Pastor Nathan Kuenzel
Pastor John Thompson
Charles Colson in his book “The Body” (Being Light in Darkness) says: The prevailing world-view denies the existence of absolute truth. So when the Christian message, which is essentially historical and propositional, is proclaimed, modern listeners hear what they interpret as simply one person’s preference—another autonomous human choice of lifestyle or belief.…
What does this tell us?… To evangelize today we must address the human condition at its point of felt need—conscience, guilt, dealing with others, finding a purpose for staying alive.…
So we must be familiar enough with the prevailing world-view to look for points of contact and discern points of disagreement.
It is no different then if you or I were talking with a Hindu, for example, about issues of life and religion. We wouldn’t assume that he or she was coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective. We would start from the Hindu presuppositions about the world, probe their world-view, find the points of contact and concern, and then begin to challenge or question those presuppositions. Only then could we begin to present our case effectively.…
Our handy prepackaged God-talk won’t do. Before we tell them what the Bible says, we may have to tell them why they should believe the Bible (there is a great case to be made). And we need a Christian apologetic that doesn’t just make the case for us; it must touch the chords within our unbelieving friends and neighbors and begin to alter their view of reality.
That statement defines what Paul did in the ancient city of Athens as he encountered a city that challenged all of his great skill as an evangelist and an apologist for the message of the Gospel.
We see that versatility as Paul shared first in the synagogue, then in the marketplace and finally in gaining a hearing for the Gospel message before the ruling council that met in the Areopagus.
Paul adapted his methods to reach out to Jews or to evangelize Gentiles who had virtually no background in Scripture. This passage gives us insight into the heart, the mind, and the ministry of Paul, providing us with important lessons for engaging people in our day.
How should we, as Christians, interact with a pluralistic society where every form of belief is considered as equal and to hold to one view is considered intolerant? How should we engage skeptical intellectuals in particular? How do we reach out to those with no knowledge of the Bible or of God, of sin or of salvation. I believe we can find answers from Paul’s visit to Athens.
1. SEEKING MEANING: Acts 17:16-21
2. FINDING OUT WHO GOD IS: Acts 17:22-29
3. KNOWING GOD! Acts 17:30-34
1. SEEKING MEANING: Acts 17:16-21
Commentator E. M. Blaiklock said that “Athens was in the late afternoon of her glory” when Paul came to the city. Five centuries before few cities could rival the splendour of Athens. Politically, Athenians had developed the first democracy, a city-state run by elected officials who were accountable to the people. (What a novel idea!) Athens boasted important leaders in every category of Western civilization. Great playwrights like Aeschylus (the father of tragedy). Hippocrates, another fifth century Athenian was called “the father of Western medicine.” And when thinking of Athens you must mention Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy, who taught Plato, who later taught Aristotle. Numerous artists also called Athens home. Phidias was renowned for his statue of Zeus considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Temples built by other artisans lined the streets of the city, the most famous being the Parthenon completed around 432 BC. Athena was the patron goddess of the city and her statue stood high inside the Parthenon.
Just a short distance from the Parthenon stood a little hill on which a temple to the Greek god of war, Ares, was built. Ares corresponded to the Roman god of war, Mars and so the name of the location was the Areopagus or Mars Hill, the place where Paul made his defence of the Gospel before the council of the city.
Though the golden age had passed and Athens had been surpassed by Corinth as the center of commerce it still remained in Paul’s day the intellectual capital of the ancient world. We might view it as a university city, a center of learning and instruction.
It wasn’t the history, the architecture, or the beauty of Athens that impacted Paul. We read that “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” The verb translated “provoked” is “paroxuno” the root word of our English “paroxysm, a seizure, spasm or outburst.” Paul experienced the highest level of feeling, or threshold of pain. Paul was deeply disturbed within his soul when he saw a city “full of idols.” I wonder how we feel when we see people bowing to the idols of our day, or if we are tempted to bow ourselves? The word “katidolos” describing the idols occurs only here in the New Testament, the city was literally permeated with idols, smothered with idols.
Pausanias says that Athens had more images than all the rest of Greece put together. Pliny states that in the time of Nero Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god. They lined the street from the Piraeus and caught the eye at every place of prominence on wall or in the agora.
Paul’s reaction illustrates what it means to have a Christian worldview. By definition a worldview
is a set of beliefs about the most fundamental issues in life: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
When we become followers of Jesus Christ our view of everything changes. Our theological beliefs about God, creation, humanity, sin, redemption and the kingdom shape our view of the world around us. We see the world through a different set of lenses. We see the world differently because we filter
everything we encounter through the right perspective of God’s self-revelation in creation, in Scripture, and ultimately in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We understand the redemptive plan of God set in motion before the foundation of the world and unfolded through His revelation from creation through to the cross and into eternity.
So Paul in reaction to what he saw and what moved his spirit as the Holy Spirit worked within him began ministering in the synagogue. Paul was committed to the truth and had compassion for the people. We too must reach out based on commitment to truth and motivated by compassion as we live in a world smothered by idols. An idol is anything to which people turn when they need something only Jesus can provide. An idol is anything that supplants the living God in the human heart.
Paul began with those who had some knowledge of God and then he moved into the marketplace and confronted the pluralism of city directly. The Athenian marketplace was called the agora.
It contained everything: town officials deliberating, artists creating, business people dealing, the media reporting, the philosophers philosophizing. Everything happened in the marketplace. It was the public space for everything. And there Paul spoke of his faith. He had conversations that matter speaking of Jesus and the resurrection.
So much so, he attracted the attention of two of the schools of thought of the prevailing world views among the Athenians. The Epicureans said “enjoy life.” The Stoics said “endure life.”
Epicureans derived their worldview from Epicurus, who had lived in the second and third centuries B.C. According to Epicurus, the chief goal in life is to attain the maximum amount of pleasure and the minimum amount of pain. Their goal was material things thinking that this life is all there is. The Stoics worldview was that life is filled with both good and bad and since you cannot really avoid the bad, what you have to do is “grin and bear it.” That is stoicism. The phrase “que sera sera” “whatever will be, will be” captures the spirit of Stoicism.
Both worldviews were hopeless and meaningless and both groups reacted strongly to Paul. Some called him a babbler, literally a “seed picker” evoking an image of a bird pecking at seeds in a barnyard. Others thought he was proclaiming strange deities, a male deity Jesus, and a female goddess of resurrection. “Anastasis” is the Greek word for “resurrection” but “Anastasia” is a Greek feminine name. There were some however, who reacted sincerely. They were seeking meaning. But as Luke clearly notes, too many of the Athenians were all talk, daily doing nothing except telling or hearing something new.
2. FINDING OUT WHO GOD IS: Acts 17:22-31
The Athenians often gathered at the Areopagus to debate and to decide affairs and here Paul makes his defence explaining who God is. Paul preaches about what these things mean. He first identifies with them establishing a point of contact on the basis of their religious interest. Wherever you go you find some sort of religion. Paul next establishes a point of conflict. They had an altar to the unknown god, Paul came to proclaim to them the God who would be known. God has revealed Himself. God is not unknowable. Paul describes the revelation of God and how the problem is not that people cannot know God it is that they don’t want to know God.
An address in the Areopagus was known to take two to three hours, so what we have here must be only the highlights of Paul’s message. Luke has shared with us the ultra condensed version. You have to read all of the epistles to fill in the details that Paul probably expounded. Paul sets out no fewer than seventeen truths about God.
1. God is the creator of all things: God… made the world and everything in it (24); we are his offspring (citing the pagan author Aratus) (28).
2. God is the sustainer of all things: God… gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (25).
3. God is ruler over all things: God… He is the Lord of heaven and earth (24).
4. God is a transcendent spirit: God… does not live in temples made by man (24); we should not
think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone (29).
5. God is perfectly complete in Himself: God… is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything (25).
6. God is a purposeful and active God: He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined alloted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, (26).
7. God is a personal, relational being who seeks relationship with His creatures: God did this so that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him (27).
8. God is immanent within the world: God… He is actually not far from each one of us; for in him we live and move and have our being (citing the pagan poet Epimenides) (27-28).
9. God is our Father, in the sense that our life comes to us ultimately from Him: We are his offspring (28) and being then God’s offspring He cannot be contained in an image formed by the art and imagination of man (29).
10. God is a merciful being: In the past God overlooked such [idolatrous] ignorance (30).
11. God is a morally righteous being who calls all people to repent of wrong: God… He commands all people everywhere to repent (30).
12. God is a God of justice: God… will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has apppointed(31).
13. God’s purpose in human history has reached its goal in the mission of Jesus Christ: God… now… commands all people everywhere to repent… For He has set a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has appointed (30-31).
14. God raised Jesus to life after His death: He has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (31).
15. God has already set a time when all people will be passed under judgment: God… has fixed a day on which he will judge the world (31).
16. God will judge all people by the righteous standard of the Lord Jesus Christ: God… will judge the world by the man whom he has appointed (31).
17. God has provided a universal sign of His future, universal judgment by raising Jesus from the dead: God… has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (31).
Paul essentially explains a Christian worldview here. He sets the Gospel in the bigger redemptive story of the Bible. He shows that the faith is reasonable and exclusive. He shows the need of repentance from sin and of placing faith in the Redeemer. Though the name of Jesus is not mentioned in Luke’s summary, the whole premise of Paul’s preaching was Jesus and the resurrection, that’s why he was brought before the Areopagus to make his case for Christ.
Paul wisely begins by sharing foundational basics that come from the beginning of God’s written
revelation. He recognizes the biblical illiteracy of the Athenians and he begins where they are.
3. KNOWING GOD! Acts 17:32-34
First, some dismissed the message rejecting it with derision. Second, some deferred wanting to hear more but not yet responding. And third, there were those who repented, deciding to believe. Paul confronted them with a competing worldview. We need to remember that people already have a worldview in place that will compete with the biblical truth we share. Wrong ideas must be lovingly countered and replaced with the new categories and meaning of a Christian worldview.
The Christ Centered Exposition Commentary says: In the past Western Christians communicating the gospel to next-door neighbors assumed people basically shared our worldview. We assumed they had an understanding of God. We assumed they had heard of Jesus. We assumed they knew he died on the cross and rose from the dead for the benefit of humanity. We assumed they viewed sin as offensive to God and destructive to people. We assumed people believed history is moving somewhere. In days gone by, even atheists were “Christian atheists” in that the deity they claimed to deny was clearly the Christian God. But the time for making assumptions in evangelism has passed. In order to be effective, we have to begin sharing the truth of the gospel by anchoring our teaching in the creation account. We must describe the nature of God and move through the biblical story line.
Paul worked to connect with those hearing him in meaningful ways. He even quoted pagan philosophers. One author said: Paul was aware of popular writings, but nothing about his life suggests he would have been watching hours of Netflix if given the opportunity—much less allowing his mind to play in the gutter as he considered hours of explicit pop lyrics. We must guard our minds (Philippians 4:8), but we should also seek to understand culture. Doing so can help us build bridges to the gospel.
The Areopagus address reveals the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father and Judge. He took in the whole of nature and of history. He passed the whole of time in review, from the creation to the consummation. He emphasized the greatness of God, not only as the beginning and the end of all things, but as the One to whom we owe our being and to whom we must give account. He argued that human beings already know these things by natural or general revelation, and that their ignorance and idolatry are therefore inexcusable. So he called on them with great sincerity, before it was eternally too late, to repent.
Now all of this is part of the gospel. Or at least it is the indispensable background to the gospel, without which the gospel cannot be effectively preached. Many people are rejecting our gospel today not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. People are looking for an integrated worldview which makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without the creation, or salvation without judgment. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesus was to call ‘the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27).
John Stott in The Message of Acts says: It is not only the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message in Athens which is impressive, but also the depth and power of his motivation. Why is it that, in spite of the great needs and opportunities of our day, the church slumbers peacefully on, and so many Christians are deaf and dumb, deaf to Christ’s commission and tongue-tied in testimony? I think the major reason is this: we do not speak as Paul spoke because we do not feel as Paul felt. We have never had the paroxysm of indignation which he had. Divine jealousy has not stirred within us. We constantly pray ‘Hallowed be your Name’, but we do not seem to mean it, or to care that his Name is so widely profaned.
Why is this? It takes us a stage further back. If we do not speak like Paul because we do not feel like Paul, this is because we do not see like Paul. That was the order: he saw, he felt, he spoke. It all began with his eyes. When Paul walked round Athens, he did not just ‘notice’ the idols. The Greek verb used three times (16, 22, 23) is either “theoreo” or “anatheoreo” and means to “observe” or “consider”. So he looked and looked, and thought and thought, until the fires of holy indignation were kindled within him. For he saw men and women, created by God in the image of God, giving
to idols the homage which was due to him alone.
Idols are not limited to primitive societies; there are many sophisticated idols too. An idol is a god-substitute. Any person or thing that occupies the place which God should occupy is an idol. Covetousness is idolatry. Ideologies can be idolatries. So can fame, wealth and power, sex, food, alcohol and other drugs, parents, spouse, children and friends, work, recreation, television and possessions, even church, religion and Christian service. Idols always seem particularly dominant
in cities. Jesus wept over the impenitent city of Jerusalem. Paul was deeply pained by the idolatrous city of Athens. Have we ever been provoked by the idolatrous cities of the contemporary world?
Paul ended with three reasons to repent:
Acts 17:30 (ESV) “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,” First, God’s is patient to give you time to repent. We have as many idols or more then the Athenians. Our land is as corrupt as theirs, even though we have known the gospel for hundreds of years, which they had not. God has not yet destroyed Canada for its sins. Why? It is because God is patient. He has also been patient with you. He has overlooked your ignorance for a time. Pay attention, and let God’s patience lead you to repentance.
Second, God commands repentance because…Acts 17:31 (ESV) “because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” God commands you to repent! Turn from your sin and trust in Him. If God tells us to do something, we had better do it.
Third, judgement is coming the time to repent is now. God has appointed a final day of reckoning when Jesus shall be the final judge. Paul’s exact words were, “he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The only hope is Jesus. Christ is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.
On that day when Paul shared this message a few became faithful followers. Two are mentioned in particular, Dionysius a member of the Areopagus and a woman named Damaris. What about you?
I’ve got the best new years resolutions… I’m not going to eat junk, going to get more sleep, watch less screens, and cut toxic people out of my life. Nobody’s ever committed to such a controversial yet brave life decisions.
But I am resolved… not exactly sure why I feel the need to keep eating chips, until the bag is gone, but I’m just going to not do that somehow… I’m resolved. Or I’m not exactly sure why I lay in bed with my mind at swimming with all the people I think I’m failing, all the things I said wrong, and all the things I still need to do, but I’m just going to sleep more somehow… now that I’m resolved.
Going to somehow watch less tv / Netflix screens, somehow not sure why I want to escape reality but somehow, I’m just going to do that less.
And I know exactly why I want to cut out toxic people, but… I’m not exactly sure where all these toxic people keep coming from…. no matter how many where I go or who I meet I keep having similar relationship problems with completely different people… but somehow, by labeling other people as bad and unworthy my time, and never speaking to them again I will somehow be better off. Because they’re the toxic ones… somehow… but I’m resolved
At this point… you might have noticed the tongue in cheek. you might have figured I think NY resolutions are silly. Goals aren’t silly. But there’s a lotta people playing whack a mole with symptoms while they ignore the disease. People make a lot of decisions to change unhealthy or destructive behaviours, while we ignore the brokenness that causes the behavior – that’s silly. Like people who smoke 2 packs a day, but resolve to cough less. Truth is: Unhealthy or destructive behaviour is a symptom of a spiritual problem
Yes, we are physical beings with spiritual longings. We long for connection, meaning, truth, justice, love, things beyond us – we naturally long for these above all else yet the natural world does not provide it. We try to fill spiritual longings with material things, and it doesn’t work.
That this material world doesn’t’ satisfy our spiritual longings is a real problem – some might call it the human condition. No matter how much sleep you get or don’t how much junk you eat or don’t, exercise you get or don’t, friends you have or don’t resolving won’t fix us. So what’s up with that, what kind of cruel joke is it that we naturally long for above all else isn’t naturally available.
Some think; maybe an unfortunate by product of mutation and natural selection. An animal that develops what they think is a soul in a cold chaotic indifferent universe – If that’s what you think your problem is, there is no solution. Stay alive and keep resolving. It really doesn’t make any difference.
Or maybe something else is going on. Those fleeting moments of transcendence when we really connect, really love, do something really meaningful, really find truth, really find justice that fill our hearts to bursting and we brush up against holy moments…. These are breadcrumbs on the path leading us to where we were meant to go. To whom we were made for. Our heart’s longings, like little compass needles all point in the same direction. Not pointing to true north, but to the true God. But how do we get that, even if we resolve to?
Unfortunately, the world around us seems to be spinning, ground seems to shift when we walk. Unfortunately, we quickly forget when we figure out how to move forward. Unfortunately, we are so short sighted that we can’t even see one second into the future. Unfortunately, we have no idea how to get to this True God our hearts point us towards.
To connect and unite with the transcendent being that everyone kind of agrees is out there but nobody can point to where it is or why we all seem to feel it… Humans have invented things called religions to try and get to him And at their core is somethings as deep and profound as new years resolutions.
Yeah, it’s like God’s on a mountain, and were down here because we’re broken, and to get up there, do this good stuff, don’t do this bad stuff. Yeah you know those unhealthy behaviours that are symptoms of spiritual brokenness, yeah stop doing those things, do good things instead. So, all religions kind of agree, Behaviour will be your saviour. Cough less, here’s a cigarette while you try…
And if anyone is here at church for the first time ever, they wonder what am I doing here? Isn’t this Christianity a religion of sorts? Aren’t we all in the same boat? How can we really know that God is out there, or even here for that matter? How do we know that God is even real, how do we know if he is even powerful enough to do anything? Even if there is truth how can we know for sure?
If only we had some answers, if only we could have a light to light our path. If only we knew the truth. if only the God of the mountaintop would come down to us…. So, we could know for sure…
Today we aren’t looking for answers. Today we are looking at the answer and choose to accept or ignore. We’re looking at the one who claimed to be the truth, the light, and the way. The one who claimed to come down from the mountain so we could know for sure that God is real, that God is in control, and that God is with us.
Turn with me to Isaiah 52. We are looking at the 4th servant song of the prophet Isaiah. A man who knows all too well the human difficulties we face when it comes to doubt, uncertainty and spiritual brokenness. The people of God faced the same doubts, same uncertainties, same confusion, same blindness that we face, because at the core of their hearts was a God shaped hole that they were seeking to fill with everything but Him, and we see God answer their fears, their doubts and uncertainties in his servant.
Before We look at the servant, who would show just how real, in control and with us our God truly is. We see people of God in turmoil.
52:1-4 written to a people asleep, to a people weak, to a people not splendid, a people defeated.
God’s people, in God’s place, with God’s promise… had a serous problem, their nation seemed to have a God shaped hole in it. This people of God, marked by the exodus, marked by his grace, marked by his forever promise to show the world about his great name, began to turn away from Him.
as time went on. People doubted, wondered about this invisible God they heard about, whom their ancestors trusted with everything. People went their own way, stopped trusting, stopped living like he was real. Started doing and being like the people around them. Like we said at the core of unhealthy and destructive behaviour is a spiritual problem. God didn’t’ leave his people. His people left him, and things got real bad.
See that line in v 3… sold for nothing bought for free. The kingdom of Israel was so run down it wasn’t even worth conquering, or even worth selling for scrap. Like an old desk thrown out on the curb, gets picked up by a neighbour and is back out on their curb next garbage day you don’t have to pay for that desk back. Its junk. Israel wasn’t worth anything to anyone.
And a small remnant, of believers, of faithful, of disciples who followed Isaiah were looking around I’m sure a few people wondered is God even real, is he even in control… I just don’t see it.
Their situation not hard to understand. Lot of empty churches being sold for the land they sit on. Demolished, not worth the scrap. If there’s a God shaped hole in Canada, its not because God left us, God’s people in this country pushed him away, and tried to fill his absence with material. We who believe are now a remnant, leftovers, stubborn dreamers holding onto old ways, outdated views – at least that’s what the mockers say. After all the name of God, in our country and culture is a curse word. See that in verse 6 The people of God faced the same doubts, same uncertainties, same confusion, same blindness that we face?
Then God says to these doubts in V6-7 (read) – Yeah my enemies mock my name, they have taken my people. This has happened so my people will know my name. This has happened so my people in all generations to come will know who I am – what I am capable of. so, that no matter what my people may one day face, they will know what I have done, and what I will do. This is for us guys. This is really for us. And this is real. (Read 52:13-53:3)
- God’s salvation and solution is Real (52:13 – 53:3)
With all the turmoil doubt, hate God’s people faced, and we face today, God offers not an idea, not a way to behave, not a way to think but Good news for us. He says I get it, don’t worry, I sent my guy. He’s got it. The servant is offered as the solution and salvation to the people of God’s deep spiritual problems. This servant is described – God’s guy was given a description…. So God’s people could know what to look for. A real person with real qualities.
For an individual who is: wise, lifted up, exalted, rejected by many, physically disfigured from damage, shocking / amazing to nations, and above kings. A servant born to nothing, raised above everything. A servant despised and rejected who would reveal the power of God.
God said he would send a real servant, down into our material world so that we would know he is real. A servant who would be lifted and exalted, a real person that lots of people would know who came from complete obscurity.
That sound like a metaphor? Sound like a each of us are kind of like this messiah? Nation? NO this is a real human being. And as far as I know history, there’s only one who fits this description. His name is Jesus of Nazareth, a nobody from nowhere. A real human being who fit this description to the letter.
Alexander the great conquering a big chunk of the ancient world was cool, prince tutored by philosophers, with an army behind his ambition conquering a lot of land was impressive. A complete unknown, uneducated, poor as dirt, Nazarene born in a hick town in scandalous rumor, who taught a small group of people, in an area about here to Lucan, on foot for 3 years conquering hearts and minds 2020 years give him their allegiance and lives is something this material world has not seen in anyone else.
Jesus is real and looking back we can see he really fulfilled this prophecy. Whether you agree in the interpretation of the servant you can’t deny the fact that many kings and queens have bowed down to this man Jesus, who was of Nazareth because he came from nobodies from nowhere. Queen of England now to Constantine, back then. There have been a bunch. How many nations have been shocked by Jesus? China’s struggling against the shock… so is India, so is Iran, so was Rome… one day going to colosseum watch Christians die, next week it was their national religion.
This is Real. This has happened. This man Jesus changed reality this way. God is God of reality, not just metaphors. Not just imagination. Not just of people’s inner lives. Not just heaven, His reign and his rule are real and extend into this material world that we call real.
Not an abstract idea, a metaphor, a symbol that teaches us about ourselves. No a real man, with real flesh, real words, real commands, and real implications. A real person and a real point of reference for us to focus on while the world around us spins and the ground around us shifts. and He didn’t claim to know the way up to God, he said he was the only way to God.
This is Real. This has happened. And He put his money where his mouth is He went to Jerusalem believing he would be killed and resolved himself to go. He pushed all his chips on the table said “I am from the real God who is above this reality and I’ll prove it by walking in and out of this reality, by dying and coming back to life… not metaphorically, not symbolically, not in a way that teaches us about ourselves, but real flatline, brain activity really dead. Decomposition. A corpse, and then alive after it.
He called it, told his followers, before he was killed, that he would die, be raised again just like it was written, and he did. And he called them to follow, and they did.
and he’s calling us to follow him too. Not in an abstract way. Not in an imaginary way. Not in a symbolic way. But to really follow him. In real life, by giving him our real lives. To exalt the Real man from Nazareth above all other Lords, all other kings, all other pursuits, all other desires, all other ambitions all other hopes, above our own selves daily. Exalt the king in our lives even to the point where we can really say it’s no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.
That takes a lot of faith – living like it’s real. To walk with his steps because we depend on him to call the shots. To serve king Jesus for Real, means you must really trust him. This is hard. Because there’s a lot around us that might rob us of our trust in God’s power or capability to solve everything outside of us, and everything inside of us that’s broken.
Therefore our second point is so encouraging. This is great news for those who believe that God is real, but sometimes forget he is really in control. (read 53:4-12)
- God solution and salvation is Written. 53:4-12
The one who wears the crown is also the one who knows the end from the beginning. He’s the man with the plan – and the power to see it through. And he followed what was written to the letter.
Take a second to really let this soak in. What we have here are Theological categories of explanation and significance before the event took place. Explanation of an events meaning, and significance, before free acting beings played it out.
Now imagine you own a professional basket ball team in the 80’s Portland. Your about to choose your draft pick. Young buck named Sam bowie, or this cat named Michael Jordan. You have no idea who to pick. How can you know? You go to your scout Isaiah and say hey, um what about this guy. Scout Isaiah writes you a note gives you the answer, you ignore it. Pick Sam Bowie. And the bulls pick Jordan number 3.
Time has gone on. You find a note, written by that scout from back in 84… you moan when you remember you passed on the greatest player of the era. Read the note, it says MJ will be picked 3rd. Ok how’d he know that…?
Note continues to Say he will be a champion, make game winning shots, he’s going to be famous. – Not only that, but he’d win mvp 11 times, and not be very good at baseball… How amazing would those accurate predictions of events be?
How much more incredible would that note be if it then outlined the historic significance of MJ on Nike, not talks all about Air Jordan’s, starts talking about him staring in the movie space jam, starts talking about what other players like Lebron say about him. Imagine the outcomes and implications being explained before the player was even picked – wouldn’t that be crazy? We need to feel that same wonder with Isaiah description of the suffering servant because that’s what this is, the prophet Isaiah wrote it down as far before Jesus, as the dark ages are before us. This is crazy!
Worried if God’s in control? Look at what is written. Who else could explain the meaning of historic events before they happened? Who else could describe the theological significance of how people have acted, before those people were born?
Hebrew language has a past tense things completed uncompleted. When it comes to prophetic utterances, they write down things to come in the past tense, because when God says it will happen it’s the same as being done. If God says it, it is, history just hasn’t caught up yet.
Look how at how incredibly detailed and profound these theological implications are to events that wouldn’t be figured out till after the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
In this small section is expiation, substitution, justification, propitiation, the resurrection, sanctification, new Adam, adoption, perseverance and glorification. Big nerdy, specific categories taught to bible students to understand all the implications of the ministry of Jesus – it is written and when Israel was smoldering rubble – people had no idea if God was in control.
See these categories and implications written far before the events of Jesus life.
The servant solves our sin problem
How is human brokenness going to be fixed? Expiation (4) God’s not ok with sin, ick, guilt, servant will take it away.
Who’s going to pay for the crime so there’s justice? Substitution atonement (5,10). Justice will be served but the servant will be our substitute.
What about the criminal record of the guilty? Justification (11). By the work of the servant we will be declared innocent. Not excused/ parole, innocent.
How is that wrath going to be turned to favor? Propitiation (5). The innocent, pure shed blood of the servant’s sacrifice would turn the wrath of God to favor.
The servant solves the sin problem by getting rid of what pushes God out of our lives. But that’s not all that’s been predicted in 700 bc. He doesn’t just get rid of our sin; he gets us to God.
The servant saves us to the father.
No guilty people allowed; the servant will justify. People are not righteous enough for God’s holiness? The Servant gives us in his righteousness – imputation. Payment for sin is death? Fine the servant would die for us and raise us to new life with Him – resurrection. Human race is cursed, fine servant would make a new race – new Adam, God’s people are just glorified slaves then? Servant intercedes on our behalf and gets us adopted into God’s family. How you going to get sinners holy? Servant will purify people from the inside out, making them holy – sanctification. How you going to keep them? The servant will not let his people go – perseverance, and what happens then? The servant who is enthroned above all, with all power, honor glory and majesty who all creation cries out in song worth, worthy, worthy is the Lamb who was slain. This servant who walks each step before us, and then with us in us, says come sit on my throne, come sit with me, put a crown on your head – glorification (12)
These implications and categories would not be formally taught until the 1700’s (10). They were first written in 700 before Christ.
Isn’t that nuts, shouldn’t we know this? Its written… if someone wrote all that stuff about Michael Jordan, before he was picked, wouldn’t we pay attention to the guy who wrote it…. Why aren’t we paying attention to this?
Shouldn’t’ we like tell people that God came down to show us the way? Shouldn’t we find those who are trapped trying to ascend an impossible mountain that the one atop it came down to be with us, so we didn’t have to? Yeah, we should.
- God’s solution and salvation is Immanuel
We all know what Immanuel means. God with us. We all know who claimed to be Immanuel. But we don’t all know Immanuel.
We know the story from Christmas. Messenger from God tells a teenage virgin she’s going to have God’s baby, his name would be Immanuel which means God with us.
Out of obscurity he is exalted. Out of pain he brings healing. Out of sorrow he brings joy. Out of death he brings life. The servant is the son. The servant is worthy to sit on the throne, because the servant is God.
The one on the mountain knows we can’t climb up it.
God knows people have a tendency towards self-destruction. Garden of Eden, and all human history seem to have that common thread.
God knows people forget what they learn.
God knows people do what they wish they wouldn’t.
God knows people have spiritual longings that can’t be satisfied by anything in this world.
God knows people can’t ascend His mountain. It’s too big, were too small. It’s too hard, were too weak. It’s too high, were too low. It’s too holy, were too wicked.
If you’re wondering if God is here, He isn’t distant; He is close, and he is with us. He has revealed himself as real, He has written his plan and made it happen. He came, and he is with us.
God had mercy on us. He came down. He put on skin. He talked the talk; he walked the walk. He died the death; He raised the dead. He solved and he saved.
The solution to the human condition isn’t whether you believe in God. Even the demons believe and tremble. The solution is not to come to church, do good things, not do bad things. The solution is not to resolve yourself to agree with what God says or live how he tells us is healthy. The problem of the God shaped hole in our hearts is only solved and saved by Immanuel. God with us in us. The one who came down from the mountain is now knocking on the door of your heart – you going to let Immanuel in?
Those of us who have put our faith in Jesus, really given him our lives, to follow him for real – albeit imperfectly, we are saved. God declared it, were just waiting for history to catch up. In the meantime, God is with us, alive inside of us. Which is also what he declared.
Maybe you’re here today and are ready to get real with Jesus. Maybe today you’ve been reminded of what you forgot. Maybe today marks the moment you read the writings of the past and make a very wise decision to put your chips on the table. If that’s you. Go to Him, he is closer than you might think.
We live in a spinning world, with shifting ground beneath our feat, but because of the servant who has saved and solved we stand firm. We root ourselves in Christ, we live in Christ, we have died in Christ, we have been raised with Christ, we will ascend with Christ and one day be glorified with Christ, as he places crowns on our heads and we in turn lay them at his feet as we exalt Immanuel.
I don’t know how many of you love Shakespeare or enjoyed studying his works in school? Oh, there’s two of us. He was a master of literary devices. The term ‘literary device’ refers to the structures writers use in their creative writing to communicate with their audiences. Presenting a story about people to a reader or an audience, making the characters come alive in real situations in real places, doing the things that real people do – fighting, falling in love, dying.
Shakespeare used many literary devices – some of his most important ones were:
Allusion. This is a reference to a person, place, event, usually without explicit identification. …
Dramatic Device. …A dramatic device is anything that drives the action.
Dramatic Irony. …Dramatic irony is a situation in which the reader knows something about present or future circumstances that the character does not know.
Symbolism. …It is the frequent use of words, places, characters, or objects that mean something beyond what they are on a literal level.
Monologue. …a long, uninterrupted speech that is spoken in the presence of other characters.
Soliloquy. …A speech in which a character, who is usually alone on the stage, expresses his or her thoughts aloud.
The most famous Shakespearian soliloquies (and indeed, the most famous soliloquys in the English language) are found in three of his plays – Hamlet , Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. For example, perhaps the best known opening line to a Shakespeare soliloquy is “to be or not to be”, from Hamlet.
So why talk about soliloquy’s? The passage before us this morning, one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah has been referred to as: “A soliloquy of the Servant of Jehovah.” “A soliloquy of the Messiah.” In this passage the servant speaks and we do well to listen.
1. JESUS LISTENS WELL AND OFFERS COMFORT! Isaiah 50:4-5 (Awakening the Ear)
2. JESUS LOVES SO MUCH AND GAVE HIMSELF! Isaiah 50:6-9 (Silencing the Accusers)
3. WILL YOU LISTEN TO THE SERVANT OR CAN YOU ONLY HEAR YOURSELF?
1. JESUS LISTENS WELL AND OFFERS COMFORT! Isaiah 50:4-5 (Awakening the Ear)
“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those
who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.“
In the first two Servant Songs in Isaiah 42 and 49, there were hints of opposition to the ministry of the Messiah but in this third song, His suffering is graphically described. When we get to the fourth song in chapters 52 and 53 we will see not only how He suffered, but what His suffering means. The substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. His suffering on behalf of sinners like you and me.
The first three verses of chapter 50 have set out that fact that the children of Israel were sent away into exile because they refused to listen to God. Beginning in verse 4 this remarkable section of prophecy reveals the heart of the ministry of the servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The key point is His willingness to listen to the Father and to be obedient even unto death.
Paul expressed it this way in Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV) “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This song is the Servant’s soliloquy as He speaks in the first person describing His ministry. Four times in the passage the Servant uses the name The Lord God, “Adonai Jehovah”, the Sovereign Lord. This title is found nowhere else in the Servant Songs. In his book “Synonyms of the Old Testament: Robert Girdlestone says: “Adonai Jehovah” means that “God is the owner of each member of the human family, and that He consequently claims the unrestricted obedience of all.”
The emphasis is on the Servant’s submission to the Lord God in every area of His life and service
and it reflects the Servant’s high regard for God’s authority and power, and His willing submission to God’s purpose and plan. He states that God has given Him the words to speak. God has opened His ear, and He is fully obedient.
Jesus’ wisdom is explained, He listens to the teaching of God and literally speaks the Word of God because He is the living Word. John 1:1 (ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God gave Jesus intelligence, knowledge and wisdom beyond anything ever known among men. He speaks God’s wisdom through words to the weary.
Matthew 11:28 (ESV) “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Christ was instructed by God the Father at all times, their communion was constant and the instruction came directly from God. Mark 1:35 (ESV) “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
John 7:16 (ESV) “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”
The Father taught Him what to say and how to say it. John 12:49 (ESV) “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” All this took place because Jesus listened well, the polar opposite of the children of Israel. And the polar opposite of our own children and ourselves at times.
Jesus was fully obedient to the will of the Father. John 5:30 (ESV) “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Remember that in Gethsemane He prayed: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) It was following the will of God that led Jesus to the cross where He died for you and for me in the place that we deserve to die because of our sins. The listener, the learner, the Lord Jesus, is led along
the path of suffering and humiliation. Because…
2. JESUS LOVES SO MUCH AND GAVE HIMSELF! Isaiah 50:6-9 (Silencing the Accusers)
“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.”
In His obedience to the will of the Father Jesus willingly offered His back to those who beat Him, His beard to those who would pluck it out and His face to those who would spit upon Him. And He did it all for you and for me! The Lamb of God was led to the slaughter in the will of God. Jesus loves so much!
In all that He faced, Jesus was not ashamed, it was His glory, His joy, to die in submission to the Father’s will and plan. Not that He desired death but He longed for you and me to have eternal life! Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne
He knew He would be fully vindicated by God the Father: Philippians 2:9-11 (ESV) “Therefore God
has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Accuser is silenced because Jesus Christ met in full the demands of God’s justice and holiness and He make us right with God when we believe on Him and are saved. We then stand not condemned. Paul explains this picture beginning in Romans 8:1 (ESV) “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And he can barely contain his excitement as he comes to Romans 8:31-39 (ESV) and applies it to the believer echoing the thoughts of Isaiah 50: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus our Lord.”
Our vindication from Satan’s accusation and from sin’s condemnation (Romans 8:1) has been bought by the blood of the submissive, obedient Servant our Saviour predicted in Isaiah 50. No one will be able to bring a charge against God’s elect because Jesus obeyed on our behalf!
Jesus listens well. Jesus loves so much.
3. WILL YOU LISTEN TO THE SERVANT OR CAN YOU HEAR ONLY YOURSELF?
Isaiah 50:10-11 “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who
walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all
you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.“
The final words of the Servant contrast the path of faith and the path of unbelief.
1 Peter 2:21-23 (ESV) “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
The reference in verse 10 to “the voice of the servant” confirms the identity of the speaker to whom we have been listening.
The challenge is to follow the path of faith.
Do you fear the Lord? Do you obey the voice of His servant? Are you walking in the light? If you are walking in darkness you need light. Jesus is the Light. Trust in and rely on Him. Faith dispels
Jesus said: John 8:12 (ESV) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
How do you know you’re trusting in God and relying on Him? You fear the Lord. You obey the
voice of His servant. You walk in the light.
Walking in the light…1 John 1:7 (ESV) “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Hearing His voice… John 10:27 (ESV) “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Fearing the Lord…Proverbs 9:10 (ESV) “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Jerry Bridges in his book “The Joy of Fearing God” says: “We cannot separate trust in God from the fear of God. We will trust Him only to the extent that we genuinely stand in awe of Him.”
The Servant tells us that the path of faith is based on trusting in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. The path of faith is contrasted with the path of unbelief.
Isaiah 50:11 (ESV) “Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.”
Literally this is telling us that you cannot light your own way. If you walk in your own way you will face judgement. If you try to kindle your own fire to create your own light the Message puts the Servant’s words this way: “I’ll hold your feet to the flames.”
The College Press Commentary says: Such efforts (at lighting your own way) are futile, however,
and doomed to failure. God therefore sarcastically exhorts those who refuse to trust him to pursue this approach and to see where it leads—to torment.
What about you? Will you listen to the voice of the Servant or will you listen only to yourself?
The Christ Centered Exposition commentary says: The chapter ends by asking a question of all who are walking in the darkness of sin. Will you fear the Lord, listen to Christ, and walk humbly through faith in his light? Or will you reject Christ, light your own torch for guidance, and seek to live according to your own wisdom? The first group will be saved; the second will lie down in eternal torment.
First: Will you fear the Lord? Will you listen to His voice? Will you obey His word? Learn to listen well daily as Jesus did. Learn to love as Jesus loved.
Second: Stand in awe of the suffering Saviour, God’s Servant, Jesus Christ! Feel the weight of the
abuse that He endured, it was your sin and mine that caused His suffering.
Third: Be ready to share the word that He teaches and encourage the hearts of others. Challenging those who dwell in the darkness to come to the light.
Here is a graphic warning. If you refuse to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and continue to try to light your own way, the end of that way is eternal torment. Don’t succumb to the fires of falsehood.
Come to the One who alone is John 14:6 (ESV) “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” Him.
The Bible Speaks Commentary says:
The Servant is not simply to be admired or wondered at; he is to be obeyed (10). In short, in describing his own discipleship the Servant has shown them what God requires of all his people: not empty profession, but wholehearted, costly obedience.
Jesus often said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Will you listen to the voice of the Servant? Or can you hear only yourself?
What about you? As this new year is about to begin will you listen to the voice of the Servant?
Or will you go on refusing to hear?