Monthly Archives: April 2013


Last time we looked at the second of five stanzas in this titanic passage. Now just look at the second stanza beginning at Isaiah 53:4 for three powerful, loaded verses. It’s the central stanza, the heart of the whole matter. Pay attention to the prophet!  If you ever hear anything, hear this!

He foretold long centuries ago ..

Isa 53:4  SURELY he took up our pain [or sickness] and bore our suffering [or pains]

The First century Gospel writer, Matthew, was familiar with this prophetic passage and saw this literally fulfilled in the healing work of Jesus of Nazareth :

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.  This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”(Mat 8)

The writer of Matthew knew there was a connection between salvation from sin and healing from sickness. Both have a common root cause, disconnection from the life, the face, the presence of God. With his seemingly timeless foresight, the prophet sees from afar the suffering servant of Israel taking up our pain and suffering and bearing these in place of a whole people universal. Us.

Matthew will go on to tell the story speaking of a Servant of God that, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Gospel of Matthew 16)

Isa 53:4b  Yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Ha. The human condition. Were you there too, when they crucified him?  Were you there thinking God is punishing him, taunting him in his terrible humiliation? (Yes, I was. Everyman was.) Surely we think he deserved it, confirmed when we hear that desolate cry from his lips, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We assumed it was deserved. Just. How dare a man make such claims. O deadly assumption!

Isa 53:5   But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;

We were dead wrong. This was all about us. Our wrong-doing. Our rebellion. Our disobedience. Our refusal to embrace love and the Lover and the altogether Lovely. Our determination to have anyone but this Man of light and love and life. Our wilfulness to follow anyone, even the Destroyer, the murderer, rather than the Lord and Giver of Life. Crushed for us.

That furious one who excelled in vain efforts to spoil the Servant’s offering, that one who oppressed, persecuted Him and his followers,  determined to kill this spurious superstition, later had to write : He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Paul in his Letter to the Romans 4:25).

Another, that thrice-denier, that faithless, terrified ‘leader’, who saw all this and ran away, later with the memory of that moment, pivotal for all history, ground into his mind, commented …

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed. For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (First Letter of Peter 2:23-25)

And then that Hebrew believer who wrote to fellow Hebrews with deep gratitude : Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.( Hebrews 9:28)

Isa 53:5b   the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

And now we can see it, what was so obscured, so hidden for long ages! That torment, that humiliation, that utterly unrighteous act, that endured suffering, has brought us peace. Shalom. Well-being, wholeness, healing, salvation, freedom, joy, gladness, faith, hope and love, release from the dominion of iniquity, transportation form the dark kingdom into the kingdom of light, the joyous, comfortable, generous, perfect Kingdom of God. all undeserved. That makes it all the more delicious. Satisfying.

Isa 53:6   We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 Here’s Peter again, always reminding the reader : “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet 2:24-25)

We all, sinners by nature, as a race, evaluated collectively, doing what comes naturally. Gone awfully astray. By our own awful choice, each one turning away from life to death, our own way. Suicide.

So much so that God takes the initiative, God reconciling the world unto himself through Christ as the once arch-persecutor says in 2 Cor 5:19. Think about it: God actually laid upon him the filthiness, the humiliation, the shame, the iniquity of all of us. 

This creative, almighty, invisible, surprising, unfathomable, only wise God! Such mercy, compassion. Such value of us must leave us awestruck. 

Just accept it, receive it. That’s all. Done for us. Finished. Once for all. Nothing for us to do. Just believe. Adore. Respond.

And now. Onwards! To live for righteousness!


Last time we looked at the first of five stanzas we find in this most significant prophetic passage. Let’s now look at Isa 53:1-3 which forms the second stanza, beginning at Isaiah 53.

·         53:1  Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Our history as human beings is a litany of unbelief in the One who is there. More. Unbelief that he has spoken. Unbelief in His wondrous creation and unending provision. Unbelief in His intent to bless us and give freely to us of His abundance.

This unbelief began in the Garden even as the gracious arm of the Lord was revealed to them–us. Though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize Him. The Lord spoke and everything we see, hear, taste, smell, feel and touch sprang into existence. And remains, despite our exploiting and wasteful ways! Still intact, day after day. Yet we took no notice of His voice and turned away from Love and Value and Truth and listened to the speech of the liar and believed, yes believed, a lie! We trusted, not in Him, who loved His creation, who fathered us after His own character, who spoke lifegiving  words to us, but we trusted in the words of the liar, the deceiver, the accuser, the spoiler, the harbinger of death.

How could we have been so stupid? How can we go on believing the Liar instead of the Lover?

He did not give up on us. He pursued us, revealing His mighty arm again and again. But how few of us believed His words! At last, He sent His Son in person, out of Himself, but in human form, in perfect man-ness to His own ancient people. Again the arm of the Lord was revealed in word, in deed, in love. Clearly, demonstrably. 

·         53:2a   He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.

He arrived, the best kept secret. Experienced refugee status in Egypt. Then grew up in Nazareth his home –what a surprise. Can anything good come out of Nazareth, we asked. He did not grow up before the world, before the media, before the crowds. He grew up before Him, his Father. A tender shoot. Vulnerable, like us. Needed Mum. Needed protection. Needed an education. No flamboyance. No displays of power. No regal ideas, no pomp and circumstance, no triumphalism. Utter humility. A mere root out of dry ground—a desert, in a famine of the word of the Lord, Israel’s lowest ebb.

Could this really be the root, the stump of Jesse? The Messiah? we all asked.

Just couldn’t be. His own did not even receive Him! He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him!  Impossible.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet:“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.”  (John 12:37-38)

Signs aplenty. Unbelief. Evidence. Unbelief.

·         Isa 53:2b   He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He came, not like David, as we expected! Not aggressive, not king-like, not conquering. Not like a loud politician or slick televangelist. So convincingly a human like all of us. And we were blind to his glory and perfectness. Because of our assumptions. We looked for a white swan but Yahweh sent a black one. Nothing in our experience prepared us for this one. Nothing, not even the earlier Hebrew prophecies, foreshadowed for us this surprising appearance on to the world’s stage. Nothing like this was expected as a possibility. His impact was epoch-making but visible only to those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, prepared to abandon assumptions.

·           Isa 53:3   He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

The creativity, the genius of Yahweh was so great, so unexpected, so different from our unholy assumptions, that we despised him. We did not want a man of suffering and familiar with pain. We did not want or think that God would make him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that only in him we might become the righteousness of God.

No ,we wanted our own righteousness. We would do it my way, our way. We saw no need that someone should suffer to be the Messiah.

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilledHe will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him;they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” Luke 18:31-33

Yes ,we listened to madness, to hell. We wanted anything but this man. Even Caesar! Even Barabbas! Three cheers for Judas. We all fled, hopes dashed, visions shattered. Alone he faced his despisers, his judges, his deriders, his torturers. We hid our faces. We closed our eyes.

We still do, maybe. Hide our faces, think about other, nice, things. What?


We now turn to the most significant and mysterious passage in the Bible, known as the Suffering Servant Passage from the pen of Isaiah. It runs from Isaiah 52 and verse 13 through to 53, verse 12. It is clear that it is set out in five stanzas. This time we are dealing with the first stanza: a mysterious servant.

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Isa 52:13-15)

This dramatic Hebrew prophecy here speaks of a servant of God –my servant – a servant who will act with wisdom and who will then be raised up and highly exalted.

Who is this one who can be spoken of in both the future and the past, the one to be highly exalted?

This servant, for the joy that was set before him, will endure so much that will be thrown at him, abuse, slander, anger, rejection, arrest, a kangaroo court, denial by friends, betrayal by a trusted one, false testimony, judgment, excruciating torment, unimaginable humiliation, total exhaustion and painful, slow execution.

This servant, is the one who serves, who waits upon the LORD, who listens for his orders, for his assignments and who is entrusted with the greatest of all tasks in the heavenly and earthly places. This is a task that demands the greatest wisdom and not the wisdom of the world! not the wisdom of men but the wisdom of God.

This task will involve the greatest, the ultimate sacrifice, the expenditure of his very life. His sacrifice will be so complete and so public, that countless many will be appalled at him and his lowliness, his servanthood, his self-giving for the living dead who look on him. For they will cause his beauty to be disfigured beyond that of any other human being ever, so marred that his humanity will be unrecognisable. He will allow them to ruin his perfect form.

But, incredibly, his offering, his suffering, his frightful experience and degraded condition, will have the supernatural effect of the sprinkling, the cleansing, the setting free, of many. Even kings will be speechless at what he has accomplished. But will they see, will they understand?

Many will see what has happened and will understand. You are reading this but do you see with your innermost eyes? You have heard about this, but do you understand, has it stricken your heart?


This is the final posting in this series on The Letter to the Hebrews from the New Testament. Our author, a prominent Christian leader in the first century, has just asked his recipients, a community of believing Hebrews, to pray for him. In this letter he has given many urgent requests to hold fast to Jesus, the great high priest and despite many testings, to remain faithful to the end. Now finally, he prays for them here at the end of his great letter:

 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (13:20-21) 

The letter ends with a beautiful appeal to the God of peace. Letters in the Ancient World invariably ended with a prayer to a god or the gods, who in peoples’ pagan imagination, were always fighting and competing with each other! But this is a cry to the God who is Peace.

In his prayer he reminds us of the great theme of this letter : the blood of the eternal covenant. He adds a striking reference to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep. Jesus rose from death in a transformed human body just as he said he would. Without this resurrection, there would be no eternal covenant. We would be lost in our sins. An entombed, decomposing Jesus would have not been able to enter the heavenly sanctuary with his blood and secure the forgiveness for everyone who trusts in him, a mysterious act of cosmic proportions which has been introduced to us in this unique letter.

It is clear in this letter, that this author considers himself among the sheep with no more status before God than the brothers and sisters he cares for. There is no office of an ‘under-shepherd’. Actually there are no human offices or officials at all in the Body of Christ, only activists, bold servants, workers busy in the Lord’s business. There are varieties of service, of action, of gifts for the Body. The Holy Spirit is dynamic not static, not institutional.

So, he asks that they be equipped with God’s gifts and graces in every way for doing God’s will. Clearly, the people of God are not to be spectators, a mere audience, but active participants doing God’s will in their households and their holy community and in wider society.

The result of this dynamic working in us will be what is pleasing to God. It will be pleasing to God only because it is done through Jesus the Christ (Messiah). All other works no matter how grand, spectacular or ‘good’ will be lost in God’s sight. We are to build only by following God’s wonderful design revealed in Jesus and his words. All else will be ‘rooted up’ said Jesus (Matthew 15:13).

This here final hallowing of God, includes Jesus as well as God! Incredibly, the name of Jesus comes out of the writers mind in the same flow as God Himself. Clearly, this mystery is a huge shift from Judaism, certain to draw furious opposition. Just who is Jesus? Consider Jesus! Look to Jesus! It is Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, forever. Jesus is the only mediator between the one, true, living God and his people.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for in fact I have written to you quite briefly. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all. (13:22-25)

The use of personal pronoun “I” in this letter, right at the very end, is remarkable in such a long letter—and although the author claims to have written briefly(!),  it is clear that the tone throughout is indeed very serious, with many warnings and reminders of dire consequences should the message be ignored, hence, I urge you to bear with me in my word of exhortation. He pleads with them, he does not issue authoritarian commands. We see that the author sees himself as carrying no coercive authority –he urges them, and does not treat them like a master or a prelate.

 The mention of our brother Timothy assures us that the author is well connected with the other apostles, especially Paul, Timothy’s close fellow apostle.  They could look forward to a visit from two well-known sheep of the great Shepherd among them. What a full-on time that must have been.

Timothy’s imprisonment also reminds us once more, that they lived in a hostile environment. They are asked to greet all their leaders—the letter is addressed to the community, not to leaders. He appears to ignore the leaders, asking his readers to greet the leaders, and all the Lord’s people, including no doubt, Gentile believers. The others who are the Lord’s people are not forgotten!

Then he sends greetings from people in Italy from where we assume he writes. There is certainly no Pope in view! Rather a reminder again that this fellowship is wider than just the community addressed in the letter. The ekklesia of God is international already at this early stage, and it is a family of brothers and sisters, God’s family, not a corporation.

How much there is to take home from a close reading of this letter, one that demands we go beneath the surface! We finish this series by praising and thanking God for such precious and unique perspectives and praying that more believers would feed on its richness.

So Grace be with you all.

(Oh, almost forgot. Could you pray for me please in my writing?)