Isaiah 50:4-9 • Psalm 31:9-16 • Philippians 2:5-11 • Matthew 26:14-27:66
The prophet Isaiah accepted God’s call to a prophet early in life and, it is important to note, this would be a call on him for the remainder of his earthly life. This passage is a song of despair and grief while, at the same time, a proclamation of an ultimate hope in God. He proclaims his faithfulness to God and God’s calling while noting the opposition he is consistently facing publicly. There is also a need to realize that, at this point, Isaiah is not just addressing a frequently hostile public but is also in the struggle to teach followers (teacher or disciples). Verse four, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher (also translated ‘a tongue for teachers’), that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” – indicates that he is also attempting to encourage them as he seeks encouragement for himself. Isaiah, much like Jesus upon entering Jerusalem for a week that would end up at the cross, knows that his public ministry is now subject to rejection and hatred. He also feels the weight of keeping up the spirits of those who are depending on him for nurturing.
This vividly depressing Psalm is often, along with Psalms 22 and 69, to emphasis the physical and emotional aspects in the life of Jesus during this time of year. It is a demonstration of the Passion of Christ. This particular Psalm is most likely written by, or for, King David during an especially difficult time. Although he does not name his adversaries, we can see the agony and pain faced by David. This, as in the dialogue of Jesus and Father immediately prior to the arrest of Christ, is honest with the pain and grief but ends with a hope that flows from an acceptance and trust in God’s plan.
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he was writing to believers who were surrounded by the followers of Political leaders and of the Roman gods, all of whom would use their power as need to feed their own selfish appetites. Although the gods often took human form they also held on to their divine powers which they used whenever needed. Paul addresses the difference between gods and leaders whose hold on, and use of, power and selfish ambition is what propels and sustains them, while, Jesus ‘humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.’ It was Jesus who was ultimately exalted, not because of his power but because he was truly a servant.
As you better understand what Paul is saying to the church, consider why this followed the first part of this teaching which said:
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Philippians 1:1-4
This passage needs very little context. It is the days prior to the death of Jesus on the cross – the events, the emotions, the betrayals, the pleadings, the brutality, the pain, the death. It is an exhausting read, not just because of the length of the assigned passages but because of the picture that is painted for us as we experience this grueling week.