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A Hero With the Least Likely Name and Outfit Ever – the Servant’s Story

 

This is Session 1 in Series 4 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 4 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story

What does your ideal hero look like: A totally ripped Superman? A tech-loaded, armour plated Batman? Thor with his magic hammer?

thor

 

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:

The Servant

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.

We have.

***

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.

redperson

Leaders Guide

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?

 

Here for Such a Time as This – Esther’s Story

God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. We are not always faithful and obedient – just like many of the people in the Old Testament story didn’t always get things right. We might be pretty ordinary but that doesn’t stop God from being able to use us in such times as the ones we live in right now.

This is Session 3 in Series 3 of the Enter Life Curriculum. [Series 3 HomeEnter Life Home]

The Story


There were a bunch of times when it appeared that God’s centuries-long plan to restore what was lost at the beginning was really close to being a total fail. God kept using normal people who often got scared or lost their way to work out his plan. Somehow, despite what often looked like randomness, the plan stayed more or less on track. God kept drawing straight with the crooked lines lived out by the people he chose.

Here’s another story from the time the people of Israel were stuck in exile because of their inability and refusal to keep their side of the Covenant – God’s Relationship Rescue plan. It’s from the book of Esther in the Old Testament.

It’s about 480 BC, the Israelites have been carried away from their homes and dumped in Persia. Once again, there’s a king in charge who has more power than sense. Here’s a guy who gets really angry, really quickly and loves writing decrees that can’t be changed that seriously mess with other peoples’ lives. What could possibly go wrong with a guy like that in charge?

In that mix are two Israelite people who find themselves caught up in the action. Here’s how things unfold (in dramatically shortened form):

King Ahasuerus throws a seven day booze-fest after which he is so ‘merry with wine…’ that he decides to show off his beautiful Queen Vashti to his guests. Vashti isn’t that keen on being a fashion accessory and refuses to come.

The king is SHOCKED and APPALLED! Husbands everywhere start wondering if their wives will also stop obeying their every command. An example must be made of the naughty queen.

The queen is banished and the king looks for a replacement. Rather unsurprisingly the king decides to select his favourite from a bunch of beautiful young virgins but only after they’ve spent a whole year in a beauty spa.

The plot gets a bit less runny: Esther, a Jewish orphan, is volunteered by her adoptive dad, Mordecai, to be part of the contest. She wins and becomes the new queen.

In the meantime, Mordecai discovers two guards plotting to kill King Ahasuerus. He tells Esther, who tells the king. The guards are killed and Mordecai gets his name written in the book of heroic deeds.

Enter a guy called Haman who, for some reason, gets promoted by the king to the most important job in the land. There’s lots of power and money – and sex probably – which all goes straight to Haman’s head. He loves making people bow down and tremble before him. Everyone does, except one – Mordecai.
This makes Haman pretty mad. How mad? Mad enough to concoct a scheme to kill ALL the Jews in the entire empire (that’s quite mad).
Mordecai is gobsmacked. This is all his fault! He tears his clothes and sits in a pile of ashes (as you do). Then he gives the details of the genocide plan to Esther. This puts Esther in a bit of a bind. She can’t just drop in on the king and tell him what your problem is (you get killed if you try). She has to wait until the king calls her – which hasn’t happened in a month …
(we’re going to slow down for the next bit cos things get really interesting…)

Esther is not keen to get killed for approaching the king without permission. Mordecai has some blunt words for her: ‘listen Esther, you are in a prime spot to do something about this evil plan – and you will be killed too if the plan goes ahead. If YOU don’t do something then someone else will and, who knows, don’t you think it’s possible that you’ve been put in the powerful spot you have precisely for such a time as this?’

Esther gets it. She decides to risk her life by breaking the law and going to the king uninvited. To boost her chances of surviving she gets her friends to fast for three days. Esther decides the best way to the king’s heart is through his stomach and prepares a two-day feast for him and Haman. Remember, Haman is the bad guy responsible for the plot to kill the Jews. He’s also planning to publicly execute Mordecai on gallows he’s having specially built.

On the first night the king can’t sleep (indigestion, or something else?) and, instead of counting sheep, starts reading the book of heroic deeds. He finds the part about Mordecai stopping the guards from killing him and realises Mordecai never got rewarded for that. Then, and you really can’t make this up …, the king asks Haman to suggest the best way to reward someone for outstanding loyalty. Haman is convinced the king is planning to shower good stuff on him, so he proposes a spectacle full of royal robes and horses and parades – his own little power fantasy. I would so love to have seen Haman’s face when the king says ‘great idea! Now go do all that for Mordecai’

Things get worse for Haman when Esther tells the king about Haman’s plan to hang Mordecai. Guess who ends up getting hung on his own gallows? Mordecai is then named as his replacement…
It turns out the king’s first decree to kill the Jews can’t be undone so Mordecai writes another decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves. They do this with spectacular, gory success. It’s a brutal day but they completely destroy everyone who tried to knock them off.

And that’s pretty much how it ends. Cool story hey? Here’s something I thought was especially interesting: did you notice in the whole story God never gets a mention? It’s like that in the whole book of Esther. At the same time it’s clear that God is a silent character involved in every part of the story (just like in Daniel’s story.)

Everything that happens to Esther is wrapped up in what God was working out in the lives of his people in exile: being adopted by Mordecai, being beautiful enough to win the king’s heart, being smart enough to play the right games with her enemies, and being saved from death for breaking the no-entry rule. When there was no hope for the people of Israel, God placed Esther right where she could do something about it. She was there for ‘such a time as this’ …

Esther and Mordecai had to play their part too. It took great courage, faith in God – and lots of fasting, but they take the risks they need to and make the crafty plays that help to swing things Israel’s way.
The other thing I love about this story is what it reveals about God’s character. God keeps to his word and doesn’t let his people off the hook for their rejection of him. They go off to a harsh exile because of their stubborn rebellion just like God warned them many times through the prophets.

But … look at how God is actively involved in that place of exile. God never stops caring for his people, keeping them safe and using ordinary people like Esther and Mordecai to get the job done. We’ll see in the next story how God keeps promising that their exile won’t be forever and that God will give back to his beloved people everything they lost – and more…

God draws straight with the crooked lines of our lives. We are not always faithful and obedient – just like many of the people in the Old Testament story didn’t always get things right. We might be pretty ordinary but that doesn’t stop God from being able to use us in such times as the ones we live in right now.

redperson

Leaders Toolkit


In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.

Click on the time bomb to see how you could run this session in 15 minutes, 30 minutes or longer.
timebomb

Download a PDF version of this session here

Rewind

Can you think of an event or two in your life where you’re like: ‘wow, I ‘d really like to go back and do that over’?

What did the after effects of that moment look like for you?

Would you say those times are more like obstacles to your personal growth or could they be things that make you stronger?

theWordSpace_cropped

Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts in the next tab.

o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?

o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?

o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?

Refresh

Read the post in The Story tab.

replay
Some questions to help you replay your story 
The Bible tells us in places like Malachi 3v6 and Hebrews 13v 8 that God is the same today as he was all those years ago (check out this song by Jesus Culture ). God is at work in our own lives – often behind the scenes – giving us the things we need and putting us in places so that we can be his hands and feet in a world that desperately needs God’s restorations and healing.

Can you point to a time where God was doing something like that in your life? Maybe in the life of your city or country?
What does God need from us to be able to make a difference through us? Look at what Esther and Mordecai were like: they were faithful, they were savvy (even a bit crafty!), and they were prepared to take risks. Are there situations you’re in right now that require a bit of those things?

Isn’t it amazing to think that God actually wants to change things by working through us? How awesome is it to be considered worthy of that by God!

Re – draw your picture of Jesus
One of the clearest ‘here-for-such-a-time-as-this’ moments in Jesus’ life is recorded in Luke 4v14-20. Jesus takes an ancient prophesy about someone who is 100% sold out for the cause of giving life and hope for people fighting for survival in the brutal back-end of our world – the poor, the prisoners, the sick, the victims of injustice. Jesus – the second person of the Trinity, the king of the Universe – commits himself completely to the cause of those who have the least amount going for them in this world.

How does thinking about that for a moment help you re-draw your picture of who Jesus is and what he is like?

How might that help you understand the way Jesus feels towards you right now?

remix

What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?

Re-pent …
Have you encountered something in Esther’s story that makes you want to say to God: ‘sho, there are some things I need to rethink about my life. Sorry for the times I’ve kept my head down and played things safe when I could have been more obedient. Help me figure out what I might be able to do for your Kingdom in the places I live.’?

Jesus invites us to repent often and with freedom. It’s a real gift from God – go for it!
Some questions to help you remix your story …

o Here’s an idea: think of all the people you come into contact with regularly. Who are the people who might listen to you if you decided something needed to be said?
o Have you been placed among those people and caught up in those issues ‘for such a time as this’? What are the things you are uniquely able to do because of the places you go to and the people you know? What would it take for you to actually begin to do a few of those things?

From the WordSpace


Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:

 

I love the story of Esther in the Old Testament. A stunningly beautiful woman (who knows what that looked like back then?) Esther becomes queen to the powerful king Xerxes. The tale gets dark when the king signs a law that will kill all of Esther’s people. Esther is scared to get involved but her father Mordecai says: ‘surely Esther, you have been placed here for such a time as this?’

How does God view you? I think it’s as someone who is uniquely placed in your family, school, neighbourhood for such a time as this. Do you see yourself as significantly as God does?

What could God be calling you to do today?

Read Esther here: http://bit.ly/1jYZE6h
#andrewv
#Godsviewofyou

Esther is a great story about how to put faith into action too. Esther (Mordecai’s adoptive daughter? or cousin? see 2v7, 15) has a tough choice to make: do nothing or risk her life and talk to the king? She fasts, then goes for it, God comes through and thousands are saved.

What are the things around you that don’t seem right? Have you been placed where you are ‘for such a time as this’? What are the things you are uniquely able to do because of your faith and the people you know?

Be bold and courageous!

Read Esther here: http://bit.ly/17fCYZW
#faithworks

#andrewv

Have you ever felt like nothing ever goes your way? And that when plans change that it always affects you more than others?

From a human perspective, it seems that plans are always changing to hurt or break us. But in the bigger picture, God knows exactly what he is doing in our lives. And even when things seem really bad God says in Hebrews 13v5 that, no matter what happens, he will never leave you or abandon you.

Keep in mind that Gods timing is perfect – and even bad plans will be worked for our good! (Romans 8v28)

Read Hebrews 13 here: http://bit.ly/1491dVz
#teens2teens
Daniel Mitchell, Cape Town

The Bible is about God, right? Then how can a whole book that doesn’t mention him make it into the Old Testament?

The book of Esther doesn’t mention God once. Does that mean he isn’t part of the story? Oh course not! God is a part of every story. And not just the ones that make it into the bible, either. He’s part of every story that could ever be told about this world.

Just because God’s name isn’t being mentioned somewhere doesn’t mean you won’t find him if you look for him. Just because you didn’t pray yesterday or read your bible, doesn’t mean he wasn’t active in your day. Sometimes God is ignored, sometimes he is silent, but he’s never absent.

#esther
#roblloyd

Do you agree that the way we view ourselves can be REALLY fragile sometimes? Just one critical comment, a bad mark, a squeaky voice moment, getting dropped or dumped and suddenly you are a useless, hopeless person. On other days we feel we’re great but it’s really just because something went well for once…

Here’s what God sees you as: a masterpiece. Not only has God made you but, if you have faith in Jesus, God has made you alive and ready to do significant things in partnership with him. And God’s view of you doesn’t change – no matter what might come your way this week.

Read Ephesians 2:8-10 here: http://bit.ly/13YAMlV

#GodsViewofYou
#andrewv

God, things at home aren’t going so well. I feel desperate. Do you see what’s happening? Can you hear me? ‘I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety’ (Psalm 61v1-4 http://bit.ly/13kz4NZ).

You’re here with me in the midst of it all… comforting and loving me, showing me the truth through your word… you’re the place where I can hide now. And you know what hurts. Could you also please show me someone ‘safe’ who I can share about my home situation with… someone who won’t judge, someone I can trust? Thanks, my God-rock.

#FridayFeedback
#wendyb