In a previous post, I relayed the story of Augustine’s initial attempt to make heads or tails out of Isaiah. The attempt failed. I wonder what Ambrose would have said to Augustine if he had told Ambrose that he found Isaiah so obscure. Perhaps Ambrose would have said, “Well, then give Isaiah 52-54 a try.” Few texts from the Old Testament are as well-known as Isaiah 53. And few texts within the Old Testament frame the gospel so well.
The promise in Isaiah 48 regarding the new thing God would do in Israel’s midst is now coming to fruition (Isa. 48:6). The Exodus imagery so replete in Isaiah gives way to the new activity of God in his redemptive movement towards his people. This new thing has no precedent. It is unlike anything we’ve known before. Our previous frame of reference will be reworked according to a new miracle of divine intervention.
The messengers who stand on the high places and announce the good news, the message of God’s absolute reign, are blessed. Their feet are beautiful. Their message is simple: salvation (Isa. 52:7). Isaiah 52:7 ranks high on the list of Scriptures whose content demands a praise chorus. “Our God Reigns.” I can hear my former youth group singing it out now. And rightly so.
What is often forgotten, however, is the contextual location of Isa. 52:7. The announcement of God’s reign is, by our English Bible standards, five verses away from the beginning of the so-called fourth servant song: Isaiah 53. In other words, the announcement of salvation, the announcement of the good news, the vocalization of God’s reign, finds its actualization in the suffering of the servant. Who could have seen this coming? Indeed, Isaiah 48:6 is right; this is a new thing. God’s kingdom comes about in an act of suffering humiliation and gracious place-taking
Isaiah 53:10 reveals the suffering servant seeing his offspring, those he makes righteous, from the throws of his suffering. When Jesus reconstitutes the family of God from the cross—“Woman, behold, your son,” and to the disciple, “Behold, your mother”—I do believe something of Isa. 53:10 lurks under the surface account. The disciple is now the son of Mary, like Jesus himself is. Jesus sees his offspring, his seed, his righteous family, from the hell of his suffering. After this, John’s gospel tells us, after reconstituting the family of God, after seeing his righteous offspring, Jesus cries, “It is finished.”
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? The familiar lyric to the haunting spiritual raises a profound question. Were we there? By faith, we were and are.