Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Humanity in Sin Part 37 - God's Chosen People

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 2nd December 2007 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Genesis 30

This chapter talks about how the 12 tribes of Israel came about.

Through Abraham, God created a nation. 14 years before Isaac was born, Ishmael was born but he was not the chosen one. We need to learn to wait for the promises of God. But we often want to do things our own way and not follow God’s timetable, producing a lot of consequences outside of God’s will. When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac to Him, he obeyed. Not only do we need to learn patience, we must also learn to give everything back to God when He demanded it. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his obedience.

Isaac also waited a long time before he was married and became a father. The phrase “God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” still appears in the New Testament. These three people are the most important ancestors of the Israelites. God made His covenant with them and their descendants. This is the difference between Christianity and other religions. Other religions do not have the principle of revelation and God’s covenant and promises for His people.

God’s promises are one-sided and are based on 3 foundations. The first is the eternal faithfulness of God. He will not lie to us and will not betray Himself. The second one is God’s eternal will. His eternal will becomes the guarantee of His promises. To God, nothing is sudden as everything is set in His eternal will. The third one is His immutability, which becomes the basis of His will. He is unchanging, therefore His words can be trusted.

God is willing to share His eternal will so He made covenant with His chosen ones. God is the God who made covenant with men. Not only do we receive His promises, but we need to be responsible before Him. In this manner, covenant becomes two-sided. God has blessed us and given His grace to us, but He requires us to obey Him and honor His covenant. God will continue to bless our descendants if we are faithful to His covenant. In Christian faith, the relationship between God and human beings is not from human towards Him. That is what other religions are. They think they are looking for God so they do not have the concept of revelation, and God’s promises and covenants.

From the call of Abraham, we see the manifestation of God’s will towards mankind. God said that Abraham’s seed will become a blessing to all nations and the seed is singular, referring to only One person. This Person is Jesus Christ, God-Incarnate. When Jesus appeared in history, it is the greatest manifestation of God manifesting and His promises. Paul proclaimed this to be a great mystery. When God became man, the Creator entered the created world. The Infinite has come to a finite world. All nations shall be blessed through Him.

When we read this passage, it seemed to be just jealousy between two women. Jacob was deceived by his uncle and as a result married his two daughters. From these two women, and their maidservants, he had 12 sons and one daughter. In the end Jacob loved the son of Rachel, Joseph, the most. The last portion of Genesis is all about Joseph. However the Bible only said God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Abraham is the father of monotheism. He was different from all other people in the world because he believed in one True God. Mesopotamia was worshiping all kinds of gods, but Abraham was the only person who worshiped the one True God. He became the leader of monotheistic faith.

What is the value of monotheistic faith? There are two kinds of religions in the world, i.e. revelatory and non-revelatory religions.

The teaching and principles of all eastern philosophies and religions are based on their own authority. We cannot question how we know but they are just the conclusion of faith coming from human thoughts. Religions declare first that they have authority that cannot be questioned. There are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism that produce great philosophies. But they never claim to receive words from God.

Once we compare with other religions in the world, we will see big differences. The middle-eastern religion, i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam (570 years after Christ) are all monotheistic. Abraham is not only the ancestor of the Israelites, but the ancestor of all these 3 great beliefs. No other faith by themselves have monotheistic concept. All other faiths are polytheistic.

Abraham’s monotheistic system is passed down to Judaism, Christianity and Islam tradition. Only monotheistic system claim to have revelation from God. It means what they receive is not the product of their imagination or of their logical thinking. If asked why they believe so, they will say it is because God reveal to them.

In the day of Moses, we see how God reveal Himself to the people of Israel. Moses was a shepherd, an occupation despised by Egyptians, and he ran away because he killed an Egyption. He felt that he had no authority to go back and face Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go.

Moses asked how he should answer if the Israelites asked who had sent him. Here God reveal Himself to Moses. He said, “I AM that I AM.” Other than the Old and New Testament, no other religious Scripture has this statement. It refers to the One who is eternal and everlasting. We have our past, present and future as we are in a process. So anyone in process is not the absolute one. Only God is. Nobody in all history declare himself this way, except Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Jews that their ancestor Abraham saw Him from afar. He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” He declared His eternal presence before Abraham existed.

The God that Abraham believed is the God of promises, the God who brings the grace of salvation. Abraham also believed that God is Creator, Savior and the One who guides. These are the important contents of the faith of Abraham.

The concept of creation by God is only found in the Scripture, which is the second great contribution of the Hebrew culture to the world. The God that Abraham believe is One who made something out of nothing. Romans 4 also mentioned that Abraham believed in God who resurrected people from the dead. He is not only Creator, but also Redeemer. He created something out of nothing (creation), and brought life from death (salvation).

But how do we know these two things in the life of Abraham? He believed in God and His promises. God promised him that Sarah would bear a child at her old age. Physically it was impossiblr but Isaac was really born at the appointed time. Because Abraham believed in God, God counted it as righteousness. At the time, the Law was not passed yet. Abraham was not yet circumcised. So Romans gave two important principles. Abraham was made righteous before circumcision, and 400 years before the Law was given. This become the essence of the gospel. It means we are not made righteous by the law or circumcision.

God is also the God of Isaac. Isaac had a very normal lifestyle. He made a lot of mistakes, and like his father he lied about his relationship with his wife. He represent many Christians who live common life.

God is also called the God of Jacob. Jacob was a very unusual person. He was talented, articulate and deceiving. But God called Himself the God of Jacob. That was comforting for all of us.

Jacob wanted to leave Laban. Laban wanted him to continue working. He knew that he was successful because of Jacob. It was because God blessed Jacob. We might be one of these three kinds of believers.

Jacob had 12 sons that became 12 tribes of Israel. And God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means the Crown Prince of God.


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