The people of Israel in the Old Testament knew that God had chosen them. They were a chosen people – that was one of their most fundamental beliefs. But they were not chosen for a unique and exclusive privilege that would forever belong to them alone. They were chosen for a unique and inclusive responsibility which would ultimately extend to all nations on earth. Their mission was to fulfill God’s mission by being the vehicle of his blessing to the nations, or – to use the language of Isaiah – to be a light to the nations that God’s salvation should go to the ends of the earth. Israel in the Old Testament was not chosen over the rest of the nations, but for the sake of the rest of the nations.
How was Israel to fulfill this mission? Did it mean that they were supposed to set off on missionary journeys to the other nations? I do not find evidence in the Old Testament itself that God ever intended Israel to go to the rest of the nations during that era. Occasionally an individual might be sent – as, for example, Jonah was sent to Nineveh. But on the whole, the mission of Israel was a matter of being rather than going.
There was something fresh and unprecedented when Jesus after his resurrection told his disciples to go and make disciples of the nations. That was the dawn of a new era. So, mission in the Old Testament was “centripetal” – that is, attraction to a central point. But mission in the New Testament is mainly “centrifugal” – that is, going out from the center toward the edges – an expanding mission. This certainly involved sending people, as the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas.
-Christopher J.H. Wright, “Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament”
This is why Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” We are called not to sit in the pews and wait for the community to come to us. We are called to go out to share Jesus and serve others.