Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:11a “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and
west,. . .”
The centurion’s faith in Jesus’ ability to work apart from His bodily presence was a precursor to how Gentiles would have to come into the kingdom after Jesus’ ascension. Thus, Christ saw in this soldier the firstfruits of a vast Gentile harvest.
Less than three years after this encounter with the centurion, Jesus would bodily leave earth. However, because of people exhibiting faith like the centurion’s, Jesus knew His kingdom would continue to flourish. He foresaw multitudes of Gentiles flocking into the kingdom of God. He envisioned people streaming to Him from “the east and west,” from the uttermost parts of the earth. Jesus could see in this massive Gentile harvest His deserved reward for His death and resurrection.
Jesus’ short three-year public ministry was essentially contained within Israel. As a Jew, He was born, grew up, lived, worked, preached, ministered, died, and rose again among His people. Though limited within the confines of Israel, He did have enough contact with Gentiles to give a hint, a foretaste, of what was to come.
At His birth, wise men came from the east to honor Him (MT 2:1). When baby Jesus was presented to the Lord at Jerusalem, aged Simeon, whom God had promised would not die till he saw the Messiah, predicted the child would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles” (LK 2:32). John the Baptist introduced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (not only of Israel)” (JN 1:29). Jesus healed a centurion’s servant, and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (MK 7:26). A delegation of Greeks approached Philip and requested, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (JN 12:21). A North African carried His cross (MK 15:21). The sign above Him at Calvary was written in three languages, local Hebrew, and the more internationally used Greek and Latin (JN 19:20). At Jesus’ death, a Gentile Roman soldier confessed, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (MK 15:39).
Jesus saw foreshadowed in His brief encounters with the Gentile world a glorious future. He knew His Gospel would spread to all peoples. Without fear of contradiction, He boldly and clearly predicted, “This gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (MT 24:14). Our generation finds itself in a flurry of activity which could result in seeing this verse fulfilled in our lifetime. Of 12,000 people groups in the world, about 2,000 have few, if any, churches among them. Christian groups, churches (including ours), and individuals are targeting these unreached peoples with the Gospel. Tough challenges continue to confront us, but we live in one of the most exciting and successful eras of advancement in Christian history.
Jesus saw this Gentile harvest in advance. Others also should have seen it coming. The Old Testament contains many passages predicting a time when Gentiles would enter into the blessings of the Lord. In the Old Covenant’s last book, God promised, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts” (ML 1:11).
Where the Old Testament ended in this matter, Jesus saw the New era beginning. The question is, why did the religious establishment of Jesus’ day not understand these predictions, consider them, or take them into account? Better yet, why did the disciples themselves not begin to acknowledge and seek to implement the ingathering of the Gentiles until years after Jesus’ ascension? Bias blinded them.
Matt. 8:11b “. . .and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in
the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus was blunt. The religious leaders, the disciples, and Israelites at large could not in their wildest dreams fathom this scenario. Religious and ethnic pride had produced a bigotry in them which made it impossible for them to see this truth.
Jesus said we believing Gentiles would certainly be in good company when the kingdom of God is consummated, but the concept presented here was more than most of Jesus’ fellow Israelites could bear. They looked on Gentiles with disdain.
The Jews felt their physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob assured they would sit down with their famous ancestors at a banquet someday in the Messianic reign. They were convinced that, as an added bonus, no Gentiles would be present. Based solely on physical and hereditary reasons alone, the Israelites believed they would banquet with the patriarchs, while the Gentiles would be left out.
May God keep us from the Satanic error of elitism. A spirit of cultural narrowness has no place in Christianity. Nothing will thin Heaven as fast as bigotry. It curbs our zeal, and makes us hold back on efforts in missions and evangelism.
If they don’t look like us, dress like us, behave like us, or worship like us, I fear we too often act like we don’t want them saved like us. We all need to do deep soul-searching in this matter. We are too often guilty of prejudice, a word meaning “before judgment,” that is, drawing conclusions before all the facts are in, before even meeting someone, before knowing their past or present circumstances.
In a culture characterized more and more by hate and rage, let us be reminded of who we are, and how we are to act, as Christians. There is no place among us for harsh rhetoric which might stir up violence. We believe in reasonably spanking our children, in the right to self-defense, in the responsibility of government to enact capital punishment and to engage in just wars, but outside these safeguarded parameters, we renounce violence. Never forget, we serve the Prince of Peace.
There is no place among us for anti-Semitism, for ethnic jokes, for any type of humor which demeans other groups. I am a European-American pastor of a primarily European-American church in an essentially European-American city. Thus, I speak pointedly to European-Americans specifically about this issue. We should not be making jokes about native Americans, about Afro-Americans, about Asian-Americans. Heaven help us if our children learn racism and bigotry from us.
I’m so grateful for having been raised in a home where these ugly types of prejudice were disallowed. After I became an adult, I asked Dad why he and Mom never let us indulge in bigotry-talk. He said he, as one of thirteen children, knew what it was like to live at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. He said his family was so low in people’s eyes that there wasn’t room under them for any others. Dad’s brother, Don, tells how he had to wear to school overalls with holes in them. He says children would stick their fingers through the holes, poke him, and laugh.
May God rescue us from such elitism, and grant instead a loving, lowly spirit. The Lord loves no group of people more than any other. None of us has favored nation status before Him. He loves us all, and thus expects us to love all.
We need to rehearse again the jingle we learned in preschool. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Allow me to teach us verse two. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the grown up people of the world.”
We all know we are not the same. Differences exist between people groups. All of creation screams to us the fact that God loves variety. Trees differ, flowers differ, people differ. This diversity is meant to be the basis of appreciation for, and of learning from, one another. Differences should never be the fuel of snobbery.
In God’s eyes, there are ultimately two kinds of people–saved and lost. As His children, our responsibility to these two groups is easy to define. Toward the saved, show family love and affection. Toward the lost, do not laugh and joke, but rather weep, pray, and turn over every stone we can to bring them salvation.
How can we weep for their souls if we laugh at their ethnicity? How can we have a burden for people we deem a burden to us? It would be a farce to pray to God for others after joking with people about them. I pray for a softer, gentler spirit of love in our homes, churches, schools, and country. I pray it will begin in us.