Book Review: The Gospel According to God
Shortly after my conversion, I was introduced to the writings and sermons of John MacArthur. I’m deeply grateful for the ways the Lord used his ministry to keep me from false doctrine early on after I came to faith in Christ. Throughout my Christian life, I have benefited in countless ways from witnessing MacArthur’s faithfulness to Christ and his unwavering commitment to the truth. We live in an age where, at times, the Christian fads and ideas of our culture hold sway over what the Bible clearly says. It has become all too common to hear of Christian celebrities in the public arena denying central doctrines of the faith. But from MacArthur’s appearances on Larry King live to his pulpit ministry in the local church we have decades of what standing on the truthfulness of the Scripture looks like. Whether we agree with all of MacArthur’s conclusions or not we have much to thank God for regarding his ministry.
In his book The Gospel According to God, the same commitment to the Scripture that has marked MacArthur’s ministry is present. In a time where our world and the contemporary church are desperately trying to throw out the doctrine of substitution, MacArthur defends the centrality of its truth from the Old Testament in Isaiah 53. The Gospel According To God is broken up into two parts. The first part is a careful exposition of Isaiah 53 and the second features biographical information on the prophet himself. From the beginning of the book, the MacArthur’s aim is to show from Isaiah 53 both the clarity of the gospel and what makes it the most remarkable chapter in the Old Testament. He affirms with Charles Spurgeon, “Let us put off our shoes from our feet, for the place whereon we stand is especially holy ground. This fifty-third of Isaiah is a Bible in miniature. It is the condensed essence of the gospel.” The book is dedicated to discovering the treasures of the gospel contained in this Old Testament chapter. MacArthur fulfills his goal of helping the reader see the “bottomless well of biblical truth found in Isaiah 53” (38). In this brief review, we will examine three aspects of the servant’s nature as expressed in Isaiah 53.
The Silent Servant
In the chapter concentrated on the silent servant, MacArthur shows us the startling nature of the Messiah who Isaiah 53 portrays. The Jewish people would have long expected the Messiah to come as a military conqueror, but in Isaiah 53 we are given a much different picture. This Messiah will be one who will willingly and silently be led to the slaughter. Unlike so many of the biblical characters who at times are found murmuring in the midst of their circumstances, this Messiah goes silently and willingly to his death, all out of an expression of love to sinners (109). MacArthur shows how Isaiah 53 points to Christ. He is the one identified as “oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.” MacArthur explains that this silence in the face of death is a reflection of his submission to God, and his willingness to obey God no matter the cost (116). The uncommon silence of the Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 53 is fulfilled in the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Christ told in the Gospels. MacArthur explains, “Jesus was submissive to the Father’s plan in His death. After all, human judgment had no independent authority over Him. As Jesus told Pilate, ‘You would have no authority over me at all if it hadn’t been given you from above (John 19:11)'” (117). The controlled silence of Jesus before his executioners is a remarkable display of the Savior’s humility. Surely, this silent servant is the spotless lamb of God who came to ”take away the sins of the world ” (John 1:29).
The Suffering and Exalted Servant
Jesus made clear the fate of the Messiah: “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46). In multiple ways, the Gospel of Luke demonstrates the career of the Messiah. As foretold in Isaiah 53, the Messiah must suffer before he is exalted. MacArthur argues this is why Jesus frequently rebuked His disciples. They didn’t understand the nature of the Messiah’s mission. He didn’t come to throw His weight around and then take a seat on a comfortable throne; he came to suffer and die for the sins of the many. MacArthur’s chapter on the suffering and exalted servant shows how clearly Isaiah 53 is pointing to Jesus and how the disciples should have known from the Old Testament what the Savior was going to be about: “How foolish and slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). MacArthur comments, “The expectation that Messiah would quickly bring the glory of His kingdom to earth was so strong and persistent that even at his ascension the leading disciples were still asking him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6)” (131). Eventually, the Spirit would make clear to the disciples that the way of the Kingdom is suffering and then glory–themes that run consistently through MacArthur’s book. It’s through the crushing judgment of God against sin that this suffering servant would be exalted. This astonishing truth displays how the way of the Kingdom is completely different from the way of the world. The clarity of the gospel in Isaiah 53 is what causes MacArthur to conclude that this is the most remarkable chapter of the Old Testament. Click To Tweet
The Sin-Bearing Servant
According to MacArthur, “Isaiah 53 answers the most vitally important question that any fallen human being could ever ask: How can a sinner be fully reconciled to God?” (146). This greatest dilemma in all of human history is answered by Isaiah 53. From this chapter we see that the suffering servant will ”justify the many, and carry their iniquities.” The clarity of the gospel in Isaiah 53 is what causes MacArthur to conclude that this is the most remarkable chapter of the Old Testament. MacArthur says ”The entire New Testament gospel is packed into that terse statement. Every doctrine that is essential for understanding the biblical doctrine of the atonement is there” (146). This chapter speaks at length against the modern attacks of atonement and works to demonstrate how penal substitutionary atonement was confirmed from the Old Testament long before we see it appear in the New Testament. The remarkableness of Isaiah 53 is found in the rich theology it provides on atonement. MacArthur concludes, “There is no more burden-lifting truth in all of Scripture than this: ‘Yet he himself bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains; but we, in turn, regarded him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on him, and we are healed by his wounds’ (Isa. 53:4-5)” (158).
There is much to commend in this faithful exposition of Isaiah 53. At times you may find his dispensational theology heavy but, as typical in reading MacArthur, you leave the book praising God for how tethered he is to the text. Pastor and Christian, read this book and be amazed again of the clarity and power of the gospel in the most remarkable chapter of the Old Testament.