God's Plan of Redemption
October 4, 2020 Series: Stand Alone
Passage: Genesis 12:1–11
SERMON – God’s Reclaiming the Nations
This is going to be an exciting sermon, as we are going to essentially cover the entirety of ALL of the Bible, Genesis to Revelation. This morning, as we pray for peace in Jerusalem and across the nations, we need to look once again at God’s plan for ALL of the world, and we will see how the Jewish people have played an unique role in this story, and according to our bible, still have left to do. We also are going to see and cultivate here a challenge for you and I – a challenge of gaining God’s heart for the nations, his heart for this world, and his plan for this world. Yes, we are going to be talking straight Scripture for the next few minutes, and I am going to literally walk through the entire biblical story, and as we reach the glorious end conclusion, I can only pray that it will light a fire beneath us to understand our role as missionaries – and how God’s vision for this earth lays claim on our own lives and the orientation of our lives now. So, let’s begin:
The bible is one big story, one long narrative. Maybe you have not been taught to read it as such, but from cover to cover we see one story in Scripture that continues to the next. Each book and each part of the Bible is like a long TV show of sorts, some of the episodes appear to be stand alone, but as you continue to pan yourself back to look at the whole, you see that they all fit perfectly together as the hundreds of puzzle pieces come together in unison, with Jesus Christ at the center.
So if we are to properly gain a heart for the nations, we need to see our world through the eyes of God. We need to examine everything from his perspective, and thus gain his perspective.
I hope your ready for a large sweep of the Scriptures this morning, so let’s begin.
IN THE BEGINNING
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning the earth was the Lords, and the fullness thereof. All of it belongs to him, and as King and Lord over this earth, he wanted to extend his rule and reign through his special creation, his image bearers – human beings. “In the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26).
“Be fruitful! Multiply! Subdue this earth! Have DOMONION over the fish and the sea and the birds!” – See the kingly and queenly language given to humans?
However, the choice was set before us: would we really rule over this earth like God does? Would we try to take hold of the knowledge and good and evil by eating of the tree, and would we allow ourselves to be the very ones who would define what is good and what is evil rather than leaving such a divine task to God alone?
Through the temptation of the serpent, we tried to rule this earth independently from God, and we were met with the curse of death. The curse of exile from the Garden of Eden, from God’s place. The curse of the very exile from God’s presence.
Nevertheless, the commandments still stood: Be fruitful, multiply, fill and subdue this earth. God did not completely abandon humanity, although perhaps he had every right to. No! Like a loving father, he began his grand plan of redemption that would cover an untold amount of years, leading to its grand finale, which we will see at the end of our time today.
Fast forward: After death entered into our story through the murder of Abel by his brother, and after glimmers of hope in Enoch’s avoidance of death in Genesis 5, even though everyone was dying, and even though God wiped out the ancient world through a flood – sin still remained, and through Noah’s family our fallen state and hard hearts continued.
TOWER OF BABEL
Nations began forming all from Noah’s family, in Genesis 10-11. However, they were not FILLING the world, as God commanded, but staying together and living in one place. They spoke one language, and in their fallen state, they only fed into one another’s pride, and became convinced that in their new found arrogant unity, they could indeed overcome their own fallen condition by what the ancients loved to do – have a massive building program. They considered that they could, once again, bridge the gap between humanity and God themselves. They were convinced that they were the ones who could reunite themselves back to God by their own efforts, and that their own majesty and creativity and strength in building a tower tall enough could act as a sort of staircase to reach to heaven.
God, knowing that such arrogance and pride would only lead to their destruction – decided to split the party up. Graciously, his wrath was poured out by the confusion of languages – all peoples suddenly found themselves unable to communicate with one another. The confusion of languages led to the confusion of their building program, stalling their plans, and thus dividing humanity up by language, ethnicity and geography, and soon to be, culture. This tower and city was called Babel, and has ever since been famous for its sinful fallout.
At this point in the book of Genesis, after reading the fist 12 chapters, as the reader you should be exhausted and feeling rather hopeless. OK God, it appears that you have abandoned humanity. How in the world could they be reunited again as your image bearers beneath your Kingship and Lordship, worshipping you as one people together with you in your presence as you intended for us to be? Now they were divided all over the whole world and cannot even communicate to one another. Maybe our fallen state is hopeless.
However, we find ourselves with the next phase of God’s redemptive program: the singling out of one of a single man and his family, who would be made into a nation, and also a single plot of land – not as end to itself, but as a vehicle to continue his mission to reclaim this world unto himself. A pagan star worshipping man named Abram appears out of nowhere in Genesis 12, and God says to him some of the most important words found in your bibles:
“Go from your country and to your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3.
God was not going to bless Abraham for Abraham’s sake. Rather, he was going to use him to bring a blessing to the entire world. Maybe, after all, Babel would be reversed and humanity could be united again before God through this man’s family. To multiply Abraham into a great nation sounds like God’s command to Adam and Eve to multiply, and to bring a blessing to this world sounds like God’s commandment to fill the earth. But there is a new development here: a call to a specific family and a specific land to give this family.
Now, for the sake of time, we need to fast forward over 800 years of biblical history. Abraham’s grandson Jacob is renamed Israel and has twelve sons, who become the twelve tribes of Israel. After extraordinary events at the end of Genesis and through the book of Exodus, four hundred years of history, Israel multiples into the millions and does indeed receives the land.
After conquering the land, four centuries of the ups and down of godly leadership and fall outs of wise and unwise judges, Israel becomes a Kingdom governed by kings. After Saul’s kingship, David becomes King, and even though he himself was a fallen man with many blemishes like you and I, he becomes known as a man after God’s own heart. After him, his son Solomon becomes King, and for our purposes this morning, we are going to stop for a moment here.
I know I’ve been storytelling now for a while and we skipped over so much, but for our purposes this morning, lets look at Israel beneath Solomon. In 1 Kings 4, this is what is said about this unique time in Israel’s history:
“Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea.” 1 Kings 4:20 - “Be fruitful, multiply!” – remember??
“They ate and drank and were happy. Solomon ruled over ALL the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” 4:21
Then, after Solomon had built the Temple and was consecrating it, he prayed an interesting prayer:
“… when a foreigner who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake… when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls you, in order that ALL the peoples of the earth may KNOW your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name” (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Remember this blessing for the nations that was going to come through Abraham’s family? Well, they anticipated it happening! The nations are being brought beneath Israel’s rule and if this were to continue, then surely enough Yahweh God is going to restore his Kingship and Lordship over this world once again! People will hear of him through this small nation, and as Psalms 2 said of a coming King of Israel, “As of me and I will make the NATIONS your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). It’s happening!
The world is going to be his once again through this unique people, the Hebrews, the nation of Israel! Through this family, indeed, all nations will be blessed with the knowledge of God, and as the prophet Habakkuk foresaw, “for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:4). Psalm 72 sings the same prayer, “blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!” (72:19).
But… one issue remains. Our sinful hearts. Solomon, like his father David, began making mistakes. A few hundred mistakes. He joined himself in marriage to hundreds of women, and he enlisted women who he was not married to as his concubines. They were probably young and beautiful women, handpicked by the King. And they caused his heart to go after their gods, rather than Israel’s God.
As he approached death, he found himself estranged from God, and his son Rehoboam took the Kingdom. He proved to be immediately inadequate, not up to the task, and responded poorly to many of his father’s governing mistakes, thus leaving the nation split in two – the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah.
Now we need to hit fast forward. Israel’s influence in the region began dramatically decreasing as they were split into two. The two nations of Israel and Judah were at constant war with one another and with other nations. Centuries went by, and sin still reigned. The northern Kingdom of Israel eventually was exiled due to their sin and constant rebellion against God, and they were sent as captives to the land of Assyria. 140 years later, the southern Kingdom of Judah was also exiled to the then world powers of Babylon. All because Torah was continually broken, all because their hearts were far from him, even after warning after warning from the prophets.
Where was God’s promise to Abraham now? What about the nations? What about the world? How was God going to use this tiny plot of land and its people for any sort of global impacting event of redemption now? Language is still a dividing factor, only briefly did Solomon’s influence spread to the nations around them. Sin is still present, and now God’s chosen people are exiled out of the land and his presence has left the Temple, and even the Temple was destroyed.
However, Isaiah knew that God was far from dome with Israel and with the Jews, and with his redemptive plan to bring salvation to this world through them. He spoke of someone to come, a leader of Israel, a King through the lineage of David and his father Jesse, who would pick up this mantle where Israel had failed. As their leader he would come to do the very things that Israel was unable to do – fulfilling their role in being solely devoted to Yahweh God in order that all the nations may be redeemed – and also, all the scattered of Israel would be brought back to himself. Isaiah had this to say,
“In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of HIM shall the nations inquire, and his resting place will be glorious.” – Isaiah 11
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will set you as a light for the nations that my salvation may reach to the END OF THE EARTH” Isaiah 42:6
And after Isaiah’s famous passage concerning the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, the messiah who was to come, he famously told Israel this:
Isaiah 54:2–3  “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.  For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. (ESV)
After 70 years of exile, a small portion of the exiled Jews returned to their land. They would not be large in numbers, and aside from a brief period, they would no longer be a sovereign nation. All of these promises remained! The world remained divided in languages and ethnicities, and Israel was only a glimmer of its former glory. What would now happen? As the book of Lamentations ends, Restore us to yourself O Lord, unless you have utterly rejected us!”
Then God’s finger began stirring the world in unique ways, as the prophet Daniel foretold. Between our Old and New Testaments were 400 years, and those years began with a mighty man named Alexander the Great, who arose out of the small nation of Greece to conquer most of the known world, all before he was 33 years old. After his sudden death, his kingdom shattered into various pieces, creating more tensions of war and disparity in the world. Then with the unmatched strength of iron and power arose the mighty Romans, who swept through where Alexander the Great left off and united the world in peace by the sword, intimidation, and war.
Israel throughout these centuries were tossed to and fro by these world powers. All of God’s promises remained, but when the dust settled Israel found themselves as a mere province on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem’s streets filled with their soldiers, and Israel’s prophets of old and all the promises of God told to them seemed utterly out of reach.
In this day, two thousand years ago, the world was at peace – pax Romana – a peace of fear, terrified of the monster of Rome.
How could God’s world-redemption program come about now? Things indeed seemed bleak. Until a child was born in a tiny town called Bethlehem, until a Son was given to Judea, to Israel. Six centuries prior Isaiah had foretold of a child who would bear the government on his shoulders, a child who would be called “MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, and PRINCE OF PEACE. “The Increase of his government shall know no end.”
He was quietly born by a young poor woman, and rumors began spreading of shepherds alone in the field seeing legions of angels pronouncing the praise of this child, of other angelic visitations and dreams coming to this unmarried woman and her fiancé, of a pregnancy from God’s Spirit and no man – even of foreign visitors from distant lands, traveling ALL THE WAY TO little Bethlehem to worship this “King of the Jews.” Isaiah foretold of this event as well,
Isaiah 60:6,  A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the LORD. (ESV) GOOD NEWS = GOSPEL. God indeed was not done.
As this child grew, for thirty years he worked as any other man, and perhaps the rumors were taken to just be rumors and nothing more. However, after a wild-eyed camel-hair wearing man living in the wilderness began proclaiming a baptism of repentance of sin, claiming that he himself was PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD, people began to wake up and wonder what may have been coming. Is it time for Israel to overthrow the Romans, and take up the mantle of a light to the nations? Was it time for God’s plan to unfold?
Then the focus transferred from the wild eyed John the Baptist, or better the Baptizer, to the unknown carpenter, his cousin Jesus. After Jesus’ baptism, he immediately began claiming that the Kingdom of God was here! It was at hand, it was right before them, and everyone should repent of their sins. Then he began healing people, healing the blind, casting out demons, and even raising people from the dead. Being sent only to Israel, nevertheless foreigners began traveling to him to be healed, to hear the gracious words that were coming from his mouth, and on various instances, like we see in Matthew 4:23-25, people not only from Jerusalem and Judea, but also from Roman cities and even from Syria and beyond were flocking to him to be healed.
After three years of ministry, of traveling with his twelve companions, he began speaking of his impending death. Everyone was confused. Wasn’t this our new King? Wasn’t he going to take the throne in Jerusalem, restore Israel to independence, and become that vessel to reach the nations, to bring the nations back to God? How could he do this if he were to die?
He was indeed crowned as King – his crown being one of thorns, his robe being wrapped around his beaten body in mockery. He was crucified by the professional executors of Rome. The Jewish religious leaders missed the day of God’s visitation, and joined the Romans in their condemnation of Jesus. Christ, with only a few friends and his mother, died naked, bloodied and bruised, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and as a poor man was buried in a rich man’s tomb.
All hope seemed lost. But once again, whisphers began spreading. Unbelievable rumors. That the man who was professionally executed, sealed behind a tomb guarded by Romans, had been found empty. Angels had announced its vacancy to women, and some of them even claimed to have seen Jesus alive!
Soon enough, he revealed himself to all his disciples and announced that a new day was coming, a new era. But he must leave and ascend back to heaven. “Stay in Jerusalem, you will receive power from the Holy Spirit, and you must be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ENDS OF THE EARTH.” And from there, he ascended back into heaven.
Now, once again lets take a break. The remaining disciples from Jesus ministry had shrunk to around 120, about the number of people in this room today. The world was still divided by languages, the vast majority were gentiles who had no knowledge of God, and we are still waiting for God to reclaim the nations as his through this Jewish people of Israel. And if you are a careful reader, you would have read Jesus’ words about being a “witness to Jerusalem, to Judea, and to the ENDS OF THE EARTH.”
Something new was coming – and as these 120 people were gathering and worshipping during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost, suddenly a wind from on high fell on them, tongues of fire appeared, and the Holy Spirit filled them as they spoke in various languages. Due to the feast, outside of their room were people from ALL NATIONS UNDER HEAVEN, Acts 2:9–11
 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome,  both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (ESV)
Wait – shouldn’t this remind you of a certain event in Genesis? Where all hope seemed lost in the division of the world by languages? Do you now see that through Abraham’s family, the Christ had come, and through the Jewish people on this event of Pentecost, God had SUPERNATURALLY REVERSED THE TOWER OF BABEL! Peter preached the Good News that morning, two thousand became Christians on that day, and as Pentecost ended, many of these returned to their homes throughout all the world, carrying the Spirit with them, and the new work of God has began. God HAD SHOWN HIMSELF TO BE TRUE! He was indeed RECLAIMING THE NATIONS! But it was unexpected, in that this was not a political revolution – but a spiritual one, by the Spirit – one person and one community at a time.
They were witnesses to the grand and glorious Good News that Jesus Christ, a descendant from King David, came down from heaven and took on flesh. He lived a perfectly righteous life on our behalf and took on the iniquities of us all, on his own shoulders, on our behalf, and suffered greatly not for his sins, which were none, but our own, which are many. But God loosened the pangs of death, as King David, also prophet, was told that one of his descendants would ALWAYS be on the throne – and this Jesus was risen from the dead. After his defeat of death he ascended into heaven to reign, and the beginning of the Last Days have become through the unleashing of the Holy Spirit on the world for those who believe in Christ and cast their allegiance to him as their King and LORD. This is the Good News for all of humankind!
As we come to the close of our sermon, after so many dramatic events in Acts and the challenges of seeing God’s people suddenly see Gentiles, non-Jews by birth, being grafted into his family, our New Testament ends with the most creative, poetic and amazing book I think of the whole Bible – the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. He catches glimpses of many things, and one of them is heaven itself, God’s place. And this is what he sees:
 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,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”.” (ESV)
This is indeed the mission of God, to reclaim the nations for himself. You and I, in the age of the church, find ourselves in an graciously long, two-thousand year season of being a witness of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, our King and Lord Jesus, to the ends of the world. The job is still not done. However, living in America, and also as our church is close to an urban city, as one of our elders, Jim Thompson often says, which is so true – we find ourselves in such a unique place of America in that the nations have been brought to our front door. Yes, we support missionaries internationally, to be sent to the ends of the earth, but the ENDS OF THE EARTH HAVE ALSO BEEN SENT TO US. As long as Jesus’ feet have not returned to this world, Jesus’ command to the apostles has become our command: “be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth.”
But what about the ethnic Jews? Has God rejected them, and has he moved on? Paul responds to this question,
 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…. at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (ESV)
And we consider the need to pray for the Jews today, and also their need for Jesus highly, for Paul continues on to say this:
 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.  Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
Romans 11:25–26,  Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved…”
God isn’t done with the Jewish people. As we are sent to the nations, as we are sent to even our own neighbors, as we all are called to be his witnesses, we know that a time awaits where the partial hardening will be removed from the Jewish community, and according to Paul, they will meet with Messiah. We pray for that day to come, and come quickly.
As we close, a few things to take away:
- We pray for peace, peace for Jerusalem and Israel, peace for the world, our nation – because people die when there isn’t peace. And wherever a death occurs of someone who does not know Jesus, our heart should break and shatter. This is why in 1 Timothy 2, Paul connects praying for our nations leaders with peace, and connects peace to mission and evangelism – and this is why Christians should abhor WAR and unnecessary war.
- We also know that missions and evangelism is not the ultimate aim for the church, but something else is ultimate. John Piper famously said this, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.”
Missions exist because worship doesn’t. God is reclaiming the nations for himself THROUGH YOU AND I by the power and giftings of the Holy Spirit in order that ALL PEOPLES MAY STAND BEFORE HIM in worship, as we saw in Revelation. You and I all have a part to play. You and I all have a CRUCIAL role to play in the body of Christ. May all that we’ve heard this morning light a FIRE IN US for evangelism, for we know that those without Christ will indeed experience eternal separation from him, and we mourn for those who do not know him, and we desire to see all peoples, especially the Jews, know the wonders and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, our King. Let us pray.