Genesis 12; Matthew 11; Nehemiah 1; Acts 11
THIS PASSAGE, Genesis 12, marks a turning point in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. From now on, the focus of God’s dealings is not scattered individuals, but a race, a nation. This is the turning point that makes the Old Testament documents so profoundly Jewish. And ultimately, out of this race come law, priests, wisdom, patterns of relationships between God and his covenant people, oracles, prophecies, laments, psalms ó a rich array of institutions and texts that point forward, in ways that become increasingly clear, to a new covenant foretold by Israel’s prophets.
Even in this initial covenant with Abram, God includes a promise that already expands the horizons beyond Israel, a promise that repeatedly surfaces in the Bible. God tells Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3). Lest we miss its importance, the book of Genesis repeats it (18:18; 22:18; 16:4; 28:14). A millennium later, the same promise is refocused not on the nation as a whole, but on one of Israel’s great kings: “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (Ps. 72:17). The “evangelical prophet” often articulates the same breadth of vision (e.g., Isa. 19:23-25). The earliest preaching in the church, after the resurrection of Jesus, understood that the salvation Jesus had introduced was a fulfillment of this promise to Abraham (Acts 3:25). The apostle Paul makes the same connection (Gal. 3:8).
Even when the passage in Genesis is not explicitly cited, the same stance — that God’s ultimate intentions were from the beginning to bring men and women from every race into the new humanity he was forming ó surfaces in a hundred ways. In fact, quite apart from this passage, two of the three remaining passages in today’s readings point in the same direction. In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus makes it clear, in disturbing language, that on the last day pagan cities, though punished, may be punished less severely than the cities of Israel who enjoyed the unfathomable privilege of hearing Jesus for themselves, and seeing his miracles, but who made nothing of it. His own invitation is broad: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And in Acts 11, Peter recounts his experiences with Cornelius and his household to the church in Jerusalem, leading them to conclude, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
Christ receives the unrestrained praise of heaven, because with his blood he purchased people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).