I would like to tell you about one of my most memorable seminary experiences. It might not seem all that impressive to you. But it made a great impact on me. It happened in one of Dr. Richard Gaffin’s classes. I’m not sure which class it was or what the lecture content was that day. What I do remember is that Dr. Gaffin, as was always the case with all the classes at Westminster, opened the class in prayer. There were other professors who were very flowery and eloquent in the prayers they used to open their classes. This was not the case with Dr. Gaffin. In fact, he always used a very subdued tone and lowered volume for his opening prayers. One had to listen closely to catch all his words. I always appreciated the more flowery, eloquent, in some cases, even stentorian, prayers of the other professors. But, interestingly, I appreciated the subdued tone of Dr. Gaffin’s prayers as well. I felt that it was his way of expressing proper reverence and humility before his God. It was as if he dared not use the same tone and volume with which he was about to address the class, in praying to the Almighty. He didn’t use his prayers to lecture. He used them to talk to God.
At the beginning of this one class, here is how he began the prayer, in that same subdued tone: “Our God, we give you thanks because you thought it was too small a thing to send your Son into the world to bring the Israelites back to yourself. But you also sent him to be a light to the Gentiles, to bring your salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In this Lenten series, we have been going through the servant songs of Isaiah. The last time, we began looking at the second of these songs, in Isaiah 49:1-9. We noticed that the servant cries out in verse 4, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” We called attention to the fact that, even though the Lord, in Isaiah 42, had said of his servant that “he would not falter or be discouraged” till he accomplished his task, here in Isaiah 49 the servant does in fact seem to give expression to discouragement—though the servant does indeed meet that discouragement with great resolve: “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”
But, then, in verses 5-6, the servant says this:
And now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
If the servant was already discouraged to some extent by the apparent lack of results in his attempts to bring Israel back to God, the servant now calls attention to how God actually decided to enlarge the assignment. It wasn’t enough for God to expect his servant to restore Israel—now the Lord wants him to bring the Gentiles to salvation as well, even those at the very ends of the earth.
We have yet to see how the servant’s task is one that will not only involve great difficulty, but will also entail suffering on his part. That will come in the next post as we move on to Isaiah 49:7. But for now, I’d like to simply ask you a question. Aren’t you glad that the Lord thought it was too small a task for his servant to bring Israel back to the Lord? Aren’t you glad that he increased the difficulty level of the servant’s task exponentially to be a light to the Gentiles as well, even to the ends of the earth? That means you and me, you know. If you are glad, perhaps you might decide, even right now, to take a moment and pray that same prayer Dr. Gaffin prayed. Will you join me in this exercise of “praying Scripture back to God”?
Our God, we give you thanks because you thought it was too small a thing to send your Son into the world to bring the Israelites back to yourself. But you also sent him to be a light to the Gentiles, to bring your salvation to the ends of the earth.
April 3, 2014