Too Small a Thing

Too Small a Thing

“Afghanistan, listen to me. Russia, France, Zimbabwe, pay attention to what I’m saying. Singapore, open your ears. Australia, this is something you need to hear.”

You would think me strange to call the nations of the earth to pay attention to what I am about to say. Truth is, they aren’t paying attention to me or you. They have no clue we’re even here, or who we are. They perceive us as neither blessing nor threat.

But that is exactly how Isaiah 49 begins. The Servant of the Lord says,

Listen to me, O coastlands,
Pay attention,
You people from far away!”
—Isaiah 49:1

Who is this strange speaker who believes his work is so important that all the nations ought to sit up and take notice? I’m glad you asked because he gives us his bio in the following verses.

The LORD called me before I was born,
While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
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.
And he said to me,
‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom, I will be glorified.’”
—Isaiah 49:1b-3

This “Servant of the Lord” reminds us of other characters we have known.  Jeremiah, the one called while still in the womb. Sarah’s baby, born to a mother and father far past child-bearing years. The prophets of Israel given sharp tongues.

Who is this Servant? A person or a people? Is the Servant past, present, or future? Does the Servant speak for God or to God or as God? Clearly, from the bio, we know that the Servant is called and sent by God, belongs to God, and has the stated mission to glorify God. And we New Testament folk who read this today think it sounds a lot like Jesus.

It probably doesn’t matter to us whether we decide that the Servant of the Lord is a prophet, a people, or the coming Messiah – because this speaks to all of us. We are the servants of the Lord. We belong to God. We’ve been called. We’ve been commissioned to speak a cutting, penetrating word. We are expected to bring glory to God. The work of the God-servant is world-changing. The whole world should be listening.

But when we get to 49:4, the Servant is in deep despair. Nothing is working out. Everything he touches breaks. His words are dull, not sharp. His arrow-messages don’t hit the target. So he says,

I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
—Isaiah 49:4

Sounds like a resignation speech in the making because sometimes, well—there’s not much to show for our work.

Israel had narrowed her focus to the cause of getting back home, restoring the fortunes of Jacob, returning to Yesteryear. She could only imagine a narrow Jewish agenda.

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him …
he says,
‘It is too light a thing
that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”
—Isaiah 49:5-7

God tells his servant, who feels like a total failure, that he has set his sights on too small a work, too light a challenge, too little a task. This happens so easily in Exile. We shrink, hope shrinks, mission shrinks.

Is it possible that the church of Jesus, in cultural exile today, has done the same thing? Shrunk her vision to returning to Yesteryear, to getting back to the culture of yesterday, recovering all that we have lost?

I’ll answer this question in my next post.

Today’s post is an excerpt from The Church in Exile.

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