There is a question that often comes up and bothers us when we talk about Christian missions and evangelism. The sometimes-hypothetical question of “what about that person that lives in a far off land and has never heard about Jesus, will they go to hell, it doesn’t seem fair…” While there have been many answers through the years, they usually involve a focus on that person’s good works or life apart from faith, which is never satisfactory because whether you believe or not, good works cannot bring you back to God.
This is a lot like a very similar question that comes up about our Jewish forefathers in the faith, Abraham, or Moses or King David, how would they be saved and dwell in the House of the Lord forever, if they never knew Jesus and indeed lived and died before Jesus was ever born. The answer has always been faith. Knowledge in the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth whom is not part of creation but create all things, is holy and true and love from eternity. Recognition of our need because we dwell in a broken condition that has brought us apart from God because we worship those things that are not the true God, things that are made in creation or by human hands. Hope in the promise that the one true God has given to all of humanity of the One, the redeemer and the sacrifice that through His death and vindication will restore us back to God, through faith in the sacrifice. The answer has not changed even for us who know the name of the promised one whose sacrifice brings us hope it is faith that saves. That is the faith of our forefathers Abraham, Moses and David who looked forward to the day when God would fulfill that promise in Jesus and our faith we who follow the living savior today.
It is these fundamental realities that called not only the Jews before Jesus or us who live in the United States and are privileged to have a church building on every corner, instead they are part of the fundamental reality and hope of all humanity. Considers these words from Pastor Paul writing Romans 1:19-23:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
For all of humanity, those before and after Christmas and Easter and our “hypothetical question-people” who live far off in inaccessible lands (though those are becoming few and far between) Paul here talks about the knowledge of and faith in the one true God who is revealed to the whole world and all people, through His eternal power and divine nature, shown throughout all of creation. For all people, it is still knowledge of God, giving him honor and praise, putting their trust and faith in Him to redeem and save. But notice, the sin is still the same, whether it be for those who live far off, for the Jew or for you and me. Worshipping what is created (including ourselves) that is placing your hope, love and trust in that which is created, whether in nature or by human hands, instead of placing your hope and trust in the creator.
This is part of what those words of Jesus mean when he said, “I am the good shepherd, and I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” (John 10:16) That is why the good news of Jesus is not a foreign concept that is far off from the reality of any person’s life, whether near or far, but the very heart of the good news of Jesus is the common fulfillment of the need and hope of all people. The story at the very heart of it all is Knowledge in our God who made all things, Recognition of our common need, Hope in the One sent to redeem us. It is faith that saves and the good news we have to share is of our creator God that has answered our common need and hope in Jesus.
All of humanity’s belief and need across the whole world and history, all being brought together to the single point of God’s answer in Jesus and then from that point spreading back out to the whole world to tell them that yes God has answered their need in Jesus.
It’s easier sometimes to talk about those that are far off but it’s a lot harder to talk about ourselves who are near because this also means that we are without excuse as well. We all have the same pointers that lead us to the creator God and the same common need, but where will our hope lie, in that which is created or in the long awaited Redeemer who has already come?
But this is also a wonderful reminder when we are talking with others and sharing our hope that we have. That at it’s very heart, the hope we share and the message we have is not something that is obscure, hard to understand or takes lots of theological training so we can “know” all of the right answers. Instead, it is what is already common to everyone and gives to us common places to meet and talk of faith together where we can talk about Knowing our creator God, Recognizing our common need and seeing our Hope in the Savior.