An Interview on Evangelism

Here is a link to an interview I did with Moody Radio on evangelism. It aired on their radio show Prime Time America on Wednesday.

On Ministering to the Dying and Bereaved

Most of what I have learned about this topic I learned from other people, but I have tested it against Scripture, and have also put it to the test in ministry (16 funerals in almost 4 years), and I find it extremely helpful.

To the Bereaved:

1. While it is true to say that the dead Christian is in a better place, that is not the most helpful thing to say. I mean, it’s great for the dead person that he’s in another better place, but what about the people left behind mourning? In a very real sense, it is a physical bereavement. The bereaved miss the physical presence of the one who has died. They miss the touch, the personality, the talking, the eye contact. This is where it hurts most. Therefore, talking about the resurrection should have a focus not only on the new body that the dead believer will have, but also on the reunion with the bereaved that will occur. This reunion can also be a great gateway into the Gospel message: “How do you know you will see this person again? Only if you trust in Jesus and then have the hope of the same resurrection to eternal life.”

2. Going along with the first point: do not underestimate the power of touch in ministry at this point. Great care must be taken such that touching will always be appropriate. However, I have yet to have anyone misinterpret a hug at such a time. It is a great ease of the sharpness of physical bereavement to have physical contact.

3. Resurrection texts I find are the most appopriate for funerals, even at the funeral of an unbeliever. No other texts in the Bible show us so clearly that death is not the end. No other texts show us so clearly that death is a homegoing and that it is temporary. No other texts offer such hope in the midst of grief. Going right along with this is preaching that death is UNnatural, not natural. Death is an intruder into the created order. We lose sight of this sometimes, especially when we say that death are taxes are inevitable. Make a strong connection between death and sin, as the former is the full flower of the latter. Funerals are the best opportunities to share the Gospel. Nowhere else will people have the results of sin staring them right in the face. Nowhere else can we so legitimately face people with their own mortality and uttermost need of Jesus.

4. Do not advise people to seek to avoid grief. The only way to deal with grief is to go through it, pain and all, recognizing (and 1 Thessalonians 4 is essential here) that the grief of a believer mourning the death of a believer is of a fundamentally different sort than the grief of a non-believer. It is a grief laced with hope. That tempers grief, though it does not eliminate it. Encourage people to take their grief in all honesty to God. The Psalms are important here. We cannot escape grief. The problem with trying to avoid it is that we will bury it, and it will fester, quite possibly into bitterness. It is much better to deal with it immediately and thoroughly, for healing and a measure of peace will come much more quickly that way.

To the Dying:

5. People who are dying want to know about the afterlife. Tell them about where the soul goes, and where the body stays until the Resurrection. It is surprising how many people think that souls sleep after death.

6. People who are dying and know that they are going to heaven will want to know if they can still know things and recognize people. Point to Hebrews 12 in this regard and the passage in Revelation of the souls crying out to God “How long?”

7. People who are dying and do not know where they are going obviously need the Gospel, especially a Gospel of grace. Such people are usually worried about whether their lives have been good enough for God. This is an especially dangerous time for them. They need the full grace of justification by faith alone at this time more than anything else. Machen’s deathbed quotation about the active righteousness of Christ imputed is appropriate also.

8. Ask the dying person about their regrets. Tell them that their past misdeeds and lack of positive deeds can be forgiven in Christ.

Great Conference

Anyone interested should definitely consider attending this conference at Westminster California.

What’s Your Problem?

Ephesians 2:1-3

Have you ever noticed that you don’t have to train your children to do something wrong? That first time they disobey you, you didn’t tell them to do that. They just did it. We didn’t have to tell our daughter that she should be jealous of the attention that James was getting. We didn’t have to tell her to start hitting James, either. Why is this? Why didn’t we have to tell her about these things? For that matter, let’s broaden the question: “Why don’t people want Jesus Christ? Why don’t they come to faith in Christ?” What’s their problem? What’s our problem? For that matter, what is the world’s problem? In a word, sin. That is the problem. But we must be careful to define our terms. Sin means breaking God’s law, yes. However, sin also means our sin nature, inherited from Adam. Just as a child inherits blue eyes from his parents, so also he inherits sin from his parents, who inherited sin from their parents, and so on all the way back to Adam. This is Adam’s legacy, and this is what Paul is telling us here in the first part of chapter 2.

In chapter 1, Paul told us about the salvation that has been accomplished by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul then gave thanks for the faith of the Ephesian believers, and prayed that they might know God better, especially Jesus Christ, who has gone before us into heaven, and to whom all things are now subject.

Now, in chapter 2, Paul wants to remind us what we were before we became Christians. And before we get into the details of what Paul says, we must note that there are three views about the state of human beings. The first view is that there is nothing wrong with mankind. Maybe he needs a little education, but by and large, man is okay. There is a name for this belief: it is called Pelagianism, and was condemned by the entire church during the time of Augustine, who fought Pelagius tooth and nail. Pelagianism is utter heresy. I remember my pastor went to another church and the minister said that all was right with the world. My pastor wanted to go up to the minister, shake him by his black robe, and yell at him, “What are you wearing that robe for?” Everything is most certainly not all right with the world.

The second main view (and probably the most common) is that mankind is sick. With all due respect, (since I disagree with this view) Billy Graham holds to this view. You are sick, and the doctor comes along, and holds out to you the medicine. All you have to do is raise your hand and take it. Now, I do believe that God can convert someone to the true faith, despite this unfortunate way of putting things. Another way of putting this view is that your are drowning, and God throws to you a life-raft, and all you have to do is grab hold of the life-raft.

Then, there is the third view, which is the biblical view. It is the most pessimistic view of mankind, and therefore, the most realistic, and this view states that we are not sick, and certainly not well, but rather dead. We are not sick and merely need to reach out and grasp the medicine. Rather, we are already dead. We are not drowning, but rather lying at the bottom of the ocean as fish food. This is what Paul says here, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” He doesn’t say, “You were sick,” and he certainly doesn’t say, “You were fine.” No, he says that we were all dead. Of course, he does not mean physical death. We were walking around, breathing, and committing sin. One has to be physically alive to do that. But in terms of our spiritual relationship to God, we were dead. We were the living dead, more like zombies and corpses than like living humans. Does the picture of a zombie make you uncomfortable? Then so must the picture of our spiritual state before God worked in our lives.

Like many good, fine preachers, Paul speaks of our spiritual state in three points. We were dead because of the world, because of the devil, and because of the flesh. Firstly, we were dead in sin because of the world. It says that “we followed the ways of this world.” Again, as we have seen before, the word is “age.” We saw how the two ages are overlapping in Paul’s thought. We saw that the former age, or “this age” is the evil age. The world belongs to it. They want their heaven now. Of course, the result is that they have momentary pleasures, but nothing lasting, except eternal condemnation.

Secondly, Paul says that we were dead in sin because of the devil. Now, here we must be careful. The old excuse, “the devil made me do it” will not work with God. And we recognize this ourselves, if we come to think about it. To illustrate, a little girl was disciplined for kicking her brother in the shins and then pulling his hair. When her mother asked her why she let the devil make her kick her brother and pull his hair, she replied, “The devil made me kick him, but pulling his hair was my idea!” We know that the devil cannot force anyone to commit sin. No, his method is temptation. He presents the possibility. This is certainly evil. It is what he did in the Garden of Eden. He tempted Adam and Eve. That is what he does today as well. He puts ideas before your mind. Notice here that Satan is described as the ruler of the kingdom of the air. Scholars are not united on what this means, but I think that Calvin is closest to the mark when he says, “He speaks purposely of the air to make us understand that they are above our heads.” That is, the spirits are above us in power. We should not underestimate them. C.S. Lewis once said that the two great dangers regarding demons are that we either deny their existence or ascribe to them power belonging only to God. Either way, demons are happy. But if they inhabit the air (and not heaven or the earth: nor are they non-existent), then we will place them properly. This is important. Satan is not the equal of God, much as he would like us to think. But we must also say that he exists, along with all the demons. Many people today do not believe in anything that they cannot see. That is a very dangerous error which will find them out eventually.

The third reason that we are dead in sin is our flesh, our own sin nature. Paul says that we used to walk in sin. That is, sin used to be our way of life. Then, in verse 3, Paul says that we used to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. We have a sinful nature that is ours because we are descended from Adam. This doctrine of a sin nature is known as original sin. Original sin is not canceled out at baptism. We were born with it. As David says in Psalm 51, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” That does not refer to the act of conception, but to the fact that David has always been sinful, sinful from the time his mother conceived him. So, if one asks the question of how many sins it takes to make one liable to the punishment of hell, the answer is zero. We deserve it already in the womb, because of our sin nature, which is itself sinful. If a person were to say that their child was born free from that sin nature, and that children are born with a blank slate, that person would not be speaking the truth. The Bible says that in this fallen world, we are born with a sin nature, and that we had that sin nature even from conception.

As if this picture of mankind was not bad enough, Paul describes it as being even worse. Not only are we dead in our transgressions, not only were we sinful by nature, but furthermore, we are objects of God’s wrath. Literally, we are children of wrath. The idea of children is that there is a close relationship between parent and child. So, rather than saying that we are by nature the children of God, having a good close relationship with God, Paul says that we have a good, close relationship with God’s wrath. God’s wrath is not a popular subject these days. However, it is essential that we talk and preach about the wrath of God. Without knowing the wrath of God, which is bad news for us, we would never know God’s love, the good news. Otherwise, why do we evangelize? If everything is fine with the world, then the world doesn’t need Jesus. If people are even sick, there is less need for a miracle than if the person is dead, and about to suffer God’s just wrath. How do we know about God’s love? How do we know how wide, deep, broad, and high is the love of God? Only by knowing just how angry God is with sinners. Even though our sermon text is the first three verses, Paul does not stop here. Verse 4 gives us the glorious good news. We have had plenty of bad news about ourselves. But Paul does not leave us there, wallowing in our sins, but he tells us of the love of God. God’s wrath is the reason He sent Jesus to earth. It was so that Jesus would bear that wrath for us. It was so that we could get a new nature implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. It was so that Satan would no longer be able to deceive us. It was so that we would have an alternative to the world’s way of doing things. So the three great problems with our sin, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, would have an answer in Jesus Christ. Jesus deals with the world by creating His church. He deals with the flesh by implanting in us the Holy Spirit. He deals with Satan and the demons by conquering them in His resurrection from the dead. Is Jesus your answer? Has He done these things for you? If Christ has not resurrected your soul from spiritual death, then you must realize your utter peril here this morning. Realize that your life totters on the brink of utter ruin, and that only Jesus can save you from the coming wrath of God. Of course, the wrath of God is not some fly-off-the-handle, kind of rage. Rather it is the flip side of His love. How else would God respond to someone who spurns the love of God? We must not attribute human rage and anger to the wrath of God. The wrath of God is holy, just and good. It is a measure of God’s holiness and justice, when God’s law has been broken. Therefore, you cannot put the blame on God for your predicament. God’s wrath has not over-reacted at all. And you do not know if you will be alive tomorrow. Flee to Jesus, and discover the love of God!

The best application of this passage besides the Gospel call comes in the relationship of God’s wrath to evangelism. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him. And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realized that they are sinners. And they have never realized that they are sinners because they have never realized the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.” Are we telling people to flee from the wrath to come? People might say, “Oh, what an unloving thing to say.” Actually, it is the most loving thing to say, since it is the truth. You wouldn’t think that doctor was doing his job, if you had an aggressive, dangerous cancer that needed treatment, but he said, “Oh, nothing’s wrong with you, you’re just fine.” You would think that that was a very unloving thing to say. In the same way, millions are perishing because they do not have the truth. We must reclaim the doctrine of God’s wrath against sinful humanity, if we are to be able also to give people the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Wrath of God and Evangelism

Lloyd-Jones has some excellent comments also (continuing from the last post) on the relationship of the doctrine of the wrath of God to the practical ins and outs of evangelism:

Why is it that people are not Christians and not members of the Christian Church? Why does the Lord Jesus Christ not come into their calculations at all? In the last analysis there is only one answer to that question: they do not believe in Him because they have never seen any need of Him.And they have never seen any need of Him because they have never realised that they are sinners. And they have never realised that they are sinners because they have never realised the truth about the holiness of God and the justice and the righteousness of God; they have never known anything about God as the Judge eternal and about the wrath of God against the sin of man. So you see this doctrine is essential in evangelism.

This quotation is from Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians, volume 2, pg. 50, and the previous post is from pg. 49 of the same volume.

The Beauty of a Dying Christian

We don’t like to think about death. However, not only should we, but it is healthy that we should. It all depends on how we think about death. Do we shake our fist at God when dying? Or do we see death as the threshold to glory? Here are two utterly contrasting views of death before our eyes. An example of the first: Mark Twain, became morose and weary of life. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;…they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last–the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them–and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,…a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

An example of the second: the dying words of Edward Payson: “The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere; pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why god should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm.”

In Egypt, But Not Of Egypt

Genesis 47

Donald Grey Barnhouse once related this story about culture: Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch. So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world. The world’s musical smiles are more dangerous than its attacking frowns. Its bells are more dangerous than its bullies. What we are going to see today is that we are to be in Egypt, but not of Egypt, in the world, but not of the world. We need to recognize that the world’s influence over us is oftentimes unconscious, like the boys influenced by the chimes.

Joseph’s brothers and his father are now all in Goshen. They are all in the land of Egypt. Goshen, however, is as close to the land of Canaan as it is possible to get in the land of Egypt. Joseph had a very good reason for wanting his people to settle so far out of the mainstream of Egyptian life. He wanted them to be in Egypt, but not of Egypt. Notice something very interesting about Jacob’s presentation to Pharaoh: Joseph does not push his family to have high positions in court. He simply does not do it. He could have. He could have said a word to Pharaoh, and each of his brothers would have had a posh job at the top of Pharaoh’s court. But that is not what Joseph does. Instead, he works hard to get them their own land in Egypt, separated from the influence of Egypt. What this shows is Joseph’s faith. He believes in the promises of God to his people, that Canaan is their real home. Yes, they are here for awhile. However, this is not their permanent rest. This is not their promised land. They are in Egypt, but not of Egypt, in the world, but not of the world.

It is evident from verse 4 that the brothers also understood this. They said that they are there to live there awhile. Another way to say it is that they are there to sojourn for awhile. They are pilgrims. They know that this world is not their home. They are just passing through. Their plea to Pharaoh is heard and approved.

After this, we see something unusual in the text. We see Jacob and Pharaoh meeting. Obviously, Moses is thinking of his own meetings with Pharaoh as he is writing this. He is comparing and contrasting the very different meetings that Jacob had with Pharaoh versus his own meetings with Pharaoh. The Scriptures say that the better person is the one who blesses the inferior person. That was true of Melchizedek and Abraham. Here it is true of Jacob and Pharaoh. Jacob blesses Pharaoh. This is in fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham all the way back in chapter 12, verse 3, where God promises that Abraham will be a blessing to the nations. Here is Jacob being a blessing to the nation of Egypt.

The next section of our text shows us Joseph being a blessing to Egypt. Now, many people think that Joseph is acting like a tyrant here, enslaving the people, and taking everything away from them such that Pharaoh owns everything. That, however, is not true. First of all, Joseph only taxed the people’s grain %20 during the plentiful years. The people themselves would have had plenty of opportunity to build up for themselves grain in abundance. Secondly, the people themselves ask for Joseph to take the livestock. But Joseph always gives them something in return. He gives them fair market value for that livestock in the form of grain. Then, the next year, Joseph gives them again the fair market value of the grain in exchange for their servant-hood. What do the people think about it? Verse 25 has the people saying, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants of Pharaoh.” So the people wanted this to happen, since the famine was so severe. Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. Thirdly, the language for how Joseph treated the people is more like the language of shepherding rather than tyrannizing. In verse 21, the Hebrew says that he placed the people in the cities, probably for easier grain distribution. This was grace on Joseph’s part. In fact, Joseph was a complete blessing to the nation surrounding him, just as God had promised to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. In doing so, he did not compromise his faith. He was in Egypt, but not of Egypt, in the world, but not of the world. He never viewed Egypt as his final rest, or the final answer to life’s problems.

Ultimately, Joseph points us here to Jesus Christ, the Ultimate Blessing to all nations on earth. The nations of the world were about to perish in the spiritual hunger that sin brings with it. We were sold body and soul to the law. But Jesus bought us and redeemed us, not with grain, but with His precious blood. Then He gives us the seed to sow among all nations. Remember that you were bought with a price, and that we are all farmers of God’s seed, the Word. Our problems are never solved in an Egyptian way, in a worldly way, even if we have power in the government. Our solution always lies in the Promised Land, for us: heaven, where Jesus is.

The third section of our chapter shows us in the last days of Jacob. Jacob requires that Joseph bury him in Canaan, and not in Egypt. The reason for this is that Egypt is not their final resting place. It is Jacob’s concern, just as much as it was Joseph’s concern earlier in the chapter. In fact, the time period in Egypt was an incubation period for the people of God. It was not an interruption of the covenant promises. They needed to become large, even under persecution, just as we see the church today in China, for instance. This passage here sets the stage for the Exodus. Right now, they are the prosperous ones. But we know that as soon as a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph, the situation would completely change, and Israel would become persecuted. That is God’s way of bringing them to their promised rest. As God did with them, so also does He do with His church. He sets the church in a place where it will be tested and persecuted. In Egypt, in fact, in the world, but not of the world.

How is it sometimes that we are in the world and of the world? So often is this the case, that it is often very difficult to tell the difference between the Christians and the non-Christians. Divorce is only 1% lower among Christians than among non-Christians, and that rate is about 50%. Christians lie, kill, steal, commit adultery, and every other sin just about as much as non-Christians these days. Why is that? It is because we have lost sight of our Promised Land, lost sight of our pilgrimage status, lost sight of the fact that this world is not our home. We have lost sight of Christ. We should not ever lose sight of Christ. Instead, we should be in the world, but not of the world, in Egypt, but not of Egypt.

What is our hope ultimately? We find it in verses 29-30. Jacob tells Joseph to bury him in Canaan, and not in Egypt. Why is that? Well, to continue our theme, it certainly is because he saw the Promised Land as the real stopping place, the real place of rest. However, there is more. Jacob did not need to worry about his soul. Instead, he believed that having his body in that place meant something. Well, it would only mean something if he believed in resurrection from the dead. Ultimately, that is where Jacob’s hope is. It is in the resurrection. Is our hope in the resurrection of our body, just as Christ’s body was raised from the dead? If that is not our hope, then we are still in our sins. We should not be fixed in false hopes. Our hope must be in the resurrection of Christ, being the first-fruits of the resurrection harvest when Christ comes back. Then, we will truly be of the new heavens and the new earth. Then we will be in the world, and of the world, the changed world.

Is Islam Violent?

Here is a remarkable instance of political maneuvering by Islamic states. If any other religion is caricatured, or ridiculed, or laughed at, nothing really severe happens. But if Islam gets a taste of that, even if they misinterpret the Pope’s statements, then they are outraged. Quite frankly, the Muslim world needs to grow up, and be able to laugh at itself. Its outrage at this recent incident (in addition to the absolutely ludicrous reaction to the Dutch cartoons) only proves how insecure Islam is in the world. They will only alienate themselves to the Western world by posturing themselves in this way.

But this raises some important questions. Is Islam a violent religion? The answer to that can only be that, at the very least, it has been in the past. People will usually point the finger at Christians for the Crusades. However, we need a much more nuanced version of history here. I would recommend the Runciman history of the Crusades for an extremely thorough, detailed history of the Crusades. The upshot, I believe, is that both sides were at fault. The fact of the matter, though, is that the Muslims struck first, as even the Wikipedia article implicitly acknowledges, when it says that the Muslims had been conquering most of Africa, and that the First Crusade was a response to that.

Second question: does the Koran teach Jihad? 9:123 seems to be broad enough in its scope: “O you who believe! Fight such of the disbeleivers as dwell near to you and let them find firmness in you and know that Allah is with those who become secure against evil.” See this post for more, though some of the quotations there do not seem to be as absolute as would be necessary for the argument. See Chris’s excellent comment at the end of the comments section, as well.

Two Dangers in Evangelism

There are two main dangers to be avoided in evangelism. The first is that, in sharing the Gospel, we do not love people enough. Beating someone over his head with the Bible is not especially helpful. Telling the truth is important. However, it must be done in love. There is a balance here that takes away every extraneous obstacle to the Gospel, and simply allows the Gospel to speak.

The other danger is to water down the message of the Gospel to the point where there is no offense left in the Gospel. Scripture itself says that the cross is a stumbling block to Jews, and simply foolishness to the Gentiles. In fact, unbelievers don’t like the Gospel. Mark Dever wisely warns us of the dangers here. I really appreciated his emphasis on clarity. Peter was very clear in Acts 2, a passage that Mark explains very well. Acts 2:36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Blaming those who are listening for the crucifixion of Christ is not exactly the thing most calculated to win the approbation of the masses. However, what happens? The Gospel cuts them to the very heart. In fact, 3,000 were added to their number that day.

In short, there must no extra offense to the Gospel, whether it be that we are wierd, or unloving, or not good listeners, or whatever else there might be. How can we be sufficient for such things? Only by the grace of God. But we cannot take the edge out of evangelism. The Gospel has all the comfort for non-believers that a surgeon’s scalpel does. It cuts. But the Gospel doesn’t leave us there in a state of open-heart surgery. It also closes the wound with the healing balm of sins forgiven. Only by such surgery can the heart be made clean and fresh again.

The City of Man

Genesis 10
Saint Augustine wrote a book called “The City of God.” In that book he compared and contrasted two cities that have always vied with each other throughout history. These two cities have always been opposed to each other. They have always sought to undermine the other. They can never be reconciled to each other. These two cities are the city of man and the city of God. For us farmers, we can call it the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of Jesus. The issues are black and white between the two of them. There is no middle ground. Augustine wanted people to recognize that they had to take sides. If a person has not made a decision to be in the kingdom of Jesus, then that person is still a member of the kingdom of Satan. Today we will learn about the city of man, or the kingdom of Satan.

We have now finished with the story of Noah. The Flood is over. We have seen that sin survived the Flood through Noah and his son Ham. We even saw the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent fighting again, in the persons of Shem and Japheth on the one hand, and Ham on the other hand. These are the beginnings of those two cities about which Augustine was talking.

And now we come to a rather difficult text. There are so many names. Some of them sound like insects! You know, you have the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, and the termites! What are we to make of all this confusion of people? There is a message for us in all of this information. The first point for us to take to heart is that God is sovereign over all the nations of the world. There is not a single nation over which God does have complete control. In the entire ANE, there is nothing quite like this list of nations. None of the ANE lists have a complete list of nations, all of which come from just one man. The nations of the world are united in this respect: they are all subject to God’s rule. We see in the book of Daniel, for instance, how God directs the course of nations so that His people receive the benefit from it. In Esther, we see that “coincidences” are not really by chance, but God directs the sleeplessness of the king, for instance. Even though God’s name is not mentioned once in that entire book, God is behind everything. Ultimately, Jesus’ command to go out to all nations and make disciples is the complete statement of God’s rule over all nations. Every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth. All nations are subject to God’s rule.

All nations are also subject to God’s blessing. We see here that the command to multiply and fill the earth was taken seriously by all of these nations. God gave to Noah and to his sons the very same command that He had given to Adam in the garden. And now, even after such a complete judgment as the Flood, God still wanted mankind to fulfill the original command to fill the earth with the image of God in mankind. But that command was also a blessing. In giving that command, God was also giving to mankind the ability to fulfill that command. So all nations are subject to God’s blessing as well as to His rule.

I am not going to go through every single name in this list and comment on it. That has been done by many people before me. I want us rather to direct our attention to the most important things that we can learn from the passage. This passage is divided up into three parts, according to the three sons of Noah: Japheth takes up the first 5 verses. Ham takes up the next section from verse 6 through verse 20. The descendents of Shem take up verses 21-32. We have see one important thing already: God is sovereign over all nations, both by His rule and by His blessing.

The second thing we need to see here is that Israel per se is not mentioned at all. Isn’t it interesting that, in a table of nations that was meant to be fairly comprehensive, no mention is made of the “most favored nation” of all: Israel? Only a hint is here of Israel: in verse 24-25 Eber is mentioned. This is the root of the word “Hebrew.” Moses wants us understand two things that follow from this important omission: God’s purposes for the world are bigger than just Israel. Israel always had a tendency to look down on all the countries around them, because they were the chosen nation. In fact, they would often call someone from another nation a dog, or some other kind of unclean animal. In Deuteronomy, Moses again and again tells the Israelites that it was not because Israel was greater than any other nation that God chose to have mercy on them. In fact, Israel was the smallest of all nations. But Israel kept on forgetting this fact. They kept on thinking that it was because of their might and power that they had acquired the promised land. Eventually, because Israel had forgotten who was really God, they were ejected from the promised land. So Israel was supposed to be a blessing to the nations, and instead they sat on their laurels. We are tempted to do that, aren’t we? We want to tend to those in our midst, without really thinking of those people out there who need our help.

It is interesting that there are seventy nations mentioned here. Seventy is an important number. It is the number of descendents of Jacob that go down to Egypt. It is the number of disciples that Jesus sends out two by two in Luke 10. Seventy is the number of completeness. All the nations are represented here in Genesis 10. The sons of Jacob that go down to Egypt represent God’s blessings on the people of Egypt. Israel was always supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. That is exactly what Luke means in chapter10 when Jesus sends out 70 disciples to spread the gospel. They are the new Israel that is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles.
In Acts 17 in the speech that Paul gives to the philosophers on Mars Hill, he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” So what Paul is saying here is that God scattered the nations in order that they might feel their way toward God and find him. But they cannot without the light of the Gospel. Paul says that God now commands everyone everywhere to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.
In all of this, we can see that the city of man is alive and well. They are those who reject God. Even in the reaction to what Paul says, we can see this. Some mocked Paul when they heard about the resurrection from the dead. Those were the city of man people. However, others wanted to hear Paul again about this. Those that repented of their sin were those who belonged to the city of God. There is this struggle that is going on constantly.

When we deal with people who are not like us, how do we react? Do we say that they cannot be a part of our fellowship, because they are different? Paul also says that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Do we look down on other races? Especially, do we look down on African Americans, or Native Americans? If someone comes to faith from one of those races, they have the same right to be in our church as any other Christian does. We cannot exclude them. Racism is not to be present in the Christian church. Nations are divided by sin, but are united when people come to Christ. That is the only way that nations can stop warring against each other. It is the only way that our missionary focus can remain on track.

Ultimately, the one man in whom the city of man came to its fullest expression is Nimrod. We read about him in verses 8-11. Nimrod was three things: a hunter, a ruler, and a builder. But all of this he did “before the Lord.” In this context, with Nimrod’s name meaning “rebel,” the phrase “before the Lord” probably means something negative like “in God’s face.” Nimrod’s power came by personally violent means, in contrast to how Israel got its power, which was from God. In a way, Nimrod represents the Antichrist. He is the ultimate leader of the rebellion against God. He is the leader of the city of man. He is in opposition to God, and to God’s people. Notice here that Nimrod built Babylon, or Babel, as the text says. Probably, Nimrod was a ruler of Babel when the tower was built. Therefore, we are to understand that Nimrod is not a positive figure in Scripture, but a negative one. Nimrod is against God. He was a very impressive man, though. He built not only Babel, but also Erech, an important ancient city, Accad, from which the Accadian culture spread, all of these in the land of Shinar, or Sumer. He also built Nineveh. That is a very impressive list of cities. They ultimately point to the one city of man that Nimrod built, symbolized by the tower of Babel. This was mankind trying to take God off His throne and put himself in God’s place.

Nimrod did not succeed, as we will see next week. Instead, God’s people succeeded. Ultimately, Jesus Christ would come to build a city, the new Jerusalem. The city of man would not prevail against the city of God. The city of God will eventually come down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.

The question for us is: to which city will we belong? Remember, there is no middle ground. Don’t put off membership in the city of God. Don’t wait until the city of man is destroyed, and you remain in it. The story that John Bunyan tells of the Pilgrim’s Progress is a story about a man from the City of Destruction, which is the city of man. He has to leave the City of Destruction before that city is actually destroyed. That is what we are to do. We are to repent of our sin, of our belonging to the city of man, and instead put our trust in Jesus Christ. As Paul says in Hebrews, “For Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” We must trust in God by trusting in Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of that city.

If we have put our trust in God, then we have to realize how the city of man still affects us. Do we still do the things of the city of man? Do we want citizenship in heaven, but still want to cling to the perks of being a member of the city of man? Do we still want to hang on to our sin? If our membership is truly transferred from the city of man to the city of God, then we will need to make sure that our conduct measures up to the standards of the city of God. That means living a Spirit-filled life in obedience to the commandments of God. It means that we live as children of the light. The children of darkness do the deeds of darkness, which are sexual immorality, debauchery, witchcraft, envy, greed, slander, gossip, drunkenness, idolatry, bad language, profaning the Sabbath, hate, murder, lust, and any number of other sins, though that list is fairly comprehensive. Instead, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, any neighbor in the whole world. We are to have the fruit of the Spirit. Live as true citizens of the city of God. That is our call.

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