Chapter 49: The Messiah's Mission

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The Messiah in Isaiah Bible Study

Chapter 49: The Messiah's Mission

by I Gordon


Today we are going to look at the second passage in the book of Isaiah that speaks about the coming 'Servant'. The first was in Isaiah 42. The passage we will look at today is Isaiah 49:1-7. Now let us be clear from the start that this is a Messianic prophecy. I must admit that I have always been fascinated that God would put such clear prophecy in His word. When we talk about the writers of the Gospels you think about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and they obviously wrote about Jesus' ministry, His miracles, His birth and death. Yet someone beat them to the punch, writing about Jesus 700 years earlier! That's why Isaiah is actually called the 'fifth Gospel' because there is so much about the Lord in his prophecies and in his writing. Yet he spoke these words 700 years before Jesus was even born onto this planet! [1]

Now listen up...!

Isaiah 49:1 Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.

You know in the west people, to a large part, have stopped listening and they have stopped paying attention to the Gospel. I guess some people in some regards are sick of religion, they are sick of the hypocrisy of church leaders and I must admit I get sick of religion... but I don't get sick of Jesus. And this verse here is saying 'Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention you peoples from afar.' This is the Messiah speaking. Just as in Isaiah 42 we had God the Father speaking, saying 'Behold My Servant', here we have the Messiah speaking and He is saying 'Listen and pay attention' all you nations! 'The Lord called me from the womb and from the body of my mother He named Me'. You may remember that how the Angel Gabriel came to Mary, before Jesus was born, and said ' You will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus' (Matt 1:21). Do you know what the name Jesus means? [2]

Isaiah 49:2 He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver.

You know, it uses two illustrations here... it speaks of two different weapons. The first is a sharp sword - His mouth is like a sharp sword. That speaks of the power and authority of Jesus' words. It also speaks of the ability of His words to cut right to the heart. Have you experienced this? I know I have! [3] Let's have a look at one illustration of this.

John 7:31-32,45-46 'But many of the crowd believed in Him; and they were saying, "When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?" The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him... The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, "Why did you not bring Him?" The officers answered, "Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks."

So the Pharisees and the Chief Priests were obviously jealous, very jealous of Jesus. And so they sent officers to arrest Him. Their job was to arrest Jesus but when they listened to His words all that they could do was just return without laying a hand on Him and say was that there has never, ever, been anybody that talks like this Man!

The second illustration in verse two says that ' He has also made Me a select arrow'. You have to remember that this is the Messiah speaking and He likens Himself to a special arrow that has been hidden in the quiver until the right time! [4] The Bible tells us that in the fullness of time God sent His Son. He had been hidden throughout the centuries even though we can read about His coming hundreds of years in advance (as we are now doing in the book of Isaiah). And yet He was hidden until the fullness of time.

Why call the servant Israel?

Isaiah 49:3 He said to Me, "You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory."

Here you have this conversation going on between God and the Messiah. It is now God the Father speaking to the Son saying 'You are My Servant, Israel in whom I will show My glory'. I guess the natural question that comes up when you read that is 'why would He call the Servant Israel'? We know from verse 5 later on that it was actually the Servants mission to bring the nation of Israel back to God so the Servant is contrasted with the nation of Israel and the Servant is not in this passage the nation of Israel. So why would He call the Servant Israel? I believe it is because this Servant is going to do everything and more than God's other Servant, the nation of Israel, was meant, yet failed, to do. You have on the one hand the true godly Servant, the Messiah, which is contrasted with the nation of Israel which was a disobedient servant. The nation of Israel was meant to bring God's light to the Gentiles but they never did. And yet that is something the Jesus did do and continues to do through His body, the Church.

The Messiah's Mission!

Isaiah 49:5-6 And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Like I said before, here it clearly contrasts this Servant which is the Messiah, from the nation of Israel. And it actually says that the key mission or one of the key missions I should say, is for the Messiah to bring Israel back to God. [5] But look also at verse 6 - It is God the Father speaking to the Messiah and He says 'it is too small a thing to just bring Israel back... you are far more worthy than that!' Yes, bringing Israel back, as we said, is a key mission of the Messiah. But that is far from the only mission. God is the One who has created everyone on this planet and He cares for them all. God created these people and God has a plan for those people. So He says it is too small, too small just to bring the nation of Israel back. 'I will actually make you a light to all of the Gentiles and all of the nations so that My Salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.' And that is an amazing thing. [6]

Crazy... The Messiah to be rejected?

Isaiah 49:7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, "Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You."

That is a crazy verse. If you were living before the time of Jesus and you knew that this was a Messianic prophecy you would just think this is craziness. That the Messiah would be the despised one? The one abhorred by the nation? The one that was hated? This chosen vessel of God, the Messiah, who was hidden until the right time and then sent from the Father to heal, set the captives free, and forgive sins... He would be hated, rejection and despised??? Incredible! And yet it happened. But who at the time of Jesus really understood this mission of Jesus? Who understood the rejection of Jesus that we are reading about here in chapter 49. I will let you think about that for a while and check the answer in the small print! [7]

Luke 2:25-35 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon ; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation, Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel ." And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Simeon was looking for the consolation of Israel. The consolation of Israel is the promised Messiah. So here is this man Simeon and God has said 'that you will not die until you see the Messiah' and when he sees Jesus, even though He is just a boy, Simeon realises that he has seen God's salvation, God's Messiah. And he knew, just as we have read, that this boy would grow up and would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles as well as the Glory of Israel. So he knew that Jesus' ministry and His mission was right to the ends of the earth. But even more than that - if you look in verse 33 you will see that he knew Jesus would be opposed. That he was going to be despised and rejected. He even said to Mary that 'a sword will pierce even your own soul' He could see the anguish that she would go through as she looked upon her Son on the cross. So it's an amazing little story and we don't hear anything more about Simeon. He was able, at this stage, to depart in peace and no doubt he died shortly after this having seen the Messiah and God's promise to him was kept.

Rejected, despised, but it doesn't end there!

Back in Isaiah 49:7 we find that it doesn't just end with Him being the despised One, with Him being the One hated or abhorred by the nation. In the second half of verse 7 it actually says:

Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You."

So here is God speaking to the Messiah and He is saying 'Yes, you will be despised, You will abhorred, hated by the nation... but there will actually come a time when kings and princes shall bow down before you!' And we know that the first half of this verse was fulfilled in Jesus' first coming. But that second half of the verse awaits His second coming, when He comes as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and all the nations shall bow down to Him and He shall rule from Jerusalem.

I think I missed a verse!

Now I missed a verse, obviously on purpose, when we went through that. Verse 4 was skipped so let's have a look at it now because it is a really interesting little verse. Let me just state again that this is the Messiah speaking:

But I said, "I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God."

So what did Jesus see when He looked at His ministry? He had gone about for three years, healing and setting the captives free throughout Israel. And yet at the end even His disciples couldn't stick with Him. The temptation, obviously, was to think it had been in vain and that nothing really had come of it. That is the temptation... but He doesn't end there! Jesus carries on saying, ' Yet surely the justice due to me is with the Lord, and my reward with My God .' Though He was tempted to say it was in vain He was yet able to leave the results up to God. And if I am to bring this back home to what this verse means for us, we must realise that it is so easy to be discouraged and think that our work for the Lord is in vain. It is so easy as you speak to people about the Lord to think that it is of no use. But what we need to realise is that results are not the point. Like Jesus we need to leave the results up to God [8] and live a life that has eternity in mind! [9]

[1]  People talk about faith just being a 'leap in the dark'. But it is not a total leap in the dark for God has given proof in His word. He has given proof of His word, His nature and His salvation by these prophecies. He has given us clues throughout His word written hundreds of years in advance! My friends little girl has a board game called 'Guess Who' - you probably all know this game. You have a board full of different characters and you have to determine which one your opponent has picked by asking different questions. As you progress on you can eliminate them all by the questions that you ask until only one character is left. You narrow down all the options until you know who the true identity is. Well, God has given clues right throughout His word as to who the Messiah is. And if you follow those clues you too will find that there is only one candidate - you can know His identity! In this passage in Isaiah 49 we shall see some of those clues and get a glimpse once again of Jesus' character and ministry... 700 years in advance!

[2]  Jesus means 'Yahweh is Salvation'. Gabriel went on to say 'For He will save His people from their sins'. This was in fulfilment of the Isaiah verse before us - that 'From the body of my Mother, He named Me'.

[3]  I remember when I first started reading the Bible before I was a Christian. It was my first year at university and I started reading in the book of Matthew. And the words of Jesus especially just cut right to my heart. There were certain things that stood out. I remember reading that 'If you look at a woman with lust after her you have committed adultery in your heart '. That just really got me. I remember reading 'He who is not for Me is against Me and He who doesn't help gather, scatters'. That was like a sword to the heart! I couldn't say that I was for Jesus as I wasn't a Christian at that time but those words of Jesus were actually telling me that if I wasn't for Him, I was against Him and I didn't want to be against Him! I remember reading 'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his soul'. Up until then all I had really known about life was to try and be the best sportsman I could be, to study hard at university I guess - sort of mixed results there!... To get a degree, a good job and make a lot of money. That's all I knew. But as I read the Word and heard what Jesus said, He was saying 'What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul'. I knew that it wouldn't profit at all! Yep, Jesus' words were like a sharp sword!

[4]  Growing up I knew a little bit about bows and arrows. I guess that having Fraser as a brother it made sense for me to carry a weapon as a six or seven year old. I basically grew up with John Wayne cowboy movies. In fact my hero at that time was George Armstrong Custer... Colonel Custer. I even got a pocket knife out at one stage and engraved his name on my bedroom dressing table. Mum, just like Custer found, was very much on the warpath after that. But that's another story! We used to go round to where some bamboo grew and we would try to find the straightest bamboo to make bow and arrows out of it. Now some arrows you could basically shoot around the corner. They would start off straight but then deviate because they weren't straight. But if you found a really good piece of bamboo then it would go exactly where you aimed it and do exactly what you asked of it. Now the Messiah Jesus was God's ultimate arrow. He was perfect in everything that God asked Him to do. He was a select arrow. He was hidden in the quiver until the right time! Think about it. God had had some pretty impressive arrows in His quiver over the centuries. When you think about Abraham, or Joseph, Moses or David - these are men of renown who in the large part walked by faith. And yet each of these men made mistakes at some point in their lives. They were human and had a sinful fleshly nature. And yet the Messiah Jesus was the select arrow of God that never missed (not once!) what the Father asked Him to do. He was the perfect select arrow that always hit the target!

[5]  So it's no surprise when you turn on the television and you watch the network news and see that Israel is again the focus of the world's attention! It is no surprise because this key mission of the Messiah to bring Israel back to God is still going on and Jesus will fulfil that. Israel as a nation is getting more and more isolated. They have fewer and fewer friends and this is all part of what the Bible said must happen. Before they will return to God and look to Jesus as their Messiah, there will be a time when all turn against them. Maybe we are going off the topic a little bit but just to bring up one other prophetic passage, in Ezekiel 38 it actually mentions the nations that will come down in the last days against Israel and it talks about nations that are basically the modern day Russia, Iran and Turkey. And up until recently Turkey was the one of the only 'friendly' Moslem nations that Israel had. But in the last few weeks we have seen those deaths on the aid ship and Turkey basically saying that if Israel doesn't apologise then they will break off all ties. And we have seen Turkey becoming more and more Moslem as a nation and moving from the West and becoming more Moslem. And that has to happen. Ezekiel 38 says that has to happen. So one of the key things that has to happen is that the Messiah has to bring the nation of Israel back to God and that is still being fulfilled. And all of prophecy and current events are heading in the direction to make that happen!

[6]  And salvation will reach every tribe and tongue as we read in the Heavenly scene from the book of Revelation - ' After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.'

[7]  Who do you think, at the time of Jesus, really understood that Jesus' mission was not just to Israel but that He would also be a light to the nations and to Gentiles? Who also understood that He would be despised and rejected? There was only one person that I thought of... well one and half. There was another so I will give half points for one other person. Let me tell you who the half pointer is. The half pointer is John the Baptist. The reason I say that is because when Jesus came to be baptised John saw him and speaking through the Spirit he said 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world'. So John saw two things... One that He was the 'Lamb of God' meaning that He would be a sacrifice for sin just as the lambs had been sacrificed on the day of Passover throughout Israel's history. But also He saw that the sins that the Lamb of God would take were not just the sins of Israel. He knew the Lamb of God would take away the sins of the world! Now from that you would think that John had a good idea of Jesus' ministry. The only reason I am giving him half points is because when he was in prison and things didn't seem to be going as he thought they would, he actually got one of his disciples to go to Jesus and say 'Are you the one or shall we expect someone else?' In this time of pressure, in this time of uncertainty, John being human had his doubts. So that's why he gets half marks! But I want to look at someone who really did know. He really understood what this Isaiah passage is teaching us today. And that's a man by the name of Simeon!

[8]  I was once sent a scripture from a friend that really spoke to me and it is one that I try to remember quite often. It is Heb 6:10 'God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.' What that means is that as you minister to others in God's name, you do it unto Him. And He will not forget that! None of it is in vain!

[9]  Earlier this week I went to a funeral of a family friend... a dear old faithful Christian man. I actually suggest that you go to a funeral every few weeks. You have probably heard of wedding crashers. Maybe to be a funeral crasher is a better idea because it helps you focus on the things that really matter. It helps you to focus on eternity. When we went to the funeral one thing that really stood out to me was that no one was saying 'Stan had a wonderful job, had a wonderful house, or a great boat or fantastic cars!' No one talked about the 'things' that we often spend so much time concerned about! All they were talking about was his faithfulness to the Lord, his love of his wife and family, and the people he had helped. I guess I just wanted to bring that up because when we do the things that matter, when we help people, when we encourage people, when we talk to people about the Lord, when we try to teach someone something about the Lord... these are the things that last for eternity. These are the things that really matter in this life and none of them are in vain. God sees them all and God rewards them!

When I was little we used to play a board game called 'The Game of Life'. You start off and you pick a little car, a skinny little blue man (or pink lady!) and start moving around this board. As you go about you can choose your job, choose to get married, and start putting these smaller children in the back of your car as you move to the end where you get to retirement. I think it's called 'green acres'' from memory. And at the end of the game all you do is add up how much money you have got and whoever collected the most amount of money is pronounced the winner! This game was made to mimic real life. And for the non-Christian it probably does! All they have is this life and many think that getting to the end and having lots of cash is what life is all about. But that is not why God created us! God created us to be in a relationship with Him and to follow and to do His will. That's what life is about. So I just want to encourage you as we come to the end of this, just to remember to focus on the important eternal things because they are not in vain.