We have seen in the last few weeks that God gave a commission, or a mandate, to Abram while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. At that time the only apparent contact with God was through the spoken word. God told Abram, “If you will trust me and obey me I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:1-2). And along with the personal blessing there was a general blessing covering the entire earth. We find the general blessing in Genesis 12:3 “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.”
This promise, that all the families of the earth shall be blessed, was the goal of a divine plan. It would be about 2000 years before that promise would begin to be completely fulfilled. God not only chose a man, he chose a people as well. Taking the promise forward from Abram through Isaac, his son, and Jacob his grandson God began to prepare for his promise to be completely fulfilled. God, through Joseph, brought Jacob and his extended family from Canaan to Egypt where they would live 400 years.
God had a plan before he created the universe. I wish I could tell you exactly what that plan is. This massive universe is made up of a countless number of stars many of them with planets circling them. Some of those planets seem to be made of the kind of stuff humans need to live. The distances are so great there is little reason to hope that mankind will be able to travel beyond our galaxy. Or, for that matter beyond our solar system. I don’t know why God created such a massive structure as the universe. One thing I am sure of, we are not involved in some unbelievably large science experiment. It is enough to know that God has a plan for the people of earth, and its immediate vicinity (Matthew 24:31; Deuteronomy 30:4). Habakkuk and Isaiah, two Old Testament prophets, both spoke of the time when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).
It is enough that we understand that God has the will and the resources to accomplish His plan. When God intervened in the life of Abram he gave him a promise with a condition. “I will make of you a great nation! I will bless you and make your name great.” (Genesis 12:1-3). This promise was repeated on the condition that Abram obey God. In Genesis 22:18, God said. “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Abram was 75 years old when God’s first recorded interaction with him occurred. He was 99 years old in a later encounter. God seems to enjoy using people that would not expect to be usable. Beginning with the promise to one man we see the unfolding of his plan throughout the Bible. The promise to make a great nation out of Abraham’s offspring requires time to fulfill. The lineage of Abraham got off to a slow start. Abraham, with Sarah his wife, produced Isaac and Isaac, with Rachel, produced the twins Esau and Jacob. Jacob fathered 12 sons but even with that productivity it was going to take a long time to make a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. So God sent Joseph into Egypt as a slave so that he might become Prime Minister of Egypt. From that position Joseph was able to settle Israel in the best part of the land. In a sense they were “parked” until the iniquity of the Amorites would be complete (Genesis 15:16). During their time in Egypt the Israelites grew to be more than 600,000 men, plus women and children. When the nations occupying the land of Canaan became sufficiently evil God raised up a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. That King made slaves of the descendants of Jacob. After a period of time as slaves the people were willing to go with Moses. God would not take the land of Canaan away from good people in order to settle Jacob’s descendants in it but he would take it away from ungodly people. The suffering of Israel and the iniquity of the Amorites dovetailed in time.
We must remember that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens without God’s attention. He is never taken by surprise because he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:8-10).
The completion of the Missionary Mandate given to Abraham in Genesis is witnessed to in Revelation.
In Revelation 5:9 we find this praise song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,”
As the vision given to John expanded he saw a great multitude! this is found in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Now, how do we get from the initial mandate to the multitude in heaven?
First, we must recognize the fact that there have always been followers of the true God. Even during the days of Abraham there were other followers of Yahweh. When Lot was taken captive, along with many people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham went out to rescue him. After the successful rescue, as Abraham’s fighting force was returning home, they were met by a very special person. Melchizedek was identified as the king of Salem. Just as Jesus would be known as the Prince of Peace. Abraham was a priest of God Most High.
Later, Moses met the priest of Midian, while he was waiting in the wilderness for the right time to lead the people out of Egypt.
There are repeated instances that indicate the family of Abraham wasn’t the only family on earth that worshiped God. There is no indication that these people were aware of God’s missionary plan. Instead, there was a strong indication that God’s people did not want to share him with anybody. After the 12 tribes became a single nation they still did not attempt to evangelize any of their neighbors. The opportunity to do so seems to have come with the kingdom under Solomon. Solomon built the magnificent temple and ruled in peace over a large territory reaching from the borders of Egypt to the Euphrates River. Solomon had influence all over the world but he did nothing to bless the nations spiritually.
That failure could very easily be an explanation of why the Jewish nation did not survive. In order to get the attention of the people God allowed them to be led away into captivity. They were given plenty of opportunities to bless the surrounding nations. The problem was they did not worship God faithfully and thereby bless each other. They were so neglectful that more than once they actually lost the Bible! When God allowed them to be taken into captivity they learned to despise the gods of their captors. When they were allowed to return to the land they were determined to be faithful to God.
During the years they were without a temple they set up a synagogue system. The synagogues were pretty much operated by a religious party called the Pharisees.
Alongside the Missionary Mandate there was the promise of the Messiah! Moses promised the people that in the future there would be a prophet like him. Deuteronomy 18:15 records the words of Moses, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen”.
This promised Prophet would be remembered and about 1500 years later people would ask John the Baptist if he was that prophet! They were living in expectation of the Messiah.
Finally! The fullness of time came! Paul explained to the Galatians this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The first hint of the coming of the prophet Moses had spoken of occurred at the Temple. Zechariah, one of the older priests, went into the Temple to carry out the rituals of the day. He was confronted by the angel Gabriel who told him that his wife would have a son and they would name him John. His wife, Elizabeth, was barren and they had given up any hope of having a son. The angel told him that his prayer had been heard. I believe that comment came from the beginning of his life with Elizabeth. When they married they wanted children and they prayed for a child. Well, God gave them much more than a son. God gave them the prophet that would announce the coming Messiah. John would introduce the Promised One that mankind had ignorantly been waiting for. Not just a prophet but the Son of God. Ordinarily kings are born in palaces. This King was born in a stable and raised in a carpenter’s home. His name was Jesus and he was a living example of the Missionary Mandate in the flesh.
Let’s look through the reported earthly life of Jesus and see how he led by example.
When John introduced him to the world he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Not the sin of Israel alone but the SIN OF THE WORLD! On one occasion, early in his ministry, Jesus traveled from Judea to Galilee. The story is told in John chapter 4. This is not an unusual trip many Jews made the journey but not by the route Jesus took. John tells us, “he had to pass through Samaria” (John 4:4). The Jews of that time had no dealings with Samaritans and would never “have to” pass through Samaria. The people there were considered unclean spiritual heretics. When Jesus arrived at the well near Sychar he sent his disciples away to buy lunch. He needed to be alone because a woman of Samaria was on her way to the well and it would have been uncomfortable for her if there was an audience. Jesus turned the situation into a witnessing opportunity. He told her that he could give her living water. She not only received that spiritual water. She immediately went back to her village and brought her neighbors to Jesus. By the way, everyone who meets Jesus should make it their goal to tell others — family, friends and enemies — about the man they have met.
The Missionary Mandate calls for all the families of the earth to be blessed. One day Jesus came to his adopted hometown of Capernaum. (Luke 7:1-10) A Roman Centurion met him and asked him to heal his servant. If anyone was liked less than the Samaritans they would be the Romans. Rome ruled over its empire with an iron fist and they did not expect to be loved for it. But the Mandate called for all the families of the earth to be blessed. That included the Samaritans and the Romans! So the centurion gave Jesus an opportunity to reach across the walls of prejudice. He healed the servant.
A little later Jesus and his disciples sailed across the lake of Galilee. (Luke 8:28-39) There they met a man who had demons. When Jesus asked the name of the demons he was told, “Legion” for many demons had entered him. A Roman Legion consisted of 5000-6000 troops. When he cast the demons out of the man they went into a herd of pigs nearby. They immediately rushed into the lake and drowned. Again, the Mandate called for all families to be blessed. This man lived in a territory that ate pork and they certainly were not Jews.
One day Jesus was traveling to the district of Tyre and Sidon. There he met a woman, who was not a Jew. Her request to Jesus was a teaching opportunity.
She asked Jesus to heal her daughter who was oppressed by a demon. In our world the exchange he had with her seems strange, even cruel. His reply to her was, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She continued to plead with Jesus. His reply to her was, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, healing was represented by bread. Her answer was what he was looking for. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28). Throughout the New Testament Gospels Jesus never passed up an opportunity to fulfill the Missionary Mandate. After his crucifixion as he came to the end of his earthly ministry he spoke the words. These words: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Or, as recorded by Matthew, “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).
The missionary mandate was never intended to be carried out in our strength or our ability. The promise was the Holy Spirit will enable us to share the gospel. Jesus has all authority to call and equip disciples to carry the message to all the world. The disciple’s response proves that God does not have to have special people to be as witnesses. I have been critical the disciples. They were told to “go” and instead they stayed. The witness to all the world was carried out by men and women called and equipped by God.
Paul was one of the strongest opponents of the Christian Way. But he became the greatest proponent. He planted churches all over the Roman world. Even when he was jailed for preaching the gospel he turned that an opportunity to witness. Among his early converts was the jailer in Philippi. Later, you will write a letter to the Philippians from prison in which he made this statement. “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” (Philippians 4:22).
All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.