Before going to seminary I spent a year teaching Latin at a boys’ junior boarding school in Northern New England. It was wonderful work for myriad reasons, from what Latin communicated in the classroom to the way living in an enclosed environment exposed truths about how we relate to one another, truths which the world at large disguises far more successfully. One such undeniable fact is the degree to which we are helplessly the product of our parents. You might think that at a boarding school boys would set out on their own as captains’ of their own fates, and no doubt many of them had this self-perception, but I learned otherwise.
Middle-schoolers are largely enigmas; they certainly were to their Latin teacher fresh out of college, biding his time before going into the church. But in my defense, I hardly think I was an exception, their parents and even the middle-schoolers themselves seemed just as puzzled. Why was this boy perpetually tardy? How could anyone be so disorganized? What made this student incapable of catching when a conversation was being concluded? None of these things made sense to me, that was until parents’ weekend.
Which parents missed the narrow window for our discussion about their son’s performance in Latin? Whose mother’s handbag was left sitting on my chair? Which family had to be politely but physically shown the door well after the allotted time was up? Yet I doubt I’d have noticed any of these things had I not grown so well acquainted with the particular struggles of their children as their school master. After those meetings it was as if those enigmatic codes were broken. I might not have had a solution, but once uncovered, the fuller picture could never be forgotten.
These chapters in Isaiah, describing the “suffering servant” whose experience would both mirror and redeem God’s chosen people Israel, are rich in imagery of restoration and of God’s own disclosure of himself. Reading such passages points to the inexhaustibility of the contemplation of Jesus Christ’s great glory–may you and I both by the grace of God be granted eternity in which to relish that fact–but let us enjoy a foretaste and consider just one verse.
Speaking to Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon by the mid 5th century B.C. and thus vastly improved the lot of the Jews exiled there, God pronounces that “by myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return; to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear alliance” (Isaiah 45:23). The Word of God was with the Father from the beginning, eternally spoken, or in more familiar language, begotten of him, not made.
The Word is active throughout the Old Testament and if you listen for it there you will find it, but the great moment of recognition, the parents’ weekend if you will, comes when straining to be heard over the cacophony of human sin, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Jesus Christ is that word gone out in righteousness (John 1:1-10). He is the word that discloses the character of the Father, and all the more so than any parent teacher conference could, for the Son and the Father share one substance. But both the mundane and most sacred share something of that same permanence of disclosure, something a puzzle piece falling into place.
And the remarkable thing is that Jesus does not just have arms interlocked with the Father and the Spirit, but his outstretched arms, the arms which were spread wide on the cross, reach out to us, to embrace us like the arms of a puzzle piece, connecting us forever to the triune divine life, that having borne with those very arms, with the whole of his self, the price of our iniquity, we might dwell eternally without any barrier in God’s very presence. And for those thereby locked in his unrelenting embrace, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10).