by Ken Baker
(Editor’s note: This is the 4th post in a series called “A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture,” where we travel from Genesis through Revelation to look into the intersection of evangelism at various points of time.)
What if Abram had never agreed to leave father and family in Ur of the Chaldees to follow the Lord’s call to a promised land? We’ll never know because he did leave and became the Father of ‘a people’ through whom all nations would be blessed.
In Genesis 1-11, the wonder of Creation quickly dissipates with the Fall, eventual destruction through a Flood, then a restart for humanity which culminates in a dispersion at Babel. Humanity was wandering and aimless, showing no signs of its intended existence as God’s imagebearers. At this juncture in the narrative, God addressed this confusion with a plan of restoration. It’s like he’s was saying, ‘I will not leave my humanity adrift…instead I will make a promise. I will bring blessing out of destruction; I will restore what has been laid waste.’
It is here in the narrative that we meet the Fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—patriarchs of the promise that God would bless all families through the agency of one extended family as his ambassadors of redemption.
What does this have to do with evangelism? What do Old Testament stories have to do with New Testament mission? Everything.
First, we share the promise. The promise of old envisions a people who embody the mission of God, those who will be a blessing in the world among the nations. In other words, it gives them a clear identity. This was a promise that told them who they were and whose they were. Galatians 3:8-9 tells us that this promise to the Fathers was the ‘gospel in advance,’ and that all those in Christ are the inheritors of Abraham’s blessing. Today, we participate in the same stream of identity and blessing that God designed for his people…reconciliation with God and each other in eternal community.
Second, along with the Fathers, we display the promise. It gave them, and their posterity (including us), a role. Not only did it reveal who they are (the people of God), but also what they were to be and do (through obeying what God asked of them). Abraham was called to be the Father of a people, but he also had to leave his land for another place in order for God’s promise to be realized.
To be the people of God, there are always ethical and character obligations to fulfill. Christopher Wright writes,
Those whom God calls to participate in his redemptive mission for the nations are those who exercise saving faith like Abraham and demonstrate costly obedience like Abraham. So, the things God said to Abraham become the ultimate agenda for God’s own mission (blessing the nations), and the things Abraham did in response become the proximate model for our mission (faith and obedience).
Third, we also convey the promise. Not only did the promise give the Fathers an identity and a role, but it also gave them an abiding purpose. In referring to his covenant with Abraham, God says, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19). The ‘way of the Lord’ was to be passed along so that those who submit to God’s way will announce the supremacy of the Lord God over the earth. Christ expands this purpose in His charge that we, his people, are to make disciples of all nations.
In light of the Fathers’ testimony of this ‘gospel in advance,’ there are two cautions…
Just like the Fathers, we are mediators of God’s blessing—the gospel of the kingdom. The promise given to few envisions blessing for all. The people of God were to bear this promise for the sake of the world. However, for most of Israel’s biblical history, they were content (to their peril) to enjoy the blessings of the promise without fulfilling its obligations…which is a warning to us.
Likewise, as God’s representatives in the world, we have received this same identity, role, and purpose given to the descendants of the Fathers. However, all too often we treat this good news as though it is merely an external block of information, separate from us. For the Fathers, the promise was their consuming reality; they couldn’t escape, for it gave them life.
Does the gospel hold us, bind us, and/or compel us the way the promise did for the Fathers of old?
Ken Baker (@KenJBaker) is the international ministry training facilitator for a global organization and is currently on assignment abroad.