[You can hear the sermon on which this blog post is based here]
As I have written elsewhere, God is love and love produces family. God’s goal in creation, then, is family. He wants this family together in one place, working productively, joyfully reproducing generation after generation. That was the plan for Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. In the beginning we see a unified family living together in one place and peacefully working the ground.
The fall brought the curse that destroyed that idyllic situation. Now the land was filled with thorns and thistles and the family is characterized by pain and separation. The natural consequence of sin (which is adultery against God, again, see here for more) is the destruction of God’s family. Separation is the result, and from Genesis 3 through 11 we see mankind move father and farther apart from each other. The curse of Babel extends that disunity to its farthest point yet. Mankind is spread all over the globe.
In Gen. 12 God makes a covenant with a man named Abram. The promise to Abraham is that God will bring about the opposite of that curse. God promises Abraham a loving family living together in one place.
In this post, we will look at the first three generations of Abraham’s descendents to see what we can learn about how God goes about fulfilling this promise. In particular, we will look at the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The Story of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
First Generation: Isaac
Abram was married to Sarai but she had been unable to bear him any children, so Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram as a surrogate mother (Gen. 16:1-2.) That produced Ishmael.
In Gen. 17 God reaffirmed his covenant with Abraham (giving him a new name in the process) and then in Gen. 18 promised him a son. A year later Isaac was born (Gen. 21).
This produced severe conflict between Sarai and Hagar and between the boys, so Ishmael and his mother were sent away. (Gen. 21, conflict seen in v. 8)
Then God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22). Jewish midrash and textual clues suggest Isaac went willingly. (For example, he is old and strong enough to carry the wood himself yet there is no mention of a struggle or of him refusing to be sacrificed.) Note here that in verses 12 and 16 God calls Isaac Abraham’s only son even though Ishamel was his offspring as well. We will discuss that more later.
In Gen. 24 Abraham sent his servant to get a wife for Isaac, and he returned with the lovely Rebekah.
Second Generation: Jacob
Gen. 25:19-28 tells us that Rebekah was barren but Isaac prayed and she became pregnant with Jacob and Esau. Esau was born first, meaning he was entitled to the inheritance as the first born. However, God had foretold that the older would serve the younger and we see that prophesy start to be fulfilled when Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.
The next phase in that saga is recorded in Chapter 27. Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing that was intended for Esau. On finding out about the ruse, Esau vowed to kill Isaac (27:41). In order to protect her son Rebekah got Isaac to send Jacob to his uncle Laban’s to get a wife. Isaac sent Jacob off with essentially the same blessing that God gave Abraham (28:3-4).
While Jacob was on his way to Paddam Aram (at what is now called Bethel) God confirmed that covenant. (28:13-15).
When he arrives at his destination, Jacob met Rachel, Laban’s daughter. He knew she was the one for him. So he worked out a deal with Laban. Jacob vowed to work for 7 years for Laban in order to receive Rachel as his wife. However, after 7 years Laban tricked him and gave him Rachel’s sister, Leah. Then the two agreed that Jacob would work for another 7 years if he could have Rachel as well, which is what happened.
Leah had several children by Jacob while Rachel was having none. Finally, in a move reminiscent of Sarai, frustrated Rachel gave her servant to Jacob as a surrogate (Gen. 30:3) and a couple of sons were produced. By this time Leah thought she could no longer have kids, so she gave her servant to Jacob to have a couple. However, later she did give birth to two more sons and a daughter herself.
After all this we read that God remembered Rachel and “opened her womb” (Gen. 30:22) and she had a son named Joseph.
By this time Jacob was gaining power and making enemies, so God told him that it was time to go home (31:13).
On the way he met Esau and wrestled with God, who changed his name to Israel.
Later, Rachel has another son, Benjamin. That’s how we arrive at the total of 12 sons (later tribes) of Israel. The oldest son was Reuben, but Jacob’s favorite son was Joseph, his firstborn of Rachel.
Third Generation: Joseph
Joseph was hated for being the favorite. Then he had a dream about how the rest of his family was going to bow down to him and that made the brothers hate him even more. (37:4-5
One day Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers. They took the opportunity to throw him in a cistern and then sell him into slavery, telling his father that he has been killed by an animal.
Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he was sold to Poitphar, a leader of the kingdom. Joseph found favor with Potiphar and was put in charge of the household. Unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife also found Joseph favorable and tried to seduce him, but failed. Angry at Joseph’s righteousness, she accused him of trying to rape her and he was sent to jail.
Some time later (Chapter 40), the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were sent to jail as well and had some dreams. Joseph interpreted the dreams correctly, explaining that the cupbearer would be restored to his position and the baker would be killed. These interpretations both come true, but Joseph was left in jail.
Two years later, Pharaoh himself had a dream and the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph, who was brought in to interpret. Joseph explained the dream, telling Pharaoh that there would be 7 prosperous years followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of Egypt and he prepared for the famine brilliantly, storing up food for the people.
Chapter 42, then, tells us about how Jacob sent his brothers to go get food from Egypt during the famine. Joseph met them but pretended that he didn’t know them. He then framed them for theft so that he could force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt.
Jacob initially refused to send Benjamin, but eventually relented. After Joseph met Benjamin, and finally revealed himself to his brothers. Jacob and the entire family then came down to Egypt to live (chapter 46) and that is how the Israelites ended up in Egypt before the Exodus.
Similarities between the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
There are some very strong themes that run through the Genesis narrative and some very clear similarities within the accounts of the first three generations of Abraham. Let’s look at a few:
1. None of the three boys on which we are focusing was the first born son in the family. That is to say, none of them was the born first biologically. Biological preeminence was considered then, and still is, in most cases, the way a family naturally grows. The power and authority (money and blessing) of the father would pass to the firstborn.
However, we saw that:
- Isaac gained preeminence over Ishmael
- Jacob gained priority over Esau
- Joseph gained priority over Reuben and the rest of the brothers, who, in the end are bowing down to him, begging for food and mercy.
So the older ended up serving the younger; the greatest by natural worldly standards became the lesser in this narrative. I am going to suggest this is the way things work in the economy of God. God does not follow the pattern of the world (the “natural” pattern). David, the shepherd boy who became king, is another example of this principle which comes quickly to mind.
2. All three of these sons were supernaturally born to previously barren women
- Isaac was born to Sarah when she was past the child-bearing age (21:1-2) (that is why she had tried to use a surrogate).
- Isaac’s wife Rebekah was barren until she became pregnant with Jacob and Esau after Isaac prayed (25:21).
- Jacob’s wife Rachel was also barren before God “opened her womb” and gave her Joseph (29:31) (she also had used a surrogate).
Again, there is a natural, worldly means of having children, but in all these cases, God circumvented that and intervened supernaturally to build his family.
3. All of these sons were beloved sons; they were favored above the other siblings. All three ultimately achieved preeminence in their father’s mind over the natural born brothers.
- Isaac was obviously favored at first by his mother over Ishmael, but also, ultimately, by Abraham. God tells Abraham, take your son, your only son, who you love…” (22:2)
- Jacob was his mother’s favorite (and not his father’s) in the beginning, but in the end he received a better blessing from his father, showing his preeminence.
- Joseph was explicitly his father’s favorite (37:3), and the robe may have been a symbol that he was going to get the inheritance.
So they are not just special in the way they were conceived, but were considered especially beloved by their parents
4. All these sons lived in conflict with his siblings, the older and natural born sons.
- Isaac and Ishmael: Ishmael had issues with Isaac (21:8).
- Jacob and Esau: Esau vows to kill Jacob for stealing everything from him (27:41).
- Joseph and his brothers: The brothers hate him for being the favorite and for his visions (37:4).
5. All three of these sons are sent on a mission by their father; they were “given over” to a task
- Isaac is taken to be sacrificed, but there is also a sense in which he is sent to be sacrificed. According to tradition as well as textual clues he goes willingly. He wasn’t fighting his father over the situation – he has to give himself up as a sacrifice.
- Jacob is sent by his father to get a wife.
- Joseph is sent by his father to check on the brothers.
6. All three went through a separation from their father; an exile; a symbolic death that involved humiliation. They went from being the heir to the fortune to a much lower status.
- Isaac was essentially dead to his father as he raised the knife. The son of inheritance is tied to an altar.
- Jacob was gone for more than 14 years, working as a hired hand away from the place in which he would gain his inheritance.
- Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt and his father thought he was dead. He went from wearing the coat of many colors to Egyptian prison rags.
7. All three had to remain faithful through trials and temptations
- Isaac had to allow himself to be tied with ropes and placed on the altar. He was a living sacrifice but there is nothing said about a struggle.
- Jacob had to keep working for fourteen years. He certainly was a bit shady in some of his dealings, but when it came to sticking to his end of the bargain to secure his wife, he did it.
- Joseph had to remain faithful especially when tempted by Potiphor’s wife.
8. All three, after remaining faithful through humiliation and hardship, were reunited with their fathers with increased blessing (more power and authority then they would have received naturally). They were humbled and then exalted. The family line was saved through them, but not just that, the family increased in power and scope because of them.
- Because of his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, God renewed and extended his promise to Abraham (22:15-18), making Isaac the centerpiece of that covenant.
- Jacob left Laban with great wealth, and the last verses in the account of Jacob (35:27-29) tell of him coming home to his father as a very important man.
- Joseph is reunited with his father as the ruler of Egypt, basically with all the authority and power of the king. Their lives are in his hands and if it wasn’t for him, the family would have died out.
So there are incredible similarities between these stories. Is that a coincidence? Just something interesting without any broader meaning? I don’t think so.
So what does it mean?
Jesus as the Archetypal Beloved Son Of God
First, tells us something about Jesus. All three of these guys are types of Christ, the beloved son of God. Jesus fits into the pattern of the beloved son perfectly. He is very much like Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Examining the parallels will tell us something about who he is and what he came to Earth to do:
1. He was supernaturally born to the Virgin Mary.
- Jesus is part of a supernatural family line, not a natural one. (We will talk more about the difference between the family of promise and the natural worldly family below, but for now let’s note that there is a difference between the family of man (which is a result of natural earthly processes) and the family of God (which is a result of supernatural processes).
2. He is beloved of God – the special one.
- Twice God speaks directly from Heaven about who Jesus is: at his baptism and the Transfiguration. Both times God says “this is my son, whom I love” (Matt. 3:17 and 17:5). That is the same phrase used when God called Abraham to sacrifice his son, whom he loved.
3. He is sent on a mission by his father. We saw that Isaac was sent to offer himself as a sacrifice, Jacob was sent to woo a bride, and Joseph was sent to check on his brothers. Jesus does all three!
- 1. One of the most obvious types of Christ in the Bible is Isaac. (And Jesus is not just Isaac in that story, of course, but also but the lamb who was sacrificed in his place.) Jesus is the son whom God the father presents as a sacrifice for the remission of sins. Just as Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice on his back up to the top of Moriah, Jesus carried the wood that would be used to kill him up to the top of Moriah. The picture of Abraham offering his son is the picture of God offering his son for the sins of the world.
- 2. However, that is not the only reason Jesus was sent, and not the only picture we have of Jesus’ mission. Like Jacob, Jesus is also sent to woo his bride, his church. He is the bridegroom inviting people to a wedding banquet. Just like Jacob worked in anticipation of that wedding day, the culmination of Jesus work is the bride presented to her husband
- Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 22:17 tell us of the church dressed as a bride for her husband.
- In 2 Cor. 11:2 Paul promises his readers “to one husband, Christ.”
- In the parable of wedding banquet (Matt. 22) and the parable of the virgins (Matt. 25), Jesus talks about himself as the bridegroom, as he does in Matt. 9:15 and John 3:29.
- 3. Jesus is sent to check on mankind.
- This recalls the parable of the tenants in Matt. 21:33-45. After sending his servants (the prophets) to check on his renters (mankind), the landowner sends his son and the tenants kill him. Just like Joseph is sent to his brothers and rejected and killed, Jesus is sent and rejected. As John says “He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).
4. Jesus went through a separation from his father that involved exile, humiliation, and death.
We pointed out how each of the three beloved sons of Abraham were separated from their fathers and humiliated. I want to focus on Joseph here, as he went through several levels of humiliation, both literally and figuratively. He went from being the favored son of powerful landowner to
- being thrown into a pit,
- then sent as a slave to Egypt,
- then thrown in jail in Egypt.
This is a perfect picture of Jesus, who also went through several levels of humiliation.
Philippians 2:6-8: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Notice all the levels that Jesus had to descend. He condescended to be a human, then to be arrested, tortured and killed. Then, as Jonah was in the belly of the whale (Matt 12:38), the Apostles Creed tells us that Jesus then descended into hell. Whatever that might mean, it is a far cry from the right hand of the father in Heaven. Jesus’ life to this point is very similar to Joseph’s trajectory down.
5. Jesus had to remain faithful to the mission, just like the other beloved sons.
Here we might think of the garden of Gethsemane, where he prays ‘Not my will but yours,” in submitting to his upcoming death.
Or we can look at the temptation in the wilderness. There Jesus was tempted with making stones into bread, with testing God as to his exalted status and with the political kingdoms of the world. In other words he faces the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes and the pride of life, the same temptations that brought down Adam and Eve in the garden. He succeeds where they failed.
In that he is emulating Joseph, who, when faced with Potiphar’s wife, was also tempted with the same things: Physical pleasure, the offer to test his exalted status and political power. (To make a play on the ruler’s wife is to make a play for his position.) So, like Joseph, Jesus remained faithful and, having humbled himself in obedience, he is exalted, which leads us to the next similarity.
6. Jesus was exalted
Just as Joseph was made ruler over all, so was Jesus. The hymn we quoted from Philippians concludes: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)
Paul echoes this theme in Ephesians:
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:20-23)
After suffering and humiliation, Jesus is exalted as far as exaltation can possibly go.
So we’ve see clear parallels between Jesus and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
Now, what about Jesus’ relationship with his “older” brothers? Does that fit in? We noted that Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were
- the younger and the “non-natural” brother
- and they ran into conflict with the older
How does that play our in Jesus’ life and ministry? Is there a parallel in that way as well? Yes.
The key is to understand that Jesus is the younger and “non-natural” brother in comparison to Adam.
Adam is, from a strictly human perspective, the first child of God. (That is what it means to be made in God’s image.) Out of the dust God made man. That is to say, God made a child physically. All human beings since are physical descendents of Adam. Jesus, in as much as he is fully human and comes later than Adam, is a younger brother, as Isaac is to Ishmael and Joseph is to his older brothers.
However, he is also not of exactly the same type, because he is supernaturally born.
You see, Jesus is the new Adam, the spiritual Adam, the ultimate child of promise. Jesus is the one that starts a new family of God. He begins a new type of humanity; a new line that is both physical and spiritual rather than just physical.
So now there are two families co-existing on the earth, and it is possible to move from one to the other. But to do so you must be re-born.
As such, there are two kinds of people in the world – those that are born only physically, (only once,) and those that are born physically and then spiritually. Only those who are born spiritually are part of God’s eternal family. All children in Jesus’ line are true children of Abraham – children of the promise. This is what God was teaching us with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
The natural son is no longer in line to get the blessing, the inheritance. Now it will be handed out to those in the live of the supernatural son, the son of promise.
Paul’s makes use of this theme in one of his earliest letters:
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall webear the likeness of the man from heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:44-49)
So the original Adam is like Ishmael and Esau and Reuben and the rest of the brothers who were naturally born. Everyone since Adam has been born into that line.
However, Jesus is the child of the promise. He is the new Adam, the head of the covenant family of God. He is like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. He is the one with the inheritance. Those that are born of Jesus get that inheritence. Those that are simply physical descendents are not part of that line and do not get the inheritance.
Paul also uses this comparison heavily in Romans in discussing the relationship between the biological family of Abraham (physical descendents of the man; the Jews) and the spiritual family of Abraham, those that are children of faith, children of promise, the “true Israel.”
In Romans 9:7-8 he explains that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
Paul is comparing Isaac and Ishmael, saying that physical Jews who do not accept Jesus are still a part of Ishmael’s line, just like everyone else in the world. On the other hand, those who have faith in Christ are like Isaac and they become children of God. Notice the difference in the word “descendents” and “children.” You may be a physical descendent of Abraham, but that does not mean that you are a child of Abraham, not a son. (Paul also uses this comparison in Galatians 4:21-5:1)
In fact, to be only a physical descendent of the first Adam is now to be a child of the devil! That is where Jesus took this theme (and it is what got him in so much trouble) with the Jewish religious leaders in John 8:31-47.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
“Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”
Notice again the difference between Abraham’s descendents (seed, genetic family) (v. 37) and Abraham’s children (v.39). Jesus is telling the religious leaders that if they do not accept the truth and become children of God by faith in him, they will remain part of the fleshly line of Abraham only, instead of part of the spiritual line of Abraham. The “children” of Abraham are different than the descendents of Abraham. Genetic descendents of Abraham are in the same boat as all genetic descendents of Adam: under God’s judgment as children of the devil. (That is the point Paul is making in Romans 3 when he says all have sinned – Jews and Gentiles are the same when it comes to being under God’s judgment) To be saved even the religious Jewish leaders must become true children of Abraham by following Jesus.
This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus that you must be born again!
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:4-6)
Of course this led to conflict with the children of the world, with the “older” “fleshly” brothers. Just as Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were persecuted, so also was Jesus persecuted by man. As he explains in that same chapter of John: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
So the lives of the beloved sons of God in Genesis tell us something about Jesus and what he came to do. As the new Adam, the beloved son of God came to build the family of God.
What this Means to Us as Children of God
These lives also tell us something about our lives as children of God. You see, we are now the beloved sons of God (assuming we have given our lives to Jesus and are in Christ and Christ is in us). The Church is the beloved son of God.
Do we really think we can avoid this pattern? Do we think that these guys did it so we wouldn’t have to: “Isn’t it nice that they humbled themselves and were persecuted and worked for God at the expense of family and friends so that I wouldn’t have to?
No! This life is the pattern of life for all beloved, supernaturally born children of God, including us. These guys are so similar because this is what all of God’s children go through. This is how God raises children. This is how mature adults are made.
God supernaturally give us life and then calls us to face the same things that every other child of God has to face.
I sometimes get the impression that we think God’s will is for us to just slide into heaven without having to love sacrificially or work or suffer or face temptation. No, we have to do all those things!
We are to:
1. Sacrifice ourselves to the will of the Father and to others in love.
As Paul says in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
We are to “present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1)
Jesus and the rest didn’t sacrifice so we wouldn’t have to; he did it so that we could – so that we could die to self and live to Christ.
Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Paul claimed, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Bonhoeffer said that when Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die. That is exactly right. Why? Because that is what love is, something I’ve talked about in previous sermons.
2. We are going to face hardship and persecution.
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20)
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29) But this suffering is to be accepted and frankly welcomed because we know that it produces maturity (James 1:2-4) and that it will lead to a reward, which leads us to another parallel.
4. The great thing is that when we remain faithful in our suffering, God will exalt us. The same prize that awaited the other sons of God awaits us.
Therefore, we can “Count it all joy when you face trials because you know that they produce perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so you can be mature and complete” (James 1:12). That is why Paul can say, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil 3:10-12)
Why does Paul welcome suffering and want to become like Jesus in his death? Because he knows it is the path to maturity and exaltation. This is the same guy who wrote Romans, after all.
Romans 8 is all about the ramifications of what we have been talking about today: living in the spirit; that is to say, living a life not as a natural born child of sinful Adam, but as a spiritually born child of God.
You see, we are the heirs – the children of promise who get the big prize at the end of the story!
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-19)
Now, let’s understand that this is not arbitrary – this is the way to maturation. As immature, sinful babes in Christ, the only way to grow is through trial. Holiness is union with God, so we need to see Heaven and Hell as the natural ends of a particular process.
5. So we must remain faithful and increase in holiness.
1 John 3:7-10
Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother
In this we will make Jesus clear to the world around.
As the church we have a mission to be Jesus to the world. We, with our “unveiled faces” (2 Cor 3:18) show the world Jesus. That’s an interesting phrase; it reminds me of Joseph finally revealing himself to his brothers as well as Jesus revealing himself to the beloved disciples at the transfiguration. Well, we are Jesus to the world. We are to shine like stars to those around us. (Phil. 2:15)
We started by talking about the curse on all of creation because of the fall. Family was broken and split apart and arable land was made difficult to farm. What is the solution to that problem? Sometimes people talk as if God just forgives the curse – waves a wand over it and treats it as if it never happened. Others talk about God reversing the curse – going backwards to cure the land and bring the people back together; some kind of healing process.
I don’t think either is quite right. God doesn’t ignore what is broken or give it a new name or even just fix it. He starts again. He makes something new. Even as the natural, sinful order of things careens toward its final destruction, God creates a new family, a new order of things, and places it within the old order. One day those two orders will be irrevocably split and we’ll see the new heavens and a new earth for that new family to inhabit. Jesus is the first fruits of that new creation and we are his offspring. So now we are in an in-between time. We are still part of the old, fallen order, but we are also part of the new. We are like the beloved sons of scripture, awaiting our full inheritance while putting up with troublesome older brothers and in fact trying to save them. And we groan, waiting for the consummation of all things but taking heart in the fact that the story is not over yet.
Let’s close with two final passages:
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
1 John 3:1:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!