July 26, 2020
The Coming of the Suffering Servant
Last week I introduced you to the prophet Isaiah in our journey through the Bible. Even though Isaiah is only one book in our Protestant Bible, scholars divide Isaiah up into two sections: 1 Isaiah, chapters 1-39 and 2 Isaiah, chapters 40-66.
An easy way to remember that is that there are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. That’s how the book breaks apart.
Today we look at 2 Isaiah, chapters 40-66.
As a review, Isaiah was a prophet that lived during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. All of these were kings of Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, where the capital of Jerusalem was located.
During the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam in 922 B.C., Israel split into two separate groups. Only the tribes of Benjamin and Judah stayed together to form the Southern Kingdom.
The other ten tribes of Israel rebelled under Jeroboam’s leadership and became the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
During the time that Isaiah was prophesying to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom. They carried the best and brightest of their people away into exile. The people lost their culture and their identity.
So, the Northern Kingdom’s exile serves as a backdrop and a wake-up call for Judah, which Isaiah used to his advantage. It was like, “O.K., you see what happens when you continue to refuse to follow God and obey His laws.”
He told the people of Judah that something similar would happen to them if they did not keep God’s covenant.
There were momentary advances of morality, but they did not last for long. Eventually, the words that Isaiah prophesied about Judah would come true, and years after Isaiah died, the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 597 B.C.
In the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, there are themes of hope and salvation. The emphasis of Isaiah’s messages is judgmental.
These messages of judgment are not without hope, but they do lay out the consequences for the people’s lack of obedience to God. As a prophet, Isaiah points out that the people do not measure up to the standard set before them by God and call the people to repentance and holiness.
Isaiah rejects the false godliness that some people projected. Instead, he called people to authentic and sincere change. He predicted that Judah was headed for a destructive end, but he also promised that God would send a Redeemer.
While the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are heavy on judgment and a call to repentance, the final 27 chapters focus more on God’s forgiveness, consolation, and hope.
Through Isaiah, God reveals how he intends to bless others through the coming of the Messiah.
One way to think about the 39 books of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi is that they teach us to follow God’s Law and tell us what the penalties are when we do not. They are heavy on judgment, and they call us to repentance.
The Books of the Old Testament point out that we need to make a real change because we have rebelled against God.
Throughout the Old Testament, prophets said that those who did not keep the Law of Moses were headed for a destructive end. The problem is that no one could fully keep the Law of Moses.
So prophets Isaiah kept saying that God would have to send us a Redeemer because it was evident that we could not redeem themselves.
The New Testament contains twenty-seven books, ironically matching the 27 chapters of Second Isaiah. These last 27 chapters of Isaiah focus more on God’s message of forgiveness, grace, and hope, which is what we see in the books of the New Testament.
Of course, the New Testament’s focus is about our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, whom the writers of the New Testament saw as the fulfillment of the prophetic words spoken by people like Isaiah.
In fact, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament.
Mark, for example, opens his gospel with these words: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Moses wrote in Deuteronomy that the real test of a prophet was given by Moses: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken” (Deuteronomy 18:22 NIV)
We see the gospel writers quoting any prophet because they saw the prophet’s words being fulfilled in their time.
At every opportunity, they inserted a scripture to reference Jesus, as if to say, “What you have seen, heard, and experienced in Jesus was prophesied long ago.” Isaiah was their favorite prophet to quote.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for a Redeemer. Even though they saw Jesus do miracles and teach as one who had authority, it was important for these Jewish writers to be faithful to their religion. Therefore, they looked scriptural evidence that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was also present in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Part of the problem for the Jews in accepting Jesus as the Messiah was the thought that Jesus was introducing a new religion that was in opposition to the Laws of Moses.
However, Matthew pointed out that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV).
One of the most important ways that Jesus fulfilled the Law, was in becoming our Redeemer.
The Law is clear that sin separates us from God. To be in fellowship with God, we must have atonement for our sins.
“Atonement” is an odd word. It’s not a word we use in our everyday conversation. What does it mean?
In the books of Numbers and Leviticus, Moses described a sacrificial system for the forgiveness of sins.
People brought a sin offering to the priest. The priest would offer the offering to God to atone for their sins. Their sins would then be pronounced forgiven. Their sin debt was wiped out.
Later, many people went through the rituals of sacrifice, but they made no changes in their actions.
Many did not even make any attempt to reach out to God to have their sins forgiven. They just when through the habit and ritual of worship, the way some people go through the practice of going to church, but never make any changes in the way they live.
God isn’t looking for outward signs and displays of religion. God is looking at our hearts. That is where we harbor sin, or it is where we shelter the love of Jesus.
Isaiah, the prophet, was busy preaching, but no one was listening.
In the 53rd chapter, he asked the question: “Who has believed our message and to who has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (v.1)
It’s a rhetorical question.
Nobody believed what’s he was preaching. Nobody was buying what he was selling. Preaching can be a lonely business.
Being chastised for speaking truth is nothing new. You can’t make people see what they do not want to see. I’m no prophet, but I feel Isaiah’s pain from time to time. I’ve had nasty letters and texts sent to me, and harsh words said to me over the years for just doing my job.
Isaiah had painted a bleak picture of Judah’s future if they did not follow God, but then there’s Isaiah 53.
It is one of the most significant chapters of hope in all the Bible. Isaiah promises that God is going to send a Redeemer. However, this Redeemer would not look anything like the people expected.
The people were used to being saved by heroic figures like Samson and David. They were looking for a powerful figure that could turn back the enemies from Jerusalem’s gates and walls.
Isaiah said, “This is not that kind of person.”
Isaiah told them that there was not anything attractive about this man.
This man was a person that people would reject. People would despise him and hide their faces from him.
He would be a man of suffering, and he would understand the pain of others.
He would take the pain and the suffering of others upon himself.
He would be “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.”
The suffering he would endure and the punishment he would take upon himself was so you and I might have peace.
Seven hundred years after these words were written, an Ethiopian eunuch was traveling from Jerusalem to Gaza. This very important man was in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.
He had been to Jerusalem to worship, and he was on his way home, and he was sitting in his chariot and reading these from Isaiah 53.
God had impressed upon one of Jesus’ disciples, a man named Philip, to intersect his chariot and speak to the man.
When he saw the chariot, he ran alongside it and asked the Ethiopian man if he understood what he was reading.
The eunuch said, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”
After inviting Philip up to ride with him, Philip explained that this passage in Isaiah was about Jesus.
Even though the Ethiopian eunuch was a societal outcast by the nature of his sexual identity, he was not cast out of the graces of God’s love.
The Redeemer poured out his life for this man, bearing the sin of us all on the cross. Philip made it clear to the eunuch that Isaiah was speaking about Jesus and that he was included in Him’s grace.
As when they came to a body of water, Philip wanted to know if there was any reason why he should not be baptized.
The eunuch gave orders for the chariot to stop, and he and Philip went down to the water, and Philip baptized him.
From other occasions in scripture, such as Luke 22:37, we know that Jesus saw himself in Isaiah’s preaching.
The gospel writer John makes it clear Jesus is the one that Isaiah spoke of when he said that one was coming that would heal the hearts of the people.
Perhaps these words from Isaiah gave Jesus added strength to go to the cross and give himself away despite the dark, agonizing hours he would spend there.
Bible scholar Dr. J. Vernon McGhee compares what God did at creation and what God did at the cross this way.
He said that what God did in creation required minimal effort. All God had to do was speak, and all that was created came into being.
God rested on the seventh day, not because God was tired, but to establish a pattern for us to follow.
Contrast that with what God did at the cross, which McGhee said is God’s greatest undertaking.
Redeeming us required that God suffer as the incarnated Lord. Suffering is a given for us, but choosing to suffer when one doesn’t have to requires much thought.
Is there anyone that wants to suffer? No one wants to suffer. We typically avoid suffering whenever possible.
Jesus didn’t want to suffer, either. He asked God to allow the cup of suffering to pass away from him, for there be some other way to redeem us, but that was not to be.
Had there been, would you feel as close to your Lord as you do?
Would the writer of Hebrews have been able to write this?
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
Would you be able to call on the Lord in times of deep suffering with confidence that God hears you, cares about you, understands your pain, and wishes to redeem you?
Unfortunately, the people of Isaiah’s day rejected the words of the prophet. The Southern Kingdom of Judah eventually fell as a result.
This sermon ends with the same question that Isaiah begins his 53rd chapter: “Who has believed our message and to who has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (v.1)
The Ethiopian eunuch believed, and he was baptized the same day.
Do you believe it? Do you believe that the Suffering Servant written about in Isaiah is Jesus Christ, who died for your sins?
Have you allowed the Suffering Servant to atone your sins, to wipe them clean, to separate them as far as the east from the west from you?
If so, why not follow the Lord in believer’s baptism? Why not let others know that you are a disciple of Jesus?
If not, why not place your belief in the Lord today and allow Him to remove the burden of sin that you carry and forgive you of all the wrong that you have done, first against God, and secondly against others?