7 As these men were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? See, those who wear soft clothes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone who has ears listen.
16 “To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to other children:
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
20 Then he proceeded to denounce the towns where most of his miracles were done, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. 22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. 24 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
We’re continuing our series called The Good News and we’re specifically looking at ways that Jesus provides good news, not just for eternity, but for this life and for this world. Last week, we talked about the good news for life now by following an illustration that the Apostle Paul gave us. He argued that just like we still suffer from the effects of sin, the whole creation suffers from the effects of human sin.
But, there’s hope, because, when people come to Jesus and experience rescue from their sin, and they are healed from their sin, the creation also experiences healing.
Today we are going to go a step further by talking about the nations of the world. The nations are broken and corrupt, but like there is good news for us as individuals and there is good news for the creation, there is good news for the nations as well.
Let’s look at the way the nations operate from a biblical perspective.
In Genesis 10, we find a story about the earliest people on the planet. Here we see that the nations were established upon the earth because of the presence of sin. The text is clear that God established the nations.
And then Job tells us that,
Job 12:23 (ESV) — He [God] makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away.
God continues to be in control of the nations he created, making one nation great and destroying another, all in His time according to His purposes.
But, historically, the nations don’t acknowledge God. The Psalmist wrote,
Psalm 2:1–2 (ESV) — Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.
The nations rebel against God. They want to rule themselves; they don’t want to be ruled by God. The nations conspire against the Lord. But,
Psalm 33:10–11 (ESV) — The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
The nations plot in vain, because God frustrates their planning to bring them to nothing. The greatest nations in the world are imperfect. Nations always came to an end.
That’s why Jesus said that before the end of the world comes,
Mark 13:10 (ESV) — The gospel [Good News] must first be proclaimed to all nations.
And before ascending to heaven Jesus told his disciples,
Matthew 28:19 (ESV) — Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…
God has a purpose for the nations. In the book of Revelation we read that,
Revelation 12:5 (ESV) — She [Israel] gave birth to a male child [Jesus], one who is to rule all the nations…
Jesus will rule, not just his Kingdom, but the nations. Jesus is further called the King of the Nations:
Revelation 15:3 (ESV) — Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Jesus isn’t just Lord over all things; Jesus is the supreme ruler, even over those who rule nations. Sometimes we call that an Emperor: a King of Kings who rules over many nations.
So, remember where we started. God established the nations because of the sin of the world. So, we might think that nations won’t need to exist in eternity. We could see eternity as one single Kingdom that Jesus rules over. But, there actually is hope for the nations.
In God’s eternal Kingdon,
Revelation 21:24–26 (CSB) — The nations will walk by its [God’s city’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it [God’s city]. Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there. They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it [God’s city].
The nations aren’t done away with in eternity. The nations are actually redeemed. They persevere for eternity.
In God’s city there is a river that flows from Jesus’s throne,
Revelation 22:2 (CSB) — down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations.
There is an eternal reminder on the tree of life that the nations are healed in Christ.
So, in the message today, we are going to look at the purpose of the nations in light of the Kingdom of God and then spend some time considering what that means for us as a nation—in the USA—and what it means for us as Christians, so that we can participate in the good news for the nations.
› I. THEOLOGY: The Kingdom has Come to You
Even though the nations are important to God, there is a fundamental difference in the role that nations played in God’s plan before Jesus and after Jesus. The event actually hinges on a man we call John the Baptist and this is where our text takes us today.
John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus said,
Matthew 11:10 (CSB) — This [John the Baptist] is the one about whom it is written: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.
The Prophet Malachi preached that another prophet would come to usher in the coming Messiah, the savior, and Jesus said that, that prophet was John the Baptist.
Now, John came preaching a message of repentance to the nation of Israel much like the prophets of the Old Testament. That’s why Jesus said,
Matthew 11:13 (CSB) — For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
In the Old Testament, prophesy served the express purpose of challenging the nation of Israel to repent of their sins and follow God. The law and the prophets worked together. The law told the Israelites how to live and how to worship and the prophets challenged the Israelites when they went astray.
The Law commands Israel,
Leviticus 20:26 (CSB) — You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be mine.
Israel was supposed to be set apart from the other nations. They were supposed to be different. They were to be a holy nation.
But, Israel’s charge to remain holy was not just for fidelity sake, not just to behave well. Israel was charged to be holy because they were supposed to be a light to other nations. The Prophet Isaiah said this to Israel,
Isaiah 60:1–3 (CSB) — Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord shines over you. For look, darkness will cover the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the Lord will shine over you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to your shining brightness.
The design for evangelism, if I can call it that, in the Old Testament was to happen through the nations. The nation of Israel was supposed to be holy in order to show other nations their need to worship and obey the Lord God and no longer worship the false gods of the nations.
This is where we get into a topic called cosmic geography.
Michael S. Heiser — Israelites believed that the promised land of Israel was Yahweh’s [The One True God] sacred domain and considered other nations—even when in the land of Israel—to be under the dominion of evil, lesser gods.
The idea behind Cosmic Geography is that each nation is ruled by a God—Israel by Yahweh, the One True God, and every other nation by a lesser cosmic force.
That is why the Apostle Paul wrote,
Ephesians 6:12 (CSB) — For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
In other words, we don’t struggle with corrupt people in government positions. We struggle with evil cosmic forces.
The only acceptable place to worship the Lord God was at the temple in Jerusalem because of Cosmic Geography. Likewise, the gods of the nations—the cosmic powers of darkness—ruled over other nations, most of which were enemies of Israel.
The nation of Israel, the one elected by God to bring the nations to repentance, was responsible for being a light to draw all nations to worship the one true God.
And with a few short-lived exceptions, Israel utterly failed. They never saw a nation come to repentance. If you know the story of Jonah, the city of Nineveh came to repentance for a short time, but never a nation, because Israel was enticed by the gods of the nations and continually abandoned the worship of Yahweh, the Lord God.
They were never a great light like God commanded them to be.
But, something dramatically changed with Jesus. Once Jesus showed up, God no longer used prophets to make the nation holy so that other people would want to worship God. It doesn’t work that way any more.
It’s not your responsibility to come to God’s Kingdom to worship like in the Old Testament. Now, the Kingdom of God comes to you in Jesus Christ.
That’s why Jesus preached,
Mark 1:15 (CSB) — “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
The good news is that the Kingdom of God has come to us. We don’t go to the Kingdom, the Kingdom has come to us.
And what is more, no longer is the God you worship tied to the nation you live in, like in the culture of the ancients. Now, the Kingdom of God has come for all, and is available to anyone who will repent and believe, regardless of what nation they live in.
Another way to say that is to say that nations and religions don’t go hand in hand any more. Cosmic Geography has little president in New Testament times. God doesn’t desire to have Christian nations to lead their people to Christ. Instead, he desires to have Christian people living within every nation to influence the culture of the nations. And that’s totally different.
Jesus modelled this new dynamic. He went about to all the cities of Israel proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God. He proclaimed good news to the people. He didn’t try to free Israel from Roman occupation. He didn’t focus on convincing the rulers of the temple or the synagogues. He went to the people to make disciples and he did this all over Israel.
So then, Jesus pronounces woe upon all of these cities where the people rejected him.
Matthew 11:21–24 (CSB) — “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until today. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Notice the dynamic at work here. The people did not believe so the city stands condemned. But, notice the negative inference. If the cities would have listened to Jesus, if they believed, if they repented and turned to God, then they would be accepted into God’s Kingdom. They would not stand condemned. There’s hope for nations full of people who follow Jesus Christ, regardless of how the nation itself operates.
There’s an old discussion that Christians have regarding legislating morality. One would say that the tactic to bring a nation to repentance is to institute laws so that the people will obey God’s laws. They would say that the church needs to be actively involved in government and legislation in order to see laws passed that honor God and to see Christians be elected to office. That way people will have to live like Christians and see the wisdom of following Jesus.
But, that’s just like Israel if you think about it and they always rebelled against God.
On the other hand, another person would say that the laws of the land will naturally reflect the will of the people, thus it is backwards to pass legislation to shape the culture. The culture shapes the legislation.
And I believe that is the dynamic at work in the Kingdom of God today. In Old Testament times God used laws to call His people to obedience and the law failed to accomplish God’s purposes for the nations. But, in the New Testament, God calls us to reach people so that people will influence the laws.
The answer to an immoral government is not to change the government. The answer to an immoral government is to change the hearts of the people and it will eventually trickle up.
The hope for the nations today is that the people as individuals will see the works of Christ, through us, the church, and repent, and together save the nation from destruction.
› II. ANALYSIS: The Good News and the Nations
Let’s look at this more practically. I created this diagram so you can see how much of the population of the world professes to be Christian. I put the whole earth, the US, and China for contrast. You can see that 31% of people profess to be Christian, globally; 71% of the US profess to be Christian; and 5% of China.
We experience, almost on a daily basis, the tensions of living in a country with a strong Christian history that is moving in a new direction away from Christian values. You can only imagine what it might be like to live in a country like China where only 1 out of 20 people you might come across have any idea what it means to be a Christian.
God’s plan is global Christianization.
You can see this in scripture. Jesus said,
Mark 13:10 (ESV) — The gospel [Good News] must first be proclaimed to all nations.
Before the end comes. And he also said,
Matthew 28:19 (ESV) — Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…
That sounds like all the people and it should, because literally the Greek reads,
Matthew 28:19 (YLT) — having gone, then, disciple all the nations…
The command given to the churches is to see all people in every nation come to Christ and live out the intent of the good news message of Jesus.
Let’s talk specifically about the…
The USA is not a Christian nation … or not a theocracy, you might say. A theocracy is a government that follows God’s laws as it’s own laws. To be a Christian nation, the US would literally have to have the Bible as it’s constitution. The nation of Israel operated this way for a time. But, this isn’t and never has been true for the United States.
In fact, the US constitution specifically allows for the value system of the government to change over time to be shaped by the culture.
Now, there were times when the US was highly influenced by Christian culture, and thus, the laws of the US were more consistent, morally and socially, with God’s laws. And that’s what we, as US Christians, would like to see happen again.
So, we know, to be a US citizen is not to be a Christian and more than being a Christian make you a US citizen. Nationalism and Christianity are not synonomous terms; neither is nationalism a Christian virtue.
However, we are to be concerned about the nations, in particular, our own nation. I believe, there is hope for the United States. The US was once considered a Christian nation, not because it was a theocracy, but because it was governed by men and women with Christian values. The hope for our nation is that if Christ’s church aggressively advance the Gospel in our cities, states, and nation, then the nation will once again reflect the goodness of God’s Kingdom in virtue and value, even if every individual does not become a Christian.
Again, the goal is not to form a theocracy, a Christian nation, but to form a nation inhabited and influenced by Christianity.
Because the US wasn’t elected by the prophets of God for any specific purpose. Just like every other nation, if we refuse to follow God, we will be destroyed. But, if we honor God, then we will endure. That’s the same truth for every nation.
We belong, as Christians, to the nation of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God alone.
But, that also doesn’t mean we can completely ignore our government. As aliens in a foreign land we are called to respect the laws of the land we live in. The Apostle Paul wrote,
Romans 13:1–7 (CSB) — Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
We are to honor the rulers of our land and to follow the laws of the land, because God has established the nations to enact justice in the world. The rulers of the land are there to be God’s avengers for wrongdoing.
Now, if the government tries to enact policy that forces you to do things that are sinful in God’s eyes, that’s one thing. But, few governments today are really doing much of that.
I want you to think about some of the things Christians disagree with on a political level.
For instance, most Christians are pro-life. That means that we recognize the sanctity of the life that God has given to every person.
Tomorrow is actually…
National Sanctity of Life Day
…the day that the US has set apart to acknowledge that every single living person is valuable to our country.
We tend to think of abortion laws when we think of being pro-life. And I think we are right to. Most Christians want to see more reasonable restrictions placed on abortions so that the children God has created in the womb can live out their lives.
But, I want you to notice something about those laws. Abortion laws don’t force anyone to get an abortion. Just like marijuana laws don’t force people to smoke marijuana. That it is legal doesn’t force you as an individual to break God’s laws, so there is no real conflict with Christians.
And in general, the idea of sanctity of life day is very biblical. National sanctity of life day has to do with far more than just unborn children. Sanctity of life day asks questions about how we treat children, how we treat our elderly, how we treat people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, how we treat people of different gender and sexuality, even how we treat criminals. It recognizes that everyone who God has created has certain natural—I would say God-given—rights as human beings.
So, the US government is not perfect on this issue by any means, but the basic biblical value is actually there. And we are blessed to live in the US, because here we actually have a voice. We are allowed a voice in the political arena as we vote. And we have a voice in the public arena as we encourage people to follow Jesus, which as we have said, is the only way that the nation can be redeemed.
The good news for the nations, including the United States, is not a political battle; it’s a battle for the hearts of those who walk among us, who continue to follow after false gods, the cosmic powers of darkness.
A further illustration that may actually be more pertinent in ways would be the nation of China. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is advancing faster in China than any place on the planet. Today there are over 69 million professing Christians in China, when 100 years ago it was closer to zero. And that number is projected to continue growing exponentially.
Christianity is growing so rapidly in China that missiologists are projecting significant political change in the coming years as a result. The density of Christians is rising to the point in many cities that even wealthy people and government officials will soon begin to profess Christ, which will inevitably result in political shifts that reflect the Kingdom of God. It’s strange to think of it this way, but, if Christianity continues to fade in the Western world, as it is, and continues to grow in China, in some of our lifetimes, we will see Chinese missionaries bringing the Gospel to us.
So, there is hope for the nation of China because of the good news of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is no hope for anything, except for Christ.
› III. APPLICATION: Missions
So, the real hope for the nations is what we call…
Missions is the strategic communication of the good news of Jesus Christ to particular people groups. We are used to talking about missions on an international level. The idea is that people go overseas to other countries and begin to share about Jesus, translate Bibles into new languages, and eventually train pastors and start local churches.
But, missions is also done right here in our own country. The primary means that God uses to communicate the good news to people who have not heard is through the people of the church—that’s you and me. We call this oikos, remember. The idea is that it’s your responsibility to reach the 8-15 people that you are closest to your life.
But the local church is also called to organize strategically to aid people in their journey to reach God. So that, when you bring someone to church or to a small group or when you have questions arise that you can’t answer, there is a support system for you to be able to help your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, come to know Jesus and follow Him as Lord and Savior.
The Christian who wants to see nations turn to God needs to be missional on a local, national, and international level. And where I want you to be very focussed on who you can reach in your oikos, your inner circle of 12 or so people, I also want you to be thinking about missions on a larger scale.
This means going beyond living life as a Christian ready to give a reason for the hope within, as Peter tells us to do, and moves into involvement in strategic missional endeavors such as church planting, Bible translation, tribal missions, and so on.
Every Christian cannot be an oversees missionary, but every Christian can get involved in missions with some amount of intentionality. We always have a local and national or international prayer focus on our bulletins. Prayer always goes before action. You can and should be praying for missions.
In fact, that could be one of your…
…for this week. You can take your Next Step cards out at this point and start to consider what you need to do with what you’ve heard today. Maybe you need to start praying for world missions, that the Gospel would go forth in specific places. When you watch the news and see atrocities happening in other countries, you drop to your knees and beg God to rescue people in that place by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But, prayer ought also to be accompanied by action and thus we ought to consider how God would call us to be involved in missions.
Some have said that every Christian should be involved in missions by Giving or Going. We ought to search our hearts and consider if God is calling us to either church planting or international missions. This could mean leading, but there are all kinds of gifts necessary in both missions fields that many people who are not called to be pastors can fulfill. If you think you might be called to be a part of a missions endeavor here in the US or in another country, start praying, but put down the word GO on your Next Step. And then start to research what that could look like. Get with me or one of the other leaders in the church and let us guide you in that process.
And if you aren’t called to Go, then I believe you are called to give. So, you might need to commit to GIVE as your Next Step.
The first place to give is to be faithful is in giving to our local church. You may not realize this, but we give a portion of every collection to church planting, locally, nationally, and missions, internationally. If you are already there, then maybe your Next step should be seasonal offerings like we take at Christmas and Easter that goes directly to missions. And then personal giving (supporting missionaries you might know personally, specific projects that come up, or compassion international or other ministries like that). A commitment to giving could be the Next Step. But, you ought to consider going or commit to giving.
But, maybe you aren’t even there yet and you just need to focus on bringing the good news to your Oikos, your inner circle of 8-15 people that you are closest to. I’d encourage you to be intentional with someone this week to walk them through what we call the ABC’s to show them their need for Jesus and explain what He has done. That could be your Next Step too.
The ABC’s are pretty simple. A, admit that you have sinned, that you have done things that are wrong in God’s eyes. B, believe that Jesus died to take the punishment you were due for your sins. And C, commit to follow Jesus, the one who rescued you and saved you from your sins.
Sharing Jesus with your loved ones, serving in and giving to missions, it’s all an effort to bring good news, not just to individuals, but ultimately to the nations. The good news for the nations is that Christ is working through His people to redeem lost, broken, sinful people, to make them new creations, new people, with new loves that are God’s loves.
When we turn on the news and hear about political battles in our nation, international political struggles in the middle east, the fight for slavery in the world, broken economic systems and all that, it should stir in our hearts a desire to see the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, spread throughout our circles, our cities, our nations, and our world so that on the Day of the Lord we don’t face the same judgment as Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. We won’t hear ‘woe to you,’ but our nations will remain for eternity, redeemed with Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the only hope for the nations.