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Home For those in Prison The Story that makes sense of every prisoners story

The Story that makes sense of every prisoners story

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The Story that makes sense of every prisoners story

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Bill and Amy Sterns – Copyright 1991

 

Editor: The following amazing article is gleaned from; “Catch the Vision 2000,” by Bill and Amy Stearns, Bethany House, 1991

 

 

The Bible consists of a well-plotted introduction, middle storyline and a definitely climactic ending.

 

The introduction  is seen in Genesis 1-11 . The middle storyline rages with wild conflicts, resolutions and climaxes that make soap-opera episodes seem meek—which is obvious to anyone plowing through Genesis 12 to the end of the book of Jude. Then, like any good epic, the Bible has a distinct ending—a conclusion—when all the questions, all the con­flicts are finally and satisfactorily resolved. The book of Revelation is a pretty unbeatable climax to the story of the Bible.

 

The outline described above may not be new to everyone, but what may be new is the fact that the Book is firmly plotted with a single purpose, an unbreakable thread running through the entire saga, which has the universe as a backdrop and you as one of the principal players. Let's get you prepped on your part in the cosmic unraveling of God's story of humanity and His usurped kingdom as recorded in the Book.

 

The first lines of the Book are so familiar to most of us that we're apt to not pay much attention to what they are saying. And they're saying plenty. Whole volumes have been written, mostly in conjecture, about the State of the Universe as described in Genesis 1:1 , 2.

Without going into too much detail as we overview the theme of the Bible, let's look at a sketch of the introduction. Like any good opening, it introduces the lead characters and spells out the conflict:

 

• God is an eternal King. The Psalms sing, "The Lord is King forever ( Psalm10:16); And His sovereignty rules over all" (Psalm 103:19 ). He has always been and always will be in full, complete control. We must acknowledge this fact, or we will never accept our part in His great plan. In His sovereignty, He created spirit-beings called angels. He created them in levels of a hierarchy, with specific levels of power and service.

 

Philosophers reason that God could not create a being with absolute, inherent perfection or He would be recreating himself—which is impossible. Regardless of this view, every being God creates must at some time in its existence make a choice to live according to God's will or outside His will.

 

•           God's top lieutenant in the angelic hierarchy was an archangel—Lucifer, "star of the morning." Lucifer ruled God's kingdom in splendor and power (Ezekiel 28:12-17 ; Jude 9 ) until his focus shifted to himself. Lucifer decided, as is recorded in Isaiah 14:14 , "I will make myself like the Most High." With that infernal vow to live outside God's will, Lucifer became Satan, "The Adver­sary."

 

•           The Adversary immediately mustered all the angelic followers he could—a third of all the spirits in heaven (Revelation 12:4-7 ). That only two-thirds of the host of heaven stayed to live in the majesty and bliss of God's presence should tell us something about the incredible allure of this ex-son-of-the-morning! With those that fell with him he began organizing his own kingdom, arulership to counter and counterfeit God's kingdom. Satan estab­lished a kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13 ) with a myriad of loyal, diabolical spirit-beings.

 

•           God created another race of spirit-beings. But to these beings he added physical bodies; where the spirit and body overlap, the beings have what is called a soul. God created man. Immediately, of course, Satan jumped in to offer the benefits and properties of his kingdom. His offerings weren't opposite God's ideals so much as they were counterfeits. For example: God offered Adam and Eve the fruit of every tree in the garden but one; Satan offered the one fruit that was forbidden. God walked and talked with the man and woman, sharing with them the knowledge of God; Satan told them the forbidden fruit would make them wise. God created man in His own image; Satan promised they could be their own gods.

The Adversary's enticements sounded reasonable and safe;

 

Adam and Eve were not ignorant cave people. Their brains before the Fall were operating at 100% capacity. (Scientists say modern man uses only about 3-10% of his brainpower.) The first couple had direct access to the whole counsel of God. They could have chosen to live according to God's will, to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in righteousness and holiness (Genesis 3:24 ; Rev­elation 22:2). But they opted to follow the god of death.

 

Satan appealed to man's natural desire to be knowledgeable and independent. He is still an expert at appealing to the desires and appetites of every human body and soul. "Be your own god" is the latest popular notion today.

 

And although deposed, Satan is still administrating his king­dom as though he were in charge—wherever human beings allow him to be—working with the deception of the "lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" (1 John 2:16 ).

 

Satan has organized a global "world system" incorporating both his fallen angels and fallen man. This is the system implied in most New Testament passages about "the world;”  "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19 ).

 

God's Twofold Problem

 

At this point in the beginning of time, as they say in the old West­erns, "Things were looking bad for the good guys." God's "prime minister" has succeeded in a coup with a third of the spirit population of heaven, and mankind has fallen into spiritual death and disintegra­tion. This twofold problem presents the basic conflict of the Book.

But God has a twofold program to restore His creation. Part of the program has to do with reclaiming His usurped kingdom. Part has to do with redeeming or "buying back" mankind, who fell under the power of the evil usurper.

 

This may be a new thought: God's plan is not solely for the salvation of human beings. It also involves restoring His rulership over all His creation—natural and spiritual. Maybe you've wondered: Why did God bother with the risk of creating creatures with potential for evil, like Lucifer and Nimrod and Nero and Hitler—and me, for that matter? Why hasn't He completely negated Satan's influence in the universe? Why does He allow mankind to suffer in a world decayed by sin? Why doesn't He just solve everything now?

 

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the entanglements of the twofold problem. That is, the problem of the spirit world being entangled with the natural world of mankind. In order to restore His Kingship over everything and destroy the power of the Adversary, man must be fully redeemed. Think carefully about Paul's statement in Ephesians:

 

I was made a minister . . . in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:7-11 )

 

Or think about the strange intermingling of the angelic and the hu­man world in Paul's admission that he had "become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (I Corinthians 4:9). The whole process of proclaiming the news of Christ's salvation involves humans and angelic spirits—"things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look" (I Peter 1:12).

 

Visualizing such activity is reminiscent of the scene in Frank Per­etti's book “Piercing the Darkness,”  in which one of Satan's servants hurries to his car as the FBI agents converge on him. He is frantic to unlock his car door, but in the rush fumbles through one key after the other, never quite able to line up the correct one with the keyhole. Offering a quick glimpse into the spiritual dimension, the author shows an angel effortlessly flicking the correct key out of the grasp of the evil man. Yes, it is fiction; but it depicts vividly the fact that spirit beings do interact in our world (Daniel 10:10-20 ; Luke 1:26-33 ; 1 Timothy 5:21 ;

Hebrews 1:14 ; Jude 9 ).

 

God in His sovereignty is using even the wiles of evil spirit beings—of the devil himself—to further His overarching purpose for man. And in His foreknowledge, He is orchestrating the choices of mankind to further His purposes for the angelic principalities and rulers and powers. The two worlds are intertwined in their problems and in God's program: It's not just that the devil is trying getpeople to fall into sin; he is trying to hold on to his stolen kingship. Sinful man in search of God's salvation is not the only struggle. We are in a constant battle against "the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 ). More is at stake here than man's offensive behavior toward God; more than our own immediate needs and desires.

 

It's crucial that we catch the significance of this inter-world conflict because it directly affects your part in God's overall purpose.

 

Until God's Kingship is vindicated and until all of mankind who will be redeemed are redeemed, God uses angelic rebels and human rebels alike to accomplish His purposes. His sovereignty is so infinite that He makes even the wrath of man praise Him and His enemies—including Satan and his minions—to serve Him (Psalm 76:10 ). In a classic cosmic irony, God allows choice; and yet those who choose to be His enemies in both realms end up serving Him in spite of them­selves! According to His timing, God is working to right the problem of the usurped kingdom and the problem of fallen man.

 

God's Twofold Program

 

As we might expect, God's twofold program to solve the twofold problem is seen in a nutshell in the Book's intro: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head; and you shall bruise him on the heel" (Genesis 3:15 ). Christ was the seed "born of a woman" (Galatians 4:4 ) who would be wounded on the heel. And Satan was the "serpent of old" (Revelation 20:2 ) whose head would be crushed.

 

Satan temporarily bruised Christ "on the heel" during His death on the cross. But Christ would cast out "the strong man" of this world system (Matthew 12:29 ). Jesus' death on the cross provided the grounds for Satan's final destruction as well as for man's release from slavery to the kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13 ). He is the Lion of authority to restore the kingdom (Genesis 49:9-10 ; Revelation 5:5 ). He is also the Lamb of sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:7 ; John 1:29 ). Like Solomon, the most regal of Israel's rulers, and like Isaac who was offered as a living sacrifice on Mount Moriah, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior—"the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1 ).

 

Christ's Death and the Twofold Program

 

In the Spirit World

•           Christ's death provided grounds for defeat of the satanic counter-kingdom.

•           He is the Lion of authority to restore the kingdom.

•           He is a regal ruler like Solomon, the "son of David."

•           Jesus is Lord.

 

In the Human World

•           Christ's death provided the way for man's release from the king­dom of darkness.

•           He is the Lamb of sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.

•           He is the living sacrifice like Isaac, the "son of Abraham."

•           Jesus is Savior.

 

The two aspects of God's program, as seen in the character of Christ, are depicted in one of John's visions in Revelation. After seeing Jesus as the Lamb and the Lion, John hears an echoing chorus lauding Him as the Savior and as the Lord of the universe:

 

And they sang a new song, saying, "Thou has slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth. . . . Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:9 , 10, 12, 13)

 

At the end of time, Christ's twofold purpose will be accomplished as He "delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power"

 (1 Corinthians 15:24 )—referring to the spirit-beings of Satan's counter-kingdom.

 

We are not involved in this universal scale of myriad events to simply focus on being nice people who do the right thing, serve their community, and go to lots of church meetings—the extent of some folk's Christianity. This is much bigger than that—cosmic entanglements with God's vindicated Kingship at stake as well as the salvation of billions of human beings throughout the centuries. God's plan is not a parlor game.

 

And your part in His historic purpose is significant, critical—hair­ raising.

 

The Tower

 

The introduction to the story of the Bible closes—as does any good scene—with a climax.

 

Adam and Eve had been commanded to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28 ). God repeated the mandate twice to Noah and his sons after the Flood (Genesis 9:1 , 7).

Why command mankind to multiply and spread over the face of the globe? Some Bible scholars suggest that a basic principle in God's economy is that He receives greater glory by bringing unity out of diversity. If mankind obeyed God's "fill the earth" command, over the eons, geographical distances would separate them into ethnic clusters with different languages and customs. God's epic twofold-program in­volves a redemption that unifies diverse groups of humanity, and God receives the ultimate glory. In any case, God ordered Noah's sons' families to scatter after the Flood.

 

But Noah's family decided to travel together east from Mount Ararat and settle together in one place—on the Plain of Shinar. Here they built a city on the future site of Babylon (see Daniel 1:2 ) using kiln-dried bricks and water-resistant mortar. (Apparently they didn't believe God's promise that He would not send another flood.)

Instead of spreading out in the various family groups to obey God's command to "fill the earth," they determined to build a tower to reach up to heaven—to provide their own way of entering into Paradise. "Let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4 ) is pretty blatant backtalk to the King of the universe Who has just repeated His command to, literally, "[swarm] the earth" (Genesis 9:7 ).

 

Will God's plan be thwarted? Hardly. God is the eternal King, the Sovereign of the universe. Thousands of years after this period, Neb­uchadnezzar, the ruler of this region, spent seven humiliating years playing the Werewolf of Babylon and concluded:

 

[God's] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. . . . He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, "What hast Thou done?" (Daniel 4:34-35 )

 

Notice the added italics; God operates sovereignly in the intertwined spheres of both spirit beings and human beings.

 

God's judgment came at the Tower of Babel. He simply pushed mankind into the plan He had had for them all along—to scatter them across the face of the earth. As listed earlier in chapter ten of Genesis, about 70 people groups are formed, "according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations" (Genesis 10:20 ). One of these families branched out to settle in Ur, near the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. And in Ur is born one of the most well-known persons in history.

 

Here is where the introduction to the Book closes and the storyline begins. Here is where events become very interesting.

 

You recall Bible passages about "the god of this world blinding the minds of the unbelieving," about Satan's counter-kingdom working to "veil" the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3 , 4). You know the principle that believers can't rescue the captives of Satan's kingdom without first "binding the strong man" (Matthew 12:29 ).

 

The Bible is realistic about this network of principalities and powers and rulers of darkness that hold the people of an area captive in "dark­ness and the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79 ). According to some com­mentators these demonic beings are actually named in the Bible; they are the "powers and principalities" behind such idols as Succoth Benoth of Babylon, Nergal of CuthAshima ofHamathNibhaz and Tartak of the Avvites, and Adrammelech and Anammelech of the Sepharvites (2 Kings 17:30 , 31). The occult power of these principalities is reflected in previous references to witchcraft and soothsaying (2 Kings 17:17 ).

 

Daniel fasted and God dispatched an angel to answer his pleas. But for three weeks the angel battled an entity he identified as "the prince of the kingdom of Persia [modern-day Iran]" (Daniel 10:13 ). The angel reveals the extent of his battle against principalities and powers as he tells Daniel, "I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. . . . Yet there is no one who stands firmly against these forces except Michael your prince" (Daniel 10:20 , 21).

 

Later Daniel learned that the angelic ruler over Israel was "Michael the archangel" (Jude 9 ). "Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people" (Daniel 12:1 ).

Getting back to familiar things may be how we feel about thinking through the story of Abraham. But don't count on this being such fa­miliar territory. When we look at the Bible as a book with a beginning, a storyline, and a climax, even the old story of Abraham takes on new light.

 

The Man

 

The first eleven chapters of Genesis establish the main characters—God, angelic beings, and man; the setting—earth and "the heavenlies"; and the conflict—Satan's fight for a kingdom and God's redemption of mankind.

 

God divided mankind into 70 families or nations so the human race could be reached with His blessing of redemption piece by piece; oth­erwise a unified rebellion against God could again—as in the time of the Flood—necessitate a single, drastic judgment against all of man­kind.

 

The call of Abraham, cited in Genesis 12 , opens the storyline of the Bible. The first three verses of this chapter launch the great plot of Scripture that cohesively incorporates all those familiar, favorite stories as "scenes"—Moses and blood in the Nile, David and Goliath, Daniel and the lions' den, the birth of Jesus, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and on and on.

Out of one of the nations formed at Babel came the line of Shem, a people who lived "in the hill country of the east" (Genesis 10:21 ­31) around what we now know as the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Abraham was probably from the barbarous Chaldeans (not of the later Chaldean empire) or, some suggest, an Assyrian. Today, Abraham would have probably been an Iraqi. Keep this ethnic heritage in mind: Abraham did not begin life as a Hebrew, which simply means "one from across the river--a term applied to him in Canaan once he arrived as a stranger from across the Jordan River.

 

In 2000 B.C., God called this son of an idol-worshiper (Joshua 24:2 ) to go from Ur of the Chaldeans, a thriving city of southern Mesopotamia about 220 miles southeast of Baghdad. And Abram—as he was first named: "exalted father"—became the most widely known human being in ancient history—or perhaps in all of history, since Jews, Christians and Muslims, who comprise a majority of humanity, venerate this man!

 

Imagine yourself as Abram hearing the voice of God instructing you to travel west: "Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you" (Genesis 12:1 ). Now, everyone in Ur knows that if you travel west, you can go no farther than the land of Canaan—an area central to most of the ancient trade routes formed between Africa, Eurasia and the East. Besides, your father with all his herds and servants and your entire family decides to head out with you "in order to enter the land of Canaan" (Genesis 11:31 ). At least they'll stick with you as far as Haran, since some of the family had apparently settled there previously ("Haran" was the name of one of Abram's brothers).

 

But God makes this big step of faith even easier on you: The God of heaven announces, "I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great." You'll be rich, famous. Altogether, this is a pretty reasonable proposition!

 

Is it really that tough to step out and trust this promise?

 

Abraham (now called "father of nations") later grew in faith to trust God when the command was impossible. He and Sarah were far past childbearing-age when God promised them a son. "Without becoming

weak in faith, [Abraham] contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith" (Romans 4:19-20 ).

 

Still later, Abraham acted in trust even in a command that was absurd: "By faith Abraham . . . offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son." How could he even think of acting on this command? Abraham had grown in faith: "He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead!" (Hebrews 11:17 , 19).

But the first call was such a reasonable, astounding promise that Abram had little to lose. So when God said, "Go," he went. And the first individual called out from among the 70 peoples or nations of the earth struck out to start a whole new people group (see page 198). This would be a people called out from among all the peoples of the world. They would be a people called not after the names of their ancestors—as all of earth's peoples are. They would be a people called by the name of the living God.

 

Top Line, Bottom Line

 

The actual promises to Abram pinpoint seven distinct areas of bless­ing. Think through the passage:

 

•           I will make you a great nation;

•           I will bless you

•           and make your name great;

•           and so you shall be a blessing;

•           and I will bless those who bless you,

•           and the one who curses you, I will curse.

•           And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:2 , 3).

 

These promises fall into two basic categories. First, God will bless Abraham. Second, through Abraham God will bless others. Who are these others? "All the families of the earth"—the 70 families or lan­guage-divided nations formed at the time of the Tower of Babel. These were not politically defined countries; the biblical terms family/nation/ people refer to a distinct ethnic group separated from other groups by language or culture.

 

Actually, the second part of this blessing carries the force of a command. "And so you shall be a blessing" could be translated "And so be a blessing." A commentary on this passage by Martin Luther points out that during his lifetime, Abraham personally blessed at least seven people groups. Through Abraham's descendent Jesus Christ, God's blessing came to the Gentiles—all people groups (Galatians 3:14 )—as He became the payment "for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (1 John 2:2 ). And, as God later announced to Isaac and Jacob, all of us who are "Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29 ), are to be the "descendants [through whom] all the nations [families] of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 26:4 ; 28:14).

 

The first category of God's blessing is easily grasped. Sometimes referred to as the "top line" of blessing, it promises that God will bless His people.

 

Imagine yourself a wanderer and a great king adopts you. Then he gives you his name so you not only enjoy living in his household but receive a royal inheritance from him as your father. Then this great, loving father-king asks you to kneel before him and he rests his great hands on your shoulders. And he blesses you, approves you, vows that all his great power will help you. He leans down and kisses your cheeks and says, "Bless you, my child. I give you my blessing."

 

That's what Abraham heard. That's what every one of us as believers hears, since those who by faith "belong to Christ . . . are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise" (Galatians 3:29 ). The Eastern practice of giving a blessing is lost on most Westerners; but we can begin to grasp the idea of the fullness of God's blessing on us from passages such as: [God] has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heav­enly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 )

 

That you may know ... what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18 , 19)

And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19 )

 

The Book is full of these blessings of God on His people. As more and more individuals in a people group cling to the redemption brought about through Jesus Christ, God promises: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord" (Psalm 33:12 ). The entire nation or people group enjoys God's blessings!

 

But the Book is also full of the second phase of God's blessing, the "bottom-line blessing": Be a blessing, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.

 

Evangelism Versus Social Action?

 

Some of God's people try to relegate this passing-on of God's bless­ing to the straightforward task of sharing the Gospel. This is the core, the central meaning of God's blessing, of course, since faith in Christ ushers us into God's blessed family: "As many as received [Christ] to them He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12 ). But handing a tract to a starving man is hardly the fulfillment of blessing the nations.

 

Others swing to the other end of the pendulum of concern for others and steadfastly follow God's commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, care for the widows and orphans, champion the cause of the oppressed and the poor. This necessary ministry to the practical needs of people is still only part of the story of God's blessing, however.

 

How is God's name exalted if a malnourished child receives the Gospel, only to be patted on the head and sent off with a "be warmed and filled"? Similarly, how are we blessing humanity if physical and social needs are met while their spiritual bankruptcy keeps them cut off from the eternal blessing of God's kingdom?

 

It is clear from Scripture, the Church isn't called to choose either evangelism or social action, as some have polarized these efforts. Oth­ers have paralleled the efforts, with the suggestion that both areas of blessing have the same motivation of love, so they can be emphasized as separate but equal ministries.

 

But we can move beyond both polarization and attempts at paral­leling these activities to a prioritization of evangelism and social action. Blessing the families of the earth with the Gospel of salvation in Christ is received more readily after God's Presence has been demonstrated in a people group through social action. Likewise, following a people's reception of the Good News, social action is a natural result to be encouraged.

 

Yet how to pass this blessing on isn't really the problem for most of us. Maybe Abraham was like many of us whose real problem is finding the balance between being blessed and being a blessing!

 

Balancing the Top & Bottom Lines

 

When God's people focus too much on the top-line blessing, they eventually become hedonistic. "God bless me to make my life worth living—successful, happy" is a result of a nearsighted focus on the top line of God's blessing.

 

Concentrate only on the nobility and sacrifice of the bottom-line responsibility of being a blessing, and God's people become martyr-like ascetics. They lose the joy of God's family blessing. Imbalance of top-line over bottom-line blessings causes us—as it did the people of God through the centuries—to falter in seeing the whole of Scripture. For example, how easily we have clung to "Be still, and know that I am God," but have so often failed to quote 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 , NIV).

 

Why do we cut scripture portions in half to quote the top-line bless­ings as the people of God? We're familiar with "God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us." But are we equally familiar with the bottom line of the continuing second verse: "That Thy way may be made known on the earth, Thy salvation among all nations" (Psalm 67:1 , 2)? Balance is critical. The balance is that we as God's people—just as Abraham—are blessed. And we can fully enjoy God's blessing. But we're blessed for a purpose: to be a blessing to every people on the face of the earth. We're blessed to be a blessing.

 

The basic balance of this Abrahamic blessing is obviously seen in Christ.

 

1. Abraham himself was blessed by Christ. Jesus was the Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16 ) in whom Abraham's forward-looking faith found salvation. Christ said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56 ). The apostle Paul wrote that the Gospel was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8 )—a Gospel that involved the balance of blessing not only Abraham, but every nation through him.

 

2. The peoples of the world can be blessed in Christ: "In Christ

 

Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles [all nations or peoples other than the Jewish people]" (Galatians 3:14 ).

 

Abraham's response to the Gospel and the nations' opportunity to respond to God's salvation is seen in the remarkable verse: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, 'All the nations shall be blessed in you' " (Galatians 3:8 ).

 

Go ahead: Count your blessings. Then evaluate each as God's gift given to you for a specific purpose. Each is meant to be transformed through your life as a blessing to every people, tribe, tongue and nation.

For example, think about the traveling you're doing—from home to Soviet Central Asia to remote China and now to Japan. Tomorrow on your flight to Singapore and on to Indonesia, think about it: Why has God blessed us with the miracle of modern travel by which we can be anywhere on earth within 24 hours? So we can have better, more exotic vacations? So Grandma can come visit more often? So you can do business in Baltimore and Berkeley the same day? Or, so we can more quickly reach the remaining 12,000 peoples of the earth that have no Gospel witness.

 

If you answered "all of the above," congratulations! You're on your way to a balanced perspective of the story of the Bible.

 

God is blessing people group after people group. Usually in unusual ways. How often do we have to hear amazing stories of God's break­throughs to various people groups of the earth to get the idea that He meant business about His promise to Abraham? He promised to bless His people and through them bless every people of the earth, and over and over through the centuries God has been doing exactly that. Have we even noticed?

 

Repeated Repetitions

 

No matter how many times or how obviously God has announced His clear purpose on earth to bless every people, it seems His people never quite get the message. We keep thinking that the "bottom-line" part of the promise isn't as important as the "top line," which has to do with blessing us, His people. And, of course, we are more important than they, right?

God knows our dullness of hearing. So He very meticulously repeats His twofold promise a full five times in the book of Genesis.

 

As God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, He said, "Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 18:18 ).

Then God again repeated the promise after Abraham's offering of his son Isaac—who was the initial fulfillment of the promise: "By Myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this thing . . . indeed I will greatly bless you . . . and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 22:16-18 ).

 

So far God has added the adverbs "surely" and "indeed." It sounds like He means business. Later God repeats the promise to Isaac: "I will multiply your descendants . . . and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 26:4 ). Not only would the Seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ himself (see Galatians 3:14 , 16), shed His blood to offer blessing to the peoples of the earth; also all the descend­ants of Abraham and Isaac would bless the nations. Who are these descendants? The New Testament is clear:

 

•           The children of the promise are regarded as descendants (Romans 9:8 ).

•           You, brethren [Galatian believers from non-Jewish peoples], like Isaac are children of promise (Galatians 4:28 ).

•           If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29 ).

 

Jot it down somewhere obvious, where it can be seen repeatedly throughout the day—We who belong to Christ fit precisely into God's repeated promise that by us—Abraham's and Isaac's descendants by faith—all the nations of the earth shall be blessed!

 

Then God again repeated His promise to Jacob in his dream while he slept on a rock-pillow at Bethel: "Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth . . . and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you.” (Genesis 28:14 , 15).

 

Have you ever wondered why the Bible so often identifies the Lord as the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?" If you search the biogra­phies of these men's lives, you see that the reason cannot be based on their sterling righteousness or faultless behavior. Wouldn't it make more sense for God to identify himself as the God of more spectacular figures such as Enoch, Elijah or John the Baptist?—the God of Moses, David and Jeremiah?

 

But God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because it was to these three that the bedrock, twofold promise was given. That's how important the "blessed to be a blessing" principle is: God wanted His name identified with it.

 

Eventually Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will actually see both levels of God's promise fulfilled: They will sit down at a great banquet and "many shall come from east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Matthew 8:11 ). Luke adds that these will come not only from east and west but from north and south as well (Luke 13:29 )—from every possible direction on the globe! Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because it was to these men He gave His promise to redeem some from every people, tribe, tongue and nation.

But we skipped over something a little astounding: God swore.

 

We may think it is only from the mouth of a carnal Christian that we would ever hear a determined, "By God, I'm going to . . ." When a person means business, it almost seems natural in any language to swear "by the gods."

 

When God means business, He of course can swear by no name greater than His own. So to shockingly underscore His determination, God himself swears to Abraham, "By Myself I have sworn . . . indeed I will greatly bless you . . . and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:16 ­18).

 

The writer of Hebrews picks up on this amazing incident and tells us it can be the most encouraging thing that we can hold on to in our helter-skelter lives on earth. God's sworn promise to Abraham can help us to "show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end" (Hebrews 6:11 ).

 

To most of us believers, the topic of assurance usually prompts us to reaffirm our personal commitment to Christ for salvation. If you sense a lack of assurance, you probably aren't certain you're headed for heaven. So the counsel given is almost always to make sure you've made that specific commitment to Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. And that process does bring a sense of assurance.

 

But the writer of Hebrews is talking about an even more effective assurance—"strong encouragement [for us] who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:18 , 19).

 

What brings that "anchor-in-the-soul" kind of assurance in our lives? How do we sense that stability? Think through the verses between the verse on "full assurance" (6:11) and the one about "hope both sure and steadfast" (6:19).

 

"When God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself saying, 'I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you' " (Hebrews 6:13 , 14). God promised that by Himself He would bless Abraham with an heir. And did He come through with His promise?

 

"Thus, having patiently waited, [Abraham] obtained the promise" (Hebrews 6:15 ). It's a pretty simple formula: God swears to do some­thing, Abraham believes Him, and the promise is fulfilled. Looking back on that pattern later must have brought Abraham great assurance that God was indeed—even when things were biologically impossible going to come through for him. He could count on God. And so Abra­ham lived another full 75 years in solid hope, "breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life" (Genesis 25:8 ).

 

Why do we often worry about whether God will come through for us? Why can't we spend the "last" 75 years of our lives in solid con­fidence of His working in our lives and feel deeply satisfied with life? Perhaps because somehow we've gotten the idea that God is supposed to respond to our pleas and needs. And often He doesn't. We become disappointed with Him and—perhaps without ever hinting at such blasphemy—feel that He's unreliable. The prophet Jeremiah felt exactly that way in his life of troubles; he complained to God, "Wilt Thou be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?" (Jeremiah 15:18 ). The King James Version of that passage puts it about as strong as a translator would dare when speaking to God: "Wilt thou be alto­gether unto me as a liar?"

 

But maybe it's time for us to get scriptural in our expectations of God's reliability. He won't always do what we say He should do. But He will always do exactly what He says He will do. And on this we can base a whole new life of confident assurance, of encouraging hope. God will do what He set out to do, and as we align with that, we have steadfastness and sureness like an anchor in the soul.

 

So what has God said He would do?

 

He said He would give Abraham an heir; and He did.

 

Now look carefully at the second solid, unchangeable thing God swore He would do:

 

In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encourage­ment. . . . (Hebrews 6:17-18 ) The first unchangeable thing God swore about was that He would bless Abraham with a son. That was the basis of Abraham's patient,
confident hope. The second unchangeable thing God swore about was that He would through Abraham's heirs bless every people group on the face of the earth. Four thousand years ago, it's as if God swore,." God's promise was twofold, and He swore that He would accomplish both parts of His covenant. He wanted to convince Abraham of His blessing, and yet He desires even more to show to us believers—the heirs of the promise (Galatians 3:29 )—that He will through us bless all the nations.

 

His twofold program is unchangeable. He wants us to be assured of "the unchangeableness of His purpose." That we are blessed to be a blessing to every people group comprises "two unchangeable things." And as we align our worldview and our lives with that solid-as-a-rock purpose, we will have an uncanny confidence in Him, a goal to look forward to with hope that is "steadfast and sure."

 

So far we're fairly comfortable with the basic worldview that God is blessing His people in order to bless every people group on earth with His offer of redemption. His repeated promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Genesis is as clear as His unchangeable purpose.

 

But let's move on to the book of Exodus. Suddenly all our well-worn stories of baby Moses in the bulrushes, frogs and flies and rivers of blood, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians, the Ten Commandments and the wandering in the wilderness seem to suggest that God picked out the Hebrews and virtually dropped His interest in all the other heathen nations of the earth. We may have thought that the story of the Old Testament is simply an illustrative history of the antics and foibles of the Israelites as they formed a lineage to produce the Messiah.

 

But think again, remembering that God's purpose in blessing all the families of the earth is unchangeable. Let's take another glimpse at the stories of the Exodus in light of His heart for all peoples.

 

A Kingdom of Priests

 

Just before giving the Ten Commandments, God set Moses straight on Israel's role in His great purpose. Moses is to relay to the sons of Israel: If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5 , 6)

 

The people were ecstatic about God's proposal and answered, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do!" (Exodus 19:8 ). And the rest of the chapter describes the "ordination service" the Lord performs to consecrate the Hebrews as "priests." But priests to minister in behalf of whom?

 

Aaron and his sons began the priestly ministry in behalf of the Children of Israel themselves; the entire tribe of the Levites then were given this responsibility as the nation grew. So the Israelites themselves were to mediate as priests for—the nations, of course!

 

Did they know what they were in for? Probably not. Representing God to all the people groups of the earth was quite a responsibility. They had no linguistic methodology for crossing cultural barriers, no transportation convenience, no completed Bible. But God promised that if they would simply obey Him, He would use them to bless every other people: "The people whom I formed forMyself, will declare My praise" (Isaiah 43:21 ).

 

He chose them, not to bless them at the exclusion of every other family of the earth, and not to single them out because of their supe­riority. Rather, He chose them to take on the responsibility of serving as priests whose parish was the entire world.

 

God promised that as they obeyed Him, the Children of Israel would be royal priests (one rendition of "kingdom of priests") blessed with two great privileges—God's personal protection and God's holiness: "You shall be My own possession . . . and you shall be . . . a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5 , 6).

 

Israel was not originally a people; Abraham, you recall, was simply one of an Assyrian or barbarian people group. Out of His infinite grace, God formed Israel as His own people among all the other peoples. We will come to appreciate this fact as one of the most comforting truths we as New Testament believers enjoy as a people He has chosen to be His own possession.

 

God blessed Israel with His holiness. A holy nation or people in­dicates one "set apart fora particular service." God in His grace de­termined to set apart or sanctify this people that He formed not because of their inherent goodness, and not because of their superiority over other peoples: "The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers" (Deuteronomy 7:7 , 8). The King James Version of Exodus 19:5  refers to Israel as a people "above all the peoples." A better translation is "among all the peoples."

62

God's plan to bless this people and through their priestly intercession bless all the peoples of the earth would have worked wonderfully—if they had obeyed Him, keeping His covenant. Their prescribed part was simple, daily, devoted obedience. God promised His chosen people that "you will be called the priests of the Lord; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God" (Isaiah 61:6 ) with all the privileges of a priest­hood. The results?

 

Instead of humiliation [the "foreigners"] will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land; everlasting joy will be theirs. . . . And I will make an ever­lasting covenant with them. Then their offspring will be known among the nations and their descendants in the midst of the peoples. All who see them will recognize them because they are the offspring whom the Lord has blessed. (Isaiah 61:7-9 )

 

The nations, the people groups—not necessarily the political coun­tries, remember—would be blessed as God's people represented Him in their protected, holy role as priests. What would be their priestly message? A representation of God's character and reputation and saving grace. They were to uplift God's Name.

 

The Name Above All Names

 

A name in most cultures reveals the character of the one who carries the name; and God's name is no exception. Among the dozens of names given to God to describe His character, God chooses two for the Isra­elites to proclaim to the nations:

 

•           Elohim, a plural term suggesting His triune, supreme deity—a name speaking of His power and role as Creator.

•           YHWH, the self-existent One, the "I Am Who I Am" of Exodus 3:14 . Used nearly 7,000 times in the Old Testament, this name is linked to God's holiness (Leviticus 11:44 , 45), His hatred of sin

          (Genesis 6:3-7 ), and His provision of salvation (Isaiah 53:1 , 5, 6, 10).

 

He uses these names as an expression of Who He is to Moses:

 

The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations. (Exodus 34:6 , 7)

 

Segments of this catechism-like description of God's character are repeated throughout the Old Testament (see Numbers 14:18 ; Psalm 68:15 ; 103:8; 145:8-21; Joel 2:13 ; Micah 7:18 ; Jonah 4:2 ; Malachi 1:11 ). This description and the meanings of YHWH were undoubtedly coupled with what the New Testament surprisingly calls "the Gospel [which was preached] beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'All the nations shall be blessed in you' " (Galatians 3:8 ). This "Old Testament Gos­pel" spoke of the coming One Who would crush Satan's head, by Whom "God would justify the Gentiles [all non-Jewish peoples] by faith" (Galatians 3:7 ).

 

The priestly Children of Israel were to proclaim the powerful, holy, redeeming character of the Lord God as they represented His Name:

 

Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted. Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things; let this be known throughout the earth. (Isaiah 12:4 , 5) (See also Psalm 48:10 ; 66:4; 86:8, 9; 96:1-10; 113:3, 4.)

 

The formula could work: God's kingdom of priests would obey, and God would ensure that through them His saving grace was proclaimed as a blessing to all peoples. The perfect scenario is seen by Jeremiah. God's people as His priests would say: 0 Lord, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress, to Thee the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, "Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood, futility and no profit." Can man make gods for himself? Yet they are not gods!

 

"Therefore behold, I am going to make them know— . My power and My might; and they shall know that My name is [YHWH] the Lord." (Jeremiah 16:19-21 )

 

The Message

 

Imagine the reaction of today's public to the interviews and incidents of the Exodus of the Children of Israel; focal in the news stories would be the reputation of the God of the Hebrews:

 

Headline in the Pyramid Pilot: Hebrew Rebel Threatens Hail Next! The story: At daybreak Cairo time the renegade Hebrew Moses insisted on an audience with the Pharaoh. Apparently Phar­aoh had been sleepless through the night with boils—as reported throughout Egypt. This Moses was quoted as saying, "Thus says YHWH, the Elohim of the Hebrews . . . , 'This time I will send all Myplagues on you ... so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth.... For this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth.' "

 

What will it be this time? Blood, frogs, lice, flies, killing off the livestock, and boils—what else can this YHWH-Elohim hit us with to get the Pharaoh's attention? Rumor is that hail is the next stage in his promotional scheme.

 

The trade routes are packed with foreigners fleeing from Egypt with the stories of these plagues. Estimates are that within three months every inn along the caravan roads from Europe to India, China to southern Africa will have heard of the humiliation of Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. Many top cabinet posts are urging negotiations with Moses for fear of what this YHWH might devise as His next terrorist tactic. Unnamed sources said one of the Phar­aoh's servants has admitted "fearing the word of Elohim" and is currently bringing his servants and livestock in from the field. . . .

 

The news of this God-Who-is-not-to-be-toyed-with spread far and wide throughout the events of the Exodus: God "divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name. . . . So didst Thou lead Thy people, to make for Thyself a glorious name" (Isaiah 63:12 , 14).

 

God used His people regardless of their understanding of His pur­pose: "Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Thy wonders . . . but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known" (Psalm 106:7 , 8).

 

The eminence of His name was the leverage Moses used to "con­vince" God not to destroy the golden-calf-worshiping Israelites: "Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, 'With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth'?" (Exodus 32:12 ).

 

 If God had brought the Israelites through such miraculous events only to blast them into oblivion in the desert, who would want to follow Him? Imagine the Egyptians who responded in reverential fear to the God of the Hebrews, whom they learned was compassionate and gracious, yet would not leave the guilty unpunished who suddenly reverted to the gods of Egypt. These old familiar gods might have been humiliated by this YHWH-Elohim, but at least they didn't trick their followers into following them into annihilation!

 

It's one of the basic themes of the Old Testament's stories of settling into the Promised Land: The name of the Lord is to be acknowledged by all peoples. When the wilderness-wandering generation of mumblers had died off, the new generation of the Children of Israel crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground. Joshua later explained to the people, "The Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you .. . that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty" (Joshua 4:23 , 24).

 

In Jericho, the prostitute Rahab explains why she has protected the Israelite spies:

 

For we have heard how the Lord [YHWH, the holy Redeemer] 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. . . . And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord [YHWH] your God [Elohim, the strong Creator], He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:10 , 11)

 

Rahab's knowledge of Who God is came only through traders' sto­ries of the experiences of the Israelites; and yet from this revelation of His name, she believed, obeyed and was justified (Hebrews 1:31 ; James 2:25 ).

 

When the men of Ai first defeated the sons of Israel, Joshua com­plained, "0 Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it. . . . And what wilt Thou do for Thy great name?" (Joshua 7:8 , 9).

 

Envoys from the Gibeonites told Joshua, "Your servants have come from a very far country because of the fame of the Lord your God; for we have heard the report of Him and all that He did in Egypt"

 (Joshua 9:9 ).

 

God's Unchangeable Purpose

 

Why did God perform incredible miracles to free Israel from slavery in Egypt and lead them through the wilderness to a land flowing with milk and honey?

 

Our usual answer has something to do with their being His chosen people. But chosen for what? Chosen to be blessed, while all the other people groups of the world suffer, captives to Satan's dominion of darkness? Chosen and specially treated, like spoiled children, their dis­obediences tolerated until they finally produce a Messiah? Or chosen as a kingdom of priests to perform the responsibilities of God's pur­pose—to offer redemptive blessing to all the peoples of the earth? To be used as set-apart vessels to demonstrate God's character, His name, to all the nations?

 

Spend some time rethinking many of your favorite stories from Exodus, Numbers, Joshua and Judges. How did God use each incident to further His eternal, unchangeable purpose to bless His people and through them bless every people?

 

Closer to Home

 

Let's back up a bit and bring this chapter's input a little closer to home.

 

Why has God chosen me? Why has He left me on the earth, instead of whisking me off to the joyous ease of heaven the instant I received Christ? To live a blessed life while millions from unreached people groups suffer, captives of Satan's dominion of darkness? To be specially treated like a spoiled child, my disobediences tolerated until I finally die to live in Christlikenesseternally? Or have I been chosen as one in a kingdom of priests to perform the responsibilities of God's purpose—to offer redemptive blessing to all the peoples of the earth? To be used as a set-apart vessel to demonstrate God's character, His name, to all the nations?

 

What if I were to spend some quality time rethinking some of my favorite experiences? How can God use an incident I went through to further His eternal, unchangeable purpose—to bless me as one of His people and through me bless every people?

 

The Ups and Downs

 

Moses made God's covenant perfectly clear to the sons of Israel: "If you will diligently obey the Lord your God . . . all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord . . . and the Lord will make you abound" (Deuteronomy 28:1-11 ).

 

Before Joshua died at the ripe old age of 110, he reminded Israel to serve the Lord and to consider the dire consequences of disobedience. The Chosen People's response? "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for the Lord our God is He who . . . preserved us . . . among all the peoples through whose midst we passed" (Joshua 24:16 , 17).

 

But we all know the story: God soon had to reprimand the sons of Israel with "You have not obeyed Me" (Judges 2:2 ). They refused to drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land; instead they intermarried and began to worship other gods.

 

Incidentally, why did God give such drastic orders as: "You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them . . . ... (Deuteronomy 20:16 , 17)? Because God knew their "detestable things which they have done for their gods" (sexually focused religious practices) would infect and destroy the Israelites as a people. The modern-day AIDS epidemic across the continent of Africa threatens the very existence of whole people groups. Israel would have undergone pestilence, consumption, fever, inflammation, boils, tumors, scabs and itch from which they could not be healed—madness, blindness, bewil­derment of heart—until they were destroyed because they would not obey the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:19-45 ).

 

Second, God allowed the total destruction of people groups such as the Hittites, Amorites, PerizzitesHivitesJebusites and Canaanites because He knew they would never as a people turn to Him. That is, the Hittites as a people would never repent even though some individual Hittites such as Uriah (2 Samuel 11 ) would respond to stand before the throne of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9 ). God in His infinite wisdom knows when the final judgment of a people group is inevitable, when they will experience nothing but the disease, the suffering, the futility of their bondage of darkness. Make no mistake, the fearsome God of the Old Testament and the God of the twenty-first century does allow the de­struction of people who refuse to respond to the light He has given them—whether it is the initial light of creation, conscience and instinct or the further light of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture. (See Psalm 19:1-4 ; 65:8; Romans 1:18-23 .)

 

Because of the Israelites' disobedience, the death of Joshua was followed by nearly 400 years of roller-coaster ups and downs as God's kingdom of priests discredited His name—then repented under a God-appointed leader—then discredited God's name—then repented under a God-appointed leader—then. . . . (See Samuel's recap of these events in 1 Samuel 12:8-12 .)

 

The Ups

 

Three—and only three—kings ruled a united Israel: Saul, David and Solomon. Samuel appointed Saul as the first king even while scold­ing the nation for their rejection of the Lord God as their king: "Your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the Lord by asking for yourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:17 ). But Samuel also warned them not to turn aside from following the Lord, "for the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name" (12:22). Yet Saul proved unworthy to lead a nation whose God was the Lord.

 

David's exploits in the name of the Lord are some of the most familiar stories of the Old Testament. He shouted to the Philistine Go­liath, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel" (1 Samuel 17:45 , 46).

 

And David is probably the one who penned or commissioned such verses as "God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him" (Psalm 67:7 ). The faithful Israelites of David's time sang that line over and over again. Perhaps David's constant reference in his psalms to "the peoples," "the nations" and "the ends of the earth" suggest why he became "a man after God's own heart"—the heart that yearns after the world's lost.

 

And Israel's role as a shining light to all the peoples of the earth was probably never as prominent as during the early reign of David's son Solomon. The Israelite of Solomon's glory days would say, "Of course, God blesses us to be a blessing to the nations." Hadn't they all been at the temple dedication ceremonies and memorized Solomon's dedicatory prayer?

 

Concerning the foreigner who ... comes from a far country for Thy name's sake (for they will hear of Thy great name and Thy mighty hand, and of Thine outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear Thou in heaven ... and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to Thee, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name, to fear Thee, as do Thy people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Thy name. (1 Kings 8:41-43 )

 

Every time the Israelites came into the silver-decked and gold-cov­ered temple consecrated by the very heart of God (1 Kings 9:3 ), they entered through what became known in later days as "The Court of the Gentiles." In the days of Isaiah, God confirmed the international scope of His blessing on this temple: "Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . . I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. . . . For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples" (Isaiah 56:6 , 7). (Is it any wonder Jesus drove out the moneychangers and peddlers from the Court of the Gen­tiles, shouting this reference? See Mark 11:15-17 .)

 

Even those from the outlying countryside of Israel were reminded that Israel's blessing had to do with the uplifting of God's name among the nations when the Queen of Sheba came to town. The trade routes from China to India to southern Africa to Spain buzzed with the news: This ruler of the Sabeans in the southern region of Arabia traveled on camelback for 1,200 miles to meet Solomon. She brought him about $50,000 in gold, and "a very great amount of spices and precious stones."

 

The obvious question was asked and answered all along the routes: Why did she come? Because "when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions" (1 Kings 10:1 ). The name of the Lord—the personal Redeemer, the holy, eternal One, the all-powerful Crea­tor—the God of Solomon provoked her quest.

 

Apparently Solomon answered all her "difficult questions" con­cerning the name of the Lord and His blessing. "It was a true report," she said, "which I heard in my own land . . . . How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants . . . . Blessed be the Lord your God" (1 Kings 10:6-9 ).

 

God was accomplishing His unchangeable purpose of blessing His people to be a blessing to all peoples. Then Solomon fell in love.

 

The Downs

 

Imagine. Solomon marries the daughter of the pharaoh of Egypt. He marries a Moabitess and an Ammonite. He marries an Edomite woman, a Sidonian and a Hittite woman. And another Hittite woman. And another. Can you imagine 700 wedding ceremonies? And keeping track of 300 mistresses?

 

Obviously the potential for Solomon's marital problems was great; he loved and married a few too many hundreds of women. And the potential for spiritual danger increased with each new wife. God had expressly commanded not to intermarry with other peoples because "they will surely turn your heart away after their gods" (Deuteronomy 7:3 , 4, and 1 Kings 11:2 ).

 

And that is exactly what happened. As Solomon gave in to the pleading of his wives to be able to worship their own gods, his own "heart was not wholly devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Am­monites. . . . Then Solomon built a high place forChemosh the de­testable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon. Thus also he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods" (I Kings 11:4-8).

 

More is at stake here, of course, than Solomon's spiritual welfare. Even more is on the line than his poor performance as a role model for his own people. The name of the Lord is being blasphemed. And the news spreads quickly.

 

Solomon has a household-full of seven hundred "foreign corres­pondents" who pass news regularly on to their royal families, their friends, their own people groups. Imagine Solomon's wives listening for their homeland dialects in the marketplace, catching up on home-front news from travelers and traders coming through Jerusalem, the world trade-route center.

 

And what news do they pass on? Great news for the homeland! "Solomon is now worshiping our god! Our gods are back in vogue!" And as the traders caravan out of Jerusalem, the news is validated. High on the mountain east of Jerusalem are temples to MilcomMolech, Ashtoreth and other gods. God's reputation is being destroyed.

 

God’s Never-Ending Story

 

You know that any nation that claims to be God's people and that discredits His name is in for trouble. "Taking God's name in vain" doesn't mean swearing so much as dragging His character—His Deity, power, redemption and holiness—through the mud. And the realization scares you. As you slip into a Western-style travel office to book passage on a coal ship to Djibouti, you remember a dire ranting from the prophet Ezekiel:

 

I chose Israel . . . to bring them out of Egypt into a land that I had selected for them . . . but they rebelled against Me. Then I resolved to pour out my wrath on them . . . but I acted for the sake of Myname, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations. . . . And I gave them My statutes . . . but the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness . . . . Then I resolved to pour out Mywrath on them . . . but I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations. . . .And I said to their children in the wilderness, "Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers. . . ." But the children rebelled against Me. . . . So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them. . . . But I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations. (Ezekiel 20:5-22 )

 

The ups and downs are obvious. Mostly the downs. Israel was fast becoming like any other people group: "We will be like the nations, like the tribes of the lands, serving wood and stone" (Ezekiel 20:32 ). But God would persevere in His great plan to reach every people. In spite of their evil intentions, He says, "I shall prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations . . . Then you will know that I am the Lord when I have dealt with you for My name's sake" (Ezekiel 20:41 , 44).

 

For the Sake of His Name

 

In the Old Testament, God's people knew they were to "say among the nations, 'The Lord reigns' " (Psalm 96:10 ). In the most effective teaching method of the day, their memorized songs, they sang:

 

Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name;

Make known His deeds among the peoples....

Sing to the Lord, all the earth;

Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to

day; Tell of His glory among the nations,

His wonderful deeds among all the peoples....

Ascribe to the Lord, 0 families of the peoples,

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength,

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;

Bring an offering, and come before Him;

Worship the Lord in holy array. . . .

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

And let them say among the nations,

"The Lord reigns!" (1 Chronicles 16:8 , 23, 24, 28, 29, 31)

 

But about 250 years after David wrote this song, Israel's ups and downs finally resulted in judgment.

 

Warnings of the Prophets

 

Jonah, Hosea and Amos were God's spokesmen to the ten northern tribes of Israel. Jonah's message wasn't simply a story of the importance of personal obedience. His experience was the story of Israel's refusal to bless all the peoples of the earth—especially her enemies! Nineveh was the nerve center of the Assyrian dynasty, Israel's worst enemy and probably one of the most ruthless and savage people groups of all time. Jonah—Israel—didn't like the idea that God would ask such irritating questions as, "Should I not have compassion on Nineveh?" (Jonah 4:11 ).

 

Jonah evidenced Israel's attitude toward blessing disdained peoples when he pouted at God's salvation of the Assyrian city: Nineveh's repentance "greatly displeased Jonah, and he became very angry .. . and said, 'Please, Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this [salvation of Nineveh] I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and one who relents concerning calamity' " (Jonah 4:1 , 2). Jonah and Israel knew that all nations would respond to the message they had of God's character. But they refused to proclaim Him. They would have to learn the hard way that you don't fool with the purpose of the God of the universe.{ Editor note; At the heart of Jonah’s anger was idolatry over Israel}

 

Hosea's experience of loving a faithless wife likewise was a painful one-man-play that acted out the ten northern tribes' impending judg­ment. Hosea's message warned that unfaithfulness to God not only goes against the grain of His purpose; it also breaks His heart. Israel refused to be God's priests for the nations—sometimes obstinately, sometimes ignorantly: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest" (Hosea 4:6 ).

 

As Israel lost its sense of purpose as a kingdom of priests, it lost its distinction as a holy, set-apart people: "Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one de­lights" (Hosea 8:8 ). God showered them with blessings that they were to enjoy and to pass on in His name to all peoples. But they squan­dered all His blessings on the pursuit of their own gods: "Israel .. . produces fruit for himself. The more his fruit, the more altars he made; the richer his land, the better he made the sacred pillars" (Hosea 10:1 ).

 

God's call to Israel through Hosea was a warning of compassion. God would accomplish His purpose regardless of Israel's compliance. But why do it the hard way knowing it would bring pain to God's people and pain to the very heart of God? "My heart is turned over within Me," God said. "All My compassions are kindled" (Hosea 11:8 ). And He insisted there was still time to repent and return to voluntarily represent His name: "The Lord, the God of hosts; the Lord is His name. Therefore, return to your God. Observe kindness and justice, and wait for your God continually" (Hosea 12:5 , 6). Israel needed desperately to "return" in repentance, clean up her sins and once again become the holy nation that could proclaim God's character of kindness and justice.

 

But out of stubbornness or ignorance, they would not return.

 

Amos explained his fellow prophets' dismal warnings with, "Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7 ).

 

These irritating prophets kept spoiling the people's good time with negative com­ments such as, "Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure .. . who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches . . . and eat lambs from the flock .. . who drink wine from sacrificial bowls" (Amos 6:1-6 ). God has a larger purpose than the comfort of His people.

 

In the southern kingdom of Judah, God's red-alert of judgment came through Micah, whose name means "Who is like YHWHT' Micah warned that, when you are called by God's name, you don't challenge Elohim- YHWH: "Hear, 0 peoples, all of you; Listen, 0 earth and all it contains . . . the Lord is coming forth from His place. . . . The mountains will melt under Him. . . . All this is for the rebellion of Jacob" (Micah 1:2-5 ).

 

About 150 years later, Judah began to fulfill God's unchangeable purpose—the hard way.

 

And accomplishing God's purpose the hard way was not going to be easy. God promised to His people that, in order to show His character as a God of holiness as well as compassion, "One third of you will die by plague or be consumed by famine among you, one third will fall by the sword around you, and one third I will scatter to every wind. . . . Moreover, I will make you a desolationand a reproach among the nations. . . . So it will be . . . a warning . . . to the nations who sur­round you" (Ezekiel 5:12-15 ).

 

With 95% of the world's trading routes passing through Israel, the nations of the earth would soon learn that you don't doublecross the God of Israel.

 

The prophet Ezekiel clearly spelled out God's rationale:

 

Thus says the LORD God, "It is not for your sake, 0 house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name which you have profaned among the nations where you went. And I will vin­dicate the holiness of My great name ... which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord," declares the Lord God, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight." (Ezekiel 36:22 , 23; see also Ezekiel 39:21-23 .)

 

After the pain of the captivity, God himself explained that since His people "refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing, and they made their hearts like flint

I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known" (Zechariah 7:11 , 12, 14).

 

God's Ongoing Twofold Program

 

Even when Israel refused to be a blessing to the nations, God carried on His predestined program. He would use even these painful events of judgment to announce: "Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth . . . and will not turn back. . . . My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure. . . . Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it" (Isaiah 45:22 , 23; 46:10, 11).

 

Even as God's people underwent judgment, the purposeful God of compassion promised that their role as His chosen people, as a light to the world's peoples or gentiles (Isaiah 60:1-3 ) would continue and be focused in the coming Servant (Isaiah 49:6 ).

 

God said, "Pay attention to Me, 0 My people; and give ear to Me, 0 My nation; for a law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples . . . . The coastlands will wait for Me. . . . When the Lord restores Zion . . . the Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God" (Isaiah 51:4 , 5; 52:8-10). God's unchangeable purpose would continue through His people.

 

In captivity in Babylon, individuals who were called by God's name carried on their roles proclaiming the excellencies of His name. Daniel's witness to the character of God resulted in emperor Nebuchadnezzar's testimony to God's greatness (Daniel 4 ) and Darius' incredible proc­lamation "to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language who were living in all the land . . . I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever . . . He delivers and rescues . . ." (Daniel 6:25-27 ).

 

At the close of the 70 years of captivity, God blessed His people again. The Persian ruler Cyrus acknowledged "the Lord, the God of heaven" and allowed about 50,000 Jews to return to their land laden with "silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:2-4 ).

 

What did God's people do with these blessings? Almost 15 years after they arrived back in the land, they still had done nothing about rebuilding God's house of prayer for the nations. They had used some of the proceeds of Cyrus' generosity to buy cedar wood from Lebanon. But instead of using it to build up God's house, they installed the new cedar paneling in their own homes! God sent the prophet Haggai to slap them awake: Did His people really want another round of judgment?

 

Scripture often suggests the imagery that God's temple is made up of living stones from every people—Jews and gentile nations alike (see 2 Corinthians 6:16 ; Ephesians 2:11-22 ; 1 Peter 2:5 ). Since many be­lievers today patronizingly insist that it is not the time for God to finish building this temple made without hands, and since many believers are sequestering most of God's blessings to pad their own nests, try to read Haggai's message without flinching:

 

"Thus says the Lord of hosts,

 

`This people says, "The time has not come, even the time for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt." ' ..

Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet saying,

"Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while

this house lies desolate?"

Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, "Consider your ways!

You have sown much, but harvest little;

You eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied;

You drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; You put on clothing, but no one is warm enough;

And he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes. . . .

You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; When you bring it home, I blow it away.

Why? . . . Because of My house which lies desolate, While each of you runs to his own house." (Haggai 1:2-9 )

 

Happily, God's people "obeyed the voice of the Lord their God . . ." and "showed reverence for the Lord." God reminded them, "I am with you," and "stirred up . . . the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God" (Haggai 1:12-14 ). And as they worked to finally finish the temple four years later, they doubtless remembered God's promise: "Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Proverbs 23:18 ). Their repentance didn't simply include a renouncing of sins; it also incorporated a return to God's clear purpose to finish building His temple.

If God's people repent merely to receive more of God's blessing for themselves, nothing happens. The land isn't healed. If God's people repent to receive more of God's "top-line" blessing in order to pass on "bottom-line" blessings to every people, God's response is immediate: "Take courage . . . and work, for I am with you. . . . My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!" (Haggai 2:4 , 5).

 

Devout Men From Every Nation

 

Later, God orchestrated events in the lives of Ezra and Nehemiah to go back and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Why? God predicted through Jeremiah: "Behold, I will bring to [Jerusalem] health and heal­ing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth." And why would God again bless His people in the rebuilt Jerusalem? "And it shall be to Me a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear of all the good that I do for them" (Jeremiah 33:6 , 9).

 

God accomplishes His purpose and, whether His people are willing to align themselves with that purpose or not, "He does according to His will in the host of heaven"—as He retakes Satan's counter-kingdom in the spiritual realm—"and among the inhabitants of earth" as He brings men to himself through salvation (Daniel 4:35 ).

 

Even among those of God's people who stayed in Babylon rather than return to Jerusalem, God pushed His agenda during the dispersion. The sweeping-saga scenes of the book of Esther have but one point: God broadcasts His powerful, redeeming character through the "sa­traps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces which extended from India [which some scholars say referred to everything east of Babylon!] to Ethiopia [which probably meant a good portion of the continent of Africa], 127 provinces, to every province according to its script, and to every people according to their language" (Esther 8:9 ).

 

God made sure that even these Jewish exiles clearly proclaimed "words of peace and truth" (Esther 9:30 )—topics of God's blessing and character—so that all peoples could respond: "In each and every province, and in each and every city . . . many among the peoples of the land became Jews" and "allied themselves with them" (Esther 8:17 ; 9:27).

 

In the ensuing 400 years until the birth of the Light, "Thy salvation, [God] prepared in the presence of all peoples" (Luke 2:30-32 ), the number of God's people grew among the nations. Jewish missions to win proselytes (converts from other peoples who completely followed all Jewish rites) and "God-fearers" (converts who believed but were not circumcised) prospered until there were at the time of the early apostles "devout men, from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5 )!

 

God propels His purpose to offer salvation to every people, tribe, tongue and nation—whether His people want to be blessed in the process or not!

 

To Whom Much Is Given

 

Perhaps we, read even our New Testaments with an eye only for God's top-line blessing on our­selves. What does the New Testament say about this ongoing Story of the Bible? Is Jesus the Messiah for all peoples?

 

Our meager glimpse at the Old Testament's solid predictions of Christ as the Servant who "will sprinkle many nations" (Isaiah 52:15 ) has at least prepared us to take a fresh glance at the familiarity of the New Testament. Is God's unchangeable purpose an obvious theme run­ning through the next 26 sections of the Story of the Bible? Let's race through the New Testament.

 

The Gospels

 

Jesus was born as a light to the gentiles.

 

•           John the Baptist was celebrated at birth as the forerunner of the Christ who was coming to "shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79 ). Anyone listening to this song of Zacharias's knew the passage in Isaiah referred to God making Galilee of the gentiles glorious by the coming of the Messiah (see Isaiah 9 ). Remember the term "gentile" means every people group other than Jews.

•           Likewise, Simeon's announcement of Jesus' birth clearly con­firmed the all-nations scope of the Messiah: "For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (Luke 2:30-32 ). Simeon also quoted from Isaiah: "I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isaiah 49:6 ).

•           This same passage is repeated later as Paul and Barnabus arrived in the town of Pisidian Antioch to spread the blessing (Acts 13:13 ­52).

 

After the reading of the Law and the Prophets in the synagogue, Paul proclaimed the all-nations message of God to the "sons of Abra­ham's family and those among them who fear God." Paul presented the fact that the Christ had died and rose again to provide salvation for "everyone who believes"—not just the Jews. He warned his Jewish listeners not to scoff at the blessing being offered to everyone; then he quoted Habakkuk 1:5 , "Look among the nations! Observe! Be aston­ished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told."

 

When the following Sabbath brought retaliation from jealous Jews, Paul and Barnabus replied they were following God's explicit com­mand. They simply quoted the verse Simeon shouted at Jesus' birth: "I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles that You should bring sal­vation to the end of the earth" (Acts 13:47 ; Isaiah 49:6 ). The result? The word of the Lord was being spread throughout the whole region!

Jesus' early ministry was to the Jew first but also to all peoples.

 

Jesus could have made His headquarters the center of Judaism in Jerusalem. Instead, He initially based His ministry in Galilee of the gentiles. His first miracle was in Cana. In His first sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:24-30 ), He reminded His Jewish and gentile audience that the great faith He called men to was best exemplified in those from other people groups: Elijah was sent to a widow woman of the Sidon people (1 Kings 17 ).

 

Naaman, a Syrian military officer whose people were mercilessly destroying Israel at that very time, was healed of leprosy because of the intercession of a little Israeli servant-girl (2 Kings 5:1-14 ).

• In His hometown area of "Galilee of the gentiles," Jesus "seeing the multitudes . . . felt compassion for them. . . . Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:36-38 ; see the parallel passage in Luke 10:2 .) His heart not only yearns for His people; God feels compassion for the multitudes of every people group on earth.

 

An incisive translation of the phrase "send out" is "thrust out" or even "cast out!" It is the same verb used when Jesus drove out the temple moneychangers and cast out demons. Some‑

 

times God's action in getting laborers active in His harvest will be a bit disconcerting—even painful—to the "thrust-out" work­ers!

 

As Jack McAlister of the World Prayer 2000 ministry says, Jesus promised two problems in the worldwide harvest: The har­vest will be vast and the workers will be few. His answer? Pray!

 

•           When Jesus sent out the twelve, He strategically commanded them to go to the "lost sheep of Israel" (see Matthew 10 ). Warning the nation of impending judgment, the disciples were not to spend time in what they later would do—preaching to other peoples. Even in that context of Israel's doom, however, the disciples were to be aware that every other people would be watching how God handled His reputation among His people: "You shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the gentiles" (Matthew 10:18 ).

 

Later, Jesus sent out the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1-20 ) to every city He would visit—whether Jewish or not. First, twelve, possibly representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were sent exclusively to the Jews to warn that nation of judgment. Then 70, possibly representing the 70 nations formed at the Tower of Babel, were sent out to call all people groups to repentance.

Jesus' later ministry included all peoples.

 

Jesus later spent His time in Jewish areas. So it is noteworthy that so many of His contacts were with individuals of other peoples:

 

1.    He healed the Gadarene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34 ).

 

2.    He noted that a Samaritan was the only one of ten lepers who returned to thank Him for healing them (Luke 17:12-19 ).

 

3.    He explained to a Samaritan woman that God was to be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:5-42 ).

 

4.    A Canaanite woman's daughter was released from demon-pos­session because of the mother's great faith (Matthew 15:22-28 ). Reading this remarkable passage carefully, we see that Jesus' initial silence and statement of exclusivity ("I was sent only to . . . Israel") was totally out of character for the One born the Light of the gentiles. We can almost sense His, and the woman's, facetiousness as Jesus taught His prejudiced disciples (see verse 23) a critical lesson: God is interested in freeing all peoples from the powers of Satan's counter-kingdom. The Roman centurion's servant was healed as Jesus marveled at his faith (Matthew 8:5-13 ). Jesus reminded His audience that "many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven."

 

5.    A group of Greek God-fearers pleaded with Philip, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." And it was to this group Jesus first announced clearly His coming death: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 12:21 , 32).

 

6.    In the final events of His life on earth, Jesus acted on behalf of every people

.

7.    Events from the last week before Jesus' crucifixion to His ascension teem with references to the all-nations theme of the Story of the Bible:

8.    Christ entered Jerusalem "humble, and mounted on a donkey," fulfilling the prophecy that there would come a king who would "speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea . . . to the ends of the earth" (Zechariah 9:9 , 10).

 

9.    Jesus cleansed the temple's court of the gentiles, throwing out the hawkers and moneychangers, and saying, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'?"

 (Mark 11:17 ).

 

10. The final week before the cross is when He answered clearly the question, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" His answer? Jesus tells of several "birth pangs," and then says, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (Matthew 24:3-14 ).

 

11. As Mary anointed Jesus at the house in Bethany, Jesus promised that every people would hear of her devotion "wherever this gos­pel is preached in the whole world" (Matthew 26:13 ).

 

12. Let us never forget the global significance of Jesus' death for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2 ). "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16 ).

 

13. After His resurrection, Jesus patiently explained the whole of Scripture to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and later toall the disciples (Luke 24:13-49 ). His nutshell commentary in­cluded all nations:

 

14. He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and He said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46 , 47)

 

How clear can the Story of the Bible be? Forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations!

 

• As Jesus met for the final time with His disciples in Galilee of the gentiles, He gave what we have called the Great Commission. By now we know that this command was nothing new. It was not simply an afterthought of what the disciples could do with their spare time until He returned. This command was a clear, forceful repetition of the message God had been giving since His imper­ative 2,000 years before when He had told Abraham, "And so you shall be a blessing. . . . And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2 , 3).

 

Acknowledging this familiar passage as the Great Re-Commission, let's think carefully through what Jesus actually said:

 

"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mat­thew 28:18). Jesus has disarmed all rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm of Satan's battling counter-kingdom (Colossians 2 :15, and He­brews 2:14-15). The peoples of the earth no longer have to be prisoners of Satan's darkness. They remain enslaved only because of ignorance of Christ's freedom, or because ofobstinance in deference to Satan.

Because of the "therefore" (Matthew 28:19 ), we are commanded to make disciples. The "go" in this passage is not actually an imperative in the Greek text; it is more accurately an assumption: "As you are going. . . ." The force of the entire text is the command "make dis­ciples"—followers, learners.

 

What is the object of the command? "Every ethne"—all the peo­ples/nations/gentiles/families of the earth. The 1611 King James Ver­sion of the Bible, the solid version used for centuries in the English-speaking world, translated this phrase "teach all nations." What com­plicated the King James Version of the Great Re-Commission, of course, was its parallel passage in Mark 16:15 : "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." No wonder many West­ern Christians think Christ's command is only idealism; telling the Gos­pel to every individual on earth is a hopeless task!

 

But the original texts are clear: Jesus reminded us of the mandate given Abraham centuries before: reach every people group. Then, equip those who respond by baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that Christ com­manded—including this command!

 

Then, just as God reminded Jacob (Genesis 28:15 —with the exact wording in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament), the God-Man said, "Lo, I am with you."

 

The Acts of the Apostles

 

As usual, the disciples were stuck on top-line blessing as they asked the ascending Christ, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6 ). In other words, "Are we now going to get the whole bundle of blessings promised us as God's chosen people?"

 

Jesus, of course, replies with a clear-cut statement that balances top-line blessing: "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you—" and bottom-line responsibility: "and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:6-8 ).

The remainder of the Acts of the Apostles can be seen in light of this: God's blessing on His people to bless all peoples.

 

The Day of Pentecost modeled the plan.

 

You're in Jerusalem. You're one of the God-fearers who by faith is trusting in the God of the Jews. You're fresh off the ship from Cnidus in Phrygia—in what would later become western Turkey.

Seasickness was nothing compared to the disorientation you feel amid the rush of dusty travelers and locals weaving in and out among each other in the crowd-packed walkways of the market. Children shriek in a language foreign to you, some bright-robed market hawkers shout, "Melons! Fresh melons!" in Greek, the language you've learned to worship in back home at the synagogue.

But the conversations, the remarks and shouts all around you as you wade through the striped-robed crowd are in languages you've never heard before. You constantly remind yourself that no matter how foreign you feel in this place, they're not really all talking about you.

 

Suddenly a wild windstorm blows in off the desert, but protected here in the market alleyways, you don't even feel a puff of wind.

 

Then you hear it wafting above the tumult: Up at the next corner a man is standing on the back of a cart speaking in pure, unaccented Phrygian.

 

You rush forward, to get a closer look. Could it be that other God­fearers from your homeland are here too? Now you see that most of the marketplace crowd is surging toward the same corner, everyone speak­ing in a different language. It is an effort to see above the milling turbans of dozens of men. Women are also gathering around, and finally you are close enough to notice the swarthy features of the man—he is a Jew! He's explaining that the promise of God's long-awaited blessing has now come to you!

 

"Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children,and for all who are far off . . ." (Acts 2:38 , 39).

 

You know that you are one whom the Scriptures refer to as "far off." The promise of the Abrahamic blessing has come to you!

 

Then the bottom-line hits you. If you and any other Phrygians here today are the first to hear of this fulfillment, who is responsible for carrying the news of this blessing back home?

 

So Pentecost demonstrated God's blessing on His people, the dis­ciples on whom the power of the promised Spirit fell, and on every nation. The Day of Pentecost proclaimed the fact that God's blessing was to drench "devout men from every nation under heaven"—and apparently all the nations were represented in the one city of Jerusalem at that incredible point in history (Acts 2:5 ). God showed that the New Testament plan was the same as the Old: God blesses His people to be a blessing to every people.

 

The early sermons hinged on God's outpouring of blessing on the Jew first, and also on all peoples.

 

• In the days following Pentecost, the headstrong fisherman Simon Peter eloquently articulated the order of God's blessing in a sermon to the Jewish crowd gathered at the portico of Solomon, a porch along the temple's Court of the Gentiles:

 

"All the prophets . . . announced these days, 'It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways' " (Acts 3:24-26 ). God's people were blessed to be a blessing.

•           The apostle Paul, speaking years later in a synagogue in Phrygia, confirms this order: "It was necessary that the Word of God would be spoken to you first; since . . . 'I have placed you as a light for the gentiles' " (Acts 13:46 , 47).

 

As usual, God's people—even the venerated early disciples—hesitated to bless the nations.

 

•           Jerusalem was the most strategic, central place to reach the people group called the Jews. So, although it was not home to most of the early disciples, that is where they focused their early ministry of passing on the blessing.

 

Christ orders us to expend the power of the Spirit by being witnesses in strategic places within our own people group. Be careful if someone's interpretation of Jesus' command to "be witnesses" suggests that no shift, no movement, no change of lifestyle is necessary to become an obedient disciple. Jesus always prods us out of the status quo.

 

Also, Jesus had told the disciples to be witnesses to Him "both" in Jerusalem and beyond—not first in Jerusalem, and then when they had things well under control there, to the ends of the earth.

•           But, as Jonah of old, the disciples would not budge. And God initiated His age-old motivation system to bless all nations whether His people cooperated voluntarily or not. "A great per­secution arose against the church in Jerusalem." And the pre­dictable result? "They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria." The Lord sent them exactly where He said He would—"into all Judea and Samaria." Why? To accom­plish His unchangeable purpose: "Therefore those who had been

105 scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:1 , 4).

 

• Notice that Philip was one of those scattered. He's probably the classic example of God drafting someone into His great Cause. Especially if you're a deacon in a local church, watch and tremble at Philip's progress in aligning with God's purpose to bless the nations:

Philip is chosen to be a local church deacon (Acts 6:5 ).

 

Philip is pushed into being a cross-cultural evangelist (Acts 8:5 ). Samaritans were considered to be half-Jewish and half-As­syrian, so Philip's preaching had to cross some cultural barriers of custom and acceptance. But as he preached in his own language to this culturally near people, his ministry would be considered at this point to be evangelism—sharing the Gospel within your own or a culturally similar people group.

 

Philip is thrust out into the Gaza desert to proclaim Christ as the suffering Servant of Isaiah to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39 ). And as he explained the Word beginning at Isaiah 53 , he undoubtedly kept on reading and explaining until the Nubian was spellbound to hear:

 

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely separate me from His people." Neither let the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the Lord, "To the eunuchs who keep my Sab­baths, and choose what pleases Me . . . to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. . . . Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:3-7 )

 

Would it be any wonder if the eunuch suddenly whistled his chariot to a stop and exclaimed, "Why didn't they tell me this back at the synagogue? I thought God loved the Jews more than any other people! I thought I had to renounce my whole cultural heritage to become acceptable to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!" Actually, he said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36 ).

 

And so Philip was drawn by God through the training of serv­ing as a deacon and an evangelist to eventually bless another people. As he reached across distinct cultural barriers to the Nu­bian, Philip fulfilled a mission. He was a missionary to another people group. And the Good News spread into Africa.

 

• After the whole theme of Old Testament Scripture, after Jesus' ministry and final words to keep passing on the blessing, the Apostles were still reluctant to believe God was longing to bless the gentiles as well as the Jews.

 

Even after Peter's all-nations sermon just after Pentecost, he needed a distinct vision from God to offer the Good News to the gentile family of Cornelius (Acts 10 ). Three times God reminded Peter in the vision that His unchangeable plan was to bless His people in order to bless every nation. As if thumped over the head with the message of the vision, Peter says, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality but in every ethne the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34 , 35).

 

The other disciples' response to the Caesarean non-Jews' sal­vation in Christ? Rejoicing? Excitement that God's obvious plan since Genesis 12:3 was unfolding before their very eyes? No, they "took issue" with Peter. Peter shrugged, "Who was I that I could stand in God's way?" Then the noble, respected-throughout-his­tory early disciples "when they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life' " (Acts 11:18 ).

 

 But they give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. . . . Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples." (Isaiah 56:3-7 )

 

Would it be any wonder if the eunuch suddenly whistled his chariot to a stop and exclaimed, "Why didn't they tell me this back at the synagogue? I thought God loved the Jews more than any other people! I thought I had to renounce my whole cultural heritage to become acceptable to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!" Actually, he said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36 ).

 

And so Philip was drawn by God through the training of serv­ing as a deacon and an evangelist to eventually bless another people. As he reached across distinct cultural barriers to the Nu­bian, Philip fulfilled a mission. He was a missionary to another people group. And the Good News spread into Africa.

 

• After the whole theme of Old Testament Scripture, after Jesus' ministry and final words to keep passing on the blessing, the Apostles were still reluctant to believe God was longing to bless the gentiles as well as the Jews.

 

Even after Peter's all-nations sermon just after Pentecost, he needed a distinct vision from God to offer the Good News to the gentile family of Cornelius (Acts 10 ). Three times God reminded Peter in the vision that His unchangeable plan was to bless His people in order to bless every nation. As if thumped over the head with the message of the vision, Peter says, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality but in every ethne the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him" (Acts 10:34 , 35).

 

The other disciples' response to the Caesarean non-Jews' sal­vation in Christ? Rejoicing? Excitement that God's obvious plan since Genesis 12:3 was unfolding before their very eyes? No, they "took issue" with Peter. Peter shrugged, "Who was I that I could stand in God's way?" Then the noble, respected-throughout-his­tory early disciples "when they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life' " (Acts 11:18 ). But they didn't give up their top-line grasp easily.

 

• A whole council had to be called to iron out more of this unnerving business of God having His way in blessing other people groups! At the Council of Jerusalem years after Pentecost (Acts 15 ), the Jewish-based church was still mostly concerned about itself.

                                                                                                                                                                                          

Peter tried another run at convincing the Jerusalem leadership that God had indeed intended that the Great Commission be taken literally, that "He made no distinction between us and them" (Acts 15:9 ). James had to appeal to Scripture to break through: "God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gen­tiles a people for His name and with this the words of the prophets agree . . . 'I will rebuild the tabernacle of David . . . in order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name' "

(Acts 15:14-17 ).

 

Under James, the physical brother of Jesus, the early church leadership finally grasped the idea that God would accomplish His will to bless every people on earth. And who were they, that they could stand in God's way?

 

The Epistles

 

The Epistles of the New Testament are familiar to most believers as rich ground for understanding doctrine and growing in Christ.

 

Christian growth has a distinct earthly purpose.

 

Within the light of the theme of the Story of the Bible, we have to ask ourselves, "Why work at understanding doctrine and growing in Christ?"

 

Maybe we would automatically answer, "So our lives will be bet­ter" or "To become more like Christ." Both of these answers are true. Partially.

 

But if God simply wanted us to know doctrine "even as we are known," to no longer "see through a glass darkly," to be "holy and blameless before Him," wouldn't it make sense to swoop us away from the sludge of sin and the irritations of life in a fallen, Satan-plagued earth?

 

Or does God have a very distinct purpose for leaving us on earth? A custom-designed niche for us to fill in His unchangeable purpose? And doesn't it make sense that, since God uses humans in His plan He wants us clean and equipped and obedient?

 

God admonishes us to be students of the Word, to rightly divide the Word of truth, not so that we'll be able to speak it out from memory, but so that we will be transformed by it and use it to transform others! God orders husbands and wives to learn to live with each other according to knowledge and to love each other not so they'll have rosy, glorious lives on beds of ease and prosperity; strong marriages are essential for a Christian couple to tackle the strongholds of Satan in order to work toward God's unchangeable purposes. God asks us to bear one another's burdens so we can get on with the task at hand. God instructs us to conduct ourselves with holiness and propriety not so we'll feel superior or lead charmed lives, but so that His name will be exalted among the world's ethne.

 

God wants us to know why He is gracious to us, why He blesses us and causes His face to shine upon us: so that His way may be known on the earth, His salvation among all peoples (Psalm 67:1 , 2).

 

The meat of the epistles is not intended for our blessing alone. The primary reason for Paul's deep doctrinal and practical teaching is what sets apart his epistle to the Romans.

At the beginning of the book he writes, "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus . . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name's sake .  to all who are beloved of God in Rome"(Romans 1:1,5 , 7).

 

Near the end of his letter, Paul shares the vision of his life: "Thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named .. . but as it is written, 'They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand' " (Romans 15:20 , 21).

 

And at the very end, Paul reemphasizes the reason why the teaching is critical. The Spirit wanted the Roman believers to be established firmly in the (1) "gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ," and (2) "the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret . . . but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets" which had "been made known to all the nations leading to obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25 , 26).

 

The epistles are written to bless us with wisdom and strength because God has a distinct job for each of us. And in some indirect or direct way, it has to do with the people groups of our era who have not been blessed with the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

The apostle Paul affirms the unity of believers in Christ in remark­able passages such as Ephesians 2 and 3. He reminds his readers from people groups other than Jewish that at one time they were "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." He affirms their position as "fellow citizens with the saints," as those living stones "being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:11-22 ).

Paul then says that this melding of all believers into one Body had been a mystery "which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed . . . ... Then he spells out that mystery: "To be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise .. . in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:5-11 ).

 

Now, the Jews had known for 2,000 years that God's plan was to bless every people group on earth. That they often ignored their bottom-line responsibility doesn't prove they were ignorant of it. In the same way, New Testament believers can often thoroughly ignore the mandate of the Great Commission while being fully aware of it. That God would bless all peoples was not the mystery.

 

To the Israelites of old, the mystery was that this blessing would bring these "heathen" ethne into unity with His chosen people! God's chosen Hebrew-Jewish people would not only pass on His blessing but would have as fellow family members those from every people, tribe, tongue and nation who were saved by grace! This was uncomfortable news; this was a head-scratching mystery.

 

This unity of one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God over all and in all the diverse peoples (Ephe­sians 4:4-6) is illustrated by the human body. Each body part has either a slightly or an obviously different function; as Paul points out to the Corinthians, an eye is different from a foot. The various parts have varying abilities or "gifts"; an apostle (literally, a "sent one") fulfills a different function from a pastor. But the whole idea of the diverse body parts is so that the whole body functions, "fitted and held together . . . according to the proper working of each individual part" (v.16).

 

What is the Body of Christ doing? Going about His Father's busi­ness. Building the temple of living stones, which some day will be completed!

 

Remember that one of the parts of the Body referred to is those that are gifted as apostles or "sent ones." Just as we are not all noses in the Body, much to the consternation of some, we are not all "sent ones" in the specific sense. God equips some individuals to cross high, cultural barriers to proclaim His name; and this passage in Ephesians calls them "sent ones." We would call them "missionaries"

 

Are you a sent one? Can you use your abilities and gifts cross-culturally?

 

Are you a sender? Can you use your abilities and gifts in backup support of a sent one?

You're either one or the other.

 

And whatever your gifts, whatever your function in the Body, your role is critical in what the whole Body is doing. Even if you're peeling potatoes far from the front lines, your part is essential as the whole Body works together, being blessed to bless every people group.

 

The End of the Beginning

 

Obviously, there are other New Testament references and key pas­sages we could study together to fine-tune our vision of God's un­changeable purpose. For example, Hebrews 6:11-19 , the amazing New Testament commentary on God's sworn promise to bless Abraham and all the nations:

 

When God made the promise to Abraham ... He swore by Himself, saying "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you." . . . In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, in­terposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things [to bless Abraham and through him to bless every people] in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encourage­ment.... This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast. (Hebrews 6:13-19 )

 

Be encouraged to study through the many familiar passages of the Gospels, the history of Acts and the Epistles in light of the unchangeable purpose of God. New Testament Scripture reveals much more than the shortsighted details of the individual Christian life.

 

And be encouraged by the fact that there is an end to the story. Jesus said simply, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come" (Matthew 24:14 ).

 

Regardless of your eschatology, your understanding of prophecy, the end of the Story of the Bible records the fact that the apostle John saw the finale of God's global plan:

 

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou avast slain and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to he a kingdom and priests to our God!" (Revelation 5:9 , 10)

 

The New Testament confirms the depth of God's heart for the whole world. It reveals the central point of history in which God as Man offers himself as the Sacrifice. And the New Testament clarifies the task: God is reaching mankind people group by people group, and there will be an end to that process.

 

It’s over 2,000 years since the close of New Testament events, God has been inexorably accomplishing His unchangeable purpose.

 

Bill and Amy Stearns – Copyright 1991

 

For further study And growth

The Story-formed way 

The Story-formed way  

Want to learn more about God’s unfolding story. Listen to Graeme Goldsworthy’s talks on Biblical Theology

Want to read more then turn with profit to “According to Plan,” by Graeme Goldsworthy or “God’s Big Story,” by Vaughan Roberts

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 March 2014 10:52  
 

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Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 11:14  

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