Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christian Austerity: an oxymoron


Here we have a prophecy of the Messiah, given 700 years before He came.  In this marvelous oracle the prophet describes Him as the Servant, the humble and obedient Servant, marked above all by gentleness and compassion.  He was coming to achieve the greatest conquest in all history by apparent weakness.   A Christian's life revolves around weakness, therefore we cannot be offended at the weakness of the Servant Himself, nor of His disciples, nor of any who are persecuted because they love the truth and trust God's Word.   The prophet even begins with the word Behold.  He urges us to take a good look at the Servant who is doing the will of God.  God establishes this Servant, consecrates Him to His office.  In fact, we might even say offices, because He combines in one Person a number of roles that the Old Testament assigns to the latter days.  He is a combination Messiah, High Priest, Suffering Servant, and Prophet.  If you or I had such responsibilities they would make us stern and sober, but Jesus was gentle. Unlike self-righteous people who are sad and stern, quick to pass judgment, Jesus was the Compassionate Conqueror.

Isaiah calls Him My chosen One.  The prophecy is about one Person only.  Some commentators have tried to tell us that Isaiah is referring to the collective Israel here, but where is there such an Israel?  In the Old Testament the Righteous Remnant is an ever-diminishing circle.  The number keeps diminishing until it gets to One.  Who could crush the serpent's head if not the Woman's Seed?  Who is more qualified to be that than the Virgin's Son, Immanuel?  In God's mysterious working, Israel was chosen from all the nations of the earth for the sake of Jesus.  Afterward, the Church was chosen from all the nations of the earth for the sake of Jesus.  Today the Church is the Righteous Remnant because of Jesus.  When the oracle says God will put His Spirit upon the Servant, He is telling us far more than that the Servant would have a charismatic personality.  This Servant dispenses God's grace.  There are times when that grace must be accompanied by wonders.   As Jesus said about Himself, with the Finger of God I cast out demons.

The Compassionate Conqueror is patient.  How remarkable that One so burdened has patience with the weak in faith, patience to be their Physician, their Shepherd, to bear their burdens as only He can do.  Isaiah tells us He will not cry out in the streets … He warns us against a church that is marked by noisy propaganda and ostentatious self-presentation.  Boasting is never as becoming as modesty.   When Jesus healed people He generally told them not to say anything about it.  He was not in show business.  His righteousness could only be revealed, as St. Paul tells us, from faith to faith.  No outward rule is possible among Christians without inward gentleness.  We have always been sinners, so we cannot afford to be proud.  Yes, we are led by the Spirit.  If it weren't for that, we would be no good at all.  We want to be better, but always remember --perfection does not belong to our estate; compassion does.

This Suffering Servant will establish justice.  Do not confuse that with what the U. S. Constitution says in its preamble. The Constitution only intends to establish civic justice.   Jesus establishes perfect justice by making atonement for all human sin.   He fulfills the type of the yom kippur goat.  He is the grace behind the skin that clothed Adam and Eve.  In fact, the Hebrew word for "clothe" in that passage means to make atonement.  When Isaiah speaks of establishing justice he means the sacrifice of the cross.  It does not look like justice until we look at the resurrection which follows.  There we have certain evidence that the Suffering Servant has made us righteous.  As Paul says in the second letter to the Corinthians, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  The kingdom Jesus brings is a kingdom of forgiveness. His justice is perfect justice joined to perfect mercy.

By His teaching, by His example, by His signs that the kingdom of God had come, and above all by His death and resurrection, Jesus showed Himself to be the Chosen Servant.  The Remnant had been reduced to One.

The last verse of this oracle tells us the Coastlands wait for His revelation.  Isaiah uses the word Torah, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to see."  The Servant who establishes justice by making atonement now reverses the process of the ever-diminishing Remnant.  The Gentile world had been in darkness until God called it to the light through the Apostles, but that was always God's plan.   He had told Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed though his Seed.  So shortly after Jesus' resurrection, the Apostles brought the Gospel to the Kittim, that is, the Mediterranean world.  At Epiphany we remember the first Gentiles to come to the light, the Magi.  About forty years later the Apostles were preaching to the Greeks.  Jesus is no longer a Servant, except that He serves through us.  As lieutenants of the Compassionate Conqueror we are still gentle, still patient and full of compassion.

Our Heavenly Father established Jesus as the Servant to fulfill his holy covenant. He stands ahead of us now as Messiah of Israel and Savior of the Nations.  He is the True Light that shined in the darkness. He established justice for us by His sacrifice.  Now we, anointed with the same Spirit, incline to His gentle will, and walk in His patient way. AMEN.

by: Rev. Lloyd Gross

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