In the late 1700’s, a young English shoemaker, read "The Last Voyage of Captain Cook" and was fascinated. That book sparked his interest, and he found himself suddenly curious about people all over the world. He began to read any book he could lay his hands on. He placed a world map on the wall next to his cobbler bench and wrote every bit of information he could find about people and places beyond England. Also being a Pastor and a teacher, he became enthusiastic as well as concerned. What will happen to these people if no one ever reaches them and they never hear about Jesus Christ? Although the Danish-Halle and Moravian missionaries were already at work at that time, the prevailing view of the church was that the Great Commission -- Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them…” -- was no longer a mandate for Christians.
At a ministerial meeting where he asked if they could discuss the implications of the Great Commission, he was told by an elder, "Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine."
Although his elders attempted to discourage him, he wrote an 87 page book in 1792 arguing that God’s mandate to early Christians was not only still relevant, but it was a major obligation of the Christian walk. Some say that William Carey’s "Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians" was not only the "first and greatest missionary treatise in the English language," but that it deserves a place alongside Martin Luther’s Ninety Five Thesis. In May of 1792 he preached his famous sermon based on Isaiah 54, in which he coined the now famous couplet, "Expect Great things from God; Attempt Great things for God." Today Carey is recognized as the "father of Protestant missions."
What in the world -- or in God’s Word -- was motivating this young man?
The Great Commandment is that we Love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind." This Great Command is played out in the Great Commission. It is not an option, but a vital role in our expression of love for our God.
The Bible begins with the first eleven chapters in Genesis introducing the Universe, then the Earth, then Adam, the father of the human race, and finally Abraham, the father of the chosen race. In the first three chapters, God moves quickly from creation of all things by one God, with all humans in his likeness, to our rebellion and his judgment. The next eight chapters succinctly describe the destructive results of our fall. Gen. 12:1-3 comes then, at a time when society is deteriorating.
This is the earliest point in the Bible where God states His missionary purpose and vision. The Lord, speaking to Abraham, said,
"Leave your country, your people, and your father’s people and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse: and all people’s on earth will be blessed through you."
God’s whole purpose is summarized here, in perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible.
Instead of revealing His will in the form of a command, God revealed his purpose – to bless the world - in the form of a promise that was both personal and global. The emphasis was more on what God would do and the outcome he desired rather than what Abraham needed to accomplish.
Further, the promise reveals God’s intentions at each stage of fulfillment. New Testament writer’s understood the Old Testament to have fulfillment in the past, present and future. Our God of history partially fulfilled the promise in the past during Abraham’s time with the birthing of Israel. As our God of Covenant, the promise was wholly fulfilled in the present through the gift of Jesus Christ. Finally, as God of Mission, it will be perfectly fulfilled in the future with the end of the age: the coming kingdom.
Don’t be too disturbed by God’s promise to also make Abraham’s name great. This is in contrast to man’s attempts to make his own name great. The fact is that significance doesn’t come from creating our own security and prestige, but from being a blessing to others. It’s more than our duty, it is our purpose.
Scripture following Genesis 12:1-3 continues emphasizing the promise and its implications, making it all clearer. God did not use an obligating contract to force His people to serve him as missionaries. Instead, He desires that we will serve through loving obedience. This is why Abraham’s faith was so important. Abraham freely obeyed in faith, leaving his father’s family, his people, and going out into the world. Following Chapter 12, the promise, including the blessing to other nations, is repeated in Gen. 18:18. Then in Genesis 22 Abraham again shows his faith by obediently offering up his son to the Lord. Immediately after this act of obedience, in verses 16-18, God declares that because of this obedience, he will bless Abraham and make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and adds, "and through your offspring all nations on earth will be Blessed because you have obeyed me."
The promise is repeated again to Jacob in 26:4 and 28:14.
Throughout the rest of the Bible, this significant verse and its meaning is intertwined with the message that God has a purpose and promise for all people, everywhere. In the New Testament, the Great Commission uses the Greek phrase, "Panta te ethne." This is usually translated as "all nations", but the phrase is better translated as "all the peoples", and would not have been understood by the first listeners as referring to geographical countries. Furthermore, the word "ethnos" in singular form is never used to refer to Gentiles in general. It always refers to a people group and more specifically, ethnicities defined by language or culture. The Bible is not just a collection of unrelated stories for the enriching our own personal lives; It’s a very clear message of God’s ultimate intent. Examples:
Ex 19:4-6, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (What does it mean to be priests but to minister to others?)
Psalm 67, "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him."
Matthew 28: 18-20, -- The Great Commission -- "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Mark 16:15, "Go out into all the world and preach the good news".
Luke 24:46-47, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sin will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."
Acts 1:8, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Missionary scholars equate this to ministering in your home community, in a close or similar community, or in a completely different culture.
The mandate isn’t limited to these verses. The mission mandate is seen throughout the entire Bible. God’s concern and gift of salvation for all people is evidenced in the books of Jonah, Ruth, Isaiah, and many others. Solomon’s temple was even built with a court for the Gentiles to worship in.
What also should be noted is that the first eleven chapters, which the promise immediately follows, are not related to a single people group. God’s initial promise to Abraham is preceded in Chapter 10 by a listing of the 70 nations on the earth. Those initial nations weren’t distinguished by geographical boundaries, but by clans and ancestors. What was being identified wasn’t nation states, but people groups, even “family” groups. The Hebrew word interpreted as "Nation" can also mean "gentile ","people", or “families.”
Interestingly, in April 2001, the Atlantic Monthly carried an article called “The Genetic Archaeology of Race” which reported scientific confirmation that a small group of people are the ancestors of every person alive today. Genetic researchers have shown that all human beings are incredibly similar genetically and there is no special gene to determine race. The differences we see in people are merely the differences one finds in families; meaning, the simple differences in hair color, bone structure and skin tone. Mr. Craig Venter of Celera Genomics stated, "Race has no genetic or scientific basis." In other words, there is no such thing.
“All the families of the Earth" is a reference that flies higher than racial pride and narrow nationalism. God is the Creator of "all the families on Earth."
In these earliest chapters of the Bible, it is shown that God’s rewards are available to all who believe and obey. However, they also reflect how we humans are most interested in obtaining recognition and pleasure for ourselves. This is the setting that leads up to Genesis 12:1-3. God rescues human beings by choosing from them one man and his family to bring the good news.
Abraham and his seed weren’t blessed because they were better than everyone else. Abraham wasn’t chosen because he was perfect. Remember, he had some character issues --- including struggles with deceit and fear. But God chose this one man and his family so that all the families on earth would be blessed. Why? Abraham was chosen because of his heart-felt faith. Deep held Faith is what is needed in this harsh world if one is going to be a Blessing to others, and the promise came for the purpose of Abraham and his seed being a Blessing to the rest of the world.
God so loves the world - His ultimate purpose is to eliminate all evil and have full relationship with men. And this is the key - worship of God eradicates evil. God desires worship to come to Him from every nation because it is in this way that evil will be expunged from every people group. Psalm 67 reveals that God’s one singular purpose is to be glorified in worship.
The promise is that through Abraham’s seed all the nations be blessed. Who are Abraham’s seed? Who are the people’s that are intended to bless all other peoples?
Romans 9:8 states, "In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring."
That straightforward statement from the New Testament seems to contradict long held beliefs from the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament itself relates that not all of Abraham’s birth children or descendant’s were included as part of the promise. Neither Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael, nor Rebekah’s first-born, Esau, although they were both physical descendents of Abraham, inherited the promise. Through out the Old Testament, we see that many descendants of Israel ended up out of God’s favor, and instead earned His wrath. Many times throughout history only a remnant of Israel remained.
The Apostle Paul goes on to write that many Israelites have not received righteousness because they pursued it by works, not by faith. He states that many Gentiles, on the other hand, have received righteousness because of their faith. This faith shown by God’s chosen is the same faith shown by Abraham when he went to sacrifice his son.
Paul points out in Romans 9:25-26 that Hosea prophesied, "I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my love one." And, "It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.” Paul states that the children of Abraham are those elected by God, through God’s sovereign freedom to do so.
Galatians 3:6-9 also states, "Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."
How is Abraham’s seed to bless the Nations? By spreading the Good News of God’s promise and discipling people of faith.
Jonah is an example of how NOT to do it. One of God’s people, but lazy and self-centered, he had no heart for the Gentiles. He was angry when God showed Nineveh mercy and used crafty methods to try to evade God’s wishes. Johan thought only of himself, the exact opposite of what God calls us to do. The seventh scene in Jonah, chapter 4:1-4, shows us that the greatest hurdle to overcome in Jonah’s missionary task wasn’t the sailors, big fish or even Nineveh, but his own attitudes. Jonah’s sin was that although one of God’s people, he didn’t have the heart for it and wasn’t obedient to God’s call and direction. Jonah is an example to all of us who want the benefit of Christianity -- but none of the responsibility.
On the other hand, Paul was motivated by the hope that God would be glorified among the nations. In Romans 15:8, Paul writes, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God…" (and on)
Finally, our ability to carry out the mandate: Jesus said in the Great Commission, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me... … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." If this is a factor in our lives, does any other factor matter?
First AND MOST IMPORTANT – Glory will be given to God.
Second, there will be a blessing of salvation for all people. "All people’s on earth will be blessed through you."
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship." Rom. 12:1
God’s purpose for his glory in global worship, according to one great professor, is to redeem a people from every people and to rule a kingdom over all kingdoms. We need to see ourselves for who we are: His servants, working together as one people in Christ for His purposes and glory. We need to be “Global Christians with a Global View because we have a Global God.” Making disciples is part of the mandated walk of each and every Christian. If we agree that this is mandatory for our lives, what action steps do we take? God has given each of us specific gifts to help us fulfill the specific role He has for us in His kingdom. One mission teacher asked, “Has God told anyone in this room NOT to do discipling or mission work? If He has not told you NOT to, then the mandate stands for you to disciple."
So is He is calling you to serve as a support person, or to contribute to the Churches Great Commission Fund, or to pray for the workers on the field? If He is calling you out as a worker, is He calling you to work right here in your hometown Jerusalem, or in a close and similar "Samaria" community, or is it in a completely different land at the ends of the Earth?
Let us all pray that God will give us all a missionary mind-set, showing us the gifts we have been given for that purpose and just how and where he wants us to use those gifts.