Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent: Day 10

Much of the last section of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) contains prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. We looked at one of those yesterday. That is why chapters 40-66 of Isaiah are often called the "comfort section." This final section contains God's purpose of peace (ch. 40-48), His Prince of peace (ch. 49-55), and His program of peace (ch. 56-66). Did you know that is also contains the Great Commission? "Hang on a minute," you might be thinking, "the Great Commission is in Mt. 28:16-20." That may be what your ESV or NIV heading tells you, but they are wrong. The Great Commission is in Is. 49:
1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”
5 And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
6 he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and 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.”
7 Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Is. 49:1-7)
Do you see God the Father's commission to His servant, the Son, there? The heart of it is in v. 6: "I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Is it really the Son who is being addressed here? It can be confusing because sometimes the one addressed is called "Israel" and sometimes "servant" and they seem to be one person, but in v. 5 the servant and Israel are distinguished. Why this confusing association and dissociation between the servant and Israel? Because God's Messiah is not the nation of Israel, yet He can be identified with the nation because He is their covenant head (v. 8), their representative (cf. Ro. 5:12-21). You know, Paul and Barnabas saw this as the Great Commission too. They did; they quote from v. 6 in Ac. 13:47 when they are forced to defend their missionary efforts to the Jewish leaders: "For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles,that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" They said God gave the command to them. The commission certainly was not given to them, right? Not directly, but the Disciple's Commission was in Mt. 28:16-20. Jesus, who was given the Great Commission by God in Is. 49, passed the missionary torch to His disciples in Mt. 28, so Paul and Barnabas can say the command in Is. 49:6 was given to them. It was given to Jesus and He, in turn, passed it on to them.

In Is. 49, God is committing Himself to give His Son, the second person of the Trinity, to die for His people, which are not only Israel but the "the nations... to the end of the earth." When did this commission occur? Well, we do not know for certain. Isaiah recorded the words in the 8th century BC as a prophecy of the coming Messiah, but God the Father most likely commissioned the Son long before that. In fact, the commission was probably given before time began: Christ speaks of a task given to Him by God the Father (Jn. 5:30, 43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12) and the plan of redemption was part of God's eternal decree (Eph. 1:4ff; 3:11; 2 Th. 2:13; 2 Ti. 1:9; Js. 2:5; 1 Pt. 1:2), so Jesus' task must also have been part of God's eternal decree before He even created.

The baby born in a manger in Bethlehem is this Messiah. He is Jesus—the Son, the second person of the Trinity—and He was commissioned by the Father to save His people even before we fell in Adam. The missionary activity of the Church was started by God before there was a Church or even a heaven and earth. The Advent of Christ as the incarnate Son is the inauguration of that activity in the world. Jesus passed it onto His disciples, and it has been pass down again and again for 2,000 years. Soon, however, Jesus will return to finish what He started and take us all to the new heavens and new earth, in His second advent. For now, however, we celebrate the first advent and continue to fulfill the Great Commission given to the Son by the Father (Is. 49) and passed onto us by the Son (Mt. 28).

By His Grace,

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