I want to suggest that you take your time in reading through this article. Pause with me for a while today, if you are able, and reflect. I want to invite you to read, pray, think and work your way through this mutual reflection one section at a time. This invitation isn't a mandate, however, I do believe that this sort of slowing down and pondering might give us a better idea of what action to take as we assess things. So slow down, think, pray, and let's reflect together.
The Grace of My Location
Where are you? Where are you from? I happen to be in middle of Wichita, Kansas. I was born in Colorado, lived all over the United States growing up, and spent most of my life up to this point in California. In every place I've lived there has been a few constants like language, currency, driving on the right side of the street, the message of the gospel, a church building of some fashion or another. For my entire lifetime it has been relatively easy to have access to what I consider the most valuable thing in all of life: the gospel.
I've lived in small rural towns, super-sized cities, and suburban developments. The gospel has always been an accessible reality for me. As I reflect on the fact of my national wanderings and my access to the gospel, I have to give thanks. God, by his kindness, has birthed me into a land where gospel access and gospel fluency is accessible fairly easily. Even the development of the Internet, because of my native language of English, allows me greater proximity to the gospel message, and probably to local believers in the gospel. I thank and praise the Lord for his kindness to me in that regard. What about you? Where have you lived? Did you have, or do you now have consistent and strong access to the gospel?
The Global Realities
Now, let me move the lens back to a wider panoramic. This last year I've already spent time in the second largest nation in the world, India. I've walked some of the neighborhoods of the largest city in the world, Tokyo. In each of these places the proximity of the gospel, and gospel expressions of churches and gospel communities was almost too small to even record. Conservative estimates state that for every four people in the United States there is one Christian1. In Japan the ratio is exponentially higher. For every five hundred (500) people there might be one Christian2. The Dunbar Number suggests that the average human being can only have and maintain about 150 personal relationships at one time. If there is only one Christian for every 500 people in Japan the likelihood of someone coming into proximity to the gospel message is nearly impossible.
I am not sure where our reflection has you at this point, but let's refrain for just a moment longer from drawing conclusions. Let's assess what we now know. Those who live in the United States and Western world have a greater proximity to gospel resources and gospel proclamation. Those in other parts of the world have a much larger, even seemingly impossible, gulf to cross in order to be in proximity to the gospel message and people. Take a moment and feel the burden of that.
Beginning at the End
Again, before we pull out implications, conclusions, ideas, or actions steps I want to challenge us to reflect. Three passages in Scripture have been the source of contemplation and meditation for me lately. They frame for me a perspective on my proximity to the gospel in light of the lack of access that my friends in India or Japan might have. They call me to action, not because of an apparent local need but because of the glorious nature of the God represented in them.
I'm the kind of person that likes to know the destination before I start the journey, so Revelation 5:9-10 is a good place for us to reflect. The scene is the worship in heaven of God and Christ. There the Father is seated, ruling, from his throne. A scroll is presented which causes great consternation among the angelic beings. Who is worthy to open it? As the scene shifts from angels to throne a Lamb "as though it had been slain" appears before the throne. The Lamb that had been slain is worthy to open the scroll. At the recognition of the one who is worthy to open the scroll a great chorus of song breaks out in the heavenly courts.
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
At the center of this song is a statement of purpose. Christ is worthy to open the scrolls because he shed his blood and bought back a people for God. And where are those people from? "From every tribe and language and people and nation." This says something about the great and ultimate purposes of God. The gospel will be received by some from every language and location on the earth. Indigenous peoples everywhere will worship Jesus as the one who purchased them back from their sins by his life, death and resurrection. To say it in a shorthand way, the gospel message and power will go global. Maybe we should reflect on that idea for a while. Nothing in heaven or earth or under the earth will be able to thwart or hinder or hold back God's purposes. The gospel will go global. Every tribe and language and people and nation will worship Jesus.
It's Too Light A Thing
But that isn't the only passage that has been stirring my heart lately. Isaiah 49:6 keeps me out of the myopic, small imagination that I have about the gospel's spread and advance.
And now the Lord says,
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
In this passage, the Father speaks to the Servant-Son and declares that for him to be just the servant or savior of one small people would be too inadequate for his glory. The idea of something being too light is for it to be too little, too small, or not glorious enough. It would be akin to saying that it wouldn't fit the dignity of the Queen of England to only let her visit Auxvasse, MO (population 901). The glory of God is far greater and far more majestic for the Savior to only be the redeemer of Israel.
The Father promises the Son that his light (or glory) would be for the nations. His salvation would reach to the end of the earth. To put it in modern parlance, Jesus being the savior of American's isn't enough. It's not glorious enough. One specific location or people in the world is not enough. The glory of God must be global, his saving power and grace but be known the very ends of the earth. That would be awesome. That would be glorious.
From The Land of the Rising Sun
Just a few Saturdays ago, I was afforded unimpeded time to read and pray. I haven't reading a whole lot in the Old Testament Minor Prophets in recent days. So I gave myself some time to read Malachi. As I was, a particular passage jumped off the page and proverbially hit my square between the eyes. Malachi 1:11 leveled me in all the right ways,
For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.
From a global perspective the East will be a place that offers pure worship to Christ, just as the West will be. God resounds and tells us that his name, his great and glorious "name above all names" will be valued and treasured everywhere on the earth. The name of God, which encapsulates all that he is (see Exodus 34:6-7), will be worshipped, enjoyed, celebrated, praised, and declared throughout every nation on earth. There will be no place that does not worship the King of All Kings. As one author likes to say, "Put that in your theological pipe and smoke it."
The Implications of A Globally Exalted God
How do all these dots connect? First, we are graced to have free and frequent access to the gospel here in the United States. Second, God is a global God, his grace will be proclaimed and heralded and worshipped by every language, people and place. Jesus as the radiance of the glory of God will be exalted above all names everywhere. Third, there are still places on this planet that do not have gospel access and do not exalt and worship the name of Jesus. Which leads me to this conclusion: they will one day.
If God has promised that all the nations will worship him as Lord and Savior, and there are not places that are not doing that currently, it seems to me that the reasonable conclusion of this is there is a certainty that one day they will. The mission of global gospel-advance will be accomplished. God's will won't be thwarted and his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What does this say to us in the here and now? How does this lead us to action? I could point out all the mission agencies and opportunities that are available for you to go and work in all the places of the world. I could tell you of the need for financial support for global mission and the way in which we need to send and support those going for the sake of the mission. I could show you starving children, poverty-stricken nations and destitution that only the gospel can redeem and restore. I could give you more statistics on the needs of unreached people for translated Scriptures, linguistic workers, church-planters, teachers, pastors, missionaries, engineers, and so on and so forth.
However, instead I want to call you to reflect and then act. Each of us has a part to play in advancing the mission and engaging the globe with the gospel. Where has God been directing you to serve and work? Go do it. Who has God placed in front of you to support and encourage and send? Support, encourage and send them. How has God called you to make much of his name from East to West? Get after it.
If the gospel going global and reaching the nations is a guarantee, then mobilize yourself, your resources, your church, your passions for the one sure thing that God has declared: "My name will be great among the nations." Let's be part of that global, missional movement of God for the sake of his glory!
Jeremy Writebol(@jwritebol) has been training leaders in the church for over thirteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He lives and works in Plymouth, MI as the Campus Pastor of Woodside Bible Church.