Having withdrawn with His disciples Jesus quotes Isaiah 42:1-4 about Himself saying;
“This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet. “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope”.” Matthew 12:17-21
Through the prophet Isaiah God proclaimed that in His servant Jesus, the nations would put their hope. My focus in today’s post is “Hope” within the context of what the Bible repeatedly refers to as “the nations”. The Bible uses this word “nations” (in Greek ‘ethnos’ and in Hebrews ‘gowy’) over 500 times. From the first to the last pages of the Bible the nations have always been central to God’s purposes. Today I want us to take a brief journey through this emphasis on the nations and share a little from our experience of what God is doing in the nations.
God’s promises and the nations: Abraham
When God created mankind He blessed us (Genesis 1:28). As we start our journey on the nations we begin with God’s subsequent promises of blessing to Abraham. God promised him that He would make him into “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Moreover God said He would make him the “Father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). Equally central is the concept of ‘blessing’ and in these verses God promises that He would bless Abraham and make him a blessing. God said that ALL peoples [or nations] on earth would be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:3). The line of the seed of Abraham is traced through Genesis in the tribe of Judah, “until He comes to whom the sceptre belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:10). Even here the obedience of the nations is in clear focus.
The nation of Israel: God’s chosen people
God keeps his promise to Abraham’s descendants and they become the ‘nation of Israel’, God’s chosen people. God says that He did not choose Israel because they were more numerous but because they were the fewest – because He loved them (Deuteronomy 7:1-8). Yet God also made clear that there were some conditions attached to His promises; God would bless them as a people if they obeyed Him and kept His covenant with them (Deuteronomy 28-30). They did not keep however His covenant and in Judges 2:20-23 God says that they had violated His covenant. If you know your Bible history you will know that after King David and King Solomon the Kingdom was divided. As punishment for their idolatry and wickedness Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrian’s (and did not return) while Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians (but did return). God was faithful and kept a remnant of His people who when the exiles returned from Babylon went onto restore the walls of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
Jesus hope for the nations
There was still however a great hope for God’s people! God’s plans and heart for His people cannot be thwarted;
This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? Isaiah 14:26-27
This great hope is Jesus Christ (the ‘root of Jesse’) and Jesus is the key to God’s plans for the whole world. God says “the nations will rally to Him” (Isaiah 11:10). He will bring justice (Isaiah 42:1), righteousness & salvation to the nations, a light to the gentiles that he may bring salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6, 51:4-5). God speaks of restoration and renewal (Isaiah 61:4-5) and God’s people will be ministers of God and priests of the LORD (Isaiah 61:6). Through Jesus God is drawing to Himself a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” Why? So that we might “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
God’s heart for the nations: Heirs of the promise
In some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples it is also clear that the nations are still in view. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells the disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations”. In Matthew 24:14 and Luke 24:45-48 Jesus is clear that the gospel will be “preached in the whole world” and “preached in His name to all nations”. We see this beginning to be worked out in Acts 2:1-12 when we see people from many nations turning to Jesus. There are people present from the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and from islands, sea, coasts, and inland countries. Each of these people are then uniquely equipped to take the gospel back to their own nations and their own people groups. God’s promises to His people are now being worked out through the heirs of the promise; Abraham’s spiritual descendants. Galatians 3:29 says “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” If we know Jesus we are heirs of the promises of God.
A great multitude will praise God forever
In the book of Revelation (in which John describes the vision God gave him) the nations are again in focus and we see a great multitude of people coming together from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9, 7:9, and 14:6).
“And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10
This great multitude John describes is too many for anyone to count and represents the huge diversity of God’s creation and God’s heart for the nations, for all peoples. God is bringing His people together, a people who will be a Kingdom, priests to serve Him, people who would reign on the earth. This multitude is not alone because God is with them and His dwelling is amongst them. He will live with them and they will be His people. If we know Jesus our future is with God as part of this multitude from every nation and people.
The nations are here amongst us
This amazing world has over 6 billion people of different cultures and languages. In the United Kingdom the reality is that the nations are all around us. Even a brief sample of the diversity of languages I hear in the school playground tell me that the nations are no longer far away but right on our doorsteps. Students from all over the world are studying at our Universities. Increasingly we are living in a diverse multi-cultural society. We don’t necessarily have to “go” to the nations because the nations are coming to us. I think of the huge blessing that International students have been to our ministry over the years but with even more excitement I think of the countries that they have gone back to and the blessing that they have subsequently been back there. Wow. What an opportunity…
Going to the nations
That said a short or long term overseas mission experience is of huge worth. It will challenge your preconceived ideas and give you a broader understanding of people. This may be uncomfortable at times but is a huge opportunity to develop your own heart for the nations. My first experience of cross cultural mission came in 2001 when I visited the countries of Poland and Ukraine. It was a great time which had huge impact on me but it was not until I started visiting Norway and Latvia in 2006 that I really started to appreciate God’s heart for the nations. I have since been back to Norway every summer and I visited Latvia 3-4 times a year between 2006 and 2012. In Norway we have been involved with a Disciple-making project, Elvheim which is a former Youth Hostel. In that house are flags of the countries of the people who have visited. There are many! It is a place in which we have seen and experienced together the outworking of Isaiah 12:4-5;
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.”
We have seen many lives changed both in terms of the people we have taken with us and the people we have been working with. My suspicion however is that the biggest impact has been on us and in developing in our hearts something of God’s heart for the nations.
To the nations and beyond
The nations have always been and always will be a huge part of how God is working out His purposes. We can look back at how God promised Abraham to make him into a great nation, a nation that would be blessed to be a blessing. We can see how God was faithful to His promises and grew His people into the ‘nation of Israel’. Ultimately however we can see how from that blood-line came one who would be the hope of the nations, namely Jesus. Now we live in a time when the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being taken to every nation and people-group but there are still those who have not heard. We also live in a time of expectant waiting for that moment when Jesus will return and God the Father will bring together a multitude from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” What a blessing it is to be involved in God’s purposes for the nations!
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10