Happy Palm Sunday!
We usually open Sunday School with a hymn. Please join in singing this one.
The scripture referenced throughout this lesson has been linked to an online text. If you click on a scripture, it will open up in a new window.
The scripture for this week's lesson is:
This lesson begins the second unit of our quarter, which emphasizes God's promises of a just kingdom. The prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah as the champion of justice. Such prophecies, of course, have direct bearing on Palm Sunday. As appropriate, some of these connections will be explored in the commentary below.
The prophet Isaiah, for his part, had a lengthy ministry, from about 740 to 680 BC. The book featuring his name as its title is comprised of two parts. Isaiah 1-39 has been described as the Book of Judgment; it focuses on the sins of the people of Judah. Isaiah 40-66, the Book of Comfort, looks forward about a century and a half to the time when Judah's exile in Babylon is about to end. We keep in mind that the exile did not even begin until 586 BC.
The end of exile is foreseen in the chapter preceding our lesson text: God called "one ... in righteousness" (Isaiah 41:2) to bring the captivity to its end. That man was Cyrus, the king of Persia who conquered Babylon in 539 BC (see 44:28 and 45:1, where he is designated "shepherd" and "anointed," respectively). He issued a decree permitting the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem beginning in 538 BC (Ezra 1:1-8).
The word servant occurs more than three dozen times in the book of Isaiah. In chapter 41, the Lord applies it to "Israel, my servant" (Isaiah 41:8-9). This servant was fearful. For that reason, God reassured the people of his love. they didn't need to fear; their exile in Babylon was not evidence that God had cast them away forever. He promised Israel that they were still his covenant people. The Lord encouraged his helpless servant Israel by stating that the people need not fear, because God would help them (41:10, 13, 14).
The Lord then addressed, in a courtroom setting, the nations and their idols. He challenged the nations to provide evidence that idols had ever correctly predicted the future. After announcing judgment on the false gods, the Lord then proclaimed that he had "stirred up one from the north" (Isaiah 41:25) -- surely once again alluding to Cyrus. Although the Persian emperor hailed "from the east" (41:2), he conquered several kingdoms north of Babylon before eventually attacking Babylon from that direction. Against this backdrop of a pagan king as an instrument of God to rescue an exiled people, Isaiah introduced the intriguing servant of the Lord.
Today's text is the first of Isaiah's five "servant songs," in which the servant is identified with the Messiah to come (see 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-4). These messianic songs highlight what the servant is to accomplish on behalf of the world.
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The biblical concept of judgment represents God's righteous world order. At his first coming, Jesus treated people more than justly; when Jesus walked the earth, he overcame enemies with gentleness and love. When he returns, he will judge the world based on how each person treated "the least of these" (Matthew 25:45). At his first coming, the Lord's servant inaugurated God's just and right order from a position of apparent weakness when compared to worldly strength; in so doing, he is an example for us so that we can "follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21-23).
We have a part to play in the servant's task of bringing light to the nations and to our neighbors who live in darkness. The Holy Spirit, working through Scripture and circumstances, motivates Christ's followers to take his gospel to the ends of the earth. For more than 2,000 years, Christians have borne witness to Jesus through evangelism (see Matthew 28:18-20) and ministries of mercy; establishing hospitals and schools, caring for prisoners and the poor, and participating in countless other charities (Matthew 25:34-40).
Particularly challenging for most of us is following the manner and attitude of the servant's life and ministry. It's not easy to surrender the self-centeredness and assertiveness that has been with us since birth in the surrounding culture. But God's Word calls us to pattern our lives after his servant Jesus (Philippians 2:4-8). How will you follow the example of Jesus? How will you serve?
We thank you, Father, for sending the promised servant to save us and inaugurate your justice on earth. May the Holy Spirit empower us with the courage to follow your servant's humble example as we serve him and those around us. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Benediction: Psalm 19:14
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen.