible) preached a sermon on the Magi, pointing out how much inertia they had to overcome to begin their journey:

“Last, we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.'”

Sharp-eyed readers will recognize T.S. Eliot’s quotation of Bishop Andrewes’ sermon almost verbatim in his great poem “Journey of the Magi”.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had though they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death. 

May we all experience the wonder of Christmas again in these days, but may it not stop there. Fueled by wonder, let us be about the task Christ gave us – being his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Your gifts help reach the world for Christ. Consider supporting our workers as they witness and serve among people with little to no access to the gospel.

What Are You Doing This Summer? | EPCWO Mission Trips

EPC World Outreach is hosting three mission trips this summer for EPC members that want to learn how to love their Muslim neighbors and be the fragrance of Jesus. Our hope is that these experiences will equip participants to imitate thoughtful outreach among neighbors within their own contexts and cities for the sake of God’s glory and His Kingdom.

 

SUMMER MISSION JAM

Summer Mission Jam is an mission and equipping conference for High School students, serving among Afghan, Bangladeshi, Yemeni, Iraqi, and Pakistani peoples in America’s diverse neighborhoods of Hamtramck, MI and Sacramento, CA.

These two mission trips are unique opportunities for students to learn more about Muslims and how to interact in a way that loves our neighbors and honors our Savior. Learn more on our website.

SMJ Hamtramck
Dates: July 13-18, 2020
Cost: $475/person
Church Registration Fee: $250*
Lodging: Wayne State University

SMJ Sacramento
Dates: July 20-25, 2020
Cost: $350/person
Church Registration Fee: $250*
Lodging: Fremont Presbyterian Church

Hear from students at last year’s Summer Mission Jam, as they reflect on the trip and how it impacted their thinking. Please note: for the safety and security of our global partners, please do not share this video on social media. Email us for the password.

EXPERIENCE WO: EL CAJON

Experience WO is a short-term missions trip to the Muslim communities near San Diego, for EPC members that want to love their Muslim neighbors but aren’t sure how. You’ll spend this week interacting with, and investing in, families from the El Cajon community. This is a fantastic mission trip for families, individuals, and groups. Learn more on our website.

 

Experience WO: El Cajon

Dates: July 5-10, 2020
Cost: $330/person
Church Registration Fee: $250*
Lodging: Host Families of Covenant EPC in San Diego

 

Have questions about Summer Mission Jam and Experience WO?
Check our website for more information: SMJ 2020 | Experience WO 2020.
OR
Email our registrar, Cassie Shultz

If you know of anyone that might be interested in attending Summer Mission Jam,  we invite you to pass it along and share on social media!

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Look to The Rock from Which You Were Hewn | October 2019

Dear friends,

In one of the darkest days of the people of Israel, the Lord spoke through Isaiah…

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.”  Isaiah 51:1-2

What does it mean to be ‘hewn’?  To be hewn is to be given identity, shape, form.  And what or who is the rock?  The big ‘r’ Rock is God, of course—God our Rock, our Father, by whom we have been created and have our identity (Deut 32:18) and Christ ‘the spiritual Rock’ (1 Cor 10:4).  Also, the metaphor of the rock is extended from the person of Christ to his words and the revelation of who he is (Mt 7:24; 16:18).  Our Rock is a Gentile-reaching, cross-bearing rock.

But Isaiah 51 identifies Abraham and Sarah as a rock, too: ‘Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you’ (v2).  They are Israel’s father and mother in the faith—a human father and mother (Rom 4:12,16).

So, while our faith is ultimately in God the Rock, the very object of our faith and source of our identity, shape, and form; it is also true, in some sense, that we have in Abraham a tradition of faith and source of identity that is a secondary ‘rock’, a little ‘r’ rock, from which we are hewn.  By extension, we have this also in other human godly church fathers, like Paul, Augustine, or Luther.

As Presbyterians celebrating Reformation Day and as EPC folks who have declared intentions to be missions-focused, let us consider the rock from which we have been hewn, in terms of our church’s founding and tradition.  That includes John Calvin, one of many Reformed churchmen in our heritage.  And let us take to heart the following powerful missions commitments evidenced in John Calvin’s writings.  Perhaps they will help us shake off the dust of unhealthy traditionalism and misconceptions about what it really means to be Presbyterian or Reformed.

John Calvin to his arrested missionaries:
“Since it please him [God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain.  And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express.”

John Calvin commenting on Augustine:
‘”For as we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined or who does not belong, we ought to be so minded as to wish that all men be saved.’ So shall it come about that we try to make every one we meet a sharer in our peace.”

John Calvin commenting on Isaiah 2:3:
“And indeed nothing could be more inconsistent with the nature of faith than that deadness which would lead a man to disregard his brethren, and to keep the light of knowledge choked up within his own breast.”

May we be inspired anew from the rock of our traditions, to do as John Calvin and the Reformed movement did, …

  1. to send missionaries to hard places, even where they face imprisonment and martyrdom, while pastorally and prayerfully submitting it all to God.
  2. to try to make everyone we meet a sharer in our peace.
  3. to not keep the light of the gospel choked up inside of us.
  4. to rise in faith knowing that the missions fruit we seek will in time “spring up more abundantly than we can express”. (See also Gen 12:1-3 and Is 51:3.)

Is this not the rock from which you and I were hewn?

This World Outreach Reflection on Reformation Day is by Bruce Anderson, EPC World Outreach ITEN Founder & Coordinator

Note: The first two quotations of Calvin are quoted from Haykins and Roberston, To the Ends of the Earth, 2014, p. 59.

 

Community Life

To the Ends of the Earth

If you are interested in learning more about the role of the Reformed tradition in spreading the gospel, Haykin and Robertson’s book, To the Ends of the Earth is a great starting point.

A Presbyterian Mandate

Read this free book by Frontiers founder and EPC WO global worker, Greg Livingstone. In this book, Greg challenges us to rededicate ourselves to our foundational calling: taking the gospel to those people and places that have no access to the Good News. This is available as a free pdf.

Calvin and World Missions

Download this free resource from World Reformed Fellowship that has collected articles from 1882-2002 on Calvin’s role in establishing mission theology. Interested in sharing the quotes from the Anderson’s reflection with your congregation? Download these slides and pictures – each to slip into a bulletin.