Whenever a building is built, it is necessary to have a detailed floor plan. It is a big picture of what will be built and helps anticipate what needs to be done in which order and where everything will fit. It is critical to a well built structure.
Have you ever seen a blueprint for an event? Several years ago, one of Carla’s nieces from California got married. Carla went to the wedding but before she left, we received a wad of paper in the mail giving the details of everything that was going to happen on the weekend of the wedding. It included when Carla and her mom and aunt and sister would arrive on the plane, where they would be staying, when they were expected at various wedding related events, at what time the bridesmaids would have their hair done and so on. The whole wedding was planned down to smallest details including the times when everything would happen.
Have you ever wondered if there is a plan on which this world is run? Does God have a blueprint for what is supposed to happen or is it just kind of unfolding as it comes along? If there is a plan, does it include us?
God’s plan for history was made before the world was created. It began in the garden of Eden when sin first entered the world. At the point when sin entered the world, God pronounced judgement, but implicit in that judgement was the revelation that he had a plan to redeem the world from its sin. In Genesis 3:15, when addressing the serpent, God promised that the seed of the woman, “will crush your head.” This promise indicates a victory over sin and the awful consequences of sin. How has God accomplished that promise?
This morning as we continue our study of Isaiah, we will look at Isaiah 49:1-7 in which God’s plan for history is revealed. In the first verse, we note that this message is addressed to “you islands…you distant nations.” I think that we are to understand that this is a message to the world, which means that it is a message to us. Are we listening?
As we study this passage, we will discover how God has unfolded his plan and we will see what our part in the plan is. We will have an opportunity to ask ourselves if we are participating in God’s plan as He intends.
I. My Servant Israel
In verses 1-4, Isaiah reveals how God was planning to restore people to himself through his servant, Israel.
A. Call And Work of Israel vs. 1-3
In verse 1, we first of all are told that God’s call to the one who would bring a solution came “before I was born…” The plan of God was not something that just came about, but was always there. One writer says, “God’s plan is not something newly concocted or something constantly fluctuating…God’s plan is eternal,” it is “from the womb…”
Who is the one who was to do God’s work? In verse 3, we encounter the word “my servant.” Last week, we looked at this word and said that it referred to Messiah, but here, “my servant” is identified as Israel. This was God’s first plan to bring salvation to the world. It was that through a people who would be his people, the world would see the glory of God and so be drawn to God.
So it was that God called Abraham and promised him in Genesis 12:2,3, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The promise was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac and to his son, Jacob. God repeated the promise to Jacob and said to him in Genesis 27:29, “May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”
Many years later after Israel had been in Egypt for 400 years and Moses had led them out of Egypt, God established a relationship with his people and called them to be his special people who would follow Him. We read about the establishment of that covenant relationship in Exodus 19:3-6, “Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation..’” This is how Israel came to be “God’s servant” a special nation.
The work of Israel is also revealed. In Isaiah 49:3 it says that the role of Israel was to be a nation “in whom I will display my splendor.” The point is that as the world would see God at work in his people, they would see His glory and be drawn to Him. The Exodus was one way in which God displayed his splendor. When Israel came to the promised land, the nations had all heard about what God had done for them, delivering them from Egypt and bringing them through the Red Sea. God’s glory was revealed and some people, like Rahab, knew these things and came to God.
When Israel was faithful to God, nations did come and observe the wonder and glory of God. During the reign of Solomon when Israel was in its best time, we read about the queen of Sheba who came to see all the things that Solomon had and she saw the glory of God in what He had done in the nation through the reigns of David and Solomon. Matthew 12:42 reflects on this concept when it says, “The Queen of the South…came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom...”
B. The Failure Of Israel vs. 4a
But verse 4 reveals that not everything went as it should. When “the servant” reflects on what has happened we hear the words, “I have laboured to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” The result of Israel’s work as God’s servant did not always bring the desired results. Nations did not flock to God and, in fact, Israel herself was a poor representative of God. They failed to display the glory of God and more often displayed self-centeredness and sin and failure. In fact, often, God was spoken poorly of because of how Israel had represented Him. In Jeremiah 18:15,16 we read, “Yet my people have forgotten me; they burn incense to worthless idols, which made them stumble in their ways and in the ancient paths. They made them walk in bypaths and on roads not built up. Their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads.” Instead of displaying the glory of God, they became an object of scorn and caused people to shake their heads.
When Isaiah was writing this, the destruction of the nation was the living reality and the “scorn” and “shaking of the head” were happening. They lived with the failure of their nation to fulfill what God had called it to do. What now? In the end of verse 4, Isaiah indicates that there is hope, that God still has a reward and that God has not given up yet. The hope from God is shown in the next section.
II. My Servant (Christ)
Last week we talked about the Messiah and about the promises of the Messiah and about what Jesus did. Verses 5-7 speak once again about “my servant,” this time in reference to the Messiah.
A. Call Of The Servant vs. 5
It is interesting to note the repetition of the pattern. In verse 1 we saw how God’s servant, Israel, was called by God “before being born.” The pattern in verse 5 is similar. Once again the servant is mentioned and once again, the call comes “in the womb.” This time, however, the context will reveal that the servant is not Israel - because the work of the servant is to bring Israel back. Therefore, we realize that the servant is Messiah.
Although God had chosen Israel to reveal His glory to the world, Israel as a nation failed to fulfill God’s plan. From the beginning God had another plan to call one individual out of the nation of Israel to accomplish his plan. The Messiah, whom we know as Jesus the Christ, is that individual.
B. The Servants Work In Israel vs. 6
Verse 5, 6 reveals the work of Messiah. It was a work, first of all, to bring Israel back to God. Verse 5 says, “to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself.” Verse 6 says, “to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.”
In the midst of a time of devastation and scattering, this was good news. The plan of God was not to abandon his people, but to bring them back.
This began when Jesus came to earth and did his work among the Jewish people. In Matthew 10:5,6, when Jesus sent out the disciples to preach the good news, they were sent to the Jews first. The Bible says, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”
When the apostle Paul went on his mission, it was a mission to the Jews first. He says in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Whenever Paul went to a new community, he always went to the synagogue first and preached the gospel there. Isaiah says that, “those of Israel I have kept,” will come back to God and so it was that many of the Jews responded to the gospel. The apostles and many other disciples accepted the Lord and were restored. The 5000 and then the 3000 who became believers in the early days after Pentecost, were also among those who were restored. Acts 6:7 says, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
But the restoration was not nearly complete and in many ways the restoration which God had planned for was not happening at that time. In most places, opposition to the gospel was most violent by the people of Israel. Paul discusses this in Romans 9-11 and speaks with pain in his heart as he realizes how much opposition there is to the gospel among the Jews. However, he also speaks with hope that many will yet return to God. Many believe, and it is very likely that some day there will be a great revival among the Jews. Many will yet come to Christ.
C. Salvation To The Ends Of The Earth vs. 6
But the work of Messiah, carrying out the plan of God, does not stop with the restoration of Israel. The glorious message which we ought to hear with rejoicing is that the work of the Messiah is not limited to the return of Israel. Verse 6 gives a message that is particular to those of us who are Gentiles. In 49:6 we read, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In this passage we are reminded of the plan of God which he had from the very beginning. It is a promise that was already revealed to Abraham in Genesis 12 when God promised him that “all nations of the earth will be blessed in you.” It has always been God’s plan that not only his chosen nation, Israel, but all the people on earth should come to God and be his people.
In Isaiah 49, God’s plan is revealed that that restoration of all the peoples on earth will happen through the servant of the Lord. The Messiah will be a light for the Gentiles and will bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
Already in Jesus’ day, the gospel began to go out beyond Israel. The Gentile woman in Matthew 15 who asked that her daughter be healed, received healing. The centurion’s servant who was healed is another example of a Gentile who experienced God’s grace. When Peter received the vision of the unclean food, which was used to urge him to preach to Cornelius, the door was really being opened. When Paul and Barnabas went on their missionary journeys, the gospel truly began to be spread out to all the world. We are the recipients of that blessing! We should rejoice greatly that this idea is in the Bible. God has promised that his salvation will be offered to all the world. All people in the world have the opportunity to receive the gift of salvation. This passage promises that that salvation is available to us and therefore is a very exciting passage for us. If you have not accepted God’s gift of salvation, you are missing out on God’s plan of the ages. Why not receive it today?
2. The Plan Progresses
But this message which reveals God’s eternal plan is not only good news which we receive and for which we rejoice.
Jesus picks up on the message of Isaiah 49:6 when he says in John 20:21, “...As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Isaiah 49:6 speaks of the sending of the servant to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. That is God’s eternal plan. But Jesus, the one sent with that salvation has given responsibility to us as well. We are participants in the eternal plan of God as Gentile recipients of his salvation but we are also participants in the eternal plan of God as those who have been sent to proclaim the message of salvation to the “ends of the earth.” In Acts 1:8, as Jesus was leaving this earth, he once again proclaimed this sending message when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So we have a part in God’s eternal plan! Israel failed on its part to display the glory of God, are we being faithful in fulfilling our part in God’s plan? If this is the blueprint for history, the plan of God for all the world, what is our personal part in it? Are we on this earth to live for ourselves and enjoy life? If this is God’s eternal purpose, then must our life not be about more than the pleasure we can derive from it, or the amount of product we can produce or the number of friends we can gain or the amount of assets we can acquire? There is a T-shirt which presents a philosophy of life, “He who has the most toys wins.” Is that what we are living for? If God’s eternal purpose is to bring salvation to the ends of the earth, and if we as disciples of Jesus have been sent to proclaim that salvation, what are we doing to accomplish that eternal purpose? This is what is really important in life and all the other things we do are just a means to accomplish this end.
Let me make some practical suggestions that we can do in order to participate in God’s call.
First of all, we need to become involved in world mission. I am thankful for the mission vision that we have as a congregation and want to affirm and encourage that vision. Each of us must ask, “what is my part in that mission?” Each of us must answer that question for themselves and be open to God’s plan for us. Involvement may include going and certainly we must encourage the best and the brightest among us to go and serve the Lord far from home. Involvement may include prayer and many of us must make a serious and regular commitment to pray. The Messenger has a prayer calendar which gives opportunity to pray each day for a different missionary. Our bulletin has the name of a “missionary of the week.” How many of us pray for that missionary? To varying degrees, we can all give to the work of mission. Some have said that if all Christians tithed, the needs of the church and of mission would be well supplied. Are you tithing, that is giving a tenth of your income to the Lord? I would challenge the youth and young people who are just beginning to have an income to begin with your first job, no matter how small to contribute to God’s eternal plan by tithing.
The second area is to recognize that the world God is trying to reach is not just out there, but is next door to us. What are you doing to bring salvation to your end of the earth? A while ago I mentioned the 4x4 concept in which I challenged each person to ask God for 4 people whom you would pray for, do something with socially and share the gospel with. I want to invite all of us to participate in this plan.
Next Sunday in the worship service, Dave Balzer will come to begin a series of talks in which he will help us think about how we can make Christ known in our work place. The second and third of those talks will occur on Thursday, September 12 and then on Thursday, October 10. If God has spoken to you today as you have once again seen His eternal plan, I invite you to do something about your personal involvement by coming and learning how to live and share your faith in the marketplace.
Fall is a time of beginnings. Summer is kind of a Sabbath time for rest and reflection but as we come to September, we once again ask ourselves, “what will I do this fall and winter, how will I use my time?”
In Isaiah 49, we have seen God’s plan for all the ages. It is His intention that the ends of the earth should know and receive his salvation. So I want to invite each one to think about this and ask yourself, “Am I living in my little world doing my own little thing or am I a part of what God is doing in the world and am I participating according to the resources which God has given me, in the grand eternal purpose of the God of the universe?”