The Light of Nations

Missions is needed everywhere—in your neighborhood and across the globe—because the entire world belongs under the Lordship of Christ.

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 (Isaiah 42:5-8).

These few verses continue the Servant Song of Isaiah 42, where the Lord God the Father is speaking of his Son, the coming Messiah. The Lord displays to us his sovereignty over all creation and his delight in bringing glory to his own name. All that exist does so because of the Lord’s creating and sustaining power. All people from every tongue, tribe, and nation are sustained by the Lord. Similarly, when Paul confronts the idols at the Areopagus in Athens, he says concerning God:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man (Acts 17:26-29).

The entirety of Scripture proclaims that God has created all things and remains sovereign over all things. This is far different than the pagan concept of idols who ruled over different regions and were often considered in competition within an entire pantheon of gods. The Lord our God is one. It is the God of Israel who had not only raised up Israel as a unique son (Exodus 4:22-23) but created all peoples and established all the nations. The One who has made all humanity sends his eternal Son to save a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.

God the Father establishes God the Son as a covenant for the people and a light for the nations. The Son and Messiah is not just the king over Israel, but he is raised up to be the Savior, Lord, and King of the entire world. The proclamation of the good news is something that God has always intended to go to the entire world. The promise given to Abraham is fulfilled in Christ through the gospel:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8).

Jesus is a light to the nations. He is the only hope of salvation for anyone anywhere in the world. He is the one who opens the eyes of the blind. We see this fulfilled in Jesus’s earthly life as he physically heals the blind. But we also see this fulfilled in Scripture and today as the Lord opens the eyes of the spiritually blind. To be trapped in sin and idolatry is to be in bondage to darkness (Ephesians 4:17-18; Colossians 1:13). Only the Lord can set us free as he causes the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ to shine in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6) and he transfers us to the kingdom of the Son, bringing us to have a share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12-14).

Let us consider how we might grow in humility because of our great need of Jesus our Savior. We need Jesus to be our light. We were trapped in darkness and by nature children of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Sin was an enslaving power over us keeping us in bondage. As Charles Wesley writes in his hymn “Long my imprisoned spirit lay; Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.” Praise the Lord, he opened our blinded eyes.

Even more, consider how our Christian humility should shape the way we think about our national heritage. Most of us fall into the category of people from among the nations (Gentiles). Those of us who are from the United States are just a much a child of “the nations” as anyone else. As a nation, America is, biblically speaking, no more or less chosen by God than any other nation that is not a physical descendant of Abraham. We need that light here in our communities precisely because we are a part of “the nations” Scripture is describing. The West is not the savior to the nations—Jesus Christ is. Yet at the same time, Christ is assembling a people from every nation, including the U.S. Missions and evangelism is needed across the street and across the entire globe because the entire world that is under Christ’s Lordship. He is the light of the nations to every nation, including our own.

As covenant to the people, Christ is now the person to whom we become united. Our salvation entails union and communion with the sweetest of Saviors. When Christ unites us to himself, he also unites us to brothers and sisters from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The familial connection we have with these brothers and sisters transcends any national and regional allegiances that we might have. In humility, especially as Americans, we need to consider others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-5).

The call of Christ to missions creates in the heart of believers a humble servitude toward others, not arrogant imperialism; it is the height of love. Jesus is the light of the nations who is to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. We can rest assured that as the servant humbly proclaims Christ, Christ will open the eyes of the blind. The covenant to the people will win people to himself.

Tim Bertolet

Tim Bertolet serves with ABWE as Director of Instructional Design and Theological Education. He’s served in pastoral ministry for sixteen years and knows the life of an MK firsthand. With a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria, and degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Lancaster Bible College, he specializes in Bible and theology and is passionate about applying it to life and ministry. Tim’s also an adjunct professor, research fellow with BibleMesh, and a published author. Tim lives in York, Pa. with his wife and kids. He enjoys reading, writing, science fiction, and gardening roses.