************ Sermon on Isaiah 50:4-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 15, 2015
"The Obedient Servant"
Have you ever noticed that parents say a child's full name when they want their obedience:
This reminds me of the three-year-old whose shirt needed to be changed. After calling two times with no response her mother gave her the full three-name call: "Beverly Elizabeth Provost, did you hear me?" Beverly answered, "Yes, Mama. My ears did, but my legs didn't."
In today's Bible reading it is God Who wants our attention and our obedience. So, four times He identifies Himself as the "Sovereign Lord." This title reminds us that God is the almighty Creator and Owner Who claims our full obedience.
This year for Lent we have been looking at the servant passages of Isaiah. So far we have looked at the Compassionate Servant and the Discouraged Servant. Today, we look at the Obedient Servant.
I The Disobedient Servant
B Yet, as Isaiah makes clear in two pictures, Israel was a disobedient servant.
The first picture concerns a "certificate of divorce" (Is 50:1). You need to remember that Israel was "married" to the Sovereign Lord when she accepted the covenant at Sinai (Ex 19-20). She violated the marriage vows when she played the harlot and worshiped idols.
The second image is that of a poor family selling their children into slavery to pay off a debt (Is 50:1). God did not sell off His people to pay off their debt of sin; instead, they sold themselves. God called to them many times but they refused to listen (Is 50:2).
C This morning we are told that the Servant of the Lord, unlike Israel, submits to the Sovereign Lord in every area of His life and service. We hear Him saying, "I have not been rebellious" (Is 50:5b). In the light of the New Testament we know the Obedient Servant is the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Isaiah, this Servant is obedient in listening, obedient in destination, and obedient in suffering.
A "I have not been rebellious" (Is 50:5b). According to Isaiah, this means the Servant obediently listens to God.
(Isa 50:4) The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.Notice, this word comes from the "Sovereign Lord." It comes from the almighty Creator and Owner Who claims full obedience. The Sovereign Lord instructs the Servant in the same way as a teacher instructs a student.
B We know Moses was instructed as the servant of the Lord. First, he was instructed in the courts of Pharaoh for forty years. Then he spent forty years in the wilderness where the Lord taught him wisdom and patience and knowledge. The Sovereign Lord, Who made man’s mouth, gave Moses the tongue of the learned, what Isaiah calls an "instructed tongue," to speak for the terror and conviction of Pharaoh.
I'm sure you realize that to give instruction you must first receive instruction. None must undertake to be teachers who have not first been learners. Therefore, Christ’s apostles were first disciples, receiving instruction in the Kingdom of Heaven. Likewise, pastors must first of all learn before they can teach.
C As the obedient Servant, Jesus also needed an "instructed tongue." Isn't this amazing to consider -- that the eternal Son of God, that He Whose very nature is God -- needed to be taught wisdom from above? So, the Gospels reveal to us that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Lk 2:52). Luke tells us that "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Lk 5:16; cf Lk 6:12; 11:1). Jesus was constant in prayer; He prayed without ceasing; time and again He went to the Lord. We know that among the Jews prayer included a time with God's Word -- reading the Word, meditating on the Word, studying the Word.
We see Jesus praying at His baptism (Lk 3:21). We see Him praying after the miracle of the loaves and fish (Lk 9:18). We see Him praying on the Mount of Transfiguration (Lk 9:28). We see Him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggles to do the will of God that will bring Him all the way to the cross (Lk 22:41). It is Hebrews that explains to us what this means:
(Heb 5:7-8) During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (8) Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered ... Jesus learned obedience as He struggled to listen to God. Jesus was learning His lessons so He has something to give.
All of God's servants today need to speak with an instructed tongue. Yet, in church after church today, God's people are exposed to human wisdom rather than wisdom from above. Their pastors do not speak with an instructed tongue so they do not have a word that sustains and instructs. As one woman put it to me, it is all on the horizontal level; the Bible is turned into a self-help manual (ten steps to a better marriage, five things parents should know about their kids, three ways to improve your devotions, and so on); you don't hear anything about God. Yet, the opposite is equally wrong -- the preaching of too many Reformed pastors is all vertical and nothing horizontal, with the rubber never hitting the road.
D According to Isaiah, the Servant obediently learns His lessons "to know the word that sustains the weary" (Is 50:4).
Who are the weary who need a word from the Servant? The weary are the bruised reed and the smoldering wick that Isaiah speaks of in the first Servant Song. You know: the poor, the sick, the leper, the lame, the hungry, the widow, the orphan.
The weary are also the discouraged that Isaiah speaks of in the second Servant Song. These are people who see no purpose and meaning to their life, people who think their work is in vain, people who are in the depths of despair, people who see no reason to continue in their labor.
At the time of Jesus, the weary are the people burdened with all the legalistic rules and regulations of the Pharisees.
Above all, the weary are sinners. They are people like you and me. They are people who see their sin and their shame. They are people who know they are alienated from God and exiled from His presence. They are people who know their unworthiness. They are people who admit they don't do the right they really want to do.
For all these weary people the obedient Servant has a word.
Is 50:4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.
E What is the word the Servant has for the weary? What is the word the weary need to hear? Isaiah doesn't tell us, but Jesus the true Servant of God does:
(Mt 11:28) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.The word is "rest." Jesus, the obedient Servant of the Sovereign Lord, has a word of rest for the weary.
Now, Jesus is not talking about rest on an inner-spring mattress, or on a Lazy-Boy arm-chair, or on a beach somewhere. We are talking about rest in Jesus. We are talking about coming to Jesus. We are talking about believing in Jesus. We are talking about salvation in Jesus. "Come to me." That's the word of the obedient Servant for the weary: finding rest in Jesus.
We know Jesus gave this message with boldness. We know He gave this message in the face of opposition and ridicule. We know that many times He faced a hostile audience. Yet He gave a word of rest for weary sinners.
All servants of the Lord, like Jesus, are called upon to speak boldly with an instructed tongue -- in the face of ridicule, mockery, and opposition. They are not to be afraid to speak the truth, regardless of what the itching ears of their audience wants to hear, regardless of the hostility of the world. They are to give a word of rest for weary sinners.
A "I have not been rebellious" (Is 50:5b). According to Isaiah, this means the Servant is obedient in destination.
Some of you might wonder about this because no destination is listed in our Bible reading. However, a destination is seen if you read verse 7 in the light of the New Testament. According to Isaiah, the Servant says "I set my face like flint" (Is 50:7). This was fulfilled when "Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51). Or, a more literal translation, "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem."
B What does it mean to set your face like flint? Usually we understand this to mean stubborn or determined or stern. If that is the only way we understand this we might misunderstand Jesus.
Flint is a very hard type of rock. When struck against steel, a flint edge produces sparks to start a fire. To set your face like flint implies you are expecting sparks but you proceed anyway. It means you’re expecting some opposition, but will stand strong in the face of adversity.
Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem. That is, He was expecting sparks. He was expecting opposition. He was expecting trouble. He was expecting suffering and death. He was expecting the cross and the grave. Yet, He went anyway.
Jesus had countless opportunities to abandon the task He was sent to complete, yet He was unwavering with every step He took on His way to Jerusalem. When He told His disciples of the suffering and death He was going to endure in Jerusalem, they pleaded with Him to choose an easier path, but He did not listen. Jesus was steadfast in achieving His purpose: to die in Jerusalem according to the Scriptures. He knew when the time was near and set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem.
Jesus, the Servant, obediently went to Jerusalem to suffer and to die. Why? So we can be saved!
A "I have not been rebellious" (Is 50:5b). According to Isaiah, this means the Servant obediently suffers.
(Isa 50:6) I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
Do you hear the Servant's willing humiliation and suffering? He was not an unwilling participant. It was not something done to Him against His will. "I offered my back ..." "I offered ... my cheeks ..." "I did not hide my face ..."
B In direct fulfilment of these words we see the mistreatment of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and by the soldiers:
(Mt 26:67) Then they [the Sanhedrin] spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him
(Mt 27:26) Then [Pilate] released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
(Mt 27:30) They [the soldiers] spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
This was not something imposed upon the Lord. He underwent all of this willingly! Remember, He knew ahead of time that Judas was going to betray Him but He went to the Garden of Gethsemane anyway (Mt 26:45-46). His disciples were willing to fight but He commanded them to put away their swords (Mt 26:52). He had twelve legions of angels He could have called to His defense, but He declined their help (Mt 26:53). Instead, Jesus -- knowing all that was going to happen to Him -- went and greeted the arresting party (Jn 18:4).
Think about this. Marvel about the iron will this required. Humans shrink from suffering. This is even more the case if the suffering is unjust. But at every moment Jesus chose to submit to suffering. He gave His back to whips. He gave His cheeks to slapping. He gave His beard to plucking. He offered His face to spitting. We know this as the passive obedience of Christ. He allowed suffering and shame to fall upon Him. Why? So we can be saved!
V The Servant's Confidence
A Our passage ends with the Servant's statement of faith in God and His help:
(Is 50:7-9) Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. (8) He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! (9) It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?
Do you hear the Servant's expressions of faith? "The Sovereign Lord helps me ... I will not be put to shame ... He who vindicates me ... Who then will bring charges against me ... The Sovereign Lord helps me ... Who will condemn?" What faith in God and His help and His promises.
Telling us what? Telling us that suffering and shame does not have the last word. Telling us that the Servant expects to be vindicated. Telling us that the Servant expects victory over all His enemies.
B Keep in mind that when Jesus ministered here on earth, He had to live by faith even as we must live by faith. He Who was in very nature God did not use His divine powers in a selfish way for Himself. Instead, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death. Why? Because He trusted in God and depended on the power of the Spirit.
By faith, Jesus listened to God. By faith, Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. By faith, Jesus submitted to suffering and shame. It was all by faith. Therefore, writes Paul, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).
"I have not been rebellious" (Is 50:5b), says the Servant. In obedience and by faith He submitted His mind, His voice, His body, to the will of the Sovereign Lord. The result was ridicule and suffering for Jesus and salvation for you and me.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page