God and the Nations | Genesis 9-11
Brian Hedges | March 4, 2018
As you know, we live in a culture of increasing diversity, and, in fact, the United States of America is perhaps the most culturally, religiously diverse country in the world today. We live in a culture of racial diversity, of cultural diversity, political diversity, and religious diversity. The problem of diversity, and also the value of diversity, is perhaps illustrated by a common bumper sticker. Have you ever seen this, the bumper sticker “Coexist”? So the idea seems to be, here are all these different religions and peoples of the world, and can we just learn to get along with each other?
It raises the question, doesn’t it, of what is the reason for this diversity, and is there any hope that in all of our diversity we can be unified as people with a common humanity and with common values?
Well, it’s a good question, and it’s a pressing question in our day, and it’s a question that I think the book of Genesis helps us to answer. The book of Genesis, especially in Genesis 1 through 11, gives us the origins of the world. The book shows us how God created the world, how he created human beings in his image, it gives us the reason, the explanation, for the fall of human beings into sin, and so the problems of sin and suffering in the world. It shows us God’s initial judgment in the world as well through the flood, a story we’ve looked at the past several weeks.
And then this morning we look at a couple of stories that actually give us some answers about the diversity of the world, and gives us explanation for why there is such diversity, and also hints at the answer for hope in the midst of our diversity. So this morning we’re going to be looking at Genesis chapter 9, really the second half of chapter 9, through Genesis 11.
This has been an eight-week series, that was my intention at the beginning. I’m cutting it short by one week, so this is the seventh message, and this is the last one, and there are two reasons for that. One is I’m very eager to get onto the next series. Easter is just a month away, and so for the next four weeks, beginning next week, I want us to really dig deep into the passion narrative found in the gospel of Matthew, so Matthew chapters 26 through 28. We’ll end on Easter Sunday, Matthew chapter 28. We’re just going to look at the story, very slowly, the story of those last hours of Jesus’ life.
This, incidentally, would be a wonderful month to invite guests, unbelieving neighbors, or family or friends to attend worship with you over the next several weeks. It would be a great time for them to get to study the life of Jesus, hear something about Jesus. So I would encourage you to be inviting people to come.
So that’s one reason we’re going to start there next week, but the other is that as I was thinking about these last couple of chapters in Genesis, this first major section of Genesis, I was thinking about Genesis 10 and 11. It seemed pretty clear that there’s a unifying theme here, and that the chapters really belong together. In fact, the second half of Genesis 9 through the end of Genesis 11 has one common theme, and that is the theme of God and the nations. It’s all about the nations, and the passages we’re going to read this morning help give some explanation for the diversity of the nations, the dispersion of the nations, and the division, but also point us and really set the stage for the hope of the nations, which we find in Genesis chapter 12.
So this morning, this is the way I want to approach it. I want to read just two sections out of this rather large block of text. I want to read the two narratives in Genesis 9:18-29, and then in Genesis 11:1-9. As I’m reading that just understand that these two narratives kind of bookend a whole chapter in the Bible, Genesis chapter 10, which gives us the table of nations. So, 70 nations which are listed in Genesis chapter 10 that’s giving us kind of a birds’-eye view of the geopolitical culture of the ancient near eastern world in which Israel lived.
Now, I’m not going to read all of Genesis chapter 10. There are a lot of names that are hard to pronounce. I’m going to spare all of us that this morning, but I am going to refer to Genesis chapter 10, and I think when we understand how these two narratives in Genesis 9 and Genesis 11 work and frame Genesis 10, we begin to get a picture of the teaching of Genesis about the nations of the world. As we study this, I think you’ll see that it has great relevance to the questions related to diversity that we face today.
So, two passages, Genesis 9:18-29 and then Genesis 11:1-9. Let’s read them; you can follow along in your copy of God’s word or the text printed on the screen.
“The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
‘Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’
“He also said,
‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.’
After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died."
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
This is God’s word.
So, three things I want you to see about the nations from these two passages of Scripture and the surrounding context. I want us to look at the origin of the nations (how did it all begin?), then the division of the nations. How do we account for the diversity and the division and the dispersion of the nations in the world? And then finally, I want us to think about the hope of the nations, and in this third and final part of the sermon I want us to think about the biblical, theological trajectory, beginning in Genesis 12 and then all the way to the end of Scripture and how the Bible leads us to think about the nations and the part that you and I have to play in the hope of the nations. So, three things: the origin, division, and hope of the nations.
I. The Origin of the Nations
First of all, the origin of the nations. You see it, first of all, in Genesis 9:18-19 with the sons of Noah. They go forth from the ark, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Verse 19 says, “These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.” So here’s the origin. This is the second father of the human race, Noah. Adam was the first father, and that pre-diluvian world was destroyed in the flood, the peoples of the earth wiped out in the flood; and now, as we’ve seen in past weeks, Noah is something like a second Adam. There’s a new start, there’s a new beginning. So all the families of the world trace their lineage back to Noah and his three sons.
And really, in Genesis chapter 10, where we have the table of nations, it’s divided according to the three sons of Noah. So in Genesis 10:1 we read, “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.” That phrase, “These are the generations of…” is one of the ten genealogical headings that you have in the book of Genesis, so it’s really beginning something of a new section in Genesis.
And then when you read down through the passage you see these three lists of names, the sons of Japheth in verses 2 through 5, the sons of Ham take up the bulk of text in verses 6 through 20, and then the sons of Shem in verses 21 through 31, so that in verse 32 we then read, “These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.”
Now, there are just a couple of observations to make about this table of nations in Genesis 10. First of all, it is a selective list; it’s not a comprehensive list. There are 70 names on this list, and the scholars tell us that these names probably reflect both individuals as well as groups and cities and nations. So there’s some debate and dispute about how is this list organized. Probably, the list is organized according to social and geopolitical groupings of people, rather than racial groupings of people.
In fact, if you just wanted to look at a Bible map, you know, that’s the one part of the Bible that most of us never look at, but they do give us a little bit of context. So if you look at a Bible map of Israel in their surrounding context in the world, this is a map from a study Bible that shows how these different groupings of people that surrounded the nation of Israel all had their lineage from the sons of Noah. So it’s really just giving us the social and the geopolitical context for the nation of Israel and where they lived in the world.
Now, there are a couple of practical applications to be made from this as well, and I just want to give you two, and here’s the first.
The first practical application is just for us to recognize that all the peoples of the world share a common ancestor, which means we belong to the same family. We belong to the human family.
As one scholar, Richard Hess, writes, “Whatever else the table of nations in Genesis 10 should emphasize, it is clear from its context in Genesis 1-11 that it points to the common humanity of all peoples who share in the failures and hopes of a common ancestry and, ultimately, a common creation in the image of God,” which means that there is no theological basis for thinking that any race or any nationality or any group of people is inferior to any other. We share a common humanity. We’re all of the same family, the human family.
As the apostle Paul says in Acts 17:26, “God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” God made us from one ancestor. We are part of one family. And that has huge implications for how we are to think about other peoples, whether it’s other races or other nations or the other peoples of the world.
The second thing for us to note here is that God is the sovereign king over all the nations. The very fact that even this far back in the book of Genesis the biblical writers are including things about other nations shows us that God cares about the nations and that God is sovereign over the nations and that God has a plan for the nations, and indeed, that will become very clear, not only in the book of Genesis, but in the whole of the Old Testament, until it climaxes in the New Testament revelation. He is the King of the nations.
The prophet Jeremiah puts it like this: “There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?” God, the God of Israel, is not a tribal deity. He is sovereign over all the earth, and therefore he is to be worshipped and he is to be praised among all the peoples of the earth.
This means also that he is the Lord over the nations. It means that he is not threatened by the nations in the least. Another one of the prophets, the prophet Isaiah, put it like this: “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Behold, the nations are like a drop in the bucket and are accounted as the dust of the scales. Behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.”
God is so great that the nations are just like dust in his hands, drops in the bucket. God’s not threatened by the happenings in the nations of the world. He’s not threatened by coalitions of evil powers or of evil nations. His kingdom is not going to overcome by the kingdoms of this world. God reigns, and he is sovereign. The Bible teaches that unapologetically. And he has a plan for the nations.
So we see something here of the origin of the nations and the implications of understanding that all the nations have a common ancestor and that God is sovereign over them.
II. The Division of the Nations
Here’s the second thing to note: the division of the nations. What I want to do here is just comment briefly on these two narratives that we have read, both the narrative of Noah and his sons, the second half of Genesis chapter 9, and then the familiar story of the Tower of Babel.
I think both of these narratives have something to teach us about the division of the nations, or the problem of the nations, the sin of the nations, the problem of diversity and all the challenges that that brings to us today. So let’s look at these two things.
(1) The first one is Genesis chapter 9, the story that we have just read, and it’s a story of nakedness, shame, and a curse. One of the first things you’ll notice if you read the story carefully is that it is something of a replay of Genesis chapter 3.
Do you remember Genesis chapter 3? There you have Adam and Eve, and they’re in the garden, and they take and eat from the fruit of the garden, and suddenly they’re exposed, they know that they are naked, and a curse then is uttered upon the earth, and so human beings have fallen into sin.
Well, here you have Noah, and Noah is supposed to be something like a second Adam, a new Adam. He’s the head of a new human race. The human beings are given a second chance, and as soon as Noah comes out of the ark he plants a vineyard, and then he blows it. That just shows that the human race has still not experienced the salvation that it needs. The human race is still subject to the fall, and you see it in even the godly man Noah.
Here’s Noah, who was a righteous man, he was a blameless man, he was the most righteous of all the men on the face of the earth in his day, and he still fell into sin. Just like Adam and Eve, who took the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it, and were then found naked, so Noah plants a vineyard, he takes the fruit of the vine, and he is found naked in his drunkenness, and then is seen by his son Ham. That’s the first thing to note; it’s just a replay of Genesis chapter 3.
Here’s the second thing to note: this passage, for its original audience, who were the children of Israel, has something of an apologetic value for those readers. It has an apologetic value for those readers. It means something to them in their context that we’re likely to miss.
You remember, the children of Israel (this is the generation of Moses, Joshua; it’s that generation) have been rescued by God out of Egypt, they are being sent into the promised land, the land of Canaan, the land of the Canaanites. They are being sent in at a point where the wickedness of the Canaanites has reached its full measure. God has waited 400 years for this, and they are characterized by the grossest kind of immorality and wickedness, the grossest kind of sexual immorality; they are killing their children, they are involved in all kinds of false worship, they are a murderous, desperately wicked people.
And when the children of Israel would have read this passage, they would have immediately seen a resonance between this description and then the curse on Canaan and the Canaanites that they were commanded to go in and vanquish and take their land. So this passage is something of a critique on the immorality of the Canaanites. The real clue to this is not only that the curse is on Canaan, one of the sons of Ham, but also in the word “nakedness.”
If I’m not mistaken, that word, which is used 50-some odd times in the Old Testament, is used more times in Leviticus chapter 18 than any other passage of Scripture, 14 times [that is, in 14 verses] in Leviticus 18. And it’s a euphemism for sexual sin. It seems that the writer of Genesis here, the writer of the Pentateuch, is showing that there is a connection between the sin that happened here and the sin, now, of the Canaanites, the wickedness of the Canaanites.
So, as J. Daniel Hayes puts it in a very good book, giving a biblical theology of race, he says, “The curse is apparently a prophetic curse against the future enemy of Israel, a descendant of Ham who will be like Ham in this regard, the Canaanites, characterized by this sexual immorality.”
The third thing to note about this passage is this, that there is no exegetical or theological basis for a racist interpretation of this passage. Now, the only reason I need to mention that is because the passage has been so deeply misunderstood and misused. It has been used as a pretext for racism and even for slavery.
One scholar notes that “the employment of this curse to justify the enslavement of black Africans was apparently first made by Muslims as they began trafficking in black slaves in the eighth century A.D.,” so it goes back at least that far. But it was also used by white American clergyman in the South in the post-Civil War to justify the subjugation of black people and to keep them from having equal rights in voting and education and so on.
The basic argument was this: the name Ham, they alleged, meant “black.” They said the name Ham means “black,” and Ham is cursed to slavery, therefore the Bible gives justification for the enslavement of African races.
That exegesis is flawed, and the conclusion is both erroneous and ridiculous. It’s dubious, first of all, that the name Ham means “black.” The only reason they could even suggest that is because the name or the word Ham sounds something like an Egyptian word for "the black land," which is really a reference to the land of Egypt rather than to the color black. But there’s no definite etymological connection between these words.
And furthermore, if we were to take that kind of exegesis as normative, we would have to then conclude that Laban, whose name means “white,” is the father of white people in the Bible, and of course, Laban was of Semitic origin, as were the people of Israel. There’s just no basis for seeing race implied here at all.
Secondly, the curse in this passage is not on all of Ham’s descendants; it’s only on Canaan. And again, any attentive Bible reader will know that the Canaanites were Israel’s religious rivals, their political enemies, but they weren’t significantly different in ethnicity or even in culture or language from the children of Israel. Those differences came as God separated them, called them to be different, and began to rebuild their whole society around the worship of Yahweh, rather than the worship of the idols. But it’s not a racial difference as much as it is a religious difference.
Therefore, there’s no exegetical or theological basis for racist interpretations of the curse of Canaan in Genesis 9:25; therefore, be careful about the commentaries you read, because there are commentaries that are still sold that give this kind of a dubious interpretation of the text, but it’s not based on current or accurate scholarship, and it has very misleading and tragic consequences.
(2) The second narrative that we need to think about for just a couple of minutes as we think about the division of the nations is Genesis chapter 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. I’m not going to read it all again, but we just need to note here, again, the connection between Babel and Babylon. Of course, Babylon is one of the great cities of the ancient near eastern world, along with Nineveh. We learned from Genesis chapter 10 that the builder of this city was Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter and a builder, and he began to build these ancient civilizations; you see that in Genesis 10:8-10.
The motivation behind the building of this particular city is found in verse 5 of the passage, where we read these words: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.” The word Babylon, the city Babylon, actually means “gate of heaven,” or “gate of God” in the Akkadian. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
So it seems like they are motivated in several different ways. First of all, they’re motivated by fear and self-protection. They don’t want to be dispersed, even though God in Genesis 9:1 had told the descendants of Noah to disperse, to fill the earth. They were meant to spread out. They’re trying not to do that; they’re trying to build security on their own rather than obeying this cultural mandate. That’s part of the motivation.
So there’s disobedience here, but there’s also a worship problem here, there’s an idolatry problem, because the tower they were building is a ziggurat. It’s a temple. It’s a temple of worship, and they are building it for themselves. They’re not motivated here by the glory of God; they are, rather, motivated by hubris, human pride. They say, “Let us build ourselves a city, and let us make a name for ourselves.” They’re not seeking to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of God; they’re seeking to fill the earth with the glory of human achievement and human accomplishment.
God, of course, is not impressed. That’s kind of a humorous story; this great tower that they are building, it’s so small that God has to come down to see it, right, in the next verse. It’s an anthropomorphism, of course, but it’s as if God has to stoop down to even see this little tiny tower that they’re building. And then God, in an act of judgment, confuses the languages, so that the people are dispersed, because division among the peoples is a lesser evil than a collective apostasy and rebellion against God.
Once again, this passage, I think, has some really important application for us, because it’s a little snapshot of the way the world lives. Now, there are really only two ways to live, when you boil it all down. Two ways of living: we can live either for the love of God, or we can live for the love of self. We can live for the glory of God, or we can live for the glory of man.
Isn’t this what St. Augustine said in that great masterpiece, The City of God? He talked about these two cities that have been formed by two loves. "The earthly city is formed by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, and the heavenly city is formed by the love of God, even to the contempt of self." One lives for the glory of man, one lives for the glory of God; and all of us are doing one or the other. All of us are either seeking to build our own kingdom and our own empire, or we are living and giving ourselves wholeheartedly to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
The question is, which kingdom are you living for? Which empire holds your allegiance? Are you living for the kingdom of God, or are you building your own little empire?
The poet Francis Thompson said, “And all man’s Babylons strive but to impart / The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart.” Do you have a Babylonian heart? Do you have a heart that’s focused on building a name for yourself?
You say, “Well, I’m not motivated by a love for fame at all. I don’t care whether I’m known; I don’t want to be known, I want to be left alone!” Aha! You want to be left alone, but you want to live life on your own terms.
You see, all of us have a tendency to do this. We could apply this at every level. If you’re a child in the room this morning, if you’re a kid, if you’re five, six, seven, eight years old (I guess most of those are in children’s worship, but maybe you’re a little bit older than that). If you’re a child this morning, are you basically self-centered as a child, so that you want your family, you want your siblings, to kind of organize their lives around what you want, so that you get the last piece of chocolate cake, you get first dibs on TV, and you get to do things the way you want to do them? Teenagers, are you oriented around yourself, so that you expect your family to exist around your schedule, around your desires, around your wants?
Parents, we’re not immune to selfishness, are we? Do we neglect our children? Are we selfish with our time? Are we so protective of “me time” and of “us time” and, “I’ve been working all day, and don’t you know how much I do, and it’s my time to relax…” I mean, we can get so selfish with our time, and really, what we’re doing is we’re not living for the good of others, and we’re certainly not living for the glory of God; we’re living for ourselves. We’re building a Babylon in our own name.
Or think about this: are you the kind of person who, every time you are asked if you’d be willing to serve in some way, your basic response internally is you don’t want to be bothered with it, and externally it’s either a half-hearted agreement or it’s, “I don’t really have time; I’m too busy.” Listen: if you’re too busy to serve others, you’re not only too busy, but you’re building your life around the wrong kingdom, because the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a kingdom of service to others for the glory of God.
Let’s think about this corporately. As a nation, there is always the danger that Christians within a nation can be sucked into an ungodly kind of nationalism, where we seek our own nations above the common good of other peoples. Now, I know that there are very complex issues surrounding the debates of immigration and foreign policy and so on, but at the very least, as Christians we should insist that we must consider the plight and the troubles and the problems and the needs of other peoples in the world, and not only our own. We should not be driven by nationalistic self-interest. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan?
And then, as a church. Did you know that as a church we can actually get wrapped up into building our own little empire instead of the kingdom of Christ? The tell-tale sign of that is when we cease to have goodwill towards other churches, when we begin to live in competition with them, and rather than praying for them and encouraging them and rather than being glad when other churches prosper and grow, we become jealous or we become envious, we become competitive, and we forget that we are united in a common cause, and it’s not about our name! It’s about the name of Jesus Christ. It’s not about our kingdom; it’s about his kingdom. Let’s not build a Tower of Babel in our own church.
The division of the nations. What you see in these two stories, the division of the nations, is really owing to human rebellion, to human sin, to human idolatry, to disobedience. That’s where the confusion, that’s where the division, that’s where it all comes from.
III. The Hope of the Nations
So the pressing question, then, is, what is the hope and the healing of the nations? So that’s our third and final point, the hope of the nations. I just want to take you on a really fast jet-tour through a few passages of Scripture to just show you how it connects.
(1) The promise to Abraham
The first one is Genesis 12:1-3, alright? So this is kind of a preview of the next leg of Genesis, 18 months or so from now. We’re going to do the story of Abraham, the gospel according to Abraham, alright? That’s coming in the future. But here’s the preview, and you see it in Genesis 12:1-3, and when you read this it clearly connects back to everything that’s come before in Genesis 1-11. In fact, Genesis 12:1-3 is the answer to the problem of Genesis 10 and 11. The division of the nations, the sin of the nations, the problem of the nations; is there any hope for the nations?
There is hope, and it’s hope that’s found in a promise that’s made to a man who’s promised a child, and that child will be the blessing of the nations. Look at Genesis 12:1-3. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and 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 the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Right there, I mean, that may be the most important three verses in the Old Testament. It’s like the seed out of which everything else grows. It’s the promise, it’s the hope. It’s the hope of blessing to the nations that will come through this promised seed, the seed of Abraham.
If you’ve been here for a few months, you know who the seed of Abraham is, because Galatians 3 makes it crystal-clear: the seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom the promise is realized.
(2) The hope of the prophets
Well, this promise becomes the hope of the prophets. There are lots of places you can go in the prophets; it’s amazing how much the prophets have to say about the nations of the world. They are prophets to Israel, but they talk about the nations of the world.
Let me give you just one passage. This is Zephaniah 3:9-12, and as you read it, just look for the resonances between the stories of Genesis 9-11 and the language of this passage. “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshippers, the daughters of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds about which you have rebelled against me, for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain, but I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord.”
Here is the diversity of the nations being united once again in the common worship of God. It’s the hope of the prophets. It’s the hope of the prophets, and that hope begins to be realized in the ministry of Jesus Christ, who gives a commission to his disciples to go to all the nations, to all the Gentiles, and preach the Gospel, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
(3) The descent of the Spirit
And then it is realized in a very decisive way on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends on the church, and the day of Pentecost is the exact opposite of Babel. It’s the exact opposite. In Babel you have the confusion of languages; on the day of Pentecost these people meet together in one accord, and there are representatives from all these different nations who have come to Jerusalem to worship God, and they hear the gospel in their own language, the miracle of languages, of tongues, on the day of Pentecost. It’s the reversal of Babel. This confusion is now giving way to a new kind of harmony as a new people, an international people, a multi-ethnic people, a multi-national people, is being forged by the Spirit of God that’s uniting them together in the common worship of Jesus Christ.
(4) The mission to the Gentiles
That leads, then, to the mission of the church, the mission to the Gentiles. I’ve already mentioned the Great Commission in Matthew chapter 28, but look at Paul. Look at what Paul says in Romans chapter 15. Here’s Paul, and what does he want to do? He wants to go to Spain. It’s the whole reason he writes the letter to the Romans; he wants to go to Spain. He’s a missionary. He’s raising support for a mission trip, and he writes this letter and he says that his ambition is to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named, and he just piles Old Testament texts on top of Old Testament texts to show that God’s purpose is to be glorified in the Gentiles or in the nations.
The Greek word there is the word ethnos (εθνος), from which we get our word ethnic group. The idea here is that all the peoples of the world are meant to praise God.
Look at what Paul says, Romans 15:8, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,” think of Abraham, “and in order that the Gentiles,” or the nations, the peoples, “might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing to your name.’ And again it is said, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’ And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.’ And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.’”
Let me ask you a question this morning: are any of you of Jewish descent? I see one hand, two hands; two or three hands. Okay, so if you’re partly of Jewish descent, you’re probably part Jewish, part Gentile. The rest of us, you’re just a Gentile. You might read over that passage and think, “That doesn’t have anything to do with me, the Gentiles… I mean, what does that mean anyway?”
It means you! The reason you have the gospel, the reason you have a hope in Jesus Christ, is because this gospel went out; because an apostle took it to another part of the world, because a missionary carried it to a people among whom Christ had not been named, and they told somebody else, and they planted a church, they send someone else, and their descendants somehow came to your town or your family or your group, so that somehow you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Do you want to know what the end game is? You want to know where this is all going to end? Look at just two passages in the book of Revelation; I’m almost done.
(5) The song of the redeemed
You have the song of the redeemed in Revelation chapter 5: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and 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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” The multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-national redeemed people of God.
(6) The city of God
And then in Revelation 21 and 22 you have the city of God. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” Verse 23, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
That’s the end game: the nations, in all of their diversity, uniting together in one voice to praise the true and the living God.
Are you and I living for the glory of God among the nations? Really? Are we living for the glory of God among the nations? Are we concerned for more than just the four walls of this church? And more than just our community, and more than our tribe, our people group; are we concerned about the unreached peoples of the world, millions who’ve never heard the name of Jesus Christ? Who’s going to do it? It’s going to be us, if we’re obedient. Or it will be somebody else. God will see that it’s done. This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world, and then the end will come.
I want to be a part of that. Don’t you want to be a part of that? Don’t you want to be a part of the healing of the nations to the glory of God? That will happen if you and I are obedient in prayer and in giving and in going.
Someone once said, “You are either a missionary or you are a mission field.” You’re one or the other. I wonder which you are this morning.
Let me just end in this way; I’ll tell you a story. It’s about a friend of mine. This is a guy that I met about probably ten years ago; his name is Alphonse. I met Alphonse in South Africa; he was one of my students on a mission trip to a Bible college in South Africa we were working with. I met him, and he began to tell me a story.
Alphonse was from Rwanda, and both of his parents and his sister were killed in the Rwandan genocide. Alphonse is a Tutsi, and he lost his family when the Hutus murdered between 500,000 and one million Rwandans over a 100-day period of time. The only reason Alphonse survived is because he was out of the country at the time. He lost his family, lost everybody.
Do you want to know what Alphonse’s ambition was? He wanted to go back to Rwanda equipped to take the gospel. And you know where he is now? He’s in Rwanda. I heard from him this morning. We’re friends on Facebook. He reconnected with me here just about a month ago. We had just a brief exchange, and then I was thinking about this and I sent him a message late last night, and he responded to it, and he’s doing evangelistic work (he’s been there since 2013), the hard work of doing evangelism in this community. He’s gone back to the very place where he lost his family, the very country where he lost his family, and he is working in the name of Jesus Christ, preaching and spreading the gospel in order to bring the healing that is needed between these two tribes in all of the horrors that befell that country.
You know, guys like Alphonse are heroes. They’re heroes to me, and should be to you. And listen: you and I have a job to do. We have a job to do. We’re going to be talking about that more and more in the weeks to come. There’s a job for us to do. We are meant to live on mission, and that begins with having a missional outlook and mentality towards our own neighborhood, our own community, but it extends beyond these four walls and what we can achieve here to our heart for the nations. You’re either a missionary, or you’re a mission field. If you are a mission field this morning, then I encourage you to trust in the name of Jesus Christ, look to him. He will bring healing and salvation and grace and transformation to your life, and he can turn you into a missionary.
Gracious God, we have considered now the power of the gospel, which is the only hope for the tribes and peoples and languages and nations of the world, to coexist together under the lordship of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that rescues us from our self-centered idolatries, from our own empire building. It is the gospel that unites us in our common humanity and in our common purpose, to glorify and enjoy you forever.
Our prayer this morning is that you would work in our hearts, that you would rescue us from our self-centeredness. Lord, we are too consumed by our own little lives, and we need to live for something bigger than ourselves. You’ve given us that purpose. You have united us to Christ, our head, you have given us your Spirit, and you have given us a mission. Would you give us hearts to respond to that mission? Even more, would you fill us with your Spirit in such a way that we enthusiastically embrace this mission as our reason for existing, our purpose for living, the reason why we gather together.
As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, we pray that we would both remember all that Jesus Christ has done for us, and that we would fellowship with Christ in his ascended and glorious humanity, and that we would be infused with fresh hope as we look to Christ’s second coming. May that hope invigorate us for the work that you’ve called us to do. May it be so this morning; we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.