Genesis 17:1-7 (NIV84).
5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
This is the tenth day of Christmas, and by now all of the gifts have been unwrapped. This is the time when we perhaps have begun to think about what we didn't receive that we had hoped for. Though Christmas is really about what God has already given: the gift of his only Son Jesus, we are all too human, and so was Abram.
The problem was that was way back in Genesis chapter twelve God had called him to leave his country and people and come to dwell in the Promised Land of Canaan. Promised, but never possessed by him during his lifetime. (Hebrews 11) God had promised to make him into "a great nation" but that had been when Abram had been seventy-five years old and now he was ninety- nine. Very few people even live to be that old. My father died last May at the age of 97, and that was far beyond the "three score and ten or four score" (seventy or eighty) the most might hope for. Twenty-four years had elapsed, and his wife Sarai was still barren.
I. More than the blessing Abraham sought (a son) - God promised A Gift for All Nations
God spoke to Abram again, as we read in Genesis chapter fifteen, and Abram complained "I am still childless." God again promised that "a son coming from your own body will be your heir" and so in Genesis chapter sixteen we read that Abram had a son by Sarai's maid Hagar, but God later told Abram (Genesis 17:21) that this son - who would be the father of the Arab nations - was not to be the son of blessing that God had promised. Instead, God had something else in mind. As God's words to Abraham had been recorded two chapters earlier in Genesis 15:
Genesis 15:3 ...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you."
A man of ninety to be a father who would then be one hundred years old. To hear of it, both Abraham and Sarah laughed. And that would be their son's name: Isaac (which means: "he laughs"). And wouldn't we also laugh to hear of something so fantastic, but true.
And we laugh with Abraham and Sarah, for the gift that God was to give to Abraham and Sarah was not only to be a blessing for them but a gift for all nations. In Isaac, God wasn't only blessing these two elderly parents but every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Isaac was to be only one in a long line of descendants who would ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus, whose birth we celebrated ten days ago and whose suffering and death later atoned for your sins and my sins and the sins of all people. As we read in today’s Psalm reading:
Psalm 148:13, 14 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for ... 14 He has raised up for his people a horn [i.e. a strong one - a king], the praise of all his saints [his holy ones]...
Or the Christmas Psalm: 98:1-2 1 Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; ... 2 The Lord has made his salvation known...to the nations.
For the promised messiah was not to come only for his Old Testament saints, the people of Israel. Christ came for everyone. Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that God only cares about some people and that the Old Testament was only about the people of Israel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The number of Bible passages that affirm that God want's all people to be saved would literally fill at least twenty pages and take hours to discuss. God cares about everybody!
Isaiah 42:6 (ESV) I will give you [Christ] as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations...
Isaiah 49:6 (ESV) I will make you [Christ] as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.
It was never just about Abraham, or the people of Israel. Abraham would be the ancestor of the promised messiah, and he was to come (and now has come) to be the salvation of all people.
Isaiah 53:6 (NIV84) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
In this, Abraham placed his trust. Abraham wasn't a perfect man. Faltering in his confidence, he had tried to fulfill God's promise of a son through his wife's servant girl Hagar. But salvation isn't ever about us and what we do but about God and what he has done on our behalf. Though sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5) and though none of us is righteous by what we do (Romans 3:10- 18), God has placed our iniquity - our sin - upon Jesus and he has atoned for the sins of all people. Our righteousness does not come from fulfilling God's law, but through faith in Christ:
Genesis 17:6 (NIV84) Abram believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] credited it to him as righteousness.
That's how God sees us now, you and me, as righteous in his sight, not because of what we have done, but despite all that we have done, purely because of what Jesus has done: This One who was born for us, has suffered and died for our sins and risen in victory over sin and death. In Christ God has declared all humankind righteous. He has absolved everyone on earth. As Edward Kaehler wrote in Summary of Christian Doctrine:
God has forgiven all sins. – Because of the redemption through the Christ God no longer imputes sins to men ...; He does not charge their transgressions against them, but credits them with the merits of Christ. Edward Koehler A Summary of Christian Doctrine 146.
1 JOHN 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
The only thing is, that although all people have been redeemed (their sins have been paid for), this gift for all nations is received through faith in Christ and most people do not believe.
II. Will We Proclaim?
Only about 1⁄4 of the people on this planet self-identify as being Christians. There are 7.2 billion people on earth. That means that something like 5.4 billion people self-identify as not believing in Jesus Christ. And since Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not a way, a truth and a life, people who don’t believe in Jesus don’t go to heaven. It’s not that God and the Christian faith is somehow exclusive – that we don’t want these people in heaven – but that Jesus is the only way to get there. Jesus is our elevator, and there is no stairway to heaven. That’s just the name of a song.
Every year 130 million children are born. Of these, about 98 million will probably never believe in Christ. Of the 68 million people who die this year, about 51 million will likely die without believing in Christ. That’s about 140 thousand per day. That’s about 58 hundred per hour. That’s about 97 per minute or about 1 1⁄2 for every tick of the clock. When the Titanic sank nearly 103 years ago 1,500 people perished because there weren't enough life boats. But right now we’re talking about a Titanic-sized catastrophe every 15 minutes, four times every hour of every day and night.
Earlier this morning in Bible Class we talked about Christ's Great Commission - to reach people everywhere with the message of the Gospel and if I asked you to put up your hand this morning if you are in favor of doing that, I am confident that every one of you would raise your hand. We believe that Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again not only for us but for all people. We care about reaching people everywhere with the precious gospel of Jesus Christ. But it mostly isn't getting done, because caring about it doesn't necessarily make it happen.
For example, even though the “Christian World” (the part of the world that is predominately Christian) is only 11% of the world’s population, Christians spend 87% of their offerings on meeting their own needs and only 13% of offerings to reach out to the other 89% of the world. (See CGI (Christian Growth Initiative) CGIoutreach.org.)
When we speak of Christian missions, we divide the world into 3 sections: 1) the "Christian World," 2) the "Evangelized Non-Christian World" and 3) the "Un-Evangelized World."
In the “Christian World” there are 4.1 million full-time Christian workers (pastors, teachers, etc.), while there are only 1 million (a quarter as many) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only 20,500 church workers (2% as many) in the “Un-evangelized World.”
We have over 300,000 missionaries serving in the “Christian World” but only a hundred thousand (one third that number) in the “Evangelized Non-Christian World” and only about 10 thousand (10,200) (one percent as many) in the “Un-Evangelized World.” These numbers are all upside-down. (We are allocating the fewest number of workers where the need is the greatest.)
Perhaps we think that this is just being responsible. After all, isn’t it important for Christians to receive instruction and grow in their faith? Yes it is. But what of the lost? The world needs to hear the gospel, the only hope of salvation.
III. The Continuing Need to Bring God's God promised Gift to All Nations
In the United States, 2 1⁄2 million people die every year, 7 thousand per day, 113 per hour, about 2 people every second, most not believing in Christ. More than 4 1/2 million people are born in America every year, nearly 12 thousand per day, 194 per hour, more than 3 per second. Will someone bring them the gospel?
Sometimes I hear that we don't need to concern ourselves about such things. After all, we hear, God will take all his "elect" (predestined) to heaven. Yes he will, as he promises in Romans chapter 8, but Romans chapter 10 (:17) tells us that "faith comes by hearing the message" and "how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" (:14) In Christian Dogmatics (3:476) Francis Pieper writes:
Election is...a selecting...in eternity of...persons...to salvation...In this choosing was included the work of the Holy Ghost, approaching the chosen with the Gospel and through the Gospel engendering faith in them. ...not without regard to the means...but in such a way as to provide for the preaching of the Gospel and the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for the generation of faith.
This isn't hypothetical. Where I was raised, in Oregon, only 5% of people attend a Christian church. I was in college before I came to know and believe in the gospel. I didn't hear the gospel from one of the few Christians I knew, nor did I hear the gospel in one of the few churches that I visited. I found the mercy and love of Christ in the pages of the Bible. Will everyone in North Carolina have an opportunity to hear the gospel?
Here in Raleigh, NC: 2,073 deaths / year, about 6 / day, or about every 4 hours. 5,554 births / year, 15 / day, one about one every 90 minutes (See my website: CGI (as in “Christian Growth Initiative”) -
lso invite you to visit my blog: AuthenticChristianityCGI.Wordpress.com.) The need for workers in God’s harvest field is more now than it ever has been, and it’s more than a pastor can do by himself.
IV. A 10-Point Mission Plan (from the Book of Acts) to bring God's promised A Gift for All Nations
As we go out with the gospel, how do we go? If we look in the book of Acts we find a ten-point
A. One: We go out in sufficient numbers to bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
And (briefly): And (Point 1), is that we go out in sufficient numbers. Jesus sent the Seventy out to a population of Israel that was about one million at that time. That would be about one missionary for every 14,000 people.
In Saint Paul’s three missionary journeys, he was accompanied a number of coworkers. (Acts 20:4-6). Paul didn't do the work alone. God granted him lots of help.
Wake County has a million people living in it; Raleigh has over four hundred thousand, after an increase of one hundred and fifty thousand during the past twelve years. To have the same number of evangelists for Raleigh as the early church did in Israel (one for every 14,000 people), we would need thirty people or thirty congregations in Raleigh; each with a "responsibility area" of about 14,000 people or about 5,000 homes each. Reaching 5,000 homes! Actually, that isn't so difficult. A team of 4 college students from WELS Kingdom Workers for a week each spring and a team of 2 college students for 10 weeks each summer could bring a personal gospel message to 5,000 homes in just 3 years. Some congregations with trained evangelists just take a compass, draw a big circle around their church's location, with perhaps a one and a half-mile radius. Then, even without the help of WELS Kingdom workers, they are able to canvass a quarter of their area each year: 1,200 homes per year at only 100 per month! In my mission in Florida we canvassed 13,000 homes.
Or, if 10 people spent a half-hour (part of one evening) each week, phoning 25 homes, in ten months these 10 people would have telephoned 10,000 homes. In a dozen years, these same 10 people could phone the home of every person currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina.
B. Two: It's Not As Hard As We Expect - We Don't Go Out Alone as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Sometimes we are a little afraid to do so. But (Point 2) it’s not as hard as we expect and we don't go out alone. Jesus sent people out two by two (Mark 6:78); sometimes we do the same. We also go out after being fully equipped as trained evangelists. It's not always easy. Jesus said... "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." (Luke 10:3) but there's one more thing: We don't go out alone: God goes with us too. In thousands of visits we’ve run into a few unpleasant responses here and there. But I can’t say we’ve ever really been in danger.
C. Three: We depend on God as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said ... "Do not take a purse or a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road."
(Luke 10:4a) He’s talking about depending on God as we share the gospel. That’s (Point 3) D. Four: We Go Out with a Sense of Urgency as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Jesus said: "...do not greet anyone on the road." (Luke 10:4b)
It’s like in the time Elisha sent out his servant and told him: “... If you meet anyone, do not greet
him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. ...” (2 Kings 4:29)
That’s (Point 4). There is a sense of urgency in this. There is a whole world out there, dying without Christ.
E. Five: We Select Our Mission Fields Carefully & Strategically as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
Also (Point 5), as we select our mission fields, we do so carefully and strategically. Look, for example, where Saint Paul went. (see Acts 13:4-6, 15:36-41, Acts 14:5-7, 14:19-23, 16:1-5, Acts 14:24-26, Acts 19:1, 21-24) When we examine 25 different locations where Paul traveled, we find that these were places that were centers of government, centers of commerce, centers of travel, not just to facilitate his own journeys, but so that the message of the gospel would travel far and wide from the places where the seed of the Word of God was planted.
F. Six: God Opens Some Doors and Closes Others as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 6) Another thing we learn is that God opens some doors and he closes others. For example, God told Paul not to go to Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16b-8a). It wasn’t until later that we learn that a church was well-established in those areas. Some times God says “not yet” with some locations but then opens up opportunities elsewhere, as when God directed Paul to go to Macedonia.
G. Seven: Go Initially to where People have some Knowledge of the Bible as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
We also learn with the Apostles (Point 7), to go initially to places where there are people who have some knowledge of the Bible – but where God’s Word may have been misunderstood or misrepresented. In the case of the Apostles, it was to Jewish synagogues. Over and over again (as we are specifically told in 8 of the 25 places Paul visited), the apostle Paul went to synagogues to present the gospel. At that time there had not yet been a division between Jews and Christians. Here was a people instructed in Old Testament scripture, and it was an opportunity to show them that their scriptures pointed to Christ. When Jewish people rejected the message, they turned to people called “God-fearers” – non-Jewish people who had been instructed in the Old Testament and who believed in the God of Israel, but who had not officially
converted to the Jewish faith.
H. Eight: We Also Go Where God Opens Doors & Where The Gospel Is Needed Most as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
(Point 8) is that along with establishing a foothold among populations with knowledge of the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles also went where God opened doors and granted an opportunity: Jesus reached out to the Canaanite woman in the area of Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26, 39-42). It seems that Jesus specifically went to these places to talk with these people.
Paul did the same thing. When he found himself in Athens among a group of people who had little knowledge of scripture but who were willing to listen, he proclaimed God’s Word to them ...
22 ... “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. ... 34 A few men became followers .... (Acts 17:15-17, 22-24, 32-34 - During Paul’s 2nd Missionary Tour)
We might also mention Paul preaching to (and later baptizing) the Philippian jailor and his family in Acts 16 (:25-34). Sometimes God opens door that surprise us, but we also make sure to bring the gospel to the people who need it most.
I. Nine: When Your Message is Rejected in One Place, Move to Another as we bring God's promised Gift to All Nations
That brings us to (Point 9): When your message is rejected in one place, move on to another. As we read in Acts chapter 18:
But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he ... [went] to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6, see: 1-4, 6-8 – Paul’s 2nd Missionary Journey)
Remember, every door you knock on gets you closer to one that will open up and be receptive to the message of the gospel.
J. Ten:Work where youI message is received
i brings us to (Point 10): Work where your message is received. Jesus said:
5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.'" 6 "If a man of peace is there ... 7 Stay in that house...." (Luke 10:5-7, (8)
V. The Content of The Message
What’s the message that we proclaim to people like this? It doesn’t need to be complicated. Their message was simply “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Luke 10:9) God is normally not “near,” in the sense that our sin builds a wall between us and God. In the person of Jesus Christ, who is God himself, who died to pay for the sins of the world, the kingdom of heaven has indeed come near.
The message of law & gospel isn't complicated. We can summarize the outline from an evangelism program called "God's Great Exchange" in just four points: (1) God Requires, (2) God Sees, (3) God Gives, (4) God Assures. (Law) (1) God requires that we be perfect to be good enough to get to heaven. Now how many people can do that? (2) God sees that we are not perfect and can’t be good enough to get to heaven. (Gospel) (3) God Gives full forgiveness, because on the cross Jesus paid for all of our sins. And the promise of heaven is a free gift, which is what “grace” means. Sometimes people say, “religion is a crutch” and I say “no, it’s an electric wheelchair.” (4) God therefore Assures us that through faith, which means to trust in what Jesus has done on the cross rather than trusting in our own goodness, we are forgiven and will be in heaven.
God gave a promise to Abraham that he would become a father, and not only that, a father of many nations. God's promise looked beyond Abraham's son Isaac and the people of Israel. The promise was that one of Abraham's descendants would be the promised savior, Jesus. He was to be born, not only as Israel's messiah, but (in the words of the hymn), as the "Savior of the Gentile Nations." But the work is largely unfinished, for most people still do not believe and many have not yet heard the gospel. It is not as when the Titanic sank without enough lifeboats.
When God brought you to faith in Christ, he not only rescued you but placed you in his lifeboat, not only so that you could go to heaven one day, but so that you could invite others to come onboard. Christ has won salvation for all nations. It's now up to us, you and me and all of us, to bring this marvelous gift of salvation to the whole world.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.