Monday, March 10, 2014

Even If You're Not Chosen First

Growing up in a non-Jewish household, I found myself feeling a stab of jealousy every time God referred to Israel as My people in Scripture. 

Sure, I was grateful for those verses in Romans 11 that showed how even as a Gentile "wild olive shoot," God had chosen to "graft" me into His chosen family (v. 11-25).  I clung to Paul's words showing how the Gentiles were on equal footing in His kingdom, "adopted as sons through Jesus Christ"(Eph. 1:5).

And yet, even while I was in thankful awe of God's grace in offering me salvation, I was still jealous of those who naturally were called God's children.  In my mind, adopted had a "second best" ring to it, like I was someone "less," much like being the last one picked to be on a kickball team at recess. 

Only recently have I come to understand that this view of the world as the "chosen" and "not chosen"  is not really what God intended.  God did not choose a people, a nation, to just sit around being special and taking pride in their chosen status.  Instead, the Jewish nation of Israel was to serve as a beacon of light, drawing all men to become part of God's chosen children.

As God's chosen children, yes, the people of Israel were supposed to be set apart from the rest of the world but not so that they could think themselves entitled; instead, they were to lead the world to salvation, ultimately through Jesus.

The problem?  Then and even now, Israel did not and has not fulfilled its purpose.  As is human nature, its people grew proud of their chosen status, believing themselves untouchable, even by God's judgment.

Remember how the prophet Jonah was angry at God for wanting him--a chosen Jewish son--to go warn those worthless pagans in Nineveh of God's wrathful judgment to come? Who were they to deserve God's blessing? They weren't of the chosen nation of Israel.  So, why did God care?

But God did care.  And throughout the Old Testament, he gave hints as to Israel's larger purpose as a light to draw the world to Him.  First, He adopted foreigners into His chosen family, even into Jesus' own lineage with non-native Jews like Rahab and Ruth.  Next, He sent messages specifically meant for the pagan countries through prophets such as Jonah, Nahum, and even Isaiah.   At other times, He spoke both in dreams and in an audible voice, such as when He told King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, "You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes" (Dan. 4:32).

From the beginning, God's chosen people were chosen for a purpose much greater than themselves.  In the book of Isaiah, several times, God gives a glimpse at the nation of Israel during the Millenial reign of Jesus.  It is an image of Israel finally fulfilling the purpose for which it was created, a purpose which appears to be threefold: (1) to worship the Lord, (2) to testify about the Lord, and (3) to draw the nations (i.e., the entire world) to Him.

As Isaiah says, "And in that day you will say, 'Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.' Praise the LORD in song, for He has done excellent things; Let this be known throughout the earth.  Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel" (Is. 12:4-6).

In the verses above, we see Israel as it was intended to be.  First, it is worshiping God by giving thanks to the Lord in both word and song.  Next, it is testifying about the Lord by "mak[ing] known His deeds"and "Cry[ing] aloud" with joyful shouts concerning all the excellent things He has done.  All of this leads to the third purpose--to draw unto the Lord the nations, all of which come to Israel during this time.  As the Lord says later in Isaiah, "I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Is. 49:6).

Only when Israel fulfills this three-fold purpose will it become what God intended--a blessing to the whole world: "In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth" (Is. 19:24).

This was always God's plan.  His adopted Gentile children were not afterthoughts, not second best. As Gentiles from every tribe, tongue, and nation, you and I were always predestined to be part of God's chosen family and Israel's purpose was always to draw us to the Lord.  Sadly, Israel missed the boat.

Still, we serve a God of second chances.  Although the nation failed the first time, the prophecies of Scripture show that God is not done with Israel yet.  It has yet to fully fulfill its purpose, but that day is coming.  

But until then, let us who are adopted into His kingdom join in fulfilling the purpose God originally gave His chosen people:

Worship the Lord.  Testify about the Lord.  Draw all men unto Him.

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