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We tend to focus a lot on Abraham and his descendants. The names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David roll quickly and easily off our tongues. We know a lot about them from the Bible, and rightly so because God revealed that the Savior would come to earth through them. The more we know about them, and the promises God made to them, the easier it is to identify who that Savior is. But sometimes get the wrong idea. Sometimes we fall into the same trap that many of the Jews of Jesus’ day fell into. As we focus and Abraham and his descendants it’s easy to begin to think that God was only concerned with them. But God has always been concerned about all people, all descendants of Adam and Eve to whom he made the first promise of the Savior. God has always had believers outside of family of Abraham. In fact, Paul, a descendant of Abraham himself, reminds us that the true children of Abraham are those who share the faith of Abraham, who believe God’s promise to send a Savior for the whole world.
In Bible class recently we were reminded about a man named Melchizedek. He is called a High Priest God most High, and King of Salem. When he met with Abraham after Abraham had rescued his nephew Lot and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham recognized him as a priest of God most high and Abraham honored him by giving him a tithe. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek because he was not from the priestly tribe of Levi and because Jesus is greater than Abraham. This meeting between Melchizedek and Abraham reminds us that God had true believers on earth in addition to Abraham and his family.
Our Old Testament reading reminds us that the Queen of Sheba heard of the wealth and wisdom of Solomon. She was so impressed by what she heard that she decided to travel to Jerusalem and see for herself if what she had heard was true. She said, Your wisdom and wealth surpass the report which I heard. But even more importantly, she says, May the Lord your God be blessed, who was pleased to put you on the throne of Israel. Because the Lord loves Israel forever, he made you king to administer justice and righteousness. We can’t say for sure that she came to believe in the one true God, but she did acknowledge him. And who knows how God might have worked in the hearts of the great entourage who came with her!
God used the blessings he showered on David and Solomon to attract people to the one place on earth that he revealed himself most clearly—Jerusalem, where the temple worship was a daily reminder of the fact that salvation for the world would come through an unblemished, substitutionary, bloody sacrifice.
As the descendants of Abraham became more and more unfaithful, God used other ways to make sure non-Jews heard about his promises. He had the Babylonians conquer Abraham’s descendants and take some of the few who remained faithful to Babylon. We know some of their names, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel. We know about the powerful witness they gave before powerful foreign rulers like Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. God’s word never returns empty. Who knows how many seeds of faith were planted among the Babylonians and Persians through the witness of these men!
Daniel became the head of the wise men in Babylon. We can’t say for sure, but it is a possibility that the people we call The Wise Men from the east learned to look for a sign that the one born king of Jews had come, from things that Daniel had recorded for them a few centuries earlier. But whether they learned about the coming savior through Daniel or not, these men who were not descendants of Abraham came and worshiped. They demonstrated the faith of Abraham as they worshipped a helpless baby as their Lord and King, and as they obeyed what the Lord revealed to them in a dream and returned home without going back to Herod. What a contrast we see in these men, compared to the faith demonstrated by most of Abraham’s descendants at the time.
Up to the time of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension it seems that God’s primary strategy for making himself known to the world was what we would call today a “come” strategy. He used the blessings he gave to Abraham and his descendants, and even the location of the Promised Land right between the great powers of the world at the time, as a way of bringing others into contact with those who knew him and could share the good news of the promised Savior.
After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension there is a notable shift. He tells his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. And when they seemed reluctant to do that, he allowed persecution to scatter them from Jerusalem and they shared the Gospel wherever they went. Then he called the persecutor to faith and called him to be his apostle to the gentiles. Commissioned by the church in Antioch, the first place where mission work was focused primarily on reaching gentiles, he traveled throughout what we call Turkey, and then to Greece, then to Rome as a prisoner, and after his release, probably all the way to Spain preaching the good news that Jesus is the one that God promised not just to Abraham, but to Adam and Eve. He is the savior of all people.
Our reading for today reminds us that he carried out his mission to the gentiles by going to the Jews first, then gentiles. This did not mean that the Jews were better or more worthy of hearing the gospel, just that they had the promises of God in writing and were supposed to be looking for God to fulfill them. God wanted them to know he had fulfilled his promises. But he also wanted Gentiles to know what he had done, because Jesus came to save all people. God so loved world, not just Abraham’s descendants, that he gave his only begotten Son. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
God has graciously uncovered, revealed his plans to us. He has let us hear his promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He has let us see through the record of his inspired word how he carried out his promise and sent the Savior. He has worked in our hearts, as he did in the hearts of the Wise Men, enabling us to look at a baby in a manger and see our Lord and King and worship him. He has given us the faith of Abraham and made us part of the nations who are blessed through him. Now what?
Jesus makes it clear. He doesn’t want us to fall into the trap of thinking that salvation is only for our little group. He clearly says that he wants all people to be saved. And he has clearly said and shown us how that is to happen.
Those who know him, those for whom he has uncovered himself, are to be salt and light in the world. They are to be a city set on a hill. He wants people to be like the Queen of Sheba, to see that there is something different about us so that they come and ask what it is, and we get to tell them about all that God has done for us, especially that he sent Jesus to be their Savior too.
And he has clearly said and shown that he wants those who know him to GO! We are not to sit and wait for people to come to us. We are to go to them. This is especially important in our culture today when there are very few people who are just going to show up for church. We always want to invite people to come, but we need to realize that now, more than ever, we need to do what Paul did. We need to go to places we might not feel welcome. We need to talk to people in the marketplace, maybe not by standing on a soapbox and preaching at the farmers markets or outside the football stadiums, but finding ways to turn everyday conversations into conversations about Jesus. After all, what’s worse, having someone think you are a little strange, or having someone end up in the outer darkness of eternal punishment because they didn’t know about Jesus?
Remember, it was in response to rejection by Abraham’s descendants that Paul and Barnabas fearlessly proclaimed, this is what the Lord has instructed us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the end of the earth. As those who know and believe what Paul did, that’s our mission too – to bring salvation to the end of the earth. God grant that as we share the good news about Jesus, we too may experience what Paul did, that some will rejoice and praise the word of the Lord… and the word of the Lord will be carried through the whole region around us.