“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) Evidences of Faith: The Suffering Servant (part 1 of 2, Jim Robson)
Evidences of Faith:
The Suffering Servant
In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, we find Philip the evangelist being sent by God to the deserted road that led from Jerusalem to Gaza. Once there, Philip saw the chariot belonging to the eunuch who was treasurer to the queen of Ethiopia. The Spirit told Philip to overtake the chariot. When he did so, he found the eunuch reading from the book of Isaiah. Specifically, he was reading the passage known to us as Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip established that the eunuch did not understand the prophecy he was reading, and the eunuch asked Philip for help. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35).
This is an amazing thing. Philip began preaching Jesus from the book of Isaiah, which was written more than seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. How could this be? How could a book written centuries before Jesus was born be used to teach someone about Him? If we go to the passage that the eunuch was reading, we will see that, on its own, it is indeed difficult to understand. However, when we view it through the lens of the New Testament, we can get a glimpse of how Philip could have used this passage to lead the eunuch to Christ. We will also see that it becomes very difficult to explain how or why Isaiah wrote such a passage — unless he was truly inspired by God.
Before we look at the passage in Isaiah, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. For example, remember that the chapter and verse divisions in our modern Bibles were added almost 2,000 years after Isaiah wrote. These divisions are for ease of reference, and do not necessarily reflect a logical division in the author’s line of thought. Also, you will notice that Isaiah, like other prophetic writers, frequently shifts verb tense. He goes from past to present to future tenses while talking about the same events. This may be to emphasize that, whereas the prophet was writing about things that had not yet occurred, God had decided that they would happen, and therefore they were as good as done. Whatever the reason, however, we do not need to be distracted by these things; for our current purposes, we simply need to be aware of them.
I. Exalted, Extolled, and Marred?
Let us turn now to the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah. In the midst of prophecies concerning God’s promise to redeem His people, we find descriptions of a very special Person:
“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high” (Isaiah 52:13).
This picture of a Servant of God who would be characterized by wisdom and be held in honor is consistent with other prophecies of the coming Messiah (for example, Psalm 110). From here, however, Isaiah goes in a direction that we would not expect:
“Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14).
Why would God’s Servant be marred? Moreover, how does this fit with the idea of Him being exalted and extolled and very high? Already, we can begin to see why the eunuch might have difficulty understanding Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the Servant. We can also begin to see that it is difficult to explain why Isaiah would write in this manner, if he were merely writing of his own initiative. If his goal were to comfort the people with promises of a great and powerful Messiah, why would he say that God’s Servant would be marred? On the other hand, if he were trying to frighten the people into obedience, he would not be writing promises of a wise and glorious leader. If we try to explain Isaiah’s words in purely naturalistic terms, we will keep running into problems.
If we try to imagine ourselves living before the time when the gospel had been preached all over the world, we can see that Isaiah’s words would be very difficult to understand, even if we believed that he was a true prophet, and his book inspired by God. How could it be, that God’s anointed King would be wise and exalted, and yet be marred more than any man? For one who is acquainted with the gospel, however, Isaiah’s message is perfectly clear. Consider the apostle Paul’s words:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus was God in the flesh, and He never did anything but good, yet He was subjected to the form of execution reserved for the most despicable criminals: clearly, His visage was marred more than any man. Yet, as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was subsequently exalted and extolled above all others.
So then, Isaiah 52:13-14 is a passage that is difficult to explain in naturalistic terms. Moreover, even a believer would have difficulty explaining its meaning — if it were not for the gospel. We see then, that the gospel of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament more than seven hundred years after Isaiah, provides the explanation for Isaiah’s writing. To look at it another way, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. If this were an isolated Old Testament passage torn from its context and made to conform to a preconceived idea, then it would not be very compelling. But is that what we have done? Let us return to Isaiah and see.
II. The Mouths of Kings Shut by the Man of Low Esteem
If we pick up the reading in Isaiah where we left off, we find that the prophet had much more to say about God’s coming Servant:
“So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider. Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 52:15-53:3).
Where the New King James reads, “sprinkle,” your Bible may say, “startle.” Either way, the prophet is telling us that this Servant of God would have such an impact on the world as to affect many nations. In fact, He would even shut the mouths of kings! And yet, Isaiah tells us that He would not be respected, but rather would be despised and rejected by men. How could both of these things be true?
Once again, we can turn to Jesus to find our answers. In His life as a man, Jesus was indeed despised by the religious leaders of His day (for example, see Mark 12:13,18,28; John 9). Moreover, at the end, multitudes of His own people gathered together and demanded that He be subjected to an excruciatingly painful and disgraceful death:
“Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, ‘Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.’ But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ They said, ‘Barabbas!’ Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’ They all said to him, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ Then the governor said, ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they cried out all the more, saying, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ (Matthew 27:15-23)
But the Jews were not the only ones to show contempt for Jesus. The Romans, too, treated Him as though He were utterly despicable:
“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified” (Matthew 27:27-31).
Remember that all of this was done after they had beaten Jesus with a scourge, which was a whip with many thongs (verse 26). So, Jesus was treated with the utmost contempt by both Jews and Gentiles. All are guilty of His suffering and death; no one is innocent. When we meditate upon these things, we see that Jesus thoroughly fulfilled the words of Isaiah, “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
But Jesus also shut the mouths of kings, even after His crucifixion. Consider, for example, the emperors of Rome. The Roman Empire covered an enormous territory and encompassed many nations. For centuries, Roman emperors persecuted Christians. Their goal was to put an end to the religion of Jesus Christ and preserve their empire by turning the people back to the state religion. In 311 AD, the emperor Galerius, an ardent persecutor of Jesus’ followers, was struck with an incurable illness that caused him intense pain. Realizing he was near death, he reversed his stance, and issued an order that Christianity should be tolerated. Might we not say, insofar as his attack on Jesus was concerned, that his mouth was shut? Of course, his nephew, Maximin II, disregarded the order, and instead increased the severity of his persecutions. But Maximin was defeated by Licinius in battle, and fled. In 313 AD, co-emperors Licinius and Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, which required that Christianity be tolerated. As for Maximin, he died of poisoning that same year.
Of course, the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, and its emperors have long been silent. However, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which they fought so tenaciously to destroy, continues to thrive. Indeed, no other person has had as much of an effect on human history as Jesus, yet the secular historians of His own time considered Him to be of little significance: they did not esteem Him. Having said all of that, though, we need to recognize that Jesus’ influence on the affairs of this life is as nothing when compared to His influence in eternity. Jesus has gained the eternal victory for His followers. He has gained the ultimate victory over every attempt of man or Satan to establish a lasting religious or political system. In the end, there will be no pretending to resist Him:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (I Corinthians 15:20-24).
On the day when God calls all mankind to account, there will be no king, emperor, philosopher, scientist, “pastor,” or “reverend,” who will be able to open his mouth in the presence of the glorified Jesus Christ. However, His faithful servants, though lightly esteemed in this life, will shout and sing with triumph and joy.
— Via The Watchman, September 1, 1999
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 AM (Bible class); 10 AM & 5 PM (worship)
Wednesday: 7 PM (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/go (The old Gospel Observer website with bulletins going back to March 4, 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)