Community Group Study Guide — To the Ends of the Earth
We learn throughout the Hebrew Scripture that when the people of God were in a strange place and under pressure from hostile cultures the Lord would give them hope by pointing to their restoration. However, God would also give them hope by pointing them to how he would reach the ends of the earth with a message of Salvation and bring the nations under his loving rule and care. God’s response to sin, brokenness and darkness is to send one who would be light to the entire world. One such example in scripture is Isaiah 49:1-6 where God says “it is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.” The people of Israel received this message at a time when they faced exile out of the land God had given to them and they’d soon be in a position where they would think that God had abandoned them. However, God’s plan for them is bigger than they could imagine. God points to what he will do through the “Servant” he was sending. Let’s explore more about who this Servant is and how followers of Jesus can be part of this mission to declare salvation to the end of the earth today.
The Servant in Isaiah
Isaiah 49:1-6 is one of four passages called “the Servant Songs” (Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-6, 50:4-10 and 52:13-53:12), which tell of a Servant God would send and what he would accomplish on behalf of Israel. Reading these 4 songs together give you a picture of who this Servant is:
- Isaiah 42 talks of him as one who’d bring justice to the nations and the law going forth through the Servant who was marked by gentleness in such a way that “a bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3, Matt 12:20).
- Isaiah 49 points us to how the Servant will be a light to the world and declare salvation to the end of the earth.
- Isaiah 50 shows us how the Servant will suffer and at the same time sustain those who are suffering.
- Isaiah 52-53 expands on this suffering Servant and tells us that he’d be pierced for our transgressions and have our iniquity laid on him; and through him many will be made righteous.
When we look back at these passages as a whole we can see how each one points to Jesus.
Isaiah 49:1-6 helps us see three specific things about the Servant and point us to how we can be part of living out the value of Mission at West Hills.
First the Servant is outward focused (Isa 49:1-2, 6). At a time when the people of God would be exiled and experiencing a need for renewal and restoration we hear the Lord promise to bring them back but more than that to bring them back for the purpose of having the Lord’s salvation proclaimed to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). Notice it is the Servant who speaks in Isaiah 49:1 and he calls not the people of Israel but the coastlands and the people who are “far off”. These groups would have been hostile to Israel. The coastlands would call to mind the Philistines who lived along the coast in Israel and the people far off would be people groups like the Assyrians and Babylonians. What message does God have for these people? Isaiah 49:2 tells us that the Servant is armed with a sword and a polished arrow, but these weapons are not meant to kill rather they are symbols for the word of God that is sharper than any two edged sword (Heb 4:12). Notice the sword for those who are close and the polished arrow to reach those who are far away. And the message is made clear in Isaiah 49:6, God will restore Israel but also the Servant will be proclaiming salvation to the nations. This verse would have been shocking to the ancient Israelite; if the Servant was just going to restore Israel that would be a really “light” or trivial thing. God makes it clear that he has a bigger plan through the Servant namely that he’d proclaim to the ends of the earth salvation in God.
During challenging times we are all tempted to look inward to protect ourselves and that would be no different for the people who first received the prophecy of Isaiah. However, what we see is that in a time of pressure and challenge the Lord directs his people to mission by having them look outward. As followers of Jesus today we can face pressure from forces around us that would have us separate and build a cultural bunker but the call for those in Christ is to be proactive and outward focused. The Lord wants our perspective to be one that seeks to be a blessing to the place God has us and to witness about Jesus and pursue the good of others through action and in so we point to Christ.
Second, the Servant beautifies God (Isa 49:3). The people of Israel were meant to glorify God and make him known through how the lived out his commands as a distinct people. Living out the ways of God is meant to be beautiful and compelling (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet, Israel failed to do this and that is what led to their exile so God sends the Servant to do it for them. If you’re reading in the ESV Bible you’ll see the word for “glorified” footnoted as “I will display my beauty” which is a really helpful way for us to think about what glorifying God means. God will make his character and beauty known in a wonderful way through the Servant; for example John talks of Jesus as displaying God’s glory and making him known (John 1:14,18). This thought is repeated in Hebrews 1:3 saying, “He is the radiance of the glory of God an the exact imprint of his nature…” God sends the Servant to reveal more about himself because the Servant is God the Son whom we know as Jesus Christ and his life, ministry and teaching draws our attention to the beauty of God. Followers of Jesus are also called to glorify God and point people back to him in what they say and do, which means that as we consider this call to “mission” we ought to consider how we reflect God in our actions and words on a day to day basis as we grow in Christ.
Finally, the Servant overcomes the difficulty and opposition (Isaiah 49:4-5). Mission is not easy and not everyone who hears about the gospel or who gets to know you and sees your life in Christ will embrace the truth about God. This is true for us and it was true for the Servant as well. The Servant says in verse 4 that “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and in vanity.” We know from the gospels that Jesus was rejected by the people he came to save and was called a “man of sorrows”. Notice though verse 5, “for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has become my strength.” Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him which means he embraced difficulty and suffering with delight knowing that he was accomplishing redemption for all who would look to him in faith and throughout his life he was looking towards God the Father and was walking in that strength. Followers of Jesus today should expect difficulty in the task and we can look to Christ who drew near to the Father in his affliction.
Getting Connected to the Value of Mission:
We will talk more about getting connected to the value of mission at West Hills in our sermon but let’s consider two things you can do.
First, you can get to know our supported missionaries and consider “adopting” one of them where you’d make it a point to get to know them via their communication/newsletters and pray for them. We have missionaries that serve within the United States and others who are committed overseas. You can go to our missionaries page and find out more information and spend some time praying for them and considering if there is a missionary or family you’d like to get to support more.
Second, consider how the Lord is calling you to use your time here in the Bay Area. If you follow Jesus then you can rest assured that God has gifted you spiritually to serve him by building up the body of Christ and witnessing to who God is. These gifts can take the form of teaching, hospitality, administration, serving, leadership and in a variety of other ways (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Romans 12:3-8). Likewise, God has given us each a passion for some area of life in the church or opportunity to witness to him whether that is working with kids, helping to make things run more smoothly, mentorship or discipleship; or maybe even things like using sports to build community, equipping marriages or cooking. All of these things can be used for God’s glory by serving brothers and sisters in Christ or by building relationships and sharing the gospel. If you do not have a sense of how God has gifted you spiritually or what you’re passionate about we’d encourage you to ask a trusted Christian friend, or talk with your community group or speak with one of the elders about it. Our time in this life is short and we’re in such a wonderful place in the world that needs Christ and committed Christians who are dedicated to reflecting God here.
Throughout the pages of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testament, we see God’s heart to have salvation proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:1-6 talks of God’s desire to restore his people and to bring in people from the ends of the earth through the coming of the Servant who will be a light to the nations. This Servant is Jesus and his followers today can be part of this mission by testifying to his goodness in both word and action.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Isaiah 49:1-6
How does your study of Isaiah 49:1-6 and focus of the sermon help you understand God and his mission?
Read Isaiah 48:17-22. What are the people of God going through in these verses? How does that add to the context of Isaiah 49:1-6?
How does Isaiah 49:1-6 point the people of God outward and show us his heart for the nations?
How does the servant respond to difficulty in verses 4 and 5? What are some ways mission can be challenging in our setting today and how do these verses give us a picture of how God uses those times?
With thinking about how to live lives that are more focused on mission, one really helpful thing is to understand how God can use you here and now. Roman 13:4-8 is one of many passages that talk about spiritual gifts and calling to serve in word and action to point to Jesus. Read the passage and talk as a group about how you believe the Lord has made you unique to serve him and what are some areas you’re passionate about where you can lie out the gospel and point people towards Jesus?