Tag archives: Bible

Thinking Biblically About the Resurrection and the Social Gospel

by David Closson

April 7, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety“Christian Nationalism”LoveCourage, and Forgiveness.

Around the world, Christians celebrate Easter as the most important day in history because it is the day Jesus conquered sin and death on our behalf by rising from the dead.

The resurrection is central to the gospel because without it, Christianity is nothing more than a social club. As the apostle Paul explained to the Corinthian church, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

However, on the day when Jesus’ resurrection normally takes center stage, Raphael Warnock, the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and Georgia’s junior Senator, took to Twitter to share a very different message. On Sunday, he tweeted: “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.”

It is well-known that Raphael Warnock is a liberal politician. He ran on a progressive platform, and in his short tenure in the U.S. Senate, he has voted to confirm President Biden’s most radical nominees and expressed support for policies that would expand abortion and restrict religious freedom. But more than a voting record, Warnock’s since-deleted Easter tweet provides insight into how the reverend’s faith informs his politics, i.e., his political theology.

To be clear, there is nothing “more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ” as Warnock believes. The message of Easter, the very center of Christianity, is that God took the initiative to save sinners because sinners cannot save themselves. As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” However, because of God’s love, verse four says, “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” As Paul explains elsewhere, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). In other words, Christ died as a sacrifice for sin. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus reconciled us with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

Jesus is not simply the foundation of Christianity; He is the foundation of reality. Paul, in the book of Colossians, summarizes the centrality of Christ, writing: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). Concerning salvation, Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Scripture is clear that we cannot save ourselves by helping others. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Of course, Christians are called to do good works. A verse later, Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” However, the suggestion that “through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves” is contrary to everything the Bible teaches about salvation and strips the empty tomb of its power.

As an American, Raphael Warnock is free to believe and teach whatever he wants. However, as someone who serves as a minister of the gospel, he is not free to say whatever he wants about Jesus, the resurrection, and salvation. Like all who profess to be Christian, he is bound by Scripture. His message of salvation through good works directly contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ which promises salvation on the basis of Christ’s completed work. Faith in Jesus, not works, is the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12).

While Senator Warnock’s assessment of Easter is not biblical, it is nevertheless consistent with competing belief systems like liberation theology and critical race theory. In fact, his tweet is an outworking of theological systems (liberation theology and the social gospel) which prioritize social justice over orthodox doctrine. These systems teach that the greatest problem in the world is injustice and that the solution is political revolution. For example, liberation theology, which reconstructs Christian theology through the lens of “oppressor and oppressed,” identifies different problems and different solutions than the gospel does. In that world, it is possible to “save ourselves” by “helping others” because once we have eliminated injustice we have been saved.

But Scripture has a very different understanding of what our greatest problem is and the solution to that problem. While God hates injustice, injustice is simply the fruit of a sinful, rebellious heart. The real solution is a changed heart, and that is something no political revolution can accomplish. Only Jesus can convert and change sinful hearts. As bad as Senator Warnock’s policy preferences may be, his theology is even worse and likely the source of his confused policies. Simply put, we cannot save ourselves. Therefore, for the sake of your eternal destiny, trust Scripture which says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

For more on this topic, don’t miss the author’s interview on Washington Watch.

Thinking Biblically About Forgiveness

by Joseph Backholm

April 1, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety“Christian Nationalism”Love, and Courage.

There’s a tension, it seems, between justice and forgiveness. A world without justice devolves into lawlessness, but a world without forgiveness is cruel and harsh.  

Does justice demand that the perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes, such as the man who bombed the Boston Marathon, receive the death penalty, or is capital punishment a form of vengeance that God forbids? More broadly, our culture’s on-going conversation about race, and the growing popularity of critical race theory, forces us to consider whether forgiveness for past wrongs is required by Christian charity or a way to minimize the significance of past injustice so that current injustice can endure.

In this cultural moment, there is a hesitancy if not outright hostility to the concept of personal forgiveness. The very logic of “cancel culture” is that some ideas and opinions are so repugnant that the offending ideas need to be removed from public discourse and that anyone who holds them must “canceled,” i.e. deplatformed and silenced. Forgiveness is often seen as a sign of weakness or even a threat to true justice.

So, how should Christians think about forgiveness?

We begin with the awareness that since God is both just and forgiving, justice and forgiveness are not in conflict. Forgiveness should matter to Christians because it is part of God’s character. King David proclaimed, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Ps. 86:5, NIV). Since our goal as Christians is to emulate God’s character (Eph. 5:1), that means we must be forgiving.

God is forgiving, but He is also just. His justice requires punishment for sin. It is not cruel or unforgiving to hold someone accountable for their actions. This is what true justice demands. Loving parents forgive their misbehaving children but also discipline them because permissiveness is not loving.

But it is important not to confuse punishment and discipline with revenge. Done well, punishment and discipline are for the benefit of the offender, or possibly, those who need to be protected from the offender. Revenge has a different goal. Revenge is done to gratify the person giving the punishment.

God is pro-punishment, but He does not want us seeking revenge. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). It should also be noted that capital punishment is a power given only to the governing authorities and not to individuals (Rom. 13:4).

Discerning whether we are acting out of a godly desire for justice or a sinful desire for revenge starts with checking our hearts. Are we seeking this person’s good or their demise?

After Paul reminds us that revenge is for God alone, he suggests that forgiveness is evidenced by a genuine desire for their good: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21). In these verses, Paul assures us that we don’t need to take revenge because God will right all wrongs in the end. Since God guarantees justice in the end, we are free to pursue forgiveness.

Forgiveness is essential to the Christian life because forgiveness is what made the Christian life possible in the first place (Col. 1:13-14, Eph. 1:7-8). At the heart of the gospel is the idea that we have been forgiven a debt we could never have paid ourselves (Rom. 6:23, Eph. 2:8-9). Christ extended the ultimate gift of forgiveness and we are commanded to extend forgiveness to others:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32)

Also:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col. 3:13)

If we who claim to be Christians find ourselves unable to forgive others, this calls into question our awareness of how much we have been forgiven:

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mt. 6:15)

Also:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

This does not mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional or dependent on something we must do. After all, we cannot earn our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9). However, our unwillingness to extend forgiveness may imply that we do not fully understand our own need for forgiveness—or the heart of the gospel.

God’s promise of future justice and our personal experience with His forgiveness informs how Christians think about both justice and forgiveness. God is just, and even if justice escapes us in this life, we know He will one day right all wrongs. Whether we are debating capital punishment, racism, or cancel culture, forgiveness is not merely a way to improve human relationships but a means to show others what Jesus has done for us. For Christians, a life marked by forgiveness is a sign of God’s grace and a testimony to the world of the gospel’s power.

Thinking Biblically About Courage

by David Closson

March 24, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on Unity, Safety, “Christian Nationalism”, and Love.

As cultural winds blow ever stronger against biblical orthodoxy on human sexuality, some states are pushing back by passing bills protecting youth from harmful gender transition procedures and protecting women from being forced to compete against biological men in sporting events. One such piece of legislation, South Dakota House Bill 1217, was recently approved by the state legislature and sent to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk. However, Noem shocked conservatives by vetoing the bill.

Noem suggested revising the bill to support protections for middle school and high school girls but not extending the same protections to older women, specifically collegiate athletes. This attempt to craft a “win-win situation” in the face of opposition might seem courageous to some. But the mere presence of opposition from some quarters does not automatically mean you are being courageous—or are doing what is right. A biblical and philosophical examination of courage requires us to dig deeper.

What is courage? The philosopher Aristotle, who believed that moral behavior was found in the mean (or moderate position) between two extremes, argued in his ethical treatise Nicomachean Ethics that courage is the mean between the feelings of fear and confidence. Merriam-Webster defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that “courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” In other words, the courageous person has poise and the fortitude to do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. Despite potential blowback, the courageous person stays the course and pursues what they know is right.

Is courage a virtue Christians should pursue? Yes. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to trust Him and obey His commandments, regardless of the consequences. Psalm 27:14 reminds us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” and again in Psalm 31:24, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” We are exhorted to be courageous not because the things we are called to do are easy, popular, or will make us successful in the earthly sense, but because God has commanded us to fear Him rather than men (Acts 5:29).

When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of Israel, he was understandably overwhelmed. Yet God charged him to be courageous: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). The pressure facing Joshua was immense. Leading the quarrelsome and obstinate Israelites into the Promised Land was no small task. Thus, as Joshua stepped into his new role, God called him to be courageous, to exhibit strong moral and mental fortitude as he took on the mantle of leadership.

Queen Esther also had to choose to do the right thing in her time, at great personal risk. Encouraged by her cousin Mordecai, Esther approached the Persian king to petition that her peoples’ lives be spared from genocide. Although nervous, she understood the gravity of the situation and was willing to lay down her life for a noble cause. “If I perish, I perish,” she said before venturing into the king’s throne room (Est. 4:16). By God’s grace, her courage was rewarded, and both she and the Jewish people lived.

Likewise, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded by the pagan king of Babylon to bow down to a golden statue and worship. These men knew that it was a sin to worship any man or image other than God, so they refused, and the king commanded that they be burned alive. Before they were led to the furnace, they expressed their belief that God could deliver them. But they told the king, even if God allowed their death, “be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan. 3:18). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to die obeying God rather than sin in order to avoid death.  

The example of these Jewish exiles is instructive. We are called to do the right thing and be courageous not because God will necessarily save us but because it is what is right and honors Him. Many brothers and sisters in the faith have lost their homes, family, friends, possessions, jobs, and even lives because they chose to be courageous and obey God. Although that was the price their courage required, their reward is much sweeter (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Christ is our ultimate example of courage. Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are, yet He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). Despite constant rejection, criticism, and unbelief, He poured Himself out and ministered to sinners. He exemplified the greatest act of courage when He went to the cross and paid the price for our sin.

Courage requires that we fear God above man, know His word, obey it, and practice wisdom and discernment. Paul exhorts us to take up the whole armor of God so that we will be able to stand firm in the evil day (Eph. 6:13). The late preacher Billy Graham once said, “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” He’s right. Courage is contagious, and even though most of today’s politicians lack courage, Christians should strive to be courageous because God “gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). As we seek to be more like Christ, we can all start by being courageous and doing the right thing for its own sake and thereby encourage others to pursue the virtuous life.

Thinking Biblically About “Christian Nationalism”

by David Closson

March 4, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts Thinking Biblically About Unity and Thinking Biblically About Safety.

The phrase “Christian nationalism” has been receiving a lot of attention in American public discourse recently. Conversations about this ideology predate the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6; however, there has been renewed interest in the topic since these events transpired. But what exactly is Christian nationalism, and is it something that Bible-believing Christians should support or oppose?

First, we must define our terms.

What Is Nationalism?

Webster’s dictionary defines nationalism as “loyalty and devotion to a nation.” Strong identification with one’s nation and its interests signifies a commitment to nationalism. Colloquially, nationalism and patriotism are considered more or less synonymous.

However, an excess of nationalism can have a dark side. It should be noted that, wherever there is strong nationalistic fervor, great care must be taken to uphold individual rights and the interests of those who do not hold political power at a given moment. Enthusiasm for one’s country and culture must never be prioritized over the human dignity of others. At various points throughout history, excessive nationalistic zeal has led to the exclusion, marginalization, or outright persecution of minority groups within nations. This likely describes what is happening today in the Xinjiang province of China, where the communist government has been committing genocide against its Uyghur Muslim minority.

What Is Christian Nationalism?

A broadly agreed-upon definition of the phrase “Christian nationalism” does not currently exist. However, it is commonly used in reference to a person conflating their Christian and American identities. Christian nationalism views one’s Christian and American identities as one and the same; a person’s American identity is inextricable from their Christian one. Christian nationalism considers being a “good American” and a “good Christian” as synonymous.

Some who adhere to Christian nationalist ideology argue that America’s very social fabric is overtly defined by Christianity and believe those in government ought to take proactive steps to keep it that way by force of law. In other words, they believe Christians deserve a privileged position in society. While America was certainly influenced by Christian principles at its founding and owes a debt to Christian notions of equal rights and human dignity, the impulse of Christian nationalism to exclude ethnic or religious minorities for the purpose of accruing more power runs counter to the Bible’s expansive view of religious liberty. 

Keeping these definitions in mind, we can draw a few conclusions:

1. Measured patriotism (defined as a love for the ideals and values of one’s country) is good.

Although not perfect, the United States has arguably been one of the greatest forces for good in world history. Whether it has been supporting democracy around the globe, championing human rights, providing billions of dollars in economic and humanitarian aid, or exporting life-saving technologies, America has been at the forefront of improving the quality of life for many around the world. American advancements in medicine, technology, and science have lifted countless people out of poverty, created cures for diseases, and expanded human knowledge in fields ranging from microbiology to astronomy. James 1:7 reminds us that every good gift comes from God, and American Christians should praise God for how He has used our nation to help those beyond our shores.

As historian Thomas Kidd notes, while Christian nationalism (properly defined) is misguided, “measured patriotism still seems appropriate, and somewhat unavoidable for most Christians.” Within proper bounds, if directed toward morally good ends, patriotism should be encouraged. It is appropriate for Americans to feel love and affection for the honorable things their country has stood for and done. Moreover, rather than viewing everything our nation has done through rose-colored glasses, we should engage in the type of patriotism that calls our nation to be even better. Seeking the welfare of one’s city or nation (Jer. 29:7) is a practical way for Christians to obey the commandment of loving one’s neighbor (Mk. 12:31).

2. Christian nationalism (defined as conflating one’s Christian and American identity) is wrong and ought to be rejected.

When a Christian’s devotion to their country becomes the prevailing and all-encompassing passion in their life, something has gone awry. Like all good things, love of country can become an idol if it supplants the ultimate allegiance owed exclusively to God. Christians should love what is honorable about their country, but their devotion to it should have limitations.  

How do we know when love of country has crossed the line? At what point does patriotism become idolatrous? Thomas Kidd, referring to Matthew McCullough’s work, argues that American patriotism crosses the line into Christian nationalism when it gives “an exaggerated transcendent meaning to American history.” In other words, if the “American nation has taken a central place in our understanding of redemptive history” (emphasis added), we have entered unbiblical territory. As much as America means to us, it must not become the central defining factor in our lives. God’s Word forbids that.

To be clear, Christians should actively participate in the political process. Scripture teaches that believers have a responsibility to engage in “good works” (Eph. 2:10). For American Christians this means stewarding their political responsibilities by voting for and supporting candidates and causes that advance biblical values in the public square.

America has been (and hopefully will continue to be) a great blessing to the rest of the world. Still, Christians must be careful not to ascribe a status to the United States that is not warranted by Scripture.  

3. The broad use of the term “Christian nationalism” is being used in an attempt to silence American Christians.

Christians can engage in the public square without it being Christian nationalism. Unfortunately, the ideological Left has seized upon the “Christian nationalism” buzzword in an attempt to belittle all American Christians and drive them from the public square. In most of their discussions about Christian nationalism, the term is rarely defined. This is by design. In the aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol, many on the Left have exploited the disordered nationalism of a few to call the motives of politically engaged Christians into question.

Most American Christians love their country and do not subscribe to a political ideology that seeks to marginalize other Americans based on faith or doctrinal differences. The overwhelming majority of believers do not wish to impose any sort of theocracy on their fellow citizens. However, these realities make no difference to those who wish to cast a shadow of doubt on Christians’ true intentions and beliefs.

For many on the ideological Left, this is the end game. By equating Christians with fanatics and conspiracy theorists, secular progressives believe they can more easily “cancel” Christians and exclude them from society and the political process. By radicalizing the term “Christian nationalism,” many see an opportunity to further the narrative that Christian political engagement is dangerous for America and motivated by evil.

This means that although Christian nationalism (properly defined) ought to be opposed within Christian circles, there is a larger agenda behind much of the recent public condemnation of it. This is a crucial point for Christians to understand. Those who invoke the phrase “Christian nationalism” as part of their political fearmongering have one goal: to scare Christians from engaging on important issues and give others a reason to distrust Christians.

But as Christians who recognize our dual calling as citizens of the City of God and the City of man, we must recommit to speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and living peaceably with our neighbors (Rom. 12:18) when engaging in the public square. Now, more than ever, our witness is needed, and we must not be silenced by those who want to drive us out.

Intentional Christian Citizenry

Debates on Christian nationalism require the very best of Christian thinking. They also require discernment and awareness of the prevailing political and cultural winds. Those who follow Jesus are commanded to take “every thought captive” in order to follow Jesus faithfully (2 Cor. 10:5). This admonition applies to every political and moral question and situation, including Christian nationalism. May our efforts to be intentional Christian citizens be marked with love, faithfulness, and wisdom.

Thinking Biblically About Safety

by Joseph Backholm

February 24, 2021

On “Worldview Wednesday,” we will feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read Part 1: Thinking Biblically About Unity

As we approach the one-year anniversary of “15 days to flatten the curve,” the coronavirus continues to dominate the news and many people’s emotions. 

In many states, most public schools remain closed. It took a Supreme Court case for California churches to be allowed to meet indoors again, though many churches had been doing it anyway with the fines to prove it.

The different responses to the coronavirus aren’t simply a function of different local laws. Within the church, there are varying degrees of caution. This is attributable in part to the fact that the coronavirus poses a greater risk to some (the elderly, immunocompromised, etc.), than to others. But beyond that, some Christians are more afraid than others. What happens if I get it? What happens if I die? What happens if I get it and then pass it to someone else?

For Christians, these questions call us to consider how God wants us to think about safety.

Scripture shows us that God blesses His people with safety and security (Deut. 12:10; Jer. 32:38) and Paul even prayed for safety (Romans 15:30-31). After all his shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, and imprisonments (2 Corinthians 11:25), who can blame him?

The fact that Paul experienced those things despite his obedience to God and his prayers for safety illustrates an important truth. As with health, safety is a blessing that at times God grants, but it is not a guarantee and should not be an expectation. Jesus promised us that things will be hard: “In this world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that God wants us to live recklessly. Jesus spoke of carrying a sword for protection (Luke 22:36) and Paul was kept safe on several occasions by his friends (Acts 9:25, 17:10, 19:30) and once by a Roman commander (Acts 23:10). The book of Proverbs includes wisdom to avoid trouble and make life easier.  

But any conversation about safety must happen in context. Safety is good, but it is not the greatest good. In fact, more than God wants us to be safe, He wants us to be steadfast in the trials we are promised (James 1:12).

Depending on your English translation of the Bible, the command “do not fear” appears over 70 times. There are no examples of God commanding us to be safe.

Scripture is filled with examples of people forsaking their physical safety to pursue God’s purpose for their life. Moses risked his life by identifying with the Hebrews rather than the Egyptians (Hebrews 11:24-27). Esther risked her life when she appeared before the Persian king and pleaded for the lives of her people. In the face of danger, she asked her friends to fast and pray for her, noting, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She had more important goals than simply surviving.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego preferred what seemed like certain death in the fiery furnace over the alternative of compromising their faith (Daniel 3). Their safety took a backseat to their loyalty and devotion to God.

Death is not only possible, it’s inevitable. But for the Christian, it’s also a promotion. As the apostle Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Moreover, as Paul explained to the Christians in Corinth, even the sufferings of our earthly pilgrimage—as terrible as they might be—are “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits believers (1 Cor. 4:17). Paul does not trivialize our hardships, but he does reframe them in light of eternity.

When God does encourage us to be cautious, its typically about the most important things. We should be careful about what we see (Luke 11:33-36) and careful to obey all that God has commanded us. (Deut 8:1).

At all times, our spiritual health should be of greater concern than our physical health. This was Jesus’ point when he said “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

As we examine our decisions, we should ensure that we aren’t valuing our safety more than God does. If He grants us safety, we should be grateful. If He grants us peril and sickness and death, we should still be grateful. If our pursuit of safety is preventing us from doing what God created us to do, we may be attributing to wisdom what belongs to fear. 

As we approach the one-year anniversary of “two weeks to flatten the curve,” let’s make sure that our concerns about a virus haven’t prevented us from being who God created us to be.

If Jesus’s willingness to leave the safety of heaven on our behalf isn’t inspiration enough, maybe Jim Elliott, who gave his life on the mission field of Ecuador will help. Elliott famously exhorted, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Lo, I am with you always. Even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Thinking Biblically About Unity

by Joseph Backholm

February 12, 2021

This is the first edition of our “Worldview Wednesday” blog series, in which we will feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview.

Things change quickly after the White House switches parties. After years claiming that detention facilities at the border were American concentration camps, Democrats will be ok with them again. After years of relative silence on spending during a spending spree, Republicans will again call for fiscal restraint. And then there’s the issue of unity.

Those who spent four years talking about how patriotic it is to criticize a president now call for unity. Meanwhile, those who spent four years urging people to support the president are quick with reminders that criticism of political leaders is the American way.

Which highlights an important point: unity is neither good nor bad. Whether unity is desirable depends entirely on what we are unifying around. Unity around a planned crime spree is bad. Unity around a surprise birthday party for a loved one is good.

We like the idea of unity because it brings up images of people getting along. Who doesn’t want that? What are the calls for unity today asking us to unite around?

If we are being called to treat people with dignity and respect regardless of their beliefs, background, or political persuasions, Christians can be united in that effort. “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

If we are being called to listen to our neighbors, Christians can be united in that effort as well. “Be slow to speak and quick to hear for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19).

Politically, Christians should be the best citizens because we are commanded to seek the welfare of our cities (Jer. 29:7), pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:2), and submit to their authority (1 Peter 2:13) so long as their commands are not inconsistent with what God has commanded (Acts 5:29).

But as Christians look for ways to build bridges, we must also be mindful of the things we cannot unite around.

If we’re called to unify with the sacrifice of preborn children on the altar of convenience, we can’t do that.

If we’re called to unify with a sexual revolution that God calls sin and destroys people’s lives, we can’t do that.

If we’re called to unify with a movement that seeks to punish people for their fidelity to the gospel and their obedience to God, we can’t do that.

Despite cultural sentiments suggesting otherwise, it is not loving to be indifferent or agreeable toward wickedness because “love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).

None of this means that Christians are obligated to be combative—“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). But there are times when Christians must be confrontational. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

We must always pray for our leaders, but the degree to which we are unified with our leaders must depend on the degree to which our leaders are unified with God. If they want unity with us while earnestly seeking to honor God, we should be the first to encourage them and support them. If they want unity with us while waging war on truth, beauty, and goodness, the answer must be “not until you repent.”

As with many things, the world tries to deceive the church with a counterfeit version of what God made.

God’s path to unity is through submission to Jesus. The world’s path to unity is through submission to them. These are mutually exclusive options, so choose wisely. “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

When the White House changes parties, a lot of things change in Washington, D.C. But what shouldn’t change for Christians is that regardless of who is in the White House, we first seek unity with God and then with anyone else looking for the same thing.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 6): How the Servant’s Death Brings the Light of Life

by David Closson

December 25, 2020

This is the final part of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[the light of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, is joyful precisely because Jesus succeeded in His earthly mission, namely, securing salvation for all who trust in His saving work. Our study of Isaiah 53 concludes with verses 10-12, which direct our attention to the meaning and significance of the Servant’s suffering and death and help us understand the depth of God’s love for His children.

Verse 10 reveals a startling truth—God willed the terrible death of this innocent Servant. Verse 11 explains why—His death made it possible for many to be accounted righteous. Verse 12 returns to the theme of Isaiah 52:13 and glories in the Servant’s exaltation. Together, these verses marvel at the work accomplished by the Servant and foreshadow Christ’s work on the cross.

Verse 10 opens the stanza with the disjunctive “Yet,” signaling a clear contrast with the content of the previous verse. The focus shifts from man’s sensory experience to God’s perspective on what has unfolded so far. In light of the horrifying miscarriage of justice perpetrated against the Servant, Isaiah’s readers expect God to avenge and vindicate the Servant. Thus, when God’s sovereign purpose is at last revealed in verse 10a, the truth is startling— “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

The natural response to this statement is disbelief and perhaps even anger. Why would God want to crush this man? Why would God want an innocent person to suffer? On these questions, theologian John Oswalt’s reflections are illuminating:

The faithful God of the Bible would certainly not visit bad things on innocent people, would he? Yes, he would if some greater good would be served. Is it possible there is some greater good than all the terrible things the Servant has endured will procure?… [Yes,] what God wants to come out of the Servant’s suffering is of monumental proportions. He wants human beings to be able to offer this man up on the altar of their sins so that he can be a “full and sufficient sacrifice” for them, satisfying all the unpaid debts of their behavior.[1]

God’s sovereign purpose behind all the suffering of the Servant was to make Him a guilt offering, not for His own sins (He had none), but for the sins of others.

An important note must be made concerning English translations that render verse 10a: “But the Lord was pleased to crush him” (NASB) or “Though the Lord desired to crush him” (NET). Unfortunately, these translations contribute to the faulty understanding that somehow, God took delight in making the Servant suffer. Peter Gentry helpfully clarifies this point: “Here, ‘delighted’ is being used in the context of sacrifice. God is delighted or pleased with the sacrifice in the sense that he accepts it as sufficient to wipe away his indignation, his offense and his outrage at our sin.”[2] Thus, it was not God’s sadistic will to punish an innocent man. Rather, it was God’s redemptive will. This notion is further clarified in the second part of verse 10 with the mention of “guilt offering.” 

The guilt or “reparation” offering in 10b refers to the fifth offering described in Leviticus. Of all the Old Testament offerings, this one covered guilt that had been knowingly incurred by the individual and had to be offered by the individual responsible.[3] Three important benefits of this offering are highlighted in verse 10c: “he shall see his offspring,” “he shall prolong his days,” and “the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” In view of fulfilling God’s glorious plan, the Servant will be successful; he will enjoy offspring and length of days. These should be interpreted figuratively to indicate that despite the bleak future forecasted in previous stanzas, the Servant’s life will be marked by blessing and fruitfulness. This thought is continued in verse 11a with the phrase, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [the light of life] and be satisfied.” Despite not appearing in some English translations, the phrase “light of life” in verse 11 is supported by textual witnesses.[4] Taken together, verses 10c and 11a point to another significant reality—resurrection.

Although the Servant’s death is communicated in stanza four (verses 7-9), stanza five indicates that the Servant is alive. How is this possible? Verse 11a, with its contrast of “guilt offering” and “light,” strongly suggests resurrection, which is implied by the idea of seeing offspring and prolonging days.[5] Faithfully reconciling stanza four and five requires the Servant’s resurrection (taking place between the realities described by each). The reference to “light” in 11a is another clue to resurrection.

Verses 11b-12 conclude stanza five by describing the benefits of the Servant’s death given to the “many.” The use of “knowledge” in 11b should be understood as experiential knowledge of faith.[6] In context, this accurately captures Isaiah’s understanding of the Servant’s accomplishment. People do not benefit by what the Servant knows, but by knowing and believing in what the Servant did.  

Verse 12 explains that the benefits of the Servant’s success will be “divided… with the many.” This highlights the breadth of the Servant’s work. Because the Servant “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many,” he effectively has provided a way for men to have a right relationship with God. Gentry notes this “corporate solidarity” between the one and the many and explains it in terms of the Ancient Near East context of the relationship between a king and his people.[7] In this case, because the Servant represents the people, the rewards and benefits He secured through His suffering and death are transferred to the people. It is striking to discern that all the major words used for sin— “transgressions,” “iniquities,” and “sin”—are in the plural, indicating that the Servant’s sacrificial death is holistic, covering the guilt of the “many.” This is a magnificent picture of substitutionary atonement and points to what Christ did on the cross.

Conclusion

Isaiah 53 is one of the most magnificent messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. In a way that is striking and sobering, this passage blazes forth the glory of Christ and the hope of eternal salvation by teaching that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son as a humble Servant who willingly substituted Himself in our place and bore the full wrath of God for our sin that we might be forgiven.

Thus, at Christmas, it is fitting to read and study Isaiah 53, which clearly captures the meaning and significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Examining the intricacies of this text is not easy, but the reward is worth it. Seeing Christ’s person and work thus depicted—exalted (52:13-15), despised (1-3), rejected (4-6), killed (7-10), and resurrected (10-12)—prompts reverent worship and a profound sense of gratitude. Indeed, praise God for this Servant, this man of sorrows, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 400.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 35.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 402.

[4] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 37.

[5]  Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 802.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 41.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 5): The Lamb of God Is Sacrificed for Our Transgressions

by David Closson

December 24, 2020

This is Part 5 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)

Our study of Isaiah 53 continues in verses 7-9, which contain the shocking climax of the chapter: the Servant suffers to the point of death. Because the parallels between the Servant’s death and the final events of Jesus Christ’s life are so striking, ever since the first century, Christians have acknowledged Christ’s death on the cross as the fulfillment of this passage. Verses 7-9 are quoted no less than 15 times by New Testament authors.[1]

The two comparisons with sheep (in verse 6 of the previous stanza and in verse 7) are noteworthy and most likely intentional. On this point, John Oswalt comments: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in this poem involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice.”[2] While “we” the people are likened to sheep that have gone astray, the Servant is likened to a sheep led to slaughter. Amid His ongoing oppression and suffering, the Servant is silent, like a sheep before its shearers. Rather than objecting to the injustice of the proceedings, the Servant accepts his role and does not protest. In the same way, Christ was silent before His own accusers (Pilate, Herod, etc.), in fulfillment of this text.

The phrase “by oppression and judgment” in verse 8a presents an interpretive challenge. Professor Gay V. Smith understands “oppression” to mean “restrained,” suggesting that the Servant was arrested and imprisoned. He understands “judgment” as referring to a court or place of judgment.[3] Smith concurs with Peter Gentry, who thinks that a lack of justice in the judicial process (no fair trial) is most likely being implied.[4]

Verse 8 continues by noting that the Servant was “cut off” out of the land of the living, indicating death. Professor Geoffrey Grogan comments, “The phrase ‘cut off’ strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death, but also the just judgment of God, not simply the oppressive judgment of human beings.”[5] Although His death is somewhat expected, given the progression of the text, the fact that the innocent Servant is finally killed hits the reader with force. The miscarriage of justice is infuriating and cries out for retribution. However, the final phrase adds a shocking, revelatory detail that clarifies the motive of the Servant— he was killed “for the transgression of my people.” Oswalt notes that this reveals that the Servant was not killed because of a corrupt legal system: “It is not legal injustice that condemns him but the transgression of my people. If he is treated unjustly, and he is, the author wants us to know that this injustice is not an expression of that all-too-common custom of mistreating innocent people. The Servant was doing this on purpose.”[6] Despite the rejection, sorrow, grief, and shame, the Servant’s death was ultimately the result of an intentional and purposeful plan. This is a staggering statement that will be developed in the final stanza.

Briefly, verse 9 adds details concerning the Servant’s death and place of burial. Gentry argues that the verse should be rendered, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but his tomb was with the rich.”[7]This means that although the Servant was killed with criminals, he was buried amongst the rich. This is exactly what happened at Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was crucified with criminals but buried in the tomb of a rich man. Once again, Christ perfectly fulfills Isaiah’s description of the Servant.



[1] NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Harper Collins, 2015), 1427. Some of these verses include Matt. 26:63; 27:12, 14; Mark 14:60-61; Acts 8:32-33; 1 Cor. 15:3, and 1 John 3:5.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 391–392.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2009), 453.

[4] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 33. Oswalt concurs with Smith and Gentry on p. 393 of The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66.

[5] Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 801.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 394.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 34.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 4): The Suffering Servant Is Rejected by Mankind

by David Closson

December 23, 2020

This is Part 4 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

 

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Our continuing study of Isaiah 53 brings us to verses 4-6, which foreshadow Jesus Christ’s suffering on the cross. By invoking sacrificial imagery that would have been familiar to Isaiah’s readers, these verses shed light on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Verse 4 signals a dramatic shift in Isaiah’s narrative. The focus is now on the Servant’s intense suffering. But the reason for His suffering is shocking. Note the 10 first-person plural pronouns (“we,” “our,” and “us”) in these three verses. The “griefs” and “sorrows” borne by the Servant were not on account of his own deficiencies or sin. Rather, He substituted Himself for and was punished on behalf of the very same people who had previously ridiculed and rejected Him! John Calvin relates this shocking exchange to Christ: “Isaiah complains of the wicked judgment of men, in not considering the cause of Christ’s heavy afflictions; and especially he deplores the dullness of his own nation because they thought that God was a deadly enemy of Christ, and took no account of their own sins, which were to be expiated in this manner.”[1]

The degradations described in verse 5 escalate in severity—from sickness and physiological suffering to physical injuries and, ultimately, the bearing of spiritual wrath. Verse 5 is unequivocal that “we” are the beneficiaries of the Servant’s suffering. Although many liberal theologians categorically reject the concept of the transference of guilt, there is an important biblical antecedent that informs Isaiah’s prophecy—the Old Testament sacrificial system, particularly the scapegoat ceremony.

In Leviticus 16:7-10, the priests are instructed to designate a goat that, despite its innocence, would symbolically take the Israelites’ place and carry their sins into the wilderness (this is where the term “scapegoat” comes from). The goat would eventually die in the wilderness, while the people remained alive in the camp. Professor Gary V. Smith cautions against reading too much into this connection but affirms the correlation: “Chapter 53 does illustrate substitutionary action drawn from sacrificial concepts.”[2]

Isaiah clearly states that the Servant is not suffering with the people—He is suffering for them. Verse 5 concludes with an incredible statement: “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The result of the substitutionary action of the Servant is peace and healing—the same remarkable spiritual benefits New Testament believers receive when they trust in Christ for their salvation. Verse 5 prefigures Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross.

Verse 6 concludes this stanza by comparing the people to a flock of sheep, a simile that will continue in later verses. Isaiah’s point is that people wander aimlessly in their sin, completely unaware of its magnitude and wickedness, much like sheep are prone to wandering from their shepherd’s care. People blissfully unconcerned about their sin are also equally oblivious to the incredible lengths the Servant has gone to secure payment and forgiveness on their behalf. Surely the apostle Paul had Isaiah 53 in mind when he reminded the Philippians of the great lengths Christ has gone for their—and our—salvation: 

though he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 6-8).

At Christmas time, we Christians should celebrate and remind ourselves and others of the great lengths Christ went to for our salvation. Being fully God, Christ humbled Himself and became also fully man. And not just any man, but one who was despised and rejected, bearing the punishment that we justly deserved. As one Christmas hymn so beautifully puts it:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.

- “Thou Who Was Rich Beyond All Splendor” (words by Frank Houghton, 1894–1972)



[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries - Volume 8 - Isaiah 33-66 (Baker, 1999), 115.

[2] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (B&H Academic, Nashville), 2009, 449.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 3): A Root That Is Despised

by David Closson

December 22, 2020

This is Part 3 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrowsand acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Isaiah 53 is one of the most well-known passages in the Old Testament. However, it is usually associated with Good Friday, not Christmas. Even so, as Christians consider the “reason for the season” this week, it is important to remember why Jesus came—and what His death and resurrection accomplished.

Verses 1-3 continue the description of the Servant begun in 52:13-15 by detailing His physical appearance and reflecting on how the people responded to Him. The Servant is “despised” and utterly ignored and discounted because He did not conform to preconceived notions of royalty.

Although the identity of the “we” in verse 3 is debated, a growing consensus of scholars think it refers to a believing Israelite remnant that is remembering the Servant’s person and work. If that is the correct interpretation, the ensuing verses contain a report about the deliverance God has accomplished through the Servant. Notably, the prevailing tone throughout these verses is a mixture of shock, anguish, and disappointment, as those returning from exile consider their failure to recognize God’s faithful and restoring work on their behalf. In retrospect, the people realize they completely missed the identity and significance of the Servant in large measure because of His humble comportment and appearance.

Somewhat ironically, the phrase “arm of the Lord” is used in verse 1b to introduce the physical description of the Servant. In biblical literature, the “arm of the Lord” represented the powerful, salvific strength of God manifested in episodes of deliverance. Significantly, this image would have evoked memories of the Exodus, when God dramatically rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Israelites’ safe passage through the Red Sea and the subsequent drowning of the pursuing Egyptian army would have immediately been brought to mind. Thus, the juxtaposition of the Servant’s humble act of deliverance with the Exodus event conveys enormous theological truth, making it even more shocking that a figure of such importance was not recognized.

Verses 2-3 detail the physical appearance of the Servant and how the people responded to Him. Verse 2 compares the Servant to a “young plant” and “root” that comes out of the “dry ground.” Interpreters seem to differ on the significance of this comparison. John Oswalt argues that “this is figurative speech that is intended to convey to us the unexpected nature of the Servant’s entire ministry.”[1] Peter Gentry sees a reference to Isaiah 11:1 and the promised Davidic king. He explains, “This is once more the image of a tree that is a metaphor for kings and kingdoms both in Isaiah and the Old Testament as a whole.”[2]

On close observation, it is fascinating that this imagery invokes a diminutive plant and that the “root” emanates from “dry ground.” Thus, Oswalt and Gentry do not contradict—the “young plant” and “root” proceeding out of “dry ground” indeed symbolize a royal figure but also the unexpected and unlikely origin and appearance of the Servant. From the perspective of the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus exemplified these traits and is identified with the Servant.

The final verse in the stanza reinforces the notion that this figure did not resemble royalty. At first glance, there was nothing discernible in appearance or comportment that embodied majesty, and He was treated accordingly. Verse 3a summarizes this treatment: “He was despised and rejected by men.” The term “despised” refers to the fact that the Servant’s contemporaries considered Him unworthy of attention.[3] This notion is also expressed in the phrase “as one from whom men hide their faces” (v. 3b). John Goldingay notes: “Hiding the face is more commonly an act of rejection.”[4] Perhaps this rejection was partly due to the “sorrow” and “grief” that characterized the Servant’s experience.

In other words, the Servant was subject to pain, grief, and suffering. Given Jewish expectations of a powerful and conquering Messiah, they perceived this figure as weak and ineffective, not in any way resembling the strong “arm of the Lord” that brought their ancestors out of Egypt. Thus, they turned away and rejected Him. Again, from the standpoint of the New Testament, this description perfectly captures the experience of Jesus. Oswalt aptly summarizes verses 1-3: “The point is that because he does not fit the stereotype of the arm of the Lord he will be treated as though he were ill; he will experience what the ill experience: avoidance.”[5] In summary, these verses speak of the unassuming and lowly bearing of the Servant, who is stricken with suffering to the degree that people turn away from Him.

Having described the appearance of the Servant, Isaiah is ready to reflect on the Servant’s actions and their significance. These are some of the most astounding verses in Scripture and will be the focus of the next study.



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998),  382.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 31–32.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 383.

[4] John Goldingay, Isaiah, The International Critical Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001), 303.

[5] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 385.

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