Life’s Questions – Week 26 Notes

By July 14, 2019 Sermon Notes

A year from now, elite athletes from across world will gather in Tokyo for 2020 Summer Olympics – I’ll be watching – Something special about watching Olympics – I have vivid memories of sitting on couch as 10-year-old eating popsicle with screen door open listening to crickets chirp as Michael Johnson put his gold shoes into starting blocks – Or laying on floor late at night watching Apolo Ohno win medal after medal in speed skating

But maybe most stirring event of entire Olympics, in my opinion, is opening ceremony – During opening ceremony, it’s almost like world pauses – Every eye turns to Olympic stadium – People all over globe stop to watch athletes from every nation walk into stadium buzzing with energy – Each athlete bears his or her national symbol over their heart – One of athlete from each nation gets the honor of leading way carrying national flag – For many of them, it is pinnacle of life achievement – It is a dream come true – It is hope fulfilled

And, at same time, it is much bigger than each individual athlete – Listened to interview of some athletes who competed at Sochi last year and they said things like this about opening ceremony[1] – “you realize that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself” – “I realized this moment was about the world coming together at this crazy moment where everyone is the best at what they do” – “It is the only time when you are going to experience everyone almost forgetting about the sport and just feeling united”

And so what we see at opening ceremony is moment of hope fulfilled – A moment of great national pride – And a moment where people from very different places seem to put differences aside and experience unified humanity – Something about that really resonates with me – And it’s very powerful for people who experience it in person – I think there is a reason for that, but it can be hard to put our finger on it

July and August, addressing some cultural topics from biblical standpoint – Looking at idea of being “in the world but not of the world” – As we explore cultural topics, goal is to find conversational “touch points” so that we can dialogue with our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members about these topics in a clear, relevant and loving way

Last week: Rodney, cultural relativism and Jesus as the Way to eternal life – This morning: nations – Specifically, geopolitical entities we find across globe and their constituents – Not politics, Jim will discuss that next week – Hone in on this reality of geopolitical distinctiveness and some of ideologies that attach themselves to that distinctiveness

When it comes to prevalent ideologies about idea of nation, three very general ideologies stick out – 1) Nationalism – Idea that one’s own nation and national interests is to be supported to exclusion or benefit of other nations – Exalts nation above all else – Nationalist says, “Let’s do what’s in our best interest, regardless of what it costs everyone else.” – 2) Globalism – Other end of spectrum – Idea that world and its interests are to be supported to detriment of individual nations – Attempts to flatten worldwide socio-economic and cultural differences and obstacles – 3) Apathy – Avoidance, ignorance, or withdrawal from any type of national or global interest for variety of reasons

But what does the Word of God have to say about nationhood? How should we as followers of Jesus think about geopolitical distinctiveness and these associated ideologies? – The goal this morning is begin to answer those questions – This morning, sprint through the biblical narrative – As we go, identify five principles on this idea of nation – Then, application

Begin with our sprint through biblical narrative:

In beginning, sovereign, eternal God creates universe and everything in it, including mankind –Not only does God create world and everything in it, He chooses to dwell in close, intimate relationship with His creation in a garden called Eden – And it was very good 

But that all changes when mankind chooses to rebel against God and His good, created order – As a result of rebellion, unity between God and His creation, including mankind, is ruined – Relationship is fractured – And what we see very quickly is that mankind, apart from God, is very broken

We see brokenness in vivid way in story of Babel in Genesis 11 – The people of the earth, who have spiraled into evil, decide to build a great city with a great tower that reaches to the heavens so that they might make a name for themselves – God looks down and sees great evil of a broken and unified mankind, so He intercedes by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the earth – No longer will they be unified in their evil – And that confusing and scattering is catalyzing event for development of geopolitical nations – People started grouping up by language and location – Immediately thereafter, Genesis 12, we see evidence that nations had developed Babel birthed nations

Principle #1: Nations are inevitable – As a result of sin, generally, and Babel, specifically, nations are inevitable – God, in a sense, institutionalized nationhood on earth when He confused the languages of man and scattered them – While technology and globalization continue to shrink many gaps that once existed between people of different nations, there will always be a gap

So what that means is that any utopian idea of a flattened and unified global community is unwarranted and even undesirable – God’s activity in scattering nations was a means of grace and protection for fallen world – No longer will man be unified in its evil – These distinct, separate, geopolitical nations provide some type of buffer against evil

That also means that apathy is not a faithful response to nation and world – Nations are here to stay – They are inevitable and inescapable – Faithfulness requires that we acknowledge, consider and engage with inevitable and inescapable reality of nationhood

In Genesis 12, immediately after account of Babel, is God’s promise to redeem one nation for Himself – God has a plan to end this rebellion and heal this fracture between Himself and His creation – He has a plan to save His world – And His plan is to choose and redeem one nation to be His representatives and mediators to all the other nations of the earth – Abraham becomes father of this nation – God promises, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Rest of OT narrative is about faithful, sovereign Creator God’s work to deliver on this promise – He protects the line of Abraham – He delivers His people from oppression in Egypt – He leads them and provides for them in the wilderness – He dwells with them – He drives their enemies out of their Promised Land

But despite God’s faithfulness, Israel proves unfaithful over and over again – Principle #2: Nations (like the men and women who inhabit them) are broken and temporary – Nations are inevitable and nations are broken

Thankfully, God is sovereign even over the failure of nations and their leaders – Over and over in OT, God raises up leaders and then dethrones them according to His righteous judgments – And what is surprising is we see God do this even with His own chosen nation, Israel – You see, not even God’s nation could live up to His standards – Even when God performs mighty miracles for a nation, even when He dwells in the presence of a nation, even when He ascribes laws for the people, even when He delivers them from the hands of their enemies – They tragically and thoroughly fail

And that reality ought to cause us to question nationalistic hope – If all nations are broken and temporary and I don’t think we have to look very hard to see that reality in history – If even God’s chosen nation, Israel, could not live up to His standards and was perpetually unfaithful, then is there really any nationalistic hope?

Thankfully, God is bigger than a nationalistic hope – Despite Israel’s persistent failure, God, in His sovereignty, continues to set them apart from other nations – He lifts them up/exalts them among all nations of the earth – Just as He promised Abraham he would do, He blesses them – Makes name great – One nation among all the nations – And God does this for His glory; so that all nations will know that God of Israel is the One True God

But, you see, blessing Israel was only part of promise – There’s more – God also promised that “in Abraham” all families of the earth would be blessed – Not just one nation, but all nations – Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s to make Abraham a blessing to all nations – And in fulfilling God’s promise, Jesus dramatically changed some things about God’s redemptive work on earth

Principle #3: In Jesus and New Covenant of His blood, national identity is clearly superseded by spiritual identity – In Christ, the salvation of God visibly broke with any specific geopolitical identity – In Christ, the criteria used for determining “God’s people” moved away from Jewish ethnicity and custom and reordered around the heart and soul

That is what Paul explains in Romans 2-3, “For no one is a Jew [a person of God] who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew [a person of God] is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles [or non-Jews] also? Yes, of Gentiles also…” (Rom. 2:28-29, 3:29-30)

National identity is clearly superseded by spiritual identity – A purely nationalistic hope: a hope that puts ultimate trust in a homeland, a governing body, a set of laws or a national or cultural heritage is wrong – It is idolatry – Finished work of Jesus Christ in defeating our sin by way of a wooden cross and a empty tomb is our ultimate source of identity and hope – To seek ultimate identity, meaning, or hope from anything else, national or otherwise, will be disastrous

Hear me: I’m not saying national pride is wrong – I’m not saying national identity is wrong – I’m not saying love and gratitude for country is wrong – In fact, I think all of those things are good when they are kept in a healthy place in our hearts – I’m simply saying this: in Jesus, national identity/hope/love of nation is clearly superseded by spiritual identity/hope/love of God

What is interesting as we look at teachings of Jesus and other NT authors is that they didn’t discard idea of nation or even the value of national identity as some irreparable thing – In fact, they re-framed it and built on it – Jesus spoke extensively about a Kingdom, Kingdom of God – Jesus was a political figure, just not in the way most Jews expected Him to be and not in way some Christians would try to make Him to be – Jesus ushered in an invisible Kingdom – A Kingdom with a clear ethic, clear agenda, clear King – A King with unimaginable power and expansive territory – And a King with a devoted people – Principle #4: Christ established a new (non-gp) nation

That is reality that Peter describes when says, “But you [church] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.(1 Peter 2:9-10)

Through His death and resurrection, Christ established a new (non-geopolitical) nation so that by grace and through faith, in power of Holy Spirit, both Jews and Gentiles across whole earth could become citizens of His kingdom

This is a point at which we can begin to connect with and speak to longing of both nationalism and globalism – If we’re looking for “touch points” we can find some here – Here, we find opportunity to not just tell people how they are wrong, but how they are right – To nationalist, we can affirm hunger for a sense of tribe/locality/distinctiveness/nationhood/heritage/deep, collective, and unique cohesiveness – We can affirm longing in their hearts, just not object of their longing – They’ve longed rightly after the wrong thing – They’ve spent their longing for God on their nation

And to globalist, we can affirm their thirst for the universal – We can affirm their drive to discover something subversive, below surface, something innate that binds mankind together in a common way – Something that goes beyond national borders and ethnic backgrounds and cultural customs – Something that really gets at humanity and common good – We can affirm longing in their hearts, just not object of their longing – They, too, have longed rightly after the wrong thing – They’ve spent their longing for God on a universal humanity

And to the apathetic, we can understand their cynicism and sense of hopelessness toward nation – After all, nations are broken and temporary – And God is ultimately sovereign over it all – But we cannot accept apathy as a proper response to these realities – Right after Peter says, “You are a holy nation” he says, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” – Peter moves from identity to function – Identity and function are connected here – Much like Israel, God made us a holy nation so that He might be glorified in the earth – We are a royal priesthood: mediators between God and mankind – Attached to our God-given identity in Christ is a God-given task – Apathy is not a proper response

One more stop to make on journey through biblical narrative as we wrap it up – We’ve looked at nations past and present but must also look to nations future – And when we do, we see that – Principle #5: Nations (like the men and women who inhabit them) are redeemable

Apostle John, exiled to island of Patmos, had apocalyptic vision of end of age – God opened a window and let him see reality of future – And this is what John saw – He says, “I looked [through this window that God opened for me], and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and [all] peoples and [all] languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God [to our God!] who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:9-10)

Later, John would write about eternal dwelling place of people of God, saying: “[the new heavenly city] has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. (Rev. 21:23-26)

And I will confess to you that I don’t know exactly what that will look like: a New Heavens and New Earth – Into which nations will bring their glory and honor – But I wonder if it won’t look something like this

A sacred moment in time where everything seems to stop – When all eyes turn to a central place – When people from every nation across all of space and all of time, people who’ve trusted in God, march into a holy sanctuary – And they march in bearing distinct and fully redeemed symbols and substance of their nation and culture – It is a moment of great national pride – And yet, it is a moment when they all get swallowed up by something much bigger than themselves and their nations – They get swallowed up by presence of God

You see, things are different this time – It’s not strong who march in to this sanctuary, it is the meek – It is not the proud who march in, it is the humble – It is not the rich who walk in, it is those who are poor in spirit – It’s not the competitive who walk in, it is the faithful – And they march not to a torch, but a throne – And when they get there they bow before a Lamb and the sing one song in unison in a thousand different languages but words can be understood by all, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – This moment is not just pinnacle of a lifetime, pinnacle of eternity – Hope fulfilled

That’s where we are headed and it should shape how we live today – Nations are inevitable, broken and temporary – And yet, they are valuable and redeemable – As followers of Christ and citizens of His Kingdom, we are recipients of unique identity, power, and freedom, which gives us ability to live faithfully in love and service to our nation, our world, and its people

That is our task as God’s holy nation: to proclaim His excellencies in our nation and in all nations – Different ideas about what exactly that should look like on a personal/national/global level – Okay to have different ideas – But our ideas need to be guided by these principles of Scripture

We can all do a couple of things:

1) Pray – Reality: redemption is God’s work – We cannot do it on our own – Only His power can bring dead souls to life again – He doesn’t need us, but He’s invited us to join Him – And we join Him, first, in prayer

Pray consistently for our nation, its leaders, and its people – Pray that God would be at work to draw Americans to Himself and that He’d give you eyes to see how to join Him at work, in your neighborhood, and in your sphere of influence

Pray consistently for foreign nations – Pray that God would lift veil of darkness in those places so that Christ would be known – Pray that Latvians, Moroccans, Chinese, Peruvians would know God in a powerful and transformational way – You can download an app on your phone called Operation World and pray for the “nation of the day” each morning or evening – You can get on an email update list from workers from River who are laboring overseas – Open up your journal and look back at names of people you met on FOCUS trip

I know a couple who left a jar on their dining room table – They’d take popsicle sticks and write names of people or nations on each end of the popsicle stick and put them in the jar – Each night before dinner, when they prayed, they’d pull out a popsicle stick, pray over that person or nation, and then put it back in the jar and draw different one next evening – A thousand methods – Find one that works for you – Pray

2) Engage – “Dialogue” is a buzzword in our society – People “dialogue” about lots of things – But let’s be people who do more than simply “dialogue” – If we begin and end with “dialogue” we’ve missed something – Jesus didn’t come to “dialogue” or “argue” about salvation – He did talk about it but, more importantly, he laid down His life for it – He put on real flesh and rubbed shoulders with real people – Let’s be a people who don’t just “dialogue” about loving and serving our nation, our world, or its people – Let’s be a people who lay down our lives to do it – Let’s take time to think about how we can “proclaim the excellencies” of God in word and deed in our neighborhoods and schools and workplaces and then let’s get our hands dirty

That’s going to look different for each of us – None of us can do everything, nor should we try – But all of us can do something – I can’t tell you what your something is, but God can – And He will if you’ll ask Him and seek Him and listen for His voice

Pray

 

[1] https://www.wralsportsfan.com/olympics/video/17325647/

Leave a Reply