Songs of the Servant: It Was the Will of the Lord to Crush Him

Recently a friend of mine sent me this blog post: "Christianity has never lacked for critics  and cynics. During the past decade its critics have returned to an argument almost as old as Christianity itself. Dr. Sam Harris, a cognitive scientist, argues that Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice, a companion criticism to that made by the late Christopher Hitchens. How can educated, intelligent people make such preposterous claims? I'm afraid their criticisms arise from what they hear. 

"Consider one variety of popular Christian theology-it goes something like this. Human sin has made God very angry. So angry in fact that His righteous wrath judged humans worthy of hell. Fortunately for us, God's own Son stood in for humanity and, by dying on the cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserve. Because of Jesus' death, divine anger has been appeased. Believers in Jesus are saved from God's wrath and headed for heaven.

"Sound familiar? Well, you won't find that formula in the Bible." Oh really? He goes on to write, "The Bible does not describe God as an angry cosmic despot who must be placated by human blood. He is not the perpetrator of cosmic child abuse, as critics claim. The Bible portrays God as a loving, generous provider. Jesus taught God should be addressed as heavenly Father. The apostle Paul encouraged Christians to speak to Him as daddy!

"Jesus did indeed die on the cross for the sin of the world. That includes your sin and mine. But the Bible claims Jesus' crucifixion expressed God's deep, deep love for humanity, not His wrath. The cross achieved something big, something we urgently needed, something that could not be achieved any other way." Unfortunately, the writer does not tell us what the cross actually achieved. What does the Bible teach? Has our sin placed us under God's wrath? And is God's wrath turned away at the cross? Was His justice as well as His love expressed at the cross?

Someone once said that the fourth Song of the Servant could have been written at the foot of the cross on Golgotha. Give careful thought to this Song and then evaluate the blog post cited above.

The fourth and final of Isaiah's Songs of the Servant is probably familiar to you, nevertheless read it a couple of times carefully. It is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

1.    There are five stanzas in this song, each with three verses - 52:13-15, 53:1-3, 53:4-6, 53:7-9, and 53:10-12. The first stanza is something of a prologue, setting the stage for the rest of the song. What themes do you see expressed in this prologue?

2.    The second stanza (53:1-3) is an amazing description of the Servant of the Lord, Jesus. What do you learn about Him in these lines? And what stands out to you the most in this portrait of Jesus?
o    How do you think these lines were fulfilled in Jesus' life?

3. The third stanza (53:4-6) tells us the meaning of the Servant's suffering. How do these three verses describe what happened the Servant of the Lord?
o    What did it all mean? What is the central truth here about Jesus' suffering? 
o    What strikes you the most in this stanza?
4. Stanza four (53:7-9) recounts more of the events of Jesus' Passion. What happened to Him and how do we see that recorded in the four Gospels?
o    If you were to pick a word that captures the nature of what happened to Jesus as recorded in this stanza what would it be? Explain your answer.

5. The last stanza (53:10-12) returns to the meaning of what happened to Jesus. What was the purpose of Jesus' dying, and what will the outcome be?
6. What do you think is at the very heart of this fourth Song? Can you put that in one sentence?
o    Some say that the central theme of this Song is a view of the atonement which is called "penal substitution," that is, that Jesus suffered the punishment or penalty for our sin. What think ye? (Consider verses 4-6, 8, 11, 12) 

7. Having meditated on this Song, how would you reply to the blog post quoted earlier in this meditation? (Consider Rom. 1:18ff., 3:21-26; Eph. 2:1-10; if time allows, look up the word "propitiation"; it is the word used in Rom. 3:25).
8. Henri Blocher makes this encouraging application for us: "As children, some of us were taught to make a personal paraphrase of the whole passage; to read it aloud, replacing 'we', 'us', 'ours', with 'I', 'me', 'my' or with our own name. Instead of 'he', 'the servant', we were taught to say 'Jesus'. This childlike blending of interpretation and application embodies a Christian's spontaneous attitude to the Song. God forbid that we should blush if we are too contented with such simplicity."[1] Before you end your meditation with prayer take a few minutes to do this very thing.
Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,

[1] Henri Blocher, The Songs of the Servant (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975) p. 59.