A Light for the Nations
2nd Sunday after Epiphany – A LSB #396
Text – Isaiah 49:6
“He says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob & to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”
A LIGHT FOR THE NATIONS
Just speaking the words ‘darkness & light’ brings a powerful image to mind for human beings. Even now, as lighting technology is plentiful & cheap, at this time of year there are still about 14 hours of darkness each day. If you live in the city, or the suburbs, there is street lighting almost everywhere, to push back the night.
If you live in the country you have a different appreciation for what it means to have light. Some years ago we listened to a park ranger do a talk on the stars & constellations. To show us which one he was talking about he used a laser pointer that seemed able to reach up & touch the very sky itself. It was an impressive display of light in the darkness.
As long as I can remember I’ve always loved the darkness – not in a spiritual sense, but a physical one. I thrill at walking out & looking at the vastness of the night sky, with the stars brightly contrasting against the blackness of night. We touched on that idea in the words of the Introit: “The heavens declare the glory of God, & the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”
Yet, to be honest, I should confess there is a part of me which also loves the spiritual darkness, or the night of the soul. That is the sinful nature in me. I’ve heard of the same concept from Hollywood actors who readily admit that playing an evil character is a lot more enjoyable than playing the role of one of the good characters.
Even God’s children, & all of God’s children, daily struggle with thoughts, words & deeds that are not in line with what is best for us, or for any of the people around us. The darkness within is alive, & it hates the light. God created the people of Israel, & He chose them, for the purpose of being a light to all the other nations of the world. They failed, & by Jesus’ day, the light was almost extinguished. Looking at the culture around us, it seems clear that the light of Christ here in the United States is growing dim as well. We should be a light for the nations, yet more & more they consider us to be darkness, because of our immorality.
In this morning’s reading from the book of Isaiah, Yahweh is explaining that His servant will not only bring light to the chosen people of Israel, but to the nations. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob were to serve God’s creation & they failed. The followers of Jesus in our nation were to serve our heavenly Father’s creation, & we are failing.
Thankfully, our Lord’s love for us far & away exceeds all of mankind’s failures. His love for you exceeds all of your failures. Today, you & I have rest available for our soul because Jesus’ love exceeds all of my failures. The message coming to us in this season of Epiphany, the season of light, is this – the cross & the empty tomb re-created life, & hope.
We could say that combined, the cross & the empty tomb of Jesus brought light into the bitterness of an unforgiving world. An example of that refusal to be forgiving was cited in the recent issue of Engage. It’s a magazine about mission work going on around the world, with a particular article on the country of Spain.
When the Reformation of the church happened, by the 1530’s about 1000 Lutherans were secretly worshipping across the nation of Spain. In 1559, sixteen of them were burned at the stake as heretics. By the 1560’s, the Reformation had been erased from that country.
The Catholic church in Spain was rejecting the truth of God’s forgiveness. They rejected the light that Jesus had brought to their nation. You see, it’s not just people outside the structure of the church who are trying to erase the light. Lucifer works from the inside as well. That’s why daily confession of our sin is so crucial. It prevents him from getting a foothold. We don’t always recognize the darkness even when it’s working through us. This verse from Isaiah 59 speaks to that: “Therefore justice is far from us, & righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, & behold, darkness, & for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” (59:9 ESV) The sinful nature in each of us truly does love the darkness, as John 3:19 (ESV) makes clear:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, & people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” That’s why the Words of Holy Scripture, throughout the Old & New Testaments record this phrase 34 different times, “Fear not…” Our heavenly Father knows that you & I have plenty of reasons to be afraid.
Thus St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Galatia: “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (4:3-5 ESV)
The Christmas season is joyful, not for the gifts we give, nor for the decorations we display, but for the gift all God’s children have received – the great news that our guilt has been washed away. We rejoice, not in the lie that our sins are okay, but in the truth that Jesus has paid the price for all the suffering they have caused, & paid to have them erased from history.
Following on the heels of Christmas is the season of Epiphany. We have the Christ candle here in the chancel to remind us that the light has come for the nations, because you & I are not Jewish, we are Gentile, yet Messiah has given His life even for you & for me. Simeon prophesied as much, when he held the child Jesus in his arms & said:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, & for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 ESV) After Saul
was knocked off his horse, while on the road to Damascus, Jesus tells him:
“Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as my servant & witness. Tell people that you have seen me, & tell them what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people & the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins & be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:16-18 NLT)
The chapters of Isaiah, leading up to the reading for this morning, primarily deal with Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Then, they’ll be set free to return to the land of Canaan, but simply going home to the Promised Land, even being led by Nehemiah, is not to return back to God. Israel needs a far greater redemption, a more complete freedom, which comes through Jesus.
Idolatry had made God’s people blind & deaf, so Yahweh annuls His nation’s servant status & a new Servant appears. This Servant will faithfully accomplish His heavenly Father’s will, as these words reveal: “And going a little farther He fell on His face & prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”
This task of rescuing us from death would not be easy. In verse 4 of the OT reading, the new Servant speaks: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing & vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord…” (Isaiah 49:4 ESV) The Servant speaks as if he has not done well in carrying out his assignment.
He uses a powerful triad of negatives to express frustration, discouragement & exhaustion: “I have labored in vain…” But He does not despair & He remains committed to the Lord. His relationship to Yahweh counters His futility & discouragement. He does not lose faith in the ultimate success of His mission.
God chose Israel not to be an exclusive community. He drew them into a covenant relationship in order to serve as the instrument for extending His rule to the ends of the earth. When they failed, Jesus was sent as Servant to fulfill Israel’s responsibility. He would be for Israel what Israel could not be in itself, & then He will bring salvation to the ends of the earth & lead the new exodus into the new creation, of heaven. Truth be told, Jesus is the brilliant star shining brightly against the backdrop, & the darkness, of our sin.
Immanuel perfectly & completely fulfills the role of being a light for the nations. Those of us who believe in Him are living proof that Jesus has been a light for revelation to the Gentiles. He gathers all the scattered people, from the four corners of the earth, & brings them back to their heavenly Creator, in this life for a time, & in the next life for eternity.
Christ is God’s light for all people in fulfillment of the promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Jesus is the Light for the nations as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, in this broken world.
Israel, punished for its sins & unable to save itself or its fellow sinners, represents the plight of the world under the curse of God. Israel forgiven & restored prefigures what God will do to welcome home all prodigal sons & daughters who have strayed into the far country of rebellious self-will.
Israel, after the exile, once again populating its rebuilt cities is a token of the vast throngs of people streaming into the established heavenly kingdom of God from every corner of the globe. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” Amen.
Arise & shine in splendor; let night to day surrender. Your light is drawing near. Above, the day is beaming, in matchless beauty gleaming; the glory of the Lord is here. Your heart will leap for gladness when from the realms of sadness they come from near & far. Your eyes will wake from slumber as people without number rejoice to see the Morning Star. Amen. LSB 396:1, 5.
 Matthew 26:39 ESV
 John 8:12 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet