The Book of Isaiah, written around 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ, is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Why is that? 754 of Isaiah’s 1292 verses are predicting the future. That means 59% of Isaiah is prophecy. Isaiah contains 11 direct prophecies concerning Jesus and it is cited or alluded to in at least 50 NT passages. Why? Why? Lets find out.
With the eyes of faith we see Isaiah 53 so explicitly refers to the Lord Jesus it doesn’t need much by way of explanation. Indeed it became so obvious that Isaiah was referring to Jesus after he was crucified and rose again from the dead, that, as the Church separated from the Synagogue, Isaiah 53 was no longer read as part of the Jewish lectionary. There are five paragraphs, each of three verses, and it begins in chapter 52:13.
1. The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role (52:13-15)
2. The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life (53:1-3)
3. The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering (53:4-6)
4. The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death (53:7-9)
5. The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection (53:10-12)
Jesus : the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.
1. The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he 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.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)
So, God speaks, “See, my servant” The word ‘see’ means ‘To fix the eyes upon’ or ‘to observe with care.’ John the Baptist said something similar, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). So, Jesus would be God’s servant. God’s servant, and our Saviour. If God tells us to look at his “Servant” I invite you to do just that this evening. I invite you to look at Jesus. I invite you to fix your eyes upon Him. I invite you to see Him in ways that you have never seen Him before. God tells us, through Isaiah, that His Servant will be raised and lifted up. He will be highly exalted, even though his suffering was truly appalling.
This was fulfilled when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, then in his resurrection and ascension. God then tells us that His Servant will “sprinkle many nations”. The word used here means to sprinkle as in to declare clean from disease. Leviticus 14 describes how someone healed from leprosy or some other disease considered contagious was examined by the priests who would sprinkle with water to declare them healed. Through his death Jesus would provide for our cleansing from a disease far worse than leprosy. That disease is sin.
2. The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 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. 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.” (Isaiah 53:1-3)
These verses speak of the ministry of Jesus and the growing incredulity found in the gospels when it became plain that Jesus was not going to fulfil the role of the warrior king and defeat Israel’s enemies. On Good Friday, the Jewish authorities rejected their Saviour. Even the disciples failed to see in Jesus their Saviour.
The reference to the ‘arm of the Lord’ refers to His power to save His people. The Cross is where God’s power resides. The Cross the power of God for salvation. Foolishness to the world, but the wisdom and power of God.
3. The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
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. 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.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
This is the heart of Isaiah 53 and takes us to the core of why Jesus came. Notice that it was not his sin but ours that he took the cross.
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.
Paul captures the essence of this in his second letter to the Corinthians. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Verse 6 probably derives its imagery from the ritual on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16 the high priest symbolically transfers the sins of the people to a goat, known as the ‘scapegoat’ by laying his hands on its head. Then the scapegoat was driven out into the desert to die; even as Christ, the Lamb of God, was crucified outside the city.
4. The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death
“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, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 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.” (Isaiah 53:7-9)
Here we see a description of the Suffering Servant’s death – so completely fulfilled in Jesus. His trial, illegally held at night, was a mockery of justice – it was oppressive. His assigned grave was to have been with the two thieves with whom he was crucified. But a rich Pharisee and secret follower petitioned Pilate for the body to bury him in his own tomb. An exact fulfilment of Isaiah’s prediction 700 years after it was made. As the split between Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity widened, Jewish rabbi’s increasingly taught that Israel was the ‘Servant’ in Isaiah 53.
But sinful Israel could never atone for other nations. “for the transgression of my people he was stricken”. It is the singular servant – “he” who dies for the transgression of ‘my’ people, so the people would not have to. The apostle John understood, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
5. The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, 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. After the suffering of his soul, 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. 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.” (Isaiah 53:10-12)
These verses point most emphatically to the resurrection. Having “poured out his life unto death” (53:12), he would nevertheless, verse 11, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” (53:11). He would indeed “prolong his days” (53:10). Verse 12 shows God honouring the Servant for his victory over spiritual foes, reigning with his people.
Jesus shall indeed come again, crowned with glory and honour, power and majesty!
The Predicted Saviour: The Servants Role.
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life.
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering.
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death.
The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection.
The prophecy of Isaiah 53, so graphically fulfilled in the last 12 hours of Jesus earthly life can be summed up in one simple word – ‘love’. And one verse. One verse epitomises the NT response to the predictions of Isaiah 53.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
But remember how Isaiah 53 begins? With two questions. “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” The arm of the Lord is revealed to those who…
1. Seek Him
“To whom as the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1) We have two kinds of eyes, eyes in our head and eyes of our heart. What are the eyes of your heart looking at?
“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
But Jesus promised “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:8) It’s when you seek the glory of the Lord that His transforming power will be evident in your life. The arm of the Lord is revealed to those who seek Him. Secondly, the arm of the Lord is revealed to those who,
2. Desire Him
“He had… no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Desire. It’s describing people who have a capacity to want more and more of Jesus. Why don’t we want Him? We are full of other stuff. We’ve been feeding on the Smarties of this world. We fill our hearts and minds with work and wealth and worry. Cars and clothes and careers. And we don’t have room for Jesus. The arm of the Lord is revealed for those who seek him, who desire Him.
3. Respect Him
“He was despised…” (Isaiah 53:3). The word means contempt, or worthless. His values are so different. He is humble, so our hunger for power and reputation is shown up as evil. He was poor, so our wanting for more and more is exposed as foolish. He was willing to suffer, so our craving for comforts is shown to be selfish. God is looking for people who will seek Jesus – be in awe of Jesus – who desire Jesus – think highly of Jesus – who respect Jesus and who,
4. Receive Him
“He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3). ‘Rejected’ is a word that means transient or fleeting. For many, Jesus had His 15 minutes of fame. “He gave a few good talks. He healed some sick people. We welcomed Him into Jerusalem as a king. Now it’s time to move on… Now, we are on to someone else.” We still do that today don’t we? Where does Jesus rank in Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world today? God is looking for people who will receive Jesus… and hold Him close. “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12). The arm of the Lord is revealed to those who seek him, who desire him, who respect him, who receive Him and above all, who
5. Value Him
“… and as one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3). Low esteem = low value. Jesus is not valued very much in this world. The world says that Jesus is a religious leader to be respected. His teachings are worthy to follow, just like the teachings of Gandhi, Mohommed and Buddha. But to esteem Him above all? Compare that to Philippians 3:8: “I also consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8). To value Him is to become captivated Him. Captivated by His love – above all else, above all powers, above all thrones. The arm of the Lord is revealed to those who seek him, who desire him, who respect him, who receive Him and to those who above all else, above everything and everyone else, value Him as the Suffering Servant, our Saviour and Lord. These are the ones to whom the arm of the Lord is revealed. Have you sought him? Have you received him? Do you desire him? Respect Him? Value Him? Only Jesus Christ has the power to set people free from heroin addiction and from alcoholism, from guilt, bitterness and fear, to reconcile husbands and wives, to reunite parents and children, bring healing and wholeness, forgiveness, peace and hope. How?
As we make this passage personal, lets return to verse 1. Remember how Isaiah 53 begins? With those two important questions: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1). To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? I know I need the Lord to give me wisdom and strength daily. I know I’m not alone. Where would you like to find God bringing his wisdom and power into your life? Maybe you’re just finishing school and starting a new career. Maybe you have a strained relationship with a spouse or family member. Maybe you want to overcome a sin that keeps tripping you up. Maybe you’re in sales and you’re facing a quota that seems insurmountable. Where would you like to see God’s power displayed in your life? “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” “The arm of the Lord,” means help, power, strength. The “arm of the Lord” points to His impact in us and through us, His power for us, His protection of us, His provision for us. I want this for me. I want this for my family. I want this for you! I want God to be revealed in our lives in ways we haven’t seen before. I want for people around us to say, “There must be a God because God did for them what they could not do for themselves.” I want to see the “arm of the Lord” revealed in my life because…
I need His victory
The arm of the Lord points to the fact that He wins – all the time – even when it may look like a defeat at first. God is still winning victories today for His people. You may feel defeated today – spiritually, emotionally, relationally. You’re spent. You can’t lift the weight in your life. It looks like there’s no way you can win. But there is not a weight He cannot lift. I want this victory. I want God’s right hand and holy arm to win for me… and for my family… and for you. I need His liberty, I need his victory.
I need His energy
The arm of the Lord points to the fact that He can do anything. When I run out of options and energy and creativity, the Lord has more than enough to finish any job I’m facing. When God starts lifting the weight, your impossibilities become His possibilities. I want this energy! I need His liberty, I need his victory, I need his energy.
I need His security
The arm of the Lord points to how He is a soft place for His people to fall. Have you failed recently? Have you fallen? Have you disappointed yourself. Are others disappointed with you? The good news is His arms are a soft place for you to land.
When God’s arm is working for us, we can step out and try some things that we’ve never tried before. We can try things that we’ve tried before. If we fail, we’ll find that God’s arms are there to catch us. I want God’s everlasting arms to hold me, to hold my family, to hold you. Do you feel like you are all alone? That no one really cares? That no one wants you? Listen, the arm of the Lord draws you close. I want this. I want to know that I am being carried close to His heart. For myself, for my family and for you. Lets pray.