This article is written by Rev. Daniel Holstege and will be published in the March 15, 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The covenant of God and our mission to the world
The covenant of God.
Our mission to the world.
How often have we thought about these highly significant biblical concepts together? How often, when discussing one, have we been led to discuss the other? How deeply has our thinking penetrated into the glorious realities and urgent callings that lie at the intersection of these truths? It is the humble opinion of this writer that there is room for growth in our understanding of the relation between these marvelous truths of Scripture. The burden of this and subsequent articles will be an attempt to develop the relation between them as it is set forth in the Word of God.
The promise of God to establish His covenant with believers and their seed is very dear to me personally. I am a child of believers, baptized as an infant and trained to walk in the ways of God in our “covenant home” and in “covenantal schools” that were established by Protestant Reformed believers zealous for God’s covenant. I grew up “in the sphere of the covenant.”
Let the reader know too that our mission to the world as the church of Jesus Christ has also become exceedingly important to me personally. Our Lord called me to leave my homeland, the United States of America, with my wife and children, to leave behind our friends and family in the PRCA, and to go out into the world, crossing thousands of miles of ocean to enter the Philippines, which was a foreign nation to us, to preach the gospel of salvation.
Maybe the Lord used the conjunction of these two facts in my life to make me realize that this area of our thinking, the covenant and missions, could use some development. But the Lord also put this sentiment into my mind through other men in our circles who have noticed the same need because I am certainly not the first to notice it.
The covenant and missions
The covenant is that intimate relationship of sweet fellowship and friendship with God, which God graciously establishes and maintains with all whom He loved and chose in Christ; which Christ secured by shedding His blood on the cross in His love for us that we might be forgiven and justified; in which God is our Father who dwells with us His people today and will do so forever in the new Paradise that is still to come; and in which He calls us to love Him who first loved us by keeping His commandments.
The covenant...and our mission to the world. After His glorious resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to the apostles on a lofty mountaintop somewhere in Galilee and announced our mission to the world as the church from that day forward. Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, making disciples in all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.
So, what do these have to do with each other?
In order to begin unfolding the answer to that question, let us go back to the beginning, because God revealed significant truths about His purpose with regard to His covenant and the world already in the Old Testament. At the very dawn of history, God revealed His great purpose to establish His covenant with the world of men, the highest of all His creatures, and to walk with them and talk with them in the midst of the elegant world that He made. For after bringing forth out of nothing the marvelous cosmos of heavens and earth, God created a man and a woman. He created them in His own image and likeness, unlike all other creatures, so that He could walk with them in the sweet communion of His covenant. He then put them into Paradise, that breathtaking garden at the center of the prediluvian world, where He walked and talked with them in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).
Notice, God did not at the dawn of history create a world of many different nations, immediately narrowing down His covenant to just one of them and promising to be the God of them and their seed after them in their generations. But God created two human beings in His own image, Adam and Eve, the parents of the whole human race. Thus, when He established that original covenant of creation with Adam and Eve in Paradise, He revealed that He has a grand covenant purpose with regard to the world of men, which would soon develop into many nations, kindreds, and tongues.
But that grand purpose was not to establish His covenant with all men in Adam, for Adam was only “the figure of him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Hence, Adam fell into sin. After the Fall, God began to reveal that He has a twofold purpose with the world of men, flowing from an eternal decree: to destroy the world of wicked men whom He ordained to be vessels of wrath and to establish His covenant with that new world of men in all nations whom He loved and chose in Christ.
God realized both of those purposes in the history of the flood. He destroyed the wicked world that had filled up the cup of iniquity. But He established His covenant with believing Noah and his family and saved them in the ark through the very waters that destroyed the ungodly. God foreshadowed in the flood that He would save the world of men whom He loved from sin and destruction through the cross of Christ so that they might dwell with Him in His covenant. After the flood, God said to Noah, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you...” (Gen. 9:9–10). Then He put His rainbow in the clouds, which seemed to embrace the whole world as it arced brilliantly from one end of heaven to the other, a token of His covenant with the earth (Gen. 9:12–17). God revealed that although He had just destroyed the wicked world with a flood, He still purposed to establish His covenant with the world of men, and through men with every living creature.
God soon revealed that He would establish His covenant with some men in the world but not with all. For He called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees and established His covenant with him and his seed after him in their generations (Gen. 17:7). God revealed His great purpose to establish His covenant with the Seed of Abraham, which is Christ, and with all those who belong to Christ, who are His beloved elect children. God demonstrated His sovereign decree to establish His covenant only with those people whom He would choose and with no others, for He chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but not their contemporaries. God also revealed that He would establish His covenant with believers and their children in their generations, though not with every child of believers, for He loved Jacob but hated Esau.
But notice this, which seems neglected in our thinking about the covenant, God would establish His covenant with Abraham as a father of many nations! When this man named Abram first came out of Ur of the Chaldees, God promised him, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Then, right there in the immediate context of that great covenant promise that we always quote to refute the Baptists and prove that the children of believers are included in the covenant, God said to that man Abram, “And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.. As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee” (Gen. 17:2–6). Notice! Before God promised to establish His covenant with Abraham and his seed after him, with believers and their seed in the lines of continued generations, He promised to make His covenant with Abraham as the father of many nations! God was not simply referring to those few little nations that would spring from the loins of Abraham through Ishmael, Midian, Jacob, and Esau. But God was promising that, as He had extended His covenant to Abraham, an elect believer, so also He would extend His covenant to men and women in all the nations of the world. He was promising to make Abraham the spiritual father of many nations, namely, those men and women whom He had chosen out of all nations under the starry heavens, who constitute the new humanity in Christ, the world whom He loves!
Have we done justice to this promise of God to Abraham in our thinking about the covenant? How long have we stood here and examined this intersection of highly significant concepts, where there is a promise of God to establish His covenant with all the families of the earth, the foundation of our mission to the world? How long have we wrestled with this astounding revelation of the purpose of God to establish His covenant with men and women in all nations? How much have we contemplated the stunning fact that God first uttered a promise to all the nations of the world and then to the children of believers in their generations? Have we truly appreciated this purpose of God to establish His covenant not only with us and our children, but also with the elect in the nations who are still lost in darkness? If so, have we also appreciated the tremendous importance of our mission as the church to preach the gospel in all the world and of our calling as believers to echo that gospel in personal witnessing to the Chinese man with whom we do business, the Indian woman who lives next door, or the Hispanic with whom we work?
Hundreds of years after Abraham, God established His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (Deut. 5:1–3). He separated them from the ungodly nations that surrounded them and commanded them to live as His people in the midst of the world.
But the prophets of God spoke of a day when those nations would flow into the covenant. The prophets lived in those days when the wicked little nations around Israel fell away one by one...Moab, Ammon, Edom... and mighty empires of darkness rose to power. Assyria, Babylon, Persia. But God revealed to the prophets that the day would soon come when all nations would flow into Mount Zion (Is. 2:2), for He would gather all nations and tongues, and they would come and see His glory (Is. 66:18). God promised to raise up the Messiah “for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Is. 42:6–7). “Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zech. 8:22).
In the fullness of time, God sent His Son. God the Father, eternally communing in sweet fellowship with His Son through the Holy Breath between them, sent His Son into the world! Covenant! Mission! The triune God of the covenant sent His Son on the mission of founding a covenant with men in His own blood, which God now established with men in China, India, America, Ireland, Philippines, and many other nations.
Jesus was born. Visited by Gentile wise men from the east. Called a light to lighten the Gentiles by aged Simeon. During His life, God was still establishing His covenant almost exclusively with the nation of the Jews. He sent His disciples with the words, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5–6). Yet He also taught and exhorted, “Ye are the light of the world.. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:13–16). Also, when a Gentile centurion demonstrated great faith in Him, He exclaimed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” (Matt. 8:10–12). He taught that God would soon fulfill His purpose to establish His covenant with the elect in all nations of the world.
Then Jesus was crucified. That nation with whom God established His covenant in the past rejected Him. The powers of the wicked nations nailed Him to the cross. But in reality, He gave up His life on that cross as Mediator of the covenant, the one Mediator between God and man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Heb. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; John 1:29). For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). For God will have all men to be saved, that is, all kinds of men, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. and Christ gave Himself a ransom for them (1 Tim. 2:4–6). God has a purpose to save the world that fell in Adam. It is not a purpose to establish His covenant with all men, nor did Christ die for all men. But Christ died to take away the sin of the world of the elect in all nations, the world God loves.
Then, having risen from the dead and received all authority in heaven and on earth, our Lord Jesus Christ issued to us this last great commission: Go into all the world and make disciples in all nations. The mission of God to establish His covenant in all nations will be realized through the mission and witness of the church of Jesus Christ in the world. Peter proclaimed to Jews from many nations on the day of Pentecost, “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38–39).
As the church of Jesus Christ, we have a mission to the world. It is the mission of God. From the beginning, God purposed to establish His covenant with the world of men. Although He limited His covenant to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, He never changed His ultimate purpose with the world. The promise is not only to us and our children, but to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. How will God realize His promise to make Abraham a father of many nations? How will God establish His covenant with men and women in all nations? How will God finish what He has begun in establishing a living relationship of friendship with the new humanity that He has chosen in Christ? The great commission tells us how.
(to be continued)