Sunday school lesson for the week of April 27, 2014
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Isaiah 53:5-8; Luke 24: 25-27, 44-47
Recently, I received an email from a friend who was describing a physician of mutual acquaintance. This friend called the surgeon’s name and praised him for his skills and kindnesses. Previously, he had performed several successful surgeries on the friend’s foot.
For 17 years, I have known the same surgeon and agree whole-heartedly with my friend’s assessment. This surgeon is not only well trained and qualified, but he also has a heart for his patients. Prior to every surgery, this doctor goes into great detail with the patient about what to expect – what the patient will experience in preparation of the surgery, immediately after the surgery and in the days and weeks that follow. In addition, this surgeon prays with his patients prior to the surgery. Since the patient has been told in advance what to expect, the patient is not alarmed as he/she experiences each step of the recovery process. The patient understands that everything is happening as the doctor said it would.
According to Scripture, this is precisely the way God deals with his people. He tells them in advance what will happen. Consequently, when they are going through it, they have confidence that everything is in check and that God’s will is being accomplished.
Scholars remind us that God reveals plans through a variety of means including dreams (example, Genesis 40:1-41:32), angels (example, Luke 1:5-38) and prophets (example, 2 Kings 3:11-20). And as to the specific case of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, God had revealed divine plans for generations. Even Jesus himself had clearly told the disciples about his death and resurrection on three different occasions. Therefore, the disciples should have recognized that God’s plan was taking place just as they had been told that it would be.
Two disciples were walking home to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday afternoon. To be sure, their hopes and dreams had vanished. The one on whom they had pinned their messianic expectations had been horribly crucified. On the way, however, Jesus drew near and began to walk with them. There was no recognition. But while they were walking and talking with this stranger, the two disciples gave their excited, jumbled report of their hope and despair – the master had been crucified and then there was the unsettling report of the women concerning an empty tomb.
Then it was that the Lord chided them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:25-27).
Here, Jesus is reminding these disciples that all these “recent happenings had been prophesied earlier in the Scripture. They should have recognized what was happening.
Notice at this point, and this is extremely important, Jesus did not rebuke these disciples for not believing the resurrection; he rebuked them for their failure in accepting the Scripture.
Our Isaiah passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) is often referred to as the fourth “Servant Song.” The Lord’s servant has been variously interpreted as the nation; the prophet; and Cyrus, the king of Persia. But in the larger context of this passage, we recognize that “my servant” anticipates Jesus himself. As scholars assert, “This passage’s interpretation of the God-appointed role of Israel, his servant, furnished to the Christian Church, the explanation of the Son of God which has formed a principal part of her gospel.” And apparently Jesus was also familiar with this passage and was more deeply convicted of God’s will for his own life.
So, reading this passage hundreds of years later, the early church realized that this prophecy helped their pictures of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
David Kalas, Methodist pastor/scholar, points out that there are three insights that we discern from this Isaiah passage.
First, we recognize the details of the plot. Kalas says that one man’s suffering is the central image and recurring theme of this Old Testament prophecy. Isaiah helps us to grasp something of our Lord’s Passion by using such words as wounded, crushed, punishment, bruises, oppressed, afflicted and slaughter. Good Friday looms when we read, “By a perversion of justice he was taken away” (53:8).
Second, Isaiah identifies purpose. Isaiah states, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…” (53:5). Our transgressions and iniquities are the issues in the servant’s suffering. As Christians, we come face to face with the cross.
But who are the recipients of this servant’s suffering grace? This same verse 5 suggests that we are – “the punishment that made us whole and the bruises that brought healing.”
Third, Isaiah makes clear that the key to everything concerning this prophecy and of the event it forecast, resides with the Prime Mover! “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain…” (53:10). The servant is not acting alone. The servant is carrying out God’s purpose. Thus, it is not fate, but obedience to God that drives this Servant to live out his sacrificial love.
As we contemplate this prophecy of Isaiah, as suggested earlier, we come face to face with the cross of Christ. The noted preacher Henry Sloane Coffin observed, “To bewildered folk, caught in life’s confusion, it is steadying and comforting to be shown the crucified.” And God did it all for our transgressions and iniquities and for our healing and peace.
Before concluding, let’s go back to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road. We are told “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Jesus’ reference to himself in the scriptures is no accident. From beginning to end, the Scripture is an uncanny unity always speaking of Christ. So, as God has told us about Christ in advance, we modern day followers ought to have the confidence that everything is in check and that God’s will is being accomplished. But if we don’t know the scriptures …?
Dr. Brady is a retired South Georgia Conference pastor who lives in the Atlanta area. His non-profit organization, Hal Brady Ministries, focuses on preaching, teaching, conducting seminars, and inspiring others to lead and serve. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.