Isaiah 53: Matthew’s Kingdom Arrival

96b2ec3631bfb3f793652ecbed8d6b72The pyro-technics went off, the smoke clouds filled the air, and the kerosene fire illuminated just enough of the dirt so as to be able to make my way to the center of the arena.  I sauntered in.  My face paint glowed under spotlight and my freshly pressed western shirt cast shadows from the sharp creases.  Maybe it was the starch from the shirt, but my biceps and pecs felt much firmer and my posture improved under the spotlight.  Then they called the wrong name!  Turns out the introduction wasn’t for me, but for someone else…dang.  Lesson learned.  Arrivals can be tricky can’t they?  This was not the case for Matthew.

Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 53 signals his understanding of the arrival of the Messiah and the Inauguration of a new Kingdom.

There are a few oddities with Matthew’s use of Isaiah 53.  First off, he uses it outside of its usual time frame and context.  Matthew and John are the only two to use it outside of the context of the cross.  Every other author (save John) will use Isaiah 53 as a descriptor of what happened in the last 24 hours of Jesus life, and John within the last week; but Matthew quotes Isaiah 53, years before the cross would ever happen.

Secondly, Matthew doesn’t quote the Septuagint (LXX).  In fact, the greek words in Matthew 8.17 and the LXX of Isaiah 53.4, outside of the words translated “and”, “us”, “he”, and “the”, are completely different.  Matthew has astheneias, usually translated “weakness” or “sickness”, where as Isaiah uses the greek word amartias meaning “sins”.  In Matthew, Jesus elaben, he “took up” our weaknesses, but in the LXX “he bore”, pherei our sins.  The same can be said of the rest of the quotation.  The quotation of Isaiah 53.4 in Matthew 8.17 seems to be more of a translation of the Hebrew scripture itself, than of the LXX.  Which makes Matthew the only one quoting Isaiah 53 from the original Hebrew.  

These reasons underscore how special and how unique Matthew’s treatment of Isaiah 53 is.

At first glance, it seems that the importance of the placement of the quote isn’t as important or significant as that of Paul and John.  But something is happening in the 8th chapter of Matthew that we must understand before we can understand the quote.  Let’s start at the beginning of Jesus Ministry in chapter 4.

  • Jesus beings to preach: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” (Matthew 4.17)
  • Jesus teaches in the Synagogues in Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 4.23-25)
  • Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount.  His opening: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”(5.3) and he goes on for 3 chapters about what the kingdom is and how those in it live (Matthew 5-7)
  • Heals a man with Leprosy (Matthew 8.1-4)
  • Heals the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8.5-13)
  • Heals Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8.14-15)
  • Healed all the sick (Matthew 8.16)
  • “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’”

Two things dominated Jesus’ early ministry: Kingdom talk and healing.  His focus would shift to authority and power after this quotation, but the foundation had been set and for Matthew, the connection between healing and the Kingdom could not be separated.  We need no further proof than from Matthew 11 and 12.

John the Baptist is in prison.  He is wondering what it is all about. (Matthew 11.2) Did he waste his time?  Was he, God forbid, wrong about the identity of the one he announced? So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question.  “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (11.3)  Jesus has the perfect response to this: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see.  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor…” (Matthew 11.4-5)  

Quickly, compare that list with Isaiah 35.  Isaiah is talking about the redeemed people who have seen God’s glory when he writes: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way…The eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35.3,6)  Sound familiar.  When John wanted to know if Messiah had arrived, Jesus didn’t just say “Yes”, he said: “look at the results.”  Jesus said, “Isaiah’s prophecy is taking place before your very eyes!”

The second thought comes from Matthew 12 where Jesus has just healed on the Sabbath and then had to retreat.  Many followed him and he healed all their sick (Matthew 12.15),  What is most interesting is Matthew’s take on this.  

“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.  He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.  In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)  

It is without a doubt that Matthew equates healing with the arrival of the Servant of God and the arrival of his Kingdom. In fact, every instance of Matthew’s use of Isaiah (save for perhaps Matt. 15) is in direct context of healing or kingdom messages.

Isaiah 53.4 says: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”

It is such a simple statement about the work and ministry of the Lord’s Servant.  Isaiah is, after all, called the “Messianic Prophet”.  Matthew, however, took it even further.  It was the arrival of the Lord’s chosen Messiah, who would bring back his people from exile, be it physical or Spiritual, and give them a new way of living.  In reading Matthew 8 and Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah, the reader is given the privilege of seeing Matthew’s eye’s opened to the reality that Jesus Christ is the chosen One of God to do his work and to bring his kingdom to this earth.  It is a kingdom that can transform our lives and transform our soul.  This kingdom only comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. The one who was sent by God to bring us back.  Matthew understood that and chose Isaiah 53, to prove his point: The Kingdom has arrived…and it wan’t by accident!

A Look at the Cross: Matthew

Like a stained glass window, the cross is one event bathed in multiple colors.  The authors of scripture each put their own tint to it.  Though they all saw the same thing (or talked to people who had), each added their own flavor to the mix.

Matthew, the Jewish Tax-Collector, colored his with the Kingdom.  Subtly so as not to over power the entire event, he mixed in a kingdom story fit for the arrival of a King.

The Ancestral line of the King.  It started with the genealogy in chapter 1.  The first thing Matthew pens links Jesus to David and every Jew knew the implications that brought.  Not only in his words does Matthew connect the two, but in his structure.  The genealogy depicts 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and the Exile to Jesus (1.17).  There were more people in those lines, but Matthew was communicating more than just a historical lineage.  Hebrew uses letters as numbers as well, so the letters that make up David’s name in Hebrew, D-W-D, also represent the numbers 4-6-4 which equal 14.  Matthew was sure to show a Davidic connection to Jesus.

The Visitors of the King.  The Magi had come from far off (2.1) following a cosmic event (2.2).  It wasn’t uncommon for people to connect the birth of a King with a celestial event in the Ancient Near East.  Luke places lowly shepherds at the birth; Matthew has wisemen bringing treasures fit for a King.

The Kingdom of the King.  In Jesus first address, he lays out how the Kingdom that he is bringing will run (Matthew 5-7).  He is instituting a new way to live.  “You have heard it said…but I tell you” is the way he frames his message.  Forgiveness, anger, adultery, lust, retribution, love, charity, money, worry, judging…it’s like he is reading my email.  The new kingdom is going to an upside down way of living, but it is strangely appealing.

The Power of the King.  Jesus can heal the leper (8.1ff), a servant far off (8.5ff.), unnamed multitudes (8.14), demon-possessed men (8.28), a paralytic (9.1ff), a dead girl (9.18ff), a sick woman (9.18ff), the blind and the mute (9.27; 9.32).  Oh yeah he can also calm the storm (8.23).  His disciples asked the question: “What kind of man is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (8.27)  They soon would be imparted with some of the power they witnessed (10.1).

The Arrival of the King’s Kingdom.  When his disciples were sent out to preach, they were to take a simple message to the people.  No three points and a poem, no alliteration or extended out line, but a simple quote: “The Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 10.7)  It isn’t a new message in the book.  John proclaimed it in Matthew 3.  It was his go to sermon.  Jesus preached his first sermon in Matthew on the subject. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (4.17).  Now he gives it to them to proclaim among the people.

The Identity of the King and His Kingdom.  The quote from Isaiah opens up the discussion on Jesus true Identity.  He is “God’s servant” (12.18) but the verdict of the people is still out on him.  Some say he is the Son of David but other’s think he is the prince of demons (12.23-24).  They want to see a sign that will show him to be who he really is (12.38ff.) but the King doesn’t have to answer to them.  The sign will be there soon enough.

The Pictures of the Kingdom.  What will this kingdom be like?  Castles and armies and power and fortune?  It will be like a harvest, a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure, a pearl, a net, a banquet…its more than you might think.  Jesus tells them the parables, the secrets of the kingdom, so that those will willing hearts and hearing ears will understand.  It’s like a vineyard, or a forgiving King, or ten waiting women.  The stories hit home with some, yet with others, they only cloud the picture of what they thought the Kingdom would be.

Entrance and status in the Kingdom.  Only more disheartening to the religious elite than what the kingdom will be, is who will gain entrance.  It isn’t the rich young man (19.16) and it isn’t the greatest and best.  It is the little children who will enter (19.13) and the ones who labored no matter what time they arrived (20.16).  The kingdom belongs to those who’s hearts are ready, not the ones who know the right things to say (21.31).  Its the tax collectors and prostitutes…really?  The chosen ones (22.14) seem to be the wrong ones…

The Kingdom theme in Matthew’s book is punctuated at the Cross.  The color that Matthew shines on the cross is the purple of royalty.  Matthew 27.27ff says:

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.  They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.  They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they said.  They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.  After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.  Then they led him away to crucify him.

The other gospels record the flogging and the beating that Jesus recieved, but only Matthew frames it in a mock coronation.  The others record the robe and the crown of thorns, but only Matthew places a fake staff in his hand.

The soldiers mock the vanquished King.  Jesus entered Jerusalem a week earlier as Messiah, the one who would come and deliver his people, and now the same voices are asking for his death.  Why?  Because the King that we wanted was not the King that we got.  Jesus was the King of the Jews, but he wasn’t the type of King that would overthrow the Romans, rule from a throne, or save the people from their subjugation.  Instead he would overcome death, rule from heaven, and save the people from their sins.  Back in the Old Testament, the Hebrews desperately wanted a king to be like other nations (1 Samuel 8.19-20), but what they didn’t understand was the king they wanted was not the king they needed.  How often do we look at the world and think to ourselves “how nice would it be to have that or be that or do that?”  Jesus was killed because he wasn’t the King we wanted…but he is all that we ever need.

Looking Where You Land: Bronc Bustin’ and Water Walkin’

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Dougie Aldridge on a Bronc
photo by Kara Hackney

My saddle bronc career was short-lived and plagued by lack of talent.  Others were made for it.  This month’s Western Horseman Magazine contained a picture of a young man being lifted into the blue sky by a powerful and picturesque paint horse.  His spurs were up in the neck of the horse and his hand held the split reins out in front of his tucked chin and eyes fixed on the neck of the horse.  He was in the middle of the corral so I assumed this was an unplanned bronc ride, which is partially what amazed me at the pose which he such on such a quick notice.  This picture will forever go down as one of my favorites and also the exact opposite of what my bronc ride looked like.  I will spare you the complete story (partially for fear that I may someday need a story to tell here) but it was my first time on a saddle bronc horse.  After a few hours of training (it seemed shorter than that as I was lowering myself into the saddle), my horse was in the chute and a friends Association Saddle rested on its withers.  I measured out the correct amount of rein and fished it through my quivering hand and fingers.  When I lowered myself into the saddle, I couldn’t get my feet into the stirrups on account of two reasons: 1) I was holding my hack rein with my right hand, my left hand is virtually worthless in all endavors and 2) my legs were shaking so bad it was like trying to get a drink of soda through a straw while jumping terraces in a Ford Fairmont…too much movement and to small a target.

I finally got situated and nodded my head.  Even at half speed on the video the ride only lasted a second.  We barely made the end of the chute gate as partners, when the horse and I made for our separate ways.  I came off to the right, landed on all fours, and crawled around the edge of the chute gate.  My first words were, “Did I make the whistle?”  What can I say, I was ambitious.  After talking with the instructor, he wasn’t surprised I hit the ground so quickly.  He said, “You landed where you were looking!”

I get the opportunity to fight bulls at a lot of camps and schools and one thing I have seen for certain…”You always land where you look!”  In Matthew 14, without tying himself ot a large herbivore, Peter gets this same lesson.

Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him on the sea while he dismisses the crowd (Matt 14.22).  The disciples hop in the boat and head across the sea while Jesus goes away by himself to pray (14.23).  When he finishes his devotional time, he catches a glimpse of the boat, out a ways from the shore, struggling against the wind (14.24).  Jesus wraps up his prayer time and heads out at 3 a.m. to catch them on the lake (14.25).  His disciples freak (as anyone would probably do), but Jesus gives them a pep-talk to calm them down (14.26-27) and here’s where the story gets really good.

Peter, doing the thing that Peter always does, speaks up and says to Jesus: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (14.28)  The disciples in the boat have to be getting their phones out to put this on vine or the cultural equivalent.  You can almost imagine them elbowing one another: “Would you get a load of Peter?”“; This guy…smh!”; “He’s joking, right?”  They have seen him speak up at the wrong times before but this is all kinds of stupid.

Then Jesus tells him “Come!”  and Peter’s world suddenly gets a lot bigger because his trust got a lot bigger.  How often is it that the box we live in is that size because our faith has never been challenged enough to move them.  So Peter toes the water, then steps, then walks (14.29).  Things are going well UNTIL…

“Peter saw the wind, and he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out “Lord, save me!”  He looked where he landed.  His eyes moved from the task at hand, to a place to land.  I don’t really know what Peter was looking at, the insurmountable waves and wind, back to the boat, down at his feet.  Some have said it was the sheer fact that he took his eyes of Jesus that caused him to sink.  I can’t really say that from the text, but I do know from personal experience that when your eyes come off of the task at hand, things start to go wrong.  Jesus catches his hand as he is pulling a “Jack Dawson” and sinking in the lake, and says “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

The greek word that Jesus uses for doubt, distazo, is only used on other time in scripture.  Matthew uses it at the very end of his book, when he tells of the resurrected Jesus visiting the disciples on the mountain.  Standing there before them was Jesus, still some doubted.  Both times, people are standing in front of the Son of God who is actively proving who he is and that he can be trusted, yet doubt comes into the picture.

How has Jesus shown you that he can be trusted?  What words or experiences has he given to show you that he is capable?  When is the last time you stood before him, saw what he was capable of, and trusted him?

I learned my lesson the hard way of looking off a bronc, but have been more hard headed when it comes to Jesus.  It took Peter a couple review lessons to get it as well.  Make today the day when you tuck your chin, set your spurs, and keep your eyes focused on him and him alone.