Monday, March 14, 2016

Isaiah 50: 4-9a Becoming a Flint-like Disciple

KEY TEXT: Isa 50:6-7 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. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

KEY THOT: This is a messianic text referring to Jesus’ suffering and trial at the hands of the chief priests. As we approach Good Friday, we are reminded of what it takes for Jesus to walk right into the death-trap so that he might allow his back to be whipped and be disgraced by spitting on his face by his accusers. The scripture describes his determination in these words: “I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” A flint is a hard sedimentary crystalined form of mineral quartz. It is used as a cutting edge and when struck against steel will create sparks that can start a fire. So, to set one’s face like a flint is to make it “hard, impassive, expressionless, and at the same time determined, fixed not to give way” (Pulpit Commentary). It suggests a self-disciplined commitment to obey God’s will to the end—no matter the “sparks” that will be created. Jesus did not set his face towards Jerusalem just only to die as our sin-substitute but also to show us how we may face the same threat in times of persecution: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Obedience to God is not a bed of roses: it will not always make us “happy”, but it will build the character of disciplined holiness within us. “Happiness” is a by-product of obedience, not the goal of obedience. Jesus was clearly unhappy when he went through the suffering: his expression became flint-like—hard and expressionless because suffering and public humiliation was not easy to endure—he had to steel himself and not allow his own feelings of pain and humiliation to deter him from going towards Jerusalem to die. In the same way, when we are undergoing trials of obedience and we know it is for God’s sake that we are enduring the pain, the promise is that God “will provide the way out, so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13, NIV). The "way out" is not copping out but coping with the pain without giving up, strengthened by God’s grace: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9).

As the days become darker and persecution of true believers become more open, intense and abusive, we will need to become flint-like in our obedience, not compromising our values to avoid pain and suffering. A true disciple/follower of Christ is one who is self-denying and also self-dying: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself (self-denying) and take up his cross daily (self-dying) and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

A very hard saying of Jesus--especially for affluent Christians who are so used to creature comforts. But we have a choice: we can either take it or we can leave it--and, with it, also leave the life of true discipleship: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." 

Father, Your Son has left us an example in how to cope with trial of obedience—to be flint-like in our attitude and commitment to be obedient “unto death”. May You grant us such grace when we have to go through similar path of suffering. Amen.

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