You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:
- An Introduction
- Augustine’s Two Cities
- Two Kingdoms in Luther
- The Reformed Confessions (Part I)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part II)
- The Reformed Confessions (Part III)
- Sphere Sovereignty in Kuyper
- Redemption and Creation in Kuyper
- John the Baptist
- The Prophet Amos
- The Incarnate Lord (Part I)
- The Incarnate Lord (Part II)
As we continue in our examination of the life and teaching of our incarnate Lord, let us recall the fact that Christ’s primary mission was not that of social change. Rather, His primary goal was that of redeeming His bride (the church). However, given the fact that His bride is a multi-ethnic and multi-national bride, this work of redemption came with some very real implications for public theology because of some very real discontinuities with God’s former dealings with His covenant people.
The first among these discontinuities was the change of worship from being ethnocentric (for the Jews only) and geocentric (in Zion only) to being Christ-centric. Consider our Lord’s interaction with the woman at the well:
“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,’” (John 4:19-24; NASB).
In moving the center of worship from a people group or a location, our Lord mobilized the gospel. It was no longer a fixed temple, but was now a movable tabernacle. It was no longer bound up within borders and bloodlines, but now extended into the far reaches of the earth and was made effectual for saving men of all stripes. The church was now poised to penetrate through the barriers erected in relationships between Jew and Greek (ethnicity), slave and free, male and female (Gal. 3:28), and even Greeks and barbarians (tribes, tongues, and nationalities; see Rom. 1:14). The fact that our worship of God is Christ-centric rather than ethnocentric or geocentric will help us to make sense of the public theology of the apostles as we move forward in our study.
Another shackle that our Lord shook off in order to mobilize the church was that of unbelievers within the covenant community. Christ interacted with many a Jewish leader who had been born Jewish, who could doubtless trace their genealogies back to kings and prophets, and who had doubtless received the covenant sign as an infant. Yet, He referred to them as whitewashed tombs. Why? Because of their unbelief. God’s people are marked by their belief in Christ, not their bloodlines, their ethnicities, or their nationalities. Jesus did not say, “Permit the children to come to the baptismal waters.” Rather, He said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all,” (Mk. 10:14-15; NASB).
As Christians, our public theology should start in the home. We are daily to bring our children to Christ and bid them repent and believe on the Lord, for it is only those such as believe who are truly in the New Covenant community.
“‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more,’” (Jer. 31:33-34; NASB).
This is one reason Reformed Baptists see no inconsistency with our view of the Covenant and family worship. We are bid by our Lord to permit our children to come to Him in the hopes that, in so doing, they will receive the kingdom of God. It is no different than Presbyterians who allow unbelievers to enter their public worship in the hopes that, singing the hymns and hearing the preached word, they might “receive the kingdom of God like a child.” And having received the kingdom of God, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Every member a believer, our Covenant is a CredoCovenant.
One New Man
Belief is the entrance into the Covenant not only for children, but also for the world. Let us recall that a dividing wall once existed between Jew and Gentile, the circumcision and the “uncircumcision,” those who were near and those who were far off (Eph. 2:11-18). Through faith, the two have become one new man, the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16-17; 28-29), one tree comprised of both natural and engrafted branches (Rom. 11:16-24).
This teaching did not begin with the apostles. It was there in seed form in the ministry of Christ. Already, in the earthly ministry of our Lord, He was breaking down barriers between ethnicities for the furtherance of His gospel. This point is important. Christ did not break down cultural barriers for the sake of mere social reform. Christ broke down cultural barriers for the sake of expanding His kingdom in a lost and dying world.
This is one reason the fixation on the part of many Dispensationalists on Jesus’ ethnicity is so disturbing. They make much of the fact that Jesus was of Jewish descent, but that gets the order of precedence backward. The Messiah does not get His identity from the Jews; rather, the Jews were meant to find their identity in the Messiah.
Christ Breaking Down Barriers
The woman at the well understood this fact. When Christ demolished the idea of geocentric worship, telling her that the time had come when men would worship in spirit and truth rather than on this mountain or that mountain, her thoughts automatically went to the Messiah:
“The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’
Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He,’” (John 4:25-26; NKJV).
Even a half-breed Samaritan woman of questionable morals understood that discontinuity would accompany the coming Messiah. In this one interaction, Christ breaks down geocentric, ethnocentric, and gender barriers. It is no surprise that Christ’s disciples were baffled to find him talking alone with a woman upon their return from the village, let alone a Samaritan “dog.”
Tellingly, this was not the only instance in which Christ broke down barriers between ethnicities in His teaching and practice. It was a major point of the parable of the Prodigal Son, which very interestingly parallels the book of Jonah (Lk. 15:11-32; cf. Jon. 4:1-11). It was also a major point in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). We also see Christ making much of the ethnicity of a Canaanite mother of the demon-possessed girl just before he praises her for her great faith (Mt. 15:21-28).
Jesus did not have to cast out her daughter’s demons, nor did He have to heal the centurion’s servant (Mt. 8:5-13). “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places,” (Ps. 135:6; NKJV). It pleased Christ to shake the cultural foundations of the ancient world in order that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile might crumble and men and women of every tribe, tongue, and nation might become one new man in Christ Jesus.
Given the discontinuities we have cited, God’s people do not fight to establish His kingdom on this earth. That is not to say that we do not work within our individual spheres of influence to effect change in this world, but our national allegiance is now other-worldly. We are like the exiles of the Old Testament. We have gone from a geocentric, ethnocentric worship to a worship that looks to the new heavens and the new earth where we will worship with the saints triumphant from every tribe, tongue, and nationality, and where we will see God face-to-face, and He will walk among His people.
Our place here today is to spread the gospel and to see that as many as possible receive the kingdom of God. Thus, we must strive to use the Law to prick the consciences of the lost and to prepare them, as a tutor, for the work of the gospel on their hearts. Thus, our marching orders are to take both the Law and the Gospel into a lost and dying world that the Spirit might convict them through the Law and convince them by the Gospel.