Sermon for Sunday, January 19th, 2020,
the Second Sunday after Epiphany
The Lessons: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
The Text: Isaiah 49:1-7
The Topic: The Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the world
Our First Lesson today is one of the Servant Songs in the Book of the prophet Isaiah. These are songs addressed to the Servant of God, whom some interpret to be the nation of Israel, and Christians generally interpret as the Lord Jesus Christ. In the chapter previous to this one, God has been speaking to the nation of Israel, and reminding them of how he sustained them in their desert wanderings, and how he still leads them in the way they should go.
Now, at the beginning of Isaiah 49, there is a change of speaker, and a different audience is addressed, this new audience being the islands and distant nations. In this Song, the speaker is relating to the nations both what the Lord God said to him and what he said to the Lord.
GOD’S CALL OF THE MESSIAH
Like the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), the Christ, or Messiah, was called by God before being born on earth. He was called while still in the womb, and his name was mentioned before he was born (Is.49:1). This was true of the Lord Jesus Christ, since the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream, saying that the child conceived by Mary was of the Holy Spirit, and that the child’s name was to be Jesus, since he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-21), and in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel instructs her to call the child she would conceive by the name of Jesus (Luke 1:31).
Why is it important that the Messiah should tell the nations that God has made his mouth like a sharp sword (v.2)? Why also has God made him like a polished arrow and hidden him in his quiver? The nations had to know, and today must still know, that the Lord Jesus Christ’s words are like a double-edged sword, as he both is and speaks God’s very Word. This is the great weapon by which he will rule the nations of the world, and this truth is part of the description of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation (Rev.1:16; 2:12; 19:13 & 15). Earlier in the Book of the prophet Isaiah, there is a voice that asks God what it must proclaim, and this reply is given:
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
(Isaiah 40:6-8, KJV)
The word of God is eternal, and that, I believe, is one reason for its power, and another is that it proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. It is sharp, since it pierces to the depths of man, as this passage testifies:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
(Hebrews 4:12, KJV)
The same Lord Jesus Christ, God’s faithful Servant, is described as a polished arrow hidden in God’s quiver (v.2). He was hidden until the time of his birth and life on earth, and through his birth, life, teaching, miracles, healings, death on a cross, resurrection and ascension, changed the course of this world, and ended the rule of Satan for all who have chosen to belong to God’s kingdom and follow Him as Lord. His life brought to an end the dominion of evil, and established God’s rule. How powerful this arrow has been in its effect!
Part of the Lord Jesus’ message to the world is God’s word to him that he is Israel, God’s Servant, and God will be glorified in him (v.3). On the basis of this verse, some commentators believe that the Servant is the whole nation of Israel. Instead, I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the obedient Israel that God has called, and the Lord Jesus is the one who enables us by his Holy Spirit to conform to his righteousness.
At this point in the Song, the Servant expresses to God the feeling that he has labored in vain, spent his strength for nothing, but entrusts his case to God for justice, and his work to God (v.4). This is surely a fitting description how the Lord Jesus felt before his death on the cross.
But death was not the end of the Servant’s mission, nor the fact that Israel was not gathered in loyalty to God immediately the outcome of his life’s work, but God was glorified in Jesus’ death, and his death and resurrection became not only the means of restoring Israel, but a light for the nations throughout the world. Though on the cross, Jesus was a man despised by men, abhorred by his nation, and a servant of rulers (v.6), God exalted him by raising him from the dead, causing him to ascend to his right hand in heaven, and sending out through the Church the Gospel by which the world can be saved. God has chosen Jesus Christ to be the Light of the world (v.6; John 8:12).
CHRIST OUR LIGHT
The following story makes this point:
Timothy George, who studied at Harvard Divinity School, learned preaching from Dr. Gardner Taylor, a pastor in New York City. He writes:
I’ll never forget those lectures. I remember him telling a story from when he was preaching in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country, and he was out in a rural church that had just one little light-bulb hanging down from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary. He was preaching away, and in the middle of his sermon, the electricity went out. The building went pitch-black, and Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say, being a young preacher. He stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, “Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark.”
….The good news of the gospel is that whether or not we can see him in the dark, the Lord can see us in the dark.
– p. 190, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.
The eternal Word of God is God’s weapon to defeat evil in this world. Have you let the power of the sharp sword of God’s Word, the light of Christ, reach the depths of your mind and soul, to bring you into full alignment with God’s will?