Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Review: The Gospel According to God

The Gospel According to God: Rediscovering the Most Remarkable Chapter in the Old Testament. John F. MacArthur. 2018. Crossway. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: This is one of the chapters that lie at the very heart of the Scriptures. It is the very Holy of holies of Divine Writ. Let us, therefore, put off our shoes from our feet, for the place whereon we stand is specially holy ground. This fifty-third of Isaiah is a Bible in miniature. It is the condensed essence of the gospel. Charles Spurgeon

I love that MacArthur begins the book--begins most chapters of his book--with a quote by Charles Spurgeon.

The Gospel According to God is a study of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The book is divided into two sections. The first section--the majority of the book--walks readers verse by verse through this chapter. The second chapter--just two chapters--is about the life and times of the prophet Isaiah.

MacArthur writes, "The book of Isaiah is sometimes called the “fifth Gospel.” It’s really more than that. It contains in microcosm the whole range of redemptive truth. It is like a miniature compendium of the Bible. In fact, there are some interesting parallels between how the book of Isaiah is laid out and the arrangement of the Bible as a whole." He continues, "No text in the entire Old Testament is more momentous than Isaiah 52:13–53:12. It is a prophecy that begins and ends with the voice of Yahweh himself."
Isaiah 53 is so replete with gospel truth that those who see the passage for the first time might well think they are reading the New Testament. Jewish people whose exposure to the Scripture is limited to texts that are read aloud in their synagogues each week will be completely unfamiliar with Isaiah 53. The entire passage is always omitted from the scheduled public readings.Every Sabbath in every synagogue worldwide, two portions of Scripture are prescribed to be read aloud—one from the Pentateuch (the Torah), and the other (the haftarah) a selection of texts drawn from the prophets. The same schedule of readings is followed in all synagogues, year after year. Over a year’s time, the rotation covers every verse of the Torah in canonical order. But the haftarah readings are more selective. One of the featured haftarah excerpts is Isaiah 51:12–52:12. The next reading in the cycle is Isaiah 54:1–10. Isaiah 52:13—53:12 is therefore never read publicly in the synagogues. As a result, Isaiah 53 is an unfamiliar passage for multitudes of devout Jewish people.
MacArthur's book is an exposition of Isaiah 53--verse by verse. It is also a reminder of what the gospel is and what the gospel isn't. Do we as individuals get to determine what the gospel is and isn't? Or is the Bible emphatic and clear?! Do we get to change and modify the gospel to suit or needs? Or is the Bible calling us to change and be changed by the gospel, through the gospel?!

MacArthur's book challenged me to think of Isaiah 53 in a new way. I had always thought of it in a simplistic way: Look, Isaiah is prophesying about Jesus! Jesus came and fulfilled this prophecy! The end. MacArthur writes,
"Don’t miss this fact: the prophet is describing the sacrifice of the suffering servant from a vantage point that looks back from a time still in the future even now. He is seeing the cross from a prophetic perspective near the end of human history. He is prophesying the collective response of the Jewish people when they finally see, understand, and believe that the one they rejected truly is the promised Messiah. Isaiah is standing prophetically on that very day, near the end of human history, literally thousands of years after Jesus was crucified. He therefore speaks of Christ’s death on the cross as a past event. That explains why all the verbs in chapter 53 from verse 1 through the first part of verse 10 are in the past tense. In other words, we need to understand this passage not merely as a description of the crucifixion per se; it is literally the lament of repentant Israel at a future time when the Jewish people will look back on the Messiah whom they had for so long rejected, and they will finally embrace him as their Lord and King. Isaiah 53 gives voice prophetically to the dramatic confession of faith that the believing remnant of Israel will make at that time."
He continues, "It is a significant moment in the yet-future final act of the story of redemption. The only worldwide ethnic community that will ever turn to Christ in multitudes together as a group will be Israel. And when they do so, the words of Isaiah 53 will be their confession."

I definitely enjoyed reading this one.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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