“Listen to Me, you islands, hear this you distant nations.” Isaiah 49:1
Working our way through the book of Isaiah until the end of the 48th chapter, with the exception of a few glorious high spots of hope, can be hard reading! God’s call to His people is to return to Him through repentance, while at the same time lamenting that because of their sin-hardened hearts they would never be able to return whole-heartedly (Isaiah 42:18-25). God forewarned them that their path would ultimately lead them into the distant land of exile, carried far away from the Temple, no longer to have access to His loving Presence or the blessedness under His rule and reign, instead to experience life under the rule of oppressive foreign powers (which happens at the end of chapter 39).
It’s into this context that chapter 49 opens with what must have sounded like the best news ever to those experiencing the humiliation, devastation and yearning for home that exile produced. God was sending Someone with the exact sort of help His people needed. He announced news of His ‘Servant’ to all those expelled from the hope of God’s Presence. Here was Someone Who would do on their behalf, what Israel was incapable of doing; to faithfully keep God’s covenant requirements, and to fully reflect God as His witnesses to the ‘nations’ – the gentiles. This Servant was born to ‘bring Jacob back to Him, that Israel might be gathered to Him,’ and also to enable Israel to fulfil their calling to be the ‘light to the nations.’ (v5-6).
At this extremely low point in the life of God’s chosen people, some 700 years before Christ, God was inviting His people to enter into the future hope of His Gospel plan of salvation for all the nations, by introducing His coming suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, it is not until Acts 8, through the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch (someone who was experiencing His own ‘exile’ from the Temple: Deut 23:1), that we see the evidence of the promise that all the nations (not only chosen Israel) are welcomed into God’s Presence, in and through the Name of His Servant, Jesus Christ!
What are the implications for us today of this glorious announcement in Isaiah Chapter 49 and its outworking seen in Acts chapter 8?
- God has created us for nearness with Him! This is what our heart is really longing for when we feel rejected, outcast or distant.
- Even as new creations in Christ, our works of repenting and returning for our own sin, and as intercessors on behalf of the sins of our communities, will always fall short of what is required by a Holy God, to enable us to enjoy the favour and blessing of God’s Presence. It is only through faith in Christ, as our Righteous Representative, that we and those we intercede for, can experience closeness with God.
- The good news of the Gospel is a proclamation that exile is over! In light of what Christ has achieved, believers are compelled to ‘draw near’ (Heb 10:19-22), trusting that we are no longer ‘distant islands’ from God’s Presence, but deeply connected (and it’s okay if your faith only runs to being a peninsula just now!)
- The more time we invest in becoming available to the Presence of the God of all the nations, the more we find our hearts aligned with His mission to rescue other island people out there; those who willingly or through the things done to them, live on the fringes! Who are the exiles that you already know? Could we become more like Philip, who left Samaria, taking a long journey into a distant deserted place, (which may be less than a metre in geographical proximity) to bring the Good News of inclusion in The Servant, to an excluded outsider?
Lord God, we are amazed at the scope and reach of Your grace and kindness. As people of Ireland, we were those outside the Covenant, who were ‘without God and without hope in the world.’ But we have been included in The Servant and now our spiritual exile is over. We now are people who, by faith, live before Your face in love. We wait in hope until that day when faith will turn to sight. Until then, send us to the islands, those who are yet excluded from Your Presence, to share with them, the way home.
For Your glorious Name’s sake