On a Mission (Sermon)
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a diagram of the difference between men and women buying a pair of jeans at the mall. The red arrow is the woman, and the blue arrow is the man. She spends 3.5 hours, visits 23 stores and ends up spending a large amount of cash on an assortment of products. He visits one store, walks out in 6 minutes with one pair of jeans. I’m sure it’s not true of everyone in here, but it’s probably true of some.
We joke about things like this, and when we do we might say something like, “The difference is he’s on a mission.” A mission—we use that word to describe someone who’s focused on a goal. If we say someone’s on a mission, we’re implying that they know where they’re going, they won’t get distracted, and they won’t stop until the task is completed.
A student who’s working hard to finish their degree…an entrepreneur starting his new business…a programmer with a deadline…we see their commitment and their focus, and we say, “Stay out of their way. They’re on a mission.”
As Christians, this word mission is very dear to us. We spend a lot of money supporting men and women called missionaries. We have a large line in our church budget called Missions Support. Many early missionaries established ministry outposts and called them missions. The word, and more importantly the concept, are deeply and intimately ingrained in Christianity.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to be on mission. We are called to live on mission. That means we have a goal, we fight distractions and we don’t quit until we succeed. Sadly, too many Christians and by extension too many churches wander around aimlessly. They have forgotten their mission!
Earlier this year, I made a statement, and I want to repeat it again this morning. I want you to get this. This is central to why we exist as a church. Here it is: movement without mission is meaningless.
You can come to church every week. You can attend a small group. You can take your children to a dozen different VBS programs this summer. You can stay busy with Christian things. But if you aren’t on mission, you’re just wasting energy. All of your religious movement apart from a mission for Jesus Christ has no meaning.
This morning, I want to challenge you to join the mission of Jesus Christ. If you feel like your Christian life is drifting aimlessly through the bargain racks at the mall, it’s because you’ve forgotten the mission you’re on. I want to remind you of that mission, to help you see how grand and glorious it is, and then invite you to join in our Savior’s mission.
The way we discover our mission is to see the mission of Jesus Christ. Why did He come? Why did He leave heaven’s throne and come to earth as a man? We are His disciples, His followers. As His followers, His mission provides us with direction for how we live. We are Christians (little Christs—imitators of Him). We need to join His mission. It’s only possible if we have a clear understanding of why He came.
Our passage this morning—Isaiah 42—gets to the heart of why Jesus came. He came for a specific reason. He came on a mission to bring salvation to the world.
(Isaiah 42:1–9 ESV) Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
As we journey through the Bible this year, focusing on how it speaks of Jesus Christ, we arrived last week in the book of Isaiah. We saw how Isaiah is a book about trust. He calls God’s people away from foolish confidence in false gods, unfaithful leaders and their own good works. He calls them to trust God through the One God will send.
This passage goes into greater detail about why God sent this One. It begins in verse 1 with God speaking. He’s speaking about someone called the Servant. Different people are called God’s servant in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is and the nation of Israel is. But the servant in this passage, and in a number of other passages is someone else. It’s the One we call the Messiah—the Promised One, the coming King, the Future Son.
Having the completed Scriptures, we can identify this One without a shred of doubt. He is Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the New Testament writers looked back at this passage from Isaiah and claimed that it was pointing to Jesus. Listen (from Matthew’s Gospel):
(Matthew 12:15–21 ESV) Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
That sounds familiar. We know this passage in Isaiah is talking about our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah, our King, Jesus Christ. Let’s dive in and see why He came. I want you to pay attention to His mission, its source and scope.
1. His mission has a heavenly source
The One speaking in Isaiah 42 is God Himself. He has a plan for the world. He commissioned His Son, Jesus, called the Christ, to come into the world on a very particular mission. We could say that the control room for this mission is the throne room of heaven.
I remember a very funny series of commercials that ran on television for a while. Each one would have a catastrophe—a natural disaster, a medical emergency, a nuclear meltdown. Everyone would start to panic. At that moment, someone would step out of the crowd and start to issue orders. This person would epitomize calm and control. He directed people to the right places. Barked commands. At some point, someone would turn to Him and ask, “Are you a ______ (a scientist, a doctor, a physicist, a policeman)?” He would respond, “No. But I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.” Silly, stupid, but funny commercials. Each time, they would question the person’s credentials, and the joke was that the person issuing the orders had no right to do so. He had no knowledge, no authority, no expertise.
What right does God have to make a plan for the world? Why should we care what His plan is? Is He an imposter asserting authority over the world that isn’t rightfully His?
(Isaiah 42:5 ESV) Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:
Two reasons God gets to make the plan. Two reason He determines the mission. He created the world, and He created men. He crafted the universe, and He animated molded clay into a living, breathing person. In other words, God has the knowledge. He has the authority. He has the expertise.
He created all that comes from the earth. He spread out the heavens. All of the smallest particles—atoms, cells, microbes, and molecules—and all of the greatest celestial bodies—planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies—He created them all.
The other night my family was watching Planet Earth. We saw footage of the wild Tibetan Yak. These yaks are 5’-7’ tall and can weigh over a ton. They have long, shaggy hair and are generally quite unattractive animals. They live on the Tibetan Plateau at an elevation of 1-3 miles, where temperatures drop as low as -40 degrees. Watching this, I thought, “What is the point of these animals? Why do they exist?” Here’s the answer. They exist to reveal the glorious creative power of God. They exist so we would see them and think, “How amazing is the God who made these?” God created the Tibetan Yak, and He also created you and me. We live because of Him. You walked in here today, breathed in this air-conditioned air, picked a seat and sat down only because God gave you life.
If you’re not interested in this morning’s topic, you should be. The God who created you thought it was important. The God who created you wanted you to hear it. The God who created you placed it in His book for you to read. The God who created you wants you to understand why He sent His Son into the world. You need to care. This is important to you, whether you think so or not, because the Creator God said it is important for you. It’s dangerous for you to ignore what He says is important.
God has a plan for His world, and we can be confident His plan will come to pass.
(Isaiah 42:8–9 ESV “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
His plan—the mission He designed—will be accomplished. We can be confident in it. We don’t need to doubt. We can trust Him.
Our confidence in the successful completion of His mission rests in God’s commitment to His own glory. God won’t give His glory to someone else. Consider if God made a plan, and it didn’t come to pass. Let’s pick something silly…let’s say God made a plan to obliterate all the chickens in the world. This was His mission (it’s not, if you love fried chicken, don’t worry). If it were, and it failed for some reason—Colonel Sanders stopped it or the chickens rose up in rebellion. Whatever the reason, God’s failure would be caused by someone else, and therefore they would receive the glory.
God is not sharing His glory—that sounds selfish— but it’s not (I’ll explain in a second). He won’t give His glory to another. Therefore, His plans…His mission…must succeed. Failure would steal His glory. His commitment to His glory gives us confidence that what He promises will come to pass.
The reason God’s commitment to His glory is not selfish is because it’s our greatest good. If God allowed something else to receive His glory, He would be pointing us to something less satisfying. He would be pointing us to something that has no ability to ultimately protect and provide for us. God’s commitment to His glory is also a commitment to our greatest good. He will only point us to the One—Himself—who can actually meet our greatest needs.
The other reason we can be confident in the success of the mission is because of God’s track record. In verse 9, He points us back to all of the promises He made in the past. Nothing He promised in the past failed. That’s a good reason to trust Him. That’s why we trust someone, right? We trust them based upon their track record. I go to a certain mechanic because he’s done a good job in the past. If he did a bad job, if he made promises and didn’t keep them, I wouldn’t go back. I wouldn’t trust him.
When I was in middle school, a family hired me to babysit their children. I learned a few things that day. One: if you want to heat something up in the microwave, remove the tinfoil first. I realized that when the house filled up with smoke. Two: if you want to take the kids for a walk, grab the key before you lock the house. I learned that from the policeman who found a spare key in the garage. Guess what? They never asked me to babysit again. Shocking.
God has never failed. All of His promises come to pass. Because of that we can be confident that the mission He designed for His Servant will be successful.
2. His mission has a global scope
We begin to understand His mission even in the title He’s given—that of Servant. He is the servant of God, and serving was fundamental to why He came. In fact, Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark:
(Mark 10:45 ESV) “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Service was reflected in both His purpose and His attitude. He humbled himself and took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). How unique. Jesus is a humble king. He is a meek ruler. In the first few verses of Isaiah 42, we see it again. Only Jesus Christ could accomplish this mission because only He combines infinite justice with infinite gentleness.
We’re called by God to see something of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Verse 1 begins with the word behold. The same word is used in the final verse of chapter 41, a description of false gods.
(Isaiah 41:29 ESV) Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.
Look at the false gods. They’re nothing. They’re worthless. All of their glory is smoke. Now look at Jesus. He is infinitely just and infinitely gentle. He is the very delight of God. God looks at Him and is well-pleased (Mk. 1:11).
Because He is just, He can bring justice to the nations. Three times in the first 4 verses we find the word justice. Don’t think of justice as mere freedom from crime. Think of it as a perfectly-ordered, peaceful society under the rule of God. He’ll bring forth justice in an unexpected way. He won’t arrive like an obnoxious drunk, raising His voice and screaming to be heard. His justice will come with gentleness. Verse 3—He will not snuff out the smoking wick. He won’t break the drooping plant.
What a delightful combination of traits. This should cause you to love Jesus more. He is both gentle and just. How important to remember both. If you’re living callously in sin, don’t forget His justice. He will bring everything under the rule of His Father. If you’re struggling with sin, don’t forget His gentleness. He will not snuff you out. He will delicately come alongside you and restore you.
Do you struggle to remember both traits? If you’re beaten and battered with sin this morning, I beg you to think of this One who is so gentle that He will not bring His fingers together to snuff out the slightest ember. If all you have is an ember of love for Him…an ember of hope…an ember of faith, He will fan that flame. He will be there with you and for you.But if you’ve come with your face set, your chest puffed out, confident in yourself, then I challenge you to think of His justice. You are not the law. You are not the judge. You are not the King. Jesus is. And (verse 4), He will not stop until the whole world is brought into submission to His Father’s rule.
I love what the old Puritan preacher Richard Sibbes wrote: “No creature can hinder the course of the sun, nor stop the influence of heaven, nor hinder the blowing of the wind, much less hinder the prevailing power of divine truth, until Christ has brought all under one head, and then he will present all to his Father.”[i]
Jesus Christ, the Son and Servant of God, who combines infinite justice with infinite gentleness, was sent by His Father on a mission that could not fail. Now, let’s see what that mission was.
(Isaiah 42:6–7 ESV) I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Stated simply, His mission is to save the nations. He will bring salvation to the world.
The reason we say the nations and the world is because of the text. Verse 4 says the earth and the coastlands. Verse 6 says the people and the nations. In verse 10-12, we see a song of praise that comes from the end of the earth, from the inhabitants of the sea, the coastlands, the desert, the cities, the villages, and the mountains. The mission of Jesus Christ is global in scope. He didn’t come to save just the nation of Israel. He didn’t come to save America. He came to save the world! From the shiny metropolis to the tiny island, Jesus came to bring salvation.
Take a globe, spin it, close your eyes, and touch any spot. If there is a person there, Jesus came for them. My feet have touched the soil of 4 different continents—Jesus claims each one. There is not a tribe in the darkest part of the jungle that Jesus did not come to save.
Let me draw one quick point of application from this. It’s fine to cheer for America during the Olympics over the next few weeks, but don’t you dare feel superior to those from other nations. Jesus does not bleed red, white and blue. His mission cannot be confined to one nation. He came to save the world. We are Christians far more than we are Americans. Don’t misunderstand me: I love my country. I want to hear the national anthem played at the end of every event. But my real citizenship isn’t stamped on my passport.
Jesus came for the nations. He came to save the nations. We get two descriptions of this salvation.
First, He will be a covenant for the people.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties. It could be a dispute that needs to be settled or a promise that needs to be guaranteed. The Old Testament is full of covenants between God and His people. Jesus is the new and final covenant.
Notice that it doesn’t say, “Jesus will make a covenant with the people.” Jesus Himself is the covenant with the people. He is the agreement between God and man. The covenant was the way two parties could be reconciled. Jesus is the reconciliation. The covenant is the way a promise could be made. Jesus is the promise made and kept. Jesus is God’s promise to the people, and He is the one who brings reconciliation between God and the world.
In the Old Testament, God’s people had to bring a sacrifice of bulls and goats in order to come to Him. They were a sign or token of their covenant with Him. Now, the blood of Jesus is the sign of the Covenant. Jesus said when He instituted the first Lord’s Supper, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” We can enter God’s presence because of Jesus’ blood shed for us.
This language hints at what we’ll see next week in Isaiah 53. The way the Servant brings salvation to the world is through His death. He will give His life so that the nations can be spared. Jesus Christ is the covenant with God. We receive the blessings of the covenant by receiving Him.
Second, He will be a light for the nations.
Jesus, the Light of the World, does two things (v.7). He brings sight to those who are blind and freedom to those who are captive. That’s really two ways to say the same thing. The blind person is captive by their blindness, and the enslaved person can see very little—only the four walls of his prison.
This metaphor reveals something important. It reveals that the whole world lies in darkness. Imagine living in total darkness. Have you ever been in darkness so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face? Have you ever felt the darkness close around you like a prison? Has the terror risen up in your throat when you realized you couldn’t escape—you didn’t know how to find the light?
We should weep for this world. It’s covered in darkness. Around the world, men and women are stumbling about in a prison of lies. I can’t erase from my mind the looks on the face of the Chinese men and women lighting incense before a wooden Buddha. They’re lost in darkness. They’re trapped behind bars of deception. Who will free them? Who can? Jesus can! Jesus came to set the captives free. He came to liberate slaves. He came to give sight to the blind. He came to dispel the darkness of sin, and usher men and women into a kingdom of light.
All of the amazing accounts of rescue and deliverance we’ve read about and studied—from Moses to Gideon, Samson to David—all of them are given to point us to what Jesus would do. He came on a rescue mission. He came to defeat the forces of darkness, and shine the brilliant light of His glorious gospel into every darkened corner of this world.
Every man, woman and child born on this spinning globe is delivered into darkness. The apostle Paul wrote, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). And here is what Jesus was sent on a mission to do:
(2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV) For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
If you’re not a Christian, you’re blinded by your sin. You’re blinded by the darkness of this world. Jesus Christ came to give you sight. He came to liberate you from the spiritual prison into which you were born. Call to Him. Ask Him to free you. Trust that He will. It’s why He came to this earth. It’s why He was born as a man and crucified as a criminal. His death was in your place, and His death was for you to live.
Here is the testimony of everyone who has embraced Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
This passage could not be any clearer. God, the Creator of this world and all that’s in it, sent His Son on a mission that could not fail. He sent His Son, gentle and just, to bring salvation to the world.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus, our Lord and Master, said to His followers:
(John 20:21 ESV) “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.””
He left us to continue His mission. There’s one difference. Our mission is not to save the world. Our mission is to tell the world how Jesus can save them. We are to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:10), spreading the light of the Gospel into every dark corner we find.
Are you a part of this mission? Are you participating in this mission? This mission isn’t optional for followers of Jesus Christ. It’s not for paid ministers or vocational missionaries. It’s for everyone who claims to be a Christian. What happens in too many churches…what is in danger of happening in this church is that we come each week. We sit, we soak, and like a dishrag, we sour. The mission of Jesus Christ is not to see how much information you can retain. The mission of Jesus Christ is not perfect attendance. The mission of Jesus Christ is to take His light to the nations.
Every Christian should wrestle with God’s call on their life. You shouldn’t assume He hasn’t called you to pull up your roots here and move somewhere else for the sake of the Gospel. If you’re a parent or a grandparent, and you’re holding on to your kids or grandkids too tightly, you’re not following Jesus Christ. Instead of asking, “Why me?” we should ask God, “Why not me?” “Let me go, Lord. Let me do it.”
It’s the mission of Jesus Christ which causes us to send money to East Asia, Czech Republic and Wisconsin. It’s the mission of Jesus Christ which causes us to send people as well. If what we have talked about this morning is true, and this is the mission of Jesus Christ, then it’s fair for me to ask you, “Why have you not gone? Why have you never taken a week off work to take the gospel to another location? If this is our mission, why are you not on mission?”
My purpose in challenging you isn’t to make you feel guilty. It’s to point out the cavernous disconnect between what the Bible says our mission is and what our actions say our mission is. You see, right theology demands right action. Correct theology of the Gospel demands correct action with the Gospel.
As a church, we need to be active in taking the Gospel to the nations. As a Christian, you need to be active in taking the Gospel to the nations. In the kindness and providence of God, He has brought many of the nations to us. Let me suggest a couple of ways for you to get on mission right here.
Campbell University (20 minutes south of here) has hundreds of international students. We’re investigating some ways to connect with them. Get involved. Volunteer. Find out more. As a family, adopt one of these international students while they’re here studying.
Find out if anyone is offering ESL classes in the area. Sign up to teach one. If you can speak English than you can be a help to someone who wants to learn English. Don’t sit on the sidelines, look for ways to get in the game.
The nations are here—in your neighborhood, at this school, in your office or classroom. God is calling you to get busy!
Do you remember sitting at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving? You would keep looking at the big table hoping they’d call you over. My oldest son Jack just turned 10. He’s in that stage where he wants to join the adult table, do what the big guys do. He’s not content sitting at the kids’ table.
My concern is that some of you are content sitting at the kids’ table. You’re happy with bite-size pieces of truth. You’re content being served by someone else. Brothers and sisters, don’t be content at the kids’ table when God is calling you to something bigger. God is calling you to join His mission, where success is certain and failure is impossible. Join His mission of taking the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to the nations.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, Puritan Paperbacks (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, reprinted 2005), 126.