Being honest as I read God’s Word
Isaiah 53: Through his bruises we get healed.
Right off, let me say that I believe in divine healing. In fact, I think the Lord has provided physical healing for me. I also believe it is okay to read the Scriptures devotionally. That is, while I think I need to be careful about the context and intent of Scripture when studying, preaching, and teaching that it’s okay for me to read something and draw a more personal meaning out of it. I need to be careful when I do that because I can end up a long distance from where a passage is supposed to take me, but it can also be to my benefit to more freely explore the Word from a devotional point of view. That brings me to this passage. Isaiah is describing the Suffering Servant who will be Jesus. Specifically, he’s talking about how he’ll be abused for our sins. In poetic form he describes that abuse and how it will benefit us. The entire passage is about our salvation: Jesus is beaten to the point of disfigurement, ripped and torn and crushed and bruised for our salvation. When I get to the line about his being bruised for my healing I know that Isaiah hasn’t suddenly changed the subject from Christ suffering to save our souls to his suffering that I might be healed of my health problems. The “healing” he’s talking about is a healing of my broken relationship with God, not healing from cancer or heart problems or diabetes. With all that in mind, I need to remember to read this passage in light of what Isaiah is actually talking about and not want I want him to be talking about. Devotionally, I can connect this to passages like that in the Book of James in which we’re given instructions about praying for the healing of the sick. Realistically, though, I need to be honest in acknowledging that this passage doesn’t teach that Christ’s suffering was so I could be healed of physical infirmities.
Take Away: Christ suffered that our relationship with the Lord, broken by our sin, might be healed.
Preview of the crucifixion
Isaiah 53: It was our sins that did that to him.
The prophet’s description of future events is as powerful a passage as there is in the Bible. His words are so clear that we tend to just “blend” them in with the contemporary accounts from the Gospels of the crucifixion of Jesus as though Isaiah is another Gospel writer. This, though, is an amazing description of an event hundreds of years before it happens. What a picture it is: God’s chosen one, the Savior, being brutalized; ripped and torn and crushed. Isaiah’s description causes us to wince and maybe to turn the page to something else. However, if the picture of horror he paints for us is greatly disturbing, the reason for it is even more disturbing. The Messiah, our Hope, is suffering in this horrible way for our sins: for my sins. As hymn writer John S. B. Monsell put it, “My sins, my sins…oh how sad on Thee they fall.” Isaiah saw it in all its terribleness. He also recognized it for what it was. Our sins, my sins, are the reason for it all.
Take Away: Why did Jesus suffer as he did? For an answer, look in a mirror.
A strange way to save the world
Isaiah 53: Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
If the pages leading up to this portion of Isaiah contain “dual prophecy” — that is, messages that apply to Isaiah’s current situation but will also speak to some future event as well — this portion of his writings abandon all but the future. It’s the Messiah who’s clearly before the prophet now. What he sees amazes him. He knows God is showing him the promised Savior but in this vision the Savior looks nothing like anyone thinks he should look. The Man he sees writhes in agony and suffers a horrible death. Knowing the hearts of sinful man, the Lord shows Isaiah how a perfectly holy Man will be rejected and mistreated. Even with that knowledge, the Messiah will be sent to save us, not by crushing our enemies, but by allowing himself to be crushed. The words of Mark Lowry’s Christmas classic echo the words of Isaiah, “this is such a strange way to save the world.”
Take Away: Christ conquers sin, not by crushing enemies, but by being crushed.
Two prophecies for the price of one
Isaiah 52: He didn’t even look human.
I think this is another of those “dual prophecies” in which the prophet speaks of something close at hand, but, maybe without realizing it, speaks words that resonate into the future. On one hand, he’s talking about the restoration of his people. They’re broken, almost to the point of extinction. If their condition is described as though they are one person, we would say that individual has been beaten to the point that he or she is unrecognizable. God’s salvation is coming but at this point things don’t look very good. It makes perfect sense to us that the writers of the New Testament are reminded of this passage as they see what happens to Jesus. The Jews are God’s people and Jesus is God’s Man. Its sin that nearly destroys the Jews and it’s the burden of our sins that takes Jesus to Calvary. Physically, God’s people are practically destroyed and the same can be said of Jesus. Yes, it’s easy enough for us to see the connection. However, we don’t have to walk away from this passage with a vision of “a ruined face, disfigured past recognition” on our minds. We do need to spend time gazing at that face, absorbing the full impact of what happens at the cross. Then, we can move on. Isaiah describes an amazing transformation saying, “Just watch my servant blossom!” That’s exactly what we see at the garden tomb that first Easter morning. Israel is to be restored by the grace of God. Jesus rises from the grave, victor over sin and death. Praise His Name!
Take Away: The story of salvation doesn’t end at the cross.
Isaiah 52: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news.
They live in darkness, separated from God and without hope. Then, off in the distance a light is shining. At first, it’s barely visible, but in time bright enough to create excitement in all who’ve longed for this darkness to end. Then, coming out of that light is a runner, silhouetted by the glow behind him. He advances toward them and the crowd gathers, wondering what’s going on. They then hear him shouting something and the broken people strain to hear his words. He’s shouting, “Good news, good news.” With the light brightening behind him the runner races into their still-darkened camp. The people are quiet as everyone gathers around the runner who shouts out “Good news” one last time. He then catches his breath and cries out at the top of his lungs: “God reigns!” At first the people are stunned, and quietly speak these words among themselves, “God reigns. God reigns.” Then, without really thinking about it, they begin saying those words in unison: “God reigns. God reigns.” The chat becomes a shout as hands and voices are raised, “GOD REIGNS, GOD REIGNS.” Their sins have separated them from God. It seems that all that’s left is darkness and hopeless death. Now, a new day is dawning, a day of salvation. God is once again stepping into their lives. “God reigns.” Thank God for messengers of Good News. Praise God, who is God, reigning in our lives.
Take Away: God reigns!
The journey home begins with this first step
Isaiah 50: It’s your sins that put you here, your wrongs that got you shipped out.
The Lord tells Israel that he didn’t “divorce” them and he didn’t just kick them out. They’re where they are because of their intentional rejection of him. Even when he reached out to them, they ignored him. The disaster didn’t come because he changed the rules or backed out of his promises to them. It’s their doing. Because of that, the road back, as it does for the prodigal son, starts with their coming to their senses and acknowledging their sin. There’s hope here, because there is, indeed, a way back; the possibility of restoration even after sin. It starts with admitting, “I’m a sinner.” If I think I’ll return to God on my terms I’m only fooling myself. In this passage the Lord proclaims, “I’m as powerful as ever.” Things don’t have to stay the same because God has the power to make things right. It’s a long road home for these who’ve been exiled to distant lands and that road starts with their repentance. That’s true for them, it’s true for the prodigal, and it’s true for me when my sins have separated me from God.
Take Away: Things don’t have to stay the same because he Lord has the power to make things right.
Isaiah 49: Even if mothers forget, I’d never forget you — never.
The prophet describes the glorious reign of the Messiah, looking not only to his distant future, but to ours as well. The work of the Messiah isn’t only to provide salvation to the people of Israel, but to bring, in his words, “global salvation.” Of course, that’s good news for me, since I’m on the “global” side of the equation. Isaiah envisions some of his fellow Israelites looking at their current situation and thinking that God has forgotten them. Their lives are anything but glorious and, while they want to hear this good news, they can’t get their hearts around it. To them, Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget her own child? God has been Father and Mother to us and he hasn’t forgotten us.” Israel has messed up in every way and her sin has had real, and painful, consequences. In the darkness of those consequences she feels forsaken and forgotten. But it isn’t so. God reaches out to them with the compassion of a mother nursing her infant. Israel isn’t the only one who’s messed up. The world is filled with people who’ve had far more failures than successes in their moral lives. Does this describe you? If so, the message of this passage isn’t just for ancient Israelites; it’s God’s word to you, today.
Take Away: The Lord reaches out to us with the compassion of a mother reaching out for her infant child.
Being reconnected to God
Isaiah 49: I form you and use you to reconnect the people with me.
The man of God looks to the coming of the Messiah and his words are filled with hope. The Promised One’s coming will impact lives as nothing else could. The broken relationship that exists between the Creator and the Creation will be repaired as God comes to us in the Messiah. The greatest need of humanity is that this broken relationship be repaired. Everything that’s messed up about us is messed up because we’ve become disconnected from the Source of Life. The solution isn’t that we try harder, or figure out how to fix things, or somehow appease the Lord. While being forgiven of our sins and receiving the promise of heaven is a part of God’s intention for us, it’s only a part. We’re created to live in fellowship with God and that fellowship is broken. We broke it and in so doing, broke ourselves. Only he can provide a solution to this problem. When I receive this “Re-connecter” into my heart, cooperate with him day by day, and let him do his work in my life his mission is being completed in me.
Take Away: We’re created to live in fellowship with the Lord.
Taking it out of the church and into McDonald’s
Isaiah 48: But do you mean it? Do you live like it?
I don’t know how a pastor ought to look but apparently I don’t fit the part very well. Because of that through the years I’ve surprised people. I’ll be taking to a man about something, maybe a business deal, and his language will have words and phrases that Christians don’t use. Then, when he finds out I’m a pastor it all changes. I’ve even had people who started off using God’s name in some inappropriate way shift clear over to telling me how good God has been to them. Needless to say, I’m not impressed by such a sudden change of language. In this passage, the Lord’s complaint against Israel isn’t that they refuse to speak the language of God or that they’ve forsaken prayer. In fact, they say and do a lot of the right things. The problem is that none of it is backed up in their lives. They give God lip service and then turn back to their chosen life style. There’s a caution in this for all of us. It isn’t just a potty-mouthed used car salesman or a backslidden Israelite who should be concerned here. I talk the language of “Zion” a lot and that’s as it should be. However, when I’m not being “spiritual” what is it that I do and say? The measure of religion isn’t how loudly I sing in church. All that “religious stuff” has to translate into how I relate to people when I am standing in line at McDonald’s or driving in traffic during rush hour.
Take Away: What we say and do at church needs to be translated into what we say and do outside of church.
Free will and accountability
Isaiah 47: You’re acting like the center of the Universe.
God Almighty hands his chosen people over to Babylon, the powerhouse of that day. His purpose is to humble Israel and bring this rebellious people back to himself. However, Babylon goes farther than God intends and now the Lord rebukes Babylon for going too far. I think there’s a case to be made here for the doctrine of free will. God gives Babylon the power and position to dominate the region. Then when Babylon behaves in cruel ways God says they’ve gone too far and that he’ll now knock them off their high horse. They think they’re the “center of the universe” but the real “Center of the Universe” is about to put them in their place. Another thing that comes to mind here is the underlying theme of God’s love. God has been stern with Israel, but it’s out of love. He’s willing to use Babylon to bring them to submission but there’s a limit to how far God wants that to go. I’m reminded of how in the book of Job that God gives Satan permission to strike Job, but in doing so the Lord also tells him that there’s a limit to how far he can go. On one hand, therefore, I see here my accountability to God as to what I say and do, even when I’m operating within the providence of God. On the other hand, I see that God loves me, and when I’m on the receiving end of hardship that he’s set boundaries, not allowing me to be tempted beyond what I can bear.
Take Away: The Lord’s discipline of us is governed by his love for us.