The trajectory of mission throughout Scripture as a whole is much like a beam of light in a dark room.
See, it begins very narrow and ends rather broadly. That is how mission is shaped in the Bible – it begins very narrow, yet ends rather broadly. In fact, it begins with only one man…
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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV).
Chris Wright (Mission of God, pg. 194) suggests that this is a pivotal text, not only in Genesis, but for the Bible as a whole.
It is a very famous passage and most of us know the story.
It records God’s call on Abram’s life. Abram is asked, or more accurately commanded, to leave his country, people and family. He is commanded to leave everything he has known and venture into the unknown. However, note that this is a particular focus on one man. God will make you (Abram) a great nation, he will bless you (Abram) and will make your (Abram’s) name great. God has singled out one person! Yet in verse three we are given a glimpse of the future. All the families of the earth will be blessed in/through Abram.
The importance of this text is reaffirmed by Dr James McKeown. In his commentary on Genesis he notes that in Genesis 1-11 cursing occurs five times, yet here in Genesis 12:1-3 blessing occurs five times. Here we see that God is beginning to put right all that has gone wrong in chapters 1-11. God’s mission begins here…
John Goldingay (Genesis for Everyone, p. 139) says that ‘God settles on one person in order to make him…the way to including others’. And so, this divine speech in Gen. 12:1-3 sets the agenda, not only for Abraham, but for his descendants.
Yet, the glimpse of the future in verse three is soon lost between the patriarchs and the kings. While there are flashes of this future again in psalms and prophets it does remain quite narrow.
This one man, Abraham, does eventually develop into numerous men – but they are still one nation, Israel. Even though there are people outside of Israel included in this mission (Rahab, Ruth and Naaman) it still remains narrow throughout the OT.
In fact, even Jesus himself remains constrained to Israel for a time being. In Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus tells his disciples to avoid the Gentiles – preach only to Israel.
All of this changes with Jesus death, resurrection and ascension.
In the book of Acts Jesus commissions his disciples to go beyond the borders of Israel and we see that both Peter and Paul spend time preaching the gospel to the nations.
The final outcome of this is found in the final book of the Bible.
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, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10 ESV).
This scene is taking place in heaven – and it is here that we see the mission of God at its broadest as there is a countless multitude gathered before the throne and the Lamb!
It is not just the number of people that lends itself to the broad nature of God’s mission at this point. It is the fact that they are from every nation – that is all tribes, peoples and languages! There is no nation that is not represented before the throne and the Lamb.
This scene undoubtedly continues the stress present throughout Revelation of the universal mission of the church. And yet, it has strong roots back to the fulfilment of Genesis – Genesis 17:4 is the promise to Abraham again and is worded in such a way that it is hard to say this scene is not a fulfilment of that.
“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 17:4 ESV).
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 (Rev. 7:9 ESV).
Warren Wiersbe (Be Victorious, p. 70) has said ‘You cannot read the book of Revelation without developing a global outlook’. I believe he is right in this – this is the mission of God at its broadest!
This is the trajectory of mission throughout Scripture – this beam of light. It begins very narrow, but by the end is extremely broad!
But what does this overview of the trajectory of mission in Scripture have to say to us?
Well, firstly I believe that it is the call yet again to send people to the nations. We must go to the nations. We must take this great gospel that we possess and we must take it to the ends of the earth. We must go to the nations. That is the first thing that this trajectory of mission in Scripture has to say to us – we must send people to the nations with the gospel that they can be included in the people of God through Jesus Christ!
Secondly, this trajectory lays on us the responsibility to pray for the nations. We must have a heart to pray for the nations. This should include prayer for the physical needs of our world – famine struck countries, war-torn areas and disease ridden places – they need help and aid in these places. We must pray for an easing of their pain and burdens. However, we do not pray that the nations will become middle-class westerners like us. Our prayers must not stop at the physical needs of our world – it must continue to the spiritual needs. We must pray for those who take the gospel to these places, for those who proclaim the gospel in the nations, for those who have made commitments to Christ and for those who suffer because of it.
Thirdly, this trajectory of mission throughout Scripture tells us that we should welcome the nations. Every nation will be represented in heaven, before the throne and so it follows that all contact that we have with the nations is a little foretaste of heaven. Therefore, we should welcome the nations, their diversity, their uniqueness, their colour, their flavour, their flare.
I believe we should welcome them on three levels.
Beginning with the broadest I think we should welcome them to our country. As we see the nations arrive in Northern Ireland I believe that as Christians we must be very careful in our attitude toward their arrival. This is a blessing, to have our horizons broadened and our comfort zones stretched. We should welcome this diversity.
This must happen on a slightly smaller scale as well though. This must happen with regard to our church. We must welcome the nations to our church. To have the nations represented in our local church is a great honour and blessing and so we must welcome them. Now this may mean that some things change, that elements of our church life are altered slightly and that new challenges are faced – but that is the point and the benefit.
Yet, we can take this down another level – we must also welcome the nations into our lives. Those who come from a different nation from us, we must integrate them into our lives. To really benefit from their presence we need to have them involved in our own personal lives. Ask yourself, ‘When was the last time I spent an evening with someone who grew up in a different culture from me?’ This is our eternal future as Christians – standing shoulder to shoulder with people from every nation before the throne and the Lamb. Shouldn’t we get a bit of practice in now?
My wife and I visited Zimbabwe last year, and we flew with Fly Emirates. As part of their advertising campaign for their rewards programme they have the tag line ‘The more of our world we see, the richer we become’.
This is true – and Northern Ireland now is such that we don’t always have to go far to experience our world. Every moment we spend with someone not from our culture is a moment we benefit from – because it is to the glory of God.
This is the trajectory of mission in Scripture – from one man, to all nations, because of Jesus.