Theme: God’s worldwide focus is not just because he loved the whole world, although that’s true. Part of the reason that the church has a worldwide focus is because any less is unworthy of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are dealing with a God sized vision, a God sized plan, a God sized sacrifice and this sacrifice is for all of creation, heaven and earth, visible and invisible brought under one head so that every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Well, it is two different scripture verses that I will read to you today. One comes from Isaiah 60 and one comes from Isaiah 49, verses 5 to 7. Two different sets of verses in the same section of scripture and I will explain a little bit about that to you in just a moment. A number of years ago there was a newspaper article in Japan because a prominent Japanese businessman had bought a Van Gogh painting. It was a very expensive one and he had bought it at an auction and then after he had bought it in the 1980s it disappeared and no one saw it after that. It had gone in to his private collection and no one knew anything about it. And the reason why all of these newspaper articles were being written and people were writing in editorials and everything else is because this person died and rumor was he was having the painting buried with him or burned with him in his cremation; a Van Gogh painting. And so people were in outrage about this. That something this valuable, something this important isn’t. You know it might be legal to do this, but it’s a crime anyway. This is far too valuable and so there is all of this outcry. Ultimately a few weeks later, it was several weeks that they were worried about this, a few weeks later they found the painting in a warehouse. The man had asked that the painting be destroyed with his body, but people didn’t do it.
When we think about something like this, we think about what an incredible waste it is to do something like this; to take something this valuable and to keep it for private use or then worse than that to destroy it and yet that is what Israel did with the blessings of God and that’s a danger constantly for the church as well. We have been entrusted with something precious and we have to be very careful that we never ever come to the point that we view this as something that’s for us and us alone. That’s one of the themes that comes up this time of year for the church, is that we have been blessed, but we have been blessed in order that that blessing might reflect out and go to people all around the world.
I want to go to Isaiah 60 right now and we will read the first five verses, because it talks about this kind of blessing that’s hit God’s people.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
“Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiate, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.”
Let’s pray. God we thank you for this your word and pray that your word will be rooted in our hearts and our minds, and we pray that as I speak about this and as we listen together, that you will take the things of merit there and root those in our hearts together with your word and let anything that is not of value, we pray that you will erase those things. For we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
So, here’s a picture of the light coming out upon the people of God and the blessings of the presence of God, being with God’s people, and there the blessing comes, and the nations are attracted to this glory and this blessing. Israel was called to be blessed, but Israel was called to be a blessing, to be a witness to the world about what God was doing inside of their life as a nation. This goes all the way back to the very foundation of the nation, back to the call of Abraham, in Genesis 12, this promise comes to Abraham.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Now, this is the father of the whole nation of Israel. This is the person that they say is the root of their nation and this is the root promise that formed their nation, that they were going to be blessed by God, but they were blessed in order to bring a blessing to all the people’s on earth.
Jesus quotes Isaiah when he says that the temple is to be a house of prayer, not just for Israel, but for all nations. Again, the breath of God’s focus is upon the world. In the Christmas story that we finished up with this week, the Magi came to see Jesus and they had come from a different country. They are Gentiles. They are non-Jews and they had come to see this blessing that’s given to Israel, because this blessing is ultimately a blessing for the whole world. We find it all through scripture. It’s always part of the message of the prophets. God is God of the whole world and Israel then is God’s witness to that world. So that means that God is not a God just of a particular river or hill or a particular geographic place. There are people who believe that about God. In the Japanese religion of Shinto there is some of that feeling that there are special Gods in particular places. In Hinduism there is that thinking and in Animism. And so, then your God is a God but he is only God of mountains or only God of this particular river or maybe even if he is a small God just of this tree.
Well, this is not the God we serve. God is not a national God either. Egypt felt like they had Gods that had a special interest in Egypt and no one else and so they had this confidence in the national deities, and in fact throughout the Middle East in the time of the Old Testament, that was basically the mindset; is that if you had a God that was a God for your country. Americans are tempted to think that way sometimes. Because we have a few more Christians statistically in our culture, we kind of think that God is obliged to be on our side in a trade dispute or in a war, and we forget that it is our responsibility to always make sure we are on God’s side. He has no obligation to be our national God, because he is God of the earth. And so even though God is Israel’s God, the focus is always on the whole world. If you go and study in the perspective course you are going to learn that, because that is the focus we find in scripture. God works in his people. God does things in his people, but there is always the breath of all creation that’s on the heart of God, because our God is a global God.
Isaiah 49, verses 5 to 7 have the same message or a related message. The words in both chapter 60 and chapter 49 come at a troubled time for Israel. Enemy powers are on the rise. There is moral and spiritual compromise in their nation and the message is that Israel will be taken over and dispersed. So its not a very positive message in so many ways, but they are words of hope in the Book of Isaiah as well, where the prophet reminds them that all of these terrible things that are happening are only for a time and God’s deliverance will ultimately come in fullness to his people. And so chapters 40 to 66 describe God’s promised hope to Israel and it’s a phenomenal section of scripture. These passages more than any other passages in the Old Testament are ones that are used in the New Testament to describe Jesus Christ. It’s a very important section of scripture. And again and again in these chapters we hear about this servant that would be the hope of Israel and the world, the one who hears Gods call, who obeys God, who is just and gentle, who suffers and dies for the people, who becomes Savior and king. In chapter 49, verses 5 to 7 talk about this king and I would like to read that to you.
“And now the Lord says, he who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of my Lord and my God has been my strength-he says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes to Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”
I will stop there at verse 6. “It’s too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” It’s too small a thing for Christ to just be the Savior of Israel. Now, imagine the task of restoring Israel at this point, when Isaiah is speaking to them. Israel had had probably about 700 years of failure. They had fallen into idolatry, shrines on every mountaintop. They were called to worship one God and instead they had fallen into this trap of worshipping all kinds of different gods and having monuments to that. They were ignorant of God’s communication, and of the law. Israel had gotten to the point that they actually, at one point in their history, lost the law. You know they didn’t have hundreds of thousands of copies coming off of printing presses. They had limited copies and at one point they actually forgot where it was, and for years they didn’t read it, they didn’t understand it. They didn’t know what God had promised to the nation. Woefully ignorant. They were morally bankrupt. The poor were oppressed. There were bribes in the courts,all kinds of greed rampant in their society, sexual sin. They were divided as a nation. They had forgotten their calling and, in fact, Israel never really got a handle of a core part of their calling to be a light to the nation. And so then they are scattered among a half dozen nations because of God’s judgment against their sin. It involves hundreds of thousands of people and then when Isaiah speaks of this servant, it says it’s too little a thing for you to be my servant just to raise up Israel. You are going to be my light so that nations to the very end of the earth will be able to see the glory of God.
So, that tells us some things that we need to know as we go into a New Year this year. The thing we need to understand today is that God’s worldwide focus is not just because he loved the whole world, although that’s true. Part of the reason that the church has a worldwide focus is because any less is unworthy of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are dealing with a God sized vision, a God sized plan, a God sized sacrifice and this sacrifice is for all of creation, heaven and earth, visible and invisible brought under one head so that every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
So, when we are embraced in that as the church, we are caught up into a movement in history that has gone on for thousands and thousands of years that will not be complete until God embraces all of creation. We are compelled to have a global vision because our God is a global God. And so, that’s something that needs to be kind of front and center as we look forward to a new year as a church and as individuals. As a church, we as leaders, have to constantly remind ourselves that we don’t exist just for ourselves, that we can do things that we like and minister to our needs, but we ultimately don’t exist just for ourselves. So, there always has to be a focus on outreach, things that we do in order to reach out and serve other people, things that we do in partnership with people in Baltimore, things that we do in partnership with people all around the world. This always has to be part of who we are. And so as we look at a new year we need to praying for our leadership, that we will continue to remember schools and prisons and the homeless, the issue of starting other churches, college ministries, rehabilitation in the lives of adults who are trying to get over the lives ravaged by drugs, street children in other countries, Brazil, the Middle East, Thailand, the Philippines, tsunami victims.
God is at work in all of the earth and we as a church need to be sure that we are involved with him. And so that’s got to be on our radar screen as we begin a new year. We are blessed, and so we need to look back and say, “God thank you for where we are,” but then we need to turn around and say we are then blessed in order to have that glory and that blessing go out to other people.
Then we have to look at our personal lives as well. Is our vision and our picture of God too small? Are you content to have a God who’s just here to bless you? You know if that were God’s purpose that he just wants to reach us and bless us, then we could have heard the gospel and then immediately been translated into heaven and that would have been quite a site you know. You walk down the street, and somebody prays and then they are gone. It might not be a bad evangelistic strategy, but it’s not one that God has used. But, instead he lets us stay here because we have a message to proclaim, and he wants to bless us in order that that blessing might go out to other people. He wants to show us his glory so that glory might reflect off of us and be seen by other people, and he also blesses us because even after we believe, we are not the people that he wants us to be yet. We are cleansed in Christ, but he wants us to become through our choices, through our growth, be the holy and blameless people he has recreated us to be. And so for all of those reasons God forms us together as a people and leads us here and so we as individuals have to keep that vision in mind as we think about a new year in our own lives.
So it’s a start of a new year and if your vision is a little too small, then there is plenty of chances this year to start changing that. We have made decisions as a church that we want to do things that increase our impact on the world, and so we have done things, even our building campaign is part of that. We are trying to set up a stronger base of ministry here, but we have partnerships and other things that we are doing where we are trying to get deeper and trying to invest more of our resources and more of our people time in other groups in outreach. But, on a personal level, there are things you can do as well. First of all, you can learn more. If your vision is too small then take the opportunity to learn. We offer adult classes and things like that, in particular I want to highlight the perspectives course. That is an intensive 16-week course that we are offering right here for people all over Baltimore that will allow you to look at the whole historical sweep of scripture and understand our calling as a church inside of that biblical picture and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the world as well. So that’s one thing you can do. You can look at the newspaper in new ways and look there to see what God is doing in the world and how we can be partners with that. You can look on the Internet with that in mind. You can read newsletters by missionaries. There are things you can do to learn. So that’s the first thing you do.
But there are things we can actually do that go beyond this learning. We can do more. One of those things is to pray. We already have two prayer meetings on Wednesday. You can be part of that. If you want to start another prayer meeting, go ahead and do it. We will bless it and try to do everything we can to help you succeed in that. There are opportunities to pray. If you are a part of missionary care teams, those groups often pray for their missionaries together. Your small groups can pray more than they pray right now about needs of the church and the community and the world. You can adopt a missionary as a small group and pray for them when you gather together. You can pray for your neighborhood and maybe get together with some of the other Christians in your neighborhood and take prayer walks and actually pray that God would actually have an impact in your neighborhood. So you can pray because your eyes are on what’s going on outside.
You can also give. We talked about giving a lot. We talked about the opportunities to give to this special relief right now. Giving is naturally an opportunity that goes into the new year. You can serve as another thing to do. You can give hospitality in your neighborhood and listen to friends at work. You can serve in the city. You can work for the sake of homeless people in Baltimore County. You can go on short-term mission trips overseas. If you don’t have something that’s really got your attention, let me suggest one. At this start of a new year, if I am going to make one suggestion of a new place where you can put your energy in and serve in a strategic way, I would say serve with Alpha. It’s here so it’s easy to get to. It’s solid. It’s focused on the needs of people who have not yet made a decision for Jesus Christ and it will bless you 100 times over just because of the quality of interactions that you have there and the quality of the teaching. So, if you are not involved and you are kind of looking for a place, there are many places to serve, but let me suggest you start with Alpha.
These are wonderful opportunities to step forward into a new year, because here we are at the start of a new year, and we are called to be a people who care about the things God cares about. We are called to share his heart for a lost world. We are called to become informed about that world, to pray for people, to give of our resources, and to be involved personally. That’s a pattern for every year of life and right now as we cross in to a new year, it’s a good time to be reminded of that.
So instead of maybe a good New Year’s resolution, maybe there’s a prayer or a focus that we could have for a new year, that the glory of the Lord would be revealed through us to eyes that have never yet seen that glory. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if that God chose to work in us that way? That the glory of the Lord would be seen in us by eyes that have never yet seen the Lord. God can do that in us. God is already doing that among us.
And so when in a few moments in worship we go to this table, we are going to a table that reminds us of the foundation of all of this in what Jesus Christ has done and sacrificed in order to make a people of God and give grace to the people of God, but it’s also a table that reminds us that there is another table that is going to be set in the future and it’s going to be at the wedding supper of the land. It’s going to be a big party, a much more bounteous table in ways than this, but it’s really the same table, because this is the foundation. So right now we have a fore-taste. This congregation here along with other congregations all over the world on Sundays celebrating at this table, a foretaste of the day when people from every tribe and every nation gather together to celebrate the wedding of the land. Some of the people at that celebration are going to be people who first saw the glory of the Lord through this congregation. That would be wonderful and wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of those people who come to that celebration first saw the glory of the Lord through this congregation in 2005? The glory of Christ deserves nothing less than all the world. It is too like a thing, too small a thing, too little a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel that I have kept. “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles so that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Let’s pray. God we thank you for your blessings upon us, for the light that is shone on our lives and we pray now that we might be a light to those around us. Lord, we thank you for the ways you are already doing that in our lives and so now we pray that we continue to do that work as we face a new year together as a community. So bless this year Lord, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.