by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Isaiah 52:13-53:23.
We are occupied at this time with the question: What did Jesus Christ come into this world to bring in His own Person? We have spent quite a long time answering that question along one line - that He came to reveal in His own Person the meaning of eternal life, and we have now begun to consider the matter along another line - that He came to reveal in His own Person God as Father. He said: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), "Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?" (John 14:10).
Thus He claimed to have come to reveal in His own Person God as Father, and we have seen what a revolutionary thing this was in Israel. It was on this very plane that they crucified Him. They said He was "making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18), and so they put Him to death. They could not accept this revolutionary conception that God had come in the Person of His Son to reveal Himself in these terms.
Then we saw what a revolutionary thing this was in the pagan world when the apostles took this message there. After that we went on to see that God had hidden this great conception in the Old Testament, and if only those who had had the Old Testament in their hands had had their eyes open, they would have seen that it was there, hidden in their Bible. It is an amazing thing to us that they should not be able to see Jesus in Isaiah 53! We are told that they read the Scriptures every Sabbath Day, and when Jesus went into the synagogue of His native town, Nazareth, they handed Him the book of Isaiah that He might read and expound, so they were familiar with that book. They read their Bible, which was the Old Testament, every Sabbath Day, but they were utterly blind to the meaning of this book alone. I say that we, who by the grace of God can see, are amazed that anybody could read Isaiah 53 without seeing Jesus Christ, but the point is that God had hidden this great revelation in the Old Testament. It was there to be seen by all those who were not blinded by pride or by prejudice, or by their own self-righteousness that made them feel independent of the need of a Saviour. All those who had a really open heart to God could see it. Undoubtedly, Isaiah saw it, and others of the prophets saw it. Their very name was 'seers', the men who saw, and they saw in their own day the day of the coming of the Son of God.
Then we went on to show that the Old Testament is divided into three main sections. The first main section is that of the Patriarchs, which very word means 'Fathers of households', and in that section of the Old Testament, God has written very fully about this thought of fatherhood. He created man in order that He might be his Father, and He created the human family that He might be its Father. And when that first family went away from Him and repudiated His Fatherhood, He took Abraham and through him began to make a new family, so that Abraham became known as the "father of many" (Rom. 4:17). Through Abraham came Israel, and Israel was a family - God's family.
Well, we need not say more about that now, as we have spent much time on it. The point is, however, that the first whole section of the Bible embodies God's thought of a family of which He is Father.
Then we went on to the second main section of the Old Testament, the section of the Monarchy, and we saw there that God constituted the monarchy in Israel on a family basis. The highest point of the monarchy was with David and Solomon: David the father and Solomon the son. It was based upon the family-thought of God, but we saw that God was always thinking ahead, and in the New Testament the very words said by God to David about Solomon are applied to the Lord Jesus. The thought, therefore, in that section is that the family of God should be a governmental, or ruling, family, and that it should exercise, in fellowship with God, the government of this world.
Well, now we come to the third section of the Old Testament, that is, the section of the Prophets.
What do we find when we come to this section? This representative family which had reached such a high point in the days of David and Solomon was now broken down, and the whole family had disintegrated. That began when the tribes of Israel divided into two main sections, and that division went on and on, continually becoming more and more, until it came to the point where the whole family was scattered and was found in captivity in Babylon and Chaldea. They were no longer like a family. That whole thing had been destroyed and spoilt.
What was the work of the prophets? Well, if you take Isaiah as a representative prophet, one who represents the other prophets, you find that in the second half of his prophecies he is occupied with one thing, and that is the re-gathering of the scattered family. Everything that he has to say in the second half of this book has to do with this redemption of the lost family, and it is in that that Isaiah 53 stands - the redemption of the lost family.
But if you look at Isaiah you will see another thing. It is not just the redemption of Israel, for a much bigger family comes into view here. Israel was only a type of what God meant from the beginning. He meant to have a much bigger family than Israel. Israel was His object lesson and the instrument of teaching His thoughts to the world. God never meant Israel to be an exclusive people or to be the beginning and the end in themselves. That was their sin and their crime. They lost everything when they became exclusive, when they looked upon all other peoples with contempt, and when they said: "We are the people. God begins with us and ends with us. All other people are dogs" - that was their name for the Gentiles - and the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. That exclusiveness cost them everything, because God had only raised them up to be the teacher of the nations as to His own thought, and He had a much bigger thought about the family than Israel.
I am having to take for granted that you know about the prophecies of Isaiah and how they have a message for the nations. But now Isaiah brings into view this message: not only is Israel scattered and broken as a family, but that is true of the whole human race. It cannot rightly be called the human family as it is. No one looking at the state of the world today can speak about the nations being one big family. If there is any truth whatever in that word, it is a very, very broken-up family. Certainly this world is not living on the basis of God's thought that He is Father and that they are the children, and this is one glorious family. No, no one believes that about the world today.
Well, what are we going to do about it? What will God do about it? He is going to redeem a family unto Himself. Now, there is first of all the fact, and then there is the method.
The fact is stated in some words in the book of the Acts: "Simeon hath rehearsed how first God did visit the nations to take out of them a people for His name" (Acts 15:14). Note exactly what it says: "God hath visited the nations to take out of them a people for His name". It does not say here: "God visited Israel", but "God visited the nations", because there in the nations God knew that there was a people that He could have for His name. What name? "Father..." that is the answer: "A people for His name". Jesus in His great prayer said: "I made known unto them Thy name" (John 17:26); and up to that prayer He had been constantly - one hundred and sixteen times - calling God "Father". "To take out of the nations a people for His name".
Now note the next thing that is said here: "And to this agree the words of the prophets" (Acts 15:15). So the prophets did have something to say about the nations, and God's family in the nations! Here is the fact: God has a people in the nations, and the first thing He has to do is to take out of the nations a people for His name. You notice what it says - 'first'. That is the first thing in this dispensation. It is the thing which marks the dispensation in which we are living. We are not talking about what God may do afterward. This is the dispensation in which God is doing the first thing, and that is to take out of the nations a people for His name. He is getting His family. We here at this time are a very minute representation of that, but we are a representation. As we have said before, there are at least nine different nationalities in this little company, and who will say that there is not a family spirit here? The difference of language and of nationality makes no difference to us. So far as we are concerned, God has taken out of the nations a people for His name. But we are only a small representation of something that He is doing on a very much larger scale.
Some of us have travelled around this world and have gone to many countries and nations, and when we go there we never have to be introduced to the Christians as Christians. Before anybody can say to us: 'This is a Christian', we know it. There is something about a true child of God that another child of God recognises. In the natural world you can usually recognise a family by some family characteristic: you are more or less able to say of a person: 'I know what family you belong to' - that is, if you know the family. Well, that is true in the spiritual sense. You know when you meet another child of God, without being told. There is a family likeness, and they all speak the same spiritual language. God is taking out of the nations a people for His name - 'Father'. Well, there is the fact.
Now, what about the method? If the fact is important, then the method certainly is. That brings us to Isaiah 53, and all that that great prophetic chapter embodies of New Testament truth. The method of governing this family is through the travail of the Son of God. You notice what it says here? "When thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days... He shall see of the travail of His soul". It is through the suffering and death and resurrection of God's Son that this family has been brought into being. This is the teaching of the Bible. We are not going to argue for the Divine inspiration of the Bible. The best argument is experience, and we are those who believe the Bible, not because it is a religious book, but because it has done something in us, and because our experience corresponds to what this book says. God has opened our eyes to see Jesus Christ as the Saviour, the Redeemer of men. He has made us know that we need a Saviour and a Redeemer, and we have accepted Him as that. It has had a tremendous effect in our lives - and the very first thing that happened after we accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Redeemer was that there came into our hearts and through our lips a new word. If we had ever thought or spoken of God before, we called Him 'God', or 'the great First Cause', or some such far-away title, but when this thing happened in us and we took the Lord Jesus as our Redeemer, our first word in prayer was "Father".
We came to know what the apostle Paul meant when he said: "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). The family spirit was immediately found in us in a new way, and from that day to this, God has been 'Father' to us, with all that that marvellous name means - not the Jewish idea of God, who is so holy that you can never come near to Him, for if you do you will die, nor the pagan idea of God, that is, of gods who are against you and you have to do everything to try and get on even terms with them. No, the true children of God are those who know that He is very near, that He has a very real concern for our interests, that He has a great love for us, that He is on our side, not against us, and much more than that. And that is what came into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ.
I wonder if you have noticed that in this connection a word is repeatedly used which has never been translated and never will be. It says in one place: "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6). A lot of people think that that is only the same word in two languages. In English, or German, or French, you say 'Father', so perhaps in Hebrew or in Arabic you say 'Abba'. It is the same thing in two languages. But, no, it is not. Why have the translators put that word 'Abba' in at all? Why were they not satisfied that 'Father' was enough? Because the translators were scholarly men and they knew better. There is something in this name 'Abba' which cannot be expressed in the simple word 'Father'. I say that word has never yet been translated, because you cannot translate it. If you gave it its literal meaning you could not use it of God. Let me try to illustrate.
I am getting old now and my family is grown up, but supposing, when they were very small children, my little boy had come to me and said: 'Oh, thou great preacher! Oh, thou Bible conference speaker! Oh, thou organiser of Christian work! May I be allowed to talk to you?' How do you think I would have felt? Well, to begin with, I would have felt that he had lost the whole idea of what I am. He might have said: 'Father, may I speak to you?', but, you know, that still sounds a bit formal. What did he say? 'Daddy...' - 'Daddy, can I say something to you?' And that is the meaning of 'Abba'. You see, you cannot put it like that to God, but it is in the Bible to mean that we are God's little children. God may be a very great Father, but He is not so great as not to love us to come to Him just as little children. You see, we could not say 'Daddy' to God, but that is the meaning of 'Abba'. It is the word of a little child. That gives a very beautiful idea of the relationship between God and His children.
The New Testament has a lot about that. It has phrases like 'little children'. Read the letters of John and you will find that he is constantly speaking to us as 'little children'. And Jesus said: "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
How do we get into this family? That great Jewish teacher named Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. He wanted to discuss this matter of the Kingdom of God, and he said to Jesus: "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God" (John 3:2). That is a very polite and courteous introduction, but Jesus knew what he had come about - to discuss this thing that all Jews were interested in. There was one big question going round Jerusalem: 'This Jesus claims to be the Messiah, and when Messiah comes He will set up the Kingdom of God'. So, in effect, Nicodemus said: "I want to discuss with you this matter of the Kingdom of God. You claim to be the Messiah and that would mean that you are going to bring in the Kingdom of God. Now, I am very interested in the Kingdom of God. All Jews are. And I want to be in it." That is what it amounted to. Did Jesus discuss the Kingdom of God with him at first? The first thing that He said to this man was: "You must be born again". Nicodemus said: "How can a man be born when he is old?" and Jesus said: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew" (John 3:4,6,7) - "Except a man be born anew he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That is the only way in. It is the way into the family, and this family is comprised of those who know the meaning of being born again, the miracle of new birth."
That is the most elementary truth to most of us, but it is always wise to emphasise the foundation. It is possible that someone has not yet come in through that door. And Jesus says to us all: "If you would be in the Kingdom of God" - which is another word for 'family of God' - "you must be born again. You must be born of the Spirit of God. There is no other way in". And the foundation is that Jesus Himself has come to remove everything that hinders us from going in. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed... the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all... Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed...": His family! "He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied". You know that that word 'travail' links on with the matter of children - the true children of God are the fruit of the travail of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Well, I think we can leave it there. God is still at work to redeem a family for Himself out of the nations, and we are very glad that we can say that we are in the family. We know what it means really to have God, not as God all-mighty or all-terrible, but as "Our Father which art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9).