Uncertain times give us pause and challenge us to ask questions. I don’t want to sound negative, but given the uncertain start to this year, economically and politically, not to speak of the rise of terrorism, many people are anxious about the future.
In times of uncertainty it is always helpful to consider what encouragements we can draw from a richer understanding of God, his interactions with men and women, and his expectations of those who trust him.
In recent weeks we have been identifying highlights of God’s promises to his people through the prophet Isaiah. More than one hundred years before it happened he prophesied the conquest of the southern kingdom Judah and the fall of Jerusalem. But Isaiah also had a message of comfort and hope for people who trusted God. This is his theme from chapter 40 onwards.
In Isaiah 49, we read of the emergence of a new figure, known as God’s ‘Servant’ whose task would be to restore God’s people. For Isaiah’s first readers, ‘restoration’ meant the restoration of God’s people to their land and their city. Against all odds this occurred from 520BC.
But in Isaiah 49 there is another layer to the meaning of God’s Servant: Isaiah is also speaking of the coming of Jesus Christ whose work would bring the light of God’s truth to his people and to the nations. Indeed this Servant of God – Jesus Christ – would provide the means of restoration for a broken humanity: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
And there is more, for in Isaiah 49:7 there is a subtle but significant shift in the meaning of the word Israel. Israel reverts to its meaning as the people of God – not just an individual figure.
With this shift there are significant nuances. In 49:6, the ‘Servant’ is told the Lord would make him a light for the Gentiles. In 49:8 Israel is told that the Lord will not just make a covenant with them, but that they will be the means of bringing God’s light to the nations.
This is profound. Isaiah is saying that the rescue and restoration of God’s people, Israel, will be a sign of his commitment to bless the nations. As we view this through the lens of the New Testament we see this applies to the church today. God’s people who are now freed by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, from a life of captivity to sin and death, are to say to those who are still captive to their fears, ‘Come out’, and to those in darkness, be free’ (49:9).
As Isaiah 49 moves on, the focus is not so much on the return of the exiles from Babylon or even on their spiritual restoration, but on the mission of God’s people to the nations. Indeed, in Isaiah 49:13 there is a great shout of praise to God. It is the sound of God’s people rejoicing as people come from all nations into the light of God’s truth and salvation. It is one reason for joy in our churches today.
In this election year in the United States millions of dollars are being spent and many thousands of volunteers are involved in the election process. Consider the impact God’s people could have for good, if only one tenth of these resources of money and people were put to the mission of Jesus Christ. Yet too often we are caught up with our own concerns and anxieties rather than living as God’s light. What was it that Jesus said? “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden…” (Matthew 5:13-14).
A paradox in life is that when we serve the needs of others we often find our own anxieties will fall away.