This evening I want you to think with me. I am not trying to get you to agree with me. Just think with me. All I am seeking to do is to challenge you to broaden your perspective.

"Why do you do things like this?" I never stop using the Bible to advance my understanding. I seriously doubt that I will ever stop using the Bible to challenge others to advance their understanding. "Why?" This is my conviction: a growing understanding is the key to a deeper faith in God. When a person's understanding grows, his or her faith in God grows.

Both right now and in the days to come, we all have a desperate need for a deeper, growing faith in God. The only positive, no fail force we have to endure the evil of now and the future is a mature faith in God.

If I asked how long God has wanted to save all people, how would you answer my question? Would you answer, "God wanted to save all people from the time of Jesus' crucifixion." If I disagreed for this reason, what would you think? The reason: (a) it was God's concern to save all people that allowed Jesus' crucifixion. (b) Therefore, God's concern to save all people existed before Jesus' crucifixion.

You respond, "I follow that; I need to back my answer up in time to the birth of Jesus." If I disagreed for the same reason, what would say? (a) It was God's concern to save all people that sent Jesus to this world. (b) Therefore, God's concern to save all people existed before Jesus' birth.

Question: how far do we need to "back up" to identify God's concern for all people?

Observation: we have centered our focus and our justification for Christian existence on Matthew 28:18-20 for so long that we assume the great commission marks the beginning of God's concern to save all people. I ask you to consider that the great commission in Matthew 28 is not God's first expression of concern for all people.

  1. God's concern for all people is stated early in the first book of the Bible.
    1. In Genesis 12, God made a sequence of promises to Abraham.
      1. This is last promise (Genesis 12:4) in that sequence: "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
      2. This is my understanding:
        1. From God's creation of man and woman, God intended to have a righteous relationship with people, a relationship filled with blessings.
        2. When Adam and Eve were successfully tempted, evil made the relationship God desired with people an impossibility.
        3. God immediately set in motion the actions and deeds of His grace to restore the relationship that evil destroyed.
        4. Genesis 12:4 in a very basic form is God's specific declaration of what we call the great commission.
          1. God's purposes in Abraham included all people.
          2. God's vision in Abraham was world wide.
          3. God would pursue His worldwide vision of seeking all people by working through Abraham's descendants through Isaac.
    2. However, Bible Israel never understood that God's purpose in them was to bless all people.
      1. In their arrogance, they selfishly appropriated God's love and concern only to themselves.
      2. When God offered Israel a covenant in Exodus 19:5,6 to make them His unique possession, Israel concluded God loved them more than God loved anyone else.
        1. When Moses declared God's love for them was not based on the fact that they were more deserving than the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 9:4,5), they did not understand.
        2. At first they seemed to develop the "God likes us more than He likes other peoples" attitude.
        3. That attitude seemed to become "God likes us and no one else."
        4. That attitude seemed to become "God likes us so much that He could not possibly abandon us."
      3. In the Bible, many of Israel's serious spiritual problems were the result of their failure to understand God's love and concern for all people.
    3. Just how bad did it become?
      1. Listen to a New Testament statement made by Paul, the man who learned the hard way that God was concerned about all people.
        Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them (Israel) is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
      2. What was Israel's problem? Why did they substitute their own system of and concerns about righteousness for God's righteousness?
        1. Was it a lack of zeal? No.
        2. Was it a failure to study scripture? No.
        3. Was it a failure to believe scripture came from God and is authoritative? No.
        4. Was it a failure to realize God had interacted with Israel throughout their history as a people? No.
      3. Then what was it?
        1. They did not understand that God was concerned for all people.
        2. They were convinced that God's love for them excluded everyone else.

  2. Allow me to ask you to consider two things. Again, I am not seeking your agreement; I am just asking you to think.
    1. # 1: Israel had a long history of failing to see the obvious.
      1. In the Old Testament there is a continual emphasis on God's mission to the nations, meaning God's mission to nations other than Israel.
      2. The fact that Jonah is included in Israel's collection of scripture is fascinating.
        1. The book called Jonah is about a Jewish prophet by the name of Jonah.
        2. God commissioned him to go to the non-Jewish nation of Assyria, to its capital city of Nineveh and deliver this message: God has endured all your wickedness that He can tolerate." (Jonah 1:2)
        3. Jonah did not wish to go, and he did all he could to escape his responsibility.
        4. God forced him to go.
        5. With great reluctance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered a very pessimistic message that offered no hope: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." (Jonah 3:4)
      3. After delivering this message, after offering these people no hope, Jonah went to the East side of the city to see what would happen.
        1. The people of Nineveh repented.
        2. God did not destroy them.
        3. And Jonah was extremely upset.
        4. He said, "I knew it! I knew You are gracious and compassionate! I knew Your anger was too easily quieted and Your mercy too easily granted! I knew You would change Your mind!" (Jonah 4:1,2)
        5. Jonah was so upset with God for not destroying these people that he asked God to kill him.
        6. God replied, "How could I disregard all these people?" (Jonah 4:11)
      4. Is there any clearer declaration in the Old Testament the God cared about people who were not even a part of Israel?
        1. Is there any clearer evidence in the Old Testament of Israel's problem attitude in regard to God's concern for other people?
        2. I submit to you that if God sent Jonah to Israel with a promise of destruction, and God showed Israel mercy, Jonah's reaction would have been full of approval.
        3. Instead of approval, this was Jonah's attitude: "God, You cannot have this deep sense of concern for people we despise!"
    2. # 2: Jewish Christians had a horrible time accepting people who were not Jews as Christians.
      1. I think Romans 3:1 gets to the heart of the problem.
        Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?
      2. What is the core of their problem? Attitude. For a very long time they were convinced that the fact that God loved them meant that God could not care about anyone else.
      3. The fact that God loved them had to mean they had a position and an advantage that no one else had.
      4. Their confidence was in the perceived advantage they had in their relationship with God.
      5. Paul said, "No, your advantage was the opportunity to know that God was at work bringing Jesus to be Savior of the world."

It is very easy to make Bible Israel's mistake. It is very easy to think our advantage is in our conviction that God loves us more than He loves other people. Our advantage is not in who we are, but in a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Do not die in the conviction that you will stand before God and say, "Do you know who I am?" If you do, you likely will be astounded when God replies, "No, I do not know who you are. In fact, I have never known you."

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 24 March 2002

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