“My People, Your God”
August 28, 2016
You can summarize God’s plan for fallen humanity in three phrases: I will be your God, you will be my people and I will dwell with you.
I. The Garden (Genesis 3)
II. The Promise (Leviticus 2 and many others)
III. The Fulfillment (Revelation 21-22)
An epic quest to rescue a true love. That’s been a theme in literature for all history. Homer’s Iliad, the oldest work of Western literature tells of the abduction of Helen of Troy and the war that was fought to rescue her. In the middle ages came the legend of St. George, who rescued a princess from the jaws of a dragon. And many fairy tales have the same theme: Rapunzal, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White. The epic quest to rescue a lost love has moved to TV and the movies. Dudley Do Right rescuing, Nell Fenwick on the tracks. Luke and Hans Solo entering the death star to rescue Princess Leia. And of course,
“The Princess Bride, by S. Morgenstern. Chapter 1. Buttercup was raised on a small farm in the country of Florin. Her favorite pastimes were riding her horse and tormenting the farm boy that worked there. His name was Westley, though she never called him that. Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Westley around. “Farm boy, polish my horse’s saddle. I want to see my face shining in it by morning.” “As you wish.” “As you wish was all he ever said to her.” “Farm boy, fill these with water, please.” “As you wish.” “That day he was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish,” what he meant was “I love you.” Westley goes to seek his fortune. Buttercup despairs when she hears he’s been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts. She agrees to marry evil Prince Humperdink, but before the sour marriage occurs, she is kidnapped, only to be rescued by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself.
“I know who you are – your cruelty reveals everything. You're the Dread Pirate Roberts; admit it.” “With pride. What can I do for you?” “You can die slowly cut into a thousand pieces.” “Hardly complimentary, Your Highness. Why loose your venom on me?” “You killed my love.” “It's possible; I kill a lot of people. Who was this love of yours? Another Prince, like this one, ugly, rich, and scabby?” “No. A farm boy. Poor. Poor and perfect, with eyes like the sea after a storm. On the high seas, your ship attacked, and the Dread Pirate Roberts never takes prisoners.” “I can't afford to make exceptions. Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you, and then it's nothing but work, work, work, all the time.” “You mock my pain!” “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. I remember this farm boy of yours, I think. This would be, what, five years ago? Does it bother you to hear?” “Nothing you can say will upset me.” “He died well, that should please you. No bribe attempts or blubbering. He simply said, "Please. Please, I need to live." It was the "please" that caught my memory. I asked him what was so important for him. "True love," he replied.”
What does an epic quest to rescue a true love have to do with the Bible? As it turns out, it’s really the story of the Bible. Next week we will start a series called God’s Big Story. All fall, all winter, all spring we’ll look at the key moments in redemption. But the story they tell is really the story of God’s epic quest to rescue his lost love. Us. So today I want to preach the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation, looking at a key thought that ties it all together. You can summarize God’s plan for fallen humanity in three phrases. I will be your God, you will be my people and I will dwell with you. God’s big idea is relationship. He created us for relationship, but it was broken at the fall, and the Bible’s story is of his epic quest to restore relationship by self-sacrifice.
So “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He fashioned all things to be good, and then on the sixth day he made man, male and female, in his image. God existed in eternal relationship, Father, Son and Spirit, and he made people to be in loving relationship with each other and with him, to dwell with him and be his people. We see this dwelling with as it is being lost. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve succumb to the temptations of Satan and eat the fruit God had forbidden. Immediately, Genesis 3:7, the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
The important point here is the strong implication that God, probably in the pre-incarnate person of Jesus, had the habit of walking in the garden and having fellowship with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. This is what he created humankind for – relationship, and the reality of his presence. Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and multiply and God would be their God and the God of their children, and they would be his people and he would dwell among them.
But as soon as they sinned that relationship was broken. When they heard what had been the blessed sound of God walking among them they were ashamed. They hid themselves from his presence. There may not be a more important or sadder truth in Scripture. Sin separated them from their God, but it was not God’s punishment that caused the separation. They separated themselves. We separated ourselves from his presence. Everything bad that happened after, including the curse and the punishment, was just an outworking of that choice.
So God says “where are you?” It’s not that God didn’t know where they were. He is simply acknowledging that the fellowship between them had been broken. And so the stage was set for God’s epic quest to find his lost love.
It’s my contention that God has one goal in mind in this quest, the ultimate goal of redemption history, that “you will be my people and I will be your God and I will dwell among you.” It takes a couple of books before this promise is fully revealed. To Abraham God says “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” So he’s already made the promise “I will be your God,” and he says that all of this is not just a onetime deal but will continue for generations.
In Exodus 6 God tells Moses “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” God’s rescue from Egypt is one of the key moments in redemptive history, and here God says not only will I rescue you, not only will I be your God, but, explicitly now, “I will take you to be my people.” I’m looking for a people to be in relationship to me. Y’all are going to be my homies, you got that?
Finally, in Leviticus, which is still not very far into the Old Testament, God adds the key thought that he will dwell with his people. Leviticus 26:11-13 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. In the fall we lost intimacy with God, his presence and a relationship with him on a heart and soul level. But now he promises to make his dwelling among us. The Hebrew is shakan, and the noun form of this word is usually translated ‘tabernacle,’ or sometimes, ‘tent.’ The tabernacle, of course, was the elaborate tent that God described to Moses and the people built to be the place where God would put his presence among the people. So God is really saying here that ‘I will tabernacle among you.’ He verbs the noun to make the point that not only is he their God and they his people, but his presence is with them.
These promises are common in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 29:12, as Israel is about to enter the promised land, Moses says “enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
When David talks about God’s promises, he says “And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O Lord, became their God.” When Solomon is building the temple, God says “I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. 13And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.” This promise of dwelling works the other way as well. Moses wrote in Psalm 90 “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” He dwells with us but at the same time, he is the place where his people live and move and have our being.
But as we move past the Psalms and into the prophets, this promise begins to look forward to Jesus. Isaiah says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us, God immanent. So God is saying “It’s not just going to be a tabernacle, but the presence of God will be a person, a man, the son of a woman, a virgin. This man will be called ‘God with us.’
Jeremiah, too, begins to amplify the promise. Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God knew that his people would not keep the law, but would sin and fall short. So here God’s presence is based on his forgiveness, his forgetting of our sins. And here his presence is at the level of individual hearts and is equated to knowing God.
Ezekiel makes the future shape of this promise even more plain. Ezekiel 36:25-28 “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” Do you see that? The promise has an element of forgiveness and cleansing, and here the presence of God is “My Spirit within you,” And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
In Hosea, the prophet marries a prostitute and God tells Hosea to give their children odd names, including No Mercy and Not My People. But by the end of the chapter God says “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ”
In Zechariah, close to the end of the New Testament, God says “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. 11And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” This is the Messiah speaking as God, which itself is remarkable, and what he promises is his presence. Notice too that the definition of ‘my people’ is expanded way beyond Israel to “many nations” So the Old Testament closes with the promises God has been making all along, but expanded inward to the heart and outward to the nations.
When we come to the New Testament, we see these promises begin to be fulfilled in Jesus. In Matthew the angel says to Joseph “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” This is what Isaiah promised, and in Jesus it is fulfilled, the incarnation of God the Son as a man, born of a woman, a virgin.
John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word became flesh. That’s incarnation. And dwelt among us. There’s that word again, dwelt. You remember the word tabernacle. This is the New Testament version of the same word. He tabernacled among us. He pitched his tent among us and settled down to be with us. That’s why I chose Leviticus 26 as the key verses for this study. “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you.” That’s Jesus. Incarnate to redeem and make all the promises come true. He proceeded to live among us as the God-man, doing and saying things and claiming things that only God could do. Raising the dead. Calming the sea. Multiplying the bread. Calling himself “I am,” God’s Old Testament personal name. The people around him knew he was claiming to be God. They accused him of blasphemy and tried to stone him. But the disciples and others who followed him believed this claiming and recognized him as the Messiah, and ultimately as the Son of God.
Then, in order to remove the continuing stain of the fall, he died on the cross, paying the price of our sins and offering us new life and eternal life. This is the promise that had been made in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, the promise of cleansing from sin so that the separation from God could be undone. Paul summarizes this beautifully in the familiar words of Philippians 2: “5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
“8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He rose from death to seal his victory over sin and death and to assure us of his promises of forgiveness and eternal life.
But it doesn’t end there. He also promises to be with us always, through the Holy Spirit whose presence we read about in Ezekiel. John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Do you catch all the key words in those verses? With you forever? God with us? Dwell with you? Tabernacle with you? This is another fulfillment of the age long promise: I will be your God and you will be my people and I will dwell among. This is the key fulfillment, the central fulfillment of God’s epic quest for his lost love. Now, with the sin that separates dealt with, he can walk with us in the cool of the day and be our God, through what Jesus has done.
Paul teaches this in Ephesians “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” We are a dwelling place for God. Peter sees it the same way “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Do you hear him quoting Hosea? God is keeping his promises to us.
But the world is not yet a garden, and we still live painfully amidst the consequences of that initial sin. So we look forward to another fulfillment, a final fulfillment. Jesus promised to return, with a feast and a wedding and make us his own forever. Paul calls this hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, and he says “Then we will always be with the Lord.” And the book of Revelation shows that final fulfillment. God’s epic quest is fulfilled in Jesus, but in the last chapter of the story, all that is wrong comes untrue and God re-creates the world, the heavens and the earth, in purity and beauty and comes to live with his redeemed people in it.
All epic quests end with “And they lived happily ever after.” Revelation 21:1-4 is that for me, and for so many of us: 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Do you hear it there? John writes very explicitly and intentionally to indicate the fulfillment of the centuries old promise of Leviticus 26 “Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them.” Relationship restored, quest accomplished, original beauty rediscovered and remade. Like all quests, this one is fulfilled at great cost. And like all quests, there is a “happily ever after.” Not only nor more death or mourning or crying or pain, but “he will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Is there any better picture of true love? I don’t know of one. This has been the goal of the quest all along. To dwell with us.
When we last left “The Princess Bride,” Westley, still disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts, was telling Buttercup about the presumed death of Westley at his hands. He said “He died well, that should please you. No bribe attempts or blubbering. He simply said, "Please. Please, I need to live." It was the "please" that caught my memory. I asked him what was so important for him. "True love," he replied.” True love’s quest. Watch the rest of that scene and listen for the parallels to God’s quest to restore his lost love through Jesus.
“And then he spoke of a girl of surpassing beauty and faithfulness. I can only assume he meant you. You should bless me for destroying him before he found out what you really are.” “And what am I?” “Faithfulness he talked of, madam. Your enduring faithfulness. Now, tell me truly. When you found out he was gone, did you get engaged to your prince that same hour, or did you wait a whole week out of respect for the dead?” “You mocked me once, never do it again -- I died that day! You can die too, for all I care!!” “... as ... you ... wish...” “Oh, my sweet Westley; what have I done?” “Can you move at all?” “Move? You're alive. If you want, I can fly.” “I told you, "I would always come for you." Why didn't you wait for me?” “Well ... you were dead.” “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.” “I will never doubt again.” “There will never be a need.”
God’s quest is to restore a broken relationship, that we might dwell with him forever.