Mission and Messiah in the Old Testament
Text: Luke 24:40-49
When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”
Why do we believe in missions? Going out to and spreading the gospel to all nations—why do we believe that? Where does that come from?
Many people would point to the Great Commission. “Go therefore and disciple all nations…” And that is a good and appropriate passage. That is a place that talks about missions. Other people might show you Paul and his missionary journeys in the book of Acts. Where did he want to go if finally successful? He wanted to go to Spain. That was about as far as you could go in those days without going off the map. So that too is a good place to look. But we shouldn’t miss the fact, which is taught to us in our passage this morning, that missions were always in the Old Testament.
Mission and the work of spreading the gospel was something present in Moses, in the prophets, and in the Psalms. As Jesus says to His disciples in Luke 24:
These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44, 46-47)
Those verses are very important because it is popular right now to talk about how the messiah, the cross, and the resurrection were in the Old Testament. We devoted a whole sermon just to that point. But it’s just as important to note that worldwide evangelism is right there in the same place. In fact, the work of the messiah is connected with the missionary work of the Church. They are not two different things. In fact, the work of the messiah immediately leads to the preaching of repentance and the remission of sins for all nations. That’s part of what the Messiah was going to do, and the thing we are preaching to the nations is that the Messiah has come, He has died, and He has been resurrected.
So this morning what I would like to show you is that missionary work, worldwide missions, is in the Old Testament. It is in Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, just as Jesus tell us here in Luke 24.
Think about it. Where is Gentile evangelism, worldwide missionary work, spoken of in the Old Testament. Let’s start with Moses. Moses is the author of the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. So when we speak about Moses, we are talking about those books. As important as the concept of “Israel” is to Pentateuch, it’s important to note that the Book of Genesis actually begins with a worldwide vision. Adam is the father of all humanity, and all of the current nations of the earth actually descend from the family of Noah. Modern scientific theories do not believe this, as Darwinistic evolution is committed to the idea that humans sprang up from several different sources over the course of millions of years. The Bible tells a different story. We are all one and not merely in a sentimental way. We actually share the same family tree. We go back to the family of Noah, and then after him, the family of Adam.
Even after God gives His special promise to the family of Abraham, however, the book of Genesis shows a concern for “all nations.” In Genesis 12:2-3, God says this to Abraham:
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Even here, in this original formation of a special nation, God displays His concern for “all nations.” As the history of Israel unfolds, we learn what this means as it is God Himself Who sends them into other nations in order to influence, evangelize, and disciple them. This happens first with Joseph, but it continues with the experience of Moses Himself, and then we see it explode in a new way during the prophetic era, with the expectation of captivity and dispersion.
The prophets are full of references to “the nations.” Some of them are negative. They do cast judgment against idolatry and all of those who would oppress God’s people. But that is not all that the prophets say. They also preach a message of salvation for the nations and even a message of the inclusion of the nations into Israel itself.
Turn to the book of Isaiah. The famous passage in Isaiah 42 says this:
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles…
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”…
“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. (Is. 42:1, 3b-4, 6-7)
This servant of the Lord will redeem Israel from captivity, but in the process He will also bring “justice to the Gentiles.” This does not simply mean that He will conquer them. It means that He will enlighten them and transform them. We know from the New Testament that this servant was Jesus. He brings righteousness to the Gentiles.
Another relevant passage from Isaiah which appears in the gospels is Is. 57:7b, where God says, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” The context of that verse is amazing. In the preceding verse God says, “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants— Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant— even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar” (Is. 57:6-7a). Here we see that the nations will be saved by Israel and by being brought into Israel, by being brought to God’s holy mountain and being accepted inside the temple.
Another important section from the prophets is in the prophet Zechariah. First we hear this in chapter 2, “’Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says the Lord. ‘Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst.’” (vs. 10-11). When the Lord returns to Zion after the final exile, He will bring many nations with Him, and they will all be His people, dwelling together.
So we’ve heard from Moses and the prophets. What about the Psalms? There are many to choose from. Psalm 22:27-28 says, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations.” But the greatest missionary psalm is Psalm 67. It’s only seven verses long, but the whole song is about the nations. Turn to it with me. It says this:
God be merciful to us and bless us,
And cause His face to shine upon us.
That Your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!
For You shall judge the people righteously,
And govern the nations on earth.
Let the peoples praise You, O God;
Let all the peoples praise You.
Then the earth shall yield her increase;
God, our own God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us,
And all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.
Notice again that the fact that God is coming to judge the whole earth is good news. It will cause the nations to praise, to be glad, and to sing for joy. Their salvation is found in Israel’s salvation, for both are found in the true God coming to earth to dwell on it and establish His kingdom forever. Mission and messiah are not two different topics. They are one and the same, and the Old Testament always taught this message.
The concept of “messiah” is enjoying a new interest among bible teachers, and this usually means that the concept of “kingdom” is also being talked about. The messiah is the one who will set up the kingdom of God on earth, and His rule will bring righteousness. This is good and true, but it’s not complete until we add missions to it. The messiah will set up the kingdom of God, His rule will bring righteousness, and He will bring all of the nations into that kingdom so that they too can enjoy, possess, and become the righteousness of God.
Brothers and sisters, this kingdom has been brought in by our messiah Jesus Christ. And that means that the mission is set before us now. He is bringing the nations in, and He is doing so in and through His Church. We must go preach, teach, and disciple, and we must do so to all nations. We don’t all do so in the same way. Each of us has our own calling. But the Church as a whole should be working on the mission to the whole earth, and we must always be aware of this and supportive of it.
Finally, we, like Israel before us, need to be prepared for God to bring the nations to us in surprising ways. He doesn’t always work in neat and tidy ways. The nations don’t write to us, requesting books or a lecture series. No, God often brings the nations to us through dispersion, exile, wars, and commerce. The nations very often land right in the middle of us in all of these ways, and we have an opportunity to reach them for Christ. Just think of our state. I have not lived in Florida for even two years, but I have already been exposed to more people from more nations than the rest of my life combined. I have met Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Columbians, Brazilians, Ecuadorians, South Africans, Indians, Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scots-women. I’ve even met a few people from New York. It’s incredible. Do you want to find the nations? Just look around!
We are living in an incredible time. It brings challenges. This is certainly true. And we shouldn’t give superficial answers to those challenges. But it also brings opportunity. And what an opportunity for the kingdom of God! We, His people, have been given our mission, but now we’ve also been given our mission field, and it is right in front of us. Let us go and bear witness. Christ has promised that He will give us “power from on high,” and He has done that through His Spirit. Go then, and preach the gospel of repentance and remission of sins in His name to all nations.
Let us pray.