Being in 2013 is such a gift from God is we have all this history to look back on and to marvel that God has just consistently has done exactly what He said He would do. In Genesis 12, we know our Bibles, the world is fallen, it is broken. I mean, the very fabric of what God created now torn asunder. Death, disease, the world has grown dark, and in the middle of it God calls a man named Abram. And in Genesis chapter 12:1 we read: “Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So now, we’ve got this faint whisper of a promise, that all that has gone wrong will be made right. That God is calling Abram from Kush. The first Jew is an Iraqi, let that mingle around in your head a bit. God calls Abram and says: Through you, I am going to create a people and through that people I’m going to bless all people on earth. So that, from the very beginning, the promise is that what God is up to is global. It is making right what has gone wrong and then at the testing of Abraham, in Genesis 22, he puts his son Isaac on the altar, and then we read in Genesis 22:15-18:
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possessthe gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” So there we have it, once again God’s plan, through Abraham, in the founding of the covenant community of faith is that the nations would be glad, the nations would be blessed, and that all that went wrong would be set right in this plan of God’s.
And throughout the Old Testament we see this repeatedly, God’s heart for the nations, on Mt. Sinai when the Lord told Moses, this is in Exodus 19:5-6 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me akingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
So what’s gonna be the role of Israel when it comes to the rest of the world? We will serve as priests, we will be the ones that herald the good news of what God is going to do, of what God is going to accomplish at the crossing of the Jordan river- Joshua 4:24 God crosses Israel into the promised land. And He did this that all the peoples of the world might know. At the founding of the Temple, in 1 Kings 8:43 we read “so that all the peoples of the earth might know your name”. Just a cursory reading of the Psalms would have the Psalmist repeatedly saying “the nations, and the great glorious day of the Lord, perpetually painting this picture of the nations gathering around God to make much of God.”
And again, even in the prophets, we see this confirmed yet again, one of my favorites, in Isaiah 45:44 “Turn to me and besaved, you ends of the earth“. And then, we have the incarnation: God in the flesh dwells among us, and He does not deviate off of His plan to redeem and rescue from the nations. In John chapter 10:15-16 “Just as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep, I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice“. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. So, Jesus does not deviate off this Old Testament declaration that the nations will be glad, that the nations will worship our God, that there is, when it’s all said and done, one group of people that God is drawing unto Himself- sons of God, adopted sons of God. So, you have sons of Adam and sons of Christ, and so Christ is not deviating off of this declaration.
In fact, even in Matthew 28:18-20, if you go up to verse 16, you find some hope for you, if you tend to struggle and wrestle with doubts, because the Bible says upon that mountain they worshipped Him, but some doubted. I’ve always marveled at that. You have the resurrection with Christ ascending into glory , and there are those even on the hill, at that time saying, “I don’t know, just not quite sure”. But what we read, starting in verse 18 is “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Now “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” You can just stop right there, because whatever comes next is happening. So now, at this point, it doesn’t matter what is coming next. It doesn’t matter what He says, what the command is, what He’s gonna order for us to do, it’s happening. Why? Because “All authority”. Where? Everywhere. Has been given to whom? “Me,” Christ says and then the command, “19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Remember what the disciples do, they gather in the upper room, they’re praying and waiting for the helper to come? And in Acts chapter 2, the Helper comes and now we’ve got ourselves a completely different ballgame than what we watched with the disciples when they were following Christ. In fact, if you’re really paying attention, the only one who really kind of nails who Jesus is in the Gospels is the demons. Everyone else kind of gets it wrong.
What’s the word on the street? Who do people say that I am? Well, some say that you’re John the Baptist, others say that you’re Elijah. But who do you say that I am. Only Peter gets it right. And the demons cry out “I know who you are, the Holy One of God. You have come to destroy us before the appointed time.” I mean, no dualism in the New Testament when it comes to kingdoms and conflict. No arguments with Christ. No demons say “Make me”. Just ferocious, God besot powerful declaration. When the Holy Spirit falls at Pentecost, Peter stands up and gives the most unseeker friendly sermon in the history of Christianity. And thousands are added to our numbers that day. And we see the Gospel begin to grow, but at this point it’s predominantly, if not entirely a Jewish faith, and then we get Acts chapter 10 & 11, Cornelius of the Italian cohort, a man who has rejected Roman paganism, believes there is one God, not quite sure who that one God is. He’s praying, giving alms, taking care of the poor and he is visited by an angel with very detailed instructions. Simon the tanner in Jaffa, another Simon Peter staying at his house saying, “Go get ‘em and bring him to you”. Simultaneously, around that same time Peter is up on the roof: “Kill, eat,” Peter’s not gonna be fooled again, “Not gonna get me this time. I would never touch that stuff”. “Wrong answer again, Peter”. Can it be unclean if I made it? Kill and eat.
And so, about that time there’s a knock at the door and the soldiers from the Italian cohort grab Peter and bring him to Cornelius where they have, what I believe to be, one of the most awkward exchanges that you find in the Scriptures, where Peter then shows up at Cornelius’s house and then reminds Cornelius that a Jew shouldn’t even be in this house because he is a Gentile. Cornelius unpacks why he sent for Peter, “Look, I was praying, angels showed up…” Then Peter says, “This can only be about one thing”. In that moment, Peter shares the Gospel with Cornelius’s household and they believe, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit, they speak in tongues, they’re baptized. In fact, Peter’s got a little inner turmoil here. “What should we do?” They baptize Cornelius and his household and Peter runs back to report . And the church does what it usually does. It gathers together to vote whether God’s allowed to save the Gentiles. So they get together and they talk about, “Can God do what He just did?” Peter testifies, “All I did was share the Gospel, this one’s not on me”. And then, really, from that moment on, starting in Acts 15 you begin to watch the promise. And here’s what I’m saying, 2013 is such a sweet year to be in because starting in Acts 15, you have Paul and Barnabas separate and go in different directions and it just takes off.
Acts 15 is the Council at Jerusalem, 42 A.D. Mark goes to Egypt and 49 A.D. Paul heads to Turkey. In 51 A.D. Paul heads to Greece, in 52 A.D. the apostle Thomas heads to India. In 54 A.D. Paul heads on his third missionary journey. In 174 A.D., the first Christians are reported in Austria. In 280, the first rural churches emerge in Northern Italy. Now this is significant because Christianity in the first century was predominantly an urban religion. It wasn’t out in the rural areas, and so it wasn’t really until 280 A.D. that we began to see rural churches emerging. Stark says that by 350 A.D., 31.7 million people, roughly 53% of the Roman empire confessed Christ as Lord. So there’s a lot of debate as to who made Christianity? Did Constantine make Christianity or did Christianity make Constantine? In 432 A.D. Patrick heads to Ireland. In 596 A.D. Gregory the Great sends Augustine and a team of missionaries to what is now England to reintroduce the Gospel. The missionaries resettle in Canterbury, and within a year baptize 10,000. In 635 A.D., the first Christian missionaries arrive in China. 740 A.D., Irish monks reach Iceland. In 900 A.D. missionaries reach Norway. By 1200 A.D. the Bible is now available in 22 different languages and in 1498 the first Christians are reported in Kenya. In 1554 there are 1500 converts to Christianity in what is now known as Thailand. In 1630 an attempt is made in the El Paso, Texas area to establish a mission among the Mason Indians. In 1743 David Brainerd starts missions to the North American Indians. In 1845 the Southern Baptist Convention Missionary Organization is founded. In 1853 a group of at least 17 people immigrated to America, accompanied by a group of Danish Baptists, arriving in New York, and later settling in Chicago. On March 5th, 1853 F.O.Nielsen planted the first American Baptist Church in Minneapolis, which was the first church to be planted in the territory of Minnesota, before it became a state in 1858 on this side of the Mississippi River. In 1871, 22 Swedish Christians, who branched off from the First American Baptist Church in Minneapolis planted the first Swedish Baptist Church known today as Bethlehem Baptist Church. The reason for this new church plant was to take the Gospel to a rapidly growing number of Swedish immigrants in Minneapolis. (Chandler goes through the succession of churches that leads up to Bethlehem)(17:00)
You and me, friend, God had us in mind when He pulled Abram aside and said, “I’m gonna fix this”. And really, at every place along the way, according to Ephesians 1, according to Romans 8, God was coming to rescue me and you. And we are caught up in something so much bigger than most of us can get our heads around and all over the world today, what I just did was such a cursory sad attempt at a linear attacking of our history, but I find it to be marvelous, even in its smallness. In fact, if present trends continue, by 2025 there will be 633 million Christians in Africa, 640 million in South America, and 460 million in Asia. This is what you and I are caught up in, this is our history. This is what’s happening right now, on this day, all over the world. Men and women have gathered, they have preached the Scriptures, they have taken holy communion and they have rejoiced in the God of their salvation. And our family is much bigger than this, and God is at work and He is moving and He is saving. There’s no such thing as a closed country, anybody picking up on this- there’s a lot of Iranian pastors being arrested this year? Seems like God’s doing some pretty good work in a country that doesn’t have any work.
And yet, still, so much to do. You see, you and I, we find our lives playing out in what the reformers call the narrow space, what we call the already, but not yet. See, the prophet Isaiah speaks of this day that’s coming for you and me, friend, where the desert blooms with roses. Where the mountaintops produce sweet wine. Where the wolf will lay down with the lamb and they will dine together. And then, the clarity on that, the next verse is ‘and the lion will chew hay like the oxen.’ And the apostle Paul says these weak frail bodies of ours will be replaced. That what is perishable will be imperishable, we’ll be raised in honor and you get this picture from the word of God of a renewed world with renewed bodies, reigning and ruling alongside the king of glory, having no ceiling on our worship. See, there have been times when I have heard the Word of God proclaimed, we begun to sing to God and I have felt all my emotions hindered, I felt like I hit a ceiling, that either my legs got tired or my voice couldn’t get loud enough. I felt like I was gonna explode, and in my heart I couldn’t be contained, in this gangly body God gave me. And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 God’s gonna fix that for me. And God’s gonna fix that for you. And there’ll be a day, unfettered with the constraints of this mortal body. We will make much of Jesus together.
But today, we’re in the space between, today we’re in the space ‘already, but not yet’. So you exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all peoples, through Jesus Christ.