A Hero With the Least Likely Name and Outfit Ever – the Servant’s Story
What does your ideal hero look like: A totally ripped Superman? A tech-loaded, armour plated Batman? Thor with his magic hammer?
By the time Isaiah comes around it’s clear that the story of God’s relationship rescue plan is not going very well. The crooked lines that God’s people keep drawing in their lives are too, well … crooked. No matter how hard God tries to discipline and encourage his people into living well they just aren’t able to get it all together. It’s time for a hero. There are two chapters in Isaiah that predict what this hero is going to be like. Thing is, if you’re looking for the next amazing, awesome Marvel Comics superhero, you’re going to be disappointed. Not even the name is inspiring:
Can you do anything with that one Stan Lee?
Turns out that’s exactly the kind of name God goes for. Isaiah 52 and 53 are one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. They are the ultimate verses about how God is going to bring all the crooked lines of peoples’ lives back to the way things God wants them. The Servant – hmmm, that name … – is going to come. When he’s done, life will never be the same again. This prophecy was given hundreds of years before Jesus was born. The people back then had no idea what was coming – except for this mysterious prophecy. On the one hand the servant sounds pretty lame – he’s not even very nice to look at. On the other hand the things he would do sounded good. Very good. Too good to be true maybe. Unfortunately for them the people back then would never get to see if it was.
The prophecy is in two parts. The first twelve verses are an announcement that the hard life of exile is nearly at an end. The second part is about what the Servant will do to one day finish off the exile-life for good.
Here’s the first part in Isaiah 12v1-12:
Here was some seriously good news for the people who heard them back then. Life had been unbearable for hundreds of years. They had been living as slaves and servants in far-away countries as a result of their continued reluctance to keep God first in their lives. It seemed it would never end. Then, one day, Isaiah unwraps the latest news from God: Put yourself in the boots of someone that had been living a hard life in a place far from home and who had almost lost hope of ever going back. Imagine what they felt when they heard this for the first time:
Wake up, wake up! Pull on your boots, Zion! Dress up in your Sunday best, Jerusalem, holy city! Those who want no part of God have been culled out. They won’t be coming along. Brush off the dust and get to your feet, captive Jerusalem! Throw off your chains, captive daughter of Zion! God says, “You were sold for nothing. You’re being bought back for nothing.”
Again, the Master, God, says, “Early on, my people went to Egypt and lived, strangers in the land. At the other end, Assyria oppressed them. And now, what have I here?” God’s Decree. “My people are hauled off again for no reason at all. Tyrants on the warpath, whooping it up, and day after day, incessantly, my reputation blackened. Now it’s time that my people know who I am, what I’m made of—yes, that I have something to say. Here I am!”
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,Breaking the news that all’s well, proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,telling Zion, “Your God reigns!” Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts, shouting in joyful unison. They see with their own eyes God coming back to Zion. Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem: “God has comforted his people! He’s redeemed Jerusalem!” God has rolled up his sleeves. All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm. Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other, sees him at work, doing his salvation work. Out of here! Out of here! Leave this place! Don’t look back. Don’t contaminate yourselves with plunder. Just leave, but leave clean. Purify yourselves in the process of worship, carrying the holy vessels of God. But you don’t have to be in a hurry. You’re not running from anybody! God is leading you out of here, and the God of Israel is also your rear guard.
That must have been pretty cool to hear … What they didn’t realise back then was that this was going to take a pretty long time. You can read about the return to Jerusalem in the book of Nehemiah but truth is, things didn’t get better for everybody. After a few more hundred years things looked pretty much the same. By the time Jesus was born not much had changed. The people were back in their home country but there were still foreigners in charge. In the rest of chapter 12 and 13 God lays out the long term plan. There was still some hard work to do to get things back on track. People back then might have wondered who this ‘Servant’ was going to be and when he would come. When we read this passage knowing what happens with Jesus in the Gospels it becomes clear that this is an incredible prophecy about what Jesus would one day come and do.
The second part of the prophecy is in Isaiah 52v13 to 53v12
“Just watch my servant blossom! Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd! But he didn’t begin that way. At first everyone was appalled. He didn’t even look human— a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback, kings shocked into silence when they see him. For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes, what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.” Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain first-hand.One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. (The Message)
So ya … it’s interesting that there are no descriptions of what Jesus looked like in the gospels, so we have to imagine that part. What’s also interesting is that thousands of people were attracted to Jesus – children, men, women all came from far away to be near him. If it wasn’t his appearance that did that … well, must have been the things they heard him say and saw him do.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.
Read that passage again. And again. And again. And a few hundred more times. Jesus was embarrassed and humiliated on the cross. People mocked him. ‘Save yourself!’ they shouted. In the end the joke was on us – but so was the healing. Jesus became the one, final sacrifice that finally dealt with the problem of sin. Isaiah goes on, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Bringing God’s people back to a place of being in right-relationship with him was going to cost the Servant an enormous amount:
He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off— and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true. It’s fascinating to read the gospel stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and see just how accurate this prophecy really was – even the part about Jesus being buried in xx’s tomb Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many ‘righteous ones,’ as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly— the best of everything, the highest honours— Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.
There was only one thing that was ever going to motivate this Servant to go through this brutal experience. It was a vision he had. A vision of one day everyone who had faith in him becoming fully ‘right’ with God. A vision of the relationship that was broken in the beginning being completely restored. With right-relationship comes life – ‘life, life and more life.’ Jesus wanted that badly enough to go through the agony of the cross. But all this was in the distant future for the people lost in exile as they listened to Isaiah’s message from God. What Jesus went through is in the distant past for us. And yet, on either side of the event this prophecy put in the spotlight, the promise is the same. The Relationship will be restored. Things between us and God will be right again. And it was all because of the Servant. A Stan Lee classic superhero? Not really. The Servant was way more heroic than that.
Seeing your story in the Story
You may want to work with these lyrics from Macklemore’s song Cinema. A song about what the movie of his life is and could be like …
“Selfish, selfish, selfish me, yeah, me
Yeah, girlfriend, break-up, new one, one-night stand, cheat, cheat, repeat that
Drug use, clean up, drug use, drug use, clean up, drug use, rehab
F- you I suck dude, self-loathing, self-esteem, ego, then me again
Put a soundcheck right in the middle
A never ending quest to try and get fans
There you have a beginning, a middle and a really shitty end
Nah, give me a break through, can I get a montage, come on I need that
Humble me, give me a conflict, a hardship, let me break through this cement
They’re gonna be so disappointed when they roll the credits in
I realized that my movie sucked and I was the only one that could edit it
Well the course, the chain of events, that would be the evidence, some say it’s coincidence
I say I found something greater than myself and started accepting it
And I can see, feel, taste and smell again
And I’m the only one with the hammer to break this shell I’m in
It’s gonna take me crackin’ this mirror to finally be myself again
Met my potential a long time ago and I’m not stopping til I resemble him”
How’s the movie of your life shaping up?
How does the story you tell yourself about the broken or disappointing things in your life go? Is your story about trying hard to please people, or being the best person you can be? Maybe the story isn’t going so well – there’s a little bit too much that’s gone wrong with no clear view of the way out.
Who are the heroes in your story? Who are you looking for to help you out? What would it mean to you to let your story be re-written so that it includes the story Jesus tells about you? The story that’s contained in these verses from Isaiah. The story that says there’s a way out of the broken and messed up parts of your life because the stuff Jesus dealt with on the cross makes healing available to you? What would it take to re-tell your story so that things are right between you and God? What would the re-telling of your story be like when it includes the truth that God sees you as significant enough to be worth going through all that pain that Isaiah foretold?