God’s Word for You
Luke 13:29 east and west, north and south
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 10, 2018
29 And people will come from east and west, from north and south, and they will sit down at the feast in the kingdom of God.
Remember the context of this verse. Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel, people who were used to thinking about seeing “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God” (verse 28). He warned them that unless they went in through the narrow door of faith in him, they would be thrown out. But now he adds the remarkable truth that others would come from outside Israel, people who were not Jews at all. These are people “from east and west, from north and south.” Who are they? Gentiles.
The Gentiles (Greek ἔθνoυς, ethnous) or non-Jews (especially non-Semitic peoples) were outside God’s people in the Old Testament, but there are prophecies that showed that Gentiles would be permitted into God’s kingdom by the grace of God through faith. Some Gentiles even came to faith before the time of Jesus. Isaiah prophesied that Christ would be “a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6) and that God would “beckon to the Gentiles” to bring his people before him (Isaiah 49:22). In the latter case, the Gentiles would not merely be returning captives, but bringing their own children (now God’s children): “They will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders” (Isaiah 49:22b). More than that, “Those who hope in me,” God declared, “will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23); “I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:26).
Earlier, the Lord also said through the prophet: “I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name… All the nations will gather together and the peoples assemble.” (Isaiah 43:5-7,9). Isaiah was comforting a nation which had seen ten tribes carried away into Assyria, far to the northeast. But at the same time, Isaiah knew that another captivity was coming, this time for Judah, and God’s people would be carried away north to Babylon but also south and west into Egypt (Jeremiah 43:7) and further south into southern (upper) Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1). God would bring his people back. Yet Isaiah also knew that God would bring foreigners to faith. These were people like the Ethiopian whom Philip baptized (Acts 8:38) and the Greeks who came to see Jesus at the Feast (John 12:20-22).
Another unexpected point in Isaiah’s prophecies about the Gentiles coming to faith is the regular inclusion of women (daughters) alongside men. Many, perhaps most, ancient cultures did not spend much time including women in their religious practices except in sexual rituals (Genesis 38:21; Hosea 4:14). But God cherishes men and women alike, just as he cherishes Jew and Gentile alike, and any other distinction. In Christ, all differences are cast aside: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:11). “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greek, slave or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13). “There is neither Jew nor Greek slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Once, we were not his people. Now, we are the people of God (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26).
It pleases God to show his glory in our weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When it seems as if nothing could be done, God does. When it seems as if nothing at all is possible, God does everything. When we know that we are convicted and guilty of our sins, God comes and forgives. When we know that God has loved someone else, another nation entirely, he turns and beckons to us, too. This is the mercy of the Almighty God. This is the glory of our loving Savior.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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