When the going gets tough in life it’s so easy to become fainthearted. We lose our energy and drive. Indeed the reality is that many situations in life challenge us to be tough-minded, and not fainthearted. As I considered this two quotes caught my attention – George Clooney’s, ’Growing old on screen is not for the faint of heart’; and Michael Douglas, ‘Capitalism is part of our system but it is not for the faint of heart’.
Two and a half millennia ago the Jewish people were faint of heart when in 586BC Babylonian forces had rampaged through their land, razing Jerusalem and its huge temple to the ground. Political obliteration seemed inevitable as the cream of the population was taken into exile in Babylon. Yet the extraordinary thing was this – Judah’s morale was not destroyed.
ISAIAH THE PROPHET
Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of God’s impending judgment in the nation, had also sounded a voice of hope. It was his words that were the key to the people of Judah surviving.
His message of hope runs as a single thread from chapter 40:1 through the rest of his writing. He had begun by declaring God’s words to his people: “Comfort, comfort, my people” (40:1). And in the following chapters Isaiah went on to speak of a ‘Servant’ God would raise up – someone who would rescue and restore God’s people.
Isaiah had spoken of the way God would first raise up Cyrus, an insignificant prince from the north of Babylonia. Indeed, Cyrus became a great leader who crushed the Babylonians and paved the way for the Persian empire under Darius. Furthermore, Cyrus used his power in Babylon in 520BC to release of the Jewish exiles, permitting them to return to Jerusalem and restore their city. This actually happened.
A GLOBAL VISION
But that was not the end of the story. For when we turn to Isaiah 49 we see the rise of another unexpected figure – a Servant. ‘Who is this servant?’ we ask. Consider Isaiah’s first words in chapter 49: Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!
This is strange. God’s people were crying out for forgiveness and a fresh start, but this new figure does not address them directly at all. His strident words are addressed to the world at large, the islands and distant nations. Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The mission of this man is not just to God’s people, but to the nations. His vision is global.
Yes, his work will involve restoration of the people of Judah – as we read in 49:5 – And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—
The role of this figure in Isaiah 49 is to bring God’s people back to him, so that their relationship with him is truly restored. But God’s people needed to know something else: there is a needy world out there waiting to hear the truth about God. In Isaiah 49:6, we read: He says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel…
DEALING WITH UNCERTAINTY
Too often we become faint-hearted because we fear the uncertainties of the future. We’re faint of heart because we focus too much on our own lives rather than on the needs and fears of others. The irony is that the healing of our own anxieties often begins when we stop thinking about ourselves and start looking outward to the world that God loves and that needs to know about him. Isaiah 49:6 continues, I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
As we consider Isaiah’s words through the lens of the New Testament we see that the Servant he was speaking about is Jesus Christ. Jesus not only brought light to the world through the clarity and depth of his teaching but he also served humanity in its deepest need by conquering the power of sin and death. The God of the Bible is committed to serve.
God now calls on us to join him in this work of service. But it is not for the faint-hearted. For he wants us to get involved in the conversation with others around us – about life, its meaning and the importance of sorting out our relationship with the God who is there. God calls us to serve ‘the city’ where we live with joy in our hearts. He gives us his grace and strength to do so.