Sermon for Sexagesima & World Mission Sunday, February 12th, 2023
The Lessons: Psalm 67; Isaiah 49:1-7; Matthew 9:35-38
The Text: Isaiah 49:1-6
Though in the 1928 Prayer Book today is Sexagesima Sunday (so called since it is approximately sixty days to Easter), in the ACNA’s 2019 Prayer Book Lectionary, the second last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as World Mission Sunday. This Sunday has been introduced to encourage churches in the Anglican Church in North America to become more focused on world mission. Therefore most of our Lessons today are concerned with mission. It is essential to emphasize world mission, since all over the world the Gospel needs to be preached. Even in the Church of England, whose General Synod this last week decided to make provision for same sex marriage rites, the Gospel needs to be preached. Archbishop Foley Beach, Chairman of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference, a movement to retain and restore the primacy of the Bible in the Anglican Communion), referred to this in his Pastoral Letter of February 10th, 2023, when he wrote of how even in 2017 the GAFCON Primates authorized a new mission in England because of unbiblical practices in many Dioceses of the Church of England. These Primates have consecrated bishops in England under whose pastoral oversight Anglicans who are faithful to Biblical doctrine and practice can serve. Because the Church of England is moving in the direction of condoning homosexual lifestyles, as the Episcopal Church has already done, it can no longer lead the Anglican Communion. All this is proof of an insidious process at work to erode the truth of the Gospel and of Apostolic doctrine as this Church has received it. It is therefore the more urgent that we know our faith, live according to it, and share the truth of it effectively.
THE MISSION BEGINS WITH CHRIST
Today’s First Lesson from Isaiah 49 is addressed to islands and distant nations, with the goal that all should hear how the Servant of God, whom we Christians interpret as the Lord Jesus Christ, sees his own mission to Israel and to the world. From the moment of conception, he says, God called him and made mention of his name. His own mission was predetermined by God. It was not something that he thought of doing of his own accord. It was not his own good idea that led to it. God made mention of his name before he was born. We see this fulfilled in the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, when he tells her that the son whom she will conceive will be called JESUS (Luke 1:31) and the Son of the Highest (Luke 1:32), and in Matthew 1, when the angel of the Lord speaks to Joseph in a dream, telling him that the child his betrothed wife has conceived is a son whom they shall call JESUS, because he shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
In describing his role according to the words God has spoken to him, the Servant explains that God has made his mouth like a sharp sword (Isaiah 49:2a). What is meant by this? In St. John’s vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation, a sharp two-edged sword proceeds from the Lord’s mouth. We understand this sword not to be a sharp tongue, but the pure word of God which Jesus speaks, the word that endures forever, and the force of which no-one can withstand.
But the Servant, who is our Lord, also speaks of God hiding him in his hand, making him a polished shaft, and hiding him in his quiver, as if he were an arrow (Isaiah 49:2).
The use of the image of an arrow hidden in a quiver suggests that the Lord Jesus Christ was kept by God as a secret spiritual weapon to be used at exactly the proper time. He was sent into the world at exactly the right time to accomplish in a short period of three years a life-changing mission that would make it possible for anyone to be saved.
God’s words to the Servant are illuminating for us, since God said to him that he is his Servant and God will be glorified in him (Isaiah 49:3). The Servant’s mission lies in being God’s servant, obeying his call and will, and letting God be glorified in him. In St. John’s Gospel, God being glorified in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ being glorified refer to Jesus’ Passion on the cross. When Judas Iscariot leaves the Last Supper to go and betray Jesus to the chief priests, Jesus says: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31, KJV). But this glory was also the divine glory he shared with the Father before the creation of the world, as he indicates in this prayer: “And now, o Father glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5, KJV). In Isaiah 49:3, God makes a prophetic promise to be glorified in his servant, Israel. The Servant, as Jesus Christ, represents Israel and fulfills her perfect destiny.
In Isaiah 49:4, we encounter what seems to be all too human an objection: I have worked in vain and used my energy to no purpose. This appears to be the thought of the Servant, even though God has spoken of his destiny. Instead of remaining despondent about the value of his work, however, the Servant proceeds to express faith in God by declaring that his judgment is with the Lord, and his work with his God. This means that God will bring him justice, and God will be the true Judge of the value of his work.
Further discernment now comes to the Servant who is told that though it is his purpose to bring Israel back to God, and though Israel be not yet gathered and returned to God, yet he will be glorious in God’s eyes and God will be his strength (Isaiah 49:5). Though weak, he will find his strength in God. We could view these words like this: though Christ’s mission appeared to have failed at first because of his ignominious death on the cross, yet God strengthened him and encouraged him. God now opens up new avenues of purpose for the Lord Jesus Christ – he is to be light to the Gentiles, or to the nations of the earth, so that he may bear this salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).
This prophecy Simeon sees as fulfilled when he takes the infant Jesus in his arms and says:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
(Luke 2:29-32, KJV)
OUR MISSION AS CHRISTIANS
Jesus Christ is a light to lighten the nations. Therefore his Gospel must be in our heart and on our lips. We must read and study God’s word daily, so that we may have clarity and boldness to share the word of God with whoever we can. We must also know our faith, so that we may share it without compromising any of its essential truths.