The right path
If no one ever said itd be easy, did anyone ever say it would be hard? The witness of the scriptures is that yes, life is hard, especially for those who seek to be servants of the Lord. Sometimes its hard just to figure out what path were supposed to take. Then, having taken a path, and having discovered that its more difficult than we thought it would be, we wonder if weve gotten it all wrong.
But if were on a path in which were seeking to give our lives away, even if we cant figure out all the twists and turns, the Lord wants us to know that were on the right one. He breaks into the middle of the journey to tell us, "Yes, youre on the right path." His promise to raise us from the dead is all the affirmation we need that were on the right path. The Lord affirms us as we seek to give our lives away.
The Lord did this for Jesus, his Servant. In the first half of the second Servant Song (Isaiah 49:1-6), the Servant of the Lord cries out as he tries to figure out whats going on. In the second half, the part that concerns us presently, the Lord answers the Servants cry. This is how the Lord answered Jesus cry, and it is how he answers our cry as well.
The Lord answers his Servants cry (49:7-8b)
The Lord speaks in response to his Servant, who has wrestled with feelings of failure (verses 1 through 6). Although the Lord spoke to his Servant in those verses, and the Servant remembered the Lords commission of him, the Lord in verse 7 begins a more powerful affirmation. The Lords response is introduced, both in verse 7 and verse 8, with the powerful words, "Thus says the Lord ."
In verse 7, the Lord is identified as "the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One." A redeemer is a next-of-kin who guarantees the welfare of a relative. The Lord calls his Servant "Israel," because his task is to succeed where Israel failed. The Lord is the redeemer both of Israel the nation and Israel the Servant. The Lord comes to the aid of his Servant, who struggles to find his way. The Holy One will not let his name be profaned and will uphold his reputation through the work of his Servant (Isaiah 48:11). The first line in verse 7, then, lets us know that an authoritative, powerful response is coming to the Servants struggle.
Such a response is needed, because the Servant is "despised" and "abhorred by the nation." The Lord speaks to the Servant, but by the way Isaiah announces this proclamation, its clear that he wants us to hear it. The Servant has somehow kindled amazing hatred in "the nation"Israel. The Servant knew that he was supposed to return Israel to the Lord (verses 5 and 6), yet he was despised and abhorred. The Servant is also addressed as the "Servant of rulers." He presented himself as a servant to the rulers of the nation, but they hated him. Here is one, then, who is in need of the Lords affirmation.
The Servant, who is a light to the nations, will catch the eye of rulerskings and princesbeyond Israel, who will "see and arise" to watch the procession that the Servant leads (Exodus 15:12-18, Isaiah 49:11-12) and will "bow down" in subservience. The Servant, once the object of abhorrence among his countrymen, will become the recipient of worldwide respect. This is an amazing turnaround.
What will cause this? The answer is the faithfulness of the Lord, who honors his holy name by honoring the one he has chosen to fulfill his purposes. Somehow, because of the faithfulness of the Lord, the kings and princes of the world will bow down before the Servant.
The Lord tells the Servant that he has "answered" him in a "favorable time" and "helped" him in a "day of salvation." Even though the answer and help havent yet come, they are so sure to come that the Lord uses the past tense. When the time is favorable, the day of salvation will come. The Lord doesnt say what exactly will make the time favorable, although he knows when everything will be right. Then he will answer the Servant by saving himby helping him. The Lords answer for his Servants predicament comes in verses 8c through 13. By the look of things, the Servant will succeed wildly.
Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, struggled to see how he would fulfill his vocation. The Father powerfully responded to the despair of Jesus by raising him from the dead (Acts 3:26). Jesus was despised and abhorred by the rulers of Israel, those he came to reach. He was a threat to their way of life, so they convinced the Romans to crucify him. Jesus has led a procession of Gods people to the Lord. Some rulers have seen this and have bowed down to Jesus. Some day, every rulerand every personwill bow down before Jesus (Philippians 2:10). Some will bow willingly; some will bow grudgingly. But they will bow. Sooner later, they will bow.
The faithfulness of the Lord has caused thishis faithfulness to honor the one he has chosen for his purposes, Jesus, by raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand (Acts 13:33, Ephesians 1:20). The resurrection is Gods ultimate witness regarding his Servant that causes the people of the world to rise up, take notice and bow down. In a favorable time, in a day of salvation, the Father answered and helped Jesus. He raised his Servant on the third day.
As it was for Jesus, life for us is a struggle. As servants of the Lord, we struggle to see that the Lord will do something good with our lives. How does the Lord respond to us in our despair? The same way he responded to Jesus. He says he will raise us from the dead. This is the Lords powerful response to our struggle to live out his call of us. Life may never make complete sense to us until God raises us from the dead.
Do you know what its like to be despised and abhorred? Perhaps such strong emotions have never been directed to you, but most of us have at least been stung enough that we fear those negative feelings. Like Jesus, we too may be seen as some kind of a threat. We may present ourselves as people who want to serve, only to be rejected. Yet, some will see us in what looks to them to be a rather strange processiona procession that Jesus is leading to the Lord. Seeing that we walk differently than they, they will join the procession and bow down to Jesus. In a sense, they will also bow down to us by coming to us to learn about God (Isaiah 45:14, 49:23).
The Lord will be faithful to honor his name and his choice of us by raising us from the dead, vindicating us for our choice to follow him. There is a deep longing in the human heart for affirmation. Where does affirmation come from? It comes from God. In the middle of our struggle to figure out who we are and what were supposed to do, God bursts forth with words that promise resurrection. Even the struggle is affirmed. Knowing that final and unambiguous affirmation from God is certain, we can live with that sense of affirmation now and endure the struggle to figure out who we are and the struggle to deal with being rejected. We can live in the light of the "well-done-good-and-faithful-servant" to come. There will also be plenty of mini-resurrections along the way, when we will sense deep in our souls the Lords vindication for our choice to follow him, even as we wrestle to understand what following him means.
We must trust in the faithfulness of the Lord. If he has chosen you, he will honor his name by honoring you. We must trust in the timing of the Lord. He will answer us with these mini-resurrectionsand with our final resurrectionin a favorable time. We cant begin to fathom all the factors that go into making a certain time a favorable time, so we must trust the Lord. He will save you and help you and make you successful, according to his definition of success, in the spiritual vocation he has chosen for you.
What the Servant will do (49:8c-12)
The Lord will "keep" his Servant, protecting him and nurturing him. The Lord will also give him for a "covenant of the people." The same phrase translated, "give you for a covenant of the people," appears in the first Servant Song, in Isaiah 42:6, although it is translated slightly different there by the New American Standard ("appoint you as a covenant to the people"). The Servant is protected and nourished by the Lord to be a blessing to the people. The Servant will re-establish the Lords covenant with his people and will actually embody that covenant.
Verses 9 through 11 portray a procession to Jerusalem, effected by the Servant. The Servant will "restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages." The promised land was devastated by the Babylonians, and life in the land for those who were not exiled was anything but joyful. Yet the Servant will enable the people to live in safety and joy. Hell liberate the exiles, those who are "bound," those who are in "darkness," by telling them to "go forth" and "show yourselves."
The people are seen as well-cared-for sheep. There will be food and water for the journey back to Jerusalem and upon their returneven miraculous provision, for they will feed on "bare heights." They will also be protected from the heat of the sun. Mountains, which would be seen as obstacles standing in the way of the peoples return to Jerusalem, will become a "road," and highways will be "raised up." In case the people are worried about the specific way back to Jerusalem, the Servant will make the highways level, easy to walk on and plain to see.
The Servant, by renewing the Lords covenant with the people, will give them the land, freedom, provision, protection and guidance. He will also remove obstacles and uncertainty. He will give them everything they need to get back to the land and flourish in it. All this will be effected by the Servant, "he who has compassion on them." A heart of compassion motivates the Servant to provide for and protect his people.
The Servant Song began with the Servant addressing "peoples from afar"Gentile nations (Isaiah 49:1). Now, in verse 12, those people are coming to the Lord "from afar." This pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which stands for a pilgrimage to the Lord, includes all peoples. Distance and ethnicity are no barriers, either. Some will come from the land of Sinim, the location of which is uncertain. It was apparently an obscure, far-away place.
The Father "kept" Jesus, the Servant of the Lordhe protected him and nourished him (Matthew 2:13-15). The Father kept him in this way so that he could embody Gods new covenant, which was brought into effect through his death (1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 9:15). He was protected and nourished by the Father ultimately to dieso that he could give his life away and bring us back to God.
Jesus will restore the landultimately the entire earththat we might inherit it (Matthew 5:5, Romans 4:13, Revelation 21:1). The place we live now, filled with sin, seems desolateunfit for habitation. And this place as it is now is not our home. We await a heavenly restoration that will rid the earth of sin and make it the home we always wanted. Until then, we know we are citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:6, Philippians 3:20). Our worship is not limited by geography (John 4:21-23, Hebrews 12:22). Even now, we worship in the heavenly land of the Fathers heart.
By the power of his death, Jesus liberates those who are bound by sin and live in darkness, who live in ignorance of the truth and are afraid of showing themselves, of being themselves. Jesus healed a man who had leprosy, which was identified with sin, and then told him to "go, show yourself to the priest" (Mark 1:44). Imprisoned by sin, we are less than we should be. We are restricted. Our imprisonment is compounded by guilt for our sin, either known or suppressed. The forgiveness that Jesus offersand the power to change that comes from the Holy Spirit, who is given in the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6)has a liberating, empowering effect that allows us to increasingly be free to be who God created us to be. We gain more confidence to "show ourselves"our true selves.
The Servant will feed the people and satisfy their thirst. Jesus said "he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believers in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). Quite literally, Jesus fed the people in bare, desolate places (Mark 6:35-44), but more importantly he nourishes us spiritually (Mark 6:34). The Servant will protect the people from external threats such as the sun and heat. As our shepherd who leads us to God, Jesus protects us from threats (John 10:11). Jesus removes obstacles and uncertainty that stand in the way of movement toward God, for he says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me" (John 14:6).
By embodying the new covenant, Jesus gives us a spiritual inheritance, freedom, provision, protection, guidance, and the removal of obstacles and uncertaintyeverything we need to get back to the Father.
Jesus, the Servant of the Lord, becomes the new Joshua, giving us heaven, the promised land (Hebrews 4:8-10). He becomes the new Moses, providing us with nourishment and protection in the wilderness. He becomes the new Solomon, inviting those from afar to come to the Lord.
The Servant of the Lord does all this out of a heart of compassion. Jesus is the servant-shepherd "who has compassion on them" and has "compassion on his afflicted." Mark 6:34 says this of Jesus: "And disembarking, he saw a great multitude, and he felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things." Later, he miraculously fed the people, but first he taught them. Because Jesus has compassion on us, he teaches us what we need to know.
All of us are invited to this feast. Barriers such as distance, location and ethnicity are blown away.
As servants of the Lord, we are also servants of the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6), who offer people the opportunity to see God and be transformed (2 Corinthians 3:18). We too are "kept" by the Lordprotected and nourished to be a blessing. Jesus has compassion on us and teaches us that we might teach others also. Ultimately, we are protected and nourished that we might die to our selves and give our lives away (2 Corinthians 4:12). We are servants of the Lord who show people Jesus, who will give them a spiritual inheritance, freedom, provision, protection, guidance and the removal of obstacles and uncertainty. We tell them that distance from the Lord, station in life, ethnicity or any other barrier that they can conceive of are no barriers at all. To live in such a wayto die in such a waywe need the Lords affirmation that this way of life will be vindicated when we are resurrected from the dead.
The book To Kill A Mockingbird is largely about a man who decided that his vocation as a lawyer and his conscience as a man called for him to defend a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman in a southern town. For this decision, Atticus Finch was despised and abhorred. In one scene in the book, he explains the situation to his daughter, Scout:
"Scout," said Atticus, "when summer comes youll have to keep your head about far worse things...its not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are downwell, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe youll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didnt let you down. This case, Tom Robinsons case, is something that goes to the essence of a mans conscienceScout, I couldnt go to church and worship God if I didnt try to help that man."
"Atticus, you must be wrong ."
"Well most folks seem to think theyre right and youre wrong ."
"Theyre certainly entitled to think that, and theyre entitled to full respect for their opinions," said Atticus, "but before I can live with other folks Ive got to live with myself. The one thing that doesnt abide by majority rule is a persons conscience."(1)
Theres a man who wrestled with his vocation, found affirmation for it, and gave his life away.
How creation responds (49:13)
Creation is commanded to join in the celebration. The heavens and the earth stand for all of creation. Good news was often announced from mountains (Isaiah 40:9, 52:7), and now the mountains themselves are supposed to break forth into joyful shouting. Mountains, which were earlier seen as a potential obstacle in verse 11, are now seen as a place of rejoicing. The Servant has cleared away the obstacles, so now rejoicing takes place there.
The reason that creation is told to rejoice is that the Lord has "comforted his people." Isaiah 40, which begins the second major section in the book of Isaiah, began with the words, "Comfort, O comfort my people," says your God." The Lord there commanded that words of comfort be spoken to his people; now the prophet sees that the Lord will comfort his people through the work of his Servant, who will bring them back to the Lord. His compassion for his people, afflicted in captivity, will be expressed in the return from exile effected by the Servant. The Lord will test his people in the "furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10) so that he might comfort them in the end.
Jesus has effected our return to the Lord. When Jesus has compassion on you and comforts you in your affliction, the joy of heaven is such that creation itself is commanded to rejoice. God commands creation to rejoice over us. Thats affirmation! Picture the heavens and the mountains rejoicing over you. If all creation rejoices for what he has done for us, shouldnt we, the recipients of the Lords blessings, rejoice as well? Shouldnt we shout for joy and break forth into joyful shouting? If we have trouble doing so now, can we look forward to the day when the Servants accomplishment will be completely implemented, in the new heavens and the new earth? (Revelation 21:1) The heavens and the earth are sure to be rejoicing on that day. We will rejoice then, for sure, but can we rejoice in advance, now, knowing that that day will come? We can!
The path of servants
In your wrestling over what it is youre
supposed to be and do, know that if you make giving your life
away your goal, the Lord is affirming you, even now. His promise
to raise us from the dead is the affirmation we need to continue
down the difficult but glorious path trod by servants of the Lord.
(1) Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1982. Warner Books, New York, N.Y. Pp 104-5.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ("NASB"). © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture quotations were also taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ("NIV"). © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
June 18, 2000
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