Acts 13:46-48 (NKJV)Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you [Jews] first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
In the passage before us today, we find Paul making use of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, the very texts that we are studying in this season of Advent. Paul vindicates his ministry to the Gentiles by applying the statement of the Servant Song to himself and to Barnabas. “I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.” The question we should be asking is, “How can Paul do that?”
After all, these Servant Songs, as we saw last week, speak clearly of the ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus. He is the Servant of the Lord. But Paul doesn’t apply the words of the Song to Jesus; rather, he applies the words to Barnabas and to himself. He declares that the Servant Song is being fulfilled in his ministry, in the life of the Church. The Church is called to be a light to the Gentiles, to be for salvation to the ends of the earth. How can this be?
What Paul reveals is that in the Servant Songs we have not only descriptions of what our Lord and Savior Jesus was like but also commissions of what we as the people of God are to be. The Church, after all, is the body of Christ. And so the descriptions of what our Lord was like are simultaneously descriptions of what we are to be like.
So what did we learn last week in our survey of the first Servant Song, in our study of Isaiah 42? We learned that Jesus was humble, gracious, and patient. He does not raise His voice in the street, He does not break the bruised reed, and he will not fail nor grow discouraged until he has established justice in the earth. This is who our Savior was.
If what Paul says is true, then alongside these descriptions of our Lord come commissions for us as the people of God. We are to be humble. We are to be gracious. We are to be patient. Yet I fear that frequently it is not so. Frequently we draw attention to ourselves; frequently we wound those in need of healing; frequently we grow discouraged in our tasks.
Consider the calling to be gracious. Our Lord does not quench the smoking flax, he does not break the bruised reed. What of us? How do we treat those in need of encouragement around us? Siblings, brothers and sisters, how do you use your words with one another? Do you use your words to build up or to tear down? To plant or to uproot? The Lord calls us to the former and in the life of our Lord exhibits how it is done – have we done it? Whether we are speaking with our spouses, our parents, our children, or our siblings – are we gracious? Are we encouraging those around us or are we breaking them down? Are we breaking the bruised reed, quenching the smoking flax? “Let no corrupt word,” Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:29, “proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
Reminded of our calling to imitate that Great Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, let us kneel and let us confess our failure to do so to the Lord.