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FIRST-PERSON: Lessons from Israel’s example

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Last year, International Mission Board personnel initiated work among 146 new people groups identified as “unreached.” Multitudes gained access to the Gospel for the first time.

Church-planting movements are taking off in China, Latin America and even northern Africa. So many people came to Christ in one African city that mosques had to close. One strategy coordinator reached his four-year goal of 200 churches among his assigned people group in just six months. It is not unusual to hear testimonies of God’s miraculous power manifested in signs and wonders when people are confronted with the claims of Christ.

I am often asked why we don’t see such things happening in America. Why do American Christians, with thousands of churches and a history of Christian witness, seem to make so little impact on our society? We expect to be confronted with the tragic consequences of spiritual darkness in cultures where the Gospel is not known. How do we explain it in our own country?

I really don’t have answers for these disturbing questions, but Scripture has given me some insight. The Israelites became God’s chosen people, not because they deserved His favor, but because He wanted them to be a priestly nation for the sake of others. He blessed them, not for their benefit, but to follow and fulfill His purpose.

It began with Abraham, who was called and blessed so that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NKJV). God explained in Isaiah 49:6 (NASB) that His people were to be “a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

When Jesus gave the Great Commission to His followers, He was simply clarifying God’s purpose that they make disciples of all nations. But did they get it? Did they carry the Gospel to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost ends of the earth? No, they stayed in Jerusalem until God allowed persecution to disperse them according to His purpose (Acts 8:1).

Throughout the Old Testament we read that God allowed Israel to be conquered and punished by pagan tribes, usually because they forsook God to worship other gods. But wasn’t this also because they refused to fulfill God’s purpose of glorifying Him among the nations?

Paul says in Romans that the hearts of the Jews had become hardened and they were rejected “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25, NKJV). Can it be that God will withhold His blessings and anointing until we regain a vision for our purpose as His people? Churches that have a heart for the nations and give a high priority to missions seem to be the ones God blesses. Must God allow our nation to suffer and our churches to founder before we look beyond our own programs and interests to our larger mission task?

If all the peoples of the world are to know Him, it is up to us, Abraham’s spiritual children. May we not follow Israel’s example, but obey and follow God’s purpose.
Jerry Rankin is president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

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  • Jerry Rankin