The Suffering Servant

Title: The Suffering Servant

Text: Isaiah 53

Time: March 20th, 2005

By now most of us have seen the movie The Passion of Christ. What it shows is a man, Jesus Christ, being beaten and whipped and tortured and then killed on the cross. Now the key to the whole movie is found in the written introduction, which is a quote from Isaiah 53, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Now if you missed that introduction, and a lot of people did, you missed the point of the whole movie, and it just becomes a gory, violent picture of an individual being unjustly treated by an oppressive government. But if you grasp the significance of why Jesus died, the whole message of the Christian Gospel makes sense. We are beginning holy week in the Christian Church, that is, the week and events leading up to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s holy because everything in the week had to take place just the way it did in order for the plan of God to be fulfilled. Jesus had to suffer and die as a blood sacrifice for our sins, and he had to rise from the dead in order to conquer sin and death. Without both of these events, there could be no Christian faith. What I’d like to talk about this morning is the death of Jesus on the cross, and then next week, Easter Sunday, talk about the living Christ who conquered death and what that means for us today. But before we get to the risen life of Christ we have to talk about the suffering death of Christ. Today I want to talk about the Old Testament prophecy, the main prophecy, which speaks of the purpose and the reason for Christ’s death on the cross. It’s the part that the Passion of Christ didn’t have time to explain other than just quoting the passage in Isaiah 53. But this morning I’d like to read that famous prophecy and open up its meaning so that as we near Friday, the day of the death of Christ, we can fully appreciate it and thank God for it, even though it is an awful thing on a purely human level. Let me read the prophecy uttered by Isaiah some 400 years before the time of Christ and think of it in terms of the crucifixion. Isaiah 53:1-12 (read). Let me bring out some important points in the prophecy.

First, the prophecy says that Christ would be rejected. Isaiah 53:1-3, “Who has believed our message? . . .” It’s hard to believe, it’s not easy to believe. Who would have believed? The plan of God was to come as a man and die for mankind. It’s impossible, it’s incredible, it’s outrageous, it’s unheard of. Who has believed it? “And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed” The only person who can believe it is one whom the Lord has revealed it to. If you and I believe in Jesus it is only because God had opened our eyes and we believe despite how incredible it all is. The Jews at the time of Christ, and the official Jewish position on Jesus is unbelief. It is only through the Spirit’s power that we can believe such a message, but if the Spirit opens our eyes we not only believe it, but we are willing to die for that belief. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.” This part of the prophecy describes how Jesus was born during the time of the really spiritually dry and soul-crushing dead religion of the Jews. It was dry ground, there was not much inspiration, it was all law and no Spirit. Now God gave the law, the law was good, but if that’s all there is, law and no more, then the soul is dried up. There must be the Spirit that gives life to the soul and empowers the soul to obey the law from the inside out. That’s why it’s hard or neither impossible to teach discipleship to an unconverted person. They will see it as a drag, a burden, a bother because they don’t have the Spirit giving them life inside. The prophecy also talks about Jesus growing up, and that’s what He did. He didn’t just appear out of nowhere fully formed, he grew up as a baby and as a child and as a teenager and then finally as a young adult. Now this is prophecy, but it reads almost like a description of the life of Jesus. It was written before Jesus, but it reads as if it could have been written after Jesus as a description of his life. Isn’t that amazing? It shows you the supernatural power of God. “He had no beauty of majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Jesus wouldn’t have been a face for television. Hollywood movie directors wouldn’t have been after him; he just didn’t have the looks to be a star. There was nothing naturally attractive about him. Most pictures of Jesus show him as good looking, but according to this prophecy he wasn’t. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not.” Although Jesus was from heaven — we know that now — and was God-up-close so to speak, he was rejected by his own people the Jews. Not just rejected, despised, spat upon, resented, killed for blasphemy. This prophecy describes exactly how Jesus was treated. It must therefore be describing one and the same person; here is Jesus Christ. But it goes on.

Two, He suffered for us. Isaiah 53:4-9, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. . . .” When Jesus was carrying out his assignment to die for the sins of the world, the world considered him cursed by God. How ironic. God is doing his work to save people, and people despise and reject him and consider him cursed. How can you be any more wrong than that? Is it any different today? God is trying to save people today and most people are trying as hard as they can to run away from that salvation? Thank God he doesn’t give up on us in our own ignorance. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Here is salvation in a nutshell: Jesus dies for our sins, he is judged for our judgment, he is punished for our punishment. That’s the atonement, that’s the sacrifice. “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Now this refers to Adam and Eve going astray in the Garden of Eden and sinning and falling into original sin. We also go astray as children of Adam and we go our own way into sin. That’s where Christ finds us, but he is willing to take upon himself our sins and punishment for sin in order to save us from sin and judgment. Now you see why this had to happen, why Christ had to die, to be our sacrifice. His disciple Peter tried to talk Jesus out of dying, but Jesus would have none of it because he knew he had to be the sacrifice. “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 her shearers is silent.” This refers to the dignified way in which Christ went to the cross. He didn’t try to get out of death, didn’t put up a defense, didn’t even hardly say a word. Pilate was amazed because usually condemned people try to plead for their life; Jesus didn’t. “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Didn’t the Jews treat him unjustly, didn’t they trump up charges? Didn’t they judge him unfairly? That’s what this part of the prophecy refers to. “And who can speak of his descendants?” This is a hard verse to understand, but it could be referring to the descendants of Christ, Christians in the years to come who would suffer oppression and judgment like the Savior. We know there were terrible times during the first few centuries for Christians, persecution, torture, death. “For he was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” Again, it refers to the exchange Christ made, his death for life to us. “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.” This is a reference to the fact that he died between two criminals, the wicked, and that he was lain in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph of Arimathea. He was put to death even though he never was violent himself, as for example, Peter the disciple was by using a sword against the soldiers in the garden. But that’s not all of the prophecy, the next truth is shocking.

Three, He fulfilled the heavenly Father’s plan. Isaiah 53:10-12, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer. . . .” When I watched the Passion of the Christ movie last year at the theaters and then this year a couple of times on DVD, I remember my initial reaction was to get mad at the people torturing and killing Christ. The Jewish leaders who set him up, and then the Romans who carried out the dirty work. But this verse says that it was the heavenly Father’s will for him to suffer. But how can that be? You mean God was ultimately behind the death of Christ? There was this big question all last year during the playing of the movie The Passion of Christ, “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?” Well here is the answer: Ultimately, God the Father — it was his plan all along. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son . . .” “And though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” Jesus was a sacrificial offering and you can’t have a sacrificial offering without offering it. Like Abraham and Isaac, God was willing to sacrifice his own son for the sins of the world. But the verse gives us hope because it says that the Lord’s will shall prosper, it will have a happy ending, Christ will live, and his offspring, Christians, will live. “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” Or in other words, he will be raised to life again, that’s the resurrection. Don’t you see how supernatural this prophecy is? This is prediction, this is foretelling, this is a prophet of God, Isaiah, looking into the future and speaking words that will describe the holy week of Jesus Christ. It’s a miracle. “By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 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 sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” He was willing to join us on earth and stand with us sinners as a sacrifice for our sins. He identified with our humanity and suffered for us on the cross. There is so much here that you really need to go home and reflect on it and ponder it and really take it all in because it just gets richer and richer.

 

Does that help you prepare yourself spiritually for Good Friday and then Easter next Sunday? Does that give you something to chew on this week as Easter draws near? Doesn’t that give you something to read this whole week? Don’t let this week go by as just another week. Don’t get so busy in your job or your work that you don’t pray and reflect and prepare for Easter. The world blows by this stuff and doesn’t give it two seconds of thought, but let us not treat it so routine. I usually try to apply, to bring a teaching to application, but for this I think I’ll just let you apply it, let you decide what parts move your heart and mind. Please re-read Isaiah 53 this week, read it slowly and draws the parallels between this prophecy and what you know about Christ’s death. Let the prophecy speak to you personally, individually, and draw from it.

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