The Blame Culture and the Servant
Ronald Reagan one time President of the USA once said:
"We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions."
Although Reagan was addressing the slide in the US of his day into what we have come to call the blame culture we could apply his words easily enough to our own country.
Men don't like to admit that they are morally responsible for what they do far less that they are held accountable before God for all that they do. Adam and Eve right at the very outset of our race's history knew all about the blame culture Adam tried to blame Eve and Eve in turn tried to blame the serpent. Adam even tried to portray himself as the victim in the situation after all hadn't he had to put up with this Eve because God had given her to him?
Our children won't own up to wrong coming up instead with highly improbable excuses it was the guinea pig that wrote on the walls! Adults are perhaps not quite so outrageous but just as adept at shifting the blame to avoid facing up to the reality of personal failure and shortcoming. It was my background, my education, my social deprivation, my parents anything but It was me!
The people of Israel in Isaiah's day were the just the same of course they were! How could they be any different? The entire human race is made of up failures and until God works in our lives none of us likes to face up to our responsibility for our personal failure.
Israel couldn't deny the facts exile in Babylon was a reality but what was the nation to make of it all? How would the nation understand and explain what it was having to go through? It could and should have been a time for serious soul but that was probably as popular then as it is now! We prefer to shift the blame, to find a scapegoat, anything but face up to the reality of our own failure it must be someone else's fault!
And yes, that was the conclusion the nation of Israel came to. Yes, they were suffering exile and it was... clear proof that God had ended his with them, he had divorced them and sent them away. Yes, that was it, that was the explanation it was all God's fault. God was to blame!
It was absurd but then human beings do habitually prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. It was absurd but it was the best that Israel could come up with.
We can deduce the charges that Israel levelled against the LORD from the way in which he answered them.
a) The LORD had divorced the people
b) The LORD had sent them away
c) The LORD had sold them for personal profit
d) The LORD was not powerful enough to help them
In reply the LORD in no way denies the facts of the situation exile was a reality. However what he does dispute is the interpretation of that reality.
In the Mosaic law when a man divorced his wife he was obliged to furnish her with a certificate of divorce she might easily be accused of adultery if she formed a relationship with another man subsequently. Upon being challenged she could defend herself by producing the certificate which would exonerate her.
But where was the certificate of divorce in this case? If the LORD had broken things off and sent his people away all they needed to do was to produce the certificate and they too would be exonerated! But Israel could produce no such certificate for the simple reason that it was not the LORD who had broken things off and sent them away divorced. No it was the people who had abandoned him!
Had the LORD decided to sell them in order to make some kind of personal profit out of the transaction? The very idea is ludicrous as if the Creator of the whole universe would seek to be enriched by any his creatures! Didn't the people know the Psalms?
Ps.50:10 "For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine."
No, the answer lay elsewhere Israel as a nation suffers exile as a direct consequence, not of the LORD turning the nation out but, of their own high sins!
Blaming God might look a tempting way out of the situation but it turns out to be a blind alley that leads nowhere.
In reality it was not God who was to blame, no, it was the other way round, Israel had failed and failed repeatedly:
a) There was a refusal to recognise personal sin and to accept responsibility for what he had done.
b) There was a refusal to hear the call of God and to respond no came up to the standards required of a nation called to be the Lord's servant.
c) There was a refusal to think clearly about the LORD's mighty works by which he had clearly demonstrated his ability to save.
If that was Israel's sorry state are you sure that it doesn't describe yours too?
• Have you acknowledged your sin before God?
• Have you heard and heeded God's word or have you tried either to ignore or alter it?
• Have you thought that you will be saved by what you can do rather than by relying upon that mighty power of God demonstrated in numerous acts of deliverance and supremely in the deliverance of Calvary?
There is a Way Out the Servant of the LORD
If the nation of Israel had failed in its calling to be the servant of the Lord, which it had, there is however another One called as the Servant of the LORD and he didn't fail!
The rest of the chapter is taken up with another of the Servant Songs of Isaiah in which we are shown more of what will characterise the true Servant of the Lord.
The remaining verses direct us naturally to a consideration of the person and work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ but we should also note that at the same time we are given a pattern upon which to model our own lives if we would want to be servants of this most Wonderful God.
Once again it is the Servant who speaks about himself and about the ministry he has to execute. Let's take a look at just what he had to say:
1) The Servant's ministry is to be a "word ministry. Prepared by the LORD the Servant
first hears then teaches the word that he has learnt. This ministry must be effective because
in the immediate context the word of the LORD is seen to be a mighty and powerful word in
Cf. v.2 "Behold, by my rebuke I dry up the sea..."
2) The Servant exemplifies the way in which one is to listen to the word of the LORD he is
docile and teachable, learning morning after morning. Doesn't this remind you of Luke's
description of the adolescent Jesus?
Lk.2:52 "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man."
3) How encouraging his teaching will be he will sustain with a word those who are weary:
Cf. Mt.11:28ff "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..."
4) This Servant mixed his hearing with obedience even when that obedience would prove to be costly in terms of personal experience:
v.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."
It is interesting to think that one day the Father taught Jesus these very words we're studying this evening. It was the moment when Jesus knew that he would, as the Servant of the LORD, have to suffer not just because of his obedience but that very obedience required suffering of him!
And he did not back off, no trace of rebelliousness, no "it's not fair" but a readiness to obey. In the light of this no Christian can justifiably plead for exemption from such suffering.
5) The Servant's readiness to obey was courageous. It took the form of a cheerful, trusting
hopefulness and not some sort of stoic resignation. He embraced the way the LORD traced
out for him and he could so because he trusted his Father:
v.7 "But the Lord GOD helps me..." he declared.
Such courage can be our own as well:
2Tim.1:7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (NKJV)
With God's help the Servant would be able to press on resolutely. He would set his face like flint (we thought about this during the morning service). Suffering, shame and disgrace would be part and parcel of the Servant's experience but it would not be the final word either.
6) The Servant would be vindicated!
The Servant knew that he was not on his own. Yes, there was suffering and there was disgrace to experience but God was his helper!
The writer to the Hebrews was able to write encouraging to those Christians because the Servant had already proved the value of them:
Heb.13:6 "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?""
Similarly this Servant the truth of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Rom.8:31 "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Isn't that in essence just what the Servant declared?:
Is.50:8 "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. 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."
The Servant was confident that he would be vindicated confidence enabled him to look beyond the immediacy of his sufferings to something far greater:
Heb.12:2 "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
The NT shows us just how Jesus was vindicated too!
• Raised from the dead the third day
• Given all authority in heaven and on earth
• Taken up into heaven ascension
• Given his seat at the right hand of God
When vindicated in such a manner none will be able to contend against him with any success at all!
The section closes with series of questions if only we would learn to think properly for ourselves! Sometimes we simply don't think as seriously as we should, we don't pursue our thoughts to the end and instead we leave ourselves with some vague, imprecise shadowy doubts and fears. Christianity has no fear of the truth. So let us face down our fears by bringing them into focus in the light of the truth of Jesus Christ.
Those who make a great pretence of opposition will soon come to nothing, nothing at all and nothing extravagant will need to be done to ensure their demise. They'll be overcome as easily as you wear a hole in a pair of old socks, as easily as a moth munches its way through an unprotected garment!
An Invitation and a Warning
The first thing I want to underline as we draw to a close is that our eternal destinies are determined by our attitude toward this Servant of the LORD.
There is a clear link here between fearing the LORD and obeying the voice of this his servant two are not options but must go together. For someone to say they fear the LORD but then to reject Jesus simply means they haven't understood a thing!
But the invitation goes out to whoever will fear the LORD and obey his servant to trust in the name of the LORD and to rely upon God. There is no automatic promise of suddenly seeing we must all walk by faith. However as we come to he who is the Light of the World, the only way to God the Father, we can confidently expect to see more and more clearly. After all Jesus declared:
Jn.12:46 "I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness."
And yet despite the invitation to trust many prefer to follow their own schemes and devices for dealing their problem of spiritual darkness. Isaiah compares their efforts to the lighting of burning torches which will flame up for a while and provide light of a kind. And yet this way does not lead to Jesus and so consequently it does not lead to the Father either. In fact it leads to total destruction those who chose to follow this false light of their own will suffer torment as a result and Isaiah has in mind the eternal torment of hell.
Friends respond to the invitation and trust in the Servant who has known the vindication of God and you will enjoy the same at the judgment for if you are in Christ you will be as safe as he!