The Prophet Isaiah was commissioned by God to serve Him over 700-years before Jesus Christ was born of Mary. And being a prophet, he could see down the long corridor of history the coming Redeemer and Savior of the world! And He indeed appeared as a “Man of Sorrows” with a very unique and standard-setting commitment, loyalty, and dedication to His cause! The text read together this morning describes Him -- and is, by the way, quoted three times in the New Testament.
Isaiah uses some very specific terms to help picture for us what it was that he saw. First, he says He would have the tongue of the learned. This is quite a compliment! Not for the sake of impressing others with learning… not for the sake of erudition itself… not for the sake of regaling or entertaining others! He would use the “tongue of the learned” to help others! And that is a rare thing! To assist those who were weary. Weary of what? Weary as those who lost their liberty and were under the bronze heel of Roman captivity!
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Second, he states the LORD God would open his ear! And he would not be rebellious. He would not turn away. To “open one’s ear” sometimes means to hear or to listen. But in this verse and context it almost certainly hearkens back to the Old Testament practice of boring a hole in the outer ear of a servant willing to remain with his master – instead of claiming his freedom! It is a vivid symbol that stands for listening only to the word of his lord and master. And so it was with Jesus. “What is written?” He would often ask. Or sometimes a variation... What did Moses write? Or, Know ye not the Scriptures? And to make His case, He would often quote the oracles of God: As it is written… The Word of the Father was everything… It reminds me of the book ordered last week, and just arrived – which I am rapidly reading -- about a prominent Muslim woman’s pathway to Jesus Christ. The title: I Dared to Call Him Father...
Third, He would give His back to the smiters... to those who whipped Him with the Roman flagellum (leather straps with a combination of bone shards, lead weights, and metal hooks fastened to them). He would give the cheeks of His face to those who would pluck out the hair of His beard. Nor would he turn His face from those who would demean Him – disgrace and humiliate Him -- by spitting upon it!
Fourth, He would be surrounded by His adversaries and by those who would condemn Him! In a sense we see the greater portion of His life leading up to His Passion – including His infancy, when He would have been helpless before Herod’s battalion sent to Bethlehem (had it not been for a dream that prompted Joseph and the Holy Family quickly on their way for Egypt)!
As you can see, this is a most remarkable picture of the “Suffering Servant” over 700-years before His arrival! And this is why it was chosen by the Church Fathers, of old, to be read as we approach Ash Wednesday (in ten days) and the start of Lent! To show us what is coming... and to prepare us for it (that we might follow our Lord right up to the end). To set the tone for the coming season that we might learn to be like Him! The disciple is not above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be as is Master!
And Isaiah’s prophecy ends with a question of self-examination: Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.
To “stay upon God” is literally to lean upon God… to put the full weight of one’s faith and trust and devotion in the Almighty!
It is the very same word used to describe Samson, of old, when at the end of his life he leaned upon the columns of the temple in Gaza (where they had brought him to make sport of him)!
As we approach Lent, this is thus a challenge to each one of us individually – and to all of us as a Church Family – designed to make sure our full faith and complete trust are in the Lord God Whom we profess to follow and serve. It is a holy encounter of self-examination to assess if we are really among the faithful who “walk the talk.”
In the Year of our Lord 287, a Roman legion was assembled from among the able-bodied men of Thebes, in Upper Egypt. It consisted entirely of Christians – reminding us that Northern Africa was once a great center of Coptic Christianity!
They were mobilized to put down a rebellion in Gaul – that region of Europe roughly extending between modern-day France and Germany! And this was during the days of the brutal Roman Emperor, Diocletian, who had outlawed Christianity! Upon their arrival, they were told to destroy the churches and purge the Christians there, then join in sacrifices to the old pagan gods of Rome!
The leader of the legion from Thebes was named Maurice – and we can only imagine the challenge this posed for him and his men! They refused to take part in such wanton destruction -- affirming their faith and reliance upon God! Maurice is quoted as saying, “We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you can place no confidence in our second oath if we violate the first. You command us to punish the Christians; behold, we are such... We readily oppose all your enemies… but we cannot dip our hands into the blood of innocent persons…”
And so they paid the price for their faith and for making God their stay! They put the full weight of their confidence in the Almighty! Ten percent of the men were chosen by lots to be put to death. Still they refused to participate. A second purge by lots was executed. Still they refused. Then a third… and a fourth… until the entire legion from Thebes, along with their leader, Maurice, lay dead – 6,600 in number!
What sort of a brave and courageous Faith is this… that does not compromise (like the mainline denominations of our day have compromised)… that does not run away (like the hireling runs away at the first sign of danger)? That as our Lord sets it face like a flint – hardening itself with resolution and courage against all opposition?
Is this the caliber of faith among us? Are we still growing and developing in it? It is so rare a thing to find in our “take it or leave it” days of entitlements! Our faith must be full and complete -- ready for action! -- and not “partial.” Our faith in God must be substantial... with more than words alone!
Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.
This is the Word of the LORD... and may it mark us as we approach Lent! World without end... Amen.