Isaiah 66:19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations–to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”
This is about as explicit a prophecy of foreign missionaries as you could ask for! The emphasis is on two factors: distance and the fact that the people reached know nothing of God. The listing of nations seems bizarre to us in the Hebrew, and even in the English equivalents given in the NIV seems rather odd, but the point seems to be that nowhere will be left out. Verse 20 talks about “brothers from all the nations,” and then verse 21 says, rather shockingly, “I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites.” These obviously could not be genetically qualified for those offices, but God says He will select them anyway. This prophecy speaks of the great push to the nations that began with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3) and continues even today. You can’t claim that it wasn’t God’s idea! It is also important to note that genetic distinctions will disappear, because offices and assignments will come from God. There has been a sadly persistent tendency among missions groups to trust missionaries above local believers, with the missionaries hanging onto the “reins of power.” That is in violation of the heart of God. However, the answer isn’t a reverse racism, as is being actively promoted by some in a political context in the US, but an understanding that external characteristics are quite literally unimportant. God is truly colorblind, because He looks at our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Naturally, being raised in a missionary family in Japan and serving here myself, the phrase, “distant islands of the sea” jumps out at me. Isaiah also mentions islands in chapters 11, 41 and 42, which is one reason I’ve always like Isaiah! The point, however, is to focus on the target of such activity being those who have never heard. I’d say the majority of the people in Omura are fully aware that Christianity exists, but the vast majority of those have no grasp of the Gospel at all. The general attitude toward religion in Japan is that it’s a matter of family tradition, or even ethnicity. That can make people very closed to the idea of “changing their religion.” Actually, the very idea of faith being at the center of a person’s life seems rather strange to them. My challenge is to be a living demonstration of the reality of God, as well as a mouthpiece to explain to people what they are seeing in me, so that they too may receive salvation by grace through faith.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the message You’ve given me for this morning, specifically on world missions. Thank You for the lady who’s not yet a Christian who’s expected to be here. I pray that all that she sees and hears would touch her heart and open her up to your grace, for her salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!