A light for the Gentiles

by LA UBF   07/28/2007     0 reads




Isaiah 49:1-7

Key Verse 49:6

6he says: "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."

Part I – I have spent my strength I vain (49:1-4)

In this passage, the prophet Isaiah shares his testimony with the world. Look at verse 1: “Listen to me, you Islands; here this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.”  Isaiah proclaimed with confidence that God knew him and called him before he was even born. When Isaiah was a young man, he didn’t know that God had a purpose for him. He was just an ordinary guy. But one day, God appeared to Isaiah in a vision. Isaiah saw God, and then he realized that he was a dirty sinner, and he was afraid of God’s judgment. He cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!” But an angel took a burning coal from the altar with tongs, touched Isaiah’s lips with it, and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah’s heart must have been moved deeply by God’s grace. Then God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah eagerly answered, “Here am I! Send me!” This experience changed Isaiah’s life completely. From that time on, he devoted his life to serving God, and for more than sixty years, until the day he died, he boldly proclaimed the word of God to the people. 

Look at verses 2-3: “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” Isaiah was like God’s secret weapon. God polished his mouth like a sharpened sword by teaching him the word of God daily. No one suspected that humble-looking Isaiah was a lethal weapon, but at the right time, God drew his sharp sword from the shadow of his hand, and cut through all the worldly arguments that people used against God. Isaiah also became like a polished arrow that was concealed in God’s quiver. When the people rebelled against God and were so proud that they wouldn’t listen, God pulled out Isaiah, stretched his bow, pierced through their thick armor, and struck the hearts of the people, convicting them of their sin and leading them back to God in repentance. Isaiah was like God’s 007. God was so proud of Isaiah that he said, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” 

Naturally, Isaiah expected that God would use him to lead all of Israel back to God in sincere repentance. When he first began preaching messages, he probably expected to see the people fall to the ground in tears, tearing their clothes and repenting deeply from their hearts. He envisioned the people cutting down their wooden idols, and smashing to pieces their stone idols. He dreamed of an Israel fully devoted to God—a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. And of course, all the people would recognize him as God’s chosen servant and honor him and listen to his every word. 

But this is not what happened. Even though Isaiah was a powerful Bible teacher and prophet, the people of his day were very stubborn and rebellious. When he proclaimed the word of God, people shed many tears and said that they would change and serve God. But after a short time they forgot the word of God, hardened their hearts, and went back to their old, sinful ways again. Although he worked hard for many years, it seemed that the overall condition of society was the same. It was still full of idolatry, violence, sexual immorality, and all forms of godlessness. And so Isaiah became discouraged and complained to God.  Look at verse 4a: “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.”

After experiencing failure and rejection again and again, Isaiah was confused. Hadn’t God called him from before he was born? Hadn’t God made him like a sharpened sword and a polished arrow? Then why was his ministry fruitless? Doubts might have come into Isaiah’s mind: Did God really call me? Did God make a mistake? Maybe these people are hopeless?  

Isaiah must have pondered these questions in his heart for a long time. Then, one day, he had a revelation. As he was thinking about his fruitless life and pouring out his complaints to God, he realized that he was looking for his reward in the wrong place. He was looking for visible fruit as his reward for his hard work, but this is not God’s true reward. God’s true reward does not depend on the response of other people. God saw all of Isaiah’s hard work and sacrifice, and God would reward Isaiah even though none of the people repented. And so Isaiah testifies in verse 4b, “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” 

This realization was very comforting to Isaiah. It helped him to overcome his sense of loss and fix his eyes on God.  With this thought, Isaiah was satisfied to teach the word of God to the Israelites even if they did not listen to a word he said. It now seemed that it didn’t really matter what fruit came out of his ministry or whether a large or small number of people repented. It was the effort that counted. This seemed like the right answer, but notice that it was not God who said this. This was what Isaiah said, but it was not God’s answer to Isaiah’s complaint.

For those who have heard God’s calling and struggled to serve God’s purpose in this ministry, Isaiah’s testimony and complaint may be very familiar. When we first start serving a campus, we dream of conquering it fully, and raising many disciples of Jesus. But in reality it is very difficult to even find someone interested in studying the Bible. Among those who study, it is very difficult to help them meet Jesus personally. And even among those who meet Jesus, it is very hard to help them remain in Jesus to the end. So, after working hard and sacrificing a lot, many servants of God find that they are fruitless. Then they share Isaiah’s complaint: “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” 

Then, after thinking about it more, we take comfort in this thought: “But God knows my heart and effort and he will reward me.” It’s like saying, “Well, it’s the effort that counts.” With this thought in mind, we no longer dream about doing big things for God. We no longer have vision to bring many people to Christ. Instead, we are happy just to teach the Bible to a few people and focus mostly on our personal relationship with God.  From our point of view, this may make a lot of sense, but it doesn’t make sense from God’s point of view. If that were true, it would mean that all the effort God put into calling you and training you as a Bible teacher and shepherd was just for your personal benefit. If that were true, then even though God said to Isaiah, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor,” he didn’t really mean it; he was just trying to encourage Isaiah. But this doesn’t make sense at all. God doesn’t sharpen arrows not to shoot them. So rather than just relying on our human thoughts, we need to hear what God has to say. 


In verses 5-7, we see God’s answer to Isaiah’s complaint. Let’s read verses 5-6:  “And now the Lord says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—he says: ‘It is too small of 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.” 

God’s message to Isaiah was, “It is too small of a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.” Actually, to Isaiah, serving Israel seemed like a really big job—almost an impossible job. He had experienced so much failure in serving this mission that it seemed all his efforts were in vain. He almost wanted to give up. But in God’s eyes, this was too small of a mission for Isaiah. From God’s point of view, it would be a waste to use Isaiah to serve just one small nation.  Isaiah was God’s secret weapon whom he had called from birth. God did not call Isaiah and train him only to use him for small things. God wanted to use Isaiah’s potential fully. So God said to him, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah must have been shocked. He was a fruitless shepherd who couldn’t even lead the people of God back to him, how was it possible for him to bring God’s salvation to the Gentiles who were completely ignorant of God? Yet God challenged Isaiah to have this vision.

Sometimes it seems that pioneering one college campus, or even raising one disciple of Jesus is a terribly difficult task that is nearly impossible to do. At first, we  have big vision, but over time our vision shrinks and becomes smaller and smaller. Our vision is limited by our personal experiences and limitations. But God’s vision for us is far greater. God says, “It is too small of a thing for you…” God challenges us to have his vision for our lives—the vision to be a light for all people and bring his salvation to the ends of the earth.   

Before God’s light came into my heart, I was a slave to the power of lust and immorality.  Even though I had grown up in a Christian family, I couldn’t overcome my sin problem.  This filled my heart with despair and unbelief.  But when I believed that Jesus died for my sins of immorality and rose from the dead to conquer my despair, God’s light came into my heart.  God gave me his salvation grace and sin-forgiveness in my heart.  In 1999 God gave me Matthew 10:6,7 which read, “Do not go to the Gentiles, go rather to the lost sheep of Israel, and as you go preach this message, “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Actually, before this when I was a freshman in college I had the romantic desire to be a missionary, learning a foreign language, and then flying to a far far off land.  But at that time, I was stuck in sin and very spiritually weak.  But based on Matthew 10:7 I knew that God was calling me to stay here in America and be a shepherd for Christian students at Azusa Pacific University who needed shepherds.  Based on this word, I fully committed myself to God’s work and taught the Bible to students at APU and Citrus college with my whole heart.  Many students came and went, but God helped me to find my deepest joy and satisfaction in him.  Yet, as I served God’s mission as a Bible teacher I was content to just teach the Bible to a few people, take classes, and work on the side and that was about it.  Also, more recently, I was content with our small weekly Bible study.  Because of this many times I didn’t even think about God’s bigger vision. 

However, in 2004 God gave me his vision to go as a lay missionary to Latin America when I went to the 2004 Summer Bible conference in Bolivia.  The title of the conference was “A Decision of faith and New Life”.  God spoke to me and gave me Hebrews 11:24,25 “24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  Like Moses I had lived as a spoiled American prince, but I heard God calling me to leave my comfortable life in America behind and identify myself with the suffering people of God around the world.  Shortly thereafter in 2005 by the grace of God I married a beautiful woman of God named Carrie Jean Irwin from Triton UBF.  God had prepared us and brought us together perfectly by helping us to learn Spanish and have a love for Latin America.  Shortly thereafter God gave us vision to pioneer the country of Ecuador.  After visiting Ecuador in 2004, I could see that Ecuadorian students are very poor, but they have great potential because they are hard working and humble. We believe that God has great vision for all the people in Ecuador to know Jesus and become servants of his gospel.  God even has vision that Ecuador would be a missionary sending nation, even sending missionaries to the middle east with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Please pray for our family, so that Christ’s light and salvation may shine brightly through our lives.

Look at verse 7: “This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you , who has chosen you. ” 

One Word:  A Light for the Gentiles