I want to begin today by reviewing the past four messages and filling in some other parts of God’s outreach to the world.
God called out Abram to begin the Missionary Mandate — that all the families of the earth would be blessed in Abram and his descendants. I don’t know of any recorded family/nation that worshiped Yahweh during the time after the flood between the end of Noah’s line and Abram. However, there were some out there. We know that because during Abram’s lifetime he was met by the priest of God most high. Also called the king of Salem who brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram. This happened after Abram had led a successful rescue of his nephew Lot and other captives from Sodom and Gomorrah!
Immediately after that experience the Lord God came to Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1 and following). During that encounter God enlarged Abram’s understanding of what was meant by blessing all families.
God promised Abram that his descendants would be given the land of Canaan. They would be held in captivity for 400 years waiting for the time when the iniquity of the Amorites would be complete. We know now that captivity would be in Egypt when Abram’s grandson, Jacob, followed his son Joseph into Egypt and they settled in the best part of the land because Joseph had rescued the Egyptians from starvation. After 400+ years the Bible tells us that “there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8). It was time for the people of God, (descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) to move on. In order for them to give up the best part of the land of Egypt God allowed them to become slaves! After some time as slaves they were fairly eager to go to wherever God sent them.
In order for the blessing of Abraham to spread across the world there needed to be a home base. That would be the land of Israel!
However, the message did not easily spread. Instead, the Jewish nation circled the wagons and separated themselves from all the surrounding nations. God gave them plenty of opportunity to see what he meant when he stated in the Missionary Mandate that he would bless all nations through Abram.
When Moses led Israel out of Egypt the word of God tells us that “A mixed multitude also went up with them” (Exodus 12:38). From the very beginning of the nation of Israel they were blessing people who were not their own.
During the years Moses was waiting for the right time to bring the people out of Egypt he lived with the priest of Midian, married his daughter, and fathered two sons that were of mixed blood.
In the years of the conquest of Canaan one of the nations, the Gibeonites, made peace with Joshua and became intermixed with the Jews. They became one of the first blessed nations. I’m fairly sure there were more.
When Rahab and her family joined with the Israelites at Jericho they also were not descendants of Abraham. In fact, Rahab is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. She was one of the women listed in Jesus’ genealogy who were not Israelites. Ruth was a Moabite and also the great grandmother of David the king. Bathsheba the mother of David’s son, Solomon, was possibly a Hittite — her first husband certainly was.
These came into the family to be blessed by the descendants of Abraham. Again and again throughout the Old Testament we have non-Israelites mixed into the Jewish race. As time passed instead of becoming more open to the Gentiles the Israelites became more insulated.
By the time of the birth of Jesus the ruling party, who were called Pharisees, had created a whole set of laws designed to keep them from mixing with other races. As Jesus went through his ministry as a human on earth he demonstrated an attitude of inclusion towards Gentiles. Jesus intentionally spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well. He also spent a couple of days at her village. Something no Jew would have voluntarily done.
When Jesus used human interest stories in his preaching he made a point of bringing in one called “the Good Samaritan”. In it he described how a man was beaten. He was left in a ditch to die only to be passed up by a priest and a Levite. He was rescued and taken care of by a hated Samaritan.
The very last words that Jesus spoke on earth is called the great commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” (Matthew 28:18-20). Clearly, Jesus is saying to them, “Not just the Jews! Make disciples of all nations!” No words could be clearer. “Make disciples of all nations!” There were two angels who witnessed Jesus’ departure from Earth and his disciples receiving instructions from Jesus. Instructions that they did not immediately obey.
They had no problem being his witness in Jerusalem and Judea. They seemed to draw the line at Samaria and the end of the earth. Following Jesus’ directions they waited in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost. On that day the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples of Jesus. It happened, coincidentally, to be a day when men would be in Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire. They were Jews or Gentile proselytes. Many of those who were saved that day must’ve gone back across the Empire carrying the gospel with them. I do not know of any record of the events of those new believers. For those who stayed in Jerusalem, beginning that day and going on for the next several months, or perhaps years, Jesus’ apostles and other disciples ministered to thousands who came to faith in Christ. They really did an effective job of witnessing to their own people.
The church in Jerusalem was organized to meet the needs of their people. The apostles chose a replacement for Judas. Then they chose seven men to take care of the needs of the widows. In doing so they were freeing the apostles to pray and preach. With the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost there was a new opportunity for the apostles to get on with reaching all the world but they still centered on Jerusalem.
There was a growing hostility by the Pharisees and their allies against the new church. That hostility led to one of the seven, Stephen, being executed and to the scattering of the church throughout Judea and Samaria. (Acts 8:1)
Incidentally, a young man named Saul witnessed that execution and approved of it. He became the ringleader of the opposition.
Another member of the seven, Philip, began to openly preach in Samaria. He was pretty safe there since the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. When the apostles heard about Phillip’s successful ministry they sent a delegation of two, Peter and John, to check out the situation. These two did preach the gospel to the Samaritans but they were on their way home to Jerusalem while doing so.
Philip was given the opportunity to meet with, and witness to, an official of the Queen of Ethiopia. Planting a witness in Africa to get on with reaching the world.
Meanwhile, Saul was taking arrest warrants to Damascus when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road. That encounter started Saul on the path to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles and kings of the earth. The record of that event is found in Acts 9.
Even though the apostles had not really reached out beyond Jerusalem and Judea God’s Holy Spirit was preparing a way to get them involved. Peter was visiting with a friend in Joppa. While he was in prayer one day he was called by God to go to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. Luke told the story in Acts 10-11. During that encounter Peter was convinced that God had broken down the wall that divided the Jews and Gentiles. Perhaps he remembered a day several years before when he followed Jesus into Capernaum. A centurion met them and pleaded with Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus said he would go with him the Roman replied, Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Matthew 8:8-9). That officer caused Jesus to marvel at his reply. Then Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
(Matthew 8:10-12). Matthew noted that the servant was healed at that very moment.
That occasion strengthened the hatred of the Jewish leaders. Look at it!, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be spending time with Gentiles while the sons of the kingdom would be outcasts.
At about the same time, those who were scattered because of the persecution, went as far as Antioch in Syria. There, a great number of Gentiles were coming into the earthly kingdom of God. When the apostles heard of this they sent Barnabas to investigate. After he saw what was going on Barnabas remembered that Saul had been sent back to his home in Tarsus some 14 years before. So he went to Tarsus and brought Saul back to help with the work in Antioch. Apparently he forgot he was supposed to report back to the church in Jerusalem. He settled into ministry in Antioch. During a time of prayer and fasting the leadership of the church in Antioch were instructed by the Spirit to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a new work.
That was the first intentional missionary journey that we know of. Barnabas and Saul, accompanied by John Mark, traveled to Cyprus, and several different cities in the territory of the modern-day country of Turkey. During that journey Saul began to use his Roman name, “Paul”. John Mark left the team along the way.
They returned to the church in Antioch and settled into ministry there. A problem arose when some men came down from Judea who claimed that a person cannot be saved unless they follow the custom of Moses. Specifically, men who were coming to faith from the Gentile world would have to be circumcised as Moses had commanded. Let’s look at Luke’s account: But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. (Acts 15:1-3).
Paul and Barnabas had witnessed the breaking down of the wall of separation and had no intention of allowing it to be built again. I am not sure what Luke meant by “no small dissension”. They certainly made an effort to solve the problems being raised by these Judaizers. After failing to settle the issue in Antioch they determined to take it to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us whether the Judaizers traveled to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas. It seems to me they probably were not because they were able to meet with Christians along the way. The team was able to pass through Phoenicia and Samaria unhindered by dissension. On that journey they described the conversion of the Gentiles. And the believers rejoiced.
Luke continues his account: When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:4-5).
After that introduction the elders in Jerusalem met and considered the problem. Peter recounted his experience with Cornelius and the Romans and encouraged the council to accept the work of Paul and Barnabas as the work of God. Then James, the half-brother of Jesus, stood and pronounced the verdict. “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’ 19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.
Each of the four practices took place regularly in Gentile culture and pagan worship. James then put together a letter listing these directions and commended the four conditions to the Gentiles. When the delegates returned to Antioch the people rejoiced in the freedom from the Jewish rules.
Let’s finish up today with another walk down the Roman road.
All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory — Romans 3:23
The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord — Romans 6:23.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. – Romans 10:9.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. — 2 Corinthians 5:20.
Sin always has evil consequences. Just as Adam and Eve were promised a wonderful world of knowledge by disobeying God. Satan promises good things for us. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season.
But seasons always come to an end.
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? Today could be your day.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.