The Good News in Advance

This message on Galatians 3:8/Genesis 12:1-3 can also be found on YouTube.

It begins at 22:35 and lasts about 28 minutes.

We are in the second week of a series on the gospel titled, …Finally, Some Good News. This week and next, we will explore the biblical context of the gospel. We need context. Truths without context warp into half-truths and untruths. Doctrine without context becomes heresy. Content without context brings confusion.

Let me give you an example. A man was driving along a narrow country road with his German Shepherd in the back seat and his Sheltie in the front. A pickup came speeding around a curve, crossed the yellow line, and forced the man and his dogs into the ditch.

There were injuries and the car was totaled, so the man sued the driver of the pickup. While he was on the stand, the counsel for the defense said to him: “I want you to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following question: Did you or did you not say at the time of the accident that you were ‘perfectly fine’”?

The man said, “Well, I was driving with my dogs when … ” but the lawyer interrupted him. “Just answer the question ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Did you or did you not say you were ‘perfectly fine’ at the time of the accident?”

“Well, I was driving with my dogs … ” The defense attorney stopped him again. “Your honor,” he said to the judge, “this witness is evading the question. Would you please insist that he answer?” The judge said, “Well, he obviously wants to tell us something. Let him speak.”

So the man said, “Well, I was driving with my dogs when this truck came around the curve, crossed the yellow line, and forced me off the road and into the ditch and the car rolled over. The driver stopped to help and saw my German Shepherd had been thrown from the car and was badly injured. He went to his truck, got a rifle, came back, and put her out of her misery. Then he saw my Sheltie had a broken neck, so he dispatched him too. Then, still holding the gun, he asked me if I was okay. And I said… ‘I’m perfectly fine.’

Context is important. If we don’t get the biblical context for great words like “gospel,” we will invent our own, our ideas will be skewed and our actions will be disproportionate to the truth.

Let me show you how knowing the context helps. I am going to read a statement without giving you any context for it. See if it makes sense to you.

A seashore is a better place than the street because you need lots of room. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. If there are no snags it can be very peaceful. But if it breaks loose, you won’t get another chance.

Now let me give you a three-word interpretive key that will provide us the context we need. The words are: with a kite. Now with that for context, see if that same paragraph doesn’t make sense.

A seashore is a better place than the street because you need lots of room. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. If there are no snags it can be very peaceful. But if it breaks loose, you won’t get another chance.[1]

See what a different context makes? Where can we find context for the meaning of the gospel? The place to start is the Old Testament. Christians sometimes speak disparagingly of the Old Testament. “Well, that’s in the Old Testament,” they say, as if the Old Testament doesn’t matter. But to think that we don’t need the Old Testament because we have the New is like thinking we don’t need the support caissons when the bridge is finished or the roadbed once the asphalt is laid. The New Testament rests on the old and depends on it for its meaning.

The first place to go for context regarding the gospel is Genesis 12. Why there? Because that is where the Apostle Paul went. How do we know that? Because he says so. In Galatians 3:8, Paul says that Genesis 12 proclaims the gospel in advance: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”

“Announced the gospel in advance.” Genesis 12 is a pre-announcement, an early release of the gospel. It provides helpful context. So, let’s find out what is happening in Genesis 12.

To do that, we need to take a whirlwind tour of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. In chapters 1 and 2 the Artist God creates the universe. It is a masterpiece, stunningly good, down to the last detail. At the center of his glorious creation is humanity, which was designed to grow and become vastly more than it was at creation. This might seem a risky innovation –even a design flaw – because it gave finite creatures a brush and let them contribute to God’s creation.

And, sure enough, in chapter 3, the canvass falls off the easel: The creatures toss out the Creator’s plan and introduce their own. This marks the beginning of alienation between God and people and between people and people. Fear enters human experience for the first time. Pain and suffering follow on its heels.

That brings us to chapters 4-11 which show us, in one illustration after another, how humanity is defacing God’s creation. It all culminates at the Tower of Babel, with an attempt to reinvent humanity apart from God. None of us has ever known the perfect creation described in Genesis 1 and 2, but we are all familiar with the alienation, fear, and confusion of chapters 4-11.

Those chapters overflow with bad news. In Genesis 6:5 we read, “Every inclination of the human heart was only evil all the time” while (in 6:6) God’s own heart was full of pain over the damage done to his masterpiece and the devolution of his beloved humans.

To recap: Genesis 1 and 2 are brimming with good news. God’s creation is good at every turn (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31). Everything is good.

But all that changes in chapter 3. Chapters 4-11 are then filled with bad news. People are displaced from God and alienated from each other. Fear and fault-finding have burst on the scene, and violence follows (Genesis 6:11). Chapter by chapter, the situation grows more ominous: there is jealousy, anger, murder, vengeance, corruption, drunkenness, and sexual exploitation.[2] Chapter 11 caps it all off with an attempt to substitute human governance for God’s. That continues to this day.

Yet into this setting of fear, fault-finding, violence, corruption – which is our setting – God speaks good news. He issues an early release of the gospel. Let’s read Genesis 12:1-3.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 

The future of God’s masterpiece was thrown into doubt in Genesis 3 and defaced in chapters 4-11. But in chapter 12, God counters the bad news with good news. The calling of Abraham is stage one in God’s response to the disfigurement of humanity, the conflict between nations, and the estrangement between God and people.

The good news comes from the Lord (verse 1), who is both its source and its content. On seven occasions, the Bible refers to the gospel as “the good news of God.” The gospel is good news from God that is good news about God. The God we find in the Bible, expressed perfectly in Jesus Christ, is astoundingly good news.

We are seeking biblical context for the gospel. I have often heard people contextualize the gospel by setting it in a frame of bad news – and there is plenty of it, as chapters 3-11 attest. God, however, gives good news before and after the bad news. He sandwiches the bad news between the good news of a magnificent creation (chapters 1 and 2) and the good news of a rescue mission (chapter 12).

In chapter 3, the bad news is summed up in the word curse. Adam’s rebellion has brought a curse on the earth and its inhabitants, a curse that is with us to this day. Work, which had been a joy, became a drudgery. Relations between the sexes, which began with delight, were beset by fear (fallen humanity’s principal emotion) and by attempts to dominate. The curse even affected the earth itself and rendered it less fertile.

But if the bad news is epitomized by the curse of chapter 3, the good news is summed up in the blessing of Genesis 12. The words “bless” and “blessing” occur 5 times in just three verses. This is welcome and unexpected news after the nightmare of the previous chapters.

In the beginning (chapters 1 and 2), God bathed the earth in blessing.[3] In chapter 3, earth fell under the curse, which dominated human relations (witness chapters 4-11). But in chapter 12, the good God begins undoing the curse and announcing blessing.

But what does that mean? What does God’s blessing entail? The word “blessing,” like the word “gospel,” is stretched so thin that it is too flimsy to hold much meaning. So what does God mean by blessing?

If we go back to Scripture for context (as careful Bible students should), we will find encouraging things. God’s initial blessing was directed to the animals and it came with the instruction to be fruitful and multiply. He also blessed humans with fruitfulness and multiplication. Then, on the seventh day, he blessed the earth and her creatures with Sabbath rest and holiness. There is an inherent rhythm to God’s blessing of productivity and peace, of accomplishment and rest.

In Genesis, blessing conveys abundance, multiplication, increase, and flourishing. Blessing enables creation (both human and non-human) to prosper. That was God’s original intention for creation (Genesis 1) and, in spite of human failure (Genesis 3-11), it is still his intention (Genesis 12). That is the good news of the good God.

But how will creation be blessed? How can it possibly flourish in its ongoing rebellion against God? How will God respond? Will he destroy humanity and start over? He came close to doing that in Genesis 6. But no, he instead chooses to renew humanity from the inside. He selects a person, which is God’s modus operandi throughout history, and through that person channels the blessing that can undo the curse.

That person was Abram, also known as Abraham. God’s plan was to bless him – that is, make him flourish, multiply, increase, and experience abundance – so that, through him, he might bless all the peoples on earth. God would (verse 2) make Abraham a great nation, bless him, and make his name great …

The Hebrew of verse 2 (as I understand it) does not say, “and you will be a blessing,” as though this were a promise. Instead, God tells Abraham to be a blessing. It is a command – the same command he gives to Abraham’s children today, to us who belong to Jesus. “Be a blessing. Be a blessing to your neighbor. Be a blessing to the elderly. Be a blessing to the foreigner. Be a blessing to children. Be a blessing to your family.” The God of blessing instructed Abraham to be a blessing and we, as Abraham’s children, are called to do the same. God does not, as Warren Wiersbe pointed out, bless us to make us happy. He blesses us to make us a blessing.

Can you imagine the impact we would have if we fulfilled this calling? What if the boss knew us to be someone who brings fruitfulness and abundance – blessing – into the workplace? What if our neighbor turned to us because he knew we were a source of blessing? What if the schools sought us out to help them prosper? What a difference we would make in our community.

The blessing continues in verse 3. “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

“All peoples on earth” – that’s the phrase Paul describes as “the gospel in advance.” That God is planning to bless all peoples on earth is great good news. African peoples. Asian peoples. Indigenous American peoples. Australian peoples. Black peoples. White peoples. Brown peoples. Arab peoples. Jewish peoples. Berbers and Tuaregs. Hans and Malays. Kazakhs and Brahmins. Rohingyas and Palestinians. All people.

As if to drive the point home, the promise is stated five times in Genesis: 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14. It looks like God will bless anyone who is willing to be blessed. The blessing is out there, waiting for them. The way to enter the sphere of blessing is through what Paul calls “the obedience of faith.”

Obedience is not the way to earn the blessing – there is no way to earn the blessing. How can you earn something that has already been given? No, obedience is not the way to earn God’s blessing but the way to live within it. This is not slavish obedience motivated by fear but grateful obedience motivated by faith – faith in Jesus.

In Genesis 18:19, God lets us in on a secret. He tells us why he chose Abraham. (This is Christopher Wright’s literal translation): “that he [Abraham] should instruct his children and his household after him that they should keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice, for the purpose that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what was spoken to him,”[4] which was, of course, the blessing of all the peoples on earth through him. God chose Abraham because from him would descend a people that would keep his way. Then, from his descendants, God would bring someone to save the world. He would bring Abraham’s seed. He would bring the messiah.

The blessing of God for the world comes through the son of God and son of Man: Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, the curse is being taken away (Galatians 3:13). Through Jesus, God’s initial creation purpose is reestablished, blessing reintroduced, and salvation accomplished. All this – the coming of God’s son and Abraham’s seed, his perfect submission, his sacrificial death, his glorious resurrection – was already in God’s mind when he called Abraham. For evidence of that, read Genesis 22.

Remember that God’s M.O. is to choose a person and through that person to extend his blessing. God wants to extend his blessing through you to family, friends, neighbors – even enemies. The people who best channel God’s blessing are those who, like Abraham, live “the obedience of faith.” Through them, God’s Son brings his blessing to the world.

Blessing conveys abundance, fruitfulness, increase, and rest. It expresses God’s love and intention. It comes in the form of actions, attitudes and, sometimes, words.

Bill White was kneeling in prayer in the front room of his house at 6:30 in the morning. He’d just confessed his sins and was asking God for a blessing. (On that particular day, he says, he really needed to feel God’s love.)

As he prayed, he heard his little boy Timothy, who was 22 months old at the time, come into the room. Timothy often got up while his dad was praying, but he was always quiet until his dad finished. But on this morning, he came straight over to his dad, put his little hand on dad’s clasped hands, and said, “Hi, special one. Hi, special one. Hi, special one.”

He’d never called him that before. On that day he repeated it six times. As he kept calling his dad “special one,” it occurred to Bill that God was giving him the blessing he asked for through his son.

He wants to give blessing through us as well. Sometimes that blessing will take the form of words, assuring people of God’s love. Sometimes it will take the form of help, of money, of mercy, or forgiveness. But whatever outward form the blessing takes, its inner substance will always be the same: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the seed of Abraham, the savior of humanity, the embodiment of good news for all the peoples of the world.

Go! Be people of the good news!


[1] Adapted from Christopher West, Fill These Hearts (Image, 2012), pp. 99-101

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People, p. 65

[3] Wright

[4] Translation by Christopher Wright

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2 Responses to The Good News in Advance

  1. danishgary says:

    Amen! I am reading Wright’s “The Mission of God” and before I saw your reference to him I was thinking that your words express what Wright says (actually what Scripture says) but with a perspective that captures the essence for those who may never read Wright (although I would hope more of us may read the Scripture in its context, as you are encouraging).

    Like

  2. salooper57 says:

    Gary,

    Yes, Wright is a trusted guide, a careful scholar and, it seems to me, a good man. I hope he is widely read.

    Thanks for the encouragement and much grace be yours!
    Shayne

    Like

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