13 Look, my servant will succeed.
He will be exalted and lifted very high.
14 Just as many were appalled by you,
he too appeared disfigured, inhuman,
his appearance unlike that of mortals.
15 But he will astonish many nations.
Kings will be silenced because of him,
because they will see what they haven’t seen before;
what they haven’t heard before, they will ponder.
1 Who can believe what we have heard,
and for whose sake has the Lord’s arm been revealed?
2 He grew up like a young plant before us,
like a root from dry ground.
He possessed no splendid form for us to see,
no desirable appearance.
3 He was despised and avoided by others;
a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
4 It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
5 He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.
7 He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate—who will think about it?
He was eliminated from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion.
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
10 But the Lord wanted to crush him
and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered as restitution,
he will see his offspring; he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light, and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.
Rabbis debated who Isaiah’s fourth “servant song” was about. The first Christians had no doubt—they quoted this song more than any other verses to describe Jesus' redemptive suffering. In Jesus, the early Christians saw, God’s servant succeeded by taking the world’s evil and hatred onto himself and through what looked like failure to human eyes changed it into a redemptive force. No passage in the Hebrew Scriptures spoke more eloquently to those early Christians—and to every generation of Christians since—about the meaning of Jesus’ death. As the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology said, “God’s power is at its greatest not in his destruction of the wicked but in his taking all the wickedness of the earth into himself and giving back love.”*
Lord Jesus, you succeeded through self-giving love, through suffering for others and giving your life to offer me life. Reshape any flawed notions of success I may have, and help me to truly succeed by the same divine standards that you did. Amen.
Collect a backpack, some large, heavy rocks and a few thick markers. As a family, invite each person to try on the empty backpack, and feel its lightness. Next, ask everyone to take two stones and a marker. Have each person think of something they are not very good at or something they have done wrong and write it on one rock. Pass the backpack around asking each person to share what they wrote and place it in the backpack. Talk about how the backpack is feeling heavier. Now, invite each person to take their second rock and write on it something they do well but can sometimes be difficult to do. Pass around the backpack again with each person sharing what they wrote on the second rock, and placing their rock in the backpack. Have each person try on the backpack again. Discuss how at times both our failures and our successes can feel heavy or burdensome. Read I Peter 5:7 and Matthew 11:28-30. Thank God for helping us carry our burdens.
* T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, ed. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 222.
I have been teaching Revelation in adult Sunday School at my wife’s church (she is a pastor). As I read today’s song about the “Suffering Servant” in Isaiah, parallels with the message of the book of Revelation in the New Testament sprang immediately to mind. Due to popular cultural portrayals of Revelation such as the Left Behind book series, many Christians think of Revelation as a vivid story of the cataclysmic end of time, with Jesus as the military warrior who wins the final battle and establishes a new heaven and new earth. While Revelation can be interpreted that way, I read it as harmonious with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant vision.
In a vision, John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, sees Jesus as a slaughtered Lamb that has been raised from the dead though still showing signs on his body of the physical violence done to him (see Rev. 5:1-14). The “Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (vs. 5) is a living, yet slaughtered Lamb (vs. 6). The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is a military leader of the Israelite nation. The slain Lamb is the savior of all nations. Here, Revelation crescendos to one of its central, poetic, and paradoxical images – Jesus is both lion and lamb, symbolizing power made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). The humble Lamb who gave it all (the Passover lamb, see 1 Cor. 5:7), is exalted to the center of God’s throne room at the center of the universe. The meekest, least threatening person in the universe is worthy to usher in God’s final plan for the world. God overcomes the world not through a show of force, but through the suffering and death of Jesus. Jesus the faithful, vulnerable, sacrificial Lamb of God, reigns with God.
Hence, the central vision of Revelation sees Jesus in a very similar way as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. One of the many great strengths of Christianity is that we honor our Founder’s heroism not in His successful use of violent force, but in His humble obedience and endurance through great suffering. Quoting William Hendriksen, who wrote a classic commentary on Revelation back in 1940, “Sometimes we speak and act as if the control of events and the destiny of the world rested in the hands of [people] rather than in the hands of God.” That he wrote this after World War II had broken out in Europe is a great inspiration for us today. If Hendriksen could be so confident in God controlling our ultimate destiny in such a time as that, surely we can also rest in confidence that God reigns in the heavenly throne room no matter what present suffering and evil we face. We, like the Suffering Servant, like the Lamb of God, can also endure whatever comes our way.
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