It’s true that a person’s last words are important, but God’s heart and focus did not suddenly change as Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. As He rose into the clouds, it wasn’t as if Jesus dropped some last-minute change of plans on His followers: “Oh, by the way, there’s just one major thing I forgot to tell you. . . .
” When Jesus came to earth, His birth was announced to Jews (the shepherds) and to Gentiles (the wise men) as an angel brought “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2: 10). As Jesus was dedicated in the temple, Simeon’s prophetic word included, “My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2: 30– 32).
During Jesus’ first recorded sermon, in the city of Nazareth, He included two Old Testament examples of God’s heart for the Gentiles: Elijah’s provision for a widow of Zarephath and Elisha’s healing for Captain Naaman of Syria. Along with these examples, Jesus read a prophecy from Isaiah and then said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4: 21). He was claiming to be the Messiah— of both Jews and Gentiles— a concept totally contrary to Israel’s preconceived ideas of nationalistic patriotism. For generations the Jewish people had longed for a Messiah to deliver them and bring them glory. It’s no wonder that the people of Nazareth wanted to throw Jesus over that cliff!
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus revealed God’s heart for all people. Yes, He was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel; but He also ministered to a Samaritan woman, healed a Roman centurion’s servant, delivered a Gadarene demoniac, and fed four thousand people in a Gentile area. Even while on the cross, one of Jesus’final acts of ministry was to offer God’s salvation to an undeserving thief.
Jesus taught with stories and analogies that conveyed God’s love for the whole world. He called for laborers in the harvest. He commanded His disciples to launch deep and fish for men. He challenged His followers to welcome more guests to the wedding. Jesus told of a shepherd earnestly searching for a lost sheep, a woman stopping everything to look for a lost coin, and a father embracing a prodigal son.
Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15: 7). If lost sinners matter that much to God and to the angels in heaven, they should matter to us. Throughout the New Testament we see God’s “scarlet cord” of salvation— from Philip preaching to the Samaritans and the Ethiopian in Acts 8, Peter bringing the gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family in Acts 10, in Paul’s letters to churches comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, and concluding with John’s end-time vision of “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” worshiping together before the throne of God in heaven (Revelation 7: 9).