May 25, 2021
"And now, says the Lord, who formed me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him..."
“And now, says the Lord, who formed me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him; for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God is my strength - He says, ‘It is not enough for you to be My Servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:5–6
Even before Jesus arrived, His mission had been designated: He would be a preacher. “Sword and arrows” speak of the opposition He could expect (Isaiah 49:2). When Jesus came, He acted as Israel’s representative. He labored on behalf of His covenant people. His mission involved transforming sinful Israel into ideal Israel. Just as Isaiah had warned, Jesus’ message was rejected by most of the Jewish community, a rejection which is maintained by most of the Jewish community in our time. But their rejection of Messiah opened up evangelism for the Gentiles, which was God’s plan all along (Romans 11).
Isaiah continues to describe the Servant’s task in today’s passage. He will be a “light for the nations.” The gospel of the kingdom (which Jesus makes possible) is meant not simply ethnic Israel. It comprises both Jew and Gentile by God’s promise to all who trust in Messiah (Romans 9:6). Though Jesus restricted Himself almost entirely to the Jews during His earthly ministry, Gentiles were not excluded—something Matthew’s gospel, written primarily to Messianic Jews, underlines.
Matthew’s gospel takes up today’s passage (Matthew 12:17–21). Gentile women, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba), and Tamar are among Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1). Jesus’ ministry is primarily conducted in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). And so on. Of course, the Great Commission is worded in such a way as to emphasize the need to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Paul justified his mission to the Gentiles with today’s passage. He spoke to a mixed (Jew and Gentile) audience in Antioch but focused on Jews who opposed him.
“Then Paul and Barnabas boldly said: ‘It was necessary that God’s message be spoken to you first. But since you reject it, and consider yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles! For this is what the Lord has commanded us: I have appointed you as a light for the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ When many Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the message of the Lord, and all who were appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:46–48
The idea that “Gentiles get in” was utterly revolutionary in Isaiah’s time, as well as in the apostle Paul’s generation. “What do we do with all these Gentiles?” was the most significant question debated amongst the early Church, comprised mostly of Jewish believers. Perhaps, the obvious question for today’s Church should be, “Where did all the Jews go?” Followed closely by, “How does the Lord want to use me to share the gospel with the Jewish people?”