Theme: How Gentiles Come to Know God
This week’s lessons teach us of God’s gracious intention to call a people for himself from every nation, and of our great privilege and responsibility to make the gospel of Christ known to them.
Scripture: Psalm 67:1-7
How are the nations of the world to get to know God? How is this great blessing to be known throughout the earth? These questions are raised inescapably by stanza two (vv. 3-5), which is a prayer for God’s blessing on the nations parallel to the prayer for his blessing on Israel in stanza one. This is the longest stanza, as noted earlier; hence it is the one that should receive the most emphasis. It is also set apart in that it opens and closes with an identical verse, which is the second inclusio.
What these verses ask is that the Gentiles might come to know and praise God, that they might understand his just dealings among the earth’s peoples, and that they might be informed of his ways. But again I ask, How is this to happen? How are the nations to get to know God?
The power of God in his people. One way is by their observing God’s blessing of his people, which would be the ultimate end of the prayer to God to “bless us,” if this is what “blessing us” means. John Stott sees it like this:
If only Aaron’s blessing would come true! If only God’s mercy and the light of his smile were to be upon them and with them always! Surely then the nations would see for themselves. Then the nations would have visual proof of the existence, activity and grace of God? Then the nations would come to know his way and his salvation, and experience themselves that God rules righteously and leads his people like a shepherd (v. 4).
The same principle operates today. Non-Christian people are watching us. We claim to know, to love and to follow Jesus Christ. We say that he is our Savior, our Lord, and our Friend. “What difference does he make to these Christians?” the world asks searchingly, “Where is their God?” It may be said without fear of contradiction that the greatest hindrance to evangelism in the world today is the failure of the church to supply evidence in her own life and work of the saving power of God. Rightly may we pray for ourselves that we may have God’s blessing and mercy and the light of his countenance—not that we may then monopolize his grace and bask in the sunshine of his favor, but that others may see in us his blessing and his beauty, and be drawn to him through us.1
Does your life show forth the presence of God within? Does anyone ever look at you and think, “God certainly makes a difference for that Christian”? As one person has pointedly asked, “If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
The power of God’s word through his people. But there is also another answer to the questions I asked earlier (How are the nations of the world to get to know God? How is this great blessing to be known throughout the earth?), and it is clearly that we must tell them. Stott says that a great hindrance to evangelism is the church’s failure to give evidence of the power of God in each individual and in her corporate life, and that is surely true. But an equally great problem is our failure simply to do evangelism itself, that is, our failure actually to tell others about God.
Here I want to go back to the idea of the priestly blessing from Numbers and ask how the blessing of the priest, Aaron or any other, was actually to come to the people. Magically? Mechanically by the laying on of hands, or something of that sort? I want to argue that the way the blessing comes to God’s people is by someone bringing his word to them and that the way the word of God comes to them today is by our speaking it to them, that is, instructing them from the Bible. The Old Testament priest dramatized the word of the gospel by performing the sacrifices, but he spoke the word too.
Here are three important texts. The first is Romans 15:15, 16. Paul is writing to the largely Gentile Christians at Rome and is describing his ministry to them, which he calls a “priestly duty.” He says, “I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” This is a priestly ministry described in priestly language (“that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”). But it is a ministry accomplished by “proclaiming the gospel of God.” In other words, Paul saw himself as a priest. But the way he exercised his priesthood was by evangelism, that is, by teaching others about God.
The second text is Exodus 19:5, 6: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These verses say that in the fullest and most important sense of the word, all God’s people are and should be priests. How? Clearly by living for God as God’s people and by telling others about him.
The third text is 1 Peter 2:9, 10, which is written to the Gentiles but which draws on the verses in Exodus that I have just quoted. Peter tells them, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Here Peter is calling not only all believing Jews but also all believing Gentiles God’s priests, and he is saying that their function and inescapable duty as priests is to “declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light.” That is our calling. As Jesus said in Acts, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
1John Stott, Favorite Psalms (Chicago: Moody, 1988) p. 68.
What do verses 3-5 ask God to do? Which two ways does the psalm say this will happen?
What does John Stott say is a great hindrance to evangelism?
What is our priestly duty?
Describe the offering we bring to God.
How does our offering become sanctified?
Reflection: Does your life demonstrate God’s blessing? Are people attracted to what they see in you? How is God’s presence seen by those who observe your life? What have people said to you to let you know that they see God’s work in your life?
Application: Memorize 1 Peter 2:9, 10