Understanding Dust and Stars
I have been attempting to inculcate you in seeing The Church through new eyes, and I just provided you with four ways we can make this our highest priority and how we are to function. But with all of our talking and the abundance of sermons on this topic, don’t you wonder why we have failed to make it work? That my friends, is a good question. I guess it is time for me to explain what I mean by “Dust and Stars.”
In Genesis 13:16, when Abram chose his land and decided to settle in it, Yahweh promised him, “Abram, I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth.”
Genesis 15:6, states that Abram “believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The remainder of our faith rests on this foundation verse. However, along with this statement, the Lord also said, “Abram, your descendants will be as plentiful as the stars.” Huh? What’s that all about? Well, the double promise is repeated in Genesis 22:17 when the Lord says; “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand (dust) on the seashore.”
Even a casual student of the New Testament understands that Abraham received a double line of descendants. First you have the Jews, Abraham’s earthly descendants by their physical heritage, as numerous as dust. Then, you have all the believers, Abraham’s heavenly descendants by spiritual heritage, as numerous as stars. [Hence, Dust and Stars] That’s right. Abraham ended up with two great families! Unless we keep these families separate, we will get into all kinds of problems, but the beautiful thing we have in common is the same father, Abraham.
The entire Old Testament is a story of the development of Abraham‟s physical descendants, the Hebrews. Their family structure was strictly physical. They were born into their immediate family, and into a certain clan with a common paternal ancestor. The clan within the tribes, all ascended from twelve brothers. The tribes within the nation Israel were all physically related.
In that set up, the physical father was also the spiritual head of the home. He was answerable for the sins and successes of the mother and the children. He provided the information for census taking, and teaching his family about the things of the Lord.
Now the New Testament does not remove the former but brings in a new order. And “showed that the first promise was outdated. What is outdated and aging will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). It is the story of Abraham‟s spiritual descendants. It is the story of those who have believed in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Yahweh counts it to them as righteousness, as he did their spiritual father Abraham. There are no physical fathers, clans, or tribes here. No one is born into it by natural birth; we must be “born again” into it, because it is a spiritual family.
The differences between the Old and New Testaments are striking. Even the meanings for identical words change. The word family is used around 200 times in the Old Testament, and it always means physical family. However, in the New Testament that all changes. Luke 2:4, still in the culture of the Old Testament and the law, uses the word family in referring to a physical family for the last time, saying that Joseph was of the house and family of David. After that, it is gone.
The word family does appear twice more, in Acts 3:25 and in Ephesians 3:15, in the first instance, referring to mankind in general (all the families of the earth) and then, even broader, whole family in heaven and earth.
From the cross on, physical families are never mentioned in the Bible. Yes, households are mentioned, including servants, house-guests, anybody living under a single roof, but never physical families in the strict sense that the Old Testament had used the word.
The word father is used around 600 times in the Old Testament, and it practically always refers to a physical father. Seven times God is poetically called father (Jeremiah 3:4,19; 31:9; Deuteronomy 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; Malachi 1:6), but the Israelites never thought of Him that way. On the other hand, the word father occurs about 300 times in the New Testament, and it almost always refers to Yehoveh, our God. It was a wonderful new concept of Him!
Brother occurred around 200 times in the Old Testament and always referred to a physical brother. Then in the New Testament, it occurs nearly 100 times and nearly always means brother in the Christ. Children in the Old Testament meant physical offspring. In the New, it takes on the tender meaning of spiritual children, as in Ephesians 5:1 and in I John.
The New Testament is a family book, but it is a spiritual family that comes into prominence. It is newer, higher, and eternal! Jesus’ life is the pivot on which the Old and New Testaments swing because He came to introduce the world to concepts they had never thought of under the law. He continued to support that precious, God-given physical family; he defended the sanctity of marriage (Mark 10:9) and rebuked the Pharisees for avoiding taking care of aging parents (Mark 7:10-13). However, Jesus was also introducing a higher order of family life than had ever been thought of, one we have never fully understood, but must begin to discover.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.