Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

A Song Of Identity

A Song Of Identity

Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek

In the winter of 1946-47, Bedouin shepherds found a series of caves in mountains near the Dead Sea. They were supposedly looking for a stray sheep. And what they found in those caves is of particular interest to us this morning, but not just us this morning, but the whole world.

On the screen I have a picture of just one thing that was found, perhaps the greatest thing that was found. It’s called the Great Isaiah Scroll.

1200px-Great_Isaiah_Scroll

The Great Isaiah Scroll is twenty-four feet long and contains all 66 chapters of the Isaiah. Which is amazing by itself, but what’s more amazing is that it is dated to a couple hundred years before Jesus, which is about 1,000 years better than the previous most early copy of Isaiah that we have today. Let me say that again: this is from a few hundred years before Jesus.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read about Jesus taking the scroll of Isaiah turning to where he wanted to read, and then reading from Isaiah (Luke 4:17). I don’t think he had this exact scroll or anything, but he did have something like it.

If you were to look about 75% of the way into the scroll and look at the 42nd column (there are a total of 54), and then you zoomed in, you’d be able to see our passage this morning: Isaiah 50:4-9, which is the third of four “servant songs.”

Isaiah 50, on scroll XLII

All of us are familiar with the fact that in the New Testament, Jesus speaks, but here in the third servant song, we do not have merely a passage about the messiah, but we have the messiah’s own words, albeit the messiah’s own words given from God through a prophet named Isaiah who lived 700 years before the messiah was born.

I bring this up just because I thought you might find it interesting, but also because around here we typically say as we begin to read the scripture passage that “you can follow along on the screen or if you brought a Bible, you can follow along with that.” Anybody want me to put the English up of Isaiah 50, instead, this copy from around 300 BC?

Isaiah 50:4-9

Let’s do that; let’s put the English up. Follow along with me as I read from Isaiah 50:4-9, and listen to lyrics to this third song, not about the messiah, but sung by him.

4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. 6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. 7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Let’s pray…

Introduction

For over a decade, I resisted. I fought the idea. I said, “No. I won’t do it. I’m not giving in.” I had several specific and thoughtful reasons why I was not going to participate. And so, in the words of our passage, I could say I set my face against it like a flint.

As your pastor, I want to confess to you, that about a month ago, I succumbed to temptation. Probably 60 or 70 of you know this already, but a few weeks ago, I joined Facebook.

Forgive me, but I also joined LinkedIn. And I joined Instagram. I have NOT yet joined Pinterest; I still have my principles. But I did also join Twitter.

I’ll save the reasons why I joined for another time, but for now I’ll say that I don’t have all that many friends or followers, yet, especially on Twitter. In fact, I did a little research and it seems there are over 200 million active users on Twitter. Of those 200+ million users, as of this morning, I have a whopping eighteen follows.

I’m hoping that since I’m bringing this up at church, I could totally see that number going to, oh, I don’t know, say, 23, maybe even 25 by the end of the day.

Last week, if you were blessed to be one of my followers, then you would have seen that I tweeted a picture and I gave a little commentary to that picture. Now, since I know most of you are feeling left out, I thought I’d show you the picture and what I had to say about it.

Here is the picture. The poster hangs on the wall of the gym where my son has wrestling practice. I know it is a little difficult to read, so let me read it to you:

wrestling picture, quote

“I wrestle. This is my identity, the reason I wake up every morning. The internal drive that will stay with me forever. Wrestling, it defines me.”

That right there is not “love-of-sport” talk. That is the language of religion and worship. If you were one of my followers, you would have seen me tweet,

“… Love the idea of a defining identity. But they picked one too small.”

That’s the issue isn’t it. It’s the selection of which identity, not the fact of an identity.

Let me say it this way: I love that the practitioners of this religion seek to have all-consuming, all-governing identity that, in their words, “defines” them. That’s a good thing. But what matters chiefly is that they, and you and I, choose the right identity.

In Isaiah’s day, as we have been talking about it, the times were dark. It was hard. Things were not looking good. There were times of upheaval and times of financial recession, but also spiritual recession.

And what were they to do about it?

What do you do about it? What do you do when things get hard, when they get dark? What do you do when it feels like everything you are already doing is letting you down?

In those times, we have a tendency to find our identity in anything but God, to try to make our own light and walk in that. Yet, in these moments (for Israel and for us), this is precisely what we need to not do. What we need to do, is run to God, to walk in his light, and find our identity in him.

In our passage, the messiah finds his identity in God. That is where he puts his trust, that is where he draws his strength. And it’s where we need to place our identity as well.

We have been calling this sermon series “Songs of the Savior” based on the four passages in Isaiah that are referred to as Servant Songs.

What I want to do this morning is look at this passage, or song, in two parts. First, we’ll look at The Lyrics and The Message of this song, and then, finally, The Application of the song, what we are to do with this song.

1. The Lyrics and The Message

Let’s start by looking at the lyrics and message of the song. Because this passage is fairly dense, I’m just going to go back through each line, and give just a few words of explanation as to the what is being sung.

Let’s read vv. 4-5 again.

4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.

There is an emphasis on God throughout the passage. Four times God is called “the Lord GOD.” And what does this God do? The savior says that the Lord GOD has given him the ability to speak with wisdom and grace in such a way that even the weakest of the weak are sustained.

And the servant sings lyrics about the faithfulness of God to him every single day. He says, “Morning by morning [the Lord GOD] awakens [me].” I take this to mean, at the start of anything and everything, God is working with the savior and sustaining the savior in powerful ways and reawakening him to his mission.

And then the servant chooses lyrics to emphasize his obedience back to God. He says, “I was not rebellious; I have not turned backward.” In other words, the servant does not do the very thing that Israel has done—sinned.

Let’s read v. 6 again.

6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

Humbly, the servant of the Lord follows his God even when it is hard. Even when others are physically persecuting him, the servant of the Lord does not give up.

This theme of a suffering servant intensifies through all for songs: it’s not hinted at in the first song, hinted at in the second song, and how here it is mentioned, and then in the last song, which Jason will preach through next week, the suffering aspect of the servant is all over the passage – and it is rich and beautiful and gospel.

And notice, the emphasis on the servant’s face. “My cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” His face is a focal point of the persecution. And what does v. 7 say?

7 But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

In other words, the very point at which the messiah is attacked (i.e., his face), is the very location where he renews his commitment to the mission. His face is abused, and scratched, and punished, but he makes it firm—like a stone, like a flint.

And notice the last line: “I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Notice the confidence. He’s not getting that confidence from what he can see with his eyes, but through faith. He has this confidence because he’s placed his identity in someone that doesn’t move, doesn’t shift, doesn’t fail.

You ever put yourself out there for Jesus, maybe you risked by giving generously, or you switched careers because you felt that’s what God wanted you to do and you took a job for less money because you were following God; or you have decided to live well below your means so that you can be more free to give and serve; or maybe you let a co-worker know that you followed Jesus, and they shut you out of the inner-circle; or maybe you broke off a relationship with someone of the opposite sex that you were dating because didn’t follow God and you did and it wasn’t going to work out. Or what if someone makes a racial slur and you confront them.

That’s hard stuff. I know. And you may wonder during those hard times if in the end you will be put to shame. The messiah knows that he won’t.

Look at what the servant says in vv. 8-9.

8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

Here, the servant of the Lord lifts his voice and speaks to no one in particular, and yet to everyone at the same time. He asks these question, “Who will contend with me… who is my adversary… who will declare me guilty?”

The point of these is not that no one will contend with him, that no one is his adversary, and that no one will declare him guilty. That’s not what he is singing about. Lots of people – lots of powerful people – will contend with him, will become his adversary, and will declare him guilty. The point is this: that’s not where he has put his identity. He has not picked an identity that is small and fleeting.

Of all the people that put their identities in something other than God, he says, “all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.” That’s a poetic way of saying, identities apart from God are weak and finite. They are weak: thin as clothing and a little bug can eat them. They are finite: they don’t last, they wear out and get holes.

When the servant asks, “Who will contend with me… who is my adversary… who will declare me guilty?” What he is saying, “No one that matters will condemn me because the only one that matters loves me.”

As the passage says, “He who vindicates me is near.” He takes the long view. At some point, even though others will war against the servant, and even get what looks like a victory, eventually, the only one who matters will come in and say, “No. He is mine. And I vindicate him. I declare him righteous.”

If those are the lyrics to the song, how might we sum up the message? We might say something like this:

The servant of the Lord has many adversaries and goes through great rejection, but because he has found his identity in God and God’s love and protection for him, the servant stays committed to his divine mission, and that mission outlasts all the detractors.

Again,

The servant of the Lord has many adversaries and goes through great rejection, but because he has found his identity in God and God’s love and protection for him, the servant stays committed to his divine mission, and that mission outlasts all the detractors.

Another way to say it, and in the words of another song (not quite of the same caliber: “the haters gonna hate” but because he has put his trust in God, he can “shake it off.”

2. The Application

So what do we do with this song. That’s what I want to focus on for a few minutes. As a reader of the Bible, I’m always trying to think about two things, what is it actually saying, and then what am I to do with what it’s saying. And sometimes that step is not always clear. And sometimes, it is very clear.

In Isaiah 50, the very next verses tell us what we are supposed to do. I’m going to read vv. 10-11. Listen for application.

10 Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. 11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.

This passage is addressed to people that, “walk in darkness.” It’s addressed to people that can’t see clearly. It’s addressed to people that need light and everything they are doing is not working out for them. And they are told one of two things: Walk in God’s light, or walk in your own. You can put your identity in him, or in something else.

We are talking a lot about this in the small group that I’m in here at church. We are talking about all of the ways that we can take good things, and we can make them ultimate things (credit to Tim Keller and Counterfeit Gods for this description of idolatry). When we do this, we create identities that don’t hold up. Wresting is a good thing, but it’s not meant to be an ultimate thing.

We can do this with just about anything. We can do it with wrestling and athletics, or with beauty and power. We can do it with career advancement, reputation in academia, political cause, or with family and children. We can do it with marriage or with singleness, profit or artistic expression. And do it with all of these all of the time.

But notice that the results of the options, are not equal. Notice how v. 11 ends:

“Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.”

Option 2 doesn’t end well. There are consequences for following your own heart, for making lesser idols into your all-consuming identity, and those consequences are hellish.

If you make your career you identity, it will destroy you. If you place the weight of your soul on a your children, you will crush them. Your children’s shoulders were not meant to support you. They are too small. If you make money and sexual fulfillment or individual expression, your identity, in the end, “shall lie down in torment.”

Part of my coming to Christ, this was front and center. I built my identity on three things: 1) School, 2) athletics, and 3) a relationship with my girlfriend. And one year, they all fell apart. It was miserable. I was miserable.

But today, I can tell you that I am so glad. Because they fell apart while there was still time. And for you, if you are here, there is still time, time to make Christ your identity. And if you have lost sight of Christ, I plead with you to make him you identity again.

And because the servant of the Lord, who is Jesus Christ does finish his mission, he does endure suffering and persecution, because he does “[give his] back to those who strike, and [his] cheeks to those who pull out the beard,” because he does go to the cross and die for his people, and because Jesus does rise again on the third day, and because the one who “vindicates” the Jesus is near, therefore: those that come to God through the servant, or as the passage says, those that “obeys the voice of his servant,” they can have great, great hope!

And if we put our faith in the servant of the Lord, our faith in Jesus Christ, than the confidence that he had in God, can also be ours. If we find our identity in God through Christ, we can have great hope.

Conclusion

A few weeks ago, when we started this series I mentioned that some people think of the Book of Romans as this “a Michelangelo of Theology – rich and beautiful and complex and dense and glorious and full of grace and truth and something that has stood the tests of time.”

I said that if that is true of Romans, which it is, then the book of Isaiah is the “Romans of the Old Testament” – rich and beautiful and complex and dense and glorious and full of grace and truth, a place where the gospel is on display in a powerful way.

In Romans 8 the apostle Paul celebrates this reality when he says,

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [Sound like the servant in Isaiah 50?]32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.[same idea as vindicates] 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We need to replace all of our trust in lesser identities and find our identity in God. We need to say (replacing the words of the poster in my son’s gym),

“I am a Christian and God loves me. This is my identity, the reason I wake up every morning. The internal drive that will stay with me forever. Christ, he defines me.”

That’s an identity that will not wear out like a garment and a moth won’t eat up.

Friends, if you are in Christ, and you have built your identity in him, then this is what God says to you. I love you because you are my son and my daughter.

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