The Fifth Gospel?

Occasionally, the results of a scientific study only seem to confirm the obvious. A recent study for me did just that. Researchers at the University of Michigan recently showed that a sense of life purpose was a more important factor in avoiding death than exercise or smoking. Since humans are not accidents (Psalm 139:14), it comes as no surprise that people who have a purpose in life live longer.

The theme of purpose brings us to our new theme this month. When Jesus and the writers of the New Testament, through the Holy Spirit, tried to explain the earth-shattering events in Palestine, they often used words from the Old Testament book of Isaiah (Matthew 4:15-16, 11:5, 12:18-21, 13:14-15, 15:8-9, Mark 4:12, and John 12:38-40). When Luke narrated the spreading of the gospel, he highlighted a discussion of Isaiah (Acts 8:32-33). When Paul explained the nature of his own ministry, he quoted Isaiah (Acts 28:26-27 and Romans 15:21). Aside from the Book of Psalms, Isaiah is the most quoted book in the New Testament. The book contains so much information about Jesus that some have called Isaiah’s prophecy the fifth gospel.

In later articles, we will look at the sections of Isaiah, as I hope to unpack just some of the treasure this book provides for people today who seek to live faithfully before God. In this article, however, we will look at just one vital aspect of Isaiah’s life. To see the importance of this aspect of his life, it helps to compare what we know of his life with his central message.

In 66 chapters, we would expect to know a lot about Isaiah, but the details of his life are sparse. We know something of his family: his wife was a prophetess, and he had children and students (Isaiah 8:3, 16-18). We know generally when he lived. King Uzziah died in 739 BC (Isaiah 6:1), and the great crisis of Isaiah 36-37 probably happened around 701 BC. Beyond those dates, however, we don’t know when he was born or when he died (later traditions outside the Bible ascribe his death to the evil king Manasseh).

What we see more clearly in Isaiah is a picture of a coming King. This King will be born to a virgin and bring God to the people (Isaiah 7:14). He will be called “mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6), and the Lord’s Spirit will bring so much peace through His reign that the wolf will dwell with the lamb (Isaiah 11:2, 6). He will be a gentle Servant who will bring justice to the ends of the earth and be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:6). He will change lives through His Word (Isaiah 50:4) and accomplish His mission, most importantly, through His own immense suffering and death (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The message of this King will be good news for the humble and ominous for the rebellious (Isaiah 61:1-3).

When we compare Isaiah’s life with his message, we see that his message was far more important to him than his own life. He had a purpose far greater than himself. Although none of us will be prophets like Isaiah, we do have a purpose in using our gifts to promote the message and work of the same Servant that Isaiah spoke of hundreds of years ago.

This purpose is also, moreover, one that is far bigger than we are. Like grass in a South Carolina drought, we will wither and fade. God’s message — His Word — will last forever (Isaiah 40:8).

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