A LIGHT TO THE NATIONS
TEXT: Isaiah 49:1-7; Acts 13:42-52

Those of you who have taken Disciple Bible Study know that the book of Acts is a sequel. The author of Acts is Luke, who wrote the Gospel of Luke as volume one, and Acts as volume 2. Some even speculate that the only reason it is two books is because ancient scrolls could only hold 30 sheets and the book was simply too long to fit on one scroll. But, whatever the reason, the two books go together and were written by the same man. That man most agree was Luke, a physician by trade, and someone who traveled with Paul on at least part of his journeys.

The book of Isaiah is much more complicated. While some believe that one prophet named Isaiah wrote the whole book, many others attribute the book to two, three, or even more people, writing in Isaiah's name. Isaiah was a Jewish prophet, writing about 750 BC. Luke is a Gentile, writing about 800 years later. Isaiah writes about a mysterious suffering servant that many Christians believe foreshadows Jesus. Luke writes about the suffering of the servants of Jesus as they seek to share the Gospel. On one issue, at least, they speak with the same voice: the job of God's servants...past, present, and future...is to be a light to the nations.

To me, they are all right. The point of God's message to Isaiah is not to place all the responsibility for being a light to the nations on one individual. This calling of God is the general calling of every single person who will accept the title "Servant of God." If that is what you want to be, then this is your calling. So the servant is Israel, is Jesus, is Paul and Barnabas, is you and me as individuals, is you and me together as the Church. The mission of servants of God in all places and times, as groups and as individuals, is to be a light for the nations.

Jesus backs this up. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' last words to his disciples are "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations." (Matt. 28:19) According to Luke, Jesus' last words before his ascension were, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."(Acts 1:8) And if you look back much, much earlier, you will find that the same mission was given to Abraham. God's intention was that through Abraham "all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:3)

What is true for the Jew is true for the Christian...our job, as servants of God, is to be a blessed light to the nations. We might come at that in very different ways in different times, places, and cultures, but I am here to tell you that any church that does not have being a light to the dark places of the world at the very center of their mission has forfeited the title, "Servant of God." We might do that through acts of social justice, as has been the tradition of the liberal churches. We might do that through teaching others about the truth of the Biblical witness, as has been the tradition of the conservative churches. My vision for this church is that we would have both a social and an evangelical light to shine. But the point is that our mission is beyond ourselves.

God makes this very plain to Isaiah. Remember Isaiah is a Jew, and his primary task so far has been calling Israel to account. Israel, over time, has forgotten God. They have begun to have other priorities, they have neglected the ways of God, and have neglected the poor. Isaiah is called to bring Israel back to God. But here, God tells Isaiah that just concern for Israel is not enough. God says in verse 6: "It 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 earth."

God does not think small, and God's servants are not to think small either. When John Wesley was asked what could reasonably be expected of a Methodist preacher he answered, "To reform the Nation and the Church and to spread scriptural holiness over the land." Wesley was right in tune with Isaiah and with Acts. Nobody is suggesting we ignore those in our own group, but God is clear that our task is bigger. It is too light a thing for God's servants to only be concerned for their own.

Sometimes we feel we cannot go out beyond ourselves because we ourselves are hurting too much. I have been in that place more than once. But oftentimes it is in the time of our suffering that we realize just how much we have to share. As an example, this past week we suffered through some terrible cold. As some of us gathered for our regular prayer time on Wednesday night, the cold made me grumpy, and I just thought of making myself warm. Bill Humphrey was here, as he always is, and he too was cold and didn't like it. But his response to suffering in the cold was not like mine. Bill's response to being miserably cold was to remember all the people who had no place to go to get warm and to ask why we couldn't just advertise our church as a place where people could come to get off the streets and be warm.

Bill's attitude is the perfect model for how to transform our own suffering into a witness to the world. There are people in this congregation who are truly suffering with major life and health issues. There is some serious stuff going on. But no matter how serious our situation may be, we have the gift of faith. We know that there is a God we can lean on; we know that we can lift up our concern during prayer time or to the prayer chain and get others to pray for us and our loved ones.

As we turn to our faith in times of suffering, that should also show us how much we need to share that faith at every opportunity. The demographic study of the greater Dover area that was recently purchased by our Long Range Planning Committee tells us that 47% of the people within a 2 mile radius of this church describe themselves as having no faith affiliation. Where will they go when the test results come back positive? To whom will they turn when a son or daughter is shipped out to war? Who will pray for them when they lose their job or their marriage or their baby? Who will visit when they are sick or in prison?

Our own pain ought to teach us how critically important it is to share our faith with those who have none. As bad as our pain is, we are still better off than those who don't know that there is a loving God who can give meaning and purpose to their lives and can walk with them through the valley of the shadow. It doesn't matter whether our witness leads people to this particular church or not. If we tell of the love of God and they want to become Episcopalian, it is just as much cause for rejoicing as if they came here. What matters is that they have come to know the living, loving God who is revealed in Jesus...what they do with that knowledge is then between them and God.

Every person or group who wants to be known as God's servant is called to be a light to the nations, and the purpose of light is to make other things visible. Light, when it is effective, does not call attention to itself. Light simply enables people to see what could not be seen before. We are not called to be the savior of the nations...that job is already taken. We are to be the light that enables others to see the Savior who has always been there, but they couldn't see because it was dark.

Being that light takes many and varied forms, because the causes of darkness are many and varied. Sometimes it is the darkness of ignorance. Sometimes people don't see because they don't know anything about God or Jesus or what the Bible really teaches. Learning the truth becomes the light by which they can see God. Some people live in the darkness of pain. They are hungry or poor or sick or suffering in one way or another. They are blinded by their pain. Our acts of mercy that alleviate their suffering becomes the light by which they can see Christ in our eyes.

Some people are in darkness because they have shut out the light. The light was showing up places in their lives and habits that weren't pretty, and rather than clean those places up, they shut out the light. In those cases our witness is more like Jesus tearing through the temple and turning over the tables of the moneychangers. Sometimes we shine our light where people would rather it stay dark and the road to faith begins with an attack on the messenger, as it began long ago on a Cross.

Do you want to be a servant of God? Then put on your hat and your coat and your good walking shoes...because you're going out. Way out. Out past where you are comfortable, maybe even to a cross. The servant suffers, says Isaiah. But it is the calling....it is the path chosen by God for those who would be God's servants. A blessing to all the kingdoms of the earth...a light to the nations. The people all around us walk in darkness, and we have light to bring. How dare we withhold it? We must go out and share the good news.

I am committed to the task of sharing the light that I have. I am going to ask Barb to play This Little Light Of Mine as our meditation, and if you will join me in a commitment to share the light you have with those who are in darkness, then I invite you to make that known by coming to the front as we sing.

2003, Anne Robertson


Return to AnneRobertson.com