The Lord's Day EveningFebruary 24, 2008
Missions Conference 2008
“…That all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)”
The Genesis of Missions: Successful Short-term Mission
Wilt Thou Go with This Man?
The Reverend Dr. Iain D. Campbell
Well, since this is the last opportunity I’ll have at this conference to address you from this platform, let me once again thank you for your kindness to me and your welcome over these past days, and the opportunity that you have given me to participate in this memorable conference. I think God has been exalted over these days, and my prayer is that God will continue to use you as a congregation and your faithful commitment to the proclamation of the word and the missionaries from whom we've heard and the different aspects of their service, and all of us as God's people where He places us, to be salt and light in this world. And may He be glorified in all of these things.
We continue this evening to study the book of Genesis. We’re going to turn to chapter 24, and I'd like to read part of that chapter. It's a long chapter, so we’ll read some verses at the beginning and then towards the end.
Genesis 24, reading verses 1-14:
“Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, ‘Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.’ The servant said to him, ‘Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?’ Abraham said to him, ‘See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ He will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.’ So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.
“Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, ‘O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’–let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that You have shown steadfast love to my master.’”
And then, as you know, the chapter goes on to tell us about how Rebekah came to the well, and how Abraham's servant knew that this was the woman that God had appointed to be the wife of Isaac. But in the home of Rebekah, she needs to hear the servant's report and to make a decision. So let's take up the reading at verse 50.
“Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing has come from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the Lord has spoken.’
“When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord. And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, ‘Send me away to my master.’ Her brother and her mother said, ‘Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.’ But he said to them, ‘Do not delay me, since the Lord has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.’ They said, ‘Let us call the young woman and ask her.’ And they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will go.’ So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham's servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
‘Our sister, may you become
thousands of ten thousands,
and may your offspring possess
the gate of those who hate him!’
“Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man. Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way.
“Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, ‘Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.”
Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His inerrant and holy word. Let's pray.
O Lord our God, this is the day that You have made, and as we receive Your word and hear Your voice, enable us all the more to rejoice in the day and to rejoice in the Lord of the day, for Your glory's sake. Amen.
One of the Free Church ministers once wrote a little devotional book on Genesis 24, and he gave it the title, The Loveliest Story Ever Told. And it really is a beautiful story. It's the longest single narrative in the book of Genesis, and it effectively brings to an end the cycle of Abraham's stories that are so central to Genesis and so foundational for the whole of biblical revelation. It's also, as you gathered from the title of my address this evening, the story of a successful short-term mission. Not all short-term missions are successful. Many are, but some aren't. As part of my preparation for this conference, I read a very interesting article by Glenn Schwartz, who is talking about things that can make short-term mission unsuccessful–people going with the wrong motives, people under pressure to bring positive reports back, and things like that. But here's the story of a successful short-term mission, and I think it has a great deal to tell us not just about short-term mission and the principles that ought to drive such mission, but it has very important things to tell us about the nature of the gospel. Because every believer in here this evening is the result of mission, and every believer in here this evening is a missionary. Every young believer in here this evening is a very fertile mission field, and I hope this evening that my short-term mission among you will be successful, and that you’ll come to know the Lord if you do not know Him already.
The principal actors in this well-known drama of Genesis 24 are of course Abraham and his servant; and (although he says nothing) Isaac, Abraham's son, is in the background; and then, of course there's Rebekah, whom Isaac is going to marry, and her family.
But actually the actor of the piece, the one who is doing the acting is God himself. He is named some seventeen times in the course of this chapter. And all that happens here is His work, and Laban and Bethuel and the household of Rebekah recognize that fact when they say in verse 50, “The thing has come from the Lord.” And as the whole narrative of Abraham's life and history had come from the Lord, so this had come from the Lord. And Abraham has a concern, of course, that Isaac will marry. And I suppose the climactic moment of the narrative comes when the question is pressed home to Rebekah in verse 58, which we’ll take as our text for this evening, “Will you go with this man?”
So let's look at this narrative and this great chapter of Genesis, and let's remind ourselves that in the contextual background of Genesis there is the covenant that God makes with Abraham, the blessing of which comes upon us (as we saw this morning) through the Lord Jesus Christ. And let me in the light of the covenant look at this chapter and the elements that drive this mission to its success.
I. The covenant principle.
Let's remind ourselves first of all that the whole event of chapter 24 is driven by a covenant principle…by a covenant principle, a principle that is addressed by Abraham in the charge he gives to his servant to find a wife for his son, not from among the daughters of the Canaanites.
There is the principal of separation and the principal of holiness, and it is at the very heart of the covenant of God's grace. God cuts a covenant with us in order to cut us away from ourselves, so that we will be His. He makes covenant with us precisely in order that we might be sanctified and that we might be holy, and that we might be consecrated to Him. And what Abraham is doing is much more than simply fulfilling the duties of a dutiful father. He's doing no less than that, but he's doing much more than that. Calvin puts it like this:
“Abraham here fulfills the common duty of parents in laboring for and being solicitous about the choice of a wife for his son, but he looks somewhat further; for since God had separated him from the Canaanites by a sacred covenant, he justly fears lest Isaac, by joining himself in affinity with them, should shake off the yoke of God.”
And he does not want his son to shake off the yoke of God, any more than Christian parents in here this evening want to see their covenant offspring shake off the yoke of God.
The principle that is running right through this chapter because it is at the very heart of the covenant of God's grace is that God's people are precisely that: they are His people. They are living in the world, but as Jesus puts it in the high priestly prayer, they are not of the world. And because they are not of the world, they need to be sanctified. They are definitively made holy, but they need progressively to be made more and more and more holy by the ministry of the word, by the truth of the Scripture. That's why it is absolutely imperative and non-negotiable that with every given opportunity you place yourself under the preaching of the word, in the way of covenant blessing, precisely so that you will be dedicated all the more to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And behind everything that goes on here — in the commission of the servant, in the execution of his task, in the success that he enjoys — there is the covenant principle that God's people are to be a holy people. And that must affect all of our relationships and it must affect all of our choices, and it must affect our use of time, our stewardship of money, and it must regulate our behavior in every area of our living.
Are we holy, or are we not? “Make us more holy” ought to be our prayer. And holiness at its essence is the realization that in and of ourselves we are absolutely riddled with the plague of sin, and we need to be cleansed and made more and more Christ-like.
And Abraham sends his servant on this mission not because God needs him, but because he needs God. And that ought to drive all our mission. We don't go on mission and we don't preach the gospel because God needs us to. I am the last person God needs in this pulpit tonight, but I am the person God wants in this pulpit tonight. And as we sit around and under and on the word of God we come this evening to express our need of Him. And it is out of that principle and out of that desire for holiness and for commitment–acknowledging and realizing our utter dependence upon Him and the need of a lost world for Him–it is out of that realization that our lives are lived and our missions are engaged in. The covenant principle driving this great mission on which Abraham sends his servant.
II. The covenant promise.
And then it's driven, secondly, by the covenant promise. Abraham says to his servant, ‘Go and find a wife for Isaac, because God promised me that to my offspring He would give the land.’
There is no offspring. There's Isaac, of course, but nobody more than Isaac. All the covenant promises that have been given up until this point, they’re still hanging on a thread, and the thread is very fragile and it's ready to break at any time. And yet that's all that Abraham has to go on. And so all his faith and all his confidence is based upon that covenant promise: “To you and to your offspring I will give the land.”
‘There will be an offspring. There will be a seed to possess the land. I only have Isaac; I'm old; he's getting older; and God promised me that my descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sand by the seashore. So you go,’ he says to his servant, ‘and find a wife for Isaac, because God has made a promise to me.’
So tonight we preach the gospel because God has made promises. And tonight we go into all the world with that gospel because God has made promises. And we go to the ends of the earth because God has made promises. And we witness to our unbelieving friends because God has made promises. And we bring up our children in the fear of the Lord because God has made promises, because in the covenant of His grace He promises that His Son will have dominion over all the nations and will receive universal acclamation, and at last that every knee will bow to Him, and we who have already entered into the inheritance stand at last to enjoy the full possession of the land of promise on that Day when He makes up His jewels, and when every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That's all we have to go on. We don't go on what we see around us and the phenomena of our unbelieving and ungodly world; we go on the promise and the strength of God's commitment to His word. And all our mission and all our ministry is not driven by our promises to Him. (How easily and how quickly and how readily we break these!) But they are grounded upon His promise to us.
And more fundamentally still, they are grounded upon His promises to His Son, and the fact that at last He has made Him to be heir of all things; and His purpose is to unite all things in Him, and He has said it, and it is impossible for this God to lie. And the truth of His word under girds all evangelism, all of mission, all of preaching, all of praying. He has spoken; He will have the glory. And at last, over all and amid all the cacophony of voices that we hear all around us, God's word is supreme, and it will be final. And all the earth at last will be silent before Him with the realization that what He has spoken, He will fulfill. So we engage in mission, just as Abraham commissioned his servant, on the strength of the covenant promise.
III. The covenant presence.
But then, thirdly, we also see this narrative driven by the covenant presence. What if [says the servant]…What if…” What if the woman doesn't come with me? What if I go the wrong way? What if I don't find her? What if this, what if that, what if the next thing? To which Abraham's only response is this: “The God who spoke to me is the God who goes with you.” And it is His presence, His actual presence, the presence of the angel of the covenant, the presence of the Lord himself that fortifies the servant and that encourages the servant, and that enables the servant to step out in faith, knowing that the God who has spoken to him is the God who is present with him. Does that not feed into the Great Commission?
“All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go into all the world; proclaim the gospel to every nation. And I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
Isn't that a magnificent way to end the first New Testament Gospel? The Gospel that had invited us, just in that same chapter, to look into the empty grave and to hear these great words: “He is not here. See the place where the Lord lay.” They expected Him to be there, but He wasn't there! And they’re invited to derive their comfort and their strength from where He is not, and it's because of where He is not that the commission concludes with the great hope of where He is. And it's the fact that He is not in the grave that makes Him by His Spirit able to be with His people in every aspect of their work; in all their engagement to serve Him in this world, they are not alone, but God of the covenant himself, through the person of the Spirit, is the one who comes to us and says, “I am with you.” That's why our theology is so gloriously Trinitarian. The Father has given all authority to the Son, and through the Spirit that God is with us always, even to the end of the age. The covenant presence.
IV. The covenant prayer.
But then I want to draw your attention to the covenant prayer that drives this chapter. I'm thinking particularly of the absolute dependence of the servant on God coming to him, leading him in the way, and directing him to where God wants him to go. As he sits down and cries to God (verse 12):
“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today. Show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I'm standing by the spring of water…. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Let down your jar that I may drink, and who will say ‘Drink, and I will water your camels,’ let her be the one….”
Do you see what's happening? This servant is absolutely dependent upon the God of his master, and every step of the way is a step of faith, and every step of faith has to be a step of prayer, and he's crying to God out of his knowledge of the covenant–to the God who can do great things for him, and upon whom he must rely absolutely. And his prayer turns at last to praise and to worship, as he sees Rebekah and as he hears her voice, and as he rejoices in her commitment, and he comes to worship:
“I came today to the spring and said, ‘Lord, the God of my master Abraham…’” [and so on]… “And then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham….”
Do you see this consistent, persistent emphasis on prayer? The language that this servant speaks is completely and utterly the language of dependence and it is of the very essence of faith that it breathes the language of dependence upon God.
I wonder today if that is not part of the problem for the modern evangelical church. There has never been an age in which mission was so possible, and we can harness so much of the technology to get us to places that our fathers and grandfathers could only dream of going. People went there, and we thank God for them. It took them so long, and we can get there in an instant, and we can use all the modern technology to communicate and so on, but have we forgotten…? Have we forgotten to pray? Lord, teach us to pray! Give us a sense of our absolute need and our absolute dependence on You to lead us and to direct us…You, to open doors for us that we may go through…You, to close doors on us that You don't want us to go through…You, to show Your will to us, to let us know what You want us to do with Your life.
And you never ever forget that the whole discipline of prayer is not that you’re going to tell God what you need. Doesn't Christ teach us in the Sermon on the Mount that our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask?
The problem is not that God doesn't know what we need; the problem is we don't know what we need. We express our prayers for what we want. God will teach us through the discipline of prayer what we need. We express through our prayers all our burdens and all our questions and all our anxieties, and we wait on God so that He will teach us what we need. And sometimes He will answer us in ways beyond our expectation, and sometimes He will answer using ways that we would rather He didn't, and sometimes we simply have to bow before Him and acknowledge at last that it is good for us simply to draw near to God. May God give us this spirit of grace and of supplication, so that before we storm any citadel of this unbelieving world, we will have done so from the throne of grace, and not bypassing it at all.
V. The covenant privilege.
Which brings me then to this, to the great covenant privilege...to the privilege that this servant had of being led to a place of God's prior appointing and of God's prior choosing…when He had done His work, and all that was waiting now was for the servant to engage with this woman who is to become the bride of Isaac. And what a privilege he has as he sets his master's riches before her, and as he presses home this great, great question: “Will you go with this man?” And who at last rejoices because “here comes the bride!” And then at the close of the chapter, this great marriage takes place.
And suddenly, at the very heart of the Abrahamic covenant we see a marriage union. And through that marriage union, Rebekah is drawn into the covenant. Isn't it interesting? As chapter 25 unfolds we are reminded that Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, and now because of her response to the servant, Rebekah comes to enjoy all the blessings that Abraham had. We’re told in verse 11 of chapter 25, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac….” And now Rebekah comes through union with Isaac to enjoy for herself the blessings of heaven as well as the blessings of earth, because she went with this man. And she comes to know the blessing of the covenant for herself simply and entirely through her marriage union with the son of Abraham.
I'm saying tonight that the gospel comes to us in precisely these terms. The Larger Catechism asks the question:
Q 66. “What is that union that the elect have with Christ?”
A. “The union that the elect have with Christ is the work of God's grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband, which is done by effectual calling.”
That's what marriage was designed to teach us from the very beginning. “This is a great mystery,” says Paul in Ephesians 5, as he reflects on the respective roles of husbands and wives in Christian marriage. ‘This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church…I'm speaking about Abraham and his bride. I'm speaking about the great union of saved sinners with their Savior, by virtue of which all the blessings of the covenant become theirs; not because of anything they've done or of anything they've been, but in spite of what they've done and in spite of what they've been. And solely on account of their marriage to the Son of Abraham, they become the recipients of covenant blessing.’
That's why Paul uses the language of inheritance in Romans 8: “We are heirs of God, and we are joint heirs with Christ.” Just as Rebekah came to be an heiress of God and a joint heir with Isaac of the blessings that had been intimated to Abraham, so we come by union with the Son of Abraham into the enjoyment of all the privileges and all the blessings of the Son of God and the covenant of His grace.
Some of you may be familiar with the work of Brownlow North, the nineteenth century Scottish evangelist who also wrote a book on this chapter, and gave it the title of our text: Wilt Thou Go with This Man? And in the introduction to that book, Brownlow North says this:
“The chapter from which this verse is taken explains the object for which Abraham sent his servant into Mesopotamia to seek a bride for his master's son. Now my object in sending this little book into the world is to seek a bride for my Master's Son. I profess to be a servant of the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and as Abraham's servant went to Rebekah and in the name and by the command of Abraham asked her to enter into a marriage covenant with Isaac, so I come to you in the name and by the command of Abraham's God, and offer you union with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That's the covenant privilege. That's the privilege that belongs to all the children of the covenant, that in the name and by the command of Abraham's God we can go to the world and we can say, “Will you go with this Man?”
Maybe you’re in here tonight and you still haven't come to discover for yourself the beauty and the glory of God's salvation in Jesus Christ. Let me do what Abraham's servant did. Let me display my Master's riches before you. Let me remind you of the glory of the life that He offers, the peace that He promises, the forgiveness that He imparts, the presence that will go with you every step of the way; the forgiveness that will cover all your sins; the grace that will help you in every time of need; the sanctifying work of His Spirit that will make you more like Jesus, stage by stage, step by step; the purpose that will bind together and weave together into a glorious tapestry all of the disparate threads of your experiences in this world, good and bad.
Let me remind you tonight that on the table of the gospel there are the greatest promises of the most abundant, glorious life possible. Let me remind you tonight that in this great covenant of grace there is a treasure box, and it is full of the most glorious riches that heaven can give…what earth can't even begin to promise, and what earth cannot ever take away. Let me display these riches before you and say to you tonight that they are yours for the taking, if you will go with this Man.
Will you go with this Man? There is salvation in none other, but in the Son of Abraham. And it is our privilege as the heirs of the covenant to say to you, my sinner friend, tonight, along life's journey, that this Christ…this Christ is tonight willing to receive sinners and to eat with them. And there is absolutely nothing on His part to prevent you from coming to Him. Whatever there may be on your part, His arms are open; His heart is wide tonight. His gospel invitation is as full and as free and as unfettered as you could possibly imagine. He says tonight to sinners the world over, ‘Will you come to Me?’
And supposing the world tonight were to come at one moment to Him–He would deliver everything He has promised, and He will give peace that passes all understanding, and He will wash every sin and every stain away.
My dear friend, tonight I want you to fall in love with this Jesus and go with Him, and discover His loveliness and His preciousness and the glory of His person and the majesty of His work, and let Him be your head and husband, too.
And you, my brother and sister in Christ, I want you to fall in love with Him all over again. I want you to discover the glory of what He is and the wonder of what He has done. I want you to see afresh the glory of Calvary and the magnificence of the empty tomb. I want you to rejoice tonight in His cry, “It is finished!” and live tonight under His continuing priesthood within the veil in God's holy place, as He lives to make intercession for you. And I want you to bow before Him and to say, “He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend.” And you live your life under the gaze of this Jesus, whose sweetness has filled you and expelled every other love and left you simply leaning on your beloved.
And let me press it harder, my Christian brother or sister in here tonight. Will you go with this Man? Will you go from this place with this Man with a new determination to serve Him? And with a new willingness to yield your all to Him? It may be that He will give you the opportunity to serve Him in some mission field somewhere. Will you go with Him there? He may call you to devote your whole life in full time service to Him. Will you go with Him there? But even if He doesn't, even if He leaves you where you are, will you go with Him as He asks you to live for Him in your home and in your family and in your community? And at your workplace and among your fellow students? Will you go with Him? Will you be subject to His leading and His guiding, and live under His lordship in order that His reputation will be all the more enhanced by your dedication to Him? Maybe then, too, you will have the great privilege of hearing someone somewhere saying, like Rebekah, “I’ll go, too.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. “Therefore,” says John the Baptist, “this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
May God grant us the grace and the faith that works through love that will enable us all to say tonight, “Yes; how can we not go with Abraham's Son, experiencing as we do the blessings of the covenant through union with Him? How can we not give our lives when He calls us to serve to His greater glory?” May God grant it. Amen.
Please stand to receive God's benediction.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
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