Missions in the Bible
We have seen how the whole Bible talks from beginning to end about God's desire to reach out to the ends of the earth and to redeem a fallen creation described in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Genesis 12:1 3 is thus the Great Commission as it was first given to Abraham. God promised to bless his descendents and to make them a blessing to all the families of the earth. Although they never forgot that they were to be blessed, they usually forgot that God had chosen them in order that they might share His blessing with all the other nations.
As a result, when this nation did not reach out voluntarily it was twice sent out involuntarily into contact first with the Egyptians and secondly with the Babylonians. Only as it emerged from slavery in Egypt and returned from slavery in Babylon did some of its prophets recapture briefly God's high purposes for it.
Week Twenty-two June 1, 1980
Having covered the historical and the poetic books we now turn to the prophets. Here we must reflect upon the amazing insight we get as we hear Jesus telling the disciples (Luke 24: 46, 47) that they should have been able to understand from the Scriptures, specifically the prophets, that He was not only going to be a suffering Savior, but even that the Gospel was intended to go to the ends of the earth! Compare also Acts 1:8.
It is possible to suppose that everything in the Old Testament was in a sort of waiting period until Christ came and that during that period God had no immediate plans to redeem the nations except in the future. According to this point of view Jesus merely intended for the disciples to understand that there would be a future point for them to begin a new kind of concern.
Actually, throughout the Bible there is a constant emphasis on God's concern for the other nations. God always expected Israel to share its blessings, not only with foreigners within its camp, but with the nations round about. Jesus always expected the disciples to understand His concern for the women and the children, the Greeks and the blind.
This gives us a radically different perspective on the Old Testament. In other words, the first four fifths of our Bible is not a period meaningless for the rest of the world during which a particular chosen nation was the exclusive object of His love. Rather, it is a devastating two thousand year period of disobedience and rebellion during which God is making His people through His prophets to take the nations into their hearts, but like Jonah they do so only rarely and reluctantly. But has the U.S. taken other nations into its heart? Rarely and reluctantly. Most American Christians don't want to hear about the ends of the earth.
Week Twenty-Three June 8, 1980
Where in the prophetic writings do you think Jesus could have referred the disciples? Take Isaiah, for example. There we see very clearly the continuity of the Abrahamic missionary mandate.
No, not in the often used passage (Isaiah 6:8), "Who will go for us?" and "Here I am, send me." That passage is not strictly a call to the other nations, but simply to Israel.
Chapters 1 to 39 stress the judgment of God upon a nation engulfed in religious sham, haughtiness and vanity (1:12,13; 4:16 24), although not without hope (9:1,2; 32:5 7). Note that even God's judgment is mingled with His concern for all the nations of the earth (11:12; 12:5,6).
Isaiah 40 through 66 is certainly part of what Jesus referred to. Here a new, optimistic perspective sees the captivity of the Chosen People as a means of guiding the nations to Himself (42:1 7). And now with Israel's restoration to the land in the picture, Israel's obligation to be a light to the nations is clearly set forth as a still higher priority to which their own blessing and restoration is secondary (Isaiah 49:6). This is the verse Paul quoted in Acts 13 when he faced a rebellious synagogue denouncing his concern for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47).
Jesus is obviously referring to Isaiah also when he talks about Israel's role being that of a suffering servant, not merely a pampered favorite. Jesus quoted directly from Isaiah 56 when he cleansed the temple. Read 56:1 8. Clearly all the nations are God's immediate concern. (See 65:1,2; 66:18,19, but especially 56:3.)
Week Twenty-four June 15, 1980
Jeremiah is equally alert to the wide spectrum of God's concern: through him God speaks to all the nations (1:10). When Paul insists that circumcision is of no value cornpared to a new heart, he is building on Jeremiah 9:25,26. Israel is more guilty than the Gentile nations just as Judah is more guilty than Israel (the northern tribes which were carried away first). See Jeremiah 3:11. But "if these heathen nations.. claim me as their God (12:14 1),' He will accept them just as well. This is just what Isaiah says in 56:1 8.
No, God is not dealing with just Israel, but all the nations. He is holding them responsible, seeking their obedience (25:19 31, 32:27). Paul in Romans 1:5 is set to bring about obedience among all the nations. The continuity is crystal clear. Jeremiah thus is a witness not only to Israel but to the specific nations around Israel. Jonah is a special case of the same thing.
Week Twenty-five June 22, 1980
Jonah's reluctance to preach to the people of Nineveh lest they repent and God accept them (4:1,2) is a ghastly indictment of every Christian congregation that is not really interested in other nations being blessed. Perhaps our attitude toward refugees pouring into the U.S. is comparable. We are so ultra focused on our own needs that our selfishness is automatically the enemy of all thoughts about being a blessing to people beyond our national horizons
Week Twenty-six June 28, 1980
All the other prophetic writings fit into the same matrix of a God judging the very people he specifically chose: "Of all the people of the earth I have chosen you alone. That is why I must punish you the more for all your sins." Amos 3:2, LB
Thus the promise of blessing carried with it (as it does with us) extremely weighty consequences. The blessing was not intended to be presumed upon or spent selfishly. When the blessings were not even allowed to extend to the poor and needy of their own nation, the prophets rose up with words of judgment that were words of God. And if God's chosen people would not even treat their own poor with mercy, how likely were they to reach out to other nations? In this same sense all nations stand under the judgment of God. But those who know God best are obviously the most responsible. This is what God's judgment on His chosen people means. This was in turn, the basis on which the prophets (like Nahum) spoke out to the other nations. It should give us in the USA pause that 80% of all the trained Christian workers in the world are in our country. What does God expect of us?