Almost no one can go through the Christmas season without hearing at least some part of Isaiah 53 being quoted. Was the apostle Paul familiar with Christmas? Not so much. What he and every first century Israelite did know was the promise of the Lord and prophesied testimony of the Jewish people found in Isaiah 52:13–53. Contained here are the seeds of Paul’s impassioned motivation and unashamed boldness in proclaiming Christ. Here we find what could be called Our Great Christmas Commission.
52:13 Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
53:1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
Let’s look at how Paul could find both his motivation and boldness to proclaim the gospel in this most famous of Christmas passages in the Old Testament.
The Promise of the Lord
Verses 13-15 of Isaiah 52 record God speaking to Israel. First, in verse 13, we see God declaring His servant would be—God! The verbiage is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:1 when Isaiah sees the Lord “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” The unmistakable implication is that this “Servant” is the LORD Himself.
The drama unfolds in the following verses. Verse 14 reveals that the same Servant—the Lord—will be marred “more than any man.” In other words, he will be marred beyond recognition. However, verse 15 foretells that the Servant will be exalted: the Son of God who humbles himself, taking on the form of a man to die, will shut the mouths of Kings with the glory of His resurrection and eventual second coming.
This startling truth is the foundation for Paul’s impassioned motivation. Paul quotes verse 15 in his epistle to the church at Rome. The first portion of Romans 15 is from Isaiah 11; the last portion is from Isaiah 52:15. “And again, [Isaiah] saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust…”
Paul then says of himself: “I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God… so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, ‘To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.’”
Paul strived to reach the unreached because of the promise of His Lord that those who had never heard the gospel and had never known they needed the good news of Messiah would hear, understand, and be saved.
This sure promise should impassion our gospel proclamation this Christmas.
The Testimony of his People
In Isaiah 53:1-10, Israel’s response to the partial fulfillment of 52:13-15 is recorded. All of the verbs are in the past tense because it is the testimony of Israel after Christ has died and risen again. In this we find “the arm of the Lord revealed,” which banishes fear. This is the source of Paul’s unashamed declaration
How does this phrase banish fear and leave us unashamed? In his commentary, John Wesley says, “The Messiah was called the arm or power of God, because the almighty power of God was seated in him.” For the Lord to “bare His arm,” He powerfully intercedes on behalf of his people. This has direct implication, both in Isaiah and for Paul.
In Isaiah 52:10, “The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” In 59:1, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save.” Not only will God powerfully reveal his salvation, but He will powerfully save. What is Paul’s response? That he is not ashamed. He explains why in Romans 1:17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
God’s powerful salvation is our passionately unashamed proclamation. This is Our Great Christmas Commission. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore…” (Matthew 28:18-19).