Jan 20 Sermon: Salvation to the Ends of the Earth
Jesus: Salvation to the Ends of the Earth
Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42
â€œIt 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; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earthâ€ (Is. 49:6) This is what God says to God’s servant in Isaiah 49. It is too light a thing for you only to raise up and restore Israel. That just isn’t enough for my servant: you are going to be a light to the nations: the very nations that destroyed you and now hold you in exile. Yeah to those nations. You’re going to bring my salvation to the ends of the earth–that’s right the ends of the Persian Empire you are a part of, and no it’s not small. It’s not enough that just Israel is restored: you are going to show to the world the kind of God I am, and they will see my light and salvation. Wow, what a job description. And this is after the servant sighs, â€œI have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.â€ May be he should have stopped there, but no, he goes on, â€œyet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.â€
This phrase has been going through my mind all week: It is too little of a thing for you just to save your own people, or one people, or just those who are like you and you agree with. That is too little of a thing for the servant of God. In the context of Isaiah, God is telling this to the Jews. The Jews that are in exile. The Jews that are enslaved and indentured by other countries. They’re not at all sure about this whole return to Jerusalem thing anyway. They know what they’re going to find: rubble. They know what they’re going to have to do: rebuild. That’s why the servant thinks they have labored in vain. But oh no, that’s not all God has in store for the Jews. God has a much bigger plan, a much broader agenda. Much bigger than the Jews wanted. And let’s face it, most of the time bigger than we want.
As we discussed last week, the servant of God began as Israel, then Jesus fulfilled these passages, and as the Body of Christ, we are now the servant. And what does God tell us? It’s too light of a thing to reach out just to our neighbors, just to our friends, just to those who look like us and agree with us. As God expected Jesus, and as God expected Israel, God expects us to bring God’s light to the nations and God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. Admittedly in Chicago, this is a little more palatable since the nations have come to us. But still it is a monstrous call, to say the least. It’s enough to make a pastor freak out. It’s enough to make most churches freak out. What are we going to do with this call?
Let’s take a look at how Jesus started. This week our Gospel is from John. Right after Jesus’ baptism in John’s Gospel, John is pointing him out to his disciples and yelling everywhere he goes: â€œHere is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!â€ John’s disciples start paying attention, but two actually do something about John’s testimony. Two of them started following Jesus. When Jesus ask them what they are seeking, they answer that they want to know where he is staying or abiding. Jesus tells them to come and see, and the two abide with Jesus for the afternoon. The next day the two bring two more to Jesus. Andrew brings his brother, Simon, whom Jesus renames upon meeting, and Phillip brings a sarcastic Nathaniel. In all the gospels Jesus starts the same way, with two to four people. He starts small–he does start with the Jews, and it is only later after his resurrection that his light goes to the nations of the world. And then it takes some doing on God’s part to get the Jewish Christians out of Jerusalem and taking the Gospel to the ends of the Roman Empire.
God’s call is to take God’s light and salvation everywhere. We do begin in our homes, buildings, and neighborhoods. That is what we are supposed to do. But we are always to keep in mind that is not where we stop. God’s call is still for God’s love, compassion, and salvation to go to the ends of the earth. God’s call is still for us to show God’s light to people that are not like us, to people who don’t agree with us, with people who could be our enemies. Yes, we are small, but so was Jesus and the first disciples. The mission to be light to the ends of the earth always starts small. It grows as we give faithful witness to Jesus and live how he commanded us to live. As more and more of us live this way, people will start asking questions, and then we can say to them â€œCome and see.â€ Come and see what this Jesus person is about. Come and see why he makes such a difference in our lives. Come and see why we believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world. Come and see the light to the nations and the salvation to the ends of the earth. And like John the Baptist that’s what we have to remember. We are not the light. We are only witnesses to the light. And as we live as faithful witnesses to the light of Christ, people will see his light, his love, and his compassion in our lives.