Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Word of God Veiled to Sinful Man (Isaiah 53:1)


(The following blogpost was originally published on 12/17/05.)

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (NASB)

Introduction

Sunday after Sunday people all over the world meet in churches, and they hear messages preached concerning the Bible. This book- the Bible- is consistently the single best-selling book in the world every year. And so it is amazing how many people are ignorant of the basic content of this book: both in terms of the details of what events are recorded in the Bible and also of the main idea of the Bible. This general lack of biblical knowledge in our society as been made painfully obvious to me as I am currently employed as a Reading teacher at a junior high school. Several of the selections that we read in class- from Beowulf to Shakespeare to Edgar Allen Poe- contain biblical allusions, and I am always a bit surprised at how few of my students have any knowledge of even the most fundamental Bible stories to which our selections refer. And what really bothers me is that it is not only my students whose parents fail to bring them to church meetings who cannot identify common Bible names and events: even students who profess to attend church regularly are often as clueless in this area as the others. The other day, for example, we were reading a short section of the epic poem Beowulf because my students needed to be instructed on identifying the characteristics of epic poetry. As I was giving my class background knowledge on the basic outline of Beowulf, I mentioned that the monster Grendel, who is Beowulf's enemy, is portrayed as being a descendent of Cain. At this point I introduced the Bible story of Cain and Abel into the discussion so that my students would understand why being a descendent of Cain would be considered a bad thing. I had planned to spend only a couple of minutes on this point, but I found, to my dismay, that there were hardly any of my students who were sufficiently familiar with this bit of Bible history. (It's little wonder then, I guess, that my students treat each other so poorly, as I'm not sure how parents teach their children not to kill each other without referring to the story of Cain and Abel.)

But even more distressing than peoples' lack of knowledge about foundational points of Bible history is the widespread ignorance concerning the central theme of the Bible. It is odd to think that in a society where so many homes have Bibles in them that so few people can, when asked, articulate what the main idea of the great book is. And those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord must be ready and able to articulate the Truth of the Bible. As the Apostle Paul commands:

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (II Tim. 4:2 NKJV)

As we desire to obey this command and speak to others about the Bible- the record of God’s Word- we are hindered by many obstacles. Some of these obstacles are internal- we often lack wisdom in how to present God’s Word and we lack boldness in speaking His Word when we know that we ought to. And so we are instructed to pray for wisdom in the book of James, which says:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

We are also instructed by the example of the Apostle Paul who implored the Ephesian church to pray for him, so that he would proclaim God’s Word boldly (cf. Eph. 6:19-20 NKJV).

But in addition to these internal obstacles against the proclamation of God’s Word, we must also understand that those to whom we must proclaim the Word also present obstacles to our effective communication of the Truth. The fact that most people willfully reject God’s Word and cling to a form of sinful skepticism is the focus of Isaiah 53:1, and it is this fact- and the remedy to peoples’ rejection of the Truth- that I wish to explore in this post.

Exposition

To begin with, let’s take a look at the basic structure and content of this verse. Isaiah 53:1 presents two rhetorical questions given by the prophet Isaiah to emphasize the fact that the vast majority of the race of Israel has rejected the Word of God. In Isaiah 53 the prophet is lamenting the manifestation of the prophecy God had given him at his commission, for God had said to him,

"Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.' Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed." (Is. 6:9-10)

This command to Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry is a judgment against Israel. So the primary thrust of this text is Isaiah’s lament over the reception of his message (or, rather, the lack of reception that his message receives), but this verse also gives us a brief glimpse of the content of the Prophet’s message. For the phrase, “the arm of the LORD” in the second question is given as a parallel to the term, “our message” in the first question. And this phrase “the arm of the LORD” is used in the Old Testament to speak of the power of God: as clearly demonstrated in verses such as Deuteronomy 26:8,

So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. (NKJV)

So the message of Isaiah was about the “arm”- or “power”- of God. And this is to be our message as well: the power of God– particularly, the power of God living in Christ Jesus. As it is written:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel [that is, the “Good News”] of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Rom. 1:16 NKJV, emphasis added)

Our message is a message of faith in Jesus Christ: that He alone has the power to save us from God’s holy wrath against sin.

For the power of God lives in Christ forever, as the Apostle declares:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells [notice the present tense] in bodily form. (Col. 2:9 NASB)

And God’s power worked through Jesus during His personal earthly ministry, as demonstrated in His miracles. But even these miracles were not enough to convince the people of Israel to place their faith in Him, as the apostle John records:

But though He had performed so many signs before them, {yet} they were not believing in Him. {This was} to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?" (John 12:37-38)

In general, the crowds that came to see Jesus rejected Him and eventually called for His crucifixion. The crowds’ rejection of Jesus was due to an active judgment of God, as John goes on to record:

For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." (John 12:39-40)

These verses clearly tie in the message of the prophet Isaiah to the work of our Lord. The Word of the Lord is the same Word whether it is given through the prophets or through the incarnate Son of God, as the writer of Hebrews declares:

Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe. (Heb. 1:1-2 HCSB)

This Word- the Good News of forgiveness of sins through the person and work of Jesus Christ- is regularly rejected. This rejection is both a sin and a result of God’s judgment on sin. The first verse of Isaiah 53 demonstrates this spiritual fact and for this reason Paul refers back to this verse in explaining why the nation of Israel, who had been blessed so long to receive the Word of God, for the most part rejected the Good News of Jesus Christ:

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" (Rom. 10:16)

Though the verses quoted above primarily refer to the rejection of God’s Word by the nation of Israel, it is important to note that no one in their natural state will believe the Word of God, as it is written:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. 3:10-18, HCSB)

And Jesus declares,

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19 KJV)

This state of loving darkness- or sin- rather than the light, who is Christ (cf. John 1:4) and the subsequent rejection of the Word of God, is seen to be a universal condition.

And this is not a state from which people can free themselves, as Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34b HCSB), and, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44a HCSB). If you are reading this blog and you have not come to faith in Christ, then you must come to realize that you are a slave to your love for sin and that no one can free you except God alone. If you fail to comprehend this fact, then you will try to invent some way to be made right with God other than trusting Jesus and “there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12b HCSB)

"But Some Will Believe"

I would like to give a final word to Christians who have been desperately trying to witness– to tell the Good News of who Jesus is and what He has done– and have been rejected by non-Christians to the point of lamenting with the Prophet,

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

The following counsel is from pastor John MacArthur’s book Hard to Believe. In a chapter named “But Some Will Believe,” MacArthur writes:

If you looked at the world and judged God’s power by the responses of men, you would give up trying to share the Word of God. I have gone places and poured out my heart, and nothing happened. But that’s all right, because all that the Father has given to Christ are going to come home. That’s what Jesus said: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” (John 6:37).
I’m not responsible for who gets saved, and neither are you. I refuse that responsibility. Then who is responsible? “No man comes to Me,” Jesus said, “except the Father draw him.” God has that responsibility, not us. Therefore, I can look over the multitude and say, as Jesus said, “Most of you won’t believe.” But some will believe, brought to faith through reading the Bible, talking with a friend, or hearing a preacher on the street.

It is our duty then to proclaim the gospel– the message of the power of God– as Isaiah did, regardless how our message is received. Out of loving obedience to our God, we must proclaim His Word at every opportunity. And God will be faithful to use our proclamation of the Word to draw His people to Himself. We know this by faith, even when the results of our proclaiming His Word are not immediately discernible.

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?- The answer is, 'those whom the Father has given to the Son– those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (cf. Rev. 5:9).' For this result, we trust in God and not in our own abilities and not in the results we currently see around us.

For His glory alone.

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