One of the most wonderful passages of Scripture in the history of Jewish/Christian heritage begins in Isaiah 52:6-53:12. It begins with a desperate portrait of human misrepresentation of the God's way of life… but ends with God's response of love and triumph.
Paul quoted from this section of Scripture for a reason. In the section we are reading in Romans, Paul is arguing against finger pointing and arrogance and hypocricy… and mostly against a false sense of faith… so he quotes Isaiah— For in this chapter of Isaiah, written 700 years before Paul, God had just leveled his "followers" with the following reality: “Because of you my name is being blasphemed.”
God doesn’t like His name being blasphemed. God's name is "hallowed" – holy and unique and whole (Luke 11:1-4). When Jesus taught his followers to pray, the first thing he instructed them to do was to recognize and verbalize that God's name is "hallowed." (Note: Jesus then instructed that the natural outflow of God's hallowed name was their desire for God's way to be seen on earth, their request for God's forgiveness of their own sins, their ability to forgive the sins of others, and their intention to avoid temptation and evil. God's hallowed name translates into a hallowed way of living for God's people.)
So God had a plan to stop the systems and people and powers that were causing the corruption of His reputation in the world. First, through Isaiah, God made it known that there would come a day when He would reveal His name to His people again… and that as a result His "followers" would come to understand His true power (as opposed to their arrogant version in which they are the stars of the show— a common critique of current North American spiritual conditions). And when God revealed His name to His people, they would begin to recognize “who it is that speaks to them.”
This implies that they thought they knew who God was… but they were off a bit. Their pride, and the planks in their eyes, had misaligned their sight. So God was going to perform lasic surgery.
Now, how would God redeem His Name in this world? Simple really: God would do the opposite of what His "followers" had been doing. They had been sourly conceited… so God was going to be wonderfully altruistic.
For instance, Isaiah 52:7 says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news of peace and salvation, the news that God reigns!” So while “believers” had preached judgment and condemnation to others, God promised to present a message of peace and salvation.
Isaiah 53:1 asks: “Who has believed our message?” In other words, has the message of God gotten out there? Or has then been another message that has stiffled God's Good News? Had "God’s people" missed it? Had the world yet heard it? Or, as Isaiah has implied and Paul warns, had "God’s people" embodied a message of superiority and judgmental attitudes? Had the world heard a message from self-righteous believers? Well, the Good News is that God had a Good Word for everyone that wouldn't be contained any longer… even if the manner of delivery would be a bit surprising…
Isaiah 53:2-3 says: “My servant grew in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him, He was despised and rejected- a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised and we did not care.” Had God’s people grown in the Lord’s presence with humility and fragility… like tender life in a dry land? Or had God’s people sought after impressive grandeur and majestic appearances? Had they been willing to suffer despicably? Had they embraced sorrows and befriended the bitterest of grief? Or had God’s people avoided connection with trials and tribulations? Had God's people turned their backs on such a Message? Had God's people missed the presence of God… and the work God was doing?
Could God’s way be the opposite of what ours has been?
Isaiah 53:4 says: “Yet it was our weaknesses he carried, our pain that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins!” Interesting that God is willing to let His Name be misunderstood in weakness in order for the reputation of His name to be upheld. God is willing to allow others to be amazed at His Way. God is not going to arrogantly defend His pattern. God is going to live lovingly, caringly, intentionally to reveal the wonders of His name… even if others think “less” of Him. God’s way is a way of altruism. It is a way of living for others. God’s way is a way of encouragement, consideration, and service for every neighbor.
Has this been our way?
Thank you, Jesus, for behaving in a way that we have not… and for bringing glory to Your Great Name. Amen.