October 20, 2015
“Everything in our service for the Lord is dependent on His blessing.”
Those are the words of the late Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee in a sermon called “Expecting the Lord’s Blessing.” He goes on to say that blessing is “God working without any cause.” It’s what happens when all you have is five loaves and two fish, and yet you are able to feed 5000 men. He applies the truth this way:
“Some people should not get a certain kind of result. They should only have a little, but surprisingly they have much.”
How do we receive God’s blessing? My answer is, we must find out what God is blessing and then get involved in that. It’s a big mistake to say, “Lord, here’s what I am doing. Please bless this.” That’s a man-centered approach that never works because it starts with us, not with God. We should instead say, “Lord, show me what you have promised to bless so I can get involved in it.”
Find out what God is blessing and get involved in it
God has made it perfectly clear what he plans to bless. In this message, we’ll discover a theme of blessing that flows through the entire Bible. It starts in Genesis 12, continues through the Old Testament, and finds its fullest expression in what we call the Great Commission. God has said, “This is what I will bless. This is my plan, my purpose, my program in the world.” If we want God’s blessing, we must align ourselves with what God has already said he will bless.
For our purposes in this message, I want us to focus on 5 different passages of Scripture. We could look at many more, but these five help us understand God’s plan to bless the nations. This is what Watchman Nee means when he says some have little, but they consistently receive much more from God. If we want that sort of blessing, then we need to know what God has said he will bless.
#1: Genesis 12: Blessing Given
In order to understand this text, we have to go back 4000 years, to a great city named Ur of the Chaldees, located in southern Mesopotamia (which would be modern-day Iraq). There we meet a prosperous, middle-aged pagan man named Abraham (first called Abram, later Abraham). He and his wife Sarah (called Sarai first, then Sarah later) had a good life in this ancient metropolis. Then one day, without any warning, God spoke to Abraham with words that must have seemed hard to believe at first:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3). (Underlining added.)
On one hand, this seems to be a purely personal call to Abraham. But once you consider it more closely, you see there are larger ramifications.
1. God will lead him to a new land.
2. God will make him a great nation.
3. God will bless the world through him.
Here’s the rest of the Old Testament in light of the promise made to Abraham:
God has made it perfectly clear what he plans to bless
Abraham had Isaac.
Isaac had Jacob.
Jacob had 12 sons who founded the 12 tribes of Israel.
These patriarchs all die without seeing the fulfillment of the promise.
Abraham never saw the completion of God’s promise
Eventually God raises up Moses.
He delivers his people from the hand of Pharaoh.
Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.
God raises up judges to deliver his people.
Then God gives them three kings:
Saul came to a bad end.
David was a great king.
Solomon’s wives turned his heart away from God.
The kingdom split.
Ten tribes formed Israel in the north.
Two tribes formed Judah in the south.
The Assyrians took Israel into captivity.
The Babylonians took Judah into captivity.
After 70 years, the Jews returned from Babylon.
They rebuilt the temple the Babylonians had destroyed.
Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
Malachi called the people back to God.
The Old Testament ends with the Jews back in their land, with only a shadow of their former glory under David and Solomon, surrounded by powerful kingdoms, looking for the time when God would send the promised Messiah to deliver his people.
What God promised to Abraham has partly come true. Against all odds, God raised up a mighty nation that would be a light to the world. Kings and priests and prophets and sages and singers came and went. Mighty warriors won great battles. The nation found its way to the Promised Land, forgot to keep the covenant, was judged, Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed, the nation went into captivity, a remnant returned, the temple was rebuilt on a much smaller scale, and the nation was reborn.
#2: Matthew 1: Blessing Remembered
What happened to the part of the promise where God said to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”? That part was only partly fulfilled in the Old Testament.
Four hundred years pass between Malachi and Matthew. During those centuries empires rise and fall, the Jews scatter across the Mediterranean world, the synagogues are born, the Pharisees arise to teach people the Torah, and Israel awaits the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah.
So we turn to the gospel of Matthew. This is how it begins: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”(Matthew 1:1). Why does Abraham’s name pop up in the very first verse of the New Testament? To teach us that the birth of Jesus is directly connected to the promise God made to Abraham 2000 years earlier in Ur of the Chaldees. We see the same thing in Luke 1:72 when Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, declares that God is now moving in history “to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.” Turn the page to Luke 2. When aged Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms, he gives thanks to God for sending Jesus to be “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32). Both Zechariah and Simeon understood that God sent Jesus in fulfillment of the ancient promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12.
#3: Acts 3: Blessing Quoted
We pass over the life of Christ and come to the book of Acts. It’s now A.D. 33. Jesus has ascended into heaven, leaving behind a tiny band of disciples centered in Jerusalem. Shortly after Pentecost, a lame man is healed in Acts 3. When a crowd gathers, Peter explains that this man was healed through the name of Jesus. Peter is preaching not many days after the crucifixion. No doubt some people who cheered Jesus’ death were in the audience. Look what he says in verses 25-26:
You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Underlining added.)
Here Peter actually quotes from Genesis 12:3 to explain why the gospel is now being offered freely to anyone who will believe in Jesus.
It all goes back to Abraham
Zechariah understood it.
Simeon understood it.
Peter understood it.
God is now blessing the whole world through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus. It all goes back to the original promise made to Abraham.
#4: Galatians 3: Blessing Extended
There is one other piece of the puzzle we need to see. Fast forward about 16 years, to A.D. 49. As the gospel spreads across the Roman Empire, and especially in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), thousands of Gentiles have come to Christ. To prove the Gentiles were accepted by God without circumcision, the Apostle Paul appeals to Abraham, father of the nation of Israel. He says this in Galatians 3:7, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” In this context he’s talking about anyone who believes in Jesus. Who is included in “those of faith”? Let’s name a few groups.
Young and old.
Rich and poor.
Black and white.
Male and female.
Educated and illiterate.
Americans and Asians.
Bolivians and Bengalis.
Russians and Rwandans.
Germans and Japanese.
Swedes and Taiwanese.
Indonesians and Libyans.
“Many sons had Father Abraham”
Just like Peter did in Acts 3, Paul quotes Genesis 12:3 in Galatians 3:8:
And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”(Underlining added).
He spells out the meaning in verse 9:
So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Underlining added.)
Every winter I spend a week teaching Galatians at Word of Life Bible Institute in New York. When I get to this passage (usually on Thursday morning, generally just before lunch, when the students are a bit tired and distracted), I have the students stand up and together we sing the children’s song that goes like this:
Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let’s all praise the Lord.
We go through all the verses—right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, chin up, turn around, sit down. At first they start laughing, and then they all join in. Doing that song serves two purposes: one, it wakes them up, and two, it brings home the truth of this text. That little children’s song turns out to have a solid biblical basis.
God always intended to bless all the nations on earth. That includes every tribe, every language, every skin color, every culture, every ethnic group, in short, it includes every group on earth.
God’s heart is for the entire world.
God’s plan was always global.
#5: Matthew 28: Blessing Applied
What does this mean? It means our God is in the blessing business, and he intends to spread his blessings to every people group in the world. No one gets left out. Anyone can join by faith. There are no limitations on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, education, social status, skin color, or because of past sinful behavior.
No one gets left out
That’s where the Great Commission comes in. These are Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s gospel:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Focus on two key words: “All nations.” Now it all begins to come together. Jesus sent his disciples into the whole world in direct fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.
God always intended to draw people from every nation. That’s why we send missionaries around the world. We send out our best and brightest because God has a heart for the nations of the world.
Two Simple Applications
On the basis of what I’ve said, let me give you two simple applications.
1. The greatest blessing you can ever receive is the blessing of knowing Jesus Christ personally.
If you don’t know Jesus, you need him first and foremost. That’s your greatest need, and to know him is the greatest blessing you can have. To know him is to have the knowledge that your sins have been forgiven. To know him is to have the assurance that when you die, you will go to heaven. If you want to be blessed by God, you start by trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.
2. The greatest blessing you can be is to share Jesus with someone else.
Many years ago, during a time of great conflict in my ministry when I was facing opposition from various sources, I took a trip to Belize where I spent a week teaching at the YWAM base outside Belmopan, the capital city. I remember feeling so burdened as I flew to Miami and then changing planes for the flight to Belize. The issues I faced seemed insurmountable, the pressures heavy, the problems unsolvable. Some of the criticism had become extremely personal. When I got to Belize and visited the YWAM base, the Lord met me in a powerful way. On my last day at the base, I walked out on the suspension bridge across the Belize River and watched the water just a few feet below. All week I had been teaching about God’s purpose to bless the nations through the preaching of the gospel. As I watched the river that day, I felt like God was applying the truth to my heart. The Lord seemed to say to me, “Ray, this river is the river of my blessing that runs through every nation on earth. See the water as it flows along. Nothing hinders it, nothing stops it.” Then I felt the Lord saying this to me. “Son, the reason you’re having problems is because you’ve been mud-wrestling on the banks of the river. You’re wasting your time and energy on things that don’t matter. Get back in the middle of the river of my purpose, and I’ll take care of those other problems for you.”
Stop mud-wrestling on the bank!
As I was thinking about all that, I dropped a stick into the water and watched the current take it downriver. I felt like the Lord said to me, “See, that’s what I can do for you. Get back in the middle of the river of my blessing, and the current will carry you along.” I realized at once the truth of those words. I had spent far too many hours worrying about what other people said (or what I thought they had said or what I had imagined they might be saying), and all those hours and all that energy had kept me out of the river of God’s purpose.
Then and there, on a bridge overlooking a muddy river in Belize, I made a commitment to get my life back in the river of God’s purpose to bless the nations. From that moment until now, more than 20 years later, I’ve tried to stay there. I can tell you that every time I’ve gone back to mud-wrestling on the bank, I’ve always regretted it.
Where is the river of God’s blessing? Go back to those passages I’ve been talking about:
God’s river of blessing is his plan to bless the nations with the good news about Jesus Christ. Some of us need to get back in that river. Maybe you’ve been mud wrestling over on the bank or you’ve been busy building an empire while the river of God’s blessing has passed you by.
You wonder why you aren’t blessed. The answer is simple. You aren’t in the river of God’s blessing.
Our deepest problems are theological
Get involved in the things God cares about, and you will be blessed.
Make his priority your priority, and you will be blessed.
Make his kingdom your passion, and you will be blessed.
When it comes to God’s blessings, we’re like little children looking at a plate of cookies. We grab what we can, and then run and hide because we think that soon the cookies will disappear. We receive some blessing from God, and then we act like his blessings will vanish. How little we understand about our Heavenly Father. How little we know about his character.
Our Job Description
God’s blessings are never meant to be hoarded.
He means for us to be blessed, and then to give the blessing away.
And in giving it away, we are blessed all over again.
So he blesses you, and you give it away.
He blesses you again, and you give it away.
He blesses you yet again, and you give it away.
Our God is in the blessing business.
God intends to bless the world through the giving of his Son who loved us and died for us and rose again and ascended into heaven and one day will return to the earth. Between now and then, as we live between his first and second comings, he has blessed us abundantly and eternally in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). Our job description looks something like this:Keep giving away what God has given you, knowing that you can never give away more than he gives you. Think of the first line of the Doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
If we believe that, we can afford to be generous.
If we believe that, we can give away our resources.
If we believe that, we can send our best and brightest to the ends of the earth.
If we believe that, we won’t be stingy.
If we believe that, we won’t hoard our blessings.
If we believe that, we’ll look for ways to share the Good News.
The more you give away, the more you receive.
Our God is in the blessing business.
He always planned to bless the whole world through Jesus.
We think God is stingy.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said this way: “Don’t pray for God to bless what you are doing. Find out what God is blessing and go be a part of it.” That strikes me as wise advice. God blesses those who get excited about his plan to bless the world through Jesus.
Stop Hoarding and Start Trusting
If you dig down deep enough, you discover that all our problems are theological. We have a wrong view of God so we act wrongly. We think God is a miser so we hoard instead of being generous. We think God is stingy. We’re afraid God will bless us a little bit and then he’ll stop.
I’ve never met a man who trusted God too much.
God calls us to stop hoarding and start trusting. To get a new view of his grace and goodness, to catch a glimpse of God’s kindness to us. To see how much God our Father has already done for us in Christ. Having been blessed, he calls us to be a blessing to others. We need not fear that in giving ourselves away, we will later regret it. Billy Graham said he never met a man who regretted giving his life to Christ. I will only add that I’ve never met a man who said he trusted God too much.
Do you want to be a world-class Christian? Jump back into the river of God’s blessing and become part of his plan to bless the whole world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. For all those who have been sitting on the banks, the message is, “Jump in. The water’s fine.”
Heavenly Father, forgive us for doubting your goodness. Sometimes we slander your name by hoarding your blessings. Give us a heart like yours. Break our addiction to the things of this world. You have blessed us in so many ways we can’t begin to count them all. Help us to get back in the river of your blessing and to give away gladly what you have given to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.