Chapter 1

God’s Mission – The First Stages

We see a glimpse of God’s mission from the earliest story of Scripture, the creation account in Genesis. You are likely familiar with the rhythm and melody of this chapter. “Let there be … and there was.” Light appeared in the darkness, land rose from the chaotic waters, plants sprouted from the earth, order reigned in the cosmos, life swarmed the seas and the dry land. And God saw his creation and it was good. From the first day, God spreads order and goodness into his creation.

Then we come to the pinnacle of God’s creation, the making of the Man and the Woman. God made the whole universe with only his words, but with man, he stoops down and uses his hands (2:7). There is a personal touch to this creation, because man and woman are made in his image.

In the Ancient Near East, only the King or the Pharaoh was considered “the image of god,” or god’s representative on earth. Yet, here in Genesis, God communicates to his people through Moses that the pharaohs who enslaved them for four hundred years were not the unique images of god. They all were. Every man and woman on earth is made in the image of God. We are his representatives on earth.

This is the context of the command God gives to his image-bearers. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (1:28). Maybe you have heard this verse before as an argument for having children. Well, it does serve that purpose. The universe began with only two people and God wanted them to fill the earth with many more. But there is another level to this mandate.

God wanted the man and woman to fill the earth with his image. He wanted man and woman to spread his goodness, his justice, his glory, his honor to every corner of the earth. Why? Because he knows that a world filled with his glory is a world in which his image–bearers will resonate with that same goodness, joy, purpose, and hope.

Imagine a world in which everyone knew who they were, knew they were loved, knew where they belonged, and knew why they existed. There would be no need for seeking fulfillment through disappointing means. The earth would be filled with the goodness of God.

That was God’s mission at creation. And from the first page of the Bible, he invites his creation to join him in it. God is on a mission. Will you join him?

Question for Thought: In what ways is God calling you to join him in filling the earth with his goodness and order?

Mission Fail

There are many good and wonderful things in the world today: a mother caressing her newborn child, the sun splashing colors across an evening sky, a carpenter gazing at his hard–fought finished work, a song drifting through our ears and into our souls. The good world God created is truly good.

However, running alongside this reality, intertwined with it, is another thread—a world gone awry. Children are abandoned and neglected. Creativity is perverted from art to the art of war. Cities lie ruined as selfish men fight for power. Brokenness seeps into the crevasses of all our relationships. Injustice and oppression spread with lightning speed, recreating themselves in each generation. The wealth disparity between people and between nations grows ever wider. Yet even those who have it all never seem to have enough.

The fissures through our world are enough to cause many to question the goodness of our Creator God. Is this the world God made?

The answer from Genesis is “No.” God made a good garden (1:31) and placed in it a man and woman made in his image (2:27). He gave them a mission to multiply the goodness of his creation until it filled the earth (1:28). And yet, by the sixth chapter of Genesis, the earth is filled with everything but goodness.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5).

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (6:11).

These verses are painful to read in light of the beauty and artistry of the creation account. But this is the reality the man and woman multiplied through the earth. D.J.A. Clines describes the chapters following creation as “a growing ‘avalanche’ of sin.” First, the man and woman believe the word of the serpent over the word of their Creator and eat from the forbidden tree (3:6). Immediately they experience separation from God, from each other, from themselves, and from the creation itself. They hide from God. They blame each other. They try to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. But how can you cover a shame that is inside of you?

They try to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. But how can you cover a shame that is inside of you?

In the following chapter, Adam and Eve’s joy at the birth of two sons is stained by a jealousy–fueled murder. Cain kills his brother Abel (4:8). The ground they were to care for, from which they were to receive life, sustenance, and joy, instead “opened its mouth to receive” Abel’s blood (4:11). The earth was turned upside down. Death multiplied instead of life. And by the end of the chapter, Cain’s descendant Lamech is writing poetry that boasts of the man he killed (4:23–24). Instead of filling the earth with goodness, God’s images filled it with corruption and violence.

The Hebrew word for corruption used in Genesis 6 has two meanings. As a verb it means to ruin, or destroy, or disfigure. As a noun, it represents a pit which is used to trap animals or to hold prisoners. This, perhaps, is a fitting word picture. As men and women moved further away from the good mission given them by God they slid deeper into the pit of their own making.

Throughout Genesis 3–11 there is a cycle. Man sins. God judges. God offers a gracious way of escape. Perhaps this is best demonstrated in the ark by which Noah survived the flood. Man had destroyed the earth and so God would destroy man with the earth (6:13). Man had covered the earth with violence and so God would cover the earth with water. Man had filled the earth with corruption so God would blot out (7:23) or wipe clean the world he created. And yet, through the midst of this judgment, Noah and his family would pass safely through. God was able to bring judgment and salvation at the same time; a feat he would repeat, millennia later, on a Roman cross.

After bringing Noah through the flood, he made a covenant with him and his family. God condemned murder (9:6) and promised not to destroy the earth with water again (9:11). He also gave Noah a mission—the same mission he gave to Adam and Eve in the garden.

“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (9:7).

Not even the evil of man could disrupt the mission of God to spread his goodness to the four corners of his creation. And this is a mission we can still join today. Yes, life is a strange blend of beauty and pain, joy and brokenness. But God provides a way through the judgment. He provides both salvation and mission to those who hear his voice.


Vocation has come to be synonymous with a person’s career or occupation. But that was not always the case. In medieval Europe, a vocation was a calling to leave behind the world and its distractions, to join a monastic order, and dedicate your life to prayer and service. Vocation, after all, comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning “to call.”

During the Reformation, Martin Luther pushed back against this limiting definition of vocation. He argued that a divine calling could be followed no matter your occupation. In fact, God’s calling should be lived out not only at work, but also through your relationships and responsibilities.

More recently, author Os Guinness followed Luther’s reasoning in his book The Call. He defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” To put this in terms of our series, our calling is our unique, God–enabled contribution as we fully align ourselves with God’s mission in the world.

Calling is not a modern invention, or even a medieval one. It is as old as the patriarch Abraham. At the end of Genesis 11, Abram is living a nondescript life with his multi–generational family in Ur of the Chaldeans. There is no reason to believe that Abram’s life differed significantly from that of his neighbors. He was possibly a successful businessman. He had many possessions and people in his charge. Did he participate in the polytheistic worship that surrounded him? Did he seek pagan solutions for the big problem in his life, his wife Sarai’s barrenness? It is unclear. Most likely, Abram lived the normal life of an ancient Near–Eastern man. Then God interrupted.

Genesis 12 begins, “Now the Lord said to Abram.” God interrupts Abram’s life by speaking to him. Just as God spoke the world into existence and spoke a way of salvation to Noah, the Lord speaks a calling into Abram’s life.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:1–3).

Abram is called to leave the comfort of his home and homeland. This act requires faith since God has not made clear where he is going. This faith is much like Noah exercised when he built a giant boat with no water in sight. Noah built the ark on the promise of protection. Abram leaves his home for the promise of blessing.

God promises three things to Abram: land, people (a nation), and blessing. To have land is to have a place of permanence and sustenance. To bring forth a nation of people is to have your name honored. To receive the blessing of God is to have his favor. These promises would have been attractive to anyone in Abram’s day.

But in the context of Genesis, this promise is even more extravagant. Today, #blessed has become a tagline, something appended to a picture of a new purchase or a vacation home. In Genesis, the blessing of God is a central idea. In fact, the word is used eighty–seven times in the book. To be blessed is to be in right relationship with God, to have God “with” you, to carry God’s protection. And most importantly for this series, God’s blessing is tied to his mission.

When God tells Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 and Noah in Genesis 9 to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” it is immediately preceded by God’s blessing (1:28; 9:1). God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Giving man the mission of filling the earth with the goodness of God is a blessing. Involvement in God’s mission is one of the key ways he blesses us. We join in with God and God is with us.

And this blessing spills over to others. Note how God concludes his promise to Abram: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). God’s plan is to bless Abram so that through Abram the people of the world will be blessed.

When we seek our own blessing we miss it. When we live a life in line with God’s mission, we are a blessing to others and are blessed ourselves.

The first three words after God’s promise to Abram speak to Abram’s character and offer a challenge to us. “So Abram went” (12:4). Will we go as well? Will we step into the calling God has for us? Will we invest everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have in God’s mission?

Blessed for What?

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was a jerk. His name means “deceiver” and deceive he did. He tricked his brother, stealing both his birthright and his blessing. Unlike Abraham, who was called and went, Jacob ran and wrestled. But in the end, he joined the line of patriarchs who participated in the mission of God.

It was years after Jacob wrestled with God that the Lord appeared to him again. This time, God brings together the mission given to Adam and Eve and his promise to Abraham. “And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body’” (Genesis 35:11). Jacob would no longer be called “deceiver,” but Israel, “wrestles with God.” And God kept his promise. Israel’s family grew, survived centuries of slavery in Egypt, made a miraculous exit under Moses’ leadership, and came through the desert into the land promised to Abraham. Eventually, the nation of Israel was established under the up and down leadership of her kings. David and Solomon were highlights. Ahab and Rehoboam were lowlights.

What is often misunderstood about the nation of Israel is that it was never meant to be an end, but rather a source of blessing to the world. As Genesis 35 demonstrates, the purpose of the nation was the same as that given to Adam and Eve in the garden: be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Israel was designed to be a missional people.

Psalm 67 is a great example of Israel’s missionary purpose. The first lines echo the priestly blessing from Numbers 6, calling blessing onto the people.

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…” (67:1).

It is normal to desire the blessing of God, to long for his favor upon us. And we should ask for that since he promised to give it to his children. But notice the purpose for that blessing.

“…that your way may be known on the earth, your saving power among all nations” (67:2).
The author of this psalm recognizes the role Israel is to play in the world—to display the goodness and power of God to the nations. He longs for the peoples of the earth to find their joy in the justice and guidance of the Lord. He writes, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (67:3,5)

In a world of injustice, inequity, anxiety, and impotence, how will people see a different way? This psalm suggests that God’s people are the demonstration of his justice, judgment, peace, and power to the world.

There are glimpses of this reality through the history of Israel. The foreigner Ruth finds refuge and new life after tragedy under the Israelite Boaz. The Queen of Sheba travels to visit Solomon’s kingdom and declares, “Blessed be the Lord your God … he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9). The law given to the nation made generous provisions for the sojourner and the foreigner (Leviticus 19:33–34). However, the nation never truly lived up to its potential. Too often they traded God’s mission for a self–seeking protectionism.

Like Israel, we can often pray, “May God be gracious to us and bless us.” Full stop. We want the blessing but not the mission. Or we pray, “May God be gracious to us and bless us … so we can fulfill our own agenda.” But this psalm calls us back to his mission in the world.

“The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (Ps 67:6–7).

As God’s people, we are a conduit of blessing to the world. Through us, the ends of the earth can come to fear (read: respect and come into right relationship with) their Creator. One way to join in God’s mission is to pray not only for your own blessing, but that others would be blessed through you.


It feels good to be chosen. Most people prefer to be first pick on the playground rather than the last one standing. When we are chosen, we feel a sense of worth. But sometimes being chosen can go to our heads. Pride rises, focus shifts internally, and purpose erodes. Just look at modern examples of nationalism, racism, groupthink, and protectionism.

This is an important topic because God is in the habit of choosing. He chose Abram, out of all the people on earth, to carry his blessing. He chose Israel to be his nation and his people. God chooses. But what does he choose for?

After God brought Jacob’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt, he established them as a nation at Mount Sinai. Often, we jump straight to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but the previous chapter is context. It is a beautiful passage in which God expresses his desire to choose Israel.

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6).

It must have felt good for the people to be called God’s “treasured possession.” They were fresh out of slavery in which they were the oppressed possession of Pharaoh. Now they are treasured by a God who loves them.

But that is not the end of the relationship. God has a purpose for his people. They were to be priests. What do priests do? They are intermediaries between God and man. The priests offered prayers and sacrifices to God for the people. If the whole kingdom were priests, who are they interceding for? The rest of the world.

Fast forward 700–800 years, and what do we find from this kingdom of priests. Here are some excerpts from the first chapter of Isaiah to paint a picture:

“Children I have reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me” (1:2).

“Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord …” (1:4).

“Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (1:16–17).

What happened to God’s treasured possession? Instead of being a light to the surrounding nations they became like them. Instead of being priests they became prostitutes, giving themselves away to the surrounding gods. Instead of joining God’s mission in the world they abandoned God for the world’s mission.

Because God’s chosen people broke their covenant agreement, Isaiah writes, God would judge his people. In 722 bc the Assyrians came from the north and destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel. In 586 bc the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and carried off the remaining tribes of Judah into exile. They carried away both the treasure and the treasured possession.

Isaiah, who was writing during this time of destruction, was called by God to deliver this bad news. But he also spoke a message of hope. Even though God’s priestly nation was abandoning his mission, God was not. Just like with Noah, God would judge the sin but also provide a path of salvation.

Isaiah wrote, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’” (Isaiah 2:2–3).

These two concepts of God’s judgment and God’s restoration walk together through the book of Isaiah. God has not abandoned his mission even though his people have. God’s chosen servant will do the work Israel failed to do. God says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6b). He declares, “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10).

Amid fear and destruction, Isaiah speaks a word of hope: God is still on mission. He will restore his people. He will shine his light to the ends of the earth. He will bring blessing to all the nations. God’s mission will not fail.