Loving All Peoples, Part 2
Text: Matthew 28:16–20 ESV
Good morning! We have been working through a sermon series on our priorities here at Table Rock. These are topics throughout scripture that we see come up again and again, and we want to remind ourselves of their importance to our lives individually, and to our corporate life as a church. Last week, I preached the first in a two-part message on our priority of Loving All People. We focused last week on what unifies all of us as those God has chosen—we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). We are called to love all people as Jesus did—being willing to dine with the tax collectors and sinners of our area in order that they might know Jesus who came to save them.
And if last week was about the unity we have as people in Jesus, this week we are going to look at the diversity. But before we do, let me take you back to 1970.
It was a newsworthy time! The Beatles disbanded in 1970, but by 1971 Disney World had opened. Richard Nixon was elected and had resigned as president. And by the end of the decade I was born!
Evangelical Christians were ecstatic! Of the 196 countries in the world, there were missionaries in each of them, and they thought they had largely completed the Great Commission. The goal now was simply growing those churches and adding to their numbers.
But not all were convinced. In fact, it was at the Lausanne Conference in 1974 that Billy Graham invited a little-known professor, Ralph Winters, to give a speech. It was titled, “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism.” This quiet spoken professor from the just–started Fuller School of Missions went on to drop a bomb. He claimed that the real issue in missions to fulfilling the Great Commission wasn’t getting a missionary in each of the 196 countries. Rather, there were around 17,000 unique people groups in the world, and if we wanted to reach them, each of them likely needed a missionary to engage them and a unique church planted in each group.
This began quite the debate within Christianity. Who, and how do we tell, is included in those people we are to pursue in order to fulfill this great commission. Just to give you an example of this debate: When Wycliffe Bible translators went into Sudan, they figured they needed 50 translations of the Bible to reach every distinct group in that country. However, when Gospel Recordings went there, they determined they would need 130 audio translations to accurately communicate the gospel to every person. So how many people groups should we see in Sudan? How many different missionaries and efforts will it take to reach everyone there?
Our goal is to help identify the breadth of the great commission call to go forth and spread the good news of the gospel. And I pray you see two things:
First, God is all about saving a diverse group of individuals.
Second, God is all about saving people from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.
And at Table Rock we want to be about both of those goals with him.
God is a God after Individual Peoples
No matter how we group people, we have to start with the realization that God saves individuals! No matter our background, it is God who comes and meets personally with each of us. And it is through the Holy Spirit that our hearts are changed and we find ourselves at first wondering and then eventually believing that God himself died for our sins on the cross. Paul, when speaking about what Christ did, says it this way in Romans:
“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, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” (Romans 15:8–9 ESV)
Jesus came to a particular people, the circumcised (also known as the Jews), for a reason—to confirm God’s promises given to the patriarchs. What are those? When we go back and look, we see a particular promise that God gives first to Abraham, but then is repeated again and again to Isaac and Jacob.
“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.” (Genesis 12:3 ESV)
God begins with a family and a promise, but it isn’t meant to stay with them. It is to be through them that the entire world is blessed. And this isn’t just a tangential blessing. They are meant to come back to God as his son’s and daughters. We’ve looked at this verse before in this series, but look again with me at Isaiah 43:6–7:
“I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6–7 ESV)
God has sons and daughters all over the earth whom he created for his glory and who are called by his name. And like a good father, he wants them to come to him. He commands even creation to give them up to him, that they might be in relationship with him.
Yet much of Israel’s history is fraught with exclusivism. They view themselves as special and chosen (which they are) but forget the reason they were chosen was to bless others, not hoard that blessing or push others away from the God who is calling them. We even see God, through the prophet Isaiah, remind those who were seemingly unwanted that he would keep them. Look at this section from Isaiah 56:
“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”” (Isaiah 56:3–8 ESV)
I love that picture, “The Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel.” In Israel the eunuch wasn’t able to be a part of temple life, whether he was a eunuch by choice or by birth. For much of Israel’s existence, the foreigner was also excluded, though God had made ways for them to be included. God is not going to be thwarted by a nation who has forgotten their call. Rather, he will succeed where they cannot. He will ensure an everlasting covenant of grace where the covenant of works has failed. And he does it as the God-Man Jesus Christ!
When Jesus comes on the scene in history, Caiaphas, one of the head priests of Jesus’s day, prophecies (against his will) about Jesus’s purpose. Here is what is recorded:
“He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:51–52 ESV)
Jesus came and fulfilled the promises to the fathers. He lived the perfect life they didn’t. He died their sinner’s death so they wouldn’t have to. He raised himself back to life that he might ascend to heaven in power! That is why he can say in our passage this morning:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
He has authority because he is God and has accomplished for us what none of us could do on our own or through the law. He is the way to salvation for both the nation of Israel, and for us. That is incredibly good news for you and me, and all who come to know Jesus! Paul says it this way in Ephesians 2:
“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:17–21 ESV)
Let’s stop for a minute and realize what we have been saying. You and I, we have a God who loves us so much that he sent his only son to earth that he might live a righteous life for you, die for your sins, and raise himself back to life that you might know he has authority and you have hope that just as you have begun a new life now in God’s grace God will finish that work and bring you back into relationship with him in the new heavens and the new earth. And he is working this in you through his Holy Spirit. You are his children! You are no longer aliens and strangers, but now part of the household of God!
This is the good news we are called to spread. When we are told in our passage in Matthew this morning to:
“Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”
That means they are to know and love these great truths! The sending of the Son by the Father. The loving sacrifice of the Son at the request of the Father. The sending of the Holy Spirit by both the Father and the Son to help his people.
No wonder, as Paul continues to cite passage after passage in Romans 15 from the Old Testament about how much we should rejoice:
“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.” (Romans 15:9–12 ESV)
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, rejoices that in Jesus they—you and me—have all found salvation in Jesus Christ! We have all found our value and identity in Jesus Christ!
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 ESV)
Now, don’t believe that from this God is trying to subsume or destroy our uniqueness and God-given differences. The point is that our identity is found through Jesus alone. While our identity is now through Jesus Christ, God loves that he has made us unique. This starts clear at the beginning of Creation where God creates humans in his image as man and woman! And it continues on to the end of the story. Look what Revelation 21 says:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
I won’t often pull out the “language” card, because we have amazing English translations, but here the Greek is not “people” singular, but rather plural.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
Some view Christianity the way that Apple viewed Microsoft users back in 1984—a bland sea of conformity (though that might be said of Mac users today!). But nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at a quick sampling of the people God used in Scripture:
Noah: an old man who looks crazy as he builds an ark.
Moses: the adopted child of a slave woman who grows up in Pharaoh’s household and struggles to speak in front of an audience.
David: the youngest son, a shepherd, who becomes the man who is said to be “after God’s own heart”.
Rehab: A prostitute turned God fearer who hides the Israelite spies.
Ruth: The widowed Moabitess who pulls off some interesting acts to woo and be redeemed by Boaz. (Both of these women become the great grandmas of Jesus.)
His disciples: tax collectors, fishermen, a ex-pharisee who killed Christians.
The New Testament: slaves, merchants, tent-makers.
Again, and again we see God use all these different “peoples” to his own glory. Through the diversity of his people, God reveals the breadth of his own glory as he uses individuals to demonstrate his love and creativity. Like a multi-faceted diamond, God’s glory reflects in multi-colored variety through his diverse people.
Application 1—Do you value loving all peoples that God has called?
Table Rock, most of us are called to stay in one culture, in one people group, to continue the process of reaching more individuals in that larger culture. Local church plants, like Table Rock, are designed to help us accomplish that goal. Though Boise has a gospel witness and presence, we want to see more people saved and come to know and love the gospel, and we believe God is already using us to reach a set of people who didn’t yet know and love the gospel.
The question to you in this regard, Table Rock, is do you value loving all peoples that God has called? Last week we talked about pressing in to love all people in spite of their sin tendencies, but this week we are looking at it in regard to all the unique differences. We want to remove all the ‘-isms’ that could be present in our group. Ageism, sexism, classism, elitism—any form of viewing one category of distinction as better is wrong.
So to go back to our examples from last week:
Millennials with Baby-Boomers
Baby-Boomers with Millennials
Or some new categories:
College students with families
Families with singles
Educated with non-educated
English speakers with non-English speakers
Hear this as a reminder to all of us as we strive to love all people as Jesus does:
“My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1 ESV)
God is a God after Peoples from all the Nations
Even as we acknowledge that God is about pursuing individuals, the language of our passage this morning pushes us to hold this in a holy tension. Yes, God does not save unless he is saving individuals. Yet, he is also concerned about something larger as well.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”
There is a holy tension where God is after not only individuals, but individuals representing every group—or as scripture would say “every tribe, nation, people, and tongue.” Throughout scripture when God talks about his pursuit of his sons and daughters, at times the word for people is used, and at times it is larger words like nation. Even the promise to Abraham is repeated to his son Isaac and grandson Jacob with the word nation instead of just family as we looked at earlier.
There is an example that has been used that I think can give us a glimpse of this picture and this holy tension. Imagine for a moment that you have come up on a shipwreck. You have been put in charge of two smaller boats with ten people on each one that are going out to help with the rescue. You are the only two boats for miles around, and you come upon the first shipwreck. And you can see hundreds of people all around you, floating, treading water, desperately in need of help. There might even be more than you can fit into your two small rescue boats.
Then, off in the distance, perhaps a quarter of a mile away, maybe half a mile away, through large waves and with dark clouds appearing on the horizon, you hear very faintly the sound of other voices crying out. You can’t tell how many, but someone is there. You realize that must be the other ship.
In our human wisdom, and it would actually be good wisdom, you as the leader of the rescue would probably make a very practical decision. Begin rescuing all those that are around you and save as many as you can here. Because who knows, by the time your boats actually cross the waves and get to the other place, you may only find one or two individuals still alive. And leaving this side runs the risk of leaving people you can see right in front of you. Why go far away, through peril and perhaps for little gain, when there would appear to be much to do right in front of you?
I think this is why God gives us a glimpse of the end of the story, so we don’t forget one of his major goals. John sees this image in Revelation 5:9 as the angels declare:
“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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10 ESV)
Paul seems to have understood this passion of God’s differently than we often think. That is why he can say:
“I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience…so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;” (Romans 15:18–19 ESV)
Really Paul, you have spread the gospel everywhere? From Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum there is no one who needs to hear about the gospel? Why then did you leave Timothy in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and tell him there was much work to do? Why did you leave Titus in Crete with a similar exhortation (Titus 1:5)? I say it that way in jest because we know Paul obviously didn’t believe there was no gospel spreading still needed. Rather, Paul seems to be thinking not just about more individuals being saved, but rather more peoples—people from different tribes, tongues, nations. Paul views part of his unique commissioning from God to include going to the places and those “who have never been told of him.” (1 Corinthains 3:10).
And we need to have that perspective as well. From God’s perspective the ship question is answered as both/and, not either/or. We need to care about those individuals right here around us, and we need to care about people from unreached groups around the globe. We must give resources: people, money, and effort for the cause of reaching every different group imaginable for the sake of the gospel.
Application 2—Is God calling you to go?
We at Table Rock want to keep both in mind, and not forget to pursue those in unreached lands, even if it isn’t the most fruitful, easy, or attractive ministry. We want to put resources into valuing what God values—a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
The question to you this morning is, “Is God calling you?” Are you one of the ones like Paul who is being called by God, inexplicably and perhaps against all better wisdom for worldly riches and comfort, to go and spread the good news of the gospel to those in unreached places?
Application 3—The intersection at our doorstep: immigration.
And let me give you a third application point today because this tension is actually presenting itself in our country, right now. I’m talking about all the issues in the news, in our politics, and in our city surrounding immigration and immigrants coming to our country—legally or illegally. Now let me be clear: there can and are people at Table Rock who come to different views on how best to deal with immigration in our country from a political and legal perspective. And this is a great chance to practice this priority of loving all people by believing the best of each other and desiring to understand where the other person may be coming from and the logical decisions they have made to get to their perspective. But let me also be equally clear: if you make a decision about immigration because of a xenophobic reaction—a fear of the other—whether it is their different language, their different culture, their different physical features, whether it makes you uncomfortable to be around people who are different than you or because you fear the loss of your own cultural identity—you are in sin and do not have the heart of God. God loves these brothers and sisters and has saved and is saving many of them, and he wants you to help with that. No matter your stance on the politics of the issue, you must admit it is a grace of God that he is bringing these different nations, tribes, and peoples to our doorsteps. And if they don’t end up here in front of us, we must be willing to say, “We will go! God loves you and he wants you to know the gospel of his son Jesus Christ, so we will go!”