In my last post, I outlined how we can see God’s heart for all people groups interwoven throughout the Old Testament. The New Testament presents us with a time of transition in which we can see a shift from God dealing primarily with Israel to opening up the gospel for all nations. There are many reason for this transition, but here I concern myself primarily with how missions to all people is demonstrated in the New Testament.
While the Gospels concern themselves primarily with Jesus’ ministry to the Jews (“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” – Matthew 15:24) and there is good reason for that, we also repeatedly see him interacting with Gentiles. This serves as a precursor of what is to come following His resurrection and that we see demonstrated all throughout the book of Acts. The rest of Matthew 15:24-28 tells the story of Jesus’ interaction with a Canaanite woman and His healing of her daughter after the woman’s demonstration of faith. Several other verses in the Gospels present the same kind of interaction and testimony of Jesus’ saving work for all people.
Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Matthew 8:10-11 – concludes the interaction of Jesus with a Roman Centurion, “When Jesus heard this he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you many will come from the east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…”
Luke 2:29-32 – Simeon’s statement upon beholding the infant Jesus, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke 3:4-6 – John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3-5, note especially verse 6, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
John 1:12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
John 1:29 – “The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
John 4 – Describes Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. Much can be written about this one story alone. By the Samaritan woman’s own testimony she indicates the kind of animosity that exists between Jews and Samaritans. The main point that I would like us to see here is Jesus’ statement in John 4:21-23, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” Jesus explains that true worship will be disconnected from a location or even a people group. True worship is for those who worship God in spirit and truth, regardless of ethnicity.
However, it is not only the gospels that carry the idea of missions and God’s heart for all peoples, but the rest of scripture as well. The book of Acts serves as a transitional book, taking us from the dispensation of law to the dispensation of grace. In that process, several things happen that show the inclusion of Gentiles into this new group, this new body of believers in Christ, the Church. It begins with Acts 1:8 which serves as an outline for the rest of the book, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The rest of the book of Acts is the record of the expansion of the church. We witness the church on mission and the inclusion of Gentiles into the body.
Acts 2:1-13 – The Holy Spirit falls at Pentecost
Acts 8:4-25 – Philip takes the gospel to Samaria. So from the initial starting point of the Jews we immediately have the expansion of the good news to the Samaritans, bringing to fruition what Jesus proclaimed to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This is confirmed by the Apostles Peter and John, so the gospel has expanded to Samaria.
Acts 8:26-40 – From Samaria Philip witnesses to the Ethiopian Eunuch, the Ethiopian is a proselyte. While we don’t yet have an expansion of the gospel to Gentiles, we do see it expanding to Gentile proselytes. Through this Ethiopian, the gospel would spread right to the heart of Africa. To this day, Ethiopia has a Christian majority, while being surrounded by primarily Islamic countries.
Acts 10-11 – These chapters record the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles. From Pentecost we have seen Jews included, Samaritans included, proselytes included and now the Gentiles will be included in the growing Church. First we meet Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman Centurion. God indicates to him that his prayers have been heard and he should send men to contact Peter. Next, we see God giving Peter a vision to demonstrate to him that he should not call unclean that which God has called clean. The illustration uses the Jewish food laws. However, the real meaning is about to become clear to him, as the men sent by Cornelius arrive at the house. Peter accompanies the men to see Cornelius and upon arrival, reminds him that as a Jew he shouldn’t be there, but God has told him not to call unclean what God calls clean. This demonstrates that Peter has understood God’s message. As Peter begins to proclaim the gospel to them, the Holy Spirit falls and they speak in tongues. Peter recognizes, because of His vision, that God is granting the Gentiles repentance and proclaims that they be baptized with water, having already been baptized by the Holy Spirit. This creates a controversy in the church at Jerusalem and Peter must defend himself by going over the entire story, ending with the church in Jerusalem recognizing, “then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 10-11 represents a key point in redemptive history, as from this point on the church will continue to grow in Gentile areas until it becomes primarily Gentile rather than Jewish.
Acts 11:19-30 – Immediately following the expansion of the gospel to Gentiles through Peter, we are given the account of the church in Antioch. Antioch becomes the first primarily Gentile church, it is also at Antioch that the followers of Christ first receive the name, Christians. The church at Antioch will lead the way in caring for their brothers in Judea when a famine strikes. Later, in Acts 13, it will be this predominately Gentile church that serves as the launching point for the missionary journeys of Paul.
Acts 13-21 – Much could be said about the missionary journeys of Paul and the places that he visits. Indeed we teach an entire class on the book of Acts here at Calvary University. However, since my intention is to give a brief overview of missions in the New Testament, I will hold to three examples:
Acts 14:8-18 – This passage tells the interesting story of what happened when Paul healed a man in Lystra. The people began to worship Paul and Barnabus! It is evident that at first, the apostles did not know what was going on because the crowd was speaking in a language they did not understand. It was only when they started to sacrifice to them that they realized the mistake. This story serves as an amusing example of what can happen when missionaries do not properly understand the culture of the people they are trying to share the gospel with!
Acts 16:6-10 – The Macedonian call serves as the impetus for the gospel to be taken to Greece. This one event, and Paul’s obedience spreads the gospel to largely non-Jewish areas and also gives us the books of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
Acts 19:1-7 – Up to this point in Acts the gospel has spread to Jews, Samaritans, Proselytes, and Gentiles. When Paul arrives in Ephesus, he meets some individuals who are disciples of John the Baptist. Through their interaction, Paul explains the gospel more clearly and they place their faith in Jesus. At this point, the gospel has come full circle, demonstrating the superiority of Christ and His provision for all mankind.
As already shown, many of Paul’s letters would not have been written if it had not been for his missionary journeys and the expansion of the gospel to all people groups. Many passages in Paul’s letters and the other epistles demonstrate God’s heart for the nations. However, to close off this post we will examine only three more.
Romans 10:13-17 – “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of who they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” – Romans 10 represents the ultimate impetus for the missionary enterprise. If we understand correctly that all are destined for Hell apart from Christ and the only way for them to be saved is to hear the gospel, then we must preach the gospel, and someone must go, and someone must send!
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – Earlier we saw in the Old Testament how Abraham was blessed in order to be a blessing, and how the nation of Israel was blessed in order to be a blessing to other nations. In the same way we who have received salvation in Christ are blessed in order to bless others with the knowledge that we possess. There is no wiggle room in this verse, Paul makes it clear that anyone who is in Christ has the ministry of being an ambassador for Christ to those who do not know Him. This doesn’t make us all missionaries, but it does make every single Christian a witness to everyone around them of the power of Christ to save.
Revelation 5:9-10 – “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
The end is assured and the testimony of Scripture is true. There will be a multitude of every nation, tribe, tongue, people, and ethnic group there with Christ at the end of this age and the beginning of eternity. The New Testament clearly demonstrates the primacy of missions in the plan of God. It is not an add-on. It is not just one ministry among many in the church. It is not just an extra activity for those few who are called to it. Missions is the primary activity of the church. The testimony of Scripture is clear and if that were not enough, so is the command of our Lord!