Monday, March 5, 2012

A Kingdom in Search of a People

A Kingdom in Search of a People

"Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed." Acts 5:12-16 (ESV)

PEOPLE: laos (a people)

Many signs and wonders were done among "a people". "A people" held the apostles in high esteem. "A people" brought their sick and demen-oppressed ones to the apostles for healing.

"A people" in the Greek is in the genitive form, meaning possession. "A people" means more than the population of a city. It means a kind or class of people, a people belonging to some group or kind.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? To what group of people do each of us belong? In what group do we best fit if "people" means more than part of the population of a certain town or region?

To what kind of people did God first come? The major events described in the New Testament, and the overwhelming balance of references made in the Gospel books, indicate that "a people" referred to the Jews.

Peter preached to the men of Israel gathered around the crippled man healed through faith in Christ, and Luke described the men of Israel as "the people" (Acts 3:12). The Jewish religious rulers were grieved that Peter preached Jesus to "the people". Jewish leaders would care little what non-Jews did or did not believe.

"The people" meant the Jews.

The first great Christian revival was experienced by Jews. The initial ministry of Jesus and the apostles was to the Jews.

Jesus was described by prophets as "the king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:1). Jesus was predicted to be "a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Matthew 2:5).

Jesus sent His twelve disciples out to preach to the Jews:

"Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, - The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 10:5-7 (ESV)

Confronted by a Canaanite woman who begged for help, Jesus at first ignored her:

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew 15:24 (ESV)

Jesus accepted the title of King of the Jews:

"Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, - Are you the King of the Jews? - Jesus said, - You have said so." Matthew 27:11 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Share aloud what you know about the origin of the Jews. What defined the Jewish people? What major historical events support the notion that the Jews were God's people?

Yet, even with direct prophecy pointing to the Jewish people as "God's people", there were foreshadowing hints of a far greater plan, a redemption that would extend beyond the Jews.

Two direct ancestors of King David, and Jesus Christ, were Rahab and Ruth, Gentile women, born of people not related to the Jews. (Matthew 1:5).

The Pharisees and Sadducees prided themselves with being in the genetic line of Abraham. But John the Baptist rebuked them:

"Do not presume to say to yourselves, - We have Abraham as our father, - for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham." Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

John knew that God did not place bloodline as the foremost criteria for deciding who belonged to Him.

Early in His ministry Jesus lived for a time in Capernaum, a city in the heart of a region that the prophet Isaiah described as darkened:

"Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: - The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned." Matthew 4:13-16 (ESV)

Jesus called His disciples "salt and light" of the world, implying ministry for the sake of all nations and people groups (Matthew 5:13-14).

Jesus commanded His disciples to love their enemies, reminding them that God Himself loves His enemies, giving sunlight and rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45).

A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal a servant. Matthew's description of the man gives no indication that he was a Jew, and Jesus responded to him in a way that implies he was not:

"Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness." Matthew 8:10-12 (ESV)

Matthew connected Jesus with several prophecies that point to a ministry to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people:

"This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:-Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope." Matthew 12:17-21 (ESV)

Although Jesus made it plain that His first priority was to help the Jewish people, He did respond to the faith expressed by a Canaanite woman:

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. - But she came and knelt before him, saying, - Lord, help me. - And he answered, - It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. - She said, - Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. - Then Jesus answered her, - O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. - And her daughter was healed instantly." Matthew 15:24-28 (ESV)

Jesus described Himself as a "cornerstone", the foundational Person in the kingdom of God. He predicted His rejection by the Jews and the granting of citizenship in God's kingdom to non-Jews:

"Jesus said to them, - Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits." Matthew 21:42-43 (ESV)

The parable of the wedding feast describes two groups of people: one, the Jews, the people invited to the feast, the ones who refused the invitation; the other group, the Gentiles, were the ones not officially invited, the ones outside the kingdom, the ones who lived "out into the roads" (Matthew 22)

Jesus prophesied the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world:

"This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations." Matthew 24:14 (ESV)

Jesus warned His disciples against trusting false Messiahs. He described His ministry as universal, not limited to a certain earthly place. He described His work in the hearts of people as "lightning", implying sudden and piercing knowledge of the truth, no matter where someone may be:

"If anyone says to you, - Look, here is the Christ!- or - There he is! - do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, - Look, he is in the wilderness,- do not go out. If they say, - Look, he is in the inner rooms, - do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Matthew 24:23-27 (ESV)

In that same passage, Jesus used a more gruesome comparison to communicate the universality of salvation in Christ:

"Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Matthew 24:28 (ESV)

The redeeming salvation work of Christ is unlimited by time and space, or by race or nationality, in the same way that a vulture will find a dead animal, whether in the desert or in the jungle, whether beast or bird.

In the final Judgement, when Jesus Christ the Son of Man is on His throne, all the nations will be gathered before Him. Jesus will separate people one from another, based not upon birth or nationality, but upon ownership:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, - Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Matthew 25:31-34 (ESV)

Citizenship in the Kingdom of God depends upon ownership: who bears the mark of God's blessed ownership? Jesus says that this ownership was prepared from the foundation of the world, before any one or any thing was created. The mark of blessing is made apparent through acts of love:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Matthew 25:35-36 (ESV)

The New Testament abounds in references to a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a relationship that is open to Jews and Gentiles alike. Go around the table and read aloud a few of these references:

  • John 10:14-16
  • Acts 10:42-47
  • Acts 11:2-9
  • Acts 13:44-48
  • Acts 15:7-9
  • Acts 15:14-19
  • Romans 15:8-12
  • Galatians 2:15
  • Galatians 3:13-14
  • Ephesians 2:11-18
  • Colossians 3:11
  • Revelation 15:4

The Jews were the first to condemn and crucify God's Messiah, Christ Jesus. But the Jews were also the first to follow Him. Jesus was Jewish by birth, and His first priority was to preach the good news of the Kingdom to His own people. But God planned from the foundation of time that "a people of God" would have no limits. Salvation would cross all boundaries: racial, national, language, gender, age, health, economic and religious.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In what sense have you ever felt ostracized, minimized, or a part of a rejected minority? What new arrangements or ideas might God be moving us toward that could help other groups of people?