Emily, the daughter of a friend of mine, recently told her father, ‘Daddy, you have bushy eyebrows and grey hair in your beard’. Now, that may not sound very profound, but Emily is 10 years old and had never ‘seen’ her father in that way. Her father and mother have been around all her life, but Emily was born with a visual condition that made her world look blurry and gave her double-vision. Four days ago, she went to the local Eye Institute to have her eyes surgically corrected. When she came out of surgery and had her bandages removed, her eyesight was nearly perfect. Tears of joy flowed freely as she described how she never knew that the fall leaves had such beautiful edges and various colours. Suddenly her world had ‘definition’. The ‘cage’ of blurry, double vision had been broken for her. She can now enter a new phase of life seeing the world with clarity. 

Israel, after being conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, found themselves in Exile. God had promised them that, as long as they kept the Covenant with Yahweh, they would remain in the promised land. If they broke the Covenant, they would be taken out of the land and sent into exile. They had broken the Covenant. Even after God’s prophets warned them to turn back to Yahweh in obedience and faith, Israel’s faithlessness called for God to send them into captivity. We can sense the despair of Israel realising their plight in Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?

They were hopeless. Their armies were conquered. They were stuck. Would they ever see their beloved Jerusalem again? 

But God promised to raise up a Servant, as described in Isaiah 40-55, who would bring victory and freedom to the captives in a strange and unusual way: through his torturous, sacrificial death. The result, however, would be freedom and a legacy of children to inherit goodness and mercy. The Israelites would indeed see the promised land again, as Isaiah 53 indicates:

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

In v. 10, in particular, the author states: ‘he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand’.

The Servant will bring forth a sense of life and goodness that will signal that Yahweh has returned to his people and that they are to live in the season of the ‘end of exile’!

As we move on into Isaiah 54, we note in v. 2:

Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.

God’s people were to get ready for a ‘great expansion’. This called for expansion of the ‘tent’ to accommodate care for the increased population. The Servant would complete his mission and the future could be seen as ‘hopeful’ and full of ‘promise’ with blessing as the end result. 

Here at N.T. Wright Online, we are mindful that the Covid-19 pandemic has yielded tremendous hardship and travail and death upon the world. Some of our students have had to stay in their homes for months at a time with no opportunity to even go outside. For them, our online ministry of courses and other material has become a lifeline. The stories of God’s flourishing abound, and these resources are yielding fruit in the midst of what must seem like ‘exile’ to many. 

We have sensed in these days that God is calling us to expand the ‘tent’ of our ministry to be able to embrace more students with the message of life in Christ. In addition to developing more courses with Prof. Wright, we hope to create more material that is available across various intuitive and accessible platforms.

Just today I heard from a church leader in India who indicated that our courses are too expensive for most of the church leaders in India. While we always try our best to keep courses as inexpensive as possible, given the costs of production, we also know that our future includes creating resources that do not live behind a paywall. 

But, as you well know, free material is not ‘free’. It costs money to produce, edit, and release anything, no matter what platform.

It is with this in mind that we ask you to consider helping us ‘lengthen our cords’ and ‘strengthen our stakes’ in order to carry the ministry further for more people in all financial situations. 

We invite you to partner with us in financing this endeavour by participating in Building Together 2021, our virtual fundraiser, on November 14th. The event will be streamed at 7AM and 7PM Central Standard Time to allow people around the globe opportunities to participate. You will hear from Prof. Wright and our N.T. Wright Online team about what we have accomplished this past year, and plans for 2022 and beyond. 

If you donate during that fundraiser, you will not only help us resource an under-resourced world with quality biblical education, you will also be entered in a drawing to win a grand prize of no charge registration for all of our courses released in 2022.

Help us ‘enlarge the tent’ on November 14th. We hope that you will join us.

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David P. Seemuth, PhD

David Seemuth is the Founder and President of the Wisconsin Center for Christian Studies, Inc, which exists to bring transformation to Christian believers through the renewal of the mind. He and Prof. N.T. Wright collaborate in online course development and launched N.T. Wright Online in 2015. David has been an Adjunct Professor at Trinity International University for over 35 years and teaches in the area of Biblical Studies, specializing in the New Testament. He also served as an Associate Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI, for 30 years.

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