Cyrus the Christ (Isaiah 45)
- Order of Service: Hymn Sing
- Hymns: LSB #940, 398, 704, 740, 953, 918
Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed.” (Isaiah 45:1)
Late in the sixth century before Christ, King Cyrus of Persia was the Christ. Not the Savior. Christ doesn't always mean that. Christ means “anointed.” An anointing sets a person apart for a particular purpose.
Many Christs have come into the world. Many false Christs for sure, but many faithful Christs have been anointed for a specific vocation. Aaron and his descendants were anointed to serve as the high priests of the Israelites. The prophets were anointed to preach God's Word. Kings were anointed so the Holy Spirit would guide them while they ruled. In many churches, newly-baptized Christians are anointed with olive oil to show the Holy Spirit descending upon them with the water to mark them as one who has been crucified with Christ. All of these are Christs because they are anointed, but they are not the Savior.
Cyrus was one many thought would be Israel's Savior. Isaiah prophesies his deliverance of the children of Israel more than a century before it happens. Mentioning him by name decades before he was born. Those Israelites who knew their Scriptures could have rejoiced when Cyrus took over Babylon. But he was not the Christ they were looking for.
Cyrus was a political Christ. God anointed him to be a king. To end the Babylonian Captivity. To allow the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. To rebuild the Temple. But he was not Israel's Savior. He himself floundered under his own resolve. Cyrus immediately began his reign with an eye to fulfilling the word of Israel's God, but he gets countermanded through bribes and other political machinations throughout his reign. Cyrus was not God's perfect Christ. He was a shadow of the One to come.
The One to come would not be a political Christ. He would be a theological Christ. The perfect Christ. The LORD in the flesh. The same LORD who lifted Cyrus into his office and sustained him there. The same LORD who “is your keeper … your shade on your right hand.” The same LORD who “is to be feared above all gods.” This is the Christ Israel should have been looking for. But they rejected Him when He appeared.
Cyrus was a pagan Christ, but Israel's Savior would come from Israel. God used foreigners many times to proclaim His judgment. We can see the initial prediction of the Babylonian Captivity in Isaiah 39. Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that the Babylonians will take everything away from Israel. The Captivity was coming. There was nothing they could do about it. While God does anoint those outside Israel, their anointing is for Israel's benefit. To learn from their sins. But not to save them from them.
To be saved from their sins, they needed one like them. Not only with human flesh but Israelite blood. “I will raise up for them a Prophet like [Moses] from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” The Savior would be the one true and eternal Prophet. He would be the one who will sit on David's throne forever as his greater son. He would be the Great High Priest to offer the once-for-all sacrifice for sins. The Savior would be the only one who could occupy all three offices: Prophet, Priest and King. He is the eternal Light that we entreat to renew us every day. Cyrus couldn't do that. He had no light to share.
Cyrus did not know the LORD. In fact, he pretended to be anointed by the Babylonian god Marduk. He gained the love and respect of the Babylonians by pretending that he was there to reclaim the glory of a previous Babylonian king. Back when Babylon first became feared as a world power. He worshipped himself as the greatest man alive. Everyone should bow down and worship him. He would save all people by bringing peace where there was no peace. Everything in his life revolved around what he could do.
But God exalted Cyrus in spite of himself. Although Cyrus had an ego, God's exaltation of an egotistical king just bolstered his ego. But God uses him to proclaim His rule over all Creation. God often uses the most proud to prove His point. Cyrus thought he was the greatest king ever. Another king thought that. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar looked out over Babylon one evening and boasted about all he had accomplished. God sent him out into the wilderness to eat grass like an ox for a while. God humbles those who exalt themselves. God would humble Cyrus. Cyrus' kingdom had an end. He died in battle, trying to extend his kingdom beyond God's set boundaries.
But God's set boundaries are firm. You cannot go past them no matter how hard you try. God will humble you for your pride and boasting. God doesn't care for proud and boasting people. Especially in His anointed Christs. The Pharisees and the Herodians came to Jesus in our Gospel reading to see if He was just like Cyrus, pretending to be something He wasn't. But He silenced them with their own words. He humbled them because they sought to exalt themselves by making Him look foolish.
But that's Jesus. He is foolishness personified. God in the flesh. The most ridiculous thing that any rational person can try to explain. How can the almighty God become human? Why would He want to do that? For what purpose? To forgive your sins of pride and vanity. To forgive those times you push against His boundaries. To proclaim forgiveness for all of Creation.
While God humbles those who exalt themselves, He Himself is the only true exalted. He humbled Himself to become just like you. He took on the poor form of a servant so that you might be raised up from the depths of sin. And He calls His people to take that same form. The form of a humble servant. To be a loving sheep following after your eternal Shepherd. The Shepherd to whom the Thessalonians turned away from idols to serve. To whom you have turned away from the idols and the false Christs to follow the true and living Christ.
It's so easy to think that we've evolved past this point of looking after a new Christ. But how many people still do it today? Nine years ago, how many people were touting Barack Obama as the man who would save America? Over the last year, how many people have touted Donald Trump as the same thing? But they are no different than King Cyrus. They were anointed to lead our country. They weren't anointed to save the country. Only Jesus can do that.
We go forward in life because we know who to follow. It doesn't matter who leads the country. He is not the one we follow. We follow the Shepherd who humbled Himself to bring salvation to the world. The Shepherd the Psalm so properly tells us to glorify and praise. He gives His eternal Light to guide us through the barren land into His presence in Heaven. No one can accomplish this except Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The one true Christ and Savior. Amen.