Hello from Jerusalem. I am here because of ‘GAFCON’, which stands for the ‘Global Anglican Future conference’. Two thousand Anglican leaders are gathering from around the world—from Africa, Asia, South and North America, the Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe.
Historically, Anglicans around the world met every ten years at the ‘Lambeth Conference’ held in the United Kingdom. But when the Lambeth Conference allowed a man who was a practicing homosexual to be an Anglican bishop, they had crossed a line. The result was GAFCON. It’s why I’m here in Jerusalem. I want you to know that there are two types of Anglicans—those who believe in the Bible and those who don’t.
So why is GAFCON in Jerusalem? Not because it is ‘holy ground’, but because it is a reminder of where it began. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, to the end of the earth”—and there you are, ‘down under’, at the end of the earth. Jerusalem is where it started, but it is is not where it will end. It is apt, given that I will be speaking about the earthly Jerusalem while physically being in Jerusalem. Yet my prayer is that you would know that your home is the heavenly Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is above, and free.
For nearly fifteen hundred years, Christians, Muslims, and Jews have been fighting over the city of Jerusalem. Everyone wants a piece of this city. Even President Trump recently moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—and that was not without the loss of life.
Why is Jerusalem so important to so many? Should it still be important to Christians? Ever since King David captured this city three thousand years ago and his son Solomon built the temple there, the city of Jerusalem stood at the center of God’s plan of salvation. The Old Testament prophets constantly spoke about a future with a new Jerusalem at its heart.
What is so surprising is that in his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul did not hold the earthly city of Jerusalem in awe and respect. He had already made the point that his gospel did not come from Jerusalem. He had only visited Jerusalem twice in fourteen years, and then only briefly. His gospel did not come from the Jerusalem apostles but from the risen Jesus Christ himself. In contrast, the false teachers claimed that their authority came from Jerusalem, as they harassed these Galatian Christians, trying to enslave them to the law of Moses. So Paul had to explain the place of the city of Jerusalem now that the New Covenant had come.
Jesus had already said to the Samaritan woman during his earthly ministry, “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21).
So Paul told the story of two women who represent two covenants, and two cities. Of the two women, one was Hagar, and the other was Sarah. Both women were mothers who each gave birth to a child fathered by Abraham, Galatians 4:21-23:
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. (NIV)
Let me give you the backstory. Four thousand years ago, God gave Abraham a promise at age 75 that he would be the father of a great nation. That sounded great, except that Abraham didn’t even have a son. He and his wife Sarah were both old and Sarah was unable to have children. Years pass, and still God has not given them any children. Time is running out. So they decide to kick start God’s promises, to give God a bit of a nudge. So Sarah at age 86 suggests to her husband Abraham that he have a child through her female slave called Hagar. Abraham surprisingly offers no resistance—please don’t confuse what is in the bible with what should be, for this act was not condoned—and so Abraham fathered a son by Hagar the slave woman. The son born was named Ishmael, and he became the father of all Arabs. But this was not what God had in mind.
Here is an important side point—God does not need our help to fulfill his promise. Those of us who like to be doers, who are activists, need to take note: God does not need our help to fulfill his promise. God will keep his promise to Abraham, and it will be fulfilled his way in his timing. The child Ishmael born to Hagar was not the child born of the promise. God wanted a very old Abraham and the very infertile Sarah to have the child of the promise. The child must come from Sarah’s dead womb. God alone will get the glory. Twenty-five years would pass between God giving the promise and God fulfilling it. And then, when Sarah was 90 years old, God gave her a son, just as he had said. His name was Isaac. He was the child of the promise and the son of the free woman. In contrast, Ishmael was the child of human effort, and the son of a slave woman.
The two women represent two covenants and two destinies, Galatians 4:24-26:
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (NIV)
That appears complicated, and Paul makes connections that seem strange, but let’s understand the contrast that Paul is drawing. Paul contrasts ‘justification by law’ and ‘justification by faith’. The slave woman, Hagar, represents justification by law. The free woman, Sarah, represents justification by faith. Hagar represents the law of Moses that God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. Sarah represents the promises God graciously gave to Abraham. The law of Moses also corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, and no lasting inheritance. The promises to Abraham lead to the eternal inheritance of the heavenly Jerusalem. So the two women represent two covenants. Hagar the slave woman represents the way of law, and Sarah the free woman represents the way of faith.
Now Paul’s contrasts here are surprising, and even shocking—in fact, they present us with shock after shock.
The first shock comes in Galatians 4:25:
Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. (NIV)
The shock here is that Sarah is the physical mother of all Jews, but it is Hagar, the mother of the Arabs, who in actual fact represents the law given on Mount Sinai to the Jew. The astounding this is that Paul connects the giving of law with Hagar the slave women, the mother of the Arabs. And those who rely on that law are slaves to it like Hagar. The point for us is that if we as Christians go back to relying on the law, then we will become slaves like the children of Hagar.
The second shock is that Paul connects Hagar (and not Sarah) with present day earthly city of Jerusalem. The physical earthly city of Jerusalem is the one that is enslaved to law and justification by works. The great and so-called ‘holy’ earthly city of Jerusalem, the city that I am now visiting, Paul says is in slavery, and is represented by Hagar, the mother of Arabs. In contrast, Sarah is connected with the heavenly Jerusalem, which is free and above.
The two women represent two covenants, which correspond to two cities, but there is only one inheritance. And this brings us to the third shock, which is that Hagar the slavewoman and her son do not share in the inheritance, and neither will those who align themselves with earthly Jerusalem and the law. Listen to the uncompromising words of Sarah to Hagar which Paul quotes in Galatians 4:30-31:
But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (NIV)
There is no inheritance for the children of Hagar who rely on the law and earthly Jerusalem. The blessings do not follow the bloodline—they follow those who trust in the promises of God. Here is the twist: that the Jews and Arabs and legalistic Christians who rely on the law are all exactly the same—they are all children of Hagar and they will not get the inheritance. But Jews and Arabs and everybody else who trust in Jesus will get everything. For the inheritance comes to people by trusting in the promises of God, as indicated in Galatians 4:28, “Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise” (NIV).
What promise is Paul talking about here? It is Jesus’ promise of salvation when he says, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who believes in me has eternal life.”
Wow! This is amazing! Who would have expected that the earthly Jerusalem offers no inheritance?
Here is a joke. The Pope and Chief Rabbi were having a series of debates. The first time they met was at the Vatican in Rome. They got to the point where the Chief Rabbi thought to himself, “I need some help.” He asked if could borrow the Pope’s phone, and then the Chief Rabbi phoned up heaven to get some advice. After half an hour, he hung up and asked the Pope how much for the call. The Pope said, “Fifty dollars should cover it.” The next time, the two met in Jerusalem. This time the Pope was out of his depth, and so he asked the Rabbi, “Listen can I borrow your mobile phone. I need some advice.” The chief Rabbi said, “Go right ahead”, so the Pope phoned up heaven. After half an hour, the Pope hung up the phone and asked, “How much do I owe you?” The Chief Rabbi said, “Fifty cents.” The Pope was surprised. He said, “How come it’s so cheap? When we were in Rome I charged you fifty dollars to use my phone for the same length of time. He said, “Yes but here in Jerusalem it’s a local call.”
Behind the joke is an understanding that Jerusalem is ‘the holy city’. This view says that Jerusalem is at the center of God`s purposes, and it has direct access to God. And earlier in this talk I agreed that the Old Testament revealed that Jerusalem was at the center of God’s purpose of salvation. So doesn’t Jerusalem have a special place in God’s plan even now?
And Paul tells us that, yes, Jerusalem is at the center of God’s plan, but not the earthly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem is associated with law and is in slavery. There is no inheritance that way. The heavenly Jerusalem is associated with grace and faith in the promises of God, freedom from slavery and full inheritance rights as the sons and daughters of God. God’s word has tipped everything upside down, because, shock of all shocks, thirdly, Hagar the mother of Arabs is now the mother of the Jews, and indeed anyone else who wants to be enslaved by relying religious law.
As a birthday gift, I was recently given a DNA kit to determine my ancestry. I discovered that I am 52% Southern European (that’s, for example, Sicilian and Greek), 22% Middle Eastern (that is, from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Yeman, the Emerites, Lebanon, and Israel), 15% from the Caucasus (that is, descended from people from Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey), 4% North African, and I just found out I’m 3% Jewish. Three percent of me is a biological son of Sarah—the Jewish side—and 22% of me is a biological son of Hagar—the Arabic bit.
But spiritually I’m 100% the son of Sarah. How? Well, like many of you, I put my trust in God promises of grace in Christ. And you too, can be 100% the spiritual sons and daughters of Sarah through faith in Jesus Christ.
To whom does the city of Jerusalem belong? Today we have Jews, Arabs, and some Christians all fighting over a city, but it’s a city that will enslave them. It’s a city that represents the past and not the future. The present earthly city of Jerusalem stands for slavery and not freedom.
The American civil war was about giving freedom to African slaves. It was a heavy price. for 620,000 lives were lost. After the war, some slaves did not know what to do with their freedom. They went back to their former slave owners. That is tragic, but it is not nearly as tragic as when Christians want to go back to the law. It is tragic when Christians want to go back to the earthly city of Jerusalem to get closer to God. It is profoundly sad to think that so many people are fighting over a city that stands for slavery and not freedom, religion and not grace.
But we Christians must look to the new Jerusalem, Galatians 4:26, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother” (NIV).
Our home is heaven, not some city in the Middle East. Our mother is Sarah not Hagar. Our faith is in the promises of God, not the law of God. Our citizenship is in the heavenly Jerusalem, not the earthly Jerusalem.
Human nature wants to keep finding our home in ‘holy places’. People the world over want to find their security in ancient traditions. Religions across the globe are marked by this characteristic—the Jews have Jerusalem, Roman Catholics have the Vatican in Rome, the Orthodox churches each have their holy cities, Muslims have Mecca, Hindus have the Ganges, but we Christians have no place on this earth we can call home. Our home is the New Jerusalem that is above We are citizen of heaven. In fact, wherever the gospel of grace is preached, that is where we will be found. So we take the message of grace to the ends of the earth—from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the ends of the earth.
Did you know that the major city furthest from Jerusalem is Auckland New Zealand. It’s where MBM has sent Rowan and Sarah to proclaim Christ and plant a church. Yes, this present earthly city of Jerusalem—the one I am standing in—holds a special place in our hearts, for it reminds us that our Bible is history, not myth. Our God became flesh on this piece of earth. He walked and wept and was crucified in or near this city. He was buried and appeared in or near this city. This city has so many archeological sites. We pray for a just outcome between the Israelis and the Palestinians so that the conflict in the earthly city of Jerusalem will cease. But we also know that this earthly city of Jerusalem is not our home. You may never get to visit the earthly Jerusalem, but you will make it to the heavenly Jerusalem.
I remember the first time I landed in Israel. I thought to myself that I had finally arrived in the Promised Land. Then I realized that I had already been in the Promised Land. I am in Christ, his Spirit is in me, and God is my Father. And this applies just as much to you, if you trust in Jesus.
Whether you live in Rooty Hill or Rouse Hill, Parramatta or Penrith or Prestons, Baulkham Hills or Blacktown, New York or London, together we look to the Jerusalem which will come down from heaven, and only in this city will there be no more crying or grief or pain or death. There we will see God face to face.