(…continued) There are many other times this sort of thing happens. In Numbers 10 Moses is leading the Jews out of slavery into the promised land. In the desert they meet Hobab, a Midianite. Moses said to him, “Come along with us, Hobab; we’ll do you good. The Lord has promised good things to us and you can be a part of it.”
Ruth the Moabite, is inspired by the kindness of her mother-in-law, the Jewish woman Naomi. Both of their husbands are dead, but Ruth will not abandon Naomi, saying, “I will go with you and your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).
In Jonah the big fish gets all the attention, but the story is really about how Jonah was called by God to preach God’s Word to the wicked city of Nineveh, Israel’s feared and hated enemy. Jonah resists God’s call at first, is thrown off the ship he is on, and is swallowed by the big fish. After three days Jonah is coughed up onto dry land, and then finally goes to Nineveh. There, the king and all the people believe in God and repent of their wickedness.
One of the most dramatic and popular stories in all the Bible is the story of Daniel being thrown into a den of lions to be torn to pieces and eaten. The lions, though they had not been fed for days so they would be especially hungry and vicious, did not attack Daniel during the entire night he was in their den. Persian King Darius recognized this as a miracle of God and declared to his entire kingdom, “The God of Daniel is the living God and he endures forever and his kingdom will rule over all.”
“How odd of God to choose the Jews,” says the poem, but God had to start somewhere, and so he started with Abraham. Who would have thought then that the children of Abraham would grow into a great nation and be a world power by the time of David and Solomon?
In the New Testament, Jesus, born a Jew, comes as the ultimate fulfillment of this promise that the Jews were blessed to be a blessing. When Jesus was just a baby, Mary and Joseph took him into the temple in Jerusalem. There, an old man named Simeon came up to the young family and asked if he could hold the little one. Simeon was then inspired by God to bless the baby Jesus in a special way, saying as a part of that blessing, “Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace; For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” This baby was born out of the people of Israel and for their glory, he said, adding that Jesus was also born to be a blessing to the Gentiles– everyone else in the whole world.
Who in the time of Jesus would have thought that his 12 followers would go into all the world and begin a movement that would reach billions? And who now would dare consider that Paul’s prediction in Philippians will ever come true, that there will come a time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee should bow? Even in the streets of Saudi Arabia and China and Tibet and Afghanistan? Even in Hollywood and Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. and New York? Why not? A mere 100 years ago nobody would have ever dreamed the there would now be a higher percentage of people worshiping Jesus in Africa than in Continental Europe, Great Britain, or the United States, and yet this is now the case. It has been predicted that within a generation there will be more people in worship on a Sunday morning in China than in the United States. Is it for us to doubt the promises of God?
You see, all of this ‘blessed to be a blessing’ business is also for and about us as Christians. Along with all the promises in the Bible, there are warnings against falling away, encouragements to remain faithful, and the call to do our bit in our age to pass on the faith in our time in whatever ways we can, seeing to its proclamation throughout the world. Jesus is not just our own local deity. God wants everyone to know Jesus and believe in him.
Naaman, and most others back in those days, believed only in such local deities. So when Naaman did come to believe in this God of Israel, he took back with him a bag of dirt, believing as he did, that the gods were connected to the land over which they ruled. The Old Testament preachers and prophets proclaimed a much larger God.
Today, no one I know believes in local deities, but many believe in personal deities. We often hear about what MY god would or would not do; or how the god you believe in might be true for you but something else is true for me. But how does that work? Do these ‘personal’ gods just come into existence whenever anyone thinks up a new concept of what their god is like? Actually, to say that all gods are real is simply another way of saying that no gods are real.
However, Jesus, though born a Jew, was God himself, visiting and redeeming his creation. He also rose from the dead, which had not been done before and has not been done by anyone else– not even by Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Darwin, or anyone else ever connected with starting a religion. Jesus is not bound by his Jewish heritage, but is Lord over all the earth and wants all to know and believe in the salvation he offers. That was the hope for God’s people from the beginning. It doesn’t always look that way in the Old Testament, but it is there. In the New Testament, it cannot be missed. “Go,” said Jesus, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Blessed to be a blessing. That was the plan and promise in the Old Testament, and that has always been God’s promise and mission for us also.
Zechariah 8:23 — This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
Matthew 28:19 — (Jesus said), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Philippians 2:9-11 — Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Give your church, O Lord, the grace in this time to be as a saving remnant among the nations, reminding all peoples of the divine majesty under whose judgement they stand, and of the divine mercy of which they and we have a common need. Amen.
–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), Justice and Mercy, page 97.