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Isaiah 50:4-9

This section of Isaiah occurs during a time of transition and upheaval in the ancient near east. The main superpowers of the day are struggling to consolidate power and bring peace to their areas. Issues of power and stability rule the day. Who will provide peace and stability for God’s people? This is the question. Will they find peace and stability in the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Or, will they find salvation in alliances with the political powers of the day?

More than we would like to admit, the central theme and struggle of Isaiah 50:4-9 is similar to our own. While our congregations may not be in any imminent danger from a foreign superpower, that does not mean that we are not currently at a crossroad. Who will provide peace and stability for God’s people? This is the question. Will we find salvation in the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Will we believe that salvation comes through Christ and following the way of our crucified yet resurrected Lord? Or, will we find salvation through making alliances with the political powers of the day?

Israel, specifically the southern kingdom of Judah, has been rebellious and defiant to their God, the God who had promised to be with, protect, and give them a life and a future. Within the nations of Judah, an internal debate rages concerning where the country will place their trust. One of those voices is the author of this week’s passage, and his convictions are crystal clear. The suffering servant who penned these words is unshakably committed to trusting in Yahweh to bring God’s people through this time. With destruction looming in the future, even if Judah turns back toward God, the servant firmly believes that Judah’s future will be secure.

Of course, there are factions within the government and religious structures that are chasing after other countries and alliances for salvation. Some think the Babylonians will be their salvation. Others believe that the Egyptians will be their salvation. The author of Isaiah, however, is saying that it is God alone that will be the people’s vindication.

Speaking in the first person, the author begins to defend himself. Teaching and listening are his gifts. He has been gifted with the ability to sustain heartbroken and weary people, people on the verge of starvation, death, and destruction.

Each morning as the servant wakes up, he becomes even more acutely aware of the desperate situation in which his people reside. The servant has done everything in his power to help the people, warning them, and teaching them what it means to be a follower of Yahweh. He has been faithful to what God has taught him to do, but the people have not listened, and they have not followed.

Instead, they have acted with contempt toward this suffering servant. His attempts to correct and help the people of Israel have been met with persecution. They have beaten him, and they have pulled out his beard, spitting upon his shamed face. All the while, he has remained steadfast. All the while, he has stayed faithful to the message that God had given him and has not shrunk back.

In all this, in his faithfulness and the people’s unfaithfulness, the speaker knows that ultimately his justification and salvation will come only from God. His face is set like flint; he will not waver from his mission. God is near and will sustain him. This suffering servant will not run away. He will not seek salvation in places and people other than in God.

“Who will contend with me?” he declares. Who will bring charges against this man? Let them stand and come face to face with him. Then, they will see that it is God himself who is his strength and power.

Even though he has been disgraced, beaten, and hit, he has not hit back. He has continued to preach the message of salvation, the words of life and peace. Ultimately, God will vindicate this man.

This is the way of Jesus; the way of the suffering servant in our passage is the way of steadfast commitment to God’s mission despite what might happen to him. Jesus has brought the same kind of message to a world that is looking for salvation in all the wrong places.

While Israel was looking for salvation in military powers of the day, today we look for salvation in all the wrong places. This temptation is not a new problem. The church has always faced the temptation of worldly power, the kind of power that chooses the way of violence over the way of the suffering servant. Nowhere is this temptation more real than in our churches today.

It is in the middle of this temptation that this text from Isaiah can speak so profoundly. The call for all of us, the pastors and leaders of the church and for those who sit in the seats each week, is to place our trust in the God of the suffering servant. We must set our face like flint against the temptation to seek salvation in political power. We must offer our backs to those who will strike us if we do so. We must not hide our face when ridicule comes our direction for believing that vindication and salvation ultimately arrives through suffering.