By David Armstrong
The disciples had seen God do amazing things when they preached in the villages of Israel. They had asked whether this was the time when Israel would be restored to prominence. They were focused on Israel. They were focused on the people and place in front of them and found it difficult to think beyond the borders of Palestine. Yet that was the next step Jesus had for them after his death and resurrection. Filled with the Spirit, they were to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
This was so beyond their mindset that God had to give Peter a special vision. He showed Peter that Gentiles were not unclean and sent him to share the gospel with the Roman soldier Cornelius (Acts 10). Even after that, God raised up someone else—Paul, raised in Greek culture as well as Hebrew scripture—to lead the charge in taking the gospel beyond the Jewish world.
Matthew 28 shows us something else. It shows us Jesus did not send his first followers to take the gospel to the nations and then come back home again. He wanted them to stay as an example, helping new followers integrate the good news about Jesus into their daily lives. That meant the disciples had to go and live among the very people they had been taught all their lives to stay away from. To make disciples of all nations was not what they were expecting… but it was the means by which whoever believed would not perish but have eternal life, the wonderful news Jesus revealed to Nicodemus (John 3:16).
A Call to Lift up Our Eyes
Today, when you hear about the persecuted in the Middle East or conflicts in Ukraine, how do you respond? Do they feel too far removed from us to dwell on? How easily we human beings seek God’s best for “me” and “mine,” when God wants to extend the blessing of relationship with him to all the world!
A practice that may help: May I challenge you to pray your way through the news? As you hear, see, and read what is happening on the other side of the world, pray for the people and the situations in which they are forced to live. And pray, even more, that God would use these events to turn people’s eyes toward him.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that God thinks as much about people far removed from us as he does about you and me. And God also moves on their behalf in response to your prayers and mine. Ask God to give you his heart for the nations. May he stretch you and me to see them as he sees them.
People of all denominations pray together in the public square in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo by Sergey Baliuk, via United Bible Societies (article here).