Monday, December 23, 2013

Solus Christus: The Great Commission

Last week we looked at the covenants God made with His people in the Old Testament. We saw how those covenants were not isolated promises but built on one another because they were all under the one covenant of grace. Indeed, we saw that God’s plan of salvation in Christ has been the same since the fall of Adam, and He revealed that plan in various ways through the Old Testament covenants. For today’s Advent meditation we’re going to return to Isaiah’s prophecies of the Messiah by looking another prophecy from the “comfort section.” (As we mentioned earlier in this series of devotions, chapters 40-66 are the “comfort section” of Isaiah in which Isaiah prophesies to the Jews in exile the deliverance that God will bring from Babylon and ultimately in the Messiah.) We’re going to look at the prophecy which contains the Great Commission. Did you know that the “comfort section” of Isaiah 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 with all due respect to those translators, they’re 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—God 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.” Now, is it really the Son who’s being addressed here? This can be confusing because sometimes the one being addressed is called “Israel” and sometimes “servant” (Isaiah’s common designation for the Messiah in the comfort section) 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 within just a few verses? Because God’s Messiah was not the nation of Israel itself, yet He could be identified with the nation because He was their covenant head (v. 8)—their representative (cf. Ro. 5:12-21). So here, whether being called “Israel” or “servant,” the one being addressed is the Messiah.

You know, Paul and Barnabas saw this passage as the Great Commission too. They did; they quoted from v. 6 in Ac. 13:47 when they were forced to defend before the Jewish leaders their missionary efforts to the Gentiles: “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.’” Notice that they said God gave the command to them. The commission certainly was not given to them, right? Yes, it wasn’t given to them 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 by commissioning them just as He had been commissioned by God the Father. So, Paul and Barnabas could 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 commits Himself to give His Son—the second person of the Trinity—to die for His people, which don’t only come from Israel but from the “the nations... to the end of the earth.” But, when did this commission occur? Well, we do not know for certain because Isaiah doesn’t tell us when the words were spoken. He recorded the words in the eighth 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 (cf. Jn. 5:30, 43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12) and the plan of redemption was part of God’s eternal decree (cf. Eph. 1:4ff; 3:11; 2 Th. 2:13; 2 Ti. 1:9; Js. 2:5; 1 Pt. 1:2), therefore Jesus’ task must also have been part of God’s eternal decree before the world was even created.

The baby born in a manger in Bethlehem is the servant, Israel, the Messiah to whom God speaks in Is. 49. He’s 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 even 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, but it was part of God’s plan before there even was a world. Jesus accepted the plan from God the Father, passed it on to His disciples, and it has been passed down again and again for two thousand years. Soon, however, Jesus will return in His second advent to finish what He started and take us all into the new heavens and new earth. But, for now we celebrate the first advent and continue to fulfill the Great Commission, which was given to the Son by the Father and passed on to us by the Son.

On this day of Advent remember that God had planned to save you even before the world existed. Indeed, Paul tells us that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” Remember also that Jesus accepted the task of becoming your atoning sacrifice even before sin had entered the universe. Think about the Great Commission given to Jesus and the Disciple’s Commission given to us, and consider how you can obey this commission by spreading the good news of Christmas this Advent season. Remember that there is a world out there full of sinners in desperate need of Jesus—the “light for the nations.” Ask God to give you opportunities to fulfill this commission by sharing the gospel, and ask Him to help you not to duck when He gives you those opportunities.

By His Grace,

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