Thematic Address 3: “Light for the Nations” - Rev Dr Paul Swarup

Thematic Address 3: “Light for the Nations” - Rev Dr Paul Swarup

I am really glad to be part of this 4th Global South to South encounter and I thank God for giving me this opportunity to be part of this forum. I would also like to thank Arch Bishop Chew for persuading me to come and also address this august body from the Southern half of the world on the theme of being a light to the nations.  In the statement released about the purpose of this Encounter we were told that the aim is to further develop what it means to be the ‘One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ’ particularly in our common life and witness in and for the Gospel.  The emphases is on being a Covenant people and a people of the Light so that we may ‘relate to one another in covenantal and communion autonomy with accountability in matters of faith  and order; partnerships and networks in existing and new mission fields; and mutual capacity building for increased self-reliance for greater service.’


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Light for the Nations

I. The Covenant background

The theme I have been asked to address is being a ‘Light for the nations’.  Yesterday we heard about being a Covenant People.  In the Covenant with Abraham we noted that Abraham was called by God to be a blessing to the nations.  In Gen 18:19 we note that Yahweh says:

For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his childrenand his household after him to keep the way of the LORDby doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him" (Gen 18:19 TNIV).

Abraham was chosen with the specific purpose of being a blessing to the nations.  However, we notice that this part of the covenant promise will only be fulfilled when Abraham directs his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.  In his call we see that ELECTION – ETHICS – MISSION go together.  The purpose of the call of Abraham (Election) was that Abraham would direct his children to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is just and right (Ethics) so that the Lord would bring about for Abraham what he had promised him – that is – to be a blessing to the nations (Mission).  The call of Abraham may have been particular but the purpose is universal.  Abraham’s descendents were to be a people with a mission, a purpose: namely to bring blessing to the nations.  The means of fulfilling this covenant was by walking in God’s way.  They were to be a people who would reflect the character of God and therefore the stress on righteousness and justice and of the obedience of Abraham.  Justice and righteousness are again not abstract concepts but the way they lived their life in community. Two Hebrew words sedeqand mishpat account for the comprehensive concept of justice in the OT.  Sedeq is the art of maintaining loyalty and reliability throughout the ever changing flow of life.  It refers to the ‘standard’ or ‘norm’ or the ‘rightness’ as things ought to be from God’s perspective. Mishpat on the other side is the act of righting the wrong; of making the scales equal in a balance.  It is the act of restoring people, to give them a new chance if they had fallen off from the mainstream of life.  In many ways mishpat is giving course correction and restoring things.
 

II. The Servant – A Light to the Nations

In this address I would like us to look in detail at one of the ‘Servant Songs’ from Isaiah to draw insight on what it means to be a light to the nations.  This phrase ‘light to the nations’ occurs twice in the servant songs and then once in Luke and twice in Acts though there is a slight variation in Acts 26:23 and Luke 2:32 (Isa 42:6; 49:6, Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47 and Acts 26:23).  I would like us to examine these texts from the ‘Servant Songs’ , Luke and Acts in order to understand what this phrase meant, means, and continues to mean for each one of us as members of the community of Christ.

The first text is taken from Isa 42:1-7 which reads as follows:

TNIV  Isaiah 42:1"Here is my servant,whom I uphold, my chosen onein whom I delight;I will put my Spiriton him, and he will bring justiceto the nations.

 2 He will not shout or cry out,or raise his voice in the streets.

 3 A bruised reedhe will not break,and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justiceon earth. In his teachingthe islandswill put their hope."

 5 This is what God the LORD says-- he who created the heavensand stretched them out, who spread out the earthwith all that springs from it,who gives breathto its people, and life to those who walk on it:

 6 "I, the LORD, have calledyou in righteousness;I will take hold of your hand.I will keepyou and will make you to be a covenantfor the people and a lightfor the Gentiles,

 7 to open eyes that are blind,to freecaptives from prisonand to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Isa 42:1-7 TNIV)

The servant was the one whom God had chosen (Election) and he was the one in whom God delighted.  Just like how Abraham was called, here we see the servant being called by God. Secondly, we notice that the servant is not only called but he is also equipped for the mission by the Spirit of God (42:1).  Those whom God calls he also equips.  Finally, we see that the servant is also given a Mission. He was to bring justice to the nations.  The LXX already talks about Jacob in the first line and ‘Israel my chosen’ in the second showing how the ancient readers identified the Servant with the nation.  In this context it may refer to an ‘ideal Israel’ because the nation Israel was far from what it was meant to be at this time.  The equipping of the Servant with the Spirit of God indicates the prophetic activity of the servant.  Prophets spoke in the name of the Lord and did both foretell- tell what the future held, or forthtell – to confront situations of injustice.   This is seen as one of the main tasks of the Servant as we see the word justice (mishpat) occurring three times in the first four verses: he will bring justice to the nations (v 1); in faithfulness he will bring forth justice (v 3); till he establishes justice on earth (v 4).  If mishpat is ‘course correction’ then the servant because of his via dolorosa among his own nation was to bring God’s mishpat to the Gentiles in an indirect way, so becoming their light.

The manner in which the Servant carried out his mission is worthy to be noticed.  Kings on their ascension to the throne usually reenacted their laws and had them publicly proclaimed.  However, this was not the way the Servant was going to bring about justice.  He was not going to cry out or raise his voice in the streets.  One commentator says that the servant would accomplish his work not by ‘clamorous self-assertion in the high places of the world, but by silent spiritual influences ‘.  The servant was not going to attract attention to himself and we notice that it is this element that is picked up by Matthew in referring to Jesus in Matt 12:18 where he quotes Isa 42 and applies it to Jesus when Jesus moves away from the crowd after healing people and constantly tells them not to tell anybody about who had healed them.

3A bruised reedhe will not break,and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justiceon earth. In his teachingthe islandswill put their hope."

A bruised reed he will not break nor will he snuff out a smouldering wick. The attitude of the servant is one of compassion to the broken, the bruised and the dying out.  Those who feel that they are broken and are at their wits end not knowing what to do can take encouragement in the words of the servant that he would not snuff them out but rather sustain them.  The bruised reed is symbolic of those who are oppressed and the dimly burning wick of those who feel that they have nothing left in this world.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice for them. Here again we see that for the oppressed and the downtrodden the Servant would bring about mishpat – justice/ judgment/course correction/ and restoration.  The Servant will do this because of his faithfulness.  The Servant himself will not be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  The Servant has come to put right the things that have gone wrong.  We notice that neither Israel nor any prophet was able to do this.  It is only Jesus through his death and resurrection who establishes justice on the earth.  Jesus therefore comes and resolutely heads towards Jerusalem as he wants to accomplish the purpose for which he came to this earth till he cries out, ‘It is finished’ on the cross and commits his spirit into the Father’s hands.  The righting of the wrongs has begun from the day of resurrection and so we are called to do the same as the followers of Jesus.  The coast lands will put their hope in his instruction.  The coast lands are a reference to distant places.  The Servant not only establishes justice but through his instruction the islands will put their hope.  The Hebrew word for ‘instruction’ is Torah.  In another place Yahweh addresses the nation saying:  ‘Listen to me, my people;hear me,my nation: Instructionwill go out from me; my justicewill become a light to the nations.’ (Isa 51:4 TNIV).  Isa 51:4 associates Yahweh’s instruction and justice as becoming a light to the nations.  The covenant also has the basic meaning of obligation rather than mutual relationship.  And so as we talk about being a covenant people we are obligated to God’s instruction and his justice and to each other. The instruction that has been given to us has to be the guiding factor in all our decisions and deliberations.  If justice is seen as setting right things that have gone wrong, then the Global South Community has to walk in the way of the Lord by doing justice and righteousness and thereby being a blessing to the Communion. As we mutually practice his mishpat and walk according to his instruction then we will become a light to the nations.

5This is what God the LORD says-- he who created the heavensand stretched them out, who spread out the earthwith all that springs from it,who gives breathto its people, and life to those who walk on it:

 6 "I, the LORD, have calledyou in righteousness;I will take hold of your hand. I will keepyou and will make you to be a covenantfor the people and a lightfor the Gentiles,

 7 to open eyes that are blind,to freecaptives from prisonand to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Yahweh the creator of the heavens and the earth, of all human life and everything that exists reminds the servant that he has called the servant in righteousness.  The phrase ‘in righteousness’ indicates that the calling was according to the purpose of God – from the perspective of God. He would take hold of the Servant’s hand – in other words Yahweh would be the Servant’s guide, leading him by the hand (Hos 11:3). He was also going to be the protector of the Servant.  Yahweh’s protection would be upon him as he carried out his mission.  The Servant’s role is now specified when Yahweh says that he was going to make him as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations.  A person could not possibly be a covenant but a mediator of the covenant.  The Servant was going to be the means by which the covenant with the people was going to be established.  This aspect of the Servant is ultimately fulfilled as Jesus establishes the new covenant with the people of God, through his own death and resurrection (Heb 8:6).  The servant’s role was also to be a light for the Gentiles – the non Jews.  Light here symbolizes deliverance from bondage and oppression.  The servant’s role was to bring salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6) and his justice would become a light to the nations, and his salvation was on the way to them.  In Isaiah 49 we see a text which holds together both ideas of being a covenant for the people and a light to the nations:

TNIV  Isaiah 49:6he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servantto restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.I will also make you a lightfor the Gentiles,that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."

 (Isa 49:6 TNIV)

The Servants role was not to be limited just to the nation of Israel but was to go beyond that.  He was to be a light for the nations so that Yahweh’s salvation would reach the ends of the earth.
 

III. Jesus the Servant – A Light to the Nations

As much as we have seen the picture of the Servant in the OT, neither Israel as a nation, nor any individual, whether prophet or king was able to fulfill the role of the servant.  It is only when we look at the life of Jesus that we see complete fulfillment of the Servant’s role.  Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to the temple on the 40th day for the purification rites of Mary as well as for the consecration of the firstborn child.  Simeon, a man of God was waiting to see the birth of the Messiah as the Holy Spirit had told him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.  He was guided by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple courts to see the baby Jesus.  As soon as he sees Jesus, he picks him up in his arms and says:

29"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismissyour servant in peace.

 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."

 (Luk 2:29-32 TNIV)

Simeon is praising God that he has seen the Messiah who was going to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.  Jesus was and is the light to the nations.  Salvation comes through Jesus.  God has come among human beings because Jesus the Messiah has come.  Jesus reveals God to us because without revelation we will never be able to understand God.  The coming of the Messiah is at the centre of salvation.  Salvation is now available to the ends of the earth.  Salvation is described as light to the nations.

Jesus also makes the claim that he is the light of the world: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I amthe light of the world.Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12 TNIV)

Light suggests the illumination of a dark place. In the NT we see that it is a frequent image of Jesus and his work (Acts 13:47; Matt 4:16; 5:14; John 1:7; 12:35, 46; 2 Cor 4:6).  Jesus shows that as the light of the world he is a God who is active and saves people from the darkness of this world (John 1:5).  Jesus brings justice to the nations.  The light that he is, and the light of salvation that he offers is not restricted only to the Jews but it is available for all of humanity, and appropriated by those who believe in Jesus.  Jesus, the light of the world, confronted the powers of darkness.  Through his death and resurrection all the powers of darkness and death have been defeated.  Principalities and powers have been destroyed because of the resurrection.  Jesus as the light always challenged darkness.  In this Easter season we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus who announced God’s saving grace and sovereign kingdom; the Jesus who died to disarm the power of this world’s rulers and to destroy all the principalities and powers.
 

IV.  The People of God – A Light to the Nations

44On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was sayingand heaped abuseon him.

 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first.Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.

 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I have made youa light for the Gentiles,that youmay bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord;and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

 (Act 13:44-48 TNIV)

Paul and Barnabas were in Pisidian Antioch preaching in the synagogue and the Jews were filled with jealousy and they opposed Paul and abused him.  Paul then tells them that the Jews were to receive the word of God first, but since they had rejected it and did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life they had to go to the Gentiles. Paul then quotes Isa 49:6 stating that this is what the Lord had commanded them: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’  What was earlier on applied to the Servant in Isaiah, later on fulfilled by Jesus, is now carried on by the community of faith.  The disciples were made to be a light to the nations so that they too would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  This was only possible because of the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ has to be carried out by the Community of faith.  Paul picks up the theme of the covenant with Abraham in Gal 3:26-29 where he states as follows:

26So in Christ Jesus you are all children of Godthrough faith,

 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christhave clothed yourselves with Christ.

 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,neither male nor female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 29 If you belong to Christ,then you are Abraham's seed,and heirsaccording to the promise.

 (Gal 3:26-29 TNIV)                                                                                                                   

We are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are all equal before God.  Paul concludes by saying that if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.  The promise to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to the nations if he and his household walked in the way of the Lord by doing justice and righteousness.  This is continued by the Covenant Community of all those who are in Christ.  As we walk in the way of the Lord and do justice and righteousness then we will be involved in fulfilling the Mission of God.
 

V.  A Call to the Global South to be a Light to the Nations

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus addresses his disciples and tells them that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

13"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

 14 "You are the light of the world.A city on a hill cannot be hidden.

 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others,that they may see your good deedsand glorifyyour Father in heaven.

 (Mat 5:13-16 TNIV)

Jesus uses the metaphors of salt and light because they share some common characteristics.  Salt and light both have qualities which are proactive in preventing things from going bad.  Just as salt is rubbed onto meat to prevent it from going bad so also the light prevents darkness from taking control.  Salt has a cutting edge about it and light has an exposing element in it.  Both expose corruption and stem the rot.  However, as light to the nations is the area of our focus, I would like us to look at four qualities of light:

LIGHT

Jesus challenges us to be the ‘light of the world’ .  In those days it was a clay lamp which lit the whole house.  It burned with olive oil drawn by a wick. 

Jesus also said “a city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on a stand and it gives light to everyone in the house.” 

What are some of the characteristics of light that we are called to imbibe?

1. Light Illuminates

Light needs to illuminate and give direction. 

Illus. Lighthouse

A lighthouse directs ships towards the harbour in the same way Jesus says “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”  Our lifestyles need to be pointers to God and our community as sign posts to God.  We should be like a lighthouse and give direction to others rather than attract attention to ourselves. 

2. Lights Directs

On a dark night a speck of light in the distance is enough to keep us going.  A lantern in hand is enough to show what the next step ought to be.  The song Lead Kindly light says:

“The night is dark and I am far from home, Lead thou me on.

 Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me.”

Illus. Light house keeper & Battle Ship.

A bright light in their direction.  Thinking it was another ship the captain gave orders that they should change their course.

We need to be people who would act as sign posts directing people towards God.

3. Light Reveals

It is by our good works that others will know who God is?  Our lives need to attract people to Christ.  Somebody once said that our lives are the fifth gospel and that may be the only gospel some people may ever see.

4. Light Shines in the Midst of Darkness

The place of light is in the midst of darkness.  We may see the powers of darkness working all around us; but this is where our work is.  We are called to challenge the powers of darkness, principalities and powers.

Illus.  Train Accident/ Fused bulbs – no gates but only a watchman with a lamp

Are we like empty lanterns without any light?

We sometimes have all the trappings of Christianity but there is no change in our hearts.  The challenge that Jesus places before us is to be renewed so that we can truly be the salt and the light of the world

Conclusion

We started by looking at the covenant with Abraham where Yahweh had promised Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations.  We noticed in Gen 18:19 that God had called Abraham in order that he would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord would bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. Election, Ethics and Mission are directly related to each other.  If we have been called as the Covenant Community then we are called to lead ethical lives so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach the ends of the earth. Even though God’s call was to a particular person in a particular period in a particular location, the purpose was for the universal blessing of humanity.  Through Abraham the nation of Israel was to fulfill the role of a Servant and be a blessing to the nations, but Israel miserably failed in her mission.  It is Jesus the suffering Servant who eventually fulfilled the role of a Servant and brought blessing to the nations by his life, death and resurrection.  After the resurrection of Jesus, the early Christians carried on this work of being a light to the nations as they shared the good news of Jesus from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Now, the Global South believing community has the same ethical challenge before it.  We are the descendents of Abraham by faith in Jesus. We too are called to keep the way of the Lord.  If we walk in the way of the Lord – by following the instruction of the Lord – in other words God’s word is to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.  Scripture has to be our guiding factor in our decision making.

If we pursue justice – that is if we seek course correction – if we act as a plumb line showing where the wall has gone off plumb then we would be acting as the light to the nations.  We can only be a light to the nations by doing justice – by this we are calling people to be accountable.  Peter proclaims to the Jews in his encounter with Cornelius that he was proclaiming Jesus whom God appointed judge of the living and the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the final putting-to-rights of all human injustice. In the light of the Resurrection, the Covenant Community must never stop reminding the world's rulers and authorities as well as its own rulers and authorities that they themselves will be held to account, and that they must do justice and bring wise, healing order to God's world ahead of the day of the Lord’s coming.

The Global South of the Anglican Communion is called to be a light to the nations.  As the covenant community we need to illumine the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Only Jesus can remove the veil that blinds.  Paul says that whenever people turn to Jesus the veil is taken away (2 Cor 3:16).  Just as God’s word guides and directs the faithful, the covenant community is to be deeply rooted and grounded in God’s word so that we are no longer ‘infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming’ (Eph 4:14 TNIV).  As light reveals the covenant community of the Global South is to expose all that is evil and not of the Lord.  We are called to shine in the midst of darkness. We are called the Covenant Community who will be speaking the truth in love so that we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ (Eph 4:15).  May we as the Global South Covenant Community of the Anglican Communion truly be a light to the nations.

Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, p.96.

Skinner, Isaiah XL-LXVI, p. 30.

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