God has plans for all the world
Jesus sent His followers to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). That Mandate may seem obvious to us today. After all, we live at the end of 2,000 years of Christian outreach based on this and similar passages. Christianity now is an overwhelmingly Gentile religion subscribed to by roughly one-third of the world's population. And with modern technology, it appears to be a relatively simple task to expand that outreach even further. Yet in many ways we are just like Jesus' original disciples. They wanted a local hero, a Messiah just for Israel, one who would follow their customs and confirm their prejudices. So they were no doubt stunned by the scope and far-reaching implications of the global, cross-cultural vision that Jesus now presented. He was turning out to be more than the King of the Jews; He was the international Christ, the Savior of the entire world.
Actually, Jesus has been showing them this since the beginning of His ministry. Matthew recorded again and again His work among the Gentiles. The writer even sited Isaiah 42:1-4, that Jesus would "declare to the Gentiles [nations] and in His name Gentiles would trust." Yet the disciples had a hard time believing it. Could their Lord really be interested in "all the nations?" They certainly weren't. Are we? It's easy to pay lip service to the idea that Jesus cares for the whole world. But isn't it easier to follow a Christ that fits comfortably into our own culture? Culture, after all, is the key. Jesus told His Galilean followers to "make disciples," and they did – Jewish disciples, Samaritans disciples, and eventually even Gentile disciples of all kinds.
Today the bulk of new disciples are non-white and non-Western. Not surprisingly, they bring very different cultural perspective into the church. So one of the greatest challenges believers will face in the coming years is the same one that the original disciples faced at the inauguration of the movement: not only to believe but also to accept that Jesus really is for all nations.
John takes us into the throne room of heaven; we see the fulfillment of Jesus' mandate. There, standing before the Lamb (Christ) is a crowd so large that it cannot be counted, made up of "all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues (Rev. 7:9)."Actually, two groups are present – representatives from God's people, the Jews and countless Gentiles believers. Just as Jesus said it would, the gospel has spread out from Jerusalem to reach people from "the end of the earth." Now Jews and Gentiles have come together to receive the salvation that God has promised. Now God dwells among His people. Jesus is their Shepherd, supplying all their needs.
In response to this spectacular, worldwide, multiethnic salvation, the creatures of heaven and the earth fall down before God in worship and song. What a breathtaking picture this is! But of course this vision lies in the future. For now, we live in a world wracked by ethnic divisions and racial prejudice. Yet knowing that God intends to populate heaven with people from every ethnic background has important implications for those of us who claim to follow Christ. If God's heart reaches out to the whole world, then our hearts need to as well.
Rev. Mary L. Dees is the pastor of Sampey AME Zion Church
and co-pastor of Zion Fountain AME Zion Church.