by T. Austin-Sparks
We revert to the words that are guiding our thoughts at this time in the prophecies of Isaiah chapter 53 and verse 1, the second clause in the verse: "To whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Having this morning considered a little of the meaning of that phrase, "the arm of the Lord", that it indicates the support, the upholding, the strength of the Lord, given to that and to those who are wholly in line with His purpose, we shall go further this afternoon in considering something more of the content of the question.
We might begin by asking what does the Word of God show to be the meaning of the support, the upholding of the Lord? That is, what do we think of when we think of getting or having the support of the Lord? What is in our minds?
We all want to have the Lord's support, the Lord's upholding, the Lord's strength or, in a word, to have the Lord alongside with us on our behalf with all His gracious and infinite power. That is, after all, as we have said, the most important thing in life; for Christians individually and for the Church, and for the whole work of the Lord. But have we really thought as to what we mean by this? What do we expect when we ask for and seek the support of the Lord? Is it just the bare support of the Lord, to get us through, to carry us over, to see that we do not collapse on the way?
When we see somebody fearfully standing on one side of the road, afraid to step out and cross, we proffer an arm; we say, "Let's give you an arm to see you over" - an arm! And, well, the arm is a support, it helps to the other side. Is that all that we want from the Lord? Is that what we mean, that the Lord will give us His arm to get us through this difficulty and that trouble, over this and that pain, where we need strength from Him? We have many ways in which we put this, we always speak about the arm of the Lord; we ask for grace; we ask for sufficiency; we ask for many things; but it is all gathered into this: the arm of the Lord. But really, what is it that we are seeking?
Now, what does the Word of God show to be the meaning of this support, this arm of the Lord? This is (before I answer that question) a matter of very far-reaching and very comprehensive importance and application. I trust that you will believe that I am not at this time a little concerned with giving addresses and matters from the Bible, and that you will believe that there's a very great practical background to anything and everything that is said here. Let me pause, to say what I mean.
Taking just recent months of experience, and what is coming almost daily into one's life, there has been a continuous, I could truly say an unbroken demand made for help in the problems of Christian lives, the problems of churches, the problems of Christian relationships. It's just been almost day and night, a continuous demand for help in all these difficulties and problems; individual and collective. And letters are continually coming - I have now waiting to answer a number of very long letters from assemblies of God's people in different places, telling of the most terrible conditions in those assemblies, bringing almost to deadlock, frustration, defeat, limitation, disappointment, and asking for counsel, for advice as to what is to be done, and so on and so on. It's a large background of real need and it is over against such a background that this word is to be spoken this weekend by the help of God. I want you therefore to realise that there's something very practical in this.
Because, after all dear friends, after all it just amounts to one thing: where's the Lord? Just where is the Lord? Where is the arm of the Lord? Where are we going to find the Lord? How are we going to have the Lord? That is what it amounts to. The great need of the Lord! And that contains this very serious question: how far is the Lord able to support this and that, and come in and undertake, and show His power, and show Himself mighty? I'm sure you will agree that that really is the heart of the whole matter. Does this represent a limitation on the Lord, that He cannot, He cannot because of certain things? It is therefore important over everything that we should know and understand the ground on which the Lord will show His mighty arm in these days, on behalf of His people, on behalf of His Church, on behalf of His work.
Now, when we ask this question as to what it really does mean that the arm of the Lord shall be revealed, I find two or three things in the Word of God, holding a very large place in the Word of God in many forms of expression, which answer that question. First of all, (and may l pause again to say that Isaiah 53 is the answer to everything. You think you know Isaiah 53 don't you; perhaps you could recite it. I venture to suggest you know very little about that chapter. It's the most comprehensive chapter in the whole Bible. If we were able to read it with real spiritual comprehension, we should find all our questions are answered in that one chapter; all our needs are met in that one chapter; all our problems are solved in that one chapter! The Bible is comprehended by Isaiah 53).
Having said that, and I am of course all the time within the compass of that chapter in what I say, I find that this is the first thing that the arm of the Lord on behalf of His people means. It means:
The Vindication of the Course That They Have Taken.
Now, if you like to go to your Bibles with that, you will find how much there is that gathers around it. And again you will agree that it is a very important matter, that the course we have taken should be proved at the end to have been the right one. There would be nothing more terrible and tragic than having taken a course, and given ourselves and all that we have to it, and poured out our lives and then at the end to have found that we have been wrong, and the Lord is not able to vindicate the course that we have taken.
It is therefore of utmost importance that the course that we have taken should, in the end, receive the Divine vindication. That is, that God is able to say over against, over against everything, in spite of everything, from men and from devils: "That man was right!" You know, that, after all, was the vindication of Job, wasn't it? Oh, how much that man met of misconstruction and misinterpretation, but in the end God said, "My servant Job is right!" And that's no small thing. In Isaiah 53 it is that: the vindication of a course taken, in spite of everything. And that 'in spite of everything' is quite a lot in that chapter, isn't it? We shall look at that again later, but there it is. Oh, an overwhelming amount of contradiction and misunderstanding; but, in the end, vindicated; God saying he was right. He was right! "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" To that one - to that one!
And again I say that it's a matter of the greatest, the greatest importance that at the end, the way that you and I have taken with God shall be proved by God to have been the right way; in spite of everything. Now you look in your Bible and I'm not going to take you through it with that thought, but that runs everywhere, you see. Not only in relation to Job, but to Abraham and them all, as they went with God. What a way they went; what a difficult way they went! What a misunderstood and misinterpreted way they went, but in the end, God said, and not in word only, but in very, very practical vindication, "He was right, he was right!" That is the meaning of the arm of the Lord. That is what I want when I ask for the arm of the Lord: "Oh Lord, that I may take such a way with You that, in the end, You may stand by that way and say: he was right. He was right!" Do you want that? What is the worth, or good of anything if it doesn't work out like that?
A second thing that I see to be the meaning of the arm of the Lord is:
The Abiding Spiritual Fruit of a Life.
In Isaiah 53: "He shall see his seed". He shall see His seed: the abiding spiritual seed; that is, the Life, the Life that was in Him, now perpetuated and established, indestructible, in new forms of expression - He shall see His seed. What is the good of anything if we live our lives here, and when we go, that is the end of everything? We do our work, and when we're gone, that's the end of everything. It's a memory, growing more and more indistinct, fading, fading into the past, perhaps true to that very depressing line that some people like to sing:
"Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream,
Dies at the opening day".
I say that's pessimism to the last degree! But that ought not to be our heritage. That ought not to be true of any servant of the Lord: forgotten, died, borne away, passed out, nothing left, a vapour. No, "He shall see His seed", the arm of the Lord on behalf of any true servant of the Lord ought to be that, that when the form of service and expression, the vessel and the framework which was only temporary, has gone, there is something intrinsic that goes on and ever on, indestructible and will be found in heaven, abiding for eternity. That's the arm of the Lord! Again I say: that is the vindication of life, and that is the thing that you and I would covet, is it not? Surely, that's the only thing to justify our having lived at all! Not that we did a lot of things, and there was a lot to show even while we were here, but when we are gone, the work lives on, the Seed goes on - it's an imperishable Seed.
Well, that is what the Bible shows to be the meaning of 'the arm of the Lord', that is, the Lord standing by, supporting, carrying on, giving His seal, however you may put it, it's the Lord involved in things. It's that; that which is established. You see, the arm of the Lord establishes what is of Him, it's something that's established, that cannot be destroyed. Oh, do you not want the arm of the Lord in that way? Surely we all do - spiritual fruitfulness, spiritual increase, no stagnation, no ends, but a going on.
Well, of course we can see that, can we not, in the case of all the true servants of the Lord - that the Lord came in, He came in afterward, after they were gone, and He stood by. He stood by Jeremiah when Jeremiah was gone: "then that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, he made a decree..." the Lord is standing by Jeremiah though he's gone. Paul ministered to the seven churches in Asia, and Paul is gone; but the Lord comes back to the seven churches to stand by the ministry of His servant Paul and to vindicate. You know, that's the arm of the Lord - that He does not allow what has been of Himself in any servant's life to perish. It is established.
The arm of the Lord is the verdict of God upon everything. The verdict of God upon everything! And dear friends, I suggest to you that that's something that you ought just to take away, not in your notebook, but in your heart. It's the verdict of God on everything that matters, not the verdict of man, not the verdict of our own minds or hearts - what we think about it. The verdict of God. To Abraham the Lord said, "Walk before Me." That's the last thing, the final thing: "Walk before Me, live your life to get My verdict upon it. Day by day, day by day, see to it that at the close of the day, at the close of every day, you can have My verdict of approval on that: what you've said, what you've done, the way you've lived, in all things you have lived through that day in the light of the verdict of God which is to come at its end. Walk before Me." See? Well, all that is gathered into this word: the arm of the Lord; that is what we mean.
Now we come back to this chapter.
What are the Principles upon which the Arm of the Lord will be Revealed?
I have said that we are very familiar with this chapter, Isaiah 53, or we think we are. But when we read it, we are usually so taken up with the sorrows, and the sufferings, and the sin-bearing of this One in view, this Servant of Jehovah. We are usually taken up so much with those vividly descriptive words of His Person and His experiences, that we almost entirely lose sight of the tremendous significance of this fundamental initial question: "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" You see, the whole chapter would have very little value and meaning but for that question.
Think about it again: supposing all that had happened that is described there, about His sufferings, and His sorrows, and His sin-bearing - supposing it had all happened and then the arm of the Lord had not been revealed on His behalf; what's the value of it all? It's happened - but where's its vindication? What is the verdict of God upon it all?
You see, although the content of the chapter is so impressive, and overwhelmingly pathetic, it all relates to this one thing: "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" The answer is: to that One, to that One described here in such vivid detail. The arm of the Lord is revealed to that One. If you want to know on what ground the arm of the Lord will be revealed, it's on that ground. Just that! And that ground only. The obvious answer to the question is the arm of the Lord is revealed to the One who is here in view with all this full descriptiveness, with all this pathos, with all this tragedy, with all this tragedy, with all this affliction, with all this misunderstanding and misrepresentation. It is to that One that the arm of the Lord is revealed.
You see, the prophet is viewing the whole reaction, the whole reaction of the world, of Israel and the Gentile, to the report, the proclamation: "Who hath believed our report?" Or: "Who has believed that which we have proclaimed?" The message has gone out, it's all prophetic, it's all looking on to the day of the Son of Man. The messengers have gone out; the proclamation has been made - and what a proclamation! It was made on the Day of Pentecost; it went out from Jerusalem into all the regions round about. But who believed it? What was the reaction to it, from Israel and the Gentiles?
The prophet in that vivid, very vivid, inspirational foreknowledge and insight into the reactions of the world, Jew and Gentile, to the message of the gospel, he says, "Who has believed? Who has believed?" The answer to his question is the whole chapter. But then he says: "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? They have so reacted; they have all refused, all denied; they have all done this. This is the construction they have put upon it, but nevertheless, in spite of all that it is to this One that the arm of the Lord is revealed; it is alongside of this One that Jehovah stands."
And that, of course, leads you to the whole comprehensive context of the question. We are thrown back into this context, first of all in the wider context of which this chapter, and two or three verses before it, is the immediate context. The wider context takes us back to an earlier chapter, 42: "Behold My servant, whom I uphold; My chosen, in whom My soul delighteth: I have put My spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgement to the Gentiles," and so on. "Behold My servant," you see, that is the immediate context of 53. We have pointed out that chapter 53 ought to commence at verse 13 of chapter 52. There ought never to have been a break there, the real beginning of this section is there in verse 13: "Behold, My servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high."
We are brought into the wider context of the servant of the Lord and what real service to the Lord means: that is, what that service is that the Lord vindicates, what that servanthood is that the Lord stands by - to whom He shows His arm. You and I are very much concerned with that I am sure, what kind of service it is that the Lord will stand by and vindicate and say: "Behold My servant, whom I uphold". "Whom I uphold" - that's only another way of saying: "To whom I show My mighty arm".
See, the term, "Servant of the Lord", is used in a three-fold way by Isaiah. In chapter 41, it is used of Israel: Israel is called 'the servant of the Lord', raised up to serve the Lord in those great purposes of God in the midst of the nations. But Israel failed as the servant, failed the Lord, tragically failed.
And out of the midst of Israel, God raised up One, His Messiah, and transferred the title to Him: "My Servant, whom I uphold... I have put My spirit upon Him... Behold, My Servant... He shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high." That's the second way in which the word, the title is used; of the Messiah. And that opens up a very profitable line of study, if you care to follow it, noting that eleven times in the New Testament Isaiah 53 is quoted. These very words are transferred to the Lord Jesus in the New Testament. Matthew himself says: "That the word of Isaiah might be fulfilled" when he quotes from Isaiah 53 in relation to the Lord Jesus. Well, you can follow that. And you might say here that the whole New Testament can just be bracketed into Isaiah 53, and into this title: 'The Servant of the Lord' - His Person and His work.
The third way in which Isaiah uses the title 'Servant of the Lord' is in a collective or plural way of faithful believers. You find that in chapter 54 and verse 17, 65 and verse 13. The faithful people of the Lord are given this very title, "the servants of the Lord". So you see, there is a sense in which you and I come within the compass of this great Divine vindication.
But here we must pause. We must pause to make a fundamental distinction, that is the distinction between the unique servanthood, the unique work of the Lord Jesus, and that which relates to others. I say there's a fundamental distinction there which must be borne in mind. For Isaiah 53 sets forth that unique servanthood of Christ, that unique work of Christ in which no one else shares at all. Thank God, it's not necessary! He has done it Himself; fulfilled it all without our help and without needing us in it. That has to be noted and we must follow that through in a moment more closely. But, while that is true and we keep that distinction, let us remember that the principles of the service of the Lord are the same principles of the service which we are to render to the Lord. If we do not share in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus, if we do not come into this vicarious service, nevertheless we come into a service, and that service is based upon the same spiritual principles as His service. And that is the thing that we have got to see soon, because it's very important. These are the principles upon which the arm of the Lord is revealed.
Let us spend a few minutes looking at His unique work and service. I think it's impressive, dear friends, to note that this section begins with the glorious end to which God is moving. "Behold, My servant... shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high". It's always good to get the end right into view at the beginning, to bring the end right to the beginning and see how is all this going to work out. All this tragedy of chapter 53, all this terrible story - how is it going to end? It's not just a matter of idle curiosity, it's a matter of tremendous effectiveness. What's going to be the end of this? Well, God begins with His end. He says: "This is how it's going to end before I tell you all about the course of things, which might terribly distress and depress, let Me tell you how it's all going to end. This Servant, whom I am going to describe in His Person and His work, in the end shall be exalted, shall be high, shall be lifted up!"
Of course, you've got to just put right into that, haven't you, Acts 1 and 2, Philippians 2: "He became obedient unto death... God highly exalted Him, and gave Him the name which is above every name; in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow...". And Hebrews 1: there He is exalted to the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. That's how it has ended; not how it is going to end; that is how it has ended! And that is how the story, the terrible story is introduced. It's all found in this repeated phrase of two words: "He shall... He shall... He shall." See: "He shall be exalted... He shall be lifted up... He shall be very high... He shall see of the travail of His soul... He shall be satisfied". He shall, He shall, it's established from the beginning! That's vindication: that's the arm of the Lord! Let all this transpire - nevertheless, the arm of the Lord will see that that is how it will be at the end. He shall! It's established before anything happens - before the Cross, before the rejection - it is established in the counsels of God: "He shall...".
If you and I really do come onto the true spiritual principles of Christ's service, that is exactly how it will be with us. God will see to it that that is how the end will be. He shall, He shall. If we suffer together with Him, we shall reign together with Him.
Now having noted how it's introduced, let us look at the story of His unique servanthood.
There are eleven expressions in chapter 53 which describe the vicarious character of the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord. You might like to run your eye down through these verses.
1. Verse 2: 'He bore our griefs' He bore our griefs.
2. Verse 3: 'He carried our sorrows'.
3. Verse 4: 'He was wounded for our transgressions'.
4. Verse 5: 'He was bruised for our iniquities'.
5. Verse 6: 'The chastisement of our peace was upon Him'.
6. Verse 7: 'By His stripes we are healed'.
7. Verse 8: 'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all'.
8. Verse 9: 'For the transgression of my people was He stricken'.
9. Verse 10: 'When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin'.
10. Verse 11: 'He shall bear their iniquities'.
11. Verse 12: 'He bare the sins of many'.
Eleven expressions which describe the vicarious character of His service in suffering. It's very interesting (and we perhaps ought not to use that word, we ought to say 'instructive') to notice the three words here, descriptive of what He bore. You notice the three terms are: 'iniquities', 'transgressions' and 'sins'. Now if you like to turn back to the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, you will understand what Isaiah was talking about, and what the Holy Spirit, through Isaiah, was pointing to.
Here in Leviticus 16 at verse 16: "He shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, because of their transgressions, even all their sins: and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses...". Verse 21: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins". See, here we have our three words of Isaiah 53.
Verse 22: "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land: and he shall let go the goat into the wilderness". Verse 30: "For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you from all your sins, from all your sins ye shall be clean before the Lord". And verse 34: "And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make atonement for the children of Israel because of all their sins once in the year".
He shall carry their iniquities, He shall bear their sins. Here in Isaiah, then, we have that which corresponds to the work of the scape-goat. And that's the word, a name that fits into this chapter so perfectly. He is the 'scape-goat', bearing iniquities, transgressions, sins, and being driven out into desolation, into the wilderness.
Well now. What are we to conclude from this for the present, as to the arm of the Lord, and as to the service of the Lord? The arm of the Lord, with all that that means, is:
Inseparably Related to the Cross of the Lord Jesus.
There you've got it: the heart and the sum of the whole matter. Do you want the arm of the Lord? Do you want vindication? Do you want the Lord to stand in and stand by to support, to uphold, to carry through, to commit Himself, to be with - however you may put it - and all that that means? You want the Lord on your side, and with you in your life, in your company of believers, in the work of the Lord? The arm of the Lord is inseparably related to the Cross of the Lord Jesus, and none of us will ever find the Lord with us, only on the ground of the Cross.
Do you remember how I opened this afternoon, telling of the situations in lives and in companies in so many places, situations of spiritual tragedy amongst the Lord's people? Dear friends, I have one answer, only one answer, but I have a sure answer for every one, because again and again, in personal words and in letters that I have received, these terms, like this: "It seems that the Cross hasn't done its work in us yet!" Yes, that's it, that's it! Therefore, therefore this lack of support of the Lord. You see, Isaiah 53 covers everything: the support of the Lord, the presence of the Lord, the power of the Lord, the committing of the Lord to us and to the work, can only be - will only be - on the ground of the Cross of the Lord Jesus, as the ground upon which we stand and live, as the ground of God in us individually and collectively.
The arm of the Lord only operates by the Cross. You may say, if you like, that the Cross is the arm of the Lord. It is there that the Divine vindication is found. "Christ crucified... the power of God" - the power of God, the arm of the Lord!
The arm of the Lord is:
Related Inseparably to a Seed
Which is the fruit of the travail of this Servant of the Lord: He! "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" To this One: "He shall see His seed"; "He shall see of the travail of His soul" - that Church, that Church which is essentially the fruit of His travail and not the making or the building of men, but the fruit of His travail. It is something that has come right out of His own anguish and passion; something that has been born out of His Cross. The arm of the Lord is inseparably bound up with that.
Dear friends, I am sure you recognise how important it is that you and I should be a part of that. A part of that! There is a danger making things too personal in this sense: that very often we are not just so happy to be a part of something larger; we want it to focus down upon ourselves. Oh yes, if it focuses down upon us we are very happy! But to have to say: 'I'm just a bit of something more; I am only a bit of something' - well, that's not very interesting at all, to be a part of some larger thing! Ah, but here it is: the arm of the Lord is bound up with that larger thing, of which we are only perhaps small bits, but we come into the value of the arm of the Lord as parts of something more.
Take any local company, the arm of the Lord may be with the local company, and we shall only find the arm of the Lord as we are really integrated into that local company. Whereas we may not find the arm of the Lord if we are taking independent and personal lines; the Lord won't stand by us on that ground at all. But just to be wholly integrated into something that has been born out of the work of the Lord Jesus by His Cross, that is the place where we shall find the arm of the Lord. It is for that He shall see His Seed. Oh, it's a very important thing that we should lose our own distinctive, independent entity in that thing where the Lord is finding His fullest interest and concern. We should live for that, we should live for that, that is where the arm of the Lord is.
And finally, for the moment, the arm of the Lord, with all that it means, is:
Inseparably Bound up with the Vindication of His Son.
That's a test of our lives! Paul said: "For me to live is Christ", and God has vindicated Paul. Oh, what enemies he had in his own life-time, and more since; what enemies Paul has had and does still have! I think nothing, nothing has been left untried to discredit the apostle Paul; but he has a greater place today than he has ever had in history. The arm of the Lord is with that man! Why? Because for him to live was Christ. He had but one all-absorbing concern: the vindication of God's Son. Read again all Paul's sad, bitter words about his earlier life against the Lord Jesus. Again and again he tells us of what he did: how he persecuted the church, how he hailed men and women to prison; again and again he speaks of it, his attitude. But, now, now his whole being, to the last ounce of his strength, is to vindicate the One whom he persecuted, and God is with him.
Remember that! A life really poured out for the vindication of God's Son will have God with it. If we are serving ourselves, or serving some piece of work, trying to make some thing go and be successful, we may have to take the whole responsibility and God leave us with the lot to carry, and all the troubles associated with it. But have a passion for the honour, the glory, the Name of His Son, and God will take care of the rest. He will!
"To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" These are a few of the things which answer the question: on the ground of the Cross, on the ground of the Name, and on the ground of the glory of the Lord Jesus we shall find the arm of the Lord. We leave it there friends, for the time being. If the Lord wills, we will turn to it again.