When we talk about having a heart for something, what we usually mean is that we are passionate about it and it therefore takes a significant place in both our thinking and behaviour. This post is about having a heart for the world – a truly global vision expressed both in how we talk and how we walk.
In the last instalment in this series on the Nations (see post), we saw how Scripture looked forward to the Servant of the Lord, the hope of the nations who would step into our world. Those Old Testament prophecies are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ and that is the focus of this post. In His life we see something of His heart for the nations. Both Jesus’ ministry itself, and the commission that He later gave to His disciples bear out the hallmarks of this vision to reach the world. He invested deeply in the few in order that they would be able to replicate what He had done with them and in time see the gospel going out to the whole world.
Snapshot #1: A Faith to demonstrate (Matthew 8:5-13)
Soon after preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records an encounter that Jesus has with a Roman centurion who came to him for help. He explained that his servant was suffering terribly and so Jesus offered to heal him. The centurion however told Jesus that he did not deserve to have Jesus under his roof, and so instead asked Jesus to say the word heal his servant. He wanted Jesus to just say the word and explained that he also was a man under authority. Jesus was amazed at this response and declared that He had not found anyone in all Israel with such great faith.
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”Matthew 8:10-12
What is very interesting in this encounter is that Jesu (a) had time for this gentile and then (b) the nature of what Jesus then says in v11-12. In these verses, Jesus anticipates that many non-Israelites (gentiles) will come to the feast with the great Patriarchs in the Kingdom of heaven. In contrast the subjects of the Kingdom itself (Israel) will be thrown out. Jesus is turning the established order on its head and now He invites all who would believe on Him in faith.
Snapshot #2: A Calling to follow (Matthew 28:16-20)
We now jump to the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus life. There in chapter 28 we find Jesus giving His disciples what we refer to as the Great Commission. A commission is defined as “a warrant conferring authority to those being commissioned”. At this point Jesus had risen from the dead and was making a series of appearances to His disciples. With these words Matthew concludes His account:
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”Matthew 28:16-20
There can be no doubt that Jesus’ heart is truly global because He instructs them to go and make disciples of all nations. Like Abraham this going may involve moving to a new place and possibly even crossing cultures. However the word used literally means as you go, meaning that Jesus primarily sees us working out this commission during the course of our daily lives. Modern day UK cities are increasingly multicultural and there are many nations already on our doorsteps – the nations are coming to us.
Jesus’ method for reaching these nations is through disciples who in turn make disciples of others and so on and so forth. Jesus describes a process of baptising these new disciples into the name of Father, Son and Spirt and teaching them all that Jesus had passed onto them. For the gospel to keep advancing it is necessary for disciples to continue passing on the baton to new generations. The gospel should not hit a roadblock with us, but rather should overflow into the lives of the people we live, work and do life with.
Brian Blacklock, a friend of mine, described the the Great Commission as “mind-blowing in its reach, global in its thinking, generational its outlook and it spans the centuries.” In our third snapshot, we will begin to see how the gospel started to spread at some pace through the lives of the people that Jesus invested deeply in during His lifetime.
Snapshot #3: A power to receive (Acts)
The third snapshot pushes us into the story of the early church in the book of Acts. Jesus appeared again to the disciples and He told them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received the gift which the Father had promised:
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:4-8
This gift is actually a person, God the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that all believers would be baptised by Him. His coming at Pentecost would mean that they would receive power to enable them to be Jesus’ witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The rest of the book of Acts is the story of how the gospel does just that as it becomes a global phenomenon.
To Jerusalem (Acts 2):
In the next chapter we read how the gospel began to impact Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers at Pentecost. Interestingly Luke is at pains to point out that God fearing Jews from every nation under Heaven were staying in Jerusalem that day. With that in mind it is very interesting to read that these people then heard their own languages being spoken when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Some concluded that they were drunk on wine, but then Peter took centre stage. The man who not long before had denied his Lord and Saviour three times is all of a sudden preaching to the masses. We are told in v41 that those who accepted the message were baptised and about 3,000 became believers that day alone! What an impact this must have had both in Jerusalem but also further afield as these people filtered back to their homes!
To Judea & Samaria (Acts 8):
Of all things it is persecution which acts as the catalyst to propel the gospel onwards. Luke writes in Acts 8:1 that “…a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” This persecution was at the hands of Saul (later the Apostle Paul) who stood and gave his approval after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. This great scattering led to opportunities for Philip in Samaria who encountered Simon the Sorcerer. We are also told at this time that Peter and John preached in many Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25).
To the Gentiles (Acts 10):
Even after all that the Holy Spirit had been doing in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria it wasn’t until Acts 10 that we see a change in the early churches attitude towards the gentiles. Specifically, God orchestrated events to convince Peter that His heart was truly for both Jew and Gentile alike. So, first of all God spoke to Cornelius (another God-fearing Roman Centurion) and instructed him to send for Peter. Simultaneously, God gave Peter a vision of a large sheet coming down from heaven filled with all kinds of animals. In the vision God told Peter to kill and eat. He protested that he would not eat anything unclean but God told him “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).
After that Cornelius’ men came to the door and told him that an angel had told them to invite Peter to visit Cornelius in Joppa. When Peter arrived he told them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (10:28). Peter went on saying: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right (10:34-34). Before long we read that the Holy Spirit descends on Cornelius and his whole household and then they are baptised. This is all reported back to the church in Jerusalem and the gospel continues to advance to the Gentiles through the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, who along with Barnabas, is commissioned to go to the Gentiles, by the Church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3).
Here am I, Send Me
I want to finish with some words from Isaiah that are very challenging! These words are Isaiah’s own commissioning and in it he describes his own vision of God who is high, exalted and seated on a throne. John writing a long time later says that Isaiah “saw Jesus’ glory” (John 12:41). This leaves Isaiah only too aware of his own sinfulness and he felt very inadequate. God however speaks into this and assures him that his sin has been atoned for.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”Isaiah 6:5-7
Then in v8 we hear the Lord asking “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” What we have seen in this post is that God’s heart for the nations is worked out through a call to go and make disciples. In a similar way to what Isaiah experienced, God is still asking who shall He send? The question for us is will we respond in the way that Isaiah did with the words “Here am I. Send me.”
See other posts in this series
- Blessing the Nations (Vision)
- A Chosen Nation (Love)
- The Rise and Fall of nations (Idolatry)
- Hope of the Nations (Saviour)
- Heart for the world (Disciples)
- All Nations (Eternity)