1. It's not a western story
2. God's light shines through World History
3. Share the Gospel with others
In the book Eternity in Their Hearts, Don Richardson describes a popular theory about the origin of monotheism (the belief that there is one true God). This theory dates to the nineteenth century. That was a time when secular scholars increasingly began to explain Biblical texts as a result of cutting and pasting from other traditions. Especially Babylonian traditions. In the [2300 years – the beginning of the end] tile you find more information about this tendency.
The theory, of the Englishman Edward B. Tylor, states that religion arose through the 'discovery' of the soul. Experiences of dreams and visions created the idea that there must be something more than the mere physical presence and needs in the here and now. A kind of soul. The next step was to attribute such a soul to other objects, such as animals, trees, rivers, the mountain, the sky, and the sun. This 'animism' developed into a collection of stories about the gods. All those living things were now represented as gods, who would live in a certain hierarchy in relation to each other. Finally, only in the societies in which a monarchy arose, where an autocrat came to power, was it recognized that there had to be a supreme god. He became the sole ruler in the pantheon. Behold, the birth room of monotheism!
In Tylor's view, monotheism, as propagated by the Judeo-Christian tradition (and much later Islam, which in some respects is based on the Bible) is a recent invention of mankind. His ideas fueled modern textual criticism, in which the Bible is approached as if it were a hodgepodge of older religious traditions. Theological scientists are said to have discovered traces of the ancient polytheism in the text of the Bible. Tylor also provided indirect arguments for the communist abolition of religion. If religion is a recent invention, then society should be able to do without it too!
Back to the roots
We look back on five centuries of colonialism, a time when Western peoples left their mark on large parts of the world. Based on Tyler's theory, it may seem that Western rulers have tried to spread monotheistic religion all over the world. In doing so, they would have violated and oppressed the much older indigenous traditions. It is unfortunately true that during colonial times a lot of brutal violence was used, often under the banner of the (Catholic) faith. This evil does not come from God. It is a fruit of sinful, selfish people. But is the Bible itselfalien to the nations? Are the indigenous religions indeed the most original and is the story about the Biblical God imported from overseas? It may surprise you, but the reality is the other way around.
In many nations the memory of the beginning of time in Eden still lives. Memories of the times when [the risk of love] left its mark, the [catastrophe of the global flood] completely reset geology, and [the migration of all nations] kicked off dozens of new societies. The echo of the original commitment to one God can be found in many unexpected places. The reality is that monotheism is the most authentic belief. Only later in time has this degenerated and diluted into polytheism. Because whoever let’s go of the Creator gets 1001 dubious alternatives in return.
It is as Joshua puts it, just before the Jewish people enter Canaan around 1400 BC:
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
When Israel forsakes their commitment to the LORD, they can choose from a collection of idols. Not for their own benefit, by the way. Yet, despite this proliferation of idols, the knowledge of the truth has also survived. Especially in the oldest oral traditions. There are many wonderful examples of this. Unfortunately, they don't get the attention they deserve. Let’s have a look.
The Santal from India
In 1867, a Norwegian missionary, Lars Skrefsrud, encountered the Santal people, in India. He learned the local language and began to tell the people about the gospel. How long would it be before the Santal, raised without any Jewish or Christian influences, would take an interest in this good news? To Skrefsrud’s surprise, not long. He soon overheard a few Santal philosophers talking enthusiastically about the new message.
“What this stranger says can only mean that Thakur Jiu hasn't forgotten us after all this time!” (Eternity in Their Hearts - Evidence of Faith in the One True God in Hundreds of Cultures Around the World, Don Richardson, Novapres 2002, pg. 41-4, Dutch translated publication. See also follow-up quotes).
Skrefsrud, who had mastered the language well by now, immediately understood the importance of this comment. Thakur means 'true’, and Jiu is the Santal word for 'god'. The locals themselves spoke of the one true God and then insisted that the Norwegian should henceforth use the name Thakur Jiu.
Skrefsrud further engaged in conversation with one of the Santal philosophers, named Kolean. Kolean told the Norwegian all he knew about Thakur Jiu. He created all things and put them in their place. Long ago He created the first man, Haram, and the first woman, Ayo and placed them far west of India, in the region of Hihiri Pipiri. There they were seduced by the creature Lita and they discovered that they were naked. Not long after, humanity derailed. Thakur Jiu protected a 'holy couple’ but devastated the rest of humanity by a flood. Not long after, the then families dispersed: “Later, descendants of the 'holy couple' multiplied and migrated to the Sasan Beda plain ('mustard field'). There Tkahur Jiu divided them into many different nations.”
It is impossible to miss the parallels to ancient history as described in the Bible. The gospel Skrefsrud brought was not seen here as a foreign product but was welcomed with acclaim. The Santal rediscovered their story of the true God, whom they had forgotten and forsaken so long ago. Now they understood how the relationship between God and man had been set right, through the coming of the Messiah. The Norwegian missionary had difficulty explaining these unexpected encounters to the European home front. There they would hardly accept that the church in India appeared to be growing much faster than the church in the so-called enlightened west did.
The Karen from Burma
During a meeting between an English diplomat and a member of the Karen tribe, an intriguing ancient history surfaced (Idem, pg. 76):
"These tribesmen think you may be a certain 'white brother' whom they have long been expecting as a people!" "How strange," replied the diplomat. "Ask them what this 'white brother' should do when he arrives." "He must bring them a book," said the guide. 'A book like one of their ancestors lost long ago. Then they asked – with bated breath – 'didn't he have it with him?' 'Wait a second!' laughed the Englishman. "And who, if I may ask, is the author whose book has the power to charm an illiterate people like this?" "They say the scribe is Y'wa — the Supreme God..."
Very old traditions lived in this people, in the form of tales and songs describing the history of Y’wa. In that tradition He is described as the Creator of all things. Like the Santal from India, the Karen have memories of ancient history (pg. 80, quotes from The Gospel in Burma , Macleod Wylie, London: WH Dalton, 1859):
“Y'wa originally shaped the world.
He has appointed the food and drink.
He has appointed the 'fruit of affliction'.
He has given detailed commandments.
Mu-kaw-lee has deceived two people.
He caused them to eat the fruit of the tribulation tree.
They didn't obey, they didn't believe Y'wa...
When they ate the fruit of affliction,
Were they subject to sickness, old age, and death…”
Also, like by the Santal people, the gospel fell on fertile ground in the Karen tribe. It was not considered a strange, European story, but was recognized as the sequel to what people already knew long ago.
Once familiarized with the gospel, Karen tribesmen became convinced that they should share the good news with other peoples, including the Kachin. What a surprise it was for these people to discover that the Kachin also turned out to have their own name for the Almighty – Karai Kasang. And that they believe that their ancestors once possessed Karai Kasang's holy book. Like the Karen, the Kachin had for centuries rejected Buddhist idolatry on the grounds that Karai Kasang would not approve of it. Like the Karen, the Kachin responded to Christianity as the fulfillment of their own beliefs about Karai Kasang (pg. 98). The gospel sounded to their ears not as a Western story, imposed by colonial rulers, but as the fulfillment of the most original tradition. Tradition that was sometimes hidden beyond recognition under a thick layer of polytheism and indigenous religion.
With many other examples from the books of the Incas, the ancient Greeks, the Gedeos of Ethiopia, Chinese peoples, Aboriginals, and many other societies, author Richardson unearths local monotheistic traditions. Unexpected, but true. Jesus' great missionary commission, directed to all nations, (“make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28) was an appeal to the most ancient truth found within every nation, tongue, and tribe. The proclamation of the gospel to all nations is not te be seen as a violent suppression of ancient indigenous cultures and religions. On the contrary, it shows the peoples the way back to their own, true origin. When you tell the gospel, you connect seamlessly with the original promise of God, which has been given to all nations. He would provide salvation. It's not an alien story, it's our collective story.
People out of every tribe.
The book of Revelation gives a promise. In the grandiose vision of the future, the apostle John sees a huge crowd around God's throne. It is the worldwide community of people that God has gathered through all times and places. What does it say? That it was mainly white people from America, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and France? No, the vision that Jesus gave to His friend John clearly shows that all tribes, languages, and peoples are represented.
“(...) You [Jesus] are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).
Within each population group are those who have become part of God's worldwide community. Fantastic! The timeline shows that as a common thread. From the very beginning, the Creator has all peoples, languages, tongues and tribes in scope.
Not one people group in our world is excluded from God's wonderful plan. To the Creator there is no pure race, let alone racism. The Bible tells the most inclusive story there is to be found under the sun.
People out of every tribe.
In addition to this inclusive character, there is also sharpness in the vision. The fantastically diverse multitude of people comes out of all peoples, tribes, nations, and tongues. Participating in God's global community is no automatism. There are choices to be made. In [toward unity without Jesus] you will read about initiatives to bring all religions and philosophies together in a 'shared spirituality'. Within that ecumenical body of thought, all religious systems, from indigenous ancestor worship to Buddhism, from Taoism to Islam, from Catholic to Protestant, from voodoo to occultism, are all equally fine. This pantheistic idea that God is in everything and that His voice resounds through every tradition is a dubious look-a-like of God's true universal community. The basic assumption that everyone automatically participates in the great covenant of love, regardless of his faith and way of life, goes against the character of God and the testimony of the Bible. He cannot accept just anything and certainly not any sin or lie. You cannot join His covenant on your own terms.
Pantheistic ecumenism also clashes with the freedom of choice people have. We can choose against the true God and unfortunately people do that on a large scale. Without that risk of love, everything would be meaningless [the risk of love]. Automatism undermines love. The sharpness in the vision of Revelation touches the essence of the whole story.
Within the ecumenical climate, the idea of a 'universal reconciliation' is gaining popularity. Universalism is the doctrine that eventually everyone will belong. Some people already choose God now, that's the best. But in the end every knee will bow, and everyone will confess Him. God's love is represented as the sun that melts the snow of every sin. Everyone will eventually yield to the overwhelming divine love, even those who have died as the greatest liar or criminal. But that is not the scenario the Bible paints. The Bible allows for the terrifying option of humans being "lost" [See: a new beginning]. Yes, God's community includes all peoples, languages, and nations, but not necessarily everyone who is a member of it. Whoever you are, wherever you live or whatever language you speak, there are choices to make. Do you trust God's promise, centered in the life and work of the Messiah Jesus, or do you trust something else?
We have seen some wonderful examples of how God has been present in the generations among the nations. He has set people on the trail of His great project, often despite their limited knowledge of the truth. Did you know that the Bible itself is full of such stories as well?
Large parts of the Old Testament deal with the ups and downs of the covenant between Yahweh (God's proper name in the Bible) and the national nation of Israel. But the Creator of heaven and earth is clearly also active beyond the borders of Israel. Here are a few noteworthy encounters.
The gospel is therefore an international story from A to Z. Under [the origin of all nations] you will find a reference to the research Traced – Human DNA's big surprise . This Rosetta stone of human history has recently even made it possible to link your own genetic origin to one of Noah's three sons (Shem, Ham or Japhet). As more material is included in the study, the picture becomes clearer. Everyone, from Papua to Chilean, from British to Komono, can find their own roots. Would you like to participate in this research yourself? You can.
Go to www.answersingenesis.org/go/traced and click on the Hidden history of every people project-button. You can help color the family tree of humanity with your own DNA profile!
The genetic family tree of humanity, as it begins to emerge, is a fantastic method of building bridges between populations. Every tribe, language, and nation anywhere in the world can connect its own origin with the genealogy of Genesis 10. This confirms in a unique way that the Bible is not a Western book, not even a Semitic book, but the book of all of us. God is creating one, universal family.
The vision of Revelation shows that people from every ethnic group are affiliated with God's wonderful plan. At the same time, it does not apply to everyone. God's people come from these peoples, languages, and tribes. Participation in the everlasting covenant is no automatism. You can accept it, but you can also reject it. That raises a question. Who belongs to God's worldwide family?
At various points in the timeline, it is emphasized that the ultimate judgment of people is up to God. That also applies here. But we can try to give some sort of answer to this important question. In order to do so, we take a short dive into history. We first go back to the period around 1400 BC. Moses is on his way with the people of Israel. They travel from Egypt, where they have lived under oppression for generations, to the promised land of Canaan. But Israel was not alone on that journey. Yahweh (God's proper name) personally travelled with His covenant people. God however is completely pure and holy. How could He dwell among His people? To accommodate this Moses was instructed to make a special tent, a sanctuary. Later, under King Solomon (around 1000 BC) the tent would be upgraded to a fantastically beautiful temple complex in Jerusalem. In essence, however, not much changed. In design and symbolism, the temple and the tent were identical. It was the most important place to connect God with his people.
The purpose of the sanctuary was that God might dwell amid His people, even though there was still sin and injustice among them. The tent, known as the tabernacle, was also described as the 'tent of the meeting' (Exodus 33:7). It was a place of trust, reconciliation and friendship between God and people. It functioned as a symbolic foreshadowing to the ultimate goal of world history. In the future, when God introduces the new heaven and earth, the tent theme will return:
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people” (Revelation 21 : 3).
This is the covenant in a nutshell. We are God's people, and He is our God dwelling among his people. In the new world, pilgrimage will change into 'dwelling'. But even now God already wants to dwell among His people. The symbolism of the tabernacle provides clues to answer our burning question who belongs to God's family. In what way is God present in humanity nowadays?
The layout of the sanctuary.
The symbolism of the tabernacle (and later on the temple) is reflected in the layout and in the objects used. This is how it looked schematically.
In this visualization you can see that the tent was fenced and that you could only enter through one entrance. That has a deep meaning. There is one route to get to God the Father. The whole further division and symbolism point forward to the work and life of the Messiah Jesus, from entrance into the Holy of Holies. He is the only door through which we enter God's world (John 10).
The apostle John explicitly connects Jesus with this tent:
“(...) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…” (John 1:14).
In the Greek language you can hear the echo of the sanctuary better. It says in the original text that Jesus 'tabernacled' among us. Just as God was first present among His people through the tent of meeting, so He now came among His people in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Just as the glory of the Lord was present in the tabernacle, it was present in the life of Jesus.
A shadow of the real thing.
The book of Hebrews adds another insight. The historical design of the tent (and the temple) must be seen as a replica of a heavenly, divine reality.
“For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8: 4-5).
The sacrifices of the priests could never really restore the relationship between God and people. Therefore, the whole system derived its value from the real High Priest, the Son of God, who would ratify the new covenant with His own blood. It pointed to this for centuries and helped people put their trust in God's original promise of salvation. The actions of the priests had no magical and mysterious effect, as was (and is believed) in pagan religions, but they had value through the later "fulfilment" in the life of the great High Priest. He did the real work.
For that reason, there is no need for a tent (or temple) in God's future plan for world history. We don’t need sacrifices or priestly services anymore. The only priestly ministry that remains is to put our own body at the service of the King (Romans 12:1-2). John notices that there is no longer a temple in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22). There is no need for an intermediate system as the bride is already cleansed and sanctified. She will know God face to face. But although the tent and temple itself is no longer needed in our time, the symbolism remains and provides insights in God's presence in our world today.
Special objects were found in and around the tent. We zoom in further on one of these objects: the golden candlestick. The seven-branched candlestick, also called the Menorah, tells us something about the worldwide family of God.
The candlestick was set up in the 'holy' part of the tent (in the schematic visualization 'the holy place'). The priests had to make sure that the lamps placed on the seven standards were supplied with quality oil and kept always burning. The Menorah provided light in the tent. That was handy from a practical point of view, but it also had a deeper meaning. Light in the Bible indicates God's completely pure character. Light shows things as they really are. Here are a few examples:
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
In other words, He is completely trustworthy.
“Your word is a lamp to my feed and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
This light is not so much about deciding what career to pursuit or wisdom about a major purchase. It refers to divine coaching on how to act in line with God's moral character, in all kinds of concrete situations of life. The light of God's word shows the way.
“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Whoever comes into God's presence also comes into the light. Whoever belongs to God no longer wanders in the obscurity of a purposeless life, apart from the Creator, but is renewed in his enlightened mind. Paul says the following about this:
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;” (Ephesians 4:17-18)
“(...) and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11)
The light of the Menorah points to the renewing presence of God in people's lives. He takes us out of the darkness, changes our thinking and doing so that it aligns with His perfect character.
The candlestick, the Spirit and God's church.
This symbolism of the candlestick with the light is further explained in the book of Revelation. The Apostle John gets a glimpse behind the scenes of world history. It is an impressive and complex book. In any case, the symbolism from the sanctuary plays a prominent role in the book. It speaks of the temple, incense, and the ark of the covenant (Revelation 11:19). Right at the beginning John sees the candlestick. Not one, but seven.
“Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man…” (Revelation 1:12).
We do not have to guess what it refers to as John receives an explanation about the meaning of these candlesticks:
“(...) the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).
It is no coincidence that there are seven. As you may know, the number seven in the Bible always indicates a fullness. Consider, for example, the seven days of creation. The book of Revelation is full of sevens. As if God wants to say that with this vision everything comes to its fulfillment. The seven lampstands represent God's entire congregation. It is His global community, of all times and places. It refers to everyone who have ever joined the promise and the great covenant of love. In the midst of the candlesticks, John sees Jesus, the CEO of the universal church.
The Spirit of God plays a central role in building this universal community. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit always work closely together. They have a perfect, inseparable, eternal bond. This also is apparent from the vision.
So, what is the meaning of all these things? The Menorah apparently symbolizes the whole church of God, and the light that shines on the seven arms of the candlestick is the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not the arms of the candlestick itself that give the light, but they carry the light. Just as Israel was a light bearer for surrounding nations. The Menorah, therefore, denotes the light of God's Holy Spirit, associated with God's community.
In the days of [God's Covenant at the Crossroads of superpowers], the nation of Israel was meant to be a light to the surrounding nations. In their doings, renewed by the working of God's Spirit, they could show the other nations who the real Creator of heaven and earth is. Unfortunately, that didn't really take off [see: 490 - Israel] .
The Messiah takes the baton from His own people [Jesus: good news for all nations!] . He says:
“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but hae the light of life” (John 8:12).
In line with this, His disciples are also instructed to be a light to the world.
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Do you hear the echo of God's original purpose for the national nation of Israel (see: Deuteronomy 4:5–8)? The menorah shows that God's worldwide community is a light bearer, not by its own strength, but by 'the oil' of the Holy Spirit. The Menorah thus symbolizes all people, from all tribes, tongues, and nations, who carry and pass on the light of God's Spirit in and thru their lives.
This close connection between the work of the Spirit and the church of God helps to answer the question who belongs to God's family.
Paul helps us understand the connection between the church and the Spirit.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14).
If you are led by the Spirit of God, you can say ‘Abba, Father’, and you are a child of God. It means you arepart of the family! It really is that simple.
In Jesus' conversation with the theologian Nicodemus, He Himself also explains it this way:
“Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
Through the birth of water and the Spirit you enter the family of God. That water represents baptism, or the laying off your sinful, self-determined life. This gives the Spirit free way to renew your thinking and acting, so that as a child you become more and more like the Father. When you allow the Spirit of God to renew your life in this way you become part of Gods universal family.
Being led by the Spirit may sound pretty vague. In [toward unity without Jesus] you will find a document from the World Council of Churches. It states that they want to hear and obey the voice of God. That sounds wonderful, doesn't it? But what they really mean by it is something completely different from what you probably expect. When a Korean speaker began to conjure up all kinds of spirits during an international meeting in Australia, it became clear what "hearing God's voice" is according to the WCC. The divine voice can be heard in every religious tradition that can be found worldwide and even deep inside yourself. Such a pantheistic religion is in stark contrast to the Bible. So, what is a Biblical view of the work of the Spirit?
In the aforementioned conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus indicates that we cannot fathom the ways of the Holy Spirit:
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
So, let’s be modest in our judgement. Perhaps God's Spirit is working in a tribe, tongue, or neighbor in a way you never expected. But having said that, the effect of the Spirit, like the wind, is certainly noticeable and recognizable.
To be born again
Nicodemus doesn't understand it yet. What does the Spirit do to allow people to be born again (and thus become part of the family)? Jesus elaborates on this. In his talk with this religious teacher, he explains who He really is and speaks the most famous verse in the whole Bible:
“(...) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believer in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
That's the timeline in a nutshell. The Creator of heaven and earth came in person to us to lay the foundation for the eternal covenant of love. However, He was not recognized by most. Appalling when you think about it. Jesus is amazed that Nicodemus, a 'teacher of Israel', does not even recognize that Yahweh is standing right in front of his own nose. People make a religious figure of Jesus at the most, but don't see who He really is.
What caused Nicodemus and so many others not to see it? It certainly has nothing to do with IQ. This theologian was highly educated. The real cause has to do with his lifestyle and doublehearted mindset (note he is visiting Jesus by night). This lack of insight is due to the tendency to remain in the dark, so that one's own sinful doings remain hidden. Jesus points to this in His explanation:
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deed should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
What work does the Spirit perform to help people be born again? He brings them into the light. He opens our eyes to who Jesus is – the eternal God among men – and who we ourselves are. He sheds light on our life, and whoever allows this to happen, will be regenerated, will see the Kingdom, and become part of the family.
We have a responsibility to allow the light of the Spirit into our lives. That is why Jesus speaks of a birth from both 'water and Spirit'. As said, this water is a symbol for giving up your sinful and self-directed life. For, Jesus said:
"(…) I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
If you bow your head, the Spirit can start His work in you. He brings you into the light, He opens your eyes, and makes everything look different. You enter a whole new world, God's world. You are born again. The Dutch theologian Miskotte said it beautifully: to believe is to accept your sanctification. It is accepting that God will bring you to your destiny, which is becoming a member of his eternal family and community of love. The church and the work of the Spirit therefore are inseparable, just as the Menorah and the light belong together. Without the powerful work of the holy Spirit there is no church. But once we allow the light of His Spirit into our life, we become part of the family of God. But how do you recognize this ‘wind of the Spirit’?
Here is how you can recognize the work of the Holy Spirit.
Try to recognize the work of the Spirit
We cannot calculate exactly how God's Spirit works through people. In the beautiful examples of the Santal people from India and the Karen and Kachin from Burma it became clear that the Spirit had been ploughing the ground for generations. Apparently there have been Santal and Karen and Kachin people who have been led by the Spirit. Otherwise, it is inconceivable that they were positive about the message of the gospel. Let us be careful not to form a final judgment about people if they do not correspond in all respects to our knowledge and customs. The Spirit works in people's lives like the wind. You do not know exactly where the wind comes from and where it is going, but you can recognize the effects of its presence. It may just be that in unexpected places, in tribes and tongues that are far from the organized western church, or during a chat at the coffee machine at work, you meet people who understand more about the truth, than some church members. If they are led by the Spirit, and in fact live according to the primordial promise of God's salvation, who are we to say that they cannot be part of God's family? We can learn to see where God is at work and respond to that.
It’s not a vague story
Will it become a vague ecumenical story, in which all religions and lifestyles are equated? No. Is the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice downgraded by this? Also, no. The problem is that the hodgepodge of ecumenism resembles what God does but is quite different. That's always the point. God’s enemy copies things, and then turns it into something completely different. That's called deception. However, if you look a little closer, you will see that in this [toward unity without Jesus] Jesus is deliberately sidelined. Of course, that can never be the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection are the only and sufficient foundation for the future of God's eternal family. It would be absurd to say otherwise.
But don't forget that Jesus' sacrifice also applies to all people who lived before His birth. It is also the foundation for all people who have lived in the ages before even a letter of the Bible was written. They did not yet know the gospel of Jesus. They had no detailed creeds and did not attend a physical church every week. They had only faith in the promise, the hope that God would give salvation. Does it imply they are outside of God's family? No. Anyone who has been guided by God's Holy Spirit in the course of world history is a child of God and part of the family. Anyone who builds his wayward Babel, on a micro or macro scale, excludes himself from [the eternal future], but whoever hopes for God's promise will never be disappointed.
The prophet Habakkuk puts it succinctly:
“Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
On [the great Day] Christ will gather all His people. People from all of the world's history, from all corners of the world, from each language and tribe. The Good Shepherd knows who belongs to His flock.
“I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14).
The big harvest is brought in. The bride meets the groom. Are you looking forward to this fantastic universal feast?
There is something about the candlestick that we have not pondered up until now. In the tabernacle (and temple) the light of the lamps was never to be extinguished.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually. Outside the veil of the Testimony, in the tabernacle of meeting, Aaron shall be in charge of it from evening until morning before the LORD continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations. He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure lampstand before the LORD continually” (Leviticus 24:1-4).
Clearly, the light was not allowed to go out. It always burned. It means that God's Spirit is present always throughout history, even in the darkest times and places where you would not expect it. He is never completely absent. Through the Menorah symbolism, God is making it clear to His people that the light of His Spirit will continue to shine through all generations, right up to the consummation. That's encouraging, especially when there’s not much light.
The prophet Elijah had a lonely job. He represented Yahweh in the midst of an overwhelming majority of Israelites who got caught up in the popular and immoral Baal religion. At a certain point his courage drops:
“So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10).
Yahweh visits Elijah in his solitude. He gives him immediately another assignment. Get up, Elijah! Don't get discouraged, there's still work to be done. But the lonely prophet also gets an encouraging message. Although Elijah does not know them personally, there are apparently seven thousand other Israelites who have remained faithful to the covenant.
“Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18)
Even in the darkest times, the light of God's presence continues to burn. That promise stands. That is why this tile in the timeline is linked to the year 538 AD. Under [1260 years – the Middle Ages] you can find out what was going on around that time. In what is now referred to as "the Dark Ages," the light of God's Spirit continued to shine. Sometimes in remote places, such as by the Waldenses. Sometimes thru individuals who had the love and courage to speak out for God and against the ruling powers.
The lamp will continue to burn in the years to come, even when it gets darker. Especially then. Regardless of how the world stage develops and whatever may come up in your own life, you will never have to grope in the dark as you remain in God's presence. God's lamp will continue to shine until [the great Day] dawns.
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
If the Holy Spirit is active among the peoples of the world, shining His light and onboarding them into God's great project, is it still necessary for us to share the gospel? Certainly. For the knowledge of the truth is incomplete. As a disciple of Christ, you can help people see the truth, complement the story, and respond to it. Jesus therefore gave His disciples a great commission:
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).
This is not an assignment to send a completely new message into the world. Since the beginning the Creator has been involved with all nations. In the timeline you can recognize this global view on every decisive moment. The fact that Jesus again includes all nations in the gospel is a logical continuation of the first promise to Adam and Eve.
The good news is not a violation of supposedly older traditions, but it is the continuation of the ancient promise of salvation. The promise of which, as we have seen, traces can still be found everywhere, in every people group and in the heart of every human being. Even memories about the events of Eden, the flood and Babel are to be found everywhere. It has been overgrown in many places by a proliferation of surrogate religions and traditions. It is therefore possible that people consider the gospel to be alien to their beliefs and practices. Yet the story of God's promise is recognizable to anyone who is open to it. It's a true homecoming. Sharing the gospel is an entirely human endeavor, a loving gift.
People cannot convince other people. Only God can convince. The great command to share the gospel is therefore based on the assumption that the Spirit is active in all nations. So, do not only talk to people about God, but talk to God about the people first. You may try to connect with what He is already doing. Look for clues in ideas, customs, and words. See what you can amplify. Be honest where the truth has gone unrecognizable. Evangelism is not a one-way street. Your fellow man is not a stranger, but also a member of the human race, just as you are yourself. The first Christians did not shut themselves up, but engaged in conversation in the synagogue, on the Greek Aereopagus and during meetings in the market. For they had discovered that the gospel of Jesus was not just but a story, but that it is the story of world history. Truly a message for everyone.
Talking about the truth with your father, colleague or fellow student can be quite challenging. What is your own experience? Do you know what to say and do? Do you even understand the gospel yourself? The cultural relativistic climate, in which everyone is required to respect everything that is for sale (as if that is possible), does not make it any easier. But there is another main reason why conversations about the gospel can be tensive. It is the focal point of a universal spiritual battle.
In Ephesians 6, Paul speaks of the armor needed to stand in the epic spiritual battle [a spiritual battle behind the scenes]. He relates the armor with the boldness to talk about the gospel with other people. In the confidence to share the truth, or rather the shame to remain silent about it, a thousand-year-old spiritual conflict resonates. In the smallest things of the everyday Christian life the greatest battles are fought. Do you put that book about forgiveness in the drawer when your non-Christian friend comes over, or do you just dare to leave it on the table? Do you dare to whistle the tune of a Christian song at work, or do you just keep quiet? Did you ever mention the name of Jesus at the student association? A few tips can help you step over the threshold more often.
1. Grow in the truth yourself
It's hard to tell a story if you don't even know what it's about. Therefore, take time to familiarize yourself with it, through study, reflection, learning from others and by living it yourself. Only then do you discover its value and depth and you have something to say.
2. Admit you're not a hero
Just before Jesus gives His great commission, Matthew makes a remarkable statement about Jesus' disciples: “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). Isn't it peculiar, the honesty with which the Bible authors tell the story? Was Matthew perhaps thinking of himself? Is he showing his own vulnerability here? You'd think you'd be better off leaving those kinds of remarks out if you want to tell a compelling story. Yet that is not the case. By facing your doubts and shame, room is created for the work of the Spirit. Paul says that in our weakness God's strength becomes apparent. So, be honest to yourself in what you say and do.
3. Trust in God, who will be there
It is significant that immediately after the great commission comes a promise: “and Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)”. Back in time, Moses was given a great commission as well, when he had to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3-4). It is precisely during his calling that God gave him His proper name Yahweh: I am. Jesus does the same here. He commands for another 'exodus'. The gospel is about the good news of deliverance from sin, bondage, and the evil powers. Again, He commits Himself to this. He will be there, helping us. Don’t think and act as if you must do everything yourself. Trust that if you take little steps, you can count on the assistance of Jesus Himself.
4. Don’t to take the whole world on your shoulders
Jesus gave the command to share the gospel with all nations, but you don't have to do this alone. So don't run ahead of the troops. Learn to align with what God is doing. What you do only succeeds when the Spirit of God is involved. You may take up the 'yoke' of Jesus (Matthew 11), which means that you may learn to walk in His rhythm. Don’t talk to everyone, don't put your energy into every church activity, but try to discover who and what God is bringing on your path. Forget the big visions and plans and keep it small instead. Ask one question to your neighbor. Pray God for courage to tell something about your church visit when you lunch with your colleague on Monday. In this spiritual battle, big words have no value, but a small seed planted can grow.
5. Take risks with your self-image
The gospel will always remain more or less foolish in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1-4). If you are driven by the desire for approval from other people, nothing will ever come of it. Evangelizing requires a bit of self-denial. Also, in a practical sense. If you are always busy with your own life program, you will never have ten minutes time for other people. Dare to build in enough space and take risks. This will never get easier. So don't start tomorrow, start today.
6. Don't beat around the bush
You can be confident that the gospel is the true story for of all of us. This means you can connect and build bridges to existing ideas and practices out there. But certainly not everything that you will find on the religious and philosophical market is true and good. Not every lifestyle is OK. There are choices to be made and there are consequences involved. We need the Bible and the Spirit as a level against which to measure traditions, customs, and ideas. Do so, even if it doesn't sit well with the recipient or current culture. Clear is kind. It’s important to develop a biblical view on God's final judgment [see: a new beginning] .
7. Leave the results to God
Jesus uses the example of a man who sowed seed (Mark 4). Not everything comes up. In fact, most of it is blown away by the wind, is snatched away or overgrown. But what falls in good soil grows fantastic! So don't expect results from everything you do. And when you have opportunities to sow something, leave the growth to the Creator. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Do not think too high of yourself. Life comes from God.
We can be brief about the question how God will judge people. He will ultimately make a righteous decision about each human being, considering the light each has had during their lifetime. See e.g., Acts 17, about how God deals with 'the time of ignorance'. It's His business. God Himself indicates that He does not want anyone to perish (II Peter 3:9). We can therefore trust that this will not just happen unless there really is no other option. Since this is not our business, we don't have to worry about it endlessly. Instead, we may devote ourselves to be a light to all people in our thinking, living and speaking, in the hope that God's family will continue to grow until [the great Day] arrives.