5-4 Preaching “To every creature”
As so often with reading the Gospels, it is profitable to imagine the
tone of voice in which the Lord spoke the words which are recorded. "
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every
creature " . If only we could sense the intensity of desire,
the deepness of spiritual meaning, which His voice would have conveyed.
We must have the spiritual ambition to take the Gospel to the
whole world- no matter how small our world may be. The world of our street,
of our town, nation- and as far as we are able, the whole planet. Paul
had this ambition, quite apart from any personal commission he received.
His desire to go to Spain (Rom. 15:24) indicates a commitment to taking
the Gospel to the very ends of the world he then knew. He may well have
been motivated in this by wishing to fulfil in spirit the Kingdom prophecy
of Is. 66:18,19, which describes how Tarshish (which he would have understood
as Spain) and other places which “have not heard my fame, neither have
seen my glory” will be witnessed to by those who have seen His
glory and have “escaped” from God’s just condemnation by grace. Paul sees
this as referring to himself. For he speaks in Rom. 15:19 of his ambition
to take the Gospel to Spain; and in that same context, of how he will
bring the Gentile brethren’s offering up to Jerusalem. This is precisely
the context of Is. 66- the offerings of the Gentiles are to be brought
up to Jerusalem, as a result of how the Lord’s glory will be spoken of
to all nations. So Paul read Isaiah 66 and did something about his Old
Testament Bible study; he dedicated his life to taking the Gospel to the
Gentiles, and he encouraged them to send their offerings to Jerusalem.
He was no mere theologian, no academic missiologist. His study and exposition
of Old Testament Scripture led to a life lived out in practice, to hardship,
risk of life, persecution, loneliness, even rejection by his brethren.
It is also significant in passing to note that Is. 66:19 speaks of nations
which occur in the list of nations we have in Genesis 10, in the context
of the effect of Babel. It is as if Paul sees the spreading of the Gospel
as an undoing of the curse of Babel and the establishment of the Kingdom
conditions described in Is. 66. By his preaching of God’s Kingdom and
the reign of Christ, he brought about a foretaste of the future Kingdom
in the lives of his converts. And we can do likewise. Note how once again,
the preacher preaches from his personal experience; Paul takes the vision
of glory which he has beheld to those who have not seen nor heard.
Paul speaks of how he had preached the Gospel from Jerusalem " as
far round as Illyricum" (Rom. 15:19). This was a Latin-speaking province.
Was he not implying that he had preached throughout the Greek speaking
world, and now wanted to take it into the Latin-speaking world? He wanted
to preach to the regions beyond his previous limits (2 Cor. 10:15); his
aim was to spend some time in Rome and then preach in Spain.
The experience of preaching is in itself a foretaste of the future world-wide
Kingdom. The harvest is both at the end of the age, according to the parables
of Mt. 13, but also is ongoing right now (Jn. 4:36) as we gather in the
harvest of converts. The Lord in Jn. 4:35,36 took this figure far further,
by saying that the harvest is such that the interval between sowing and
harvesting is in some sense collapsed for those who engage in preaching.
The reaper was already collecting his wages; the harvest was already there,
even though it was four months away (Jn. 4:35). This clearly alludes to
the promises that in the Messianic Kingdom there would also be no interval
between sowing and harvest, so abundant would be the harvest (Lev. 26:5;
Am. 9:13). And hence, we are impelled to spread the foretaste of the Kingdom
world-wide by our witness right now.
William Barclay comments: “Paul never saw a boat riding at anchor or
moored at a quay but he wanted to board her and to preach the gospel to
the lands beyond. He never saw a range of hills in the distance but he
wanted to cross them and to preach the gospel to the lands beyond” (1).
When Paul was in Pamphylia, he decided to go on to Galatia, where on account
of infirmity of the flesh he preached to the Galatians (Gal. 4:13). The
suggestion has been made that the low-lying Pamphylia was a source of
malaria, which may have been Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, and he therefore
sought the uplands of Galatia. And yet he could easily have returned to
Antioch. But instead, he went on, up into the highlands, to spread the
Gospel yet further. The way there led up precipitous roads to the plateau;
the roads were cut by mountain streams, prone to flash floods which often
carried travellers to their death. And these roads were the haunt of bandits,
who would murder a man just for a copper coin. No wonder Mark went back.
But as William Barclay observes, “the wonder is not so much that Mark
went back as that Paul went on”. Although a sick man, he was driven by
that desire to spread the Gospel further. Surely this is why his Lord
was so pleased to open the hearts of the Galatians to the Gospel. Consider
too how Paul was stoned and dragged out of Lystra as dead- presumably
they didn’t want him to die within the city limits as they were under
Roman jurisdiction. Yet, hobbling and bleeding, he returned into the city
to witness (Acts 14:20). And it was here in Lystra that he made one of
his greatest converts, Timothy (Acts 16:1). And when Paul asks us to follow
him, he is speaking in the context of his life’s work and preaching. He
is our pattern, to be lived out in spirit within the confines within which
God has placed us.
Even in Old Testament times, the basic idea of spreading God’s ways was
implicit in God’s commands, although each time it seems to have
met with resistance. Adam and Eve were to multiply and fill the
earth, but it seems they didn’t even have intercourse , or at least
Eve wasn’t pregnant, before they sinned. Noah was given the same
command after the flood, but the next we know he is lying there
dead drunk. And the incident at Babel shows that effectively, his
children had not taken seriously the command to spread throughout
the earth. Israel were to be a missionary nation, but they so evidently
failed in this. The law given to Israel was intended to be a “testimony”,
a witness, as the Hebrew word implies. By living out that law, Israel
were to have been a witness to the world, a light to the Gentiles
(Ps. 78:5). The prophets are full of invitations for the whole ends
of the earth to turn to Israel’s God, yet the nation produced few
real missionaries. Jonah perhaps epitomizes the resistance to the
idea of sharing Israel’s relationship with God with the Gentiles.
The need to spread the word has therefore always met up with opposition
and indifference from those who ought to be doing it. Our own reservations
about preaching are all a manifestation of that same basic human
tendency. The way that Israel were intended to be a missionary nation is brought out very beautifully by the way that God speaks of carrying Israel on eagles' wings out of Egypt (Dt. 32:11). Apparently, the type of eagle throws one of its young into the air and catches it, bearing it on its wings, until it learns to fly freely, and then the others learn from this how to fly (2). If this is the right track of interpretation, then we are left with the conclusion that it was God's intention that all the Gentile world were intended to be God's ultimate children, and that they would learn from the example of Israel. But Israel failed to fly as God intended, and thus they were not the intended example for others. Note in passing how God's intention is that we should fly freely- not merely be His initiative-less servants for the sake of it.
The above paragraphs provide evidence which demands some kind of verdict.
Should we make special effort to spread the Gospel, or not? There is an
unmistakable connection with the great preaching commission in Mt. 24:14:
" This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for
a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" . It cannot
be sensibly denied that Mt. 24 is a prophecy of the last days, before
the coming of Christ. Isn't the Lord saying 'My great command to preach
world-wide will be mightily fulfilled in the last days, and then I will
return in glory'? And it is marvellously appropriate that our latter twentieth
century has so many facilities, linguistically, politically and technologically,
for the spreading of the Gospel to literally all nations. If the above
reasoning is sound, then we need to wake up to our responsibilities; in
terms of money, time, resources of all kinds, and above all in fervent
prayer and spiritual effort to fulfil our Lord's earnest desire: that
all men might see the light of the Father's love which He reflected. We
each have our specific area, either of people or the world, in which God
intends us to make a witness. Paul thus spoke of how both he and other
brethren had their specific " line" or sphere in which they
were intended to witness (2 Cor. 10:16 cp. Ps. 19:4 AVmg.; Am. 7:17).
We each have ours, whether it be the people who live in our block of flats,
an area of our own country or city; or another part of the world. "
Go ye into all the world..." , obey the command, catch the vision-
" for his name's sake" (3 Jn. 7), for the surpassing excellence
of the knowledge and experience of all that is in Him. And hence Paul
urged Timothy to fulfil, fully, the ministry of preaching which he had
been given, just as he could say that he had (2 Tim. 4:5, 17 Gk). We each
have a potential to live up to.
There is one final point which clinches the personal urgency of the great
commission as relevant to every one of us. 1 Tim. 3:16 speaks of how Christ
God manifest in the flesh [on the cross]
justified in the Spirit [in the resurrection- Rom. 1:4]
seen of angels [at the resurrection]
preached unto the Gentiles
believed on in the world
received up into glory [the ascension].
It must have occurred to many expositors that this would be nicely chronological-
were it not for stages 4 and 5. “Preached unto the Gentiles, believed
on in the world” seems a clear reference to the great commission- to preach
the Gospel of the resurrection to all the world, and whoever believes
it will be saved. But the tenses are definitely past tense, not future.
Indeed, the whole passage seems to have Mark’s record of the resurrection,
preaching commission and ascension specifically in mind [not surprising
if tradition is right in saying that this Gospel was learnt by heart by
candidates for baptism in the early church] (3).
I would suggest that Paul is using a Hebraism although writing in Greek
(and E.W. Bullinger provides scores of other examples of where Paul does
this, in Figures Of Speech Used In The Bible). Paul is thinking
in the Hebrew ‘prophetic perfect’ tense, to describe something yet future
as already past, so sure is it of fulfilment. He is referring
to the great commission when he speaks of Christ as “preached unto the
Gentiles, believed on in the world”; and he is giving a chronological
account of the Lord’s resurrection, with reference to Mark’s Gospel record.
But he sees the command to go and preach to the Gentiles, to make them
believe, as so sure of being obeyed that he speaks of it in the past tense.
The fact the Lord asked us to do this, for all the many reasons outlined
in this study...this of itself is such a strong imperative to do it that
Paul sees it as already done. And so the Lord’s bidding should
weigh as heavily with us. In fact, He had just the same idea when in Luke’s
record of the commission He says: “Beginning at Jerusalem you are
witnesses” (Lk. 24:48 RVmg., cp. Acts 1:8). What He meant, according
to Mark’s version, is that ‘You are to go world-wide and be witnesses’.
But He speaks as if they have already done this, as if He were saying:
‘Go and be world-wide witnesses, you are witnesses, it’s axiomatic to
your experience of my resurrection that you will witness, so I see it
as if its already being done, even as you stand here before me’.
(1) William Barclay, Ambassador
for Christ (Edinburgh, Saint Andrew Press, 1973), p. 25
(2) Martin Buber, 'The election of Israel' in On The Bible (New York: Schocken Books, 1982) p. 90.
(3) L.G. Sargent, quoting
C. Spicq, tabulates the following parallels in The Gospel Of The Son
Of God p. 210 (Birmingham: CMPA):
:12 appeared (i.e. was
manifested) in another form
manifest in flesh
:15 preach the gospel
preached unto the Gentiles
:15 into all the world…:16
he that believeth
believed on in the world
:19 was received up into
received up, into glory