If you were asked to define what the "gospel" is, you'd likely cite the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But what you may not know is the gospel actually began way back in Genesis 12! God's master plan of providing redemption to His people was revealed to Abraham! And He chose to reveal His plan in the form of a promise.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)God's promise was to use Abraham and the people that would come from him, to bless all nations so that the name of the Lord would be made known throughout the whole world. This is a promise that is actually being progressively fulfilled. It was revealed to Abraham in his day. It was fulfilled in Christ. And it will be finalized at the end of the age. What is shown here is that God is on mission to be loved, served, and worshiped by every people on earth. And there's a threefold purpose to this. First, for God Himself. He desires that worship come from every nation. Second, toward people. He intends to bring redemption to every people. And third, to overcome evil. God will overcome evil powers to bring about His everlasting rule. The totality of the promise is this:
For His glory in global worship, God purposes to overcome evil by redeeming a people who will love and obey Him within every people.Before we move on, let's look at what "blessing" actually means. Most of us would probably define a blessing by something tangible or monetary. In non-western cultures, it is to endow the person with a potency of life in order for it to flourish to its intended fullness. (As an example, there is an account where Jacob and Esau struggled for the blessing of their father Isaac, which he would bestow on his oldest son. Jacob deceived his father and ended up receiving that blessing.) Blessing can also be something tangible. There are Old Testament examples of this, especially in the life of Abraham. It can represent material wealth, as Abraham was very wealthy in land and livestock. God's presence is a blessing, as well as peace with neighbors. Both are blessings Abraham experienced as he obeyed God's command to go to the land He provided.
The entire Bible is God's redemption story, unveiling His progressive plan of desiring worship from all peoples, bringing redemption to them, and overcoming evil. If we look at the Bible as a modern day novel, it actually plays out in a similar manner. Genesis 1-11 is the prologue to the story. We see a perfect creation, with man as the pinnacle, made to worship and glorify God. But rather than renown God's name, man attempted to make a name for himself. This culminated in the Tower of Babel and God scattering the people into 70 different cultures and languages.
The plot of the story unfolds from Genesis 12 through Jude. God reaches out to Abraham with a promise to bless the nations through him. This promise was repeated to his son Isaac in Genesis 26:4 and again to Isaac's son Jacob in Genesis 28:4. Through the rest of the Old Testament we see events transpire--whether good or bad--that work toward making God's name known among the nations. Some of the more well-known stories include the giving of the Ten Commandments, the ten plagues of Egypt, people coming to witness Solomon's wisdom, the fiery furnace in Babylon, and David & Goliath. As the story moves into the New Testament, the fulfillment of the promise is achieved in Christ, who brought the message to the Gentiles.
The conclusion of the story occurs in Revelation. Christ defeated sin, Satan, and death on the cross, but at the end of the age, these things will be utterly destroyed! All creation yearns for the moment when the scroll is opened and the end is ushered in. As accounted in Revelation, no one was found worthy to open the seals of the scroll...until Christ, who paid the price so that all peoples could know God. And indeed, this will be realized. God will receive worship from every people group on earth.
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," (Revelation 5:9)
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!” (Revelation 7:9-10)Out of all the nations on earth, God chose Israel to be a blessing to the other nations. The laws that God gave them were designed to set them apart from the idol-worshipping nations. Christ would eventually come from this lineage. Solomon, in all his wisdom, understood this. In his prayer of dedication of the Temple--the place where the Lord would dwell among His people--he prayed for this blessing to occur:
“Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name." (1 Kings 8:41-43)Take a look at Psalm 67, too. The message becomes clear. God was blessing Israel so they would be a blessing to all other nations. The problem is, Israel failed. Look no further than the story of Jonah to see this. Jonah did not run from Nineveh because he was scared of them. He ran because he knew that God would relent from his judgement and save them! Nineveh was a city in the neighboring enemy country of Assyria. Israel was very prideful and thought God was meant for themselves. They completely missed it. And in the end, God did exactly what Jonah was afraid He'd do when the city repented. Throughout the Old Testament is story after story of God's chosen people either turning to their own idols or hoarding God for themselves.
But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. (Luke 4:25-28)Why would this be the first thing He taught? He's essentially telling them, that although there was famine and disease in the days of the prophets, the prophets didn't minister to the Israelites themselves. No, they went to the Gentiles and shared God's blessing with them. This angered the crowd listening because they believed God to be for themselves. The part of the promise to BE a blessing was forgotten.
The problem is very much similar today. We've made it about God and "me". When we understand the full scope of the story and that it is really about glorifying God and making His name known, it plays out completely differently. The story of David and Goliath becomes more than just a nice lesson about facing the giants in your life. No, it becomes a story of a boy who would not stand for the name of his Lord being blasphemed by this man. And Goliath's defeat would prove who God really was! So much of our teaching and preaching is about what God does for "me". And whether from good intention or bad, we take the pieces of the Bible that make us feel good and ignore the rest, falling into the same trap as Israel. Two popular examples:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." (Psalm 23:1-3)Sounds good, doesn't it? You know this one. He provides, He gives me peace, He restores me, He guides me. All that is true. But why? The last part of verse 3, which we often leave off, tells us. He does those things so that through us, His name will be known.
"Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10a)This is an oft-memorized verse. Or, part of a verse. We like to memorize this part and keep it for ourselves, but it is the rest of the verse that is key:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)The Bible is not about us! When we understand this and see that everything God has done--from Creation, to the promise to Abraham, to our salvation in Christ, to the defeat of evil--is about gaining glory for Himself, it begins to pop out of every single page! (That's right, even our salvation is not about us.) If we turn back to our definition of blessing, how will we respond with the charge to be a blessing to all peoples? Will we allow the very things God has given us to bless others to hold us back? Will we hoard them for ourselves? We are blessed to be a portal through which other people may know Him. In an Americanized portrayal of what it means to be a Christ-follower, will we sit back in our comforts and complain about them when they aren't there, or will we give our lives to the spread of His glory to the ends of the earth, no matter what comforts, safety, or security we have to sacrifice? He is worthy of worship from every people. He has brought redemption to them (us). He will overcome all evil and establish His everlasting reign.
God is on mission for His glory. He has a Church in the world who gets the joy of working with Him. We get the joy; He gets the glory.