Sunday 19 January 2020
A God for ‘all people, in all places’
1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Context: the preacher’s local church
Aim: to remind listeners that God’s love is inclusive, and we must challenge indifference
The arrival of Jesus in the land of Judea was not because of the Jews’ superiority or righteousness. Indeed, Israel at that time was in a state of gross darkness. So much so that the arrival of God’s son in the land went largely un-noticed by all, except a few. He would become a light to the world without venturing much beyond the relatively small Middle Eastern area of the known world.
When John spotted Jesus approaching, he declared to his audience that this single lamb would one day be sacrificed, not just for the Jews, but rather for the sins of the entire world.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’
When declaring to Nicodemus that ‘... God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16), this would have been a struggle for his listeners to comprehend.
A Messiah for all Nations
The idea of a Messiah for all nations was a concept lost on the Jews. The early disciples struggled to come to terms with the openness of Jesus’ ministry to those of other nationalities who were not proselytes to the Jewish faith. Without expecting people to adopt Judaism, Jesus would engage with non-Jews, introducing them to his father and demonstrating the extent of God’s love for and interest in their lives. The disciples observed his actions, sometimes with embarrassment and other times with bewilderment.
Even the directive to be his herald in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world, was interpreted by them to mean finding Jews in these places rather than taking God’s love to ‘all people, in all places.’ The rallying cry by Jesus, to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to every ethnic group’ would also be heard but not properly understood. It would be much later before Peter would declare (Acts 10:34-35) ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’
The selection of individuals or groups to be his witness, light, voice has always been intended as a way to reach, enlighten or alert the wider humanity whom the Creator loved to the extent of sacrificing his only begotten son.
Paul recognised this concept in his own calling and ministry. God would use an extremist Jew to be an apostle and herald to a Gentile world. Writing to a multi-ethnic community in Corinth, Paul recognised his call was to ‘all those in every place who call upon God.’ This is how he addressed the Corinthian church in his first letter:
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.
Paul would adapt his ministry to reach Jews and Gentiles as God’s herald. He would be required to declare God’s love to different communities in different places, contextualizing the gospel in a way that communicated God’s love to all people in all places.
May our voices be heard!
The western Christian church today is faced with this challenge of presenting a gospel that is not lost in religious rhetoric and western culture mixed with selected biblical passages to support established cultural positions. God still needs his voice heard and his love transmitted and felt in the Islamic world and the Hindu world and the rest of the still unreached communities that exist outside of western Christianity. The inference of the words of Jesus in John 3:16 is that if there were only Muslims in the world, Christ would still have died on the cross. If there were only Hindus or atheists Jesus would still have hung on a tree.
The people from ‘every place’ are now within our communities, workplaces, universities and sports arenas. I pray that we will be God’s voice and instruments of his love in today’s world. May our voices be heard by all people in all places!
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