The “Far” in our Midst: A Meditation on Isaiah 57:19
Baptists have a rich history of missionaries traveling the world to share the gospel of peace with those who are “far off.” William Carey became known as “the father of modern missions” after nearly forty years of
work in India. Adoniram Judson produced the first translation of the Bible into Burmese. And Lottie Moon, a woman well ahead of her time, departed as a single woman for China only one year after Susan B. Anthony was arrested merely for voting. These famous Baptist missionaries (and there are plenty of others!) understood well the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near.”
But distance is not always geographical. Consider the first great Christian missionary, the Apostle Paul. Paul understood from Old Testament passages like Isaiah 57:19 that the gospel is for all people. Regardless of
social location, political affiliation, or religious identification, the gospel is for everyone. And because of this public, free nature of the gospel, Paul knew that the “far” are actually sometimes more “near” than we think.
Paul’s entire ministry, in fact, was directed at addressing precisely this issue. That’s why he is so concerned with collecting a financial offering from his Gentile churches to take to the Jewish church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:22-29, 2 Corinthians 8-9). Sharing their wealth with one another is a sign of the unity Jews and Gentiles enjoy with one another in the one body of Christ.
But a better example of this is when Paul alludes to Isaiah 57:19 in Ephesians 2:17: “And [Jesus] came and preached peace to those who were far off and to those who were near.” Paul’s echo of this verse from Isaiah summarizes well the overall goal of both Isaiah and Ephesians: Jesus came to unite all things to Himself, but he especially came to reunite a divided and diverse humankind. Jesus did not favor Jews or Gentiles over the other, Paul says. Jesus didn’t preach to the whites and not to the blacks, or to the blacks and not to the whites. Jesus didn’t fellowship only with those who spoke English or with those who only spoke Spanish. Jesus didn’t go only to the rich or only to the poor. Jesus didn’t just go to the religious or just to the irreligious. Jesus went to both. Jesus came for people from every walk of life, Paul says. Jesus came for Mountain Brook and for Ensley, and He came to make them into one body. In Jesus Christ, Homewood and Fairfield hold all things in common, for neither comes to Christ with anything.
Whether the distinction between us is racial, economic, or political, Jesus came to make us one. God the Father sent His Son into the world to reconcile the whole world to Himself and to bring peace to a world
that is marked by violence and hostility (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:19-20). The Church should be a very different world—a world of peace. Remember: Jesus came to save you only because He also came to save those who are very different from you.
We may be able to translate Isaiah 57:19 into words that we better understand. Peace, peace, to the rich and to the poor. Peace, peace, to the black and to the white. Peace, peace, to men and to women. Peace,
peace, to adults and to children. Peace, peace, to the strong and to the weak. “Peace, peace to the far andto the near.”
Tyler Kerley works in the Christian Life Center at Mountain Brook Baptist. He is a student at Beeson Divinity School.
"Peace, peace, to the far and to the near," says the Lord, "and I will heal him."
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.