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Father Abraham

Tomb of Abraham in Hebron, Israel. Photo Credit: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com

Someone recently asked me, “Who are the real children of Abraham? Are all the children of Abraham ‘Israel’? Do the promises contained in the covenants apply to those of the flesh or to those of faith?” Here’s how I responded to my friend…

I believe that throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, “Israel” refers consistently to the ethnic, physical descendants of Abraham. “Gentiles” is a broad term for all non-Jews. Sometimes, it speaks of the godless pagans. At other times, it simply refers to the non-Jewish people groups of the world and would be synonymous with “Greeks” and “the nations.” Context in each passage will easily determine if it carries a negative, spiritual connotation of godlessness (Eph. 2:11; 4:17; 1 Thess. 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:12; 4:3) or is a simple statement of non-Jewish ethnicity (Rom. 1:13; 9:24; 11:13).

In the Old Testament, people could only be in right relationship with God by believing in God as Savior, and participating in the Mosaic covenant. The law was never a means to salvation; it was God’s holy measuring stick to convict people of their sin, and then for those who believed, it became the outward expression of one’s faith in the one true God. Gentiles were required to proselytize or convert over to Judaism in order to become a full member of the covenant community. Remember, the church was a complete mystery at this point and had not been revealed, nor did it even exist (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 11:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-6; 6:19; Col. 1:26-27).

Contrary to the teaching of some, the New Testament continues to maintain a distinction between Jew and Gentiles. People will often look at a passage like Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek” and conclude that all distinction has been removed, and that the church is the new or true Israel. But this simply is not the case.

In the present era, the Jew/Gentile distinction is diminished, but it is never lost. In a similar way, male/female and slave/master distinctions may look different under the new covenant, but they are never abolished. We must not press Gal. 3:28 and Col. 3:9-11 so far as to eliminate all distinction. These passages speak of spiritual equality, not functional equality. In fulfillment of his covenant promise to Abraham, God still maintains a distinction and has a future plan for ethnic Israel. See for example:

Acts 13:45–46 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.

Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

Romans 9:24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 11:11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

Galatians 2:14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

I believe this is the point of Jesus’ statement in John 10:16 also: And I have other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this fold [Jews]. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

In what way, then, are Gentiles the children of Abraham? According to Romans 4, all who believe in Christ are children of Abraham according to faith. Paul as a Jew could call Abraham “a forefather according to the flesh” (Romans 4:1). But down in verse 11, he says Abraham becomes “the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well.”

Using a classic Hebrew figure of speech, where a child resembles his father, Paul is saying that even non-Jews can call Abraham father when we imitate the same kind of faith that he exhibited by grace alone in Christ alone. So, it may be a silly Sunday School song, but there really is theological truth in the song, “Father Abraham, had many sons…I am one of them, and so are you…”

Sometimes, the terms “circumcised of heart” and “children of Abraham” speak of a spiritual reality and refer to both believing Jews and Gentiles in a figurative sense. But, and this is important: the Bible never uses the technical term “Israel” to refer to the church.

Nor do I believe these expressions remove or transfer God’s promises away from Israel (which he made in the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants). Through the New Covenant, his blessings spill over and now affect believing Gentiles too. But God would never revoke the promises he made to the Israelite nation.

Jeremiah 31:35–36 “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’ ”

All glory be to God!

Loaves, Fish, and Jesus’ Free Gift

Of all the miracles Jesus performed, my personal favorite is the feeding of the five thousand. Do you remember that story? After a long day of teaching in Galilee, Jesus noticed the people were getting hungry. Rather than send them into a seaside village to scrounge for food, he accepted a little boy’s sack lunch of five barley loaves and two small fish. He thanked God for the food, then began to break the bread and the fish, handing it out to the disciples, who distributed it among the crowd.

People were invited to eat “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11), and when it was all over, there was more food than when Jesus began. It was the first meal in history where the leftovers amounted to more than the original meal itself! “So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten” (John 6:13).

The response was electric. “When the people saw this miracle and tasted the food, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” (John 6:14). Some even tried to forcibly make him king right there. Jesus had no choice but to withdraw from the mob. His time had not yet come to publicly announce his kingship.

I’m not sure why this miracle is my favorite. Maybe it’s because it is the largest scale miracle recorded in the Gospels. More eye witnesses saw this event than probably any other in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Maybe it’s because I like to eat, and I think it’s cool that Jesus cared about the hunger of his listeners. Maybe it’s because of the underlying spiritual lesson that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and if you want to have your spiritual hunger satisfied, you must trust in him alone.

There’s one more reason I like this miracle so much, and it goes back to a childhood memory. When I was in second grade, the teacher at my little Christian school conducted an experiment to show us how big the number 5,000 is. She sent home a letter instructing us to collect as many aluminum soda can tabs as possible (“pop” can tabs for all of us in Michigan). By next Monday, kids were already pulling Ziploc-bags out of their backbacks that contained soda can tabs. We huddled close, counted them up, then listened to them clink into an empty metal desk at the front of the room. Week by week, the desk began to fill more and more, until it reached the brim, and the desk lid would barely close. Still more tabs were brought and placed on top of the desk, until finally, we reached our goal of 5,000 soda tabs. The class went wild. We had done it! And that staggering number of aluminum can tabs represented the same number of people Jesus fed with a little basket of five loaves and two fish.

The feeding of the five thousand is just one of the many amazing miracles or “signs” Jesus performed, proving he is the Son of God. These were not cheap magic tricks or legendary fables. They were real-life events that defied the laws of nature and became indisputable proofs that Jesus was sent from God. The people who ate that meal were right to acknowledge, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” What about you? What will you do with Jesus? Are you willing to check out his claims for yourself — or maybe even accept his free gift of eternal life?

This article first appeared in the Minister’s Message of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

Do You Ask Good or Bad Questions?

Last Sunday, we concluded a sermon series on evangelism. I do pray this will be a turning point in our church becoming more evangelistic, and seeing more people saved. May this not be the end, but rather the beginning of a new culture of evangelism in our lives and in the church.

When preaching on “The Conversation of an Evangelist” a few weeks ago, I shared several ways to have more fruitful, gospel-centered conversations, as Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch.

During that message, I shared several tips for asking good questions, and promised I would send it out to everyone. As you can see, one of the keys to evangelism is becoming a better listener. Here’s the list for any blog readers interested…

NINE TIPS FOR ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS

By Will Metzger, Tell the Truth

1. Take every possible chance to ask a searching question, then keep quiet.

2. One thoughtful question is worth a dozen interrogative ones. The prod-and-pry approach makes people clam up.

3. Questions that come close to people’s true interests get the best answers, provided we are interested.

4. Be prepared to wait. Sometimes a long silence can be more rewarding than another question.

5. In every case, the quality of an answer depends on the quality of attention given by the questioner.

6. Questions must spring from honest inquiry, not from attempts at flattery or efforts to manipulate people’s thinking.

7. Questions that deal with people’s feelings are more provocative than those that deal with facts. Listen for and encourage all expressions of feeling.

8. What is our motive in asking questions? Are we just leading people on in order to argue or to trap them, or do we really care for them?

9. Ask questions to help people tell their story, not just about what interests you or things you want clarified.

“Only a listening, loving heart can remove the mask we all wear”

Question: What kind of questions help you have gospel conversations with unbelievers?

Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net

Advantages of a Small Church

My wife and I both grew up in small churches, and I pastor one now. I’ve long felt they are overlooked and misunderstood in ministry training and support.

Most small churches, I think, struggle with an inferiority complex, looking with a certain degree of envy at their “big brother” down the street (or on YouTube, or the radio, or conferences). Big churches appear successful (“They must be doing something right to attract all those people!”). Small churches draw looks of sympathy.

But let us not forget the majority of churches in America, and throughout church history, have been small churches. It appears Christ will always accomplish a large amount of kingdom work through small churches.

In a 2014 Shepherds Conference workshop entitled “Small Church: Big Impact,” Lance Quinn shared several advantages to a small church. These include:

• Small churches should be able to do a few things well.
• They are able to more effectively know and care for the entire body.
• They can more effectively practice the one-another’s of scripture.
• They can be easier to manage due to a lack of complexity.
• It is possible to know and affirm leaders in a more intimate way.
• They can be a close-knit body of prayer warrior.

Question: Do you agree with these points? What advantages would you add to the list?

Jacob’s Trouble

jacobs-trouble
In Mark 13, Jesus speaks of a coming time when unprecedented judgment will be poured out on the nation of Israel and the world. Daniel 9 and 11, and the Book of Revelation give further detail of this period of tribulation.

Not all will agree with my dispensational view of biblical prophecy. But a plain reading of the Olivet Discourse and its parallel e passages do suggest a literal, seven-year period of God’s wrath that awaits the present world. Serious Bible students should at least give this view a fair treatment.

Sunday’s sermon is now available from our podcast, or you can stream it using the media player below.