Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Gospel of the Land: A Centre for World Evangelism by Dr Ern Baxter

Another awesome transcript on the theme of "The Land". It just won't go away!

Ezekiel 5:5 NIV – “This is what the Sovereign Lord says; This is Jerusalem which I have set in the centre of the nations, with countries all around her”.

The land of Israel was set right in the middle of the world. God’s chosen people were surrounded by the mighty nations of that time – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the Medes and the Persians. Nearby was Tyre and Sidon whose ships sailed to every port in the world. More than that, all of the great inland roads for trade either crossed Israel’s borders or were nearby. Truly Israel was the centre of everything and everyone!

1. God’s Purpose for His People Israel.

God had a large purpose in planting His people where He did:

Exodus 19:5-6: “If you will truly obey My voice and keep My command then you will be a special treasure to Me above all people – for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.

Exodus 34:10: “Then the Lord said, I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will be awed by the work that I will do for you”.

Yes God had a large purpose for His chosen people. They were to be a kingdom of priests – kings and priests under God. They were to declare God’s word and will with divine power and authority. They were to reach out to the nations around them with the good news of God’s holy purpose for their lives. As prophets, they were to bring God to the nations and the nations to God. As kings they were to bring all the peoples under the righteous rule of God’s law of love. Sin and rebellion against the holy love of God was to be opposed and destroyed.

God’s purpose for His people – in every age – has been world-wide in His scope. This great theme can be traced throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. The whole world has always been in God’s heart and under His watchful eye. It is interesting to note the many times in Israel’s history that God tried to lift their vision beyond themselves. Their history is recorded for our instruction so it will be worth our while to review this special missionary theme from Scripture.

2. The report of the twelve spies at Kadesh.

Moses sent twelve men to spy out the land of Canaan which God had promised them. Upon their return, ten of the men gave a report which was filled with fear and doubt. As a result, the people refused to enter Canaan and possess the land. The land however was the key to God’s plan for a world-wide witness. Canaan was the centre from which God – through Israel – was going to reach all the nations of the earth. To avoid the Promised Land was to oppose the will of God for His beloved world. Israel rebelled in fear: Moses prayed in faith. He prayed that God would forgive His people and give them another chance. Listen as Moses pleads with God on behalf of Israel:

Numbers 14:19-21: “Pardon the sin of this people, I pray because of your great mercy … Then the Lord said, “I have forgiven them as you asked. For truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord”.

God did forgive but only those of the next generation were allowed into the land. Those who doubted God’s promise and disobeyed His Word missed their inheritance. Only their children would enter the land and fulfil the will of God – to be a glorious light in a dark world. Yes, a whole generation had failed in their test of faith and obedience at Kadesh. They were so near, yet so far. God stayed true to His purpose, however. The whole world would one day be filled with the glory of His Presence.

Moreover as we shall see in our next chapter, that glory will be revealed through another family. But it will be a faithful family of royal sons and daughters – people who have a great vision and a large faith. There is no place in God’s great plan for people with small minds and weak hearts. The Promised Land is filled with giants. They will only fall before those who are willing to fight with faith – a faith which is backed by the power of God’s Word!

3. The Crossing of the Jordan River.

Before Israel could possess the Promised Land they had to cross the Jordan River. Plainly for all the people and their supplies to cross the river at flood stage would require a miracle. And that is just what God provided! The priests were carrying the Ark. The people were told to follow them for they had not been that way before. The possession of God’s promises often requires travelling on unknown roads and crossing deep rivers. As the priests reached the waters edge all the people of Israel were backed up behind them. It must have been a very dramatic moment. It must have been a very dramatic moment. As the feet of the priests at the front touched the surface of the water, every eye was fixed upon them. Only the Jordan itself was between the people and their land.

As they watched, the river was cut off up stream – and they all marched over on dry land. An entire nation walked forward in faith and obedience. God had dammed up an entire river so carefully that not even their shoes got wet! What was the purpose of such a mighty miracle? Was it a sign that God was with them? Yes but it was more than that;

Joshua 4:23-24 – “For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over … that all the peoples of the earth might know the mighty hand of the Lord. And that you might fear the Lord your God forever”.

Again we see that the overall purpose of God went beyond the nation of Israel. It reached out to “all the peoples of the earth”. No one is left out of God’s plan of the ages.

4. David’s defeat of the giant Goliath.

We all like stories where the good, little guy beats up on the big, bad guy. And none is better than the story of David and Goliath. David’s small slingshot wins over the great sword of Goliath. Yes it is a story which is loved by children of all ages! But what does it mean? Was it because God wanted to save and deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines? Yes but there is a much larger purpose in this mighty, military miracle;

1 Samuel 17:45-46: “Then David spoke to Goliath, the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, spear and javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty. He is the God of the armies of Israel … This day the Lord will hand you over to me. I will strike you down and cut off your head … and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel”.

Plainly God’s larger purpose was to reveal His power and Presence to the whole world. Israel’s salvation was to be a witness throughout the entire earth. This missionary theme was carried on by David’s son Solomon.

5. Solomon’s world-wide vision.

Solomon’s understanding of God’s world-wide purpose is found in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple;

1 Kings 8:22, 23, 41, 43; “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the people. He spread out his hands towards heaven and said, “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven or earth like You. You have kept Your covenant of love with Your servants who walk before You with all their heart … Remember also the foreigners who do not belong to Your people Israel. They will come from far-away lands to this temple because of Your Name. They will hear of Your Great Name and mighty power and come to pray towards this temple. When they do, then hear from heaven and answer their prayers that all the peoples of the earth may know Your Name. May they fear and honour Your as do Your people Israel”.

Solomon welcomed the foreigner with open arms because he saw something of God’s love for all the peoples of the earth. His attitude was very different than most of the Jews of his day. They believed God belonged to them. He was their God, the God of the Jews. They belonged to Him and He belonged to them – and to nobody else!

Solomon did not agree with them. True, God was their God but for a reason. He was their God that they might share Him with others. Sometimes we fall into the same false idea about God. We feel He is for us – and against them. But God is not against anybody. God was in Christ bringing the “whole world” into a right relationship with Himself (1 Cor 5:18, 19).

God blessed Solomon because of his open heart and many came from far places just as he had prayed. One of his foreign visitors was the queen of Sheba.

6. A Jewish King blesses a Gentile Queen.

The story of Solomon and the queen of Sheba is most interesting. It is a prophetic picture of God’s end-time purpose for the world. Let us read the record from Scripture itself:

1 Kings 10:1-4, 9, 23-24: “The queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation with the Name of the Lord. Therefore she came to test him with hard questions … Solomon answered all of her questions for there was nothing too difficult for him to explain. When the queen of Sheba had seen all of Solomon’s wisdom, the beauty of his buildings and the wealth of his possessions, she was overcome … “You are much richer and wiser than all the reports which I had received … Blessed be the Lord your God who set you on the throne of Israel to do justice and righteousness”. So King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear the wisdom which God had put in his heart”.

At the height of Solomon’s rule the kingdom was at its best. Because of God’s blessing upon Solomon, his empire was known all over the world. With this thought in mind we can see how Solomon is a type of the Lord Jesus. One day He will rule the entire earth with righteousness and justice. Jesus referred to this prophetic truth in His warning to the wicked people of His day:
Matthew 12:42: “The queen of Sheba will rise up to condemn this generation at the judgement day. She came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. But now Someone greater than Solomon is here”.

As we have seen before the little phrase, “ends of the earth” is of great importance. It speaks of God’s overall purpose for mankind. It is not a surprise therefore to hear these very words from the lips of Jesus just before He returned to heaven;

Acts 1:8; “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth”.

The promise of the Father – the coming of the Holy Spirit – was to provide the power needed to fulfil God’s end-time purpose. These last words of Jesus here on earth were directed to His disciples. Their mission after He was gone was to take the gospel to all the peoples of the world. Yes there is a world to be won for Christ. Only then can the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea”. This was their task and it is ours too.

To All the Ends of the Earth.

In review, we have seen that both the gospel of the Garden and the gospel of the Land had the whole world in view. God wanted each place to be the centre from which His life and His love could reach out to the ends of the earth. Sadly both Adam and Israel failed in their calling. God however has not changed His mind. He will not fail in His plan for a world-wide family – a royal, righteous and beloved family. Christ Jesus is the first born of that family and by the power of the Spirit, His Church will succeed where others failed. Before we close this study however I would like for us to briefly consider one of David’s psalms which has a powerful, prophetic message;

Psalm 76; “God be gracious to us and bless us. May He cause His face to shine upon us, that You may be known on the earth and Your salvation among all the nations. Let the peoples praise You O God, let all the peoples praise You. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for You will rightly judge the peoples and rule the nations on the earth. Let the people’s praise You O God. Let all the peoples praise You. The earth has been fruitful. God, our God blesses us that all the ends of the earth may hear Him”.

I would put a circle around the little word “us” in the above verse. There is no doubt who “us” is in this New Testament age of grace. WE are spiritual Israel – God’s redeemed people. God bless us. God be gracious to us. God cause His face to shine upon us. For many this is where the psalm stops – with us. We seek God’s grace, favour and blessing but only for us. There is little thought for others in the world.

This is not where the Psalm ends however. True God does want to bless His people. But we will soon discover that His blessing involves a much larger purpose, “That Your way may be known on all the earth”. God’s business of blessing is not for us to keep and store up for ourselves. God wants His salvation known among “all the nations”. Let “all the peoples praise Him”. And “all the ends of the earth” fear Him. Plainly God’s purpose reveals God’s person – He is a “World Person”! In other words it is not enough to enjoy God and personally receive His blessings. That is not wrong but God expects more. He wants us to enjoy His goodness and pass it on. To share it with the nations. If we truly want to see things as God does, we will need to become “World Christians”.

God so “loved the world” that He gave all that He had to give when He gave us His only Son. To be touched by that kind of love will open our hearts to all the peoples of the world. The gospel of the Garden and the gospel of the Land shared the same message. They clearly told the “good news” of God’s purpose and provision for a beloved family that would fill the whole earth. As we have seen both Adam and Israel failed in their mission and their message to the world. Their time has passed; but our time has come!

God now reveals His plan for our age – a plan that will not fail. It will not fail because it is based upon the Cross and Kingdom of His Son. God’s purpose for His beloved world will be fulfilled through the Church of Jesus Christ. As members of that Church, God’s end-time purpose becomes our privilege and responsibility – our personal right and duty.

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