Forward from the end of the year––Jerusalem

This was more than a courtesy call, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. He went to spend time with Peter, the lead apostle in the Jerusalem Church.

Had they met? Possible, but who knows. It was incumbent on Paul to make this visit and spend this time with Peter. Paul was the one who had violently persecuted Peter and his fellow believers. Paul was the one who, rumor had it, had met the risen Christ. In that encounter Christ had forgiven Paul and commissioned him to take up the special calling of apostle to the nations.

This gave Paul a status that was not found in and among the Jerusalem leaders. For this Paul needed time to explain and spell out. At the same time Peter could have filled in some blanks about the life, ministry, and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Both Peter and Paul had some telling to do.

And that seems about the end of Paul’s ties to the Jerusalem church. They were the ones who held firm for maintaining Jerusalem and the Temple as the centers of the cult of Jesus Christ.

Paul could have nothing of that. All he had heard, thought, and learned raised higher and higher the vision of Stephen, the vision of the Gentile nations, the things Jewish and the exclusive hold on these––all these were reversed and dismissed. They had no place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords and to whom the Father gave the nations.

The reversal of his life and teaching that happened in the house of Judas on the street called Straight gave Paul a light and a heart for the Gospel of his Lord for the Jew first and for all the nations.

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Seeing God and Mission afresh in Arabia

Gos was still the Creator God, still the God who chose the people of Israel, still the God who judges and who saves. What changes is the extension of the boundaries that define each piece.

The significance of God as Creator of all the nations makes room for the nations that was not necessary if God was only the God of the Jews. This enlarges the covenant of salvation. Now the covenant enclosed the nations as well.

More than being simply a matter of people included, this reflects onto God––His mercy, His kingdom, His salvation plans. The Jews were not the exclusive occupants of God’s saving grace. The Gentiles, all the nations of the world, figured in God’s unfathomable love.

If Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, He is the living Messiah, the One who inaugurates the eschaton, the end of the ages. As the Fatherhood of God includes the people of the Gentile nations, then the ingathering of the Gentile nations accompanies His coming.

The Holy Spirit moves into the fields newly opened for evangelism and mission. The Holy Spirit moves the eyes, the heart, and the motions of the Christians as they see the plan of God for all nations.

The intent of God for the inclusion of the nations is, in Paul’s language, “the mystery hidden for the ages but now revealed.” (Gal. 3:8,9) God has one principle agency assigned to carry this out. That would be the church.

The Jews remain the chosen people of God. That privilege is never to be rescinded. God will prove to be faithful to His promises to them in time. The promise is that the Gospel is for the Jew first. Then, Paul asks, how does God explain the turning away from Him by the Jews. The answer is that when the full number of the nations comes in, then the Jews will come to faith, in massive numbers.

In the meantime the church has the role that God had given to the Jews back in Exodus––to be a nation of priests, a royal priesthood, God’s own people, specially designed to declare the mighty acts of God to the nations.

 

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Apostle to the nations, Part five: How much he must suffer

Religious violence was nothing new to Paul. After all, he had been responsible for inciting much of it. This was more than a warning; it was a simple recognition that much suffering was to come to Paul, the apostle to the nations.

But could he have anticipated the adversities ahead of him? Doubtful. Consider the list:

  • Five times from the Jews flogged for 40 lashes minus one,
  • Three times beaten with rods,
  • Once stoned and left for dead,
  • Three times shipwrecked,
  • over night and all one day adrift at sea,
  • not to mention dangers from robbers, wild animals, and all that comes from journeys over the roads and rivers of that time.

It seems, from what Jesus told Ananias, that Jesus would make this clear to Paul. When and how we do not know, but He did. All this was to make Paul aware that the reception awaiting him would test his love and commitment to his new Lord. That test did come, and his commitment and his love kept their place.

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Apostle to the Nations, Part Four: To carry my name

There was a message entrusted to Paul. The message was radical, unexpected, and upending. The benchmarks of the early Christian faith would be dismissed. What would take its place would be unwelcome to many adherents to the faith of Jesus Christ.

As for the nations, though from our perspective we can see the Good News, for most it meant losing all that hung from the framework of their pantheon. The worship of their gods and goddesses was incompatible with the one living God revealed from heaven. For some, however, this new God offered personal liberation and freedom from spiritual bondage.

 

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Apostle to the Nations, Part Three: “Sent”

This was a necessary step. Not only because that is what constitutes an apostle; mainly because the message which Jesus intended for the Twelve deliver did not take.

The intent of Jesus is well described in Matthew’s closing charge: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” The teaching and baptizing clauses presented no problem. The “all nations” did. That just wasn’t in their vision.

So Paul was to be sent. He was to go to the nations, to kings, and to Israel. As Jesus was the Lord of all earthly kings, setting it up for Paul to be in the courts of several reigning monarchs. Being sent to the nations meant the great departure, going to pagans and idolaters with the Good News of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. His childhood in Tarsus gave Paul a familiarity with these types of people. Knowing how to convey the truth of Jesus Christ to them would not be as difficult as it might have been for the fishermen of Galilee.

But being sent to Israel was another matter. This was the home turf of Judaism, the seat of the adversaries inside and outside the church about the inclusion of the nations. This assignment would hold more grief to Paul than either of the former.

 

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Apostle to the nations–Part two: The nations

First we must be sure what we are talking about. “Gentiles” or “nations”? “Nations!”

A Gentile is not a nation. A Gentile is a person who is not a Jew. Gentiles could be a family, two sisters, or all the non-Jews in the world. A nation is an ethnic group, distinguished from other ethnic groups by language, custom, and history.

Jesus called the disciples to go and make disciples among the Nations, not among the Gentiles. If Gentiles, then the first converted non-Jews satisfied that command. If nations, then the church has the well-defined charge to see that each and every nation has its own church and are making disciples of other ethnic communities.

There are over 3,000 nations that do not yet have a church of their own, that have not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul was sent as apostle to the nations. His charge was to instruct the Jewish believers that their mission field was to non-Jews, to the various nations of the world. More than that, his instructions were to build the church among the nations in such a way that these evangelized nations would have the vision to be part of evangelizing other nations.

This vision was not new, but Paul referred to it as a mystery now uncovered. With the arrival of Jesus Christ as the savior of the world, the fullness of the Gospel for all nations is now before the church. This mystery, this secret which now is fully in the open, was the content of Paul’s commission. The nations are included in the Gospel proclamation and intended by God the Father for His kingdom.

 

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Apostle to the Nations – Part One: Apostle

Paul was an apostle. He makes that claim in several of his letters. It mattered to him, and it mattered to the recipients. But he had to defend this claim to his opponents on several occasions.

It is informative to explore how the appointment was made and what the role meant.

“Apostle” means “sent”. An apostle is one whom the Lord Jesus Christ sends–in His name and with His authority. The Twelve whom Jesus originally called were given two instructions–they were to be with Jesus and they were sent to preach and heal.

Paul was sent. The texts describing his conversion make this clear. The most explicit reference is in Acts 26:17. Jesus told him, “I am sending you to the Gentiles.” In the other narratives Jesus makes it clear that He has called Paul to go to the nations and make the name of Christ known.

That is why Paul is able to write to the Romans, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God.” And to the Galatians he firmly declares, “Paul an apostle–sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

Why was Paul called to be the apostle to the nations? The answer is as simple as it is regrettable. The original Twelve did not move towards the nations with the Gospel. So entrenched with the Judaic notions of the centrality of the Temple and Jewish status that they were reluctant to “make disciples of each and every nation.”

And so Jesus Christ called Paul to be the apostle to the nations.

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