“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and that Jesus was and isthe Saviour of the world, not just the Jews. Last time we saw how Jesus made it clear to his disciples that His purpose is global and included all nations.
In this post, we will see the implications of Jesus' mandate in Acts 1:8 where he tells his followers that they (and we) will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth.
The book of Acts takes us on the journey of the Church’s obedience to Jesus Christ’s global mandate. It wasn’t immediate obedience, however. In fact, Don Richardson calls it reluctant obedience. The disciples were hesitant to move beyond their cultural bias, but God would be proactive to thrust the Church out to accomplish His purpose voluntarily or involuntarily.
Acts 2:1-13 marks the beginning of the new era that Jesus initiated. He had been telling his disciples the things that were going to happen, He would be killed, buried, and resurrected. He spent many days reassuring them of His love and His plan to use them in the phase that was to come. But before that could happen they needed to wait in Jerusalem for a helper to be given, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus named in Acts 1:4-5 and who John the Baptist refers to in Mark 1:8.
In Acts 2:4 Luke tells us that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Then in Acts 2:11, Luke gives further clarification about what he meant by ‘other tongues’. This event took place during the feast of Pentecost, and Jerusalem was filled with devout Jews from every nation. When the group of 120 from the upper room began to speak in other tongues, these devout Jews from every nation heard the Galileans from the upper room telling about the wonderful things God has done.
When you consider that this Pentecost is the beginning of the church it becomes evident that there are a couple of significant implications. First, Jesus has given the message. Recall that he spent almost three years teaching these people the message of the kingdom. That the kingdom is at hand and to repent and believe the good news of God. And now he gives the means for global distribution of the message - the languages of all nations.
A problem appears, though, in that the disciples do not seem to move beyond Jerusalem. Remember the instruction from Jesus in Acts 1:8 was that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But Acts 5:28 and Acts 6:7 give clear indications that the word is spreading very well through Jerusalem but not to Judea, Samaria, or the ends of the earth.
Many missions-minded leaders believe that Acts 8:1 is God’s solution to their lack of obedience to Jesus’ instruction in Acts 1:8. In chapter 8, we see the persecution that breaks out against the church following the death of Stephen. Isn’t it interesting how Luke records what happened?
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” (Acts 8:1)
As a result of the persecution, they were all scattered to Judea and Samaria. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen. And so it did.
Then, the rest of the book of Acts records the progress of the gospel out from Jerusalem.
Acts 8:4-8 record the trip of Philip into the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. In this instance, we see the use by God of signs and wonders accompanying the message and resulting in great joy among the people.
We also see Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel told him to go to the south to a specific road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. On that road, Philip was told to go and join himself to the chariot. When he was there, he heard the Ethiopian reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading. He couldn’t understand because he had no one to explain it to him. Beginning with the passage in Isaiah, Philip explained the good news of Jesus Christ and the eunuch believed and was baptized.
Do you think the eunuch kept this good news to himself? Not likely. It’s reasonable to assume that he shared this good news with everyone he knew in Ethiopia. That’s in Africa, in case you didn’t know. The good news is spreading.
We could also mention the divine appointment that Peter had with Cornelius and the way that God changed the mind of many concerning the ministry to Gentiles (the nations).
But the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1-21 was a turning point. You see, because of the success that Paul was having among the Gentiles, there were those in Judea who were saying that unless one was circumcised according to the custom of Moses, one could not be saved. According to Luke, Paul and Barnabas had some heated debates with them about this. It was then decided that Paul and Barnabas would be sent to Jerusalem, to the apostles and the elders about this question.
Along the way they passed through Pheonicia and Samaria where they told of the Gentile conversion stories and bringing great joy to the brothers and sisters, who were also Gentiles.
Paul argued from his calling to the Gentiles to the evidence of God working among the Gentiles to save them by grace, just as He had the Jews. He bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to the Jews. And it is clear that they have had their hearts cleansed by faith.
Then James, who was the leading elder in the Church in Jerusalem rendered his judgement. He stated that he agreed with Peter’s testimony (in the case of Cornelius) that God was again choosing for Himself a people from among the Gentiles and that the (Old Testament) Scriptures agree. Therefore, there was no reason to trouble these Gentile believers beyond those stipulations mentioned in verse 20.
This decision at the Jerusalem Council freed the gospel and the church from a single cultural expression. The question facing the leaders of the church was, “Is this new movement just another sect of Judaism or the dynamic Church of Jesus Christ finding faithful expression in all the ethne (peoples) of the earth?”
The question of the ages is not whether God’s promise to Abram will be fulfilled and disciples will be made from all nations. The Bible guarantees that God’s global purpose will be accomplished. The evidence is in Revelation 7:9-10.
The question is, will our generation of the Church be obedient to the mandate of Jesus Christ and participate in completing the task? And will I walk with Him, obey His command, and be strategically involved in His global purpose?
How do you answer these questions? If you do wish to be strategically involved in His global purpose, but just don’t know where to start, give us a call and we can help you figure this out. There are so many opportunities to be involved close to home that there really is no excuse not to be involved.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. We have learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets and last time we saw that Jesus was and isthe saviour of the world, not just the Jews.
In this post, we will learn that early in his ministry Jesus clearly communicated that He was the Messiah and that he had come to be the Saviour of the world. Jesus had less than three years to free his Jewish disciples from their nationalistic cultural biases. It was essential for these disciples to realize that the gospel of the Kingdom is for all peoples and that his mandate was to the nations, not to a nation. Jesus uses events like the ones we will look at in this post to strip away the cultural biases of his followers. We will continue to see how Jesus awakened his disciples to his global purpose, and see some deep personal implications for us today.
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Jesus and the Nations
In the ministry of Jesus there were instances where he ministered to non-Jews. Here are three examples.
Matthew 4:23-25 - And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
In this portion of Matthew, we see Jesus travelling throughout Galilee, which, earlier in verse 15, is described as being of the Gentiles. In Galilee, he taught, proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom, and healed every disease and affliction. Matthew also points out that great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, both predominantly non-Jewish, as well as from Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew 15:21-28 - And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
It’s interesting to note the underlying cultural dynamic that shows in this encounter between Jesus and the woman in Tyre and Sidon. Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, perhaps to make the point that she is not a Jew. And at the end of the exchange, Jesus commends this Canaanite woman for her faith.
John 4:39-42 - Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
This is the aftermath of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman who lived in Sychar. After her conversation with Jesus, she went back into town and told the people to come and see the man who told me everything I ever did. Many believed and Jesus spent two days with them. And because of his words, many more believed.
The Call to the Nations
After the resurrection, as Jesus moved closer to His ascension to the right hand of the Father; He made it clear that His purpose was global and His mandate was to catapult His followers to the nations. The following passages collectively make up the Great Commission and restate the commission that God gave to Abram which is found in the purpose clause of Genesis 12:3.
Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of God blessing the families of the earth through Abram, as Paul says in Galatians 3:14. His purpose to His followers will never be understood if their only understanding of the Great Commission is gained from Matthew 28:19-20. Full understanding is gained when we study all five of the restatements of the Great Commission given after the resurrection.
Matthew 28:18-20 - This is the most commonly quoted reference of the Great Commission. It is important to understand that when Jesus says ‘nations’, he is not referring to political entities or geographic boundaries. ‘Nations’ comes from the Greek word ‘ethne’ from which we get our English word ‘ethnic’ and refers not to nationalism but ethno-linguistic groupings. There is more information on people groups inthis blog post. It is also important to notice the three verbs that help us understand what discipling the nations involves - go, baptize, and teach.
Luke 24:44-49 - In this record of the Great Commission, Jesus is making it clear to the disciples that, because they are witnesses of what Jesus has taught and done, they have a message to deliver, a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And this message is to be delivered to the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. But it is a message for the nations.
John 20:21-23 - John has taken a broader view of his presentation of the Great Commission in that, through his gospel, Jesus speaks often of his ‘sent-ness’. In fact, he refers to being sent by God at least 24 times. And one of the key elements of being sent is that of submission. You submit yourself to the authority of another. So, when Jesus says that He is sending us as the Father sent Him, there is that sense of submission.
Notice that Jesus was not sending them out alone, though, and this is picked up in Luke’s account in Acts 1. He breathed on them to receive the Holy Spirit. There is no way to overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit and the work He does in terms of gospel work. Be filled with the Spirit.
Acts 1:8 - In the Acts account of the Great Commission, Luke records the importance of the Holy Spirit in the work that they are being commissioned to do. In fact, it is so critical that they were to wait in Jerusalem until they did receive it before they began.
And once begun they were to be witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. To all nations. As witnesses. Preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. In the power of the Spirit.
So I hope it is clear that the church’s mandate is to the nations and not simply to our neighbourhoods. If you want to know how you can improve your missions involvement, make a call to our office and have a conversation about work among the nations.
Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people. Last time we learned how God reveals His heart for the nations in the Psalms and Prophets.
In this post, we will learn that one of the biggest challenges Jesus faced in His earthly ministry was to break the disciples of their cultural biases. Even though their Scriptures clearly communicated God’s heart for the nations and that the Messiah was also coming to be a light to the nations, most Jews were looking for a national hero who would establish His reign among the nations. The disciples were just the first layer in Jesus’ strategy of taking the gospel to all nations.
But His disciples were very nationalistic in their perspective of who the Messiah was and what He would come to do. Through His teaching, His ministry to Gentiles, His use of non-Jews as spiritual object lessons, and His mandates, Jesus was intentionally and systematically reshaping their worldview.
We will look at some scriptures with which you may be familiar. But I would challenge you to take your time to discover some new insights.
From the following prophetic statements about the Messiah, what will He come to do and for whom will He come?
Isaiah 42:5-7 - Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Messiah will come to be a covenant, a light for the nations, to open blind eyes, to release prisoners from the darkness in which they sit. And it is clear that He came for the nations.
Isaiah 49:6 - “It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations,
that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
In this verse, the Messiah will be as a light to the nations so that salvation may reach the end of the earth. And it is clear that He’s come not just for the sons of Jacob, the preserved of Israel.
Matthew 4:12-16 - Now when He heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
In these verses, which were quoted from Isaiah, the point is made that Jesus chose to make His home base in Capernaum, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, among the Gentiles. This was a strategic move in that, Jews would travel from Jerusalem to see one rumoured to be the Messiah, but Gentiles would not travel to Jerusalem for any reason. And Gentiles were a part of Jesus’ mandate.
So it’s pretty clear that Jesus did not come just for the Jews. He came for the nations.
Fulfilling the Scriptures
Luke 4:14-30 - Please read this portion of Scripture to understand what is going on. Jesus had returned to Nazareth, where He was raised. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him and He found the portion He then read (Isaiah 61:1-2). When He had read it and handed the scroll back to the attendant He told those in attendance that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing.
They were duly impressed with His gracious words and marvelled that this was Joseph’s son.
Then Jesus spoke again, telling them that they would doubtless ask Him to perform the sorts of signs and miracles that they heard He did in Capernaum and that a prophet is without honour in His home town. Jesus then made clear the plan of God by referencing two incidents from their Scriptures.
The first was from the time of Elijah. The heavens were shut up three and a half years and a great famine came over the land. And while there were many widows among the Jews in those days, God sent Elijah to a Gentile widow in Zarephath, in the land of Sidon.
The second was from the time of Elisha. Jesus told them that, although there were many lepers among the Jews at the time, none of them was cleansed, but Naaman the Syrian was.
The point is that Jesus made it very clear that, while the Jews would have interpreted the passage quoted by Jesus from Isaiah as referring to the Jews, its application was much broader and included Gentiles (the nations) as well. And this inclusion of the nations was a fulfilment of Scripture.
How did those in the Synagogue respond to this lesson?
Saviour of the World
There is numerous places in Scripture where God makes clear His global perspective, His plan to include the nations.
John 3:16-17 - “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Here, Jesus says that whoever believes in Him, Jew or Gentile, would be saved and that His purpose was not to condemn anyone but to provide salvation through Himself. A similar reference is made in John 6:33.
John 8:12 - Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Again, Jesus makes it clear here that the light of the world is for the world, not just the Jews. Whoever follows Him will have the light of life.
John 12:30-32 - Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not Mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself.”
Once again Jesus says that when He is lifted up He will draw all kinds of people to Himself without distinction, all nations.
1 John 4:14 - And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world.
John could not have made it any clearer. The Father sent Jesus to be the Saviour of the world. This was not just Jesus’ purpose, but it was the purpose of the Father.
Disciples of the Saviour
If Jesus is the Saviour of the world this means that you are a disciple of the Saviour of the world.
How do you think this truth should impact your daily walk with Christ?
How should this truth impact the way that you pray?
How should this truth change the way you view people who look different from you?
John 4:39-42 - Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make His face to shine upon us, Selah
that Your way may be known on earth,
Your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
let all the peoples praise You!
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen thatmankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. We learned how God’s blessing and His purpose for that blessing connect and we saw how God reaches the nations by blessing His people.
In this post, we will learn that we do not worship some tribal deity or the god of a region or a people or a country. We worship the God of all nations. And this truth is plainly seen in the psalms of Israel. The psalms and the prophets reveal God’s heart for the nations, God’s call for the nations to worship Him, and the declaration of praise among the nations by His people.
Let’s look at a few Psalms and learn what God tells the nations to do, what God tells us to do among the nations, and what God is saying to the nations.
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
Now, therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.
Remember that when the psalmists use the word “peoples” they are referring to the nations.
In this Psalm, God is acknowledging that the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, because He is God and He is sovereign over all. He has set His King on Zion and will give to Him the nations as a heritage. Thus He warns the nations and tells them how they ought to behave before the King.
From You comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear Him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.
For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it.
In Psalm 22 we see God saying that all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations will worship before our Lord. Because kingship belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. And this will be told about the Lord to the coming generations, coming and proclaiming His righteousness. Lots of worship from the nations.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; give to Him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds! So great is Your power that Your enemies come cringing to You.
All the earth worships You and sings praises to You; they sing praises to Your name.” Selah
Come and see what God has done: He is awesome in His deeds towards the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in Him, who rules by His might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard.
In this psalm, God is telling the whole earth to sing the glory of His name and to give Him not just praise but glorious praise. His wonderful deeds are to be remembered and rehearsed because He rules by His might forever. The peoples are exhorted to bless God and to let the sound of His praise be heard. Again lots of worship from the peoples.
Now let’s look at messages from three prophets.
Jeremiah 1:5, 16:19-21
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble, to You shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say:
Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!”
“Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know My power and my might, and they shall know that My name is the Lord.”
It is clear in Jeremiah’s call that God had consecrated Jeremiah as a prophet,
not just to Israel, but to the nations. And the verses from chapter 16 show us
that in the day of trouble the nations will come to God from the ends of the
earth and acknowledge the emptiness of the lies inherited from their fathers.
Man cannot make for himself gods, for such are not gods. Thus God will make
them know His power and His might and they shall know that His name is the Lord.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
In these two verses from Daniel 7, we see that the son of man was presented before the Ancient of Days so that He would be given an everlasting dominion and glory and a kingdom in which all peoples, nations and languages would serve Him. This kingdom shall not be destroyed.
For from the rising of the sun to its setting My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.
In this verse from Malachi God reveals that His name will be great among the nations and that in every place Incense (praise) would be offered to His name.
It should be pretty clear by now that God has indeed blessed His people and continues to do so today. But that blessing comes with a responsibility to make His name known among the nations to the end that every people, tongue, tribe, and nation will worship His name and declare His marvellous works.
What about you?
Why do you think that most of us miss the connection between God’s blessing and His purpose and our responsibility in that purpose?
What steps could you take to be more aware of your responsibility to the nations? If you would like more ideas, leave a comment below.
And please share this post with others.
“Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
So far in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we’ve seen that mankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us. And we have also seen that the Bible is not simply a collection of 66 books. It is actually one book telling one story with an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
In this post, we will look at passages from the Bible that show how the two themes of God’s blessing and His purpose connect. As God blessed the people of Israel He would show Himself to the nations and draw Gentiles to Himself.
As we work through some familiar portions of the Bible, pay attention to how both themes are wound together. Notice how God’s blessings are used to impact the nations and how individuals respond. Also, take some time to reflect on why you think the second theme of God’s purpose/man’s responsibility is usually ignored when these passages are discussed or preached.
Ten Plagues on Egypt
In the book of Exodus, God undertook to free the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. To do so, He inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians. A typical reading of the account reveals that God is blessing His people by releasing them. But is that all there is to it?
Exodus 7:5 - “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
Exodus 7:17 - Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood.”
Exodus 9:13-16 - Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For this time I will send all My plagues on you yourself,[a] and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like Me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you My power, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Parting of the Red Sea
In the Book of Joshua, we see God parting the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to get away from the Egyptians who were pursuing them. A typical reading of this account shows God continuing to bless His people by protecting them. But is there more to it?
Joshua 4:23-24 - For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Joshua 2:8-11 - Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
Daniel in the Lion’s Den
Every Sunday School student (do you know what Sunday School is?) can tell you the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Daniel was very successful in his role as an administrator and a satrap, so much so that the King planned to put Daniel over the whole kingdom. But jealousy drove the other administrators and satraps to find a way to discredit Daniel and knock him down. The only way they could do so was to make it illegal to pray to anyone other than the King because every day, Daniel would pray to God. So they convinced the King to enact this law. Daniel was caught and brought before the King who, although he was fond of Daniel, was bound by the law. So Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. Now, we know that God closed the mouths of the lions and in the morning, Daniel was found to be unharmed.
A typical retelling of this story shows God vindicating Daniel and saving him from an unjust death. But is there more to it?
Daniel 6:25-27 - Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.
“For He is the living God and He endures forever; His kingdom will not be destroyed; His dominion will never end. He rescues and He saves; He performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Esther and Mordecai
What about the story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai? We know that Haman hated Mordecai because he refused to bow to him and made a plan to destroy the Jews to get rid of Mordecai. The plan became known and Mordecai challenged Esther, at the risk of losing her own life, to go before the King and plead with him to change his mind. And this he did, instead sentencing Haman to death on the very gallows he had constructed for Mordecai.
Again a typical retelling of this story shows God’s blessing of His people by protecting them from an unjust end. But is there more to it?
Esther 8:15-17 - When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. For the Jews, it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honour. In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.
I hope that you’ve been able to see that in each of these stories there is both the blessing of God as well as purpose beyond the obvious.
Can you think of times in your life when you were blessed by God but suspected that there might have been more to the story?
Let’s embrace the truth that we are not the centre of God’s universe, that only God is suited to be the centre and surrender to His purpose and our responsibility to spread His glory among the nations.
“Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Now the Lord said to Abram, “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 dishonours you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In the previous post in this series, God’s Heart for the Nations, we saw that at the end of everything God does is the purpose to reveal His glory, to show Himself glorious. And we saw that this means that mankind is not at the centre of God’s plan and the Bible is not about us.
In this post we hope to see the Bible not as 66 books that happen to be bound by one cover, but as one book. The Bible has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction is the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the body starts at Genesis 12 and goes through to Jude, and the conclusion is Revelation.
Do you read the Bible as a collection of 66 different books that are just collected and bound together? Or do you read the Bible as a single book with a beginning, the main body, and a conclusion?
Now, in a well-written book, the author will begin to reveal major themes in the introduction. One of the keys to the correct interpretation of the Bible is to detect these themes and follow how the author develops them throughout the book. It is silly to try to interpret the Bible without some idea of its emphasis and purpose. This post looks at two fundamental themes that first appear in Genesis 1:28.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The first theme is that God wants to bless His creation. In the context of the blessing, we discover the second theme, dealing with God’s purpose for the blessing which involves man’s responsibility.
The two themes are restated in Genesis 9:1 and further defined in Genesis 12:1-3. Before we go to Genesis 12, here is a summary of what happens in the introduction of the Bible.
This is the backdrop from which God calls Abram to leave his country and declares His covenant with him.
Genesis 12:1-3, which begins the main story of the Bible, outlines the covenant God makes with Abram. And as you might imagine from the introduction, there are two elements to the covenant. There is the blessing element and the responsibility element. Don Richardson, who wrote the book “Eternity in Their Hearts” calls these two elements the top line and bottom line of the covenant. The top line is God’s blessing and the bottom line is Abram’s responsibility.
So God promises to bless Abram by giving him land (v1), making him into a great nation (v2) and a great name (v2). But along with the blessing comes the bottom line, the responsibility. Abram was to be a blessing (v2) and that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (v3). And so the implication is that Abram is blessed in order to be a blessing. That’s the top line and the bottom line of the covenant God made with Abram. You will be blessed but you must be a blessing.
God later confirms His covenant with Abraham and repeats it to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, giving clarification of its themes. Check out the following passages.
As you read the Bible you will discover the parallel nature of the two themes of blessing and purpose/responsibility. The danger is in failing to keep these two themes in their parallel tension. Our tendency is to see God’s blessings apart from our responsibility and His purpose for the blessing. That failure leads to an egocentric faith with ourselves at the centre of everything.
I want to challenge you to look at the following four stories and think about what God was doing in each instance. We will look more closely at these questions in the next blog post.
Oh sing to the LORD and new song,
sing to the LORD all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
tell of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His marvellous works among the peoples! (Psalm 96:1-3)
Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and
women? What is the chief aim of God? Not His only passion or motivation,
but His ultimate passion for which all other passions are subordinate. When
every other reason is eliminated but one, what is this one? This one
would be His ultimate design for creation and indeed for every action He takes.
As was pointed out in the introduction, there is a very real tendency to place ourselves (mankind) as the ultimate passion or motivation of God. We tend to think that this Christianity is all about us, as though we are the centre of God’s universe, and that our needs form the basis for His actions. We think that God’s ultimate purpose is to grant us salvation and enjoy us forever. And this perspective leads us to believe that the ultimate objective of missions is man.
As you look at the Scriptures in this blog post, ask yourself these questions: What does the Bible say is the ultimate goal of God? What is the ultimate goal of His activity in the world?
“He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
God created the natural world to display His glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1).
“You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3); “. . . that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory (Jeremiah 13:11).
“He saved them at the Red Sea for His name’s sake that He might make known His mighty power” (Psalm l06:7-8); “I have raised you up for this very purpose of showing my power in you, so that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
“I acted in the wilderness for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out (Ezekiel 20:14).
After Israel asked for a king “Fear not . . . For the Lord will not cast away His people for His great name’s sake (l Samuel 12:20-22).
“Thus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act [in bringing you back from the exile], but for the sake of My holy name…And I will vindicate the holiness of My great name . . . and the nations will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32). “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).
“Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).
“Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27, 28).
“He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
“God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
“I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
“Whoever serves [let him serve], as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11).
“Immediately an angel of the Lord smote [Herod] because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23).
“. . . when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marvelled at in all who have believed (2 Thessalonians l:9-l0).
“Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given Me, may be with me where I am, to behold My glory, which thou hast given Me in Thy love for Me before the foundation of the world” (John l7:24).
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
From these Scriptures, we can now answer the questions asked at the beginning of this post. Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did God create men and women? What is the chief aim of God in everything He does?
The answer is that the ultimate purpose and chief aim in everything God does is for the praise of His glory and His grace. God’s passion for His name and should be our central motivation in everything we do, including missions. God is not receiving the worship that is due His name; therefore, the mission of the Church is to call out worshippers from among the nations. Every church and every follower of Jesus Christ is called to participate in this global activity.
As author Joh Piper puts it in his book Let the Nations Be Glad, “God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshippers for Himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore, let us bring our affections into line with His, and for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts and join His global purpose.”
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What steps can you take to bring your affections more in line with His? What role could you have in the goal of gathering worshippers from every people, tongue, tribe and nation?
Leave a comment and let us know how you answer these questions.
Have you ever been convinced that you knew something? Have you ever had a discussion about what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever argued with someone who disagreed with what you thought you knew for sure? Have you ever realized that what you thought you knew for sure, what you had argued for, turned out to be incorrect? Or incomplete?
I’m afraid this of the case for some of us who call ourselves Christian. We think we know what God is up to and believe that we are cooperating with God in His purpose and activities on earth. Everywhere you look in the Bible you see God’s all about blessing us. He loves to bless us and we love to be blessed. So let’s all enjoy the blessings of God.
What we have done is turned the Word of God into something that is all about us. But I don’t think that is true. The Bible is God’s Word and in it He reveals Himself to us and His purposes on the earth. And you know what? It’s not about us. We are in the story but the story is not about us.
We certainly are blessed, but it is not just so that we can be blessed. There is more to it than that.
How do I know? Because the Bible tells me so.
Let’s take a test. If I were to say the first few words of a well-known verse of the Bible, could you complete the verse for me? Here’s the start of the verse…
Be still and…
I expect that as you read these three words, other words came to mind and you easily said, know that I am God. Of course you did because we all know and love that verse. Psalm 46:10 is a favourite verse because it speaks of perhaps the greatest blessing that God has given to those whose sins have been forgiven. To know God is the very best.
There’s just one problem, though. You didn’t complete the verse. Be still and know that I am God is just ⅓ of the verse. So you were not incorrect, just incomplete.
Here’s the whole verse.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).
The first part of the verse is about us (if we have been born again). But the second part, fully ⅔ of the verse is about God. Without even thinking about it, we made a verse mostly about God into a truncated version that is about us. The blessing of knowing God has global implications, dealing with nations and the earth.
The major focus of North American Christian thought and practice may seem to be, “What can God do for me?” Our lives and our prayers reflect the belief that God’s ultimate priority is to make His disciples more comfortable. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe that God does want to bless us and that God’s desire to bless His people is a major theme of the Bible. But if we focus on the theme of blessing alone, we distort the truth and lose the context in which God’s blessings are given.
Over the course of eight more blog posts, I hope to create an awareness of one of the most ignored themes of the Bible - God’s global purpose: His desire and activity of redeeming mankind, the nations, to Himself. It involves the active pursuit of worshippers from all the peoples of the earth that will give Him the glory that is due His name. God’s blessings and His global purpose are beautifully woven together in the Bible. My belief is that in order to correctly interpret and apply Scripture, it is necessary to understand the connection of these two themes. To ignore either one leads to misinterpretation and faulty application. Ultimately, lives will be misdirected.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to the truth of His Word as you read and think on the next eight posts on this topic of God’s heart for the nations and that you will respond to His guidance in applying His truth.
Take a few moments to think of two or three people you know who might want to go through this series of posts. Share this with them. Maybe you would go through this together, as a group. If you do, please let us know.
And don’t forget to share this on your favourite social media channels as well. Let’s get the word out and then do the work of missions until there is no place left where Jesus is not known (Romans 15:23).