Friday, 24 January 2014
…but as it is written:
“To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand.” Romans 15:21
Once again, and for the last time in his epistle, Paul turns to Scripture to confirm the validity of his apostolic ministry to the Gentiles. He begins with “but as it is written.”
The “but’ is given as a contrast to what he just said, “And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation…” Instead of building where others had already laid a foundation, he was determined to go to where the word had not yet been preached. As Israel had already received the news about Jesus, this then implies that the word was to go beyond Israel – to the Gentiles. With this thought in mind, he says, “as it is written.”
Paul returns to the Scriptures to substantiate the going forth of the gospel beyond Israel and therefore there must be a herald of this message; an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul saw himself as this instrument of God. The final portion of Scripture that he will cite in Romans comes from his often-used prophet, Isaiah. Here he cites the intent of Isaiah 52:15 which reads in its entirety –
“So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.”
This is from the “Suffering Servant” passage of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 which speaks of the work of Jesus as the Messiah on His first advent. From the un-cited portion of the verse, we see that Isaiah was speaking of Christ sprinkling “many nations.” This implies that His blood would be shed not only for Israel, but all of the Gentile people as well. Next Isaiah said that “Kings shall shut their mouths at Him.” Again, “kings” is in the plural. This indicates that the rulers of many nations will be silent before Him, acknowledging His Lordship.
Paul’s citation then begins at this point. He amends the verse for the context of his epistle, but he doesn’t substantially change the meaning. This message about the Christ whose blood would be shed for the Gentiles would be carried out to them. They would go from a state of unknowing to that of perceiving what God had done. They would go from having not heard, to clarity of understanding. And the only way this could come about was if someone actually went and told them. Paul understood this and is conveying the message that he is that messenger.
If he went where someone had already laid the foundation, then they would already have had the word announced; they would already see; they would have heard; and they would have understood. But Paul’s ministry was one of carrying the word to ears that had never heard. Imagine his thoughts as he wrote to the Romans, “God was speaking about me through the words of Isaiah…” It must have been a humbling notion. About 700 years before his birth, God implied that Paul would be God’s herald of the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations!
Life application: In a way, when we participate in mission work to have the gospel message carried to those who have never heard it, we are actually participating in the fulfilling of prophecy. Without boasting or thinking too highly of the part we play, we can tenderly look at the words of Isaiah and say to ourselves, “God knew that I would be a part of the fulfillment of this great plan of His.” It is a humbling thought.
Lord God, how great You are. You spoke through the prophets of things that would come, often thousands of years later. And then, sure enough, one by one, they have come to pass. You told of the coming Messiah, and He came. You told of Israel’s exile and then return, and it has happened. You have spoken that Jesus will return again… and so I know it will happen too. May it be soon! Amen.