Thursday, December 1, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 152

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 152

This morning we continue on in what I personally feel is the most important prophecy in the Old Testament. It concerns the suffering and eventual glory of the Servant: the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah foretells the crucifixion about seven hundred years before Jesus of Nazareth was even born, centuries before Rome ever ruled over Judea and perfected the terrible art of capital punishment by the cross. And we see in Isaiah's prophecy just why so many have been offended by the cross, by the idea that God would choose this method to save mankind, that a man beaten bloody and sentenced to death could set us free from lives of futility and shame. The prophet knew how narrowly some would view the idea that the Redeemer of Israel, and of the Gentiles as well, was hung on a tree, for Deuteronomy 21:23 declares that the one who is hanged on a tree is cursed of God. And indeed He was cursed, but cursed for our sake and in our place, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" (Galatians 3:13) If Christ had not taken our curse upon Himself, we would have had to bear it, and there would have been no remedy for our sins.

Isaiah realizes how difficult it may be to understand that the Suffering Servant is also the King of kings, "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isaiah 53:2) I love the way The Message Bible translates this verse, "Who believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?" Who could ever have conceived such an idea, that the Deliverer would not deliver Himself? Who would have imagined God would choose such a method to make mankind right with Him? To those who rejected Christ in His own times and to those who have rejected Him in the many centuries since, this idea is offensive. It's offensive to them, first of all, to be told they have sinned against a holy God and need a Savior. And it's offensive to them that a Man who was arrested, charged with a crime against the Mosaic law that was worthy of death (claiming to be God), beaten and mocked, then executed by the government as a rebel against Rome, could possibly save anyone. This is the attitude of those who scorned Him as He hung on the cross, saying, "He saved others but He cannot save Himself! If He's the king of Israel, let Him come down from the cross, and we will believe." (Matthew 27:42) The fact is, Jesus could have saved Himself at any time. He could have spoken one word and obliterated from the face of the earth everyone who hated Him. He could have forcefully taken the nation back from Rome, declared Himself the king of Israel and the king of the whole earth, and He could have ruled unopposed forever. Jesus had a right to all those things, but if He had saved Himself, He could not have saved us. 

The "arm of the Lord" normally indicates great power and might. Or "shock and awe", a term one of our former Presidents once used when speaking of America's military abilities. When Jesus hung in agony on the cross, it certainly didn't appear to the people as if the arm of the Lord was being revealed in Him. But this plan of salvation was formed by the God who says, "My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) His powerful arm was being revealed in the shocking and awesome transaction that was taking place between God the Father and God the Son on behalf of sinful and pitiful mankind. In order to be mighty to save, Christ first had to be meek and lowly. In order to be King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ first had to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

By the time Jesus was born, there had been no king of the tribe of Judah on the throne since the nation was conquered by Babylon. Israel was suffering under harsh Roman rule and under the burden of heavy taxes, forced to claim Caesar as their king. It must have seemed that the dream of being a sovereign nation was dead and that no descendant of David would ever rule from Jerusalem again. But in a little backwoods town in Galilee called Nazareth, in the home of a poor carpenter and his wife, a child grew up who was the heir to David's throne. He held the legal title to it (being descended from David on both His mother Mary's side and on His step-father Joseph's side) and the spiritual title to it, for God chooses and anoints whom He will. This is why Isaiah says, "He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground." (Isaiah 53:2a) Jesus grew up in the sight of God the Father like a fresh new shoot springing up out of an old root deep in the dry ground. There must have seemed no drier ground than Palestine in those days. The promise God made to David to preserve his throne forever must have felt like an old fable or fairy tale, or a dream that faded upon waking. But our God specializes in resurrections, in new beginnings, in calling forth things that are not as though they are. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious." (Isaiah 11:1,10) "Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above." (Isaiah 37:31) "The Root of Jesse will spring up, One who will arise to rule over the nations; in Him the Gentiles will hope." (Romans 15:12) No matter how dead and dry the royal line may have appeared, new life was going to be given to it. God was going to keep His promise to David. A Man would arise from David's line and of His kingdom there would be no end.

"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him." (Isaiah 53:2b) Jesus did not have stunning good looks like King Saul or King David. At the sight of Him, people were not impressed and did not say to each other, "He would make a good king! See what a commanding presence He has, such good looks, such fine clothes, so much money!" I believe Jesus looked like any other first-century Jew of lower income status. As we know, on several occasions He managed to blend into the crowds and slip away from danger, so He must have been quite average in looks and stature and wardrobe. Judas even had to accompany the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane to point out which one Jesus was; this is how difficult it was to pick Him out of a lineup. Because there was nothing about His appearance to suggest He was the King of kings, as Jesus went about His public ministry, people asked, "Isn't this the carpenter's son? How can He claim to be God? We know His whole family! We know Joseph and Mary, along with all His brothers and sisters. He grew up in a pitiful little shack out in the boonies of Nazareth. How blasphemous that He should make Himself equal with God!" 

You may recall from our study of the kings that the people chose Saul on appearance alone. He was tall and well-built, standing a head above all the other men in the nation. He was so good-looking that men and women alike thought he'd make a fantastic impression while giving speeches, holding conferences with other kings, or riding about in a fine chariot. From the outside he was everything they thought a king should be. But on the inside he was a weak and troubled man, eventually descending into madness and becoming unfit to lead. And aren't we thankful that God looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance? Our fellow man may accept or reject us based on first impressions, but God judges us based on what's in our hearts. God chooses whom He will, and if we are willing to serve Him and be used by Him, He is going to allow us to take part in some surprising and wonderful things. 

Maybe we weren't always picked first by our fellow man based on our looks or talents. Maybe we were never picked first. I was a tall and underweight little girl with poor athletic coordination, so I know the shame of being the last one standing when kids were choosing up teams for softball. I ended up on whichever team got stuck with me. And the kids on that team usually said something like, "Aw, man! Not her!" But guess what? Jesus picked me first! And Jesus picked you first! We can all consider ourselves picked first because Jesus thought we were so beautiful and special and unique that each one of us was worth dying for.

It's funny but I never know what direction the blog is going to take each day. I know ahead of time what material we are studying, but I'm frequently surprised by the direction the Lord leads us. Somebody must need to hear this today. Maybe a person you loved said they didn't want to be in a relationship with you or didn't want to be married to you anymore. You might have been rejected by a close friend or a beloved family member. You may have been passed over at work and not given projects or positions that you worked hard for and deserved. Or you could have been that athletically or academically challenged kid that nobody wanted on their team. But Jesus looked straight at you and said, "I want this one! I want this one on my team and I'll do anything it takes! I would pick this one over and over and over again; no price would ever be too high to pay!" Jesus knows more than anyone what it feels like to be rejected and betrayed. When our fellow man scorns us and says, "I don't want this one," we can recall how the people Jesus worked and taught among cried out, "We don't want this man to be our king! Give us Barabbas instead! Give us anyone but Jesus!" 

We are smack-dab in the middle of the holiday season and it can be a sad and discouraging and lonely time, but Jesus wants you to know today that He will never be sorry He chose you. If you have chosen Him as well, someday He will present you proudly before the Father and all the holy angels, joyfully announcing, "This one is mine!" He loves you with an everlasting, unconditional love. You will always be first with Him.

Our worship song link for today is below. I believe it will be a blessing to you.

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