Among all nations . . . with power

Four short essays on God's heart for the nations of the world

In the Bible, the word "nations" does not mean political entities like China, India, and the USA. Instead, it means people groups or societies in which people speak the same language, have the same culture, and live in or have originated in the same area. "Nations" is synonymous with the plural word "peoples." In other words, nations in the Bible means all of the people groups of the world.

"I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high" -- Luke 24:49

Week 21 (May) -- Commentary on Luke 24

There is no doubt about what the resurrected Christ wanted for His people. He wanted them to be power-charged. The last words of Jesus that Luke records in his gospel underscore that. That's also clear from the Master's words about our being witnesses in all the world that Luke records in Acts 1:8.

There is a reason why Jesus wants His people to be power-charged. Just prior to His admonition to wait until they were "clothed with power from on high," Jesus talked to His followers about preaching repentance and forgiveness to all nations.

You would, of course, expect a cross-cultural missionary like me to highlight the connection between the prophesied evangelization of the world and the promise of the Father for power. However, I do hope that such an emphasis drawn from this passage is more than just a go-to sermon theme for missionaries in deputation services while on home assignment. The task for which Jesus promised power is still far from finished.

Not long ago a man expressed astonishment at my statement in a sermon that two billion people on earth still know nothing of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That man had been under the impression that the job of proclaiming God's redeeming love in every corner of the world was nearly done. [ more on the unreached ]

It is true that revivals are going on like fire out of control in many parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Outside North America, one thousand new churches open their doors for the first time every Sunday. A century and a half after David Livingstone went to Africa, more than 250 million Africans identify themselves as Christian. That makes Africa, south of the Sahara, substantially Christian.

Christianity is now so widespread that more than one-third of the people in the world are either committed to Christ, or at least claim to be Christians.

On the other hand, more than three-fourths of the non-Christians in the world are outside the reach of the evangelistic efforts of any church or mission organization.

It would appear that to accomplish what the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower us to do, we need a massive new evangelistic push. We will need the promised gift of the Holy Spirit in an effort to reach this vast number of people who are still beyond the reach of any church or mission effort -- people that missiologists call "the unreached peoples."

Some decades ago, we Nazarenes had a "March to a Million" emphasis. Assessing the current world situation in the light of Luke 24, it appears we need to let the promised Holy Spirit guide us into a "March Toward the Three Billion!" [ see missions statistics ]

We need not be afraid of being on the cutting edge of the fulfillment of a prophecy. Perhaps if the two and a half million members of the Church of the Nazarene would commit themselves totally to the Great Commission, we'd be willing to support 1,500 global missionaries instead of 600.

Reflection questions

  1. What is the meaning of the word "nations" in the Bible? How does this particular meaning affect our interpretation of the commandment to "preach repentance and forgiveness to all nations?"
  2. Why did Jesus want His followers to be "power-charged"? In what ways does this relate to the task the church has been given to evangelize the whole world?
  3. What is the current state of evangelism around the world, and why is there still a need for a massive new evangelistic push?
  4. How can the Church of the Nazarene and its members contribute to fulfilling Cherist's Great Commission? What sacrifices might be required to do so?

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It was published in Standard, a Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry..

"Those numbers and those maps are not scores in a game, they are people whose salvation requires sacrifice." -- Paul D., Northwest Nazarene University student

Missions: The heart of God

Psalm 9 was written a long, long time ago. Does verse 11 mean something for us today?

Proclaim among the nations

Commentary on Psalm 9

"Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done." -- Psalm 9:11

As David wrote the words "proclaim among the nations" for Psalm 9, did he envision today's world mission activity? Probably not, since he wrote that Psalm three thousand years ago. Isn't it fascinating, however, how the Holy Spirit uses that phrase to call us to carry out Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)?

The four verses just prior to Psalm 9:11 extol God's righteousness. Scholars say that Psalm 9:11 builds on those four verses. It is thus a "therefore" verse. That is to say, because our Creator and Redeemer is upright and fair and righteous, we must, therefore, proclaim Him "among the nations." Indeed, our passion for world evangelism may well indicate how much in awe we are of God's righteousness.

We have often thought that our awareness of the world's unreached peoples would be what ignites our passion for world evangelism. Well, it should. However, Psalm 9:11 points us to an even higher motivator: Our understanding of God's righteousness. Yahweh is radically different from the fickle, capricious, and even dishonest "gods" promoted by other religions.

This is not the only Psalm that speaks of worldwide proclamation. More than 40 other Psalms mention global evangelism in some way. David clearly believed that God's revelation of Himself was not supposed to remain Israel's private secret. Instead, God intended for His people to communicate that revelation to all other nations, to announce it in "all the ends of the earth," as Psalm 22:27 and Acts 1:8 put it.

Not everyone sees Psalm 9:11 as a call to world evangelism. One online Bible commentary inexplicably says this verse is a message that we are to "tell people about God: our family, our friends, those we work with." Now, to be sure, spreading the Good News to family and friends is important. It's very important. However, asserting that "among the nations" refers only to those in close proximity to us robs this verse of its global sweep. Indeed, John Wesley wrote in his Explanatory Notes that instead of close friends and family, Psalm 9:11 refers to "heathen nations."

What has the Lord done that we should be proclaiming all over the world? God loves us and that love has driven Him to incredible lengths to draw all people to Him (John 3:16). That is worthy of being proclaimed among the nations!

Psalm 18:49, also written by David, is similar to Psalm 9:11 except that in Psalm 18, global proclamation is stated as a response rather than as a command: "Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations."

Shouldn't we echo those words in response to the command in Psalm 9:11?

Reflection questions

  1. How might the concept of God's righteousness have implications for the call to be passionate about world evangelism?
  2. What significance might Psalm 9:11 hold for the themes of global missions and world evangelism?
  3. Do you think some interpretations of Psalm 9:11 fall short in their understanding of its global scope? Why or why not?
  4. In what ways is the love of God relevant to the call to proclaim the Gospel among the nations?

What should Psalm 105:1 mean to us today?

Make Known Among the Nations

Commentary on Psalm 105

"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done" Psalm 105:1

Thanksgiving holiday sermons in Canada and the U.S.A. sometimes center on Psalm 105:1 and with good reason. The opening words -- "Give thanks to the Lord" -- resonate well with the idea of a Thanksgiving Day.

Verse 1 of Psalm 105 does, however, have more than a "be thankful" exhortation. It contains three commands: (1) Give thanks, (2) Call on the Lord, and (3) Make known among the nations.

Those words "make known among the nations" herald God's passion for global evangelism. Please notice the verse does not say, "It will be known." Rather, it is a command addressed to God's people (that's us). In addition to saying "what," e.g., "Make known what He has done," the verse specifies "where" -- "among the nations."

Putting the command "give thanks" together with the idea of "publishing to all mankind the greatness of His doings" (Charles Spurgeon's words), reminds us that divine blessing is never to be an end in itself. God blesses people so that they may be a blessing. Thus, if our thankfulness to God does not cause us to heed His command to proclaim the Good News in all the world, then that thankfulness is quite hollow.

Sometimes, people advocate evangelizing by "presence" alone. They feel that evangelism will be less offensive and more effective if people simply live Christian lives with little talk about the Gospel. Isn't that scenario different from what Psalm 105:1 envisions? The pitfall with "presence only" thinking is that the central focus becomes the quality of our lives. Is there a danger people will get fixated on that and never look to Jesus?

Psalm 105:1 indicates we need to be verbally pointing people to Jesus. The call to speak of "what He has done" clearly foreshadows Jesus' Great Commission. Indeed, the wording in Psalm 105:1 comes close to that of Mark 16:15: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation."

Some argue that the only Great Commission applicataion for ordinary believers is the spiritual welfare of their near-neighbors. To be sure, enthusiasm for ends-of-the-earth outreach must never crowd out or extinguish the passion for evangelizing our near-neighbors. However, shouldn't the make-known-among-the-nations command of Psalm 105:1 push us to have a broader concern than just our immediate neighborhood, county, or even state? Doesn't Psalm 105:1 ask God's people to be involved in getting the Good News to every people group on earth? Such involvement can be through intercessory prayer, sacrificial giving, promoting and mobilizing for world missions or even going ourselves.

Some Bible passages may be difficult to interpret. Not Psalm 105:1. There is nothing confusing about the commands in that verse. There is no part of the phrases "give thanks," "call on the Lord," and "make known" that we cannot understand.

Will we obey this clear command? Or, by our inaction, will we disobey it?

Reflection questions

  1. How would you describe what is wrapped up in the command in Psalm 105:1 to "make known among the nations what he has done"? How should this command influence our approach to evangelism?
  2. Are we tempted sometimes to think that divine blessing is never an end in itself? How do you react to the idea that it may be given so that we may be a blessing to others? How can we practically apply this idea in our daily lives?
  3. What might be some pitfall of relying on "presence only" evangelism? How can we strike a balance between living out our faith through our actions while also being intentional about verbally sharing the Gospel?
  4. How should we respond to the global nature of the command in Psalm 105:1 and the need to be involved in getting the Good News to every people group on earth? What are some ways that individuals and churches can fruitfully participate in world missions?

This mini-essay on a world missions Bible passage is one of more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine.

The way Isaiah ends

To the nations

What does Isaiah 66:18-19 mean to us today?

"I . . . am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. . . . I will send some . . . to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations." -- Isaiah 66:18-19

When Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), did He catch His followers off-guard? Did our Lord's words in Acts 1:8 about going to "the ends of the earth" perhaps even shock the disciples?

"No" to both questions. Neither of those statements about world evangelism would have surprised the disciples if they remembered how the book of Isaiah ends (and they likely did).

Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah more than any other Old Testament book. Several of Isaiah's messianic prophecies even appear in chronological order, including the Isaiah 66 foreshadowing of the Great Commission.

For instance, early on, Isaiah speaks of Jesus' miraculous birth (chapters 7 and 9). Then, in chapter 11, Jesus' boyhood days in Nazareth are predicted. Chapter 40 mentions the Messiah's forerunner (whom we know as John the Baptist). Chapters 35 and 53 list specific aspects of Jesus' earthly ministry. Chapter 65 foretells Jesus' rejection by the Jewish leaders.

Then, Isaiah's closing verses contain God's message that He would be sending people to "distant islands" to proclaim His glory "among the nations." Though penned 700 years before the Messiah's birth, don't those words sound remarkably similar to Jesus' statements in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8?

Isaiah 66 does not call God's people to stir up lukewarm believers (although that needs to be done). It is not urging us to speak of Kingdom things to our unbelieving next-door neighbors (although that needs to be done). This is about evangelizing in distant places that have yet to hear the Gospel. It is about speaking of God's might, beauty, goodness, justice, and honor to people who know little or nothing about Him.

Isaiah's call to ministry included an awe-inspiring vision of God's glory (Isaiah 6:1-8). Appropriately then, God chose to announce through Isaiah that His glory would be what His messengers would proclaim in distant places.

To be sure, that message must include, "Repent and turn from your wicked ways." We do want people to forsake their wicked ways. Nonetheless, Isaiah 66:18-19 reminds us that lifting up God's radiant holiness is a primary reason for our world evangelism efforts.

In his letters, Paul never refers to Isaiah 66:18-19. Nonetheless, some Bible scholars see influences of this prophecy in Paul's his ministry and writings. It is a prophecy that we today are invited to help fulfill. One implication of Isaiah 66:18-19 is that world evangelism is a central focus of God's heart. Thus, if we are not engaged in some way with something so dear to our Lord's heart, dare we talk about how much we love Him?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Questions for discussion

  1. How do biblical authors use the term "nations," and what implications does that usage have for global evangelism?
  2. What does the concept of being "clothed with power from on high" mean, and how is it related to the task of global evangelism?
  3. Why is it important to recognize that the numbers and maps associated with global evangelism represent real people in need of salvation?
  4. What is the significance of the phrase "proclaim among the nations" in Psalm 9, and how does it relate to the call to carry out the Great Commission?

These four mini-essays on world missions Bible passages are among the more than three dozen articles in the "Heart of God" series published in Engage magazine. That series explores what the Bible says about missions.

Where are the unreached peoples?

hereLarge groups of people remain unevangelized today in what missiologists call the 10/40 Window. [ More ]

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