The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53

Last week we started to look at the four passages in the second half of the book of the prophet Isaiah collectively called “The Songs of the Servant.”
We saw how Isaiah pointed forward to the Messiah, the servant anointed by God not only to bring salvation to Israel but also to be a light to the Gentiles. The servant would be a mighty prophet, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring justice to the world. And more than that:
Isaiah 42 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

We saw that in his person and throughout his ministry Jesus fulfilled the promises in the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Then in the third song in Isaiah 50 we began to get a glimpse of what being God’s servant would demand. The servant would be obedient, not rebelling or turning away from God’s plan. But that would lead to beatings and needing to turn the other cheek. The servant would face mocking and spitting and accusations and charges. There would be times when all the servant could do is set his face like flint and put his trust in the God his helper who will not let him be put to shame, simply relying on God for his vindication. That is what it would cost for the Servant of God to bring Israel back to God and to be the light to the gentiles and to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. And that brings us to the end of Isaiah chapter 52 and the whole of chapter 53, the Song of the Suffering Servant.
It is very clear that the Early Church understood the ministry and especially the death of Jesus as a fulfilment of the prophecies of Isaiah 53. Tonight I am going to simply take us through the Song of the Suffering Servant and point to echoes of that passage in the New Testament. This will help us to appreciate what the death of Jesus means to Christians and to each one of us. The fourth Servant Song begins at Isaiah 52:13
ISAIAH 52 13 See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
The song begins by acknowledging that many people will not recognize God’s servant. They will be shocked and appalled at him and he will be rejected.
53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

So the Servant will be “the arm of the Lord”, God himself at work bringing salvation. But people would not recognize him. Worse than that, people would reject him.

3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Echoing 52:14 his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—

Despised and rejected. Suffering and pain. A vivid description of the last hours of Jesus’s life. We see all the prophecies of rejection and suffering of the Servant fulfilled in the ways Jesus was flogged and scourged and mocked with a crown of thorns by the soldiers and the crowds on the road to the cross.
John 1 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

People misunderstood the cross. To the Jews death by crucifixion was an unclean death – a sign of God’s curse on a person. A sign of rejection not only by the community but by God himself. But the first Christians explicitly saw this verse being fulfilled throughout the ministry of Jesus.

Matthew 8 16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. 17 This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’ (Isaiah 53:4)
The whole of Jesus’s ministry was taking up the pain and bearing the suffering of a sin-spoiled world.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Various places in the New Testament look back to Isaiah 53:5

Romans 4 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Hebrews 9:28 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many;
Now let’s take verses 5 and 6 together

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

2 Corinthians 5 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The punishment that brought us peace was on him. The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
There are so many other places in the New Testament where Isaiah 53 verses 5 and 6 are echoed in the New Testament. The most obvious comes in 1 Peter chapter 2.

1 Peter 2 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ 25 For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus carried our sins in his body on the cross. We are those sheep who are going astray. The punishment which brought us peace, which reconciled us to God, was laid on God’s Suffering Servant. That image of the sheep going astray was surely the background to a number of important things Jesus said and did.

(Matthew 9 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.)
Matthew 10 12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
And Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
(John 10 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. ,,, 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”)

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The song of the Suffering Servant goes on:
7 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.
The picture changes from the sheep who are lost, saved by the shepherd, to the sheep which is the sacrifice, the lamb led to the slaughter. Which is of course the picture used by John the Baptist to describe Jesus.
John 1 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! …. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, (John the Baptist) said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’
We saw last week how the baptism of Jesus fulfilled the first Servant Song in Isaiah 42. So it seems to me very likely that when John described Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, he then had Isaiah 53 in mind.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 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.
Isaiah prophesies there towards the day of his trials, when Jesus would be silent in the face of his accusers, of Caiaphas and of Pilate and of Herod. We just saw how 1 Peter 2 picked up that prophecy.
22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

It is also clear that the Early Church made this link between Isaiah 53 and Jesus’s death. You remember how in Acts 8 the evangelist Philip was led to the chariot of the Ethiopian Official and the passage he was reading was Isaiah 53.

Acts 8 34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

Led like a sheep to the slaughter.

8 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.
9 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.
Again this is the verse quoted in 1 Peter 2 22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

The Servant is punished by death not for his own sins but for the transgressions of the people. Assigned a grave with the wicked, crucified between two thieves (Luke 23:32), and yet a grave with the rich – foretelling that Jesus would be buried in the tomb belonging to the rich man Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57)
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.

At last a verse bringing a glimmer of hope – the promise of resurrection And a recognition that God is actually in control and everything is unfolding according to God’s will. But before then the suffering servant will have to give up his life as a sin offering, or a guilt offering. Paying the price for the nation guilty of breaking their covenant with God (Leviticus 5:14-16).
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.

Peter clearly understands the death of Jesus in those terms in 1 Peter 3 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
So the Suffering servant bears the sins of the people, and brings justification to many. But with the hope of a glorious resurrection to follow.

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.

The Suffering Servant who dies to take away the sins of the nation. Some people mistakenly think that Jesus being a sacrifice for sin originated with the apostle Paul, or with the Early Church. But it is very clear that Jesus understood his death in terms of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:12 because he actually quoted that verse. At the end of the Last Supper, when Jesus had been foretelling his death, he said this.
Luke 22 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12. “He was numbered with the transgressors.” And he says, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment. In other words, in Jesus’s own mind Isaiah 53 is indeed prophesying the death of Jesus the Suffering Servant.
Moments earlier Jesus had broken bread and passed around the cup and used the words which we will quote in a few moments at the Lord’s Table.
Mark 14:24 24 ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’
Dying “for many.” Again in fulfilment of Isaiah 53:11 and 12. Pouring out his life – for many.
V.11 by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

v.12 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.

The Suffering Servant would be dying for the many and he would bear their iniquities and bear the sin of many.
And this is just how Jesus had foretold his death in Mark 10:45 = Matthew 20:28.
Mark 10 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
A ransom (lutron) is the price paid to set a slave or a prisoner free. And Jesus says that his life will be a ransom for many. Probably a better translation is “a ransom in place of many”. Although the exact words are not the same, when he said he was going to “give his life as a ransom for many,” Jesus could hardly have offered a better summary of the sacrifice of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. Let’s finish by hearing again how the death of Jesus was prophesied more than seven centuries earlier.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
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.

Bow down and worship – for this is your God!

This entry was posted in Isaiah.

About

You may also like...

Comments are closed.