3 minutes reading time (655 words)

Isaiah: The Fifth Gospel

The Isaiah Wall

In our Re:Read challenge we now come to the Prophetic books of the Bible. Isaiah is the first and, along with Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel, one of the Major Prophets. They're called Major not because they are better or more important, but because they are bigger. They cast a longer shadow than the Minor Prophets.

Isaiah is arguably the most influential of all the prophetic books, major or minor. Other than the Psalms, it is quoted more by New Testament writers than any other Old Testament book. One especially important example occurs in Luke 4 when Jesus inaugurates his ministry. In the Nazareth synagogue, he reads from Isaiah 61 and then says, "Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, the new era of righteousness, justice and freedom that Isaiah predicted is happening now in my ministry!

As you read Isaiah, you'll likely come across lots of verses that sound familiar even if you're not all that well versed in the Bible.

Like this one from Isaiah 2:4 – 5.

They will beat their swords into plowshares
  and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
  nor will they train for war anymore.

That quote appears on the Isaiah Wall outside the United Nation's headquarters in New York.

Or this one from Isaiah 40:4.

Every valley shall be raised up,
  every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
  the rugged places a plain.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used that phrase in his famous I Have a Dream speech. Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower is an allusion to Isaiah 21. So, as you can see, Isaiah's ancient prophesy still resonates today.

But it is, to be perfectly honest, a tough book to read. For one thing, it's long. Like really long (66 chapters). Isaiah is like what you'd get if you compiled six decades of a preacher's sermons into one volume. Parts of it (e.g., chapters 36 – 39) are written in a narrative style – story. Other parts are written in a poetic style. Some sections are specifically addressed to the current circumstances Isaiah and his audience confronted. Some are prophesies regarding events centuries into Isaiah's future.

Isaiah can be roughly divided into two sections. Chapters 1 – 39 are about judgement. Calls for repentance and warnings of punishment predominate these chapters. Chapters 40 – 66 are about redemption. Messages of hope and forgiveness abound in the last half of the book. Scattered throughout both sections are prophesies and allusions to a time when God will bring salvation and the person through whom he will bring it. That person, called by various names and titles, is Jesus. References to Jesus Christ are so frequent in Isaiah that some have called it the fifth gospel.

What's the message of Isaiah for us? The overarching theme of the book can be summed up in two statements. First, human beings are entirely unable to measure up to God's holy standard. With Isaiah (6:5), we can confess that we are unworthy to stand in the presence of a God who is holy, holy, holy. Those devastating prophesies and oracles against the nations in chapters 14 – 24 drive home the point that failure to live up God's standards is universal. All have sinned.

Second, the only one who can save us from our sin is God. He will accomplish his salvation through his faithful Servant described in chapters 49 – 53. But God's salvation will not come through conventional means. Instead of conquest and strength, the Servant will sacrifice himself. He will take the punishment we deserve. He will be crushed for our iniquities.

The good news of Isaiah – the Gospel – is that no matter how far you wander, no matter how hard you fall, no matter how broken your life becomes, God can save, heal and restore.
We Shall Return
I & II Kings Trivia


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Wednesday, 19 January 2022

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