The story of God and his people has profound implications for our lives and our calling. We are part of this story. The book of Isaiah retells this story and, in doing so, offers a prophecy about Jesus. Over 500 years before Jesus, we learn of a servant that will take up Israel's call and suffer, die, and rise on our behalf. We also learn what our calling means.
In this sermon, I expound upon my extensive research for The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah. Isaiah illustrates God's purpose for our lives.
I originally delivered this sermon at The Table, a missional church plant in Bellingham, WA, on May 31, 2015.
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500 years before Jesus, a prophet shared good news. When we reconstruct the prophet's epic poem, we see the story of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. We see Jesus bearing our iniquities and lifting our sins, in his bruised and battered body. And we see him rising again, granting us relationship with God and new life. Here's Isaiah 52:13–53:12.
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as many were appalled at him—so disfigured from a man was his appearance, and his form from sons of men—so [the servant] shall sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been recounted to them, they shall see; and that which they had not heard, they shall contemplate.
The prophet says:
Who has trusted our report? And to whom has the arm of Yahweh been revealed?
[The servant] went up before [Yahweh] like a tender plant, and like a root from dry ground; he had no form to him and no majesty that we should look at him and nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of pain and knowledgeable of sickness; and as one who others hide their faces from, he was despised and held of no account.
However, he has lifted our sickness, he has bore the load of our pain and we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. And he was pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; upon him were the bonds of our peace, and by his bruises we were healed. All we have gone astray; each has turned our own way; and Yahweh has interposed upon [the servant] the iniquity of us all.
[The servant] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a sheep to slaughter, and like an ewe before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By a restraint of justice, he was taken away and with his generation. Who could have mused that he would be cut off from the land of the living? Marked for the transgression of my people.
And [Yahweh] set his grave with the wicked, and [the servant] was with the rich in his death, although [the servant] had done no wrong, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush him; he afflicted [him].
If [Zion] places his life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh in his hand will succeed. From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied.
In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide to him [a portion] among the many, and with the strong ones he shall divide bounty, because he exposed his life to death and was counted with transgressors, and he carried the sin of many and will intercede for transgressors.
Translation and reconstruction adapted from my book The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah.
From Haiti to Aleppo, 2016 was marked by tragedy. For my family, 2016 also brought grief on the home front. We said goodbye to a grandfather who passed away. We also said goodbye to our house and former career, as we embarked on a new ministry that is far more trying than expected. After selling nearly all of our stuff to follow Jesus, we were forced to adjust to a new reality—on every account. But I’m not content to leave it there—in the pain. I demand hope of 2017. I demand the kind of hope only Christ can bring. Here’s why I think you should do the same.
A reflection on 2016 cannot be complete without looking at it from the perspective of Christmas. The celebration of Christmas is a reminder that the arrival of the Son of God equals unfathomable hope. The hope of Christ changes everything.
The life of Jesus is a reminder that suffering is a part of life and that God can use it to accomplish his purposes. Prophesying about the Christ, over 500 years before his arrival, Isaiah 53:10 says it this way:
“Yet Yahweh was pleased to crush [his servant]; he afflicted [his servant]. If [Zion] makes [the servant’s] life a guilt offering, he will see offspring, he will prolong days and the will of Yahweh, in his hand, will succeed.”
From the pain of Yahweh’s servant comes resurrection. Yahweh’s servant is made a guilt offering by Zion, who is symbolic of the people of Israel. The servant dies. And then he rises again: he sees offspring and he prolongs days—things that only happen in life. The servant’s suffering is not the end; it is a beginning.
It is the resurrection of Yahweh’s servant that leads to our new life. Isaiah 53:11 continues the passage with this statement:
“From the trouble of his life he will see light. He will be satisfied. In his knowledge, my righteous servant shall make the many righteous and he will bear their iniquities.”
The suffering servant of Yahweh—Jesus the Christ, the Son of God—bears our iniquities. It is Jesus who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53 in his suffering, death, and resurrection. He makes many righteous by his suffering and death (compare Romans 8:18–39). Paul the apostle puts it this way:
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. [Christ!] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Romans 8:34–35 ESV).
For my wife and I, 2016 meant leaving a great job and going full-time—as volunteers—for the non-profit Jesus’ Economy. We had many hopes about this journey, believing that we would see radical giving that would support us. But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way. It’s been difficult and often disheartening. We also faced the loss of a wonderful man, Kalene’s grandfather—who we greatly miss. Yet I know that dwelling on pain does not get us any closer to healing or move forward God’s ministry. Instead, we must ask, “What is God doing through this? Where is he working, so that we may follow him?”
Reflecting on that question I see that through our work, God is creating jobs for the impoverished through our Fair Trade Shop. God is also planting churches in regions where people have never heard the name of Jesus. Furthermore, people are gaining access to clean water. Is that worth the sacrifice? Absolutely.
And while 2016 involved saying goodbye to Grandpa, we can take solace in the fact that our prayers for healing were answered, in a way. Grandpa John no longer feels pain; he is healed in heaven and with the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:1–10). And one day, we will see Grandpa John again—we didn’t truly say goodbye, but rather “farewell for now.” And one day, we will all have resurrected bodies (Revelation 20:11–15; 1 Corinthians 15:12–58).
A truly Christian theology requires us to look at 2016 through the perspective of resurrection. I must ask God to raise all of 2016 up—to redeem it and give it new life. I must also acknowledge that the grief of 2016—the sleepless nights, the feelings of anxiety, the mourning, all of it—were used by God to draw me closer to him. Thanks to 2016’s journey, I know God better than I ever have and there is nothing worth more than that.
Furthermore, God will have the final say over pain:
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39 ESV).
In light of Jesus, I demand hope from 2017. I can see how God used 2016 for good, and so I believe in resurrected hope for 2017. I believe in resurrected hope for you and me.
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This long-form article is part of our weekly series, “Living for Jesus.” Translations from Isaiah are my own.