[Author’s note: after initially posting this on Christmas weekend, I re-published it in the correct order for The Truly Good Book series.]
Bible Focus: Isaiah 40-61
And now, says the LORD, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him so that Israel might be gathered to him; for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God is my strength--he says,Isaiah 49:5-6 CSB
"It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth."
Whether fairly or unfairly, we tend to make assumptions of those who have greater power than ourselves. One of our common assumptions is that the powerful person is more concerned about maintaining their power than they are about meeting the needs of others. Therefore, we don’t automatically view powerful people as the most kind, generous, or loving.
This stereotype–that powerful people are selfish–shows up in many of our stories. One well-known example comes from Charles Dickens’ short novel A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of that story, Ebenezer Scrooge is portrayed as a miserable person whose only pleasure comes from exercising power through his business and his wealth. Scrooge’s character undergoes a dramatic change in the story, but not before he faced extraordinary experiences not normally granted to mortals.
When it comes to God, we have to remember that he doesn’t fit into human stereotypes of power. God has the greatest power, yet he is also the most loving. God has the greatest holiness, yet he is also the most kind. God has the greatest throne, yet he came down from that throne to save us.
After the nation of Israel split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, both kingdoms were lured by idolatry and failed to be faithful to God. God repeatedly urged them to turn back to him, but for the most part, they did not listen. God finally proclaimed through the prophet Hosea that Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians and go into exile. Around the same time, God proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah that Judah would eventually be conquered by the Babylonians and also go into exile.
But exile would not be their final end. Through Isaiah and other prophets, God promised that the people would return, Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and a special servant-king would come. This servant-king became known as the Messiah, the “anointed one.” Isaiah prophesied that this Messiah would bring salvation to the people of Israel and to the entire world.
However, these prophetic snapshots of the Messiah must have seemed extremely puzzling to the people of Isaiah’s day. The Messiah was described as powerful, yet humble; exalted, yet lowly; righteous, yet suffering; killed, yet living on.
Be joyful, rejoice together, you ruins of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has displayed his holy arm in the sight of all the nations; all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.Isaiah 52:9-10,13-15; 53:4-6,10-11 CSB
See, my servant will be successful; he will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at you--his appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being--so he will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of him, for they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard.
Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we in turn regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the LORD has punished him for the iniquity of us all.
Yet the LORD was pleased to crush him severely. When you make him a guilt offering, he will see his seed, he will prolong his days, and by his hand, the LORD's pleasure will be accomplished. After his anguish, he will see light and be satisfied. By his knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many, and he will carry their iniquities.
It would be hundreds of years before these prophecies would be fulfilled in the life of Jesus. After Jesus grew up, he claimed multiple times that he was the Messiah. On one occasion, he quoted one of Isaiah’s prophecies about the “anointed one,” and then he applied it to himself:
He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written:Luke 4:16-21 CSB
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.”
Here’s the good news: Jesus is the Messiah, the promised servant-king. He is the most powerful king and the most humble servant. His righteousness has no faults, and yet he freely forgives sinners. His justice is perfect and so is his love. If we reject him as our king, it won’t change who he is. But if we receive him as our King, he will bring us into the kingdom of God forever.
Featured image from Rudolph Arnstein on Unsplash.
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