Psalm 89:31–38; Isaiah 51:17–53:12; Colossians 1:15–27

Psalm 89:31–38: Our psalmist is working hard—a bit too hard, IMHO—to  make sure that everyone understands that David and his heirs are God’s permanent choice to be kings of Judah. He now turns his poetic attention to David’s successors, making it clear that their sins will be severely punished. God’s speech continues:
If his sons forsake my teaching
and do not go in my law,
if they profane My statutes
and do not keep My commands,
I will requite their crime with the rod,
and with plagues, their wrongdoing.” (31-33)

Nevertheless, and in spite of whatever sinfulness they may engage in—and as we know from reading the Histories, there was manifold sinfulness on their part—God will remain faithful to the covenant he made with David. And to make sure everyone gets it, the poet has God repeat the point in three successive verses:
Yet My steadfast kindness I will not revoke for him [David],
and I will not betray My faithfulness.
I will not profane my pact
and My mouth’s utterance I will not alter.
One thing I have sworn by My holiness—
that David I will not deceive.” (34-36)

God will make sure that David’s successors continue forever:
His seed shall be forever,
and His throne like the sun before Me,
like the moon, firm-founded forever—
and the witness in the skies is faithful—selah” (37, 38)

What the psalmist had no way of knowing is exactly how God would ultimately fulfill the Davidic Covenant. Where the psalmist envisioned an endless succession of generations, God did something completely different and completely surprising. He brought Jesus, who was of the line of David, into the world some 14 generations after David. And as we know, Jesus reigns forever, thereby permanently fulfilling the promise he made to David so many eons ago.

We can be grateful that despite the rather hyperbolic words of this psalm, we come away assured that God indeed keeps his promises. Only that he keeps them in ways we cannot expect and cannot even imagine.

Isaiah 51:17–53:12: At this point in Isaiah’s prophecy Judah and Jerusalem appear to lack any kind of human leadership. And of course they have abandoned God as well:
There is no one to guide her
    among all the children she has borne;
there is no one to take her by the hand
    among all the children she has brought up.” (51:18)

God’s punishment has been severe, what the prophet calls ‘the cup of wrath:’
These two things have befallen you
    —who will grieve with you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword—
    who will comfort you?” (51:19)

But there is always the promise that God will eventually turn from punishing them to punishing their enemies and there will be rejoicing:
See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
you shall drink no more
    from the bowl of my wrath.
And I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
    who have said to you,
    “Bow down, that we may walk on you” (51:22b, 23a)

In the light of this marvelous promise we come to some of the most beautiful poetry in the book that describes how news of peace comes and how the people rejoice, as this section ends with God’s eternal promise to Israel:
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.

For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” (52:7-9, 12)

The Servant introduced back in chapter 49 and 50 reappears in a dramatic scene that suggests Jesus suffering on the cross:
Just as there were many who were astonished at him 
    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle  many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him.” (52:14, 15a)

Now we arrive at the famous chapter that describes the Messiah as the Suffering Servant. It is at this point that the identity of the servant is revealed. For us Christians it can be only one person:
He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering  and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces 
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.” (53:4,5)

And in the most famous verses of all it becomes clear on whose behalf the Servant suffered. It is not some ancient race; it is all of us for all time, including we who are standing in the here and now:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.” (53:5,6)

This chapter is packed with prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus:

  • His trial: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,/ yet he did not open his mouth.” (53:7)
  • The unjust outcome of the trial: “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.” (53:8)
  • His crucifixion among thieves and burial in a rich man’s grave: “They made his grave with the wicked / and his tomb with the rich.” (53:9a)
  • But above all it was Jesus’ death that was the final sacrifice for all our sins for all time:
    yet he bore the sin of many,
        and made intercession for the transgressors.” (53:12b)

Since we know how the story comes out we can even see the promise of his resurrection:
When you make his life an offering for sin, 
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;” (53:10b)

Of all the prophecies we have read—and wall the ones we have yet to read, for me, this chapter stands out above all the rest. For it contains the greatest prophecy of all: the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:15–27: Speaking of Jesus (which Paul does all the time) we arrive at one of Paul’s finer descriptions of just who Jesus is. Like the opening description of the Word in John 1, Jesus Christ predates creation, a partner with God: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.” (15, 16)

Now Jesus is the head of the church: “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” (18) As was promised in Isaiah 53, he suffered and died for our sins in order as the final sacrifice: “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (10)

Because of this generous act, we come forgiven before God: “you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled  in his fleshly body  through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.” (22) But this reconciliation requires faith on our part: “provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.” (23)

With this core theology out of the way, Paul establishes his bona fides, which suggests he never personally visited this church: “I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.” (25) His purpose on earth is simple: “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints.” (26) “Saints’ of course includes Paul himself.

Paul uses the word, ‘mystery, several times in this passage. Of course Christ is the answer to the mystery that has been posed in Isaiah 53: the identity of the Suffering Servant. But I think it also means that the mystery of Christ will never be explained  fully while we are here on earth. Which is why logical argumentation and trying to prove various things about God’s existence all ultimately fail. We can see only through a glass darkly, albeit face to face with God.

It is faith that must bridge bridge the mystery for us. Which is why I like churches that allow the mystery to be present in worship rather than trying to expunge any sense of the unknown in their attempt to attract “Seekers.”  There will always be much we cannot understand, so we should let the church or worship or sermons try to fool us otherwise.

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