The Messiah in Isaiah
Chapter 50: The Calvary Road
By I Gordon
This study is on Isaiah chapter 50. The main passages I wanted to look at initially when I read it were verses 4-7. However, I read the start, which was very good and then I read the end which was also good... So we may leave out a couple of verses, but basically we are going to have a look at this whole chapter. I’ve called this study “The Calvary Road” because this chapter speaks about the Messiah Jesus and His walk to Calvary. We’ll also look at what this ‘Calvary road’ means for our lives. Let’s go!
I’m afraid things start with the ‘D’ word...
This is what the LORD says: "Where is your mother's certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of my creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away. When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering." Isaiah 50:1-3
So it starts off a little bit ominously. We’ve got the ‘D’ word... divorce. So we need to find out who is speaking and who is being spoken to. The one that is speaking is pretty obvious - “Thus says the Lord”. It's God, Yahweh and he is actually speaking to Israel and reminding them of a time when they were divorced from Him. Just as the New Testament talks about the church being the bride of Christ so in the Old Testament Israel was spoken of as the wife of Jehovah. And yet there was a time in the book of Jeremiah when God actually sent Israel a certificate of divorce. So the question is why? Why is God bringing that up now? I believe the answer is in verse 2.
There was a really good Bible teacher by the name of J. Vernon McGee. He wrote about this verse and pointed out that this passage is prophetic of the coming and time of the Messiah. This whole passage in fact is Jesus speaking. So listen to what Jesus says for it will give the answer as to why this passage starts with a reminder about their previous certificate of divorce. He says “why was there no one when I came, when I called why was there none to answer“. That is why He starts off reminding them about a previous time when there was a separation, because it seems as if a split is about to happen again. If you look at the rest of verse 2 Jesus says “Is My hand so short that it cannot ransom? Or have I no power to deliver? Behold I dry up the sea with My rebuke, I make the rivers a wilderness; Their fish stink for lack of water, and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness and I make sackcloth their covering”. Basically what He is saying is “look right from the very beginning, right from your youth, I was the one, Jesus your Messiah who delivered you. When you were in Egypt I was the one who covered the skies in blackness and brought those judgements against Egypt. When the Egyptians tried to come and kill you, I was the one who split the sea to let you go free. When you came to go into the Promised Land I was the one who dried up the Jordan so that you could cross. Why, why when I come now is there no one, no one that will receive Me. Why will no one answer when I call?” The New Testament says it like this:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:10-12
So He is saying “Why was there no man when I came, why when I called was there no one to answer”. When God calls we should answer.
The Messiah had to learn as a disciple too.
Isaiah 50:4 (NASB) The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
The interesting thing about verse 4 is that we still have the same speaker. It's not a change of speaker here. It says “The LORD God has given me the tongue of disciples”. So it was the LORD, (which in the Hebrew is Yahweh or Jehovah) speaking at the start and He says that the LORD GOD (Yahweh Adonai) has given me the tongue of disciples. From the New Testament we know that this is God the Father giving God the Son (the Messiah) the tongue of a disciple. And as you probably know, a disciple is one that learns off his master. So He is saying here that the Lord God has given Me the tongue of a disciple that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. This passage going through to verse 7 talks about four things... It talks about the Messiah's tongue, the Messiah's ear, His will and His resolve.
The Messiah’s tongue
First of all it talks about His tongue – that He had been given the tongue of one who learned and it was so that He might know how to sustain the weary one with a word. You know Jesus never, ever entertained and yet nobody ever got bored listening to Him. He never, ever sought fame and yet He is the most talked about person in the history of the world. Why? Well because of what He did obviously, but also because of what He said. He had the words of life. He had the words that could change a person’s life. And maybe, hopefully, you have experienced this. Maybe you have had a time when God has spoken a word into your life to sustain you in a time of weariness. There are so many that are weary, are there not, in this generation especially. Physically, mentally, emotionally... people just seem to be weary. And yet Jesus Christ is the One through a word can actually sustain them, give them strength and hope.
The other thing about this passage is that when you look up that word, “WORD” in the Hebrew it actually means “a word in season”. And in some of your Bibles it actually says that. Basically it means that He knows how to sustain the weary one with a word in season at the right time.
There may be times when our hearts are cold and God could speak all that He wanted to and we may not even listen. But sometimes normally when we go through troubles and difficulties, and then at the right time God speaks. And that is the ability that Jesus had to speak the word that the person needed to hear. So the next thing is how? How did He get that ability? Listen to what the word says:
The Messiah’s Ear
He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.
The source of Jesus’ strength wasn't Himself. It was the fact that He listened to the Father. It actually says “morning by morning” God the Father awoke His ear to listen so that He could learn. Jesus, even though He was God, still lived as a man and He had to learn from the Father. That’s why, even as a twelve year old, Jesus was found in the temple and “all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:47) He was already learning from His Father though He was just a boy. Later on in His ministry He would teach again in the Temple courts and the Jews were amazed and they asked “How did this man get such learning without having studied”. And Jesus answered “My teaching is not My own, it comes from Him who sent Me. If anyone chooses to do God's will he will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own”. (John 7:14-17) So He was trying to tell them quite plainly that His teaching is not His own - it actually comes from God the Father. He didn't say that God is waking Me up every morning and teaching Me these things but that is essentially what happened! I guess it's the same for us. We need to learn to listen to the Lord if we want to have anything worth saying to someone else!
The Messiah’s Will
Isaiah 50:5-6 The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient Nor did I turn back. I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.
The open ear mentioned in verse 5 is not the same thing as the verse before that says “He awakens my ear to listen”. The phrase that the Lord has “opened My ear” actually goes back to Exodus chapter 21 where the slaves that had served six years and were now entitled to go free could actually choose to be a slave/servant permanently. If they chose to remain then ‘his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.’ (Ex 21:6)
So they actually pierced and opened the ear of the servant if the servant wanted to remain a servant for the rest of his life. And that is what the Messiah Jesus is saying in verse 5 “The Lord God has opened my ear”. He is saying I want to be a Servant of the Father for all time. And He says “I was not disobedient, nor did I turn back I gave My back to those who strike Me and my cheeks to those who pluck out the beard and I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting”. It was God's will and God's path for the Messiah to actually walk the Calvary road. This road led to the cross and Jesus knew that. And yet He said “I did not turn back”. He set His will to be whatever God willed and though there was great anguish and difficulty, He could still say “yet not My will but Thine be done”.
The Messiah’s Resolve
Isaiah 50:7 For the Lord GOD helps Me, Therefore, I am not disgraced; Therefore, I have set My face like flint, And I know that I will not be ashamed.
The Messiah Jesus had to have a steely resolve to go through all that the Lord was asking Him to do. Yet, through God’s help, He set His face like flint and could not be moved even though this road that He had to walk on was going to lead to the cross. So what does this mean for us? Obviously He did this for us. But what about our lives? Do we also walk this road? Didn’t Jesus say “That if man wants to follow me, let him take up his cross and follow me”. (Matt 16:21) Do you know the context of that verse?
Our Calvary Road
The last two verses in Isaiah 50 have a change of speaker. Now the Holy Spirit speaks and gives advice to God’s people that are walking this road also.
Isaiah 50:10-11 Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with firebrands, Walk in the light of your fire And among the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: You will lie down in torment.
Now, this is a pretty full on passage. The first verse says “Who is among you that fears the Lord that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness and has no light?“. I think He is saying – Yes, this happened to the Messiah. He had to go through difficulty. He had to go through suffering, but also those who fear the Lord, those who want to obey, will experience this very thing! This is not talking about sinners or non-Christians. It is actually saying who is among you that fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant and yet still walks in darkness. It is saying that there will still be times, even for the godly Christian walking in the fear of the Lord, when there is only darkness and no light. But it says what to do “let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God“... just like Jesus had to do. For the last three hours of Jesus on the cross there was darkness that covered the land and at one point He said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” It would seem that darkness covered the whole thing – where was God? God didn't seem to be anywhere. I think what the Holy Spirit is trying to get across is that there are times of darkness for those that are trying to follow the Lord as well. There are times of great uncertainty, times when God may not even seem to be there or saying anything. And yet in those times it says “let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God”. I guess that is our part of the Calvary road if you like, when we have to walk in the same footsteps of our Lord.
Then it contrasts it in verse 11 with those who don't want to go that way, who don't really want to rely on the Lord. Here is how it reads from the Amplified Bible:
‘Behold, all you [enemies of your own selves] who attempt to kindle your own fires [and work out your own plans of salvation], who surround and gird yourselves with momentary sparks, darts, and firebrands that you set aflame!--walk by the light of your self-made fire and of the sparks that you have kindled [for yourself, if you will]! But this shall you have from My hand: you shall lie down in grief and in torment.’
So it is again talking to those who won't listen to God at all. Who say “No! We are actually going to come up with our own way of salvation. We are going to generate our own light. I can get through this by myself. Look I just have to do this, I just have to do that. I can generate a little bit of light.” To those that seek their own salvation God’s word is “This you will have from My hand. You will lie down in torment”. So its contrasting those who would rely on their Lord even though things get dark with those who just decide they will go their own way. Reader – do not be so foolish as to fall into the second group of people who seek their own salvation and light. Take God’s warning to heart. And if you find yourself in the first group, with those that fear the Lord and walk in His ways yet still have darkness, then do what the word says: Trust and rely on God. The darkness will pass.
Isaiah 50 is a pretty full on chapter. To recap it starts off with Jesus speaking and He is saying “Why when I came, why was there no one to receive me” and it indicates that there would be a split between the relationship with God and Israel. Jesus knew difficulty and rejection. And yet we see here the source of Jesus’ strength was the Father. Jesus was only like Jesus because of the Father's work through Him! So if we are to be like Jesus, then we too must depend upon the Father just as Jesus had to.
And again it reminds us of that road that Jesus went on for our sakes - right to the cross. He did not turn back. He did not turn aside. He just set His face like a flint. He was totally resolved as to what He had to do. And may you also trust in the Lord when faced with this same road.
 In Israel's law if a man was going to divorce his wife because of adultery or something else there was a certificate of divorce that he had to give her. (See Deut 24:1-4). So this chapter starts off and it's God speaking, reminding them of a time when He actually gave them a certificate of divorce and they were separated. (See Jer 3:8 for this reference). Hmmm... now why bring that up now you ask?
 J. Vernon McGee writes: "When I came"—when did Jehovah come directly to His people, not through His prophets but Himself, to Israel and expect such a welcome? It was not when He descended on Mount Sinai to give them the Mosaic Law. He looked for no welcome then, but insisted that they keep their distance. But He came again as a man, a humble man, and there was no reception of Him at all. Israel did not welcome Him at His birth; they didn't receive Him when He began His ministry. They rejected and killed their Messiah. Simon Peter on the Day of Pentecost put it like this: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Act 2:22-24). God makes it very clear that because they rejected their Messiah, they have been set aside.
 We had a friend of the family called Sue and she was a pretty strong willed Dutch lady. Now God was really starting to draw her. She wasn't a Christian, but God was really starting to speak to her and she had heard the Gospel message a few times but she wasn't yet willing to become a Christian. One time she was invited to go to hear a preacher who gave the Gospel message and once again God was speaking to her heart. The preacher gave an invitation at the end to those who wanted to become a Christian to come forward. She could feel God speaking but decided not to go forward and just stayed where she was. She would recount later that she heard the Holy Spirit say to her “Sue, if you do not respond this time you will not hear this message again”. And she bolted up to the front (as you would!) When God calls your name we need to respond. So Jesus was saying in this passage ”why when I came why was there no one to receive Me. When I called why was there no one to answer?”
 I was thinking about this for my own life when God had spoken a word in season to sustain me. Probably the most vivid I remember was back in 1997. I had been sick for a few months and no one really knew why and I just wasn't getting well. I went to this health practitioner as I also had little patches of skin that had gone white, nothing major, but I asked the practitioner “what do you think these are?” The practitioner replied that they are nothing to worry about, gave me a long medical name and then said that it is Michael Jackson disease”. Oh okay was my reply. And she didn't say too much about it. So I went home and thought to myself – “I've got Michael Jackson's disease.” Suddenly you have all these thoughts of your face going white or going real patchy. And I literally, because of my sickness at the time (I think!), went to a real extreme in my mind as to what this all meant. I sat in the lounge, facing the wall, and I built this thing up to be a real giant. It was something that was just too big for me. I was thinking I was going to lose all the pigment in my skin, especially in my face and that I could no longer go outside... And I like going outside! I enjoy the sun! I started thinking I am going to have to cover up or maybe I am going to be all blotchy and it's going to be really horrible. I built it up into something really huge and I had no rest, I couldn't trust, I couldn’t walk by faith. I was trying to, but I just couldn't. I remember going to bed that night and just saying to God “Lord if you don't speak, I feel as if I am flippin’ out a little bit here, I really need to hear from You”. I didn't hear anything that night and I did sleep thankfully but as soon as I awoke in the morning I heard a voice and it was as clear as if someone was saying it to me here. Yet, I don't think it was audible. But I just heard “Psalm 34” and it was so clear that I said out loud “what verse?” and He said “5”. Well... I was up out of bed pretty quickly that morning I can tell you! Probably more so than ever before! And I looked up Psalm 34 and it said: “They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces will never be ashamed.”
And basically that had been my biggest fear, that my face would be blotchy or that I wouldn't be able to go outside. It was just God, because straight away those fears were relieved. He knew how to sustain the weary with a word. As a side note, cos I know you are deeply concerned, I didn’t become the ‘elephant man’. Nothing came of the white patches which disappeared and all of my fears were for nothing. Like normal!
 I was thinking about this. You may not be aware, but having bought my first home recently I have become somewhat of an expert gardener in the past couple of months. I’ve been planting quite a few little bits and pieces for the first time ever. Now I want to see them grow and I literally go out there most days to have a little look at them because I want to see something happen. I have got some loganberries, blueberries, boysenberries (can you spot a wee-pattern here?) and anything else that is sweet and nice. Now nothing seemed to be happening, so I changed the soil a little bit, put some peat in but nothing happened. I got some sheep manure from a friend and put that around. Still nothing happened. Bought some worm tea, poured that all over it – got out there willing them to grow but alas... nothing. The fact is that it is the middle of winter and they don't grow, they basically go to sleep. :o) Ok, so maybe I’m not the expert gardener just yet! They go dormant, their roots are not taking anything up... it’s just not the right time. But when God speaks He not only knows exactly what we need to hear, but He knows exactly the right time to give it as well. He speaks the right word in the right season, when we are capable of taking it in and using it. (Unlike my valiant though utterly useless attempts at trying to will my berries to grow!)
 The context has Peter saying in effect - “Lord you are not going to have difficulty, you are not going to have rejection, you are not going to have trouble and strife and struggling. No that's not going to happen to you Lord”. And Jesus had to take him aside and rebuke him and say “You haven't got God's mind at the moment, you are just thinking like a man. And that's how we think isn't it? We would all like not to have any trouble or strife or struggles or anything like that, but that's man's thoughts. And yet God's thoughts are that there is something really beneficial through all of that. Something that He can actually produce, and that is why Jesus in this context said that “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me”. It's quite likely that we are not going to be literally crucified, like Jesus was. Yet he was saying You still need to take up that cross, you still need at times to go down that path of difficulty, darkness and trial. Paths where maybe God's will and your will clash! You want to go one way and God is asking you to go this way. That is the context of this scripture. Charles Spurgeon said it like this:
“Doth that man love his Lord who would be willing to see Jesus wearing a crown of thorns while for himself he craves a chaplet of laurel? Shall Jesus ascend to His throne by the cross and do we expect to be carried there on the shoulders of applauding crowds? Be not so vain in your imagination, count ye the cost and if you are not willing to bear Christ's cross go away to your farm and your merchandise and make the most of them but only let me whisper this in your ear. “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loose his own soul?”
 When we get to the New Testament we know that Paul said that the nation of Israel had been hardened in part until the full number of the Gentiles come in. But then after that all Israel will be saved. It goes on to say that is “because the giftings and calling of God are irrevocable”. Or as another version says “The giftings and calling of God are without repentance”. This means that God does not change His mind about those that He calls. Yes, they may go through a long period of separation but ultimately, like we saw in chapter 49, God will bring them back. That's part of Jesus’ mission as we saw in the Isaiah 49 study.