The Diverse Multitude

Part 7 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Jesus sits with his disciples, Pharisees, and others who are gathered around.  He tells yet another story that doesn’t make sense.  Jesus might as well be talking to a brick wall.

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice,” Jesus says.

Everyone is confused.  Jesus tries to clear things up.  He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door.”  I can see the disciples: “A door, Jesus?  What are you talking about?  You are a man!”  Remember that Jewish teaching—Old Testament or New—has layers of meaning, and weird examples to explain things.  It’s eastern, not western.  Sometimes (very often), even the Jews themselves didn’t understand these examples.

Jesus continues: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”  Now this makes sense.  The Jewish crowd understands.  Some like it.  Others despise it.  John 10:19 says, “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.”

The words, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold,” no doubt struck a chord with the Pharisees and their band of followers.  How could a Jewish man who claims to be the Savior of Israel say that he has “other sheep”?  Dirty Gentiles?  Did Jesus just say that?  They can’t comprehend, but that’s exactly what Jesus said.  If it wasn’t clear enough, he says, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

In addition to Christianity, there won’t be Jewish and Muslim and Scientologist and Buddhist and Hindu and humanist and rationalist or Republican or Democrat or atheist or any other religion we could make up.  There will be one flock and one shepherd.  You are either with Jesus or not.

John the disciple, who wrote the Gospel of John, also wrote Revelation.  In chapter 7, he gives us a stirring illustration of what heaven will be like:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (vv. 9-10).

The Good Shepherd is also the sacrificial Lamb who died to purchase people for God—every kind of person in every kind of race who speak every kind of language in every nation for all time (see Rev. 5:9-10).  One day, this vast, diverse multitude will sing together in heaven, praising God.  That day will last forever.

It is a glorious thing for a king if a single people group worships him.  However, it’s more glorious for a king if he is worshiped by multiple people groups.  Further still, it’s most glorious for a king if he is worshiped by every people group on the earth.  The level of glory a king deserves is measured by the diversity of his worshipers.  God is the God of ultimate diversity.  He will have the most diverse group of worshipers.  This only reveals how glorious, how majestic, how attractive, how powerful, and how lovely he really is.

What will God do with this diverse people?  God’s desire is not to take this group and make them uniform.  No, his desire is to take a diverse people and bring them unity.  There is no glory in making everyone the same, but there is glory in diversity, and there is more glory in unity amidst diversity.  This diverse multitude will have unity, not uniformity, in their Shepherd, their Lamb, their Savior and Lord.  Their unity will be found in one name—the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved—Jesus Christ.


Peter and Cornelius

Part 6 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

In Acts 10, there’s a guy named Cornelius who is a centurion of the Italian Cohort (v.1).  When I hear “Italian Cohort,” I immediately think Vito Corleone.  This might not be the case with our man Cornelius, because the Bible tells us that Cornelius and his family love God.  They pray together and give money to the poor.

One day an angel of God appears to him.  He stares at the angel, probably wondering if it was the midnight snack speaking, and asks, “What is it, Lord?”  God says that his prayers have been heard, and tells him to send servants to bring Simon Peter in Joppa to him.

The next day, as Cornelius’ servants are on their way to Peter’s house, Peter went onto the roof to pray.  While he prayed, God gave him a vision.  In the vision there was a vast sheet with every kind of animal on it.  A voice says to Peter, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”  Peter sharply replied, “Lord, I don’t eat anything that is common.”  And the voice again says, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”  Verse 16 illustrates that God is trying to get a point across: “This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now Peter’s mind is scattered higgledy-piggledy over this.  The ESV says he “was inwardly perplexed” (v. 17).  Peter probably went into his study and opened up his journal for some introspective reflection.  While Peter’s journaling, Cornelius’ servants knock on the door.  They tell Peter the reason for their visit, and Peter invites them in.

After what is probably an awkward night, Peter and some friends go with the servants back to Caesarea.  Cornelius is waiting for them — probably with hot dogs, steak, bacon, and milkshakes.  Okay, maybe not, but you know a culture clash is about to happen.  When Peter walks in, he says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation” (v. 28a).  But Peter didn’t stop there.  By God’s grace, sometime between verses 17 and 28, Peter realized what the vision was about.  He continued, “But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28b).

Peter and his Jewish friends, along with their new Gentile acquaintances sit down together.  In verses 34-43, Peter lays out the good news of Jesus.  “To him all the prophets bear witness,” he proclaimed, “that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v. 43).

Peter didn’t even finish before the Holy Spirit came over the Gentiles.  “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v. 44).  They started speaking in tongues and were praising Jesus.  The circumcised Jews are freaking out, but Peter said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47).

Peter and his friends returned to Jerusalem.  It’s almost certain that in the back of his mind, Peter had worries that his Jewish brothers might want to burn him as a heretic.  Nevertheless, he boldly told the church the whole story.  The response was anything but negative.  “And when they heard these things they fell silent.  And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’ (11:18).  The Jews themselves realize that God’s bigger story is to take his kingdom to the world, not confine it to one race, one people, or one nation.

For the rest of Acts, we see the gospel of God’s grace go to Antioch, Cyprus, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and finally Rome.  All the families of the earth are starting to experience this promised blessing that God made to Abraham.  The gospel has torn down the walls of hostility and division between Jews and Gentiles.  Finally, God has granted repentance that leads to life for the whole world.

To be continued…


Jesus Dies on the Cross

Part 5 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

When Jesus hung on the cross, he had enough breath to speak even though his skin was ripped from his bones and his face was so disfigured that we wouldn’t have been able to tell who he was. He had enough breath to speak despite the weight of his body hanging by two railroad spikes nailed into the most sensitive nerve centers in his body.

At the very end of his crucifixion, around 3 pm, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some have said that this means that God turned his back and couldn’t look at Jesus because of the sin he bore. The Bible, however, doesn’t say that’s why Jesus cried out these prophetic words.

We all know that Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In those days, when a teacher quoted the first line of a particular passage of Scripture, his intention was to reference the whole section. We know this must be the case because verses 16-18 say, “They have pierce my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  This is exactly what happened to Jesus.

But that’s only three verses of the psalm. Toward the end of the chapter, David writes, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (vv. 27-28).  Although God did in fact “turn his back” as Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath on the cross, that is not the main point.  God turning his back on his Son led to something greater.  Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, says, “Could it be that Jesus on the cross [when quoting Psalm 22:1] is saying, ‘Here we go. Here we go’?”  In saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is pointing to the whole Psalm, which ultimately points to God’s universal redemptive plan to save a people–a family–for himself. The point then is that this world-wide revolution of bringing all kinds of people to worship God is about to begin. It is only because Jesus took the wrath of God and died in our place as our substitute Savior that the nations–we Gentiles–will be welcome at God’s table.

Just a chapter later in Matthew 28:18-19, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  The promise to Abraham from Genesis 12 has arrived and the gospel is primed to be spread to all the families of the earth.


Solomon Dedicates the Temple

Part 3 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

After Joshua led God’s people across the Jordan, Israel entered into a time of national decline. We read about in the book of Judges. In fact, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jg. 17:6; 21:25). It got so bad that in 1 Samuel, Israel wanted to be like the surrounding pagan nations and have a king.

God gives his people a king named Saul, and after that David. Solomon succeeds his father David, and reigns over Israel during a time of great prosperity. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom splits yet again into Judah (south) and Israel (north). Despite their unfaithfulness at times (a lot of times!), God keeps his promise to Israel—to love her, protect her, and deliver her.

After Solomon becomes king, it came time to build a temple. David had made a request to God to do this, but blood was on his hands so he was unfit for the job. In 1 Kings 6, Solomon and the Jews build the temple. In chapter 8, Solomon gives his benediction, or dedication, for God’s house.

During his dedication, Solomon prays that God would be faithful to stay with his people and that he would incline their hearts to him so they would obey his commandments. He finishes with this stirring missionary plea:

May he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, that all the people of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other (vv. 59b-60).

Did you catch that? A Jewish king who worships Yahweh just prayed that all the pagan nations surrounding his kingdom would fall in love with the God he worships.  What’s the big deal? I think it’s important for at least two reasons. First, this shows yet again that God’s intention for the world is not that his worshipers be of a single race or nation. God is the God of ultimate diversity and he desires all different kinds of people to worship him.

Second, it shows that the temple is not the point. Why do I say that? If people from all over the world worshiped the LORD God they obviously wouldn’t be able to all fit in one building, and most would not be able to travel to worship there either. More importantly, the temple is not the point because Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).

Solomon realized that the point of the temple was not religious ceremonies and traditions. The point of the temple was to lead people to the God who was worshiped there—the God of spirit and truth. From Solomon’s prayer, we learn that God works for the good of his servants so that the world will know he is the only God! This global overhaul of religion that God is shaping did not happen, however, until Jesus came. After all, he said to the woman at the well, “The hour is coming, and is now here.”


Israel Crosses the Jordan

Part 2 of a 7 part series. View series intro and index.

Last time, we saw that the meta-narrative of the Bible is that God is making a people for himself from all the families of the earth.  There’s so many chapters to this story, but let’s move ahead a few books to Joshua 3-4. The background is that Moses has died and Joshua is now the leader of Israel. He has been a faithful constant in wicked Israel and now it is his opportunity to lead God’s people to the promise land. In Joshua 3, Israel is about to cross the Jordan River.

He gives instructions to the Israelites for what to do. He tells them that God is going to go before them in the ark of the covenant. As they follow, the waters will rise and where they walk will be dry ground. Joshua 3:17 says that “all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”

During chapter 4, Israel set up two memorial stones for the Lord. Joshua said to the people, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do those stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, Israel passed over the Jordan on dry ground” (v. 21).

But did God simply do that to bring Israel into the Promise Land? Wasn’t there a greater purpose? Verse 23 begins with the word “For” to let us know why God did it. Here’s what it says:

For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.

Joshua tells the Israelites the same thing that God tells Abraham in Genesis 12. God delivered his people so his bigger purpose would take place. God wants Israel to know that it’s not about them. It’s about the God of ultimate diversity bringing all people everywhere into white-hot worship of the LORD God as the supreme treasure of the universe.

This story is going beyond Israel. Physical real estate will not be able to contain it. It won’t be limited to race or nation. It’s going to be an unshakable kingdom, and as we said last time, it will be for every kind of person in every kind of race in every of nation for all time.