Good Friday 2022: Glory in the Cross
Before we do the scripture reading it is important to keep the larger context of the book of Isaiah in mind, as well as the place and structure of the Servant song.
In the first part of the book Isaiah, Chapters 1-39, we find mostly oracles of judgment. The Book tracks the movement of Judah’s decline and final expulsion from the land, till they landed in exile.
The following part of the book from Chapters 40 to 66, has a central theme of salvation and hope. His message is directed to the people of God now languishing in exile.
At the heart of these oracles of hope and salvation, we find the Servant Songs with Isaiah 53 as the highlight of salvation and hope! Many calls this passage the Fifth Gospel.
The Servant is a figure who is identified in certain places in Isaiah as Israel and in other places as an individual. Israel was called to be the servant of God, but failed miserably in this calling.
Looking at the structure of the Servant Song (as printed on the back of the bulletin): (John Goldingay’s Scheme) we find the ancient literary structure of an inclusio.
A My Servant will triumph/glory despite his suffering 52:13-15
B (Reference to) Who could have recognized Yahweh’s Arm 53:1. (JA-WAY)
C Servant was treated with contempt 53:2-3
D The reason for the Servants’ suffering was us 53:4-6. (Hinge)
C Servant did not deserve his treatment 53:7-9
B By his hand Yahweh’s purpose will succeed 53:10-11a
A My Servant will triumph/glory because of his suffering 53:11b-12
This structure of Isaiah 53 points us to the major theme of glory in and through suffering (2X).
NOTICE: The Servant is exalted, magnified, and honored by his God on the basis of and even in the midst of his suffering.
There are multiple lines that need to be traced to understand the link between glory and the Suffering Servant.
The modern servant leadership movement was launched by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 with the publication of his classic essay, The Servant as Leader. It was in that essay that he coined the words “servant-leader” and “servant leadership.”
Robert Greenleaf’s concept of the servant-leader came from his reading of the book The Journey to the East by Herman Hesse. In the novel, a group called “The League”, with very interesting characters like Plato, Mozart, (Pai tha guh ras) Pythagoras, Paul Klee, Don (Kee hou dee) Quixote and othervery interesting characters, travel to the east. On the journey, they were served by a servant called Leo, who did their menial chores and lifted them with his positive spirit and song. All went well until Leo disappeared one day. The travelers fell into disarray and could go no farther. The journey was over. Years later, one of the travelers saw Leo again. He was actually the President of “The League”. Leo, who had been their servant, was a great and noble leader.
Greenleaf says that a great leader is a servant first, and that simple fact, is the key to his greatness.
Although Leo’s story is impactful, there is a much more pronounced example and inspiration for Servant Leadership: the Suffering Servant in Isaiah! The suffering of the Servant is the centerpiece of God’s great redemptive work in the book of Isaiah. The Servant is the chosen one to secure salvation for Israel and the nations through service and suffering.
But, Isaiah’s theology brings together two distinct and paradoxical concepts: glory and suffering!!!.
Here in Isaiah 53, God’s glory takes on a cruciform shape. It is evident from the structure of the Song, that Isaiah connects the glory and suffering of the Servant of the Lord.
52:13-15 The Servant’s glory is revealed with words like “he shall prosper; be exalted, lifted up, be very high, many who were astonished, a form beyond that of mortals, he shall startle many nations!”
53 V10-12 He shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper, he shall see light, he shall find satisfaction, shall make many righteous, allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil…
It is extraordinary, to say the least, that this exalted language is taken up and applied to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. (53.19) The original readers would have been astounded by this connection. The language here of being “high,” “lifted up,” and “exalted” points to his holiness, his lofty dwelling place, his eternal nature, his boundlessness, glory, and his worthiness to receive praise. What that implies is that the identity of Yahweh and the identity of the Servant are one! The position that belongs to God alone is the position of the Servant.
BUT now even more striking is that the high and lofty One is the One who is low, oppressed, afflicted, and crushed!!!
The Suffering of the Servant
This same Servant of the Lord full of glory, suffers immensely on many levels:
Suffering of Rejection
The Servant endured rejection at the hands of his fellow man. The text says that he was “despised and rejected by men” (53:3).
Suffering of Oppression
The Servant underwent harsh treatment and oppression at the hands of men. The text says, “he was oppressed and afflicted” (53:7).
Suffering of Sickness
The Servant was “stricken,” “smitten,” and “afflicted.” He was a man acquainted with sickness and pain (53:3).
Suffering of Sorrow
The mission of the Servant was a lonely mission full of pain and sorrow. The text says that he was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (53:3).
Suffering of Misconception
Everyone had wrong ideas about who the Servant was and what he was about. Both the identity and the purpose of the Servant’s coming were hidden from the eyes and minds of the onlookers. (52:15).
Suffering of Sin-Bearing
The suffering of the Servant was altogether unique for it included the crushing weight of carrying the sins of the world. The text is clear that he was “crushed for our iniquities” (53:4).
Suffering of Judgment
The Servant was the stand-in for condemned mankind who came to endure our judgment. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (53:10).
Suffering of Death
The text makes it clear that the Servant was “cut off out of the land of the living” (53:8).
There are no words to describe the depth of the Suffering of the Servant…
GLORY AND SUFFRING? Will Glory only appear only after the Suffering is gone? when the pain is gone, when the grief is no more? when we are healthy? and death is no more? OR Can we be aware of God’s Glory in the midst of Suffering and dying?
Could there be GLORY IN AND THROUGH SUFFERING?
Walter Brueggemann asserts that the “decisive theme of this entire poem is epitomized by the odd relationship between the marred figure of verse 14 and the awesome figure of verse 15.”
When we recognize the high position of this Servant, we can recognize the glorious mystery in this text. The Servant is exalted in suffering and through suffering(2X). It is the glory of the high God to come low.
Isaiah tells us that the work of the Servant consists of both revelation and rescue. The Servant is revealing something about Godself as God works to rescue God’s people.
This is evident from the explicit language of revelation in the text. The question is posed: “to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1). In the Old Testament and Isaiah the term “Arm of the Lord” personifies God’s powerful action. The Surprise is: the unlimited powerful arm of the Lord that saves is the Suffering Servant. There we find the paradox of God’s glorious power is that it is manifest in tremendous weakness and suffering. The power of God is unleashed precisely through a lowly, weak, and humble sufferer. The hand of the Lord is enfleshed in the Suffering Servant. The endless power of God is disclosed in the Suffering Servant.
People do not expect to see a mighty God in weakness, a wise God in foolishness, an honorable God in shame, a beautiful God marred, a transcendent God come low, a holy God bearing sin, a brilliant God in darkness, a wealthy God in poverty, or an enthroned God on a cross. Yet, this is precisely how God reveals himself. Understanding and embracing theological paradox moves us closer to understanding the wonder of our great God.
The mighty God chooses to show God’s power and glory in the most astonishing way. It is the Holy One who endures scorn, shame, beatings, and chastisements. It is the Majestic One who comes with no majesty. It is the Honorable One who receives no honor.
It is the majesty of the exalted God to humble Godself and serve! It is the wonder of the holy God to come as our sin-bearer. The glory of God is revealed precisely in the place we would least expect. The darkest of places turns out to be the brightest display of his brilliance. The high God of Israel is found not on his lofty throne but on a lowly cross.
The glory of God can never be viewed the same after Isaiah 53. Here the theme of glory is threaded through suffering and death.
The New Testament picks up the concept in these verses repeatedly and applies it to Christ. In the gospels, the coming of the Suffering Servant is synonymous with the revelation of God’s glory (Matt 3:3, Mk 1:2-3, Lk 3:4-6, cf. Lk 1:76, Jn 1:23). The intriguing thing about the way the gospel writers use these verses from Isaiah is that they replace the language of glory with salvation. Apparently, they saw these themes as overlapping realities!
EXAMPLE: In John 12:32-33 the gospel writer ties together the language of “lifted up,” and “glory,” to the cross, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” The apostle John also hints that Isaiah saw the glory of Yahweh in the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (Jn 12:41).
Paul in Philippians 2:5-11 takes up this theme of exaltation (“God highly exalted him, gave him a name above all names””) through suffering (“as a slave, obedience till death on the cross”). In this classic Christological text Paul makes a remarkable connection between the cross of Christ and the exaltation of God (Isaiah 45:21-25). The cross is the pathway to the exaltation of the Son. The glory he receives is a result of his suffering. The high position of the incarnate God is rooted in the low position he took to himself. When God displays his unlimited power we see a cross.
The glory of God is refracted through the Suffering Servant and his work on the cross.
It is precisely in humility, suffering, and the cross that the bright rays of God’s glory are displayed in blinding splendor.
The cross is the theatre of God’s glory. It is the place where God’s heart, nature, and character are on display in unparalleled ways.
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT?:
Glory and Suffering are inseparable themes in Scripture. Any discussion about the glory of God that is divorced from the cross is futile and dangerous.
THE PROBLEM IS THAT FOR MANY the glory of God is divorced from suffering,…then
love is divorced from sacrifice,
generosity separated from self-surrender,
and power devoid of service.
If you separate the majesty of God from his humility,
the unlimited power of God from his cross,
the love of God from his sacrifice,
the justice of God from his self-substitution,
the kindness of God from his bloodied hands,
the generosity of God from his self-sacrifice,
or the wisdom of God from his broken body
you cannot and will not see the full glory of God!
This Servant song begins and ends with the theme of exaltation. The glory of the Servant is discernible in the midst of his suffering and also in the reward for his suffering.
Why all the suffering?
Luther made an important point in his lecture on Isaiah 53. “It is not enough to know just the matter, the suffering, but it is necessary to know its function…that is >>> to know that Christ suffered and was cursed and killed FOR US…These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold. He who does not believe this is not a Christian.”
Jesus that came as “GOD WITH US”, has now been revealed as “GOD FOR US!”
Listen to The Substitution of the Servant
• He has borne our grief’s (53:4a)
• He carried our sorrows (53:4b)
• He was wounded for our transgressions (53:5a)
• He was crushed for our iniquities (53:5b)
• The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (53:6)
• He was stricken for the transgression of my people (53:8)
• He shall bear their iniquities (53:11)
• He bore the sin of many (53:12)
This text illustrates this fact. It is no wonder that Isaiah has often been called the “fifth gospel.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was correct in his conviction that “only a suffering God can help” and here in Isaiah 53 he does just that.
In Isaiah 53 we see a God who enters into suffering in an unexpected and wonderful way. We see divinity that engages the suffering and sin of the world by entering the fray. This is not a God who stands far off, but one who is intimately acquainted with grief.
John Calvin affirms this truth in a sermon he preached on Isaiah 53.
“We ought to be carried away in astonishment, seeing that the Son of God did not refuse to disfigured— He who is, as it were the image of God his Father—and all in order that this image might be repaired in us.
Walter Brueggemann‘s analysis of the text concludes:
“This is a wounded healer, wounded in a risk that gives wholeness; … That outburst is what surely happens among us when we notice the God-impelled drama of humiliation and exaltation enacted in our behalf.”
The Suffering Servant takes upon himself both the punishment and effects of our sin and absorbs them both into himself. Jesus swallows up in himself our condemnation, our sicknesses, our sin, and our death. Isaiah 53 gives us a wonderful view of our glorious substitute and the sufficiency of his work. We see in Isaiah 53 a vision of a whole and complete Savior.
Healing springs forth from the atoning work of the Suffering Servant. Spiritual healing is rooted in the substitutionary atonement of Christ. But the influence spreads wider! The cross touches every corner of creation in its saving work. God heals a fractured creation through the cross.
What started with God’s Glory, is now transferred to God’s people! The people of God are described as the glory of God (46:13). They are to reflect Gods glory (60:2). Their lives are to glorify God (24:15 41:16, 42:12,45:25). This chosen people is called to zealously proclaim the glory of God to the nations (66:19). Isaiah is clear that God intends to manifest his glory and he desires that all nations see it (60:1-3, 66:19).
It is God’s glory displayed through salvation that puts a song in our hearts.
I believe that the more we behold the God of the cross the more our hearts will be overwhelmed, stirred, and moved to adoration. Worship centers on and is motivated by the splendor of the crucified God.
IT IS INDEED A GOOD FRIDAY!!!