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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Christ as Servant in the Gospel of Mark

Each of the four New Testament Gospels focuses primarily on one aspect of Christ’s life and ministry. Matthew is well known for presenting Christ as King, while Luke and John seem to emphasize Christ’s humanity and deity as the Son of God respectively. The Gospel of Mark is no exception as it clearly presents Christ as the Servant who redeems in Mark 10:45. Paul vividly describes Mark’s presentation of Christ in Philippians 2:6-7 by saying that Christ is the One “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.”

The purpose of this study is to develop the concept of God’s Servant as presented in the Old Testament and relate that concept to its fulfillment in Christ. Ultimately, I hope to address the implications of Christ’s presentation as God’s Servant in the Gospel of Mark.

     Old Testament Concept of God’s Servant

The concept of God’s servant is developed throughout much of the Old Testament. Moses and Joshua are both referred to as the servant of the Lord several times in the book of Joshua. Likewise, David is referred to as the Lord’s servant frequently in 2 Samuel. However, for the purpose of this paper the focus will be on the concept of God’s Servant presented in the book of Isaiah and to establish its connection with Isaiah’s messianic roles in 9:7 and 52:13-53:12.

In general, in can be stated that a servant of the Lord in the Old Testament is an individual or group of people that the Lord chooses to do His Will. Those who are referred to as God’s Servants in the Old Testament are typically those people who are in close fellowship with the Lord. Isaiah frequently refers to the nation of Israel as God’s chosen servant. In Isaiah 41:8 God calls Israel “my servant” and refers to the descendants of Abraham as His “friend.” Israel was to be the chosen servant of the Lord that would proclaim His glory among all the nations of the earth. By Israel’s example, all the people of the earth would come to know the Lord God Almighty.

Unfortunately, Israel did not maintain their close fellowship with the Lord by following His commands and the Law of Moses. Instead, Israel turned to worshiping other God’s and fell into immorality and other types of sin. Thus, the Lord removed Israel as the chosen servant of the Lord and punished the nation.

As a result of Israel’s dismissal as God’s chosen servant, the ultimate redemption for Israel and the rest of the world now must come from the “ideal” Servant, “who will accomplish what the servant nation cannot do.”[1] Four specific passages in Isaiah, which are commonly referred to as the “Servant Songs,” speak of the coming Messiah and address His role as God’s ideal Servant.[2] The first passage is Isaiah 42:1-9, which introduces an individual that God calls “my servant” and “my chosen one” who is called “in righteousness” and will be made “a light for the Gentiles.” While some students of the Bible still see this passage as referring to Israel, the detailed description of the Messiah and His work is unmistakable. This profile can only describe the “ideal” Servant of the Lord, which is obviously not Israel since they have been rejected as His servant. The “ideal” Servant “will succeed where the nation had failed.”[3]

The second passage that is commonly referred to as a “Servant Song” is Isaiah 49:1-13.[4] In the first five verses the speaker is actually God’s Servant, who equates himself with Israel to indicate that “He would succeed where the nation had failed.”[5] The tasks of the Servant are again described as being a “light for the Gentiles” and to “gather Israel to himself.” Ultimately, the Servant “would fulfill God’s promised to comfort His people.”[6]

The third “Servant Song” passage is Isaiah 50:4-11. The “ideal” Servant is again contrasted with Israel because unlike Israel, he was not rebellious (50:5). Even in the midst of suffering the Servant proclaims, “I offered my back to those who beat me” (50:6). His resolve did not change as His face stood firm “like flint” as people mocked and spit at Him (50:6-7). The Servant ultimately knew that God’s deliverance from this torment would come and He will have accomplished the Lord’s Will. However, he exhorted those who “fear the Lord” to “trust in the name of the Lord” and rely on Him for salvation from their problems.

The fourth and final “Servant Song” is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:23. This song provides an unlikely ending as the “ideal” obedient Servant is rejected by the people and put to death through a series of five stanzas.[7] The first stanza, 52:13-15, highlights the Servant’s ultimate triumph, which will cause kings to stand in awe of the Servant’s accomplishment. The next stanza, 53:1-3, vividly describes the rejection that the Servant will face at the hands of the people. Stanza number three, 53:4-6, describes the Servant’s suffering on behalf of the peoples’ sins even though they thought he was suffering because of His own sins. The fourth stanza, 53:7-9, likens the Servant to a lamb as He is led to his death, yet He did not even open His month in protest. Finally, the fifth stanza, 53:10-12, highlights the Lord’s sovereignty as He offered His Servant as a “guilt offering” that bore the sin of many people. The reward of the Servant is that His name will be great and He will “divide the spoils.”

Overall, the Old Testament refers to several individuals and Israel as a nation as God’s servant. However, the specific sections of Isaiah referred to as the “Servants Songs” describe the “ideal” Servant of the Lord. This “ideal” Servant has a very specific description of His roles and His life. Not only will He be a “light for the Gentiles” and “gather Israel to himself” but He will be a “guilt offering” that bears the sin of many people.

     Christ’s Fulfillment of the Old Testament Servant

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is the pivotal verse for the book of Mark and is the reason why the Gospel presents Christ as the Servant who redeems.[8] Mark wasn’t simply presenting Jesus as a servant of man; he was presenting Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the “ideal” Servant of the Lord. Jesus Christ is the “ideal” Servant spoken about in Isaiah. The first qualification of the individual Servant is mentioned In Isaiah 9:7, which declares that He must be a descendant of David in order to reign on David’s throne. Obviously, both Matthew and Luke established that Jesus is a descendant of David through either Joseph or Mary.

However, just because Jesus is from the line of David doesn’t mean that he fulfilled the concept of the Servant presented in the latter half of Isaiah. The last “Servant Song” in Isaiah 52:13-53:23 meticulously describe the roles and characteristics of the Servant’s life. Does Jesus truly fulfill the concept of the Lord’s “ideal” Servant presented in that passage? In order to answer this question Christ’s life and ministry needs to be compared with the five stanzas of that passage.

The first stanza, 52:13-15, highlighted the Servant’s ultimate triumph and says that He will be “raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Not only that, but the passage speaks of His appearance being disfigured and marred beyond human likeness. Paul writes of Christ in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” Christ appearance was obviously very disfigured and marred after bearing all the lashes and the crown of thorns that was thrust upon His head. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection can be easily compared with this verse.

The next stanza, 53:1-3, vividly describes the rejection that the Servant will face at the hands of the people. The passage describes Him as despised and rejected by men. Clearly, Christ was despised and rejected by the men that beat Him and hung Him on the Cross. John 12:38 explains that Jesus was rejected by Israel “to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet.”

Stanza number three, 53:4-6, describes the Servant’s suffering on behalf of the peoples’ sins even though they thought he was suffering because of His own sins. This is the crux of the “ideal” Servant’s role. Isaiah says the Servant “was pierced for our transgressions” and “by his wounds we are healed.” A more perfect picture could not be pained of Christ’s death on the cross for our sins. 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and life for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” The following verse in 1 Peter provides further links Christ to Isaiah 53; “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Matthew 8:17 references this passage of Isaiah and says that Jesus healed all the sick, which “was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah.”

The fourth stanza, 53:7-9, likens the Servant to a lamb as He is led to his death, yet He did not even open His month in protest. John 1:29 reminds us that John the Baptist described Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Matthew 26:63a says that “Jesus remained silent” rather than defend Himself. The fact that Jesus, an innocent man, was able to remain silent during all of the accusations, abuse, and ultimately death shows His incredible focus on fulfilling the Will of His Father as the “ideal” Servant. As Matthew 27:57-60 describes, Jesus was buried with the rich, just as Isaiah 53:9 says of the Servant of the Lord.

Finally, the fifth stanza, 53:10-12, highlights the Lord’s sovereignty as He offered His Servant as a “guilt offering” that bore the sin of many people. The reward of the Servant is that His name will be great and He will “divide the spoils.” What could have brought about the need for the Lord’s Will to include His Servant to suffering such a horrible sacrificial death as described in Isaiah 53:10?[9] The answer is found only a few verses earlier in Isaiah 53:6; “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The “ideal” Servant, Jesus Christ, paid the price for our sin by dying upon the cross in our place. Paul explained in Romans 3:24 that we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ. Mark 15:28 states that Jesus was crucified between two thieves, which is likened to being “numbered with the transgressors” in Isaiah 53:12. Just as the Servant in Isaiah is said to make “intercession for the transgressors,” Romans 8:34 says that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

The only possible answer to the question of Christ’s fulfillment as the Lord’s Servant is that He alone is the only individual capable of fulfilling the role and therefore is the “ideal” Servant presented in Isaiah. When Philip encountered the eunuch on the road he was reading the passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The eunuch could not understand what the passage was saying so he asked Philip to explain the message to him. Philip’s response was to tell him about the good news of Jesus Christ, which is contained within the fourth “Servant Song” of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. It was through Christ’s words and deeds that He authenticated Himself as the Messiah, the “ideal” Servant of Isaiah, and consequently brought redemption through His sacrificial death on the cross.

     Implications of Christ’s Fulfillment

The end of Mark 10:45 states that Christ gave His life “as a ransom for many.” The term “ransom” may not mean very much in today’s culture, but it was a common image in Jewish, Roman and Greek cultures.[10] “It was the price paid to liberate a slave, a prisoner of war, or a condemned person.”[11] Once the price was paid that person was considered redeemed and no longer had any mark on their record. Thus, Christ’s act of redeeming us clears our record of any trespass or penalty that we owed because of our sin. Titus 2:14 says Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” This is the ultimate sacrifice of the “ideal” Servant described in Isaiah. Christ willingly laid down His life down so that the “sins of many” might be forgiven.

The most important implication of Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament concept of the Lord’s Servant is that we can have redemption from sin through Christ’s blood. The fact that Christ willingly laid down His life for us as the “ideal” Servant also serves as an example for us to follow. Once we realize that we are only redeemed because Christ chose to redeem us, we should be compelled to serve “the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service.”[12]

------------------end notes-------------------------
[1] John A. Martin, “Isaiah.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Theological Seminary Faculty. (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1985), 1032.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Charles Dyer and Gene Merrill, Old Testament Explorer. (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001), 566.
[4] Martin, 1032.
[5] Dyer and Merrill, 571.
[6] Ibid, 571.
[7] Ibid, 574.
[8] E. Schuyler English, Studies In The Gospel According To Mark. (New York: Arno C. Gaebelein, Inc, 1943), 358.
[9] Donald English, The Message of Mark. (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 181.
[10] Ibid, 182.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.

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