Simone Martini, “Maesta: Isaiah,” detail from the frame, 1315. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy.
As a professor, I sometimes intentionally respond to students' questions with ambiguous answers. I know students don't like that. I didn't like it when I was a student, especially if I wanted to know what would be on an upcoming exam. I remember thinking, “You're the prof; I'm the student. My job is to ask questions; yours is to give answers.”
As a student of Jesus, what strikes me about Professor Jesus is that his speech is full of questions
and riddles. You would think that, if “Jesus is the answer,” during his ministry he would have given clear answers rather than speaking in parables!
For example, in Matthew 11:2–3, John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Now, in my book, that's a good question. John wants to know whether Jesus is Israel's long-awaited Messiah. You would think that Jesus would shoot straight with his cousin — a simple “yes” or “no.” But what's Jesus' answer?
He tells the disciples, “Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:4–5).
Some hearing this response might think, “Jesus, you've just told us what we already know. Now can you please answer John's question?” But Jesus did answer the question. He wasn't merely reporting the obvious; he is directly quoting Isaiah 35:5–6 and 61:1. Now, what if you haven't read Isaiah? You won't understand Jesus' reply.
Jesus expects his audience to know Isaiah. Rather than give simple answers, Jesus assigns homework! He requires his listeners to do their reading, in this case Isaiah. Then he asks them to connect their reading to recent events. They are to put the two together; Jesus doesn't do their assignments for them. Only when they have completed both tasks will they come to know the truth.
Why does Jesus make it so involved? Because Jesus wants disciples. The basic meaning of “disciple” is “learner.” Jesus, the master prof, wants true learners — not people who want easy
answers so they can pass exams.
There's a good reason to read Isaiah as we seek to learn from the master prof. With some 600
instances of quotes, paraphrases, allusions, or echoes, the New Testament references Isaiah
more than any other single work. Knowing Isaiah is both a prerequisite for following Jesus and the
topic of an advanced seminar on Jesus. If you want to know Jesus, read Isaiah with me.
In Luke's Gospel, Jesus' first public teaching takes place at his hometown Nazareth, where he reads from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:16; compare Isaiah 61:1).
The gospel writers understand significant aspects of Jesus' life and ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy: his birth, baptism, healing miracles, parables, passion, resurrection, prayer, preaching, mission, salvation, and forgiveness.
In fact, because of the correspondence of Jesus' teaching and actions with Isaiah's prophecy,
it appears Jesus understood his identity and vocation in terms of Isaiah.
I invite you to join me in exploring Isaiah through this autumn's Lectio: Guided Bible Reading. You can be a better student of the Bible, and a better disciple of Jesus.
Watch videos about the background, authorship, and meaning of Isaiah with Associate Professor
of Old Testament Bo Lim at spu.edu/isaiahvideos.