Isaiah’s great message - the coming of the Redeemer King
In his prophecy Isaiah covers the preparation for Messiah’s coming, the need for his coming, the forerunner to his coming, the vehicle of his coming (his virgin mother), and the success of his coming. Isaiah is engrossed with Jesus and enthralled by him. He enthuses us with the prospect of his coming and he enriches our enjoyment of his coming. Isaiah laid the groundwork for the apostolic witness to Christ. The New Testament writers match the man to the manuscript before them. That is the exciting thing about the Old Testament, it reappears constantly in the New, for there is one canon and it encapsulates the divine description of Jesus Christ for the inducement of our faith. The Bible consists of the conjoined testimonies of prophet and apostle who testify in unison. The prophets lay out the basics and the apostles fill in the blanks that only the future could fill. There is one focus. The men of the former covenant see Jesus from afar (prophecy). The disciples and their fellow witnesses saw him at their side (proximity). We participate in their combined perception.
Isaiah beguilingly spells out the character of Messiah and discloses his mild and bravely obedient disposition especially in the Songs of the Servant. He intimates the assignment of the Saviour most vividly in chapter 53. In the portion for our attention the poet-prophet outlines the transformative effects of the Saviours advent and atoning achievement. We see with the seer that the coming completion of the Redeemer’s work is replete with enormous and innumerable benefits for his people. The Saviour’s announcement is exultant. His heart’s desire is to please God and profit his chosen ones. His joyful cry is not simply an outburst of wishful thinking or self-invented optimism; it comes with divine warrant and intimates the Father’s settled will which he will undoubtedly fulfil. The Messiah is endued with full measure of the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord. “His Spirit is upon me, dominating me and donating me with truth and efficacy.” The Servant’s speech has power and his acts will certainly succeed - because the Lord has anointed him. Jesus’ warrant to minister, issued by the Sovereign Lord, is our own warrant to believe him and trust in him. His reliability is beyond dispute. He is among us and for us by heaven’s decree, and that decree is merciful.
The anointed One is commissioned to preach and with the full authorisation of the Father he is called to preach compassion and consolation. “The Lord has anointed me to preach good news.” The Lord Jesus is the source of the gospel. Initially “gospel” meant any royal announcement welcome or worrying. Jesus has ensured that the word now means good news. The recipients of this proclamation of good tidings are unusual - not the worthy or favoured in society as they see themselves, but the distressed and oppressed, the down-and-out and dregs of society, the humbled and hopeless of spirit - to them comes a royal decree of deliverance from the Sovereign Spirit. The Saviour pronounces hope for the poor. Divine grace will enrich them and prosper their hearts. He will improve their condition so that impoverishment will be past and forgotten.
The teaching of the Lord is tender. “He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted.” Those who are crushed will be healed. Those captive in guilt and despair will be liberated. The darkness of soul in the experience of mental incarceration will be dispelled. The message is twofold: it offers hope to the disadvantaged and deprived in circumstantial misery. It preaches to those wounded and worn of heart. There is comprehensive consolation in the mission of the Lord Jesus who brings heaven’s help to those who call upon him in sincere faith. Mourning has many causes. Grief can arise from varying sources. We are invited to bring our griefs and sorrows to the God of infinite kindness and concern.
But the grief instanced by Isaiah is a specific sadness - the sorrow of the folk of Zion - those mourners among God’s chosen who rue the condition of Zion, not only its sorrow, but its sin. So often the Church of the Lord is chastened for its defection from its Sovereign and Saviour. Its wounds are self-inflicted, its sickness the result of bad behaviour. When the people of God are poorly and in peril through their own stubborn fault the sole solution is a sovereign intervention of God they do not even envisage. The Lord steps in and takes charge. He exercises the prerogative of absolute dominion and stoops to distribute his sovereign and undeserved grace. That is always our only sure hope - the beautiful and beneficial bestowals of God that find no cause in ourselves except our helpless plight and the persistence of trouble. Adversity brings woe and weariness that banish and wipe out all trace of wellbeing and attractiveness. Features of the sorrowful display the heaviness of affliction, and former beauty banished both of the soul and physical appearance. Trouble takes its terrible toll.
But grace engenders a stunning reversal the moment it truly touches us. And this Isaiah foresees and the Saviour guarantees. It is a prospect to look forward to - Christ’s surprising contrasts in the life and fortune of the faithful. A crown of beauty instead of ashes. The head hung down and bowed by the weight of sadness and humiliation now wears the crown of glistening gladness, a symbol of the worth of those who are redeemed and restored by God. The oil of gladness represents the new status of those crowned with divine acceptance and celebration of his generous approval; such is God’s delight in awarding his cherished ones his complete approbation. The rags of ruin and utter dejection are triumphantly cast aside and the spirits of the saved are gorgeously wrapped in garments of exuberant praise - spontaneous and sustained.
Those who are deemed and declared pathetically weak, unstable, and perpetually adrift through the storms of life and of the soul, their raging moral failure and susceptibility to temptations of every kind, who are ruled by inconstancy, will become firm in righteousness. And here Isaiah reveals his theological hand and comes absolutely clean and unmistakably clear. None of this is due to human effort and achievement.
Isaiah is an advocate of free, sovereign, unmerited, and effective grace without any hint of compromise! That is the biblical basis of the gospel. These frail ones to whom the prophet points, these broken, disheartened, disabled, defeated, ones will receive an amazing attribution. They, these frail ones without any strength or capacity, will be called oaks of righteousness - immovable in rectitude and godliness and reliance on the Lord in everything. It is sheer miracle. Nothing in them anticipates or prepares for this amazing feat of God within human nature, for he grants them new nature that has no origin in their birth nature. How are they so regarded - as oaks of righteousness, not willows that bend and pines that snap? It is because they are a planting of the Lord - set in the foundation of genuine grace and established by the Lord who constantly supports and upholds them.
And the reason for this stupendous turn-about?
They are tokens and trophies of his fabulous glory, his inexpressible excellence. They are situated in the grove of his grace to exhibit his goodness and beauty - as the prophet proclaims - for the display of his splendour.
It is a purpose that cannot fail, for neither Isaiah nor God ever perpetrated a false hope or fiction. We can vouch for the trustworthiness of the Lord’s promises through the prophet simply by gazing at Jesus. He fits every portrait and prediction.