“… it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles” (Isaiah 66:18b-19).
- The Message to Be Preached to All Nations
What do you think is the most important thing about the work of missions? The message! The message to be preached!
Do you have a message? Does your congregation have a message? Does your denomination have a message? Do you, personally, have a message? Do you have a message that is worth bringing to the nations?
You must be totally convinced that the gospel that you believe and the gospel that your church preaches is both true and important. It must be true otherwise you are spreading lies—lies about God and his salvation in Jesus Christ! Wouldn’t that be awful! It must also be important—and you must be convicted that the Reformed gospel we confess is important. If you don’t believe this, you won’t do much witnessing. If you don’t believe that it is important, even a little bit of hardship and suffering will be enough to silence you.
The Protestant Reformed Churches must be convinced that their message is both true and important. If not, why send missionaries halfway around the world? Why bother with all the necessary training? Why spend all that money? Why go through all the difficulties and setbacks that are involved in mission work—suffering experienced not only by the missionary but also by those converted through his missionary labours?
Unless we believe that the Reformed faith, as we confess it, is both true and important, we should not start any more mission works, for there are other churches that do mission work which are much bigger than us and have more earthly resources than us. Moreover, unless we believe that the Reformed faith is both true and important, we should stop all our existing mission works.
Now, what does Isaiah 66 have to say about the true and important message to be preached to all nations? In verse 19, Jehovah says, “they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.” This is the message to be proclaimed throughout the world: glory, God’s glory. This is the truth! This is the only important thing!
The Hebrew word for “glory” means “heavy.” We must proclaim not that which is light or insubstantial, like idols or the wisdom of man, for they are vain and inconsequential. Rather, we must preach God’s glory, which is heavy, substantial and weighty. The God of glory is dreadfully majestic and only to be approached with fear and awe.
The glory of God! This is the message to be preached to the nations. This is missionary work. This is what God himself wants proclaimed. This is what God himself will see to it is preached by true churches.
This means that missionary work is not man-centered. The glory of man is not to be preached. This is what must be preached about man:
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isa. 40:6-8).
Missionary work is not—if we’re thinking in a third-world context—sending famine relief, building huts or hospitals, or raising the standard of living. These may be related to missionary work and may even be by-products of missionary work, but these in themselves are not missionary work. This is pretty much all the liberal and departing churches can do, because they are not concerned with God and his glory. They are not consumed with his majesty; they are man-centered in their missionary endeavours. Where does preaching God’s glory come in for them? It doesn’t. According to verse 19, God does not send such people.
What are some of the things that Isaiah says about God’s glory? Isaiah makes it very clear that God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:5 prophesies, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The context, along with the citation of the previous two verses in the gospel accounts (e.g., Matt. 3:3; Luke 3:4-6), indicates that this refers to the incarnation of the eternal Son of God for us, totally depraved sinners. This is certainly weighty! In Isaiah 49:3, Jehovah speaks to Christ, “Thou art my servant…in whom I will be glorified.” God is glorified in Jesus’ holy life, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his ascension and his reign from heaven. Christ alone justifies, sanctifies, preserves and glorifies us. The name of Jesus is the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Preaching him glorifies the one, true and living God.
Remember also Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, high and lifted up in the temple, in Isaiah 6. John 12:39-41 identifies the glorious One seated on the throne as Jesus Christ. Only with this awesome vision of God’s glory in Christ could Isaiah obey his call to preach. After all, Isaiah’s ministry was largely to be one of hardening; his preaching was used to effect God’s eternal decree of reprobation in most of his hearers. What does Isaiah 6:9-10 declare?
And he [i.e., God] said, Go [Isaiah], and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
In short, the message of God’s glory in Christ to all nations includes sovereign election and reprobation. We cannot be unfaithful and leave this out.
God calls it “my glory” in Isaiah 66:19, and he determines what glorifies him. He does this in his Word—all of it! This is the book that glorifies God! His Word is summarized and systematized in our Reformed confessions, the Three Forms of Unity.
God is God! This is the message of omnipotent grace, Christ’s particular and effectual atonement, sovereign regeneration, the almighty preservation of all the elect, etc.—God’s glory! This is the message of God’s grace in the covenant with us and our elect children. This is the biblical and Reformed gospel that declares God’s glory among the Gentiles.
- The Messengers Who Are to Preach to All Nations
Isaiah 66 is distinctive, even unique, in the Old Testament in that it not only presents the message to be preached—God’s glory!—but also the official messengers who preach it.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the Gentiles are typically presented as being attracted or drawn to the church. This is the case in Isaiah 2:2-3:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
The nations are drawn to Zion—flow uphill to it—by irresistible grace, in order to hear God’s Word.
But here, in Isaiah 66, God sends out his messengers to the Gentiles where they are: “I will send those that escape of them unto the nations” (v. 19). Isaiah 66 does not mention the nations closest to the land of Israel, such as Moab, Philistia or Edom. In this passage, God’s messengers are not even sent to nations a bit farther away, such as Egypt, Assyria or Babylon. It is the distant nations, the lands farthest away from Israel, that are listed in Isaiah 66. Five are named in verse 19: Tarshish, Pul, Lud, Tubal and Javan, places in the three then-known continents, which we call Asia, Africa and Europe. (Australia and North and South America were unknown to the ancients.) The text also refers to “the isles [or coastlands] afar off.” This includes most of us, for we are far from the biblical lands in the Near East.
Those mentioned in Isaiah 66 initially know nothing of the one true God revealed to Israel, for God describes them as those who “have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory” (v. 19).
These messengers that God sends out in Isaiah 66 are sent even to the fiercest of the pagans, those who “draw the bow” (v. 19), the warlike peoples. One thinks, for example, of the cannibals of Papua New Guinea. There have been many missionaries who have been martyred by those to whom they brought the gospel.
It is entirely appropriate that Isaiah should be the prophet who speaks of God sending out missionaries to the heathen to bring them God’s Word. The book of Isaiah has so much to say of Christ, his gospel and the conversion of the Gentiles that Isaiah is rightly called the “evangelical prophet.”
Isaiah 66 is the last chapter of his prophecy, so our text is included in the culmination and climax of this biblical book. It answers the questions, How is Christ going to be made known throughout the world? How are the Gentiles going to be converted?
Isaiah 66:18-19 sets before us various elements in the sending out of God’s New Testament messengers.
First, God prophesies, “I will set a sign among them” (Isa. 66:19). Christ himself is this “sign,” as Isaiah 7:14 confirms: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The same Hebrew word for “sign” is used in both texts (Isa. 7:14; 66:19). Old Simeon refers to Jesus as a “sign” in his words to the Virgin Mary: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2:34). Christ is a “sign” pointing us to the God who saves his elect people and punishes the wicked and unbelieving.
Second, God set Christ as “a sign among them,” that is, among Israel (Isa. 66:19). Some thirty years he lived in their midst, followed by three years of public ministry amongst them. All knew of him and his teaching, miracles and work, for this thing was not done in a corner. But the nation rejected him and killed him by Roman crucifixion, resulting in the cutting off of the Jews as a nation (Isa. 66:15-17).
Third, Jehovah says, “I will send those that escape of them to the nations” (Isa. 66:19). “Those that escape of them” are those that escape the spiritual judgment upon Israel. They are the believing Jews who receive Christ as the promised Messiah and so do not perish with the unbelieving majority in Israel. Thus Peter, one who by grace avoided God’s righteous judgment, exhorted the people on the day of Pentecost to escape from that “untoward generation” (Acts 2:40).
Fourth, God promises, “I will send those that escape of them to the nations” (v. 19). Jehovah sent Philip to Samaria. He sent Peter to Cornelius in Caesarea. Paul was sent on his first, second and third missionary journeys, probably even going as far as Spain, which includes “Tarshish,” mentioned in Isaiah 66:19.
Think of your catechism classes on New Testament history. Do you remember what the word “apostle” means? It means “sent ones;” the word “apostle” comes from the Greek word for “send.” God sent the twelve apostles and Paul. They escaped the judgment of God against Israel, and they were sent to the nations, with many even being martyred doing their missionary work.
There were others who were sent but were not among the twelve apostles. Prophets, such as Agabus, and evangelists, like Timothy and Titus, were sent by God through the risen Christ (Eph. 4:11). There were also pastors and teachers who were sent by the Lord, just as today he still sends pastors and teachers in this special, permanent office.
In this connection, it must be pointed out that God sends through the church. In Acts 13:1-3, Paul and Barnabus were sent on their missionary journey by the church at Antioch. Missionaries are to be sent by churches, not parachurch organizations or missionary societies. Romans 10:15 states that missionaries cannot preach “except they be sent.”
God is still sending people through the church as he has done throughout the New Testament age. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the great commission. Teaching all nations all things that Christ has commanded us and baptising them into the name of the Triune God is proclaiming God’s glory!
Fifth, God gives positive fruit to the preaching of his glory. In Isaiah 66:18, Jehovah proclaims, “it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.” This is God’s history-long gathering of his catholic or universal church of which you, young people, are a part. Being a part of this church means that we are privileged to see God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 66:20 uses Old Testament imagery to represent this gathering of the universal church:
And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord.
All of God’s people, including us, are dedicated to the Lord!
Isaiah 66:21 adds, “And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord.” God will make some Gentile New Testament believers “priests” and “Levites,” that is, special office-bearers in his church.
III. Your Practical Calling
Flowing from all this comes your personal calling, young people in Christ’s church. Some of you will fill special offices in his church. Some of you will be ministers or missionaries who preach God’s glory to the nations. Some of you will be elders who oversee ministers and missionaries who preach God’s glory to the nations. Some of you will be wives who help such ministers, missionaries or elders. Some of you will serve as missionary assistants on foreign mission fields. Some of you will be members of evangelism committees. (By the way, if you do join such committees or hold such positions, perhaps you could forward requests for literature from the British Isles or Europe to us in N. Ireland, just as we forward requests we receive from people in the US and Canada to the nearest Protestant Reformed church, thus reducing postage costs.)
There are, of course, a couple of objections that you might have to this. You may be thinking that this is all far off in the future: “I’m only 14 [or 16 or 18 or whatever].” You may also reckon, “I’ll never be an office-bearer or do any of those things you’ve mentioned.” Even if this is the case—and which of us knows the future?—there are other ways, though, that you can help in the spread of the Word by using your various skills or opportunities or resources.
If you travel abroad on vacation or for study or work, what about learning about the country you are visiting? Why not learn about the church there and the history of the gospel in that region? Or perhaps you could visit our mission fields. You are all very welcome to stay with us in Northern Ireland. But don’t all come at once; our home doesn’t have room for all of you! You are all invited to come to the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Cardiff, Wales (7-14 August, 2010). There you will meet fellow believers from the British Isles, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other countries, as well as saints from Canada and the US (DV).
Some of you have computer skills. You may be able to help with your church website. Far more people listen to our church’s sermons via the internet than attend our church services—a lot of people listen from China especially. Whatever you do, though, don’t go on-line to air criticisms of your church on the worldwide web. This is sinning against Christ and the unity of his church. If anyone you know spreads evil, schismatic views, tell them that the devil has legions of fallen angels to do his bidding already, and he doesn’t need any more helpers!
Mission fields need those with practical skills. For example, the Pittsburgh mission field needed work done on their church building and manse. There are opportunities for those who can help with such things as cleaning, carpentry, landscaping, etc.
The one most important thing—and something all of you can engage in right now, even at this stage in your lives—is prayer. Pray, of course, for labours connected with the PRC in the US and Canada, for the two missionaries called to the Philippines, for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, for Singapore and Myanmar, for Australia and India, etc. Pray also for the labours of others in over 200 countries in the world. Pray for the church in all six continents of the globe; remember, half or more of the world’s population is in Asia.
There are also various Protestant Reformed ministries of great help in mission work. There is the Reformed Witness Hour (RWH) with its radio sermons by Rev. Haak and others. The RWH is broadcast on the airwaves in N. Ireland and the Philippines, as well as on various stations in America and Canada. A friend in Portugal hopes to translate RWH sermons into Portuguese and read them on Portuguese radio. Praying for the Reformed Witness Hour, helping them and giving offerings to them helps in the spread of the gospel and missions.
What about RFPA books and Protestant Reformed pamphlets? Our mission work in Northern Ireland would be greatly hampered without these excellent resources. While my wife and I have been here in the US, we have received a request from an officer in the British army in the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Argentina, who would like ten copies of Rev. Houck’s pamphlet “God’s Sovereignty in Salvation” to use in a Bible study with fellow soldiers. We also have translators and/or helpers on every continent who assist us in rendering parts of these materials into other languages.
Finally, your own walk with the Lord affects the spread of the gospel and missions. Be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. If you stray spiritually and walk in sin, you bring grief and trouble to the pastor and the consistory (as well as your parents and other saints). Time and energy that might have been spent spreading the Word of God then goes in seeking to recover you! You should be a help, not a hindrance in the dissemination of the gospel of Christ!
Witness where you are—now! You don’t have to go overseas. Probably people from every country of the world are already found in the US, the world’s great melting pot. Pass on literature (pamphlets and books) or CDs or DVDs or internet links to friends and acquaintances. Contribute to the life of your church so that it is a faithful, thriving congregation filled with the Spirit, just like the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch in the book of Acts. It is churches like these—like yours—that God uses to preach his glory to the nations. Let us be faithful and diligent!