We are taking a closer look at Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Today, 53:1-3:
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isaiah 53:1-3).
Everyone is waiting for superman. So God sends John Doe.
OK, not quite John Doe. But certainly He sends us Jesus not as a stand out. He is God but incognito. Isaiah 52-53 tells us many things about Jesus. Yes, Jesus--Jesus who is God. There is one God and that being is manifest in three distinct persons. Jesus is one of those persons. Jesus took not just a human form; He took humanity. More than this, He took not a perfected, undamaged, shrink-wrapped, sanitized, white-hot, magically glowing, looking-down-from-Olympus type of humanity. Rather, He took a sin-impacted, damaged, genetically-impacted, able-to-suffer, able-to-die, humanity.
He took a kind of humanity we can relate to because it is the kind of humanity your neighbor has. It is the kind of humanity your neighbor knows you have. It is a humanity that can suffer from influenza, male-pattern baldness, genetic heart-disease, leukemia, mosquito bites, lyme disease, trichinosis, gum disease, acne, and athlete's foot.
Let us consider this report.
Who has Believed our Report?
Isaiah was called to be a prophet. Prophethood comes with its harder pieces. The prophet speaks for God but what he must speak so often is uncomfortable, upsetting, apple-cart overturning. It is a call to change things that should be changed. It is an interruption. When God speaks, it matters, and so the prophet has the unenviable task of speaking what hard human hearts don't want to hear.
How many prophets have asked themselves, or even asked God Himself, who has believed our report? But the work of a prophet is to speak clearly, accurately, what God has given Him to speak. His work is to faithfully reproduce the inspired thoughts the Holy Spirit has given him into His own human words.
When it comes to saviors I say again, we want superman. We want someone bigger and better than us, who will accept us in our depravity, and give us a list of ceremonies and sayings, in exchange for which we will receive eternal life without hard changes. Of course that is what we want. But that is never what the prophet offers us, because that is never what God offers us. And the answer to why that is never what God tells us is rooted in this passage.
Planted in Dry Ground
When Jesus would come, He would grow up before His Father, and before His people, like a tender plant. Tiny new plants are delicate, vulnerable, squishable. If you are weeding in your garden, the newest weeds are the easiest to pull up and remove. Jesus was God. He could have skipped this humble entrance. Instead, He could have come down to us from the sky to the deafening crecendos of angel choirs, punctuated by atmosphere-ripping nuclear blasts; He could have come in such brightness that every eye would have not only seen but melted at His presence. The demonstration would not have shown the tinyest percentage of His power.
Jesus comes as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground. That is to say, He comes with humility, with weakness, with no shining glory. He does not glow in the dark. He does not have a halo of light around His head. He is not a superhuman. He is just a human. He does not come displaying His powers as God but displaying His humility. He fits into this world He made as the most helpless kind of human imaginable: a baby. He is dependent on Joseph and Mary for everything.
He is like a root out of a dry ground. Because my life has been given to ministry, I have worked and lived in several places. Ironically, I've often lived in homes with very sandy, poor soil. Once we had a home with really good soil, surrounded by multi-acre farms. You can tell the difference between the different kinds of soil. Jesus did not come like a plant in rich, excellent soil, but like a bramble coming up in parched, poor soil.
No Disirable or Beautiful Form
Again, being God, it could have been arranged that Jesus come as the perfect human specimen: ultra high intelligence, rippling with muscle, perfect skin tone, and so on. And yet, the Bible goes out of its way to tell us God did none of this; He exploited none of those possibilities. Jesus is presented as a most ordinary in form. But there were, intentionally, no stand-out features. Had you put Him in a line up with twelve other men, nothing about his physical form would have stood out.
I do believe that in any line up He would have stood out. Not because of bodily features per se, but because of His consciousness of moral purity, because of the fact of His aloofness from sin. You would have seen Him and sensed immediately that there was something noble here, something holy. That was due to sinless character, not sinless body. On the contrary, His body was as genetically damaged as every other Jewish man of that age. Isaiah is crystal clear: "He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him."
Jesus was everyman. Why? Because He did not come to demonstrate the obedience of a God to a God, but of man to God. Make no mistake, Jesus was God, always was and still is God. But the example He came to live and give us was no use to us unless it was livable by us in us. If it was impossible, then the gospel is mere theatrics, the biggest Broadway play ever. Then you don't even need to overcome, just some persuasive special effects, buttered popcorn, and a comfortable seat to watch the show. If Jesus' life is a meaningful model, it has to reach all the way to where we are.
We do not worship Jesus because He has a noble figure, but because we see in Him our highest aspiration; aspirations put there by God Himself. He is the highest human expression of self-givingness. He doesn't just come with a certificate that we are cured, but we are guilty. We are doomed to die by lethal injection and Jesus takes the lethal injection for us.
Jesus comes a our sin-bearer. He will take our sins from us and dispose of them forever if we permit Him to.
If Jesus were an alien superman what would any of this matter? But the book of Hebrews says it succinctly. Hebrews 2:14-17:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed, He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
He shared in the same. The same what? Flesh and blood. So He came as a nobody. He identified Himself with us all in our damaged humanity so that all of us could identify with Him in His Godness. Jesus wins. How? Through death. He dies for us on the cross. Romans eight says He defeated sin in the flesh. That is, He defeated sin by living without sinning in our humanity, and then, by taking that very humanity with Him to the cross. Carrots, even perfect carrots, wouldn't do for Cain; the sacrifice had to be a life given. Jesus' life was given for us, but it was also lived in fallen humanity. Jesus was triumphant.
What He needed in order to overcome was what we need in order to overcome. He needed to be entirely surrendered to God. He needed connection to divine power. The Holy Spirit gave Him power to live right just exactly as the Holy Spirit gives us power to live right.
Hebrews tells us He had to be made like us in order to be our merciful and faithful High Priest. That's what we needed. A person who could be our High Priest and minister His perfect blood representing His perfect life for us. Most Evangelicals admit His blood is needed, but few seem to understand that His priesthood is needed.
He is our High Priest. He is one of us. Thankfully, at every step He chose right doing instead of sinning. Thus He never sinned. He is our sinless Savior. He did for us what we could never do for us. We have sinned. Jesus never sinned. We cannot ever make atonement for our sins; we are forever disqualified. Jesus forever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25).
Despised and Rejected by Humans
Isaiah tells us that when Jesus comes He will be despised and rejected by men. Isn't that exactly what happened? Some said yes and some said no, that is true. Not everyone rejected Him. But many did. They preferred Barabbas, a murderer, to be released instead of Jesus the Giver of Life.
How many people take it for granted that they are Christians just because they hold certain beliefs. But if the truths they accept intellectually are not allowed to change how they actually live, then they are not sanctified by them. They have not believed His truth and loved His truth, and so have not received the power and grace that is given to those who choose sanctification.
Even Nicodemus was ashamed to be seen visiting with Jesus during lighted hours. He went at night. The religious authorities were a dismal disappointment, more nervous about displeasing the state (Rome) than displeasing God. This is why the human high priest Caiaphus said, "Don't you reaize that it makes more sense for us politically for one man to be executed for the whole nation of us, so that the whole nation will not perish" (John 11:50 paraphrased). The Pharisees view was equally blindly political: "If we leave Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place an our nation" (John 11:49).
It's pitiful. But too often today the churches are equally spineless, equally captured by the state and by the culture. Jesus gives everything for us, but we can't stand a bit of discomfort, a bit of name-calling, a bit of persecution and even murder by the state? Usually the answer is No, we can't. Jesus spread out His arms on the cross and died for us, but we won't even speak up for Him when someone bullies us. Jesus was despised and rejected by humans.
A Man of Sorrows and Acquainted with Grief
Was Jesus truly a man who knew sorrows deeply and who was acquainted with grief? Where to begin!
In the wilderness temptation He was under enormous duress. He knew what was in man, knew that all His self-denial for us would be mostly ignored by fallen humans more interested in chips and dips and flicks than victory and honor and sacrifice. Even when Satan suggested a path around the cross, Jesus refused. He would not negotiate with the devil. In His emaciated, wasted human form, stomach shrunken, body consuming its own last resources, sapping nutrients and fluids from His own bones, Jesus still said, No.
Then there were all the people who came to Him, took of His generosity, feasted on loaves and fishes, and went away full but empty; went away with physical nourishment but still spiritually uncommitted to God. That was devastating. That gave some sorrow and grief.
Then there were the scoffers and arguers in the crowds, the smart guys, the intelligentsia of Israel who sought not truth but to argue and engage Him in talk and to tangle Him in words so they could condemn Him. They tried everything to cancel Him, but He was saturated with truth from above. He was invincible in argumentation. They finally stopped trying, but they were just as committed to error, to murder, as when they began. That gave Him sorrows and grief.
But Jesus' greatest test must have been the garden of Gethsemene. There He bowed under full demon attack. Every devil was there to smother Him, crush Him, to transmit lying ideas to Him. The full weight of human transgression was upon Him as He there bore our sins. He was fully separated from the Father by that sin. For the first time in eternity He was utterly alone. He felt God's wrath against sin. Read those lines in the Bible which describe Gethsemene (Matthew 26:36-56; Mark 14:32-50; Luke 22:39-53; John 18:1-11).
It was in the garden that Jesus' ultimate battle occured. He prayed and prayed, not just for others but now for Himself. He could still turn back. He could still turn away. He could turn from the bitter cup of our punishments. But He drank it to the very bottom. He experienced joy in our humanity and sorrow in our humanity. He saw us at our worst. He saw demon-influenced people laughing and spitting at Him while tortured to death on the cross. And yet His decision was made. He would save man at any cost to Himself.
We Hid our Faces from Him
Isaiah 53:3 continues, stating, "And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised and we did not esteem Him." Those Jesus came to save, even His closest, ran and hid like cowards as He died on the cross for them. We prefer regular heroes; Jesus is an embarrassing Savior. God can't come down too low to us or we begin to be nervous, we begin to be bothered. Remember how when Jesus washed Judas feet, that was when Judas settled His rejection of Him? He went out and it was night; he was a lost person. He had rejected Jesus as Messiah completely.
God has to keep a distance; He can't come too close. And yet, this is who He is. He is the God who comes close. How do you get closer than being Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23)?
But this comes down to us, too. Do we modern, enlightened folk hide from God? Does His humility make us nervous? It's an important question. Remember what Paul told us of Jesus at Hebrews 2:18: "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted." He had to come close in order to be our example. But we tend to prefer the God who stays a bit further away. Then we can worship Him at a distance.
We like God to be transcendant. We can practice our reverence more safely when He is further away. Isaiah however teaches us not only transcendence (Isaiah 6) but immanence (Isaiah 53). God is infinitely above and beyond us, but also infinitely close and present with us. We feel He is tainted if He comes too close to us.
We have to get over that, because He did and is doing so much for us. He is a God near at hand.
Indeed, He has come down the ladder to rescue us. Have you ever set up a ladder and tried to reach something but it was sill just out of reach? You were a few steps short. In the book of Genesis, Jacob had fled for his life when his brother declared his intent to kill him. There Jacob was, alone in the wilderness, sleeping on a rock for a pillow. And God gave Jacob a vision of reassurance. He saw angels ascending and descending to him on a ladder (Genesis 28:10-22). He was not alone! Heaven and earth were connected, and God was delivering him.
Jesus is the ladder that Jacob saw. Its top was in heaven and its final step reached completely to the earth. Christ reaches us right where we are. He took our nature and overcame, that we might take His nature and overcome.
If someone is trapped on the roof of a burning building, and suddenly the fireman appears on a ladder at the edge to save you, you should not run to the opposite side of the roof and hide from him. You should gratefully follow His instructions exactly and cooperate with him in getting off the roof while you still can. Let Jesus be your ladder. Do not hide from Him. Do not ignore Him. Don't be distracted. How many Christians are laying in their beds this morning still, poking little rectangular slabs of metal, missing fellowship with their own brother and sister believers? Don't be distracted. Be alarmed. Your eternal life is at stake. There is an emergency and Jesus has come down to you, all the way down to you. If you believe the report of the prophet, then turn to Jesus. Embrace Him. Accept His gift of deliverance.
Next week, Isaiah 53:4-6.
Muskegon MI SDA 2020-08-29