Day 1: Jesus – Light to the Nations

Since Russian launched its invasion of Ukraine, the galvanizing figure of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has become a familiar face to the nations of the world. Against the Russian claim that they invaded Ukraine to get rid of its Nazi government, Zelensky notes that he is Jewish, asking how his government could then be a Nazi one.  Zelensky has gone on a virtual tour of the halls of power of the nations around the world, given pitch-perfect addresses to government bodies of many nations.  He spoke to the British Parliament, US Congress, the German Bundestag, the Israeli Knesset, the Canadian Parliament, the Italian Parliament, the Japanese parliament, been given the highest Czech honor, as well as national honors in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.     

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

The Jews – Light to the Nations

Zelensky in his virtual tour of the parliaments and halls of power of the nations to chastise, encourage, plead and goad them into moral action on behalf of Ukraine, illustrates so well the prophecy that Isaiah foretold 2700 years ago about the Jewish people. Isaiah had prophesied:

“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,

Isaiah 42:6

Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60:3

Jews today wear this mantle of being a ‘light to the nations’ given 2700 years ago by Isaiah. They ponder its meaning.  This can readily be seen from search results for this phrase on popular Israeli websites. Here are the ‘Light to the nations’ results in TimesOfIsrael, and here similarly for the Jerusalem Post.  

Claims to be a ‘Light to the Nations’

In spite of his prominent voice to the nations Zelensky has never claimed to be a ‘light to the nations’. That would be presumptuous. The one Jewish person, who is on record as having claimed that distinction is Jesus. But it is not only his claim to be such a ‘light’, but it is when and how he made this claim that marks him. We look at this here and reflect on whether his legacy justifies this claim.

After the Triumphant Entry on Palm Sunday

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as Zechariah  had prophesied 500 years earlier, doing so on the exact day that the prophet Daniel had prophesied 550 years earlier.  The Jews had been arriving from many countries for the upcoming Passover festival so Jerusalem was crowded with Jewish pilgrims. Therefore the arrival of Jesus had caused a stir among the Jews.  But it was not only the Jews who noticed his arrival.  The Gospel records what happened right after he entered Jerusalem.

 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

John12:20-22

 The Greek – Jew barrier in ancient times

It was extremely unusual for Greeks, (that is Gentiles or non-Jews), to be at a Jewish festival like Passover.  The Greeks and Romans of that time, since they were pagans, were considered unclean and shunned by the Jews.  And most Greeks considered the Jewish religion with only one (unseen) God and its festivals to be foolish. So these peoples regularly stayed apart from each other.  Since the Gentile, or non-Jewish, society was many times larger than the Jewish society, the Jews lived in a sort of isolation from much of the world.  Their different religion, their kosher diet, their exclusive Book created a barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles, with each side hostile to the other side (as we saw with the Maccabees).

…Prophesied to come down

But Isaiah (700 BCE) claimed to see far into the future and he foresaw a change for the nations.  He had written:

 49 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.

Isaiah 49:1, 5-6

 60 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah60:1-3

So Isaiah had foretold that the coming ‘servant’ of the Lord, though Jewish (‘the tribes of Jacob’), would be a ‘light for the Gentiles’ (all the non-Jews) and this light would reach to the ends of the earth.  But how could this happen with this barrier between the Jews and the Gentiles lasting hundreds of years?

Jesus’ Entry that Day begins the process

That day when Jesus entered Jerusalem the light began to draw the first Gentiles since we see some approaching him.  Here at this Jewish festival were Greeks who had journeyed to Jerusalem to learn about him.  But would they, considered unclean by the Jews, be able to see him?  They asked Jesus’s companions, who brought the request to Jesus.  What would he say?  The Gospel continues

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.32 And I, when I am lifted up[a] from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.

Belief and Unbelief Among the Jews

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[b]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[c]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praisemore than praise from God.

44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

47 “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

John12:23-50

Against the prevailing Jew-Gentile sentiments of that day, Jesus said that he would be ‘lifted up’ and this would draw ‘all people’ – not just the Jews – to himself. 

Jesus boldly claimed that he had ‘come into the world as a light’(v.46) which the previous prophets had written would shine on all nations.  On the day when he entered Jerusalem, the light first began to shine on the Gentiles.  

Jesus’ Light to the Nations in History

Consider now how the halls of power, with their accompanying institutions, where Zelensky has been speaking recently have come about by the influence of Jesus on the nations. 

Here are some quick examples

These practices, customs and institutions that we often take for granted today in many nations came about as people were influenced by the legacy of Jesus through history.  From a strictly historical point-of-view, Jesus of Nazareth has been the brightest Jewish light upon the many nations. Isaiah’s predictions 2700 years ago have come true in Jesus’ historical influence on the nations.

Passion Week Day-by-Day

But Jesus did not come simply to be a Light.  He had also declared War on death itself. How he goes about this struggle is explained in a day-by-day recounting of his activities in Passion Week.  We will go through each day of Passion or Holy Week.  We will carefully note what Jesus does and says each day.  We will use this to recognize patterns that go back to the beginning of the world and bring fresh meaning to his activities that week.

The following chart goes through each day of this week.  On Sunday, the first day of the week he fulfilled three different prophecies given by three previous prophets. First he entered Jerusalem mounted on a donkey as prophesied by Zechariah.  Second, he did so in the time prophesied by Daniel.  Third, his message and miracles started to light an interest among the Gentiles – which the prophet Isiah had foretold would shine as a light to the nations and grow brighter to peoples around the world.

Events of Passion Week - Day 1 - Sunday
Events of Passion Week – Day 1 – Sunday

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