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GOOD NEWS FOR ALL

When Jesus came to preach the Gospel, the Jews generally thought that God’s purpose and blessing was designed exclusively for them. They received a shock when He preached in the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth and made it clear that His Father had always been ready to express His love for ‘the nations’ (Luke 4. 16-30). This was also shown in God’s promise to Abraham that "... all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12.3 NIV). The promise is echoed in Psalm 22, which after describing Jesus’ sufferings, goes on in a triumphant note "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord and all families of the nations will bow down before Him.

This theme was continued by the prophet Isaiah when he said "Turn to me and be saved all you ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is no other.... Before me every knee shall bow, by me every tongue will swear." (Isa. 45.22,23) Paul uses these words in his letter to the Philippian church (2. 10,11). Jesus demonstrated His statement at Nazareth by showing His love for Gentiles in healing the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Matt.15) and the slave of the Roman centurion (Luke 7). Jewish belief that they as a select few, would be saved, was continued by the Christian church from the third century onwards when bishops decided that only those who obtained church membership would go to heaven. The rest would burn in hell. The reformation brought little change except that God’s favourites were now ‘Protestant’. As denominations and sects multiplied each thought of its own supporters as the ones most worthy of everlasting life.

On one occasion Jesus said that "all the dead will hear His voice and come out." (John 5.27-29). He went on to say that those who had done evil would be judged. The ‘good’ seems to refer to those who have already ‘crossed over from death to life’ (v.24). The rest will be ‘judged’ but not condemned. They will be judged by their behaviour after they have risen from the dead just as Jesus’ followers are being judged now by the way they live (1 Peter 4. 17). When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey through what is now Turkey, they were accused by Jews in Jerusalem of denying the Jewish faith. It was said that they offered God’s friendship to Gentiles who did not obey the Jewish religion. Some Jews although converted to Christianity wanted to keep Jesus’ message to a ‘select few’. In the Council meeting that followed, James in summing up recalled how Peter had said that "God first showed his care for the Gentiles by taking from among them a people to belong to him." He then quoted from the prophet Amos, "After this I will return, says the Lord, and restore the kingdom of David, I will rebuild its ruins, and make it strong again. And so the rest of mankind will come to me and all Gentiles whom I have called to be my own" (Acts 15.14-17 GNB). In this text Gentiles are mentioned twice; those who belong to God now and those (the rest of mankind) who will seek God later through Israel. Here we have a planned sequence in the salvation of all mankind,

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, writing about the resurrection, he uses these words "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive ". The implications of this chapter are clear; some will be restored to life with a physical body and some with a spiritual body (1 Cor.15. 22, 35-4 1). The statement is made that all will be made alive. Would God restore all humanity and then condemn most of them to some form of eternal punishment without a real opportunity to discover His mercy? A Creator who is full of love would be more likely to give those whom He had created a full and happy life and that is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome. "All creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal His sons... there was hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God." (Romans 8.19-21 GNB). That text only makes sense if all humanity as part of God’s creation is going to share in the endless joy that God has prepared for it. In chapter 1 of Pauls' letter to the church in Rome he refers three times to mankind being "given over" by God to the ways of sin; (given over literally means shut up as in prison). In Romans 11.32 Paul again refers to this "shut up" condition of mankind but this time he states that God has made all people prisoners "... that he might show mercy to them all". Clearly God intends to express His love to all.

The most well known text in the Bible tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3. 16,17). It is reasonable to suppose that God who loves the world would give that world a fair opportunity to believe in Him and so far the vast majority of mankind have not had that opportunity. It is not a question of a ‘second chance’ but rather the possibility of an opportunity to accept Christ as Saviour not previously enjoyed. Paul, writing to Timothy says that Christian believers should pray for those in authority for God "wants all men to be saved". He then he goes on to show how Jesus died as a ‘ransom for all’, the benefits of which, in the course of time, will become freely available to all.

(1 Timothy 2. 5,6). When the Jews grumbled about Jesus going to a tax collector’s home for a meal, he replied, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" and during His last week in Jerusalem He told the crowds that "When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to me." (John 12. 32 GNB)

Jesus came to this earth to share with mankind the consequences of sin. Those terrible consequences are still with us. He was very different in His life from us in that He did no wrong. He showed men and women, boys and girls how to express God’s love. It cost Him His life but because He had done as God wanted He was given a place in creation above everyone and everything else. As Paul expressed it, again in the letter to the Roman church (14. 9) "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living ". At Jesus’ trial before the Jewish Court, the presiding judge, high priest Caiaphas, insisted that Jesus tell them whether or not He was Messiah, Son of God, "Yes, it is as you say" Jesus replied, "But I say to all of you: In future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven". Those words of Jesus recall the words of the prophet Zechariah who said "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child..." (Zech. 12 10.) Then chapter 13 opens with the remarkable words "on that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from their impurity". This is the work of restoring the house and kingdom of David already mentioned from Acts 15. That is to be followed by God restoring all things from the beginning (Acts 3.21).

In his letter to the church at Colossi Paul takes the restoration one step further, when he explains that just as the Son of God was the one through whom all created things were made, just so is it through Him that all things shall "be reconciled to himself. In the beginning human rebellion had broken the relationship between God and His creation. Man had been given charge of the physical creation on earth and the consequences of his failure had ‘dislocated’ the rest of the natural world. Slowly, the results have become apparent to us all. Jesus, by his life and death, has been given the commission to reverse that situation and restore this earth and all that is on it to the wonderful place God originally intended.

Scriptures are sometimes highlighted which seem to speak of the destruction of humanity and its civilisation as though it was the end of all things. Firstly, these parts of the Bible are invariably records of parables and visions neither of which can be interpreted literally. It is clear that to re-make the human race and its home there will be a need to clean up the mess which sin and evil have brought just as there must be a scheme to re-educate those who have never learned the ways of God. But that does not cancel the original purpose of God expressed in the words of Psalm 145. 8-12 "The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, 0 Lord, your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom."

Romans 5.18; Titus 2. 11 (RSV); 1Timothy 2.4

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