Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Christ, the Chosen Servant for the Gentiles: Isaiah 42:1-7 (Part 3 of 3)

Practical Application of the Text

The term “servant” is used not only with reference to the Messiah, but also to the nation of Israel (41:8; 49:3) and to spiritual Israel, the church (62:1-3; 65:15; cf. Rom. 6:22; 1 Pet. 2:16). Considering these three “servants” of God, let us examine and compare their missions, the manner in which their missions were (are) carried out, and the means by which their missions were (are) carried out.

The Mission of Jesus, the Servant of God

The Servant of God (Jesus) essentially had a threefold mission: (1) to bring forth God’s system of justice in the new covenant, i.e., the gospel; (2) to offer spiritual deliverance; (3) to extend this even to the Gentiles. The first phase of His mission was fulfilled as He became the “Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6), and this He accomplished “by means of death” (Heb. 9:15). He fulfilled the second phase of His mission by coming “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and “to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17), accomplished in that He “died for our sins … was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The third phase of His mission was fulfilled in directing His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), inclusive of the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:34-35; 11:18; et al.).

The Manner of Jesus, the Servant of God

The manner in which His mission was carried out was that of gentleness, humility, compassion, and love. “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). He taught: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). While He was capable of being forthright and aggressive when the situation demanded it (Matt. 12:12-13; 23:13 ff.), this does not seem to have been His customary approach.

The Means of Jesus, the Servant of God

What were the means by which His mission was carried out? Even His enemies confessed, “He trusted in God” (Matt. 27:43). This statement is indicative of Jesus’ own words and actions: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16). “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

The Mission of Israel, the Servant of God

Another “servant” of God (Israel) had a mission to fulfill. Despite the apathetic and ethnocentric nation she became, Israel’s initial purpose was to be God’s “witnesses” (Isa. 43:10-12; 44:8) to the nations (Psa. 145:12), so “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God” (1 Kings 8:60). In light of the fact that all the earth belongs to Jehovah, the children of Israel were meant to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6), serving as God’s intermediary.

The Manner of Israel, the Servant of God

The manner in which this mission was “carried out,” unfortunately, was exemplified by reluctance, rebellion, and resentment (Jonah 1:3; 4:1 ff.). Peter’s statement to Cornelius seems to represent the typical Jewish attitude: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation” (Acts 10:28). The people of Israel were characterized by prejudice, hatred, ignorance, fear, and unconcern. 

The Means of Israel, the Servant of God

The means of carrying out this mission, which Israel had at her disposal, were not utilized. They had God’s written law, but it was neglected and disobeyed (2 Kings 22:13). They had God’s prophets living among them, yet they persecuted and murdered them (Matt. 23:29-37). They made the commandment of God of no effect by their human traditions and ordinances (Matt. 15:3-9). Essentially, Israel failed in her mission.

The Mission of the Church, the Servant of God

God’s “servant” (the church) has also been given a mission. We have been divinely commissioned to go into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49). This is the responsibility of the entire church collectively, as well as each member individually. As physical Israel was to be “a kingdom of priests,” even so all members of Christ’s kingdom belong to “a holy priesthood” for the intended purpose of proclaiming “the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:5-10). Everyone who has been reconciled to God through Jesus has been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-18). Is our response to this mandate an imitation of Christ or of ancient Israel?

The Manner of the Church, the Servant of God

The manner in which this mission is to be carried out should emulate Christ’s manner. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). While there may be occasions when a more confrontational approach is called for (2 Cor. 10:2), this should be the exception rather than the rule. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:5-6).

The power of the truth is often weakened when it is applied with too much ferocity. A surgeon must be delicate and gentle with his scalpel lest his treatment causes more harm than good.If people cannot see the love of Christ in our words and actions, our labors will most likely be in vain (John 13:35; 2 Cor. 5:14).

The Means of the Church, the Servant of God

The means of accomplishing this mission are beyond human capabilities. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). If we rely solely on our own wisdom, resources, and might, we are destined to fail. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:5-7).

Our faith “should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Thess. 5:17), “that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1). God’s power, which enables us to fulfill our mission, is made available through His inspired word (Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12). We have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thess. 2:4); He “has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Thus, the reason more souls throughout the world have not been reconciled to God is not because the word lacks power, but because most in the church have been negligent in “holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:16).

Conclusion

Will our mission be fulfilled? In what manner and by which means will it be undertaken? If we are like the Jews of old, our mission will be approached with reluctance, discrimination, and indifference, and the means at our disposal will be neglected and discarded. Seventy-six countries are still without missionaries of the churches of Christ, and those which have them desperately need more. The world’s population has surpassed seven billion, the vast majority of whom have never heard the unadulterated gospel. Thomas Carlisle wrote: “And Jonah stalked to his shaded seat and waited for God to come around to his way of thinking. And God is still waiting for a host of Jonahs in their comfortable houses to come around to his way of loving.”2

If we are Christ-like, our mission will be pursued with obedient zeal, in a loving, humble, and compassionate manner, utilizing the powerful means of prayer and God’s word to accomplish this noble task. May God help us to “follow His steps” and to “walk just as He walked” (1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 This comparison was borrowed from Walter L. Porter.
     2 As quoted by Johannes Verkuyl, “The Biblical Foundation of the Worldwide Mission Mandate,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1981): 44.

*Published in B. J. Clarke, ed., Major Lessons from the Major Prophets: Power Lectures (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 1995): 255-67.


Related articles:

Image credit: http://lfwc.us/lighthouse-bible-college/

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A Closer Look at the Elements of the Lord’s Supper

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).1 The biblical elements of the Lord’s Supper are generally understood to be “unleavened bread,” representing the crucified body of Jesus, and “the fruit of the vine,” symbolizing his shed blood (Matt. 26:17, 28-29; Mark 14:12, 25; Luke 22:18). To properly observe this sacred memorial, is it necessary to know what the bread is made of and what exactly is the fruit of the vine?

The Bread

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in the setting of the Jewish Passover meal, where “unleavened bread” is specified (Matt. 26:17; Mark 14:12). Leaven or yeast, metaphorically applicable to pervasive and corrupting influences (1 Cor. 5:6-8), was prohibited in all grain offerings to God (Lev. 2:11; 6:14-17) and the Passover bread (Deut. 16:3). Seeing that communion bread represents the Lord’s crucified body (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22), and Jesus lived his entire earthly life without sin (Heb. 4:15; 9:28), we can appreciate the significance of no leaven or yeast. 

The Bible emphasizes what is to be left out of the bread but does not detail specific ingredients to make the bread. We do read about flour and oil (Lev. 2:4, 5; 6:21; 24:5; 1 Kgs. 17:8-16), the kneading and baking of the dough (1 Sam. 28:24; 2 Sam. 13:8), and even salt was used in sacrificial offerings (Lev. 2:13; Ezek. 43:24). The bottom line is, whatever ingredients are necessary to make bread,2 as long as it is unleavened (void of yeast), biblical guidelines are observed.

The Fruit of the Vine

In the NT the word “wine” (Greek oinos) is never used with reference to the Lord’s Supper, notwithstanding some modern English paraphrastic versions.3 Rather, the terminology used by the Lord is simply “cup” (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 20), and “fruit of the vine” (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

Referring to the communion drink as the “cup” employs a literary device known as metonymy, whereby the container stands for what it contains. One does not drink the cup itself, neither does the container symbolize Christ’s blood, nor does the word “cup” indicate what is in it. More information is supplied by the context and by the corresponding expression, “the fruit of the vine.” 

The background and original setting was the Jewish Passover. According to the Mishnah (an ancient record of Jewish traditions), during the Passover feast celebrants were provided four cups to drink, the contents of which was yayin, made from grapes (Pesaḥim 10.1-2). To avoid intoxication the yayin was “mixed,” diluted with water.4 In Talmudic times (post-70 to 5th century AD) it was considered uncultured to drink undiluted yayin, so it was almost always diluted with one part yayin to three parts water (Pesaḥim 108b), or even boiled down to a concentrate before mixing with water.5 On the question of using unfermented grape juice for the cup of blessing, Rabbi Rava affirms: “One can squeeze a cluster of grapes and say Kiddush over [the juice]” (Talmud, Bava Batra 97b). Nevertheless, the paschal tradition of four cups of yayin was introduced after the time of Christ,6 so we must turn to the Lord’s own words and historical-cultural setting for more definitive answers.

Vineyards were commonplace in the ancient Near East (Matt. 20:1-8; 21:28, 33-41; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-16; 1 Cor. 9:7), and the Greek term ámpelos (“vine”) particularly refers to the grapevine. The expression “fruit of the vine” would have been universally understood by Jesus, his immediate disciples, and all others in the ancient Mediterranean world as the product of the grapevine (cf. Gen. 40:9-11; Lev. 25:5; Jas. 3:12; Rev. 14:18).

Modern-day Questions

Some have wondered if other fruits that grow on vines (melons, berries, kiwifruit, cucumbers, tomatoes) would be acceptable for communion. After all, the Bible just says “fruit of the vine” but doesn’t explicitly identify which fruit. It is important to remember, however, that everything in scripture is written in a particular context. The expression “fruit of the vine” occurs only three times in the NT, all in reference to the Lord’s Supper. As noted above, according to common usage in the historical-cultural setting of these passages, grapes are understood.

Does it matter whether the communion juice is fermented or unfermented? Since so many people use the word “wine” to describe it, would fermentation be required? As noted above, the Greek word oinos (often rendered “wine”) does not occur in any of the scriptures that address the Lord’s Supper. In fact, it is the same species of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that converts carbohydrates to carbon dioxide in bread (causing it to rise) and to alcohol in grape juice (causing it to ferment). Seeing that yeast (leaven) was prohibited in the Passover meal (Ex. 13:7; Deut. 16:3-4), it follows that it would be absent from the cup of the fruit of the vine and thus non-alcoholic (later tradition notwithstanding).7

What if no unleavened bread or grape juice is available? We obviously can’t do what we are incapable of doing. But let’s not be so ready to give up or compromise. When traveling where there is no church, think ahead, be prepared, and take the provisions needed. Otherwise, search the local grocery stores, restaurants, salad bars, and markets for bread without yeast or ingredients to make it, grape juice or grapes that can be squeezed, or even raisins (dried grapes) that can be soaked or boiled. While wheat and/or grapes are not grown in every geographical location worldwide, if we can supply people around the globe with food, clothes, medicine, clean water, the gospel, Bibles, and other resources necessary to live and to be right with God, surely we can do the same with communion needs. 

Be aware that some companies that sell pre-packaged communion supplies use black current juice (or other substitutes) instead of grape juice. If we are homebound because of sickness, immobility, or a global pandemic, let’s have what we need at home (purchased or homemade) to worship according to biblical directives. If unable, allow other Christians to help. While communion is something the church does together (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34), sometimes circumstances dictate otherwise.

Conclusion

Although some may consider this study (or parts of it) somewhat narrow and nitpicky, hopefully we all sincerely desire to understand what the Lord has revealed in his word and to be as faithful as we know how to be. “Therefore we are also eager, whether at home or away, to be well-pleasing to him” (2 Cor. 5:9). 

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
     2 Recipes are available online; here is a sample.
     3 Common English Bible, Contemporary English Version, Easy-to-Read Version, Good News Translation, God’s Word, The Message, New Living Translation, J. B. Phillips, The Living Bible.
     4 Joshua Kulp, Mishnah Yomit: English Explanation of Mishnah Pesachim, USCJ Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem (accessed 21 March 2020), <Link>.
     5 Thinking Gemara Series: Arba’ah Kosot, “The Four Cups of Wine of the Passover Seder Pesachim 108b: Teacher’s Guide,” NLE Resources 17-22, 29 (accessed 21 March 2020), <Link>.
     6 David Instone-Brewer, The Jesus Scandals (Oxford; Grand Rapids: Monarch, 2012): 56; see also Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, eds., The New Testament World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013): 4.
     7 For an alternative view, see Wayne Jackson, Was the Fruit of the Vine Fermented?Christian Courier (2000), <Link>.


Related Articles & Videos: Julie Johnson, DIY Lord's Supper 

Image credit: https://www.riverchasechurch.org/sermons/lords-supper/

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Christ, the Chosen Servant for the Gentiles: Isaiah 42:1-7 (Part 2 of 3)

A Brief Exposition of the Text Continued

He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law. Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house’” (Isaiah 42:4-7, NKJV).

“He will not fail nor be discouraged.” M. R. Vincent observes that this phrase is “beautifully suggestive as describing the servant of Jehovah by the same figures in which he pictures his suffering ones … He himself, partaking of the nature of our frail humanity, is both a lamp and a reed, humble, but not broken, and the ‘light of the world’.”1 Even though occasions for discouragement would arise, God’s Servant would show no sign of weakness until he had fulfilled his purpose,2 viz. the establishment of “justice” (mishpat) in the earth (cf. vv. 1, 4), i.e., until He had “proclaimed God’s universal rule.”3

The “coastlands” (or “isles,” KJV), corresponding to “the earth,” represent distant nations (cf. 51:5). That they “shall wait for His law” signifies “to wail with longing for a person’s instruction,” and suggests that “the messenger to the Gentile world will be welcomed by a consciousness of need already existing in the heathen world itself.”4

Jehovah shifts His language from having spoken about His Servant in the third person (vv. 1-4), to now speaking to Him personally (vv. 5-7). It is emphasized and made abundantly clear that this special Ambassador is from the Creator of all things (cf. 44:24; Acts 17:24-25). He has been called “in righteousness,” which expresses the idea of that which is rigid or straight, and denotes the observance of a fixed rule.5 Jehovah, as a righteous and just God, purposed to send His Servant to accomplish His righteous scheme.

As God upholds His Servant, He will give Him “as a covenant to the people” (cf. 49:8; 54:10; 61:8). This undoubtedly has reference to the “new covenant” of which Christ is the Mediator (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13). While scholars debate whether Jews or Gentiles are meant by “the people,” God’s Spirit makes it clear that this covenant is intended for all people (Isa. 2:2-3; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:14-18; et al.).

The Servant of God is also described as “a light to the Gentiles” (cf. 9:2; 49:6; 51:4; Luke 2:32). “Light” is the emblem of purity, holiness, knowledge, and instruction, and so the Messiah is depicted as “the light of the world” (Matt. 4:16; John 1:4-9; 8:12; 9:5; 12:35, 46; Rev. 21:23). The exclusiveness of Judaism was to end under the Messiah’s reign. This found its fulfillment in the impartial proclamation of the gospel by those heeding the command of the Lord (cf. Acts 13:46-47).

It was to be the task of God’s Servant to “open blind eyes,” both physically (Matt. 12:22) and spiritually (Matt. 13:16-17), and to “bring out prisoners from the prison” (cf. 61:1-2). To those in captivity of sin and darkness (John 8:34; 2 Pet. 2:19), the Servant of God offers spiritual deliverance (John 8:32; Rom. 6:17-18).

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the NT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 1:71.
     2 James E. Smith, The Major Prophets (By the author, 1992): 129.
     3 R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40-46 NCBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975): 73.
     4 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, Vol. 2, trans. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969): 177. 
     5 Ibid. 178.

*Published in B. J. Clarke, ed., Major Lessons from the Major Prophets: Power Lectures (Pulaski, TN: Sain Publications, 1995): 255-67.


Related articles:

Image credit: https://www.newchristians.info/blog/the-light-of-the-world