You and I are in great danger this morning. Comforts and Confronts. Cuts and Heals.
If you’re anything like me, you like comfort. You like pleasure. You like things to go your way and get a little hot when they don’t. Too often we choose to go with the flow rather than to swim upstream.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know deep down inside that’s not where life happens. As we’ve been talking about for the last four weeks, we are called to die so that our lives might expand and grow and become more than a mere seed. If we’re honest with ourselves, the most alive we have felt is when we have taken risks or stepped into the unknown. When we didn’t have it all figured out.
As one mentor of mine has said, “Comfort zones are where dreams go to die.”
If we opt for comfort, then the big dreams God has placed in our hearts. The fully alive human beings that he created us to be will be lost forever. By saving our lives, we lose them. By giving them up, we gain them.
Our passage this morning is often called the Third of Four Servant Songs in the prophet Isaiah’s message to us. This morning as we walk through this passage, I want us to consider, “Why would this Servant do the things he does in this passage?”
4 The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
As I said, we are in great danger this morning. The New Testament makes it clear that this Suffering Servant finds its fulfillment in the life and death of Jesus. If the Christian life is one of more and more conformity into the image and life of Jesus, then we must be prepared for pain and suffering. We are intended to grow and become more than what we are. More accurately, we are to become all that God intended us to be.
When we look to Jesus, his life is not just outside of us. Something done in one time and place. But his work must also be done inside of us. In the very fabric of our lives.
So our roads to Calvary are modeled after the Perfect One who suffered on our behalf. And this suffering is not an altogether horrible thing. It is the friction that happens in life when we live in light of a different King.
The life we see in the Suffering Servant is one that he received from the hands of God. There are three times the covenant-keeping God is mentioned in this passage.
Verse 4: The LORD God has given me teaching. The calling he received was just that…received. It wasn’t contrived or made up as he saw fit. The Servant was taught by God himself.
Verse 5: The Lord God opened my ear. What does this mean? It is the action God takes to give us an understanding mind to what is being taught. This is a gift of grace. Unlike the ones the prophets indicted for ever hearing yet never perceiving, the Servant is marked by both sitting under the teaching of God and receiving it as his way of living.
Verse 7: The Lord God helps me. This is more than a pat on the back. The activity of God has gone from that of speaking and opening ears to coming alongside. Put your finger there. We’re going to come back to this concept in a moment.
What was the purpose of this teaching he received? To serve the needs of others. To sustain the one who is weary. The life he offers up as a spiritual act of worship is one of receiving first from God and then giving to others. This is the tenor of all four of the Servant Songs. His life is that of a Servant. He serves others on God’s behalf.
We saw this at the beginning of Advent in the First Servant Song—Isaiah 42.1: He will bring forth justice for the nations. As we saw last week, this Servant was never intended merely to save a certain ethnicity. Yes, he came from the Jews, but he was meant for all peoples.
As Isaiah continues to teach, we find that the way this Servant will bring about this justice will be by giving himself up as the substitute for the guilty—pre-eminently seen in the Last Servant Song in Isaiah 53 (bruised for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
We get a glimpse of it here, though. Verse 6: I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheek to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. Why are these horrible things done to the one who serves others? This is what it takes to bring forth justice.
But there is a fourth place that the LORD God appears. Verse 9: Behold, the LORD God helps me. Yes, this is the same word in Verse 7. And this is more than an encouraging word.
This is the same word to describe Israel’s cries for a Deliverer to help them (Exodus 2.23). But this is a theme throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. The word first appears in Isaiah 10.3: “To whom will you flee for help in day of reckoning?” The word shows up a second time in Isaiah 20.6. After judgment has come and Israel is scattered around, they say: “Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered.”
This is a theme throughout the time right before Israel’s Exile. They had trusted in princes and chariots and the mighty and forsaken their confidence in the Lord. They had opted for protection from Egypt and Assyria. And they found that they were cruel deliverers indeed!
This is the same option Jesus was given so many times before his crucifixion. Jewish Leaders. Caiaphas. King Herod. Pontius Pilate. The crowds. Why would he not entrust himself to them?
The word “help” shows up a third time in 30.5: “Everyone comes to shame through a people that cannot profit them, that brings neither help nor profit, but shame and disgrace. Egypt’s help is worthless and empty.” Isa 31.1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel.”
This is our human default position. We see the strong and the mighty and we run to them. We are easily deceived by what seems to be strength. This reminds me of the Charmin commercials from some time ago where the little boy would take a whole lot of toilet paper and stuff his shirt with it and look very big…stronger than he was. We can laugh because of the humor in it. Of course he’s not strong. Yet, we still find ourselves leaning on those who appear strong and forsake the One who made the strongmen.
This is the fundamental difference between the Servant and us. He puts all of his trust in the LORD God. He doesn’t hedge his bets. He places his complete trust and confidence in him. This is the life he wants to free us to live as well. When this kind of confidence in God marks us we begin to understand how the Servant can be disgraced (V.6) but not be disgraced (V.7). How his cheeks can be chipped away at (V.6) but still remain as hard as flint (V.7).
Yes, the Servant suffers shame and is beaten, but his vindication comes from One who stands over all the peoples who mete out this punishment (V.8). He knows that this pain is temporary and will pass away like a garment eaten by a moth (V.9).
This is the full life that Christ offers to all of us. As he enters into Jerusalem, as he is lifted up this morning, we are challenged with what we believe is sure and steady and real. We find that our confidence must be grounded in a higher ground. The earth surely gives way. Those things we put confidence in on this earth will fail us. They will use us. They will disappoint us.
The Servant frees us from the mirage of comfort in anything or anyone else other than the LORD God. This is not an easy path. This is a path of invisibility. Of walking by faith and not by sight. Much like the the Charmin boy. We can try to stuff ourselves with things outside of us…but God is about refining and strengthening the very substance of who we are. He wants to firm up our resolve and resilience to the moth-eaten promises.
This concept of help is a rich and dangerous feast if we will take it. Let me leave you with what the LORD God says in the chapter 41 right before the First Servant Song:
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.