A single event can change perspective. It is funny how an isolated encounter, a single experience, or a chance meeting, can radically alter the way things are perceived. The world will never be viewed in the same way after 9/11. Technology was in question after Apollo 13, Challenger, and Columbia. Something as trivial as Lebron’s Decision (and in a smaller scale Durant’s move to San Fran) has changed the way athlete’s are viewed. A single event, in this case, the Cross, changed forever how suffering can be viewed.
All the guys from the previous post had something in common; they all wrote on the other side of the cross. The cross became the leverage point of suffering.
On the one side of the cross stood death and the other a resurrection that overcame death. The empty tomb emptied suffering of all that it held. That is why James can write: “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1.2)
James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew suffering. He led the church in Jerusalem. It struggled financially (see 1 Cor 16:1–4; 2 Cor 8:1–9:15; Rom 15:14–32). It struggled doctrinally: “should the Gentiles be circumcised?” (Acts 15). It struggled with persecution (Acts 8.1-2) and eventually James would be martyred by stoning. Suffering was a major part of the ministry to which he had been called.
James leveraged his suffering though.
In the same way that our doubt can be leveraged into belief; hope can be born out of our suffering. James knew that suffering would come. Since is inevitable, James argues that we can learn perseverance in it. I ran cross country in high school. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I enjoyed it. It taught me to push through pain, to persevere and to endure the suffering. The only reason I could do that was the finish line ahead. Perseverance for James (James 1.3), obedience for Jesus (Hebrews 5.8) and Paul’s enduring example of Jesus (2 Cor. 4.8-12) came as a direct result of their suffering. But what for us can come about through our suffering? What can suffering give rise too?
Suffering is a casual (don’t try to convince the one suffering of this) reminder that this world is not permanent. We were created for paradise and partnership with God. When our sin severed this pact, our world and our relationships in it were changed, but not permanently. Temporarily, for or 100 years or so on this earth, we struggle in relationships, with the world, with identity, and with purpose. In other words, we suffer.
John paints a picture in Revelation 21 of a different place:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
The garden of Genesis 1-2, the “good garden” where God resides with man with no barriers, returns in Revelation 21. A place where paradise and partnership is reinstituted. This is a welcomed sight in Revelation because of all the books of the Bible, Revelation probably has more suffering talk than any of them. Think about this:
- John is writing from the island of Patmos, where he has been exiled for preaching the Gospel. He even call himself a “companion in the suffering”. (Rev. 1.9)
- To the church in Pergamum, he reminds them of Antipas martyrdom (Rev. 2.12)
- The Lamb (Jesus) wandered around heaven with a gash on his chest, a reminder of the suffering he endured. He looked as if “he had been slain” (Rev. 5.6, 9, 12)
- The seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, all brought with them an element of suffering, be it war, famine, or plague. Suffering was a key theme in them all.
- The beast made war against the saints (13.7) and “this calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (13.10)
- The woman on the beast was “drunk on the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17.6)
- God will “avenge on her the blood of his servants” talking about the blood spilt by the temptress Babylon. (19.2)
- John “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.” (20.4)
- The theme of “victory” or “overcoming”, the Greek word nikao from which Bill Bowerman built the company Nike, is woven throughout the book.
The New Heavens and the New Earth arrives and pain and suffering are no more. Suffering is the reminder that this type of world was never a permanent landing spot.
So we leverage, suffering as an opportunity for hope. Jesus suffered the very worst this world had to offer. He bore the weight of every sin ever committed and will be committed by humanity, on his body.
But death could not hold him. The empty tomb is an image of hope. The dark hours of crucifixion, followed by the quiet bleak hours of Saturday, gave way to the rolled-away stone and the empty tomb of Sunday.
Like Paul says in Romans 8.37:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The word for conquerors that Paul uses in Romans 8: nikao! Since Jesus has overcome death, we too can conquer, not physical, but spiritual death!
Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch a loved one waste away from cancer. All will watch abuse or neglect steal the future of a child. We will suffer! But we know that because Jesus overcame, we too can prove victorious!
So we live with hope that Christ gives us that ultimately we will be in the place John describes. And hope is leveraged suffering.
Lois Lowry’s book, The Giver, is about a predictable community. They have no colors, no seasons, no cars. They have no weather, no poverty, no wealth. They just “are”. Population control, job placement, family placement, medicines for everything conceivable, and food rations. The collective memories of all time are held by one person, for the purpose of providing wisdom to the council of Elders who runs the community. People have the memories from their life, but nothing of history or anything outside of their own community. Jonas, the protagonist of the story, is chosen by the Elders to have the Job of Receiver. He is selected to get all the memories from the Giver, to hold. He starts out with memories of sailing on a tranquil lake, a ride on a sled down a snowy hill, and a tour of the Serengeti. But the Giver had promised him that the job would hurt. All he had were positives. One day, Jonas reminded him of this promise and the Giver sent him back on the lake…for a sun burn. Then it was the memory of the broken arm from another sled ride. Again, it was the Serengeti, but with a tusk-less, bloody, elephant, an abandoned calf, and poachers. Jonas was the only person in the community who now knew what it was to suffer.
Suffering is just one universal experience that we all face on this earth. Everyone will sit beside a hospital bed and watch someone they love dying. All of us will feel the sting of betrayal from a close friend or family member. There is no escaping the touch of natural disasters, cancer, abuse, and hatred. The result of all of these being suffering. Throughout Scripture I have traced 6 reasons why suffering comes our way:
- Bad Decisions: Genesis 3. In Genesis 1-2, God creates everything and it was “good” except for the woman who was “very good”. They live in the Garden where God takes care of them. And in this garden, they live out the purposes that God has for them. The one stipulation, “Don’t eat from that tree!” But they disobeyed God and every (and I mean every) purpose given to man and the earth was marred by that decision. Eve wanted to rule over Adam and Adam now has to plant Round-up Ready soybeans because weeds are taking over his garden. Man has fallen in his relationship with God and the Earth is under the same curse of death. Cancer is mutated cells, tornadoes tear apart cities, fires destroy communities because we live in a fallen world. People lie to one another, betray at the drop of a hat, abuse and neglect, because of decisions made. We hurt one another and we have been hurt by one another. All because of decisions.
- Bad Community Life. It’s one thing to be hurt by a stranger, but what about by the Church. In Numbers 11, the people of God are wandering around in the wilderness. God has been feeding them manna and quail every day for 40 years. Still they think back to the fish and fruit they ate in Egypt. Sure, they were slaves and all, but it was like Golden Corral back there. Who wouldn’t trade a life of slavery for a good spread. So they complained to Moses. Moses says to God concerning their complaints: “They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11.13-15) If you have attended Church at some point in your life, I am will to bet you were hurt by someone. I have too long of story to tell about my own hurt right here. The truth is that I have also been the one doing the hurting. But before we give the Church a bad name, it happens anywhere you have groups of people. Rodeo Associations, PTO, Bible Studies, the Elks Club…not too make light of Scripture but Matthew should have written: “Where two or three are gathered…there will be division.”
- Bad Enemy. First Peter 5.8 describes Satan as “prowling around like a lion.” Job saw that first hand. If you remember the story, Job had it all. The family, fame, fortune, integrity, and everything a man needs to live a full life. Then Satan met with God. The NIV says that God asked Satan to look at Job’s life. The Hebrew, on the other hand, would indicate that Satan was already watching Job’s life. Gods question was this: “Satan, why have you set your heart of Job?” Satan wanted to destroy Job. Satan took everything from Job, save 3 friends and his wife, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. And in the midst of his suffering Job writes: “May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’ That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.” (Job 3.3-4) There is a very real enemy. For years I discounted his presence. I am one of those people who believes that you get hang nails from dry cuticles, not from the devil, still, C.S. Lewis words in The Screwtape Letters ring true. The Demon Screwtape is talking to his nephew Wormwood and advises him this:“I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves…I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
- Bad Events. Elijah was the prophet when Ahab was the King. Ahab, with the help of his wife Jezebeel, built altars to foreign gods, had an open exchange policy with any cult religion, and then began to purge their country of prophets. Elijah looked around and left. (more on that here) On the way out of town, resting under a tree “he asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19.4) It is not hard to look around at the events of the world and realize the suffering that is coming as a result. Gas attacks in Syria, drug wars in Somalia and Mexico, human trafficking and human rights violations in Qatar and to what end: a billion dollar soccer stadium for the World Cup. A sports celebration of World unity. Events of the day can bring suffering. 9/11, Challenger, OKC bombing, JFK, MLK, and this list doesn’t end there.
- A Good Message. Jeremiah was preaching the words that God had given him to speak and act. In Jeremiah 19, God had tasked him with the purchase of a clay pot. He was to then take said pot and throw it down and break it in front of the people. Then say: “just like the pot I just broke, so God will bring another nation to break you!” God, like Drago from Rocky IV says: “I must break you!” As a punishment for their rampant idolatry, God is punishing their sin by sending them into Exile. The message doesn’t go over well and the people are a tad upset. A priest takes particular offense to the message and had Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks (Jer. 20.4). Jeremiah was preaching the message God had given him and now he is locked up. Jeremiah laments to God this: “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” (Jer. 20.14) Have you ever been serious about sharing your faith with someone and it cost you a relationship? Maybe you shared an opinion with some friends and now things are awkward? It could be that you took a Godly stance to an issue and things are no longer the same? I am not comparing, nor calling what we in America go through as persecution, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands being killed every year for their faith in the Middle East or locked in prisons in China and North Korea. I am, however saying, that when a concerted effort is made to let people know what we believe, there will be pushback and it may lead to suffering.
It is a universal problem. The only way to leverage it, is to view suffering through the crimson colored blood, the black darkness of a closed tomb, and the vibrant light of the morning sun as it shone on the rolled away rock. Because Jesus went to the cross, laid in the grave, and then left his tomb empty, hope can be born from the womb of despair.
Mark understood how to leverage this life. At a turning point in his book, he included an interaction between Jesus and Peter that contains some kernels of truth, that when planted, give rise to a leveraged life. Near the end of the encounter, Jesus speaks these words: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35) Jesus knew how to use his time on earth, his life on earth, for the maximum effect.
To live a life of leverage, one used to the fullest extent, first off, we must understand the identity of Jesus. Mark begins the narrative with a question from the mouth of Jesus: “who do people say that I am?” This is a vital question for Mark who begins his Gospel with “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”(1.1) and arrives at his pint in chapter 15 with a Roman Soldier confessing “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” (15.39). Linking these two confessions, there were multiple partial-confessions throughout the book.
- After he stilled the stormy sea, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him?” (Mark 4.41)
- After teaching in the Synagogue, the people of his hometown asked, “Where did this man get these things? What’s the wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles? Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (6.2-3)
- After healing the deaf and mute man, people were amazed and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (7.37)
The identity of Jesus was a high point on Mark’s list of things that he wanted his gospel to communicate. Many in Mark’s gospel missed the point. In John, everyone who walked away knew exactly who Jesus was…not so for Mark. They may have walked away healed, but they walked away from Jesus, leaving life with Jesus on the table. When and only when we understand and can answer the question “who is Jesus?” will we be able to leverage our lives to the fullest. Peter’s answer sums it up. “You are the Christ!” A few words with thousands of implications. Christ is the greek equivalent of the hebrew word Messiah. Messiah was the one sent from God to save his people. He is the one who would hear his people, fight for his people, and ultimately bring rule to the people. Peter is saying: “Jesus you are the Messiah.” It was as close to the true identity of Jesus as any human confession seen in Mark’s gospel up to this point.
The real identity of Jesus changes us. When I understand the power that Jesus has, over the spiritual world of demons in this particular case or over the physical world’s greatest attempt to dissuade us, death, does it begin to resonate that it too lives in me. Only when I understand that Jesus stopped for little children, reached out and touched lepers, took time for a desperate father, and spoke to a broken woman, will I realize that he has promised to do the same for me. When I understand his humanity, after all Mark does paint a more “human” figure of Jesus than the other gospel writers, only then do I bear my own soul to him for his working. “Who Jesus is” changes the way we live.
The second thing needed to live a life of leverage, is an understanding of his mission. Following Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach about his betrayal, death, and resurrection. It is no coincidence that when we first learn of Jesus true identity, as the Christ, is when he first predicts his death. It is true. He came to die for us! Let that be known. In the next two chapters, 9 and 10 respectively, we will learn further of his death. But for now, he sticks to the bare bones of it. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (8.31) Jesus mission had taken on different forms starting early in Mark’s book. He came to preach (1.38), then to call sinners (2.17). Then he came to be killed (8.31; 9.31) which you would think would be the pinnacle of his mission. But its not. See dying for no reason has no effect. Jesus death would have meaning, purpose…leverage. He came to be served up, sold out, and handed over (10.33-34); ultimately he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10.45) His mission was revealed in greater detail as the book progressed.
Peter, upon hearing the news of Jesus ultimate demise, rebuked him. For all the progress he had made in the prior paragraph, now he seems to be sliding back into his old ways. He didn’t understand Jesus’s ultimate mission. For a man who understood Jesus’ identity, he missed the mission of Jesus. If we are to life a life of leverage, it has to center around the mission of Jesus. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to testify to the truth and show us the light. He came as a ransom, a peace offering, a sacrifice. He came in order to give us life. He came, his mission, was to let us leverage this life.
The third necessity of a leveraged life, is following Him. (Mark 8.34-37) Jesus turns the private rebuke of Peter into a public teaching to the crowd. The message is: “Follow”. It is made clear that this teaching is not just for Peter, but for everyone. Crowds were essential to the “following” in Mark’s book. Sixteen times, Mark uses the word akouloutheo, when translated to English is “follow” and it breaks down this way.
- Twice, it is used in the context of two men [Simon/Andrew and 2 unnamed disciples] (1.18; 14.13)
- Twice, it is used in the context of the disciples (6.1; 9.38)
and here are the important two:
- Once it is used of an individual. Peter follow’s “from a distance” in the courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Not a good thing. (14.54)
- Eleven times, it is used in the context of the crowd. Either the crowd “followed Jesus” or heard Jesus teach on “following”, or watched someone “follow” (2.14,15; 3.7; 5.24; 8.34; 10.21, 28, 32, 52; 11.9; 15.41)
Crowds were essential to Mark’s understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Discipleship is a communal effort; a team sport. For sure, the path to Jesus was as varied and individualized as the people themselves, but the work of following is every bit a group movement.
If we follow Jesus with passion, joining with others who are like-minded like ourselves, we will begin to live a leveraged life. Following Jesus gives a purpose and meaning to this life. When we pour out our life in service to others, following his example in Mark 10.45, we will find our life. Jesus says it plainly: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8.35) Taking up our cross is a request to die. When we die to ourselves and follow Jesus, we are embarking on a journey that is unparalleled. Those who get the most out of life are those who hold onto it the least. Only in welcoming the risk, taking the steps, and engaging in the call to follow, will this life have ultimate meaning and purpose.
Leverage (vb) to use something for its maximum force
Leverage (vb.) to use something for its maximum force
I have had the pleasure of coaching middle school football for a few seasons and involved for many more. Last season we won the city championship. Frankly, we were more talented than the other teams by far. When asked “what team are you most proud of?, that team doesn’t warrant the #1 spot. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of that team and what they accomplished, but I am more proud of the team 2 years ago and here’s why: leverage!
Two years ago, the team was less talented and less experienced. We finished 3rd in the city. Not as great of finish as this years team, but respectable. Still, they leveraged their talent.
Our fourth game of the season, against our arch rival, Jardine, we lost by 30. It wasn’t even close. Three weeks later, on a chilly night on the turf at Hummer Sports Park, we faced Jardine again in the 3rd-4th place game. The coaches were hyped; the kids were hyped; our fans were hyped. Man for man, they out talented us nearly across the board. We may have had the edge at running back but that was all. That night we took it to them and avenged our 30 or beating with our own 14 pt victory. That group of players leveraged their talents to the max. They wrung out every bit of ability they had and achieved all they could. That is what makes coaches proud! John Wooden once said: “Success is the piece of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
That team achieved success because they leveraged all they had to do everything they could.
We are given only so much time on this earth. God asks that we leverage this life for His glory. he desired that we make the maximum impact on the world around us. That is what leverage is after all, using something for its maximum force.
James reminds us that our life here on this earth is a “mist”. So the question is, “what will we do with our mist?”
Jesus makes it quite clear that our life is leveraged in pouring it out for others. The maximum impact of our 80+ years on this earth is found in laying our lives down for others. Set in his example (Mark 10.45), the lives that we have are leveraged in service to others.
James, Jesus half-brother, reminds his readers: “Religion that is pure and faultless is too look after orphans and widows.”
Looking out for others, serving others, laying our lives down, is the very best way to leverage the time we have on this earth. It is completely contrary to what the world tells us this life is for.
“What can I gain?” “How much stuff can I accumulate?” “How much wealth can I attain?” “What is in it for me?” The purity has been lost on this world. Selflessness has been replaced with a me-first mentality. Amazon’s catered for you, recommended-for-you, shopping experience has left us bereft of an others first mentality. Facebook’s friends you may also know and stories-you-may-like, had led us to believe that we are the center of our relationships. I fear that someday the shopping experience may spill over into the church, where we try to cater to the individual believer, at the expense of the community, in a gross misapplication of Paul’s famous verse: “When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9.22)
Certainly, Paul did bring the gospel to different people in different ways, however, the message never changed form. (1 Cor. 9.22)
I am reminded of a story told to me by my friend Scott Brooks. A man named George Steinberger, who was quite renowned in the rodeo world, especially around these parts, was moving from his home in Olathe to Richmond. On his ranch in Richmond, atop a hill, stood a massive steel cross. George had no qualms about letting you know what he believed. But this Cross had be built at his home in Olathe and followed him down to Richmond. The problem was that his gates were bigger in Olathe than they were in Richmond. The cross wouldn’t fit through. So they cut the cross down to a manageable size to get it on the ranch. Immediately, after getting it on the ranch, they went to welding it back together, to its full size. It sets on his property, full and robust, as a sign to everyone who George served throughout his life.
Want know what I think of every time I see it: “God, let me make the cross as accessible to everyone, but never let me cut it down to size to fit anyone!” George understood to get it in he had to work at it, but once it was in someone’s life, it couldn’t be changed, cut down, or transformed.
The words: “If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” are not words that are to be altered, changed, or softened. It is a call to pour out this life in service to another. In other words: leverage this life to the fullest.
The problem is that this life isn’t all peppermints and unicorns. There are every day obstacles that challenge and oppress us. “Look on the bright side” is how the world has chosen to advise us. But scripture says, in the same advice of our life, we should leverage these things in the same way.
Doubt, suffering, and injustice are the products of living in a fallen world. Still, they are arrows that point us to God.
Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss how to leverage these topics to their fullest in our walk with Christ.
In Sunday School classes across the country, there was a game that was played as I was growing up. They called it “Sword drill” after the Hebrews 4 passage comparing God’s Word to a sword. The game is quite simple. The Bible is held on top of the students head until the teacher calls out a scripture. Students slam their Bibles on the table and frantically search for the scripture that was called out. The first to arrive at the passage and begin reading would get a point. I have better and kinder Sunday School teachers than I was as a teacher. My two favorite verses to call out to my students were: Acts 8.37 and Mark 15.28. Most likely they are quoted in the footnotes of your Bible, but it is not often they are found in the actual text of your Bible. They are called textual variants (more on that later) and scholars don’t really know what to do with them. It brought me great joy to see the confusion on some of my kids faces…kinda mean right. I always gave them doughnuts to make up for it.
The quotation of Isaiah 53.12 is the textual variant, the added verse, of Mark 15.
Prior to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1439, manuscripts, books, and correspondence was copied by hand. It was an arduous, time-consuming, and precise. Errors in copying, both intended and unintended, happened. Sometimes, scribes hust heard things wrong. At other times things were misspelled. Think back to a time before word check and spell check. Sometimes, the scribe felt background information was needed for the reader to understand (see John 5.4). Or the scribe wanted to harmonize two passages (Luke 11.2-4 and Matthew 6.9-13). It wasn’t an exact science nor is it an easy topic to study. But what does this have to do with Mark 15.28.
It too is a textual variant that most scholars would argue was not in the original text of Mark. Mark was the first gospel written. It lacks the intricate structure that the other gospels possess. It show signs of being written rather hastily. It also doesn’t use OT prophecy in the same way, nor the volume of the other gospels. Mark is like a 6th grader on Red Bull, bouncing around telling the story at a fast pace, hoping his readers can keep up! One of his favorite words is euthus meaning “immediately”! The oldest, most complete, and best preserved manuscripts, codices, and papyri, do not have this verse in them. Some later families have the verse inserted. It is doubtful that Mark wrote this verse.
So if Mark didn’t write it, who did?
This is not meant to weaken anyone’s faith in the Bible or the accuracy of Scripture. To the contrary, I think it can strengthen it. The Bible is more complex yet so simple. It is a simple story of God loving the World, with a storied history.
The early church’s used to get letters and books from writers, make copies, and then send them on to the next one. People would copy down reports and books for their own personal libraries. They shared with one another, traded with one another, and compared libraries. With the same veracity of a 9 year old with Pokemon cards, men of ancient renown collected volumes of documents.
There is no doubt in my mind that John Mark wrote the original gospel of Mark. Ancient historians attest to it, the content seems to point to him, and I believe that he even wrote himself into the book (Mark 14.51-52). But once Mark wrote down his gospel and made his own copies (however many there were); he sent them out to the Church’s as a testimony to the identity of Jesus. And somewhere along the way, someone inserted this verse and it got copied over and over and over. Many later copies of Mark have this verse. It is in both manuscripts and papyri. It is wide spread.
So if it wasn’t original to Mark, and someone else inserted it after the fact, why worry about it here? Why Easter?
First off, Isaiah 53 is finally put in the “right” place. It’s a passage about the sacrifice of the servant in place of the people. And every other place its been quoted, it wasn’t at the crucifixion! Some early scribe, probably thinking about Luke 22, put this verse about “counted with the transgressors” at the cross. Some early believer knew this was something that needed to be spelled out to the readers of Mark.
Secondly, it connects with the mission of Mark. The main point Mark is trying to make is communicated in Mark 10.45: “For the son of Man came not be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If that isn’t the thrust of Isaiah 53, I certainly don’t know what is. If that isn’t the main thrust of the Crucifixion in Mark 15, I certainly don’t know what is. Some early scribe connected the two and took away the doubt.
Finally, it says something about Isaiah 53. All of the major New Testament authors drew from Isaiah 53 in vastly different ways and for many different purposes. Mark, or should I say the scribes and copiers of Mark, used it in the most straight forward way possible. Jesus hangs between 2 criminals…which is exactly what Isaiah said. Could it possibly be that a scribe, who knew that they did not have apostolic authority or the direct access to an apostle, shouldn’t stray to far from what would be called direct application? Just a thought.
The point is that Isaiah 53 has more than just crucifixion in mind as evidenced through the last week. But when it comes down to it, the major application, the major point of Isaiah 53 is straight forward: a servant took on our sin.
“For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.45)
Sports have a way of handing out the life lesson of humility over and over until it gets learned. Rodeo has been doing this for years. When Solomon writes in Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 26.18), it was prescient of the sport of Rodeo. Its easy to start thinking to highly of accomplishments, be it in ministry, work, rodeo, sports, or economics; sometimes a re-ordering is needed
Luke used a quote from Isaiah 53 to re-order his disciples before his arrest.
Luke isn’t the only one who uses this quote. In the textual variant in Mark 15, found in verse 28, Mark quotes Isaiah 53.12 as well. It is there in a fitting context and honestly it makes more sense than where Luke places his quotation. Mark has Jesus hanging on the cross when he writes: “They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left, [and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘He was counted with the lawless ones”. (Mark 15.27-28) The conversation surrounding this verse will have to wait, however, Mark’s placement of Isaiah 53 makes far greater sense than where Luke uses the same quote.
Luke quotes Isaiah 53.12 not at the cross but at the dinner table. Luke 22 records the Last supper that Jesus would have with his disciples. The arrest is coming soon. But for now, Jesus shares a final meal with them, followed by some interesting conversation. The topics of the conversation: betrayal (22.20-23); who’s the greatest? (22.24-30); and Peter’s denial (31-34). Three topics with one thing in common: the ignorance of the disciples. Each topic brought division, denial, argument, or dismissal. If I were Jesus, I would have ripped my hair out by now.
Jesus turns his attention from the last interaction, predicting Peter’s denial that seemed to be fairly private, to the rest of the disciples. He brings up their first experiences in ministry. Luke 9 says that Jesus called them together, gave them power and authority, and challenged them to preach the kingdom of God! (9.1-2) Then he said this: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic…”(3) Apparently they were successful. I mean, no one died and everyone came home! Too many years in youth ministry has lowered my definition of success when it comes to church trips.
So, the last trip went well and Jesus points that out. They “didn’t lack anything” despite taking nothing with them. Then Jesus begins his words in verse 36 with “But now…” Apparently things have changed. The first journey, Luke 9, Herod, the man in charge, was “perplexed” by the things going on. Jesus gets a different feeling about this time they will go out. First off, they wont have Jesus to come back to. Secondly, the world will begin to view the disciples differently. Now they need money and swords.
“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Luke 22.37)
The biggest question I had about this quote, when realizing the vast difference in the contexts in which Mark and Luke used it, was the identity of the transgressors?
Jesus is surrounded by his disciples on the night of his arrest and he is being counted with the transgressors. I said that right, Jesus is “being numbered” with transgressors. I thought the transgressors were the criminals that he hung with according to Mark. Here, however, I believe that instead of waiting until the cross to hang with criminals, now Jesus and the disciples are considered the criminals. I believe this for a few reasons.
- Who carries swords? In scripture (and in all of Luke’s writings) it’s the government and rebels. The disciples had no need for swords. Now they are being told to go buy one. Jesus knows that the stakes are getting higher and they themselves will become those on the wrong side of the government.
- The change in location. They are at supper when these conversations are taking place. Verse 39 says: “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place…” The change in geography would signal a change in players, conversation, and point. There aren’t any more natural breaks in the text from this point in the Garden to the burial of Jesus. I would argue that the quote of Isaiah 53 takes place in the previous section.
- The characters in Luke. Dr. Luke, a Gentile, was introduced to Jesus and his life was forever changed. But he was on the outside. It took quite sometime for Jews and Gentiles to be able to worship together without issue. So Luke always had an eye out for the out cast. Every walk of life, economic status, race, ethnicity, and gender makes significant contribution to Luke’s gospel (Out Cast Characters in Luke). This is the Gospel where a rebellious son can walk away and then return (Luke 15) and a criminal on the cross can find salvation (Luke 23). The disciples had always been the ones witnessing the women, the leprous, the lawless, and the outcasts, come to Jesus. Now, in the quotation of Isaiah, they have become the outcasts, the lawless in the eyes of the government.
- Finally, Jesus shows great restraint to keep the focus of the movement. They are a rebellion, for they meet all the classic signs of an ancient rebellion. They met in the wilderness, with a charismatic leader, with a new message. But unlike any other rebellion, this one is not an arms race. If they need to go buy a sword, common sense says buy as many as you can. But Jesus answer when they realize they have two swords: “that’s enough.” As Paul reminds us: “we do not fight with weapons of this world” (2 Cor. 10.4) Jesus tells them that they will fight for the Kingdom of God in an unconventional way.
So if we are to understand, and I think we should, the identity of the transgressors in Luke to be the disciples that Jesus is being arrested amongst, how then should we understand Luke’s use of Isaiah 53?
Luke uses Isaiah 53 as a re-ordering of the disciples understanding of themselves. They had been divisive (who will betray him?). They were arrogant (who is the greatest?). They were over-assured of their commitment to Jesus (Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.) Then in one quotation of Isaiah, Jesus tells them that they will soon be the outcasts, the prey, and the hunted. He was among the transgressors…just as we occasionally need the reminder….or should I say reorder?
For more see: Ministry Handout–The Untouchables
“Flyover state” is the term that people who consider their land and lifestyle more valued on the coast to the right or the left of us call the ag-land that they fly over on their coast to coast red-eye flight. In most of these states, cows outnumber people. I for one never plan on living in a state where there are more people than cows. Fly over states are places most people don’t want to go. Suffering and the Christian life is a topic that most people don’t want to touch. OT prophecy and the NT is a place most people don’t want to go. Peter had no intention of flying over these topics. Instead of avoiding the topic, Peter uses it as an example.
Peter uses Isaiah 53.9 as an example of how to encounter persecution and suffering.
“How do you live?” is a key component of the letter that Peter writes to those scattered all over the Empire. Things are starting to change and the Church is drawing the ire of Rome. Peter is writing from Rome, the hub of the entire world and the forefront of the hate. He calls it Babylon (1 Peter 5.13) and Babylon wasn’t a real friendly place for the servants of Yahweh in the Old Testament. The change is happening before Peter’s eyes and soon, unbeknownst to him, probably within the next few years, he would be the central figure of that persecution, being hung upside down on a cross at the hands of Nero.
“How do you live when the world is falling apart?”, asks Peter.
- “Do you rejoice?” (1 Peter 1.6)
- “Do you live holy?” (1 Peter 1.15)
- “Do you live in submission?” (1 Peter 2.13)
- “Do you live lovingly?” (1 Peter 3.8)
- “Do you live with the same attitude of Christ?” (1 Peter 4.1)
Woven in and out of these questions is the theme of suffering. The readers are keen to what is happening in the Empire. They know about the suffering going on all over the world (5.9). Peter is bringing them word about how to live in a volatile world.
This world is a hard place to live sometimes. In America, it is easier than other places. I would never compare my life here to those worshiping in underground churches in China, those being beheaded in the Middle East, or those in North Africa hiding scraps of the Bible so as to not have their hands chopped off for possessing the wrong scriptures. However, I do have conversations and cancer, divorce, hunger, addiction, abuse, neglect, poverty, and violence, cross every language, cultural, or physical boundary that man can imagine. Though Peter is talking specifically about persecution, I don’t feel it outside the circle of application, to speak to any and every form of suffering that we encounter; be it from the hands of men, the works of the enemy (5.8), or simply the groaning of a fallen world (Genesis 3; Romans 8.22).
What happens when the worst happens? How do you respond? How do you think? Ministry Handout–A Brief Theology of Suffering
Peter drew back to a time when the world was not a good place: the time of the prophets. Isaiah writes at a time when Egypt and Babylon were the two greatest powers in the world. Stuck between them was Judah. A small country that each one had to go through to get to the other one. They were their own ancient version of a fly over state for Babylon and Egypt. Still, the greatest problem that faced Judah was their own sin. They had wanted a King to lead them, so God answered wanting them to follow His will. Saul, David, Solomon, all failed at leading Israel to religious reform. So God raised up the prophets, to lead His people back to a covenant life…still no good. Isaiah peers into the past, watches the present, and gazes into the future.
Idolatry would be their downfall and exile the punishment. This was the low point for God’s people. Taken at the hands of the Babylonians; seventy years away from home; no more Temple, or sacrifices, or…life.
But God wasn’t done working, however, and gives Isaiah some messages about a Servant who would come someday to bring His people back from another land, from exile.
Peter channels this example from Isaiah; a flickering of light in the darkest of times. The Church is struggling and will continue to struggle with pain and suffering. It’s part of their existence. So Peter, having already used the lamb comparison with Jesus sacrifice on the cross (1 Peter 1.19), would draw on the image again, found in Isaiah 53, in order to show how Jesus responded to unjust suffering.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
It is a direct quote from the LXX except for the word “sin”. Peter uses the common greek word for “sin” (amartia) in 1 Peter. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) chose to translate the hebrew word hamas, meaning “violence” or “injury”, as the greek word anomia which means “weakness” or “illness”. The LXX translators were probably closer to Isaiah’s idea in their translation; but Peter had other, grander, implications in mind.
Jesus was without transgression and completely innocent. Yet he suffered. Back up a few words before the quote. It was done as an example (21). Peter’s real point was not the innocent/perfect lamb. He has already noted the unblemished and without defect sacrifice that was offered on the cross (1.19). This quote is all about how he suffered. He didn’t respond in violence and returned no volley of insults. He “did not repay evil for evil (3.7). The word for “example”, hupogrammos, literally means “written upon”. This is the only place in scripture where this word occurs, called a hapex legomena. They were to write upon themselves, their hearts, how Jesus suffered. It fitting that in chapter 4, Peter commands them to: “have the same attitude as Christ.” (4.1)
The recipients of this letter know suffering. Peter uses the greek word for suffering, pascho, 12 times in this book. He uses the word more than any other NT writer. But Jesus set for us an example to follow in the midst of his unjust suffering. It is fitting that pascho, “suffering”, is a cognate of pascha meaning Passover or Passover lamb. Where sin is Passover is needed; where Passover is needed, death and suffering is there. Remember Passover from the Old Testament. The blood on the door frames had to come from somewhere. Christ was our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5.7) but in doing so not only provided the blood to save us, but Peter’s example in suffering.
Do you have that one person in your life that tells you the same story over and over and over? The congregation where I preach is probably thinking of me right now. I’ve got a buddy who tells me the same story about his dog getting its head stuck in a fence about once a month. Hyperbole and exaggeration aside, seriously its once a month. He always begins with: “The other day…” The problem is that he has told me this story once a month for the last four years. “The other day…”, like when the Royals were still terrible? When Twitter was on the fringe of society? The story Philip told over and over and over, was Jesus’.
Philip’s life revolved around talking about Jesus.
He started out by letting others talk about Jesus. Acts 6 tells the story of the overwhelming aspect of ministry. Sometimes I think we get a glorified view of the Apostles. We look at their ministry and think: “Sure, if I had walked with Jesus, I would have things figured out too!” We know they suffered at the hands of persecution, that we will likely never experience; but we assume that their day to day ministry was fairly simple. Rather, Acts 6 shows that even the Apostles were stretched thin, worn out, over-worked, and struggling to do the day in and day out ministry. So the Twelve Apostles picked 7 men from among the people to wait on tables, to serve the meals and take care of the people. For what purpose? So that they could focus on “the ministry of the Word of God.” (Acts 6.1-4) The chosen men would serve…so others could talk about Jesus.
Philip was one of the 7 chosen.
Then Saul showed up and the home base of Jerusalem was under attack. (8.1-3) The disciples were scattered among the surrounding cities and Philip went to Samaria.
In Samaria, he talked about Jesus. He “proclaimed” (gk. kerysso) the Messiah and did signs there for the people. (8.5) He started doing apologetics, showing the errors of Simon’s ways (8.12). He was baptizing people (8.12). There are many ways that Luke chose to describe the telling of Jesus story; some “preached”, some “proclaimed”, and some “evangelized”. Occasionally, these words had different nuances and if your interested you can study them here. Nevertheless, the impact caught the attention of the disciples in Jerusalem, so Peter and John came down to check out his ministry. When they arrived, they gave the Holy Spirit to the ones Philip had baptized (16.17) His preaching ministry was quite successful.
On the road, he talked about Jesus. (Acts 8.26-40) Concluding his ministry in Samaria, Philip was sent to the road that linked Gaza and Jerusalem. It was a pretty good hike from where he was located in Samaria. Driving down the road was an official from Ethiopia. He was reading from the scroll of Isaiah. Philip overheard him and asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Years back a Jehovah’s witness caught Aaron Jones and I reading our Bibles at Qdoba and asked us the same question. We answered “no” and it led to some fascinating conversations over the next few weeks at the Mexican grill. That aside, the Ethiopian answered Philip’s question: “How can I understand if no one explains it to me?” Then Philip “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (35) I wonder how he did it. Did he use apologetics to defend the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Did he tell about his own conversion, his own journey to faith? Maybe he did in Haiku’s…I dont know, but it is fun to think about!
The rest of his life, he talked about Jesus. Philip baptizes the Ethiopian man and is then whisked away (gk. harpazo) like the way a wolf attacks quickly (John 10.12) or soldiers take a prisoner into custody (Acts 23.10). God snatched him up and took him to Azotus. There he “preached the Gospel” (gk. euangelizo) to any one who would listen. He headed north along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea until he settled in Ceseara. The last mention of his life in Scripture, Acts 21.8, Philip is known as “the Evangelist” with 4 daughters who knew the Lord. That’s an obituary goal worth chasing. His title came from how he lived his life; he did not live his life based on his title.
Isaiah, as mentioned before, is the “Messianic Prophet”. The arrival of the Messiah, God’s chosen one, is worth celebration and news worth spreading. The hebrew word for “proclaiming good news”, basar, is used 7 times in Isaiah. He has news that is worth announcing. Paul quotes Isaiah when talking about preaching the gospel, when he says: “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Isaiah 52,7; Romans 10.14) The LXX translators used the greek word euangelion to translate the hebrew word basar. Of course according to Paul’s next thought in Romans 10.16, “not all the Israelites accepted the good news”. (gk. euangelion)
Jesus also showed the connection between Isaiah and the pronouncement of the gospel. Near the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is asked to teach in his hometown Synagogue. The text he chooses is from Isaiah 61.1: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news (hb. basar) to the poor.” The LXX and Luke use the word euangelion, to translate the hebrew basar.
The connection is clear that Isaiah is concerned with getting the good news out! Philip is happy to hop on board.
“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news (gk. euangelion) about Jesus” (Acts 8.35)
The Ethiopian was baptized that day. Philip had spoken to yet another person about the power, love, and sacrifice of Jesus. Using Isaiah as a starting point, an introduction, Philip changed one man’s eternal destiny.
Epilogue: Have you thought about how you would tell people about Jesus? One way is just to simply tell your story and how accepting Jesus into your life has changed you. If you don’t know where to begin…start here.
The pyro-technics went off, the smoke clouds filled the air, and the kerosene fire illuminated just enough of the dirt so as to be able to make my way to the center of the arena. I sauntered in. My face paint glowed under spotlight and my freshly pressed western shirt cast shadows from the sharp creases. Maybe it was the starch from the shirt, but my biceps and pecs felt much firmer and my posture improved under the spotlight. Then they called the wrong name! Turns out the introduction wasn’t for me, but for someone else…dang. Lesson learned. Arrivals can be tricky can’t they? This was not the case for Matthew.
Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 53 signals his understanding of the arrival of the Messiah and the Inauguration of a new Kingdom.
There are a few oddities with Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53. First off, he uses it outside of its usual time frame and context. Matthew and John are the only two to use it outside of the context of the cross. Every other author (save John) will use Isaiah 53 as a descriptor of what happened in the last 24 hours of Jesus life, and John within the last week; but Matthew quotes Isaiah 53, years before the cross would ever happen.
Secondly, Matthew doesn’t quote the Septuagint (LXX). In fact, the greek words in Matthew 8.17 and the LXX of Isaiah 53.4, outside of the words translated “and”, “us”, “he”, and “the”, are completely different. Matthew has astheneias, usually translated “weakness” or “sickness”, where as Isaiah uses the greek word amartias meaning “sins”. In Matthew, Jesus elaben, he “took up” our weaknesses, but in the LXX “he bore”, pherei our sins. The same can be said of the rest of the quotation. The quotation of Isaiah 53.4 in Matthew 8.17 seems to be more of a translation of the Hebrew scripture itself, than of the LXX. Which makes Matthew the only one quoting Isaiah 53 from the original Hebrew.
These reasons underscore how special and how unique Matthew’s treatment of Isaiah 53 is.
At first glance, it seems that the importance of the placement of the quote isn’t as important or significant as that of Paul and John. But something is happening in the 8th chapter of Matthew that we must understand before we can understand the quote. Let’s start at the beginning of Jesus Ministry in chapter 4.
- Jesus beings to preach: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 4.17)
- Jesus teaches in the Synagogues in Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 4.23-25)
- Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount. His opening: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”(5.3) and he goes on for 3 chapters about what the kingdom is and how those in it live (Matthew 5-7)
- Heals a man with Leprosy (Matthew 8.1-4)
- Heals the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8.5-13)
- Heals Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8.14-15)
- Healed all the sick (Matthew 8.16)
- “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’”
Two things dominated Jesus’ early ministry: Kingdom talk and healing. His focus would shift to authority and power after this quotation, but the foundation had been set and for Matthew, the connection between healing and the Kingdom could not be separated. We need no further proof than from Matthew 11 and 12.
John the Baptist is in prison. He is wondering what it is all about. (Matthew 11.2) Did he waste his time? Was he, God forbid, wrong about the identity of the one he announced? So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question. “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11.3) Jesus has the perfect response to this: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…” (Matthew 11.4-5)
Quickly, compare that list with Isaiah 35. Isaiah is talking about the redeemed people who have seen God’s glory when he writes: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way…The eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35.3,6) Sound familiar. When John wanted to know if Messiah had arrived, Jesus didn’t just say “Yes”, he said: “look at the results.” Jesus said, “Isaiah’s prophecy is taking place before your very eyes!”
The second thought comes from Matthew 12 where Jesus has just healed on the Sabbath and then had to retreat. Many followed him and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12.15), What is most interesting is Matthew’s take on this.
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)
It is without a doubt that Matthew equates healing with the arrival of the Servant of God and the arrival of his Kingdom. In fact, every instance of Matthew’s use of Isaiah (save for perhaps Matt. 15) is in direct context of healing or kingdom messages.
Isaiah 53.4 says: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”
It is such a simple statement about the work and ministry of the Lord’s Servant. Isaiah is, after all, called the “Messianic Prophet”. Matthew, however, took it even further. It was the arrival of the Lord’s chosen Messiah, who would bring back his people from exile, be it physical or Spiritual, and give them a new way of living. In reading Matthew 8 and Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah, the reader is given the privilege of seeing Matthew’s eye’s opened to the reality that Jesus Christ is the chosen One of God to do his work and to bring his kingdom to this earth. It is a kingdom that can transform our lives and transform our soul. This kingdom only comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The one who was sent by God to bring us back. Matthew understood that and chose Isaiah 53, to prove his point: The Kingdom has arrived…and it wan’t by accident!
Bareback riders must have a terrible time finding tuxedo’s that fit. It must be difficult to find a jacket that has one arm 6 inches longer than the other. Bareback riders wedge their hand into a riggin’ and then hang on for dear life for 8 seconds as their body gets contorted into shapes that make Cirque du Sole seem like beginners yoga class. When asked: “why do you fight bulls?” my answer is simple: “I wanted to be involved in Rodeo without harnessing my self to any large animals!” Bareback riding is exactly what I was trying to avoid. Bareback riders arms is how they make their money. The bend in the elbow, the compression of the bicep, and the grip in the hand make their arm and their power pay off. See it wasn’t just Isaiah who saw the importance of a powerful arm.
John uses Isaiah’s metaphor of God’s arm (aka. His power) to understand Jesus’ ministry to this world.
The imagery of the arm of the Lord is used throughout the Old Testament. It is in reference to God’s power to redeem his people (Deut. 4.34), as Creator (32.27), performer of the miraculous (Deut. 26.8), and Judge (Jer. 21.5). The underlying message, however, is the power and the capability of God to accomplish his purposes. Be it a showdown with Pharaoh or a conquering people, the Old Testament authors knew their God had the upper hand…or should I say arm.
As for Isaiah, the “arm of the Lord” was one of his favorite metaphors. Fourteen times from his pen, we find this imagery. In every instance it is used in the context of salvation. God will save his people! Isaiah wants to make this overwhelmingly clear. John would later expand on one of his salvation passages (Isaiah 40.10-11), where Isaiah is describing the arms of the Lord like a shepherd looking after his sheep. It is a metaphor Jesus would get great use of in John 10. Isaiah uses the idea of “the arm of the Lord” as a description of the past and a prescription of the future. A God who has done wonders for his people and a God who will some day bring back his people from exile. He would accomplish this future mission by sending a servant with his power described in Isaiah 53.
But why does John use this verse on this occasion in John 12.38?
John 11.37-38 says: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still did not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘Lord who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'”
The reason, I think, is because it is in these few verses that all of the book of John comes to a head. It is a convergence of sorts, where all the aspects of John’s testimony come together.
- Jesus Ministry: His worldly ministry began when he first changed the water to wine in chapter 2. He then spent all of his time in the public eye, doing ministry in the world, but beginning in chapter 13, all of his time will be spent pouring into his disciples. This quotation is an epilogue to his public ministry in John.
- Division in John: John might be the only guy ever to center his narrative around division. Throughout the entire gospel people are divided over the question: “Who is Jesus?” In our text: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him (37)….Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him (42).” When Jesus arrives, people divide.
- Signs in John: Jesus began his public ministry by turning the water to wine in Cana (John 2). This was the first of seven signs that Jesus would perform in John’s gospel. The last of the signs was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11) in the prior chapter, thus concluding his public ministry as mentioned before. Our text, John 12.37 mentions these “signs”. John refers to them as signs, where as the other gospel writers use the term miracles. As it pertains to our text, the word “miraculous” in the NIV does not appear in the greek text…just in case you were wondering. The sign discussion leads me to the next point…
- Belief in John: “Even after he had done all these signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(37) Ninety-Eight times is the word translated “believe” (gk. pisteuo) used in John’s gospel. That is nearly half of the times in the New Testament. Belief is often used in connection with the signs that Jesus performed. Jesus even sums it up in John 6, immediately after feeding the 5,000 (sign 4) and walking on the water (sign 5), when he answers the question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?”. Jesus answered: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Belief is paramount.
- The Purpose: John’s purpose for writing is stated in John 20.30-31: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Again, “miraculous” is added by the NIV and not in the greek, but still, the signs recorded here were meant to bring them to belief. But what does our text say? “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous sings in their presence, they still would not believe…”(12.37) Diametrically opposite!
The Jewish leaders have found themselves in a collision of greatest importance. Before them stands Jesus Christ, with all his signs, all his statements, all his accolades…and all his Power. That is what this is really all about. Jesus and his power.
In Hebrew prophecy and poetry, there is a literary device known as parallelism. The second line, in our case “to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”, repeats the message of the first line. This device equates the two ending clauses. Therefore, the “arm of the Lord”, a metaphor extolling the “Power of God”, is equated with the “message” being preached in line 1.
If its been a while, you should go back and read John 1 and answer the question that has plagued us the entire book of John: “Who is Jesus?” John 1 begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus Christ was the message of God to the entire world and in him was the Power of God. Isaiah 53.1 and John 12.38 is where the message of God, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3.16) and the power of God, “My Father, whom yo claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me” (John 8.54) stand before them in the person of Jesus; and it will soon be shown greater still in his death and resurrection, yet they could not bring themselves to believe. So John lifts the question from Isaiah 53.1:
Who has believed our message; and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?