The God Who Renews

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing." Isaiah 35:1-2

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing." Isaiah 35:1-2

This week we set out to discover how God continues to pursue new creation, framing our mission and vision in light of what we discover. The story of Abraham will provide the map for our journey. His story provides a window into the whole of the biblical narrative through which we can see that God makes all things new as he . . .

Gathers a people to himself;

Renews the people’s relationship with himself and with one another; and

Sends a renewed people out on mission

In yesterday’s blog post we discussed the God Who Gathers. Today we dive into the God Who Renews.

The God Who Renews

In order for God to stay faithful to his promises, God has to remain committed to Abraham. God must bless all nations through Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  Just as he must renew all things through humanity given his promise to Eve, he must now do this through a child of Abraham. God cannot simply abandon Abraham or he abandons his creation. God’s commitment to Abraham thus requires consistent presence and continued renewal. And this is precisely what God provides in his relationship with Abraham.

 

When it seems that God is not going to be able to fulfill his promise to and through Abraham, or that Abraham is going to derail the whole redemption project, God shows up. In Genesis 15, Abraham questions whether or not God can fulfill his promises. God intervenes and graciously uses what Abram can see to give him hope for what he can’t. The stars that he can see come to represent the offspring that he can't even imagine. Abram responds in faith and God counts Abram as righteous. Still Abram and his wife Sarai begin to question how they, with their old and barren bodies, could possibly have a child. As a result we get the stumbling of Abram and Sarai of Genesis 16 sandwiched between God’s promises of 15 and 17. We must notice, though, that God does not abandon his promise or his people because of their doubt and weakness. At the moment when it seems that Abram and Sarai might cause the whole thing to fold, God again intervenes. God reiterates and clarifies his promise to them. He does not abandon them, he renews his relationship with them and one another. He even changes their names to remind them of his promises, to remind them that he has made them new, and that he is committed to making all things new through them.

 

Abraham responds to God’s renewal in faithful obedience as he trusts in him.

 

Abraham’s strengthening faith is put to the test in Genesis 22 when Abraham is told to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. This story raises a lot of questions. Why would God ask such a thing? Why would Abraham obey? How can God be faithful to his promises if he said, as he did in Genesis 17:19, that he would establish his covenant with Isaac and his offspring?

 

God’s promises to Abraham and to the whole world will be nullified if Isaac dies. Abraham must have believed that despite what he was being asked to do, God would be faithful (Hebrews 11:17–19). So Abraham obeyed because of God’s consistent, renewing presence in his life. Abraham had no reason to doubt that God would continue what he had started—to gather all nations to himself, renew relationship with them, and send them back out to gather more. Abraham’s confidence in God renewing all things was grounded in his experience of God’s renewing him. And God vindicates Abraham’s trust. He redeems Isaac’s life and renews his promise to Abraham.

The God of Resurrection Faith

Matthew begins his Gospel by immediately connecting the story of Jesus with the story of Abraham, the story of Israel. With this seemingly boring genealogy, Matthew has started with the most exciting news possible—God is now fulfilling his promise to bless all nations through Jesus. In Matthew’s story, God will gather a small group of people to himself, renew his relationship with them and send them out to fulfill God’s mission in the world.

Matthew's account tells us that we can only understand the significance of the story of Jesus if we understand the events in light of the whole story.

 

And this is how Paul understands our renewal in Christ.

 

In Romans, Paul describes the faith that Abraham has as believing in the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). Abraham and Sarah’s bodies were “as good as dead,” but Abraham believed that the God who created the world out of nothing could also bring life out of his dead body. And that faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” This is the same justifying faith we have in the God who raised Jesus from dead (Romans 4:24–25). Resurrection faith is our heritage. Resurrection from the dead is our inheritance.

As wait there is work to be done in the meantime, a mission that God has carved out for his people. The God who gathers and renews also sends. More on that tomorrow . . . 

Mark Catlin