Song Of The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Isaiah 53 is holy ground of Scripture. We stand bare before a text that blazes brightly with the love of God. Isaiah’s prophetic pen allows us to peer into the events of Calvary and witness their spiritual significance. The physical horrors Jesus suffered on the cross are enough to move the most cynical person to emotion, but understanding their spiritual importance will inspire the most sinful person to devotion. The cross calls for more than just our tears, it is meant to capture our allegiance.
What you learn about Jesus from Isaiah 53 is shocking, it’s even distressing, but it’s also absolutely wonderful. It ignites within the humble heart a devotion that transforms.
The first stunning theme of this chapter is that Jesus would deliver His people, not by the might of sword, but by the power of suffering. Jesus’ suffering began by the way He chose to enter this world. He could have been privileged, pampered and pretty. But He chose to be born into the pain of poverty, to know the strain of hard work, to know the shame of living on the wrong side of the tracks, to know the loneliness of being considered common in appearance. Like a root in a dry, parched ground He would have to struggle to survive (Isa. 53:2).
The pain of those circumstances was intensified by the rejection He experienced from others (Isa. 53:3). It’s one thing to suffer because your circumstances are harsh, but much greater is the pain of being rejected by the people who should love you.
The most distressing facet of Jesus’ suffering is that man’s rejection resulted in horrific, physical abuse. Isaiah says, “Look at Him! Jesus is pierced, He is crushed, He is punished, He is wounded, He is afflicted, His soul is suffering. His life is being poured out into death” (Isa. 53:4-7). Isaiah wants us to see the consequences of our sins.
Let us be finished with thinking that the phrase, “Jesus died for us,” is trite! Let us be done with thinking our sin is harmless! Isaiah tells us if we could see what Jesus suffered we would freeze in stunned astonishment, our mouths would gape open, our stomachs would ache, and our hearts would break.
Amazingly, Jesus didn’t have to suffer. He chose to! It is one thing to suffer when you have no choice or when the suffering is deserved, but Jesus willingly chose to suffer (John 10:18; 12:27). In the midst of the pain Jesus offered no protest, no defense, no complaint (Isa. 53:7). There was no gripe or grumble on the part of Jesus. In so doing He leaves us an example of how to suffer for righteousness’ sake, submissively committing ourselves to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
Jesus didn’t suffer because He had to. He was absolutely innocent (Isa 53:9). His suffering is awful because it was unjust, but His suffering is that much more astounding because it was voluntary. With just one word He could have said, “That’s not true!” but He did not.
Jesus didn’t suffer because He deserved it, but because we did! He suffered unimaginable pain, but He did it willingly, because He was doing it for us. At the heart of this song Isaiah takes us to the cross and forces us to see our part in His unimaginable suffering (Isa. 53:4-6). He suffered for “our” transgressions, “our” iniquities, “our” waywardness (2 Cor. 5:21).
We live in a day when people want the freedom to do as they please, but they do not want the consequences of their choices. They want to engage in fornication and use abortion to escape the consequences. They want to murder and defraud and hire attorneys to get them off when they are caught.
Please know you are free to choose, but you are not free to choose your eternal consequences! Ezekiel put it succinctly,“The soul that sins, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4; Rom. 6:23). There is no other way to have our sins taken away except through Christ. Either He will bear the penalty of our sins, or we will. The arm of the Lord was revealed at Calvary to punish sins in the person of Christ, but the next time He raises His arm it will be in judgment against all who refuse to submit to Him and accept what Jesus did on the cross.
However, in this song Jesus is not just as a tragic sufferer, but as a glorious victor. Between the two mountain peaks of exaltation there is the deep, deep valley of intense suffering. But, the one who died like a criminal was buried like a prince, and is now exalted high so He can see the fruit of His suffering (Isa. 53:9,11).
He sees His place of glory restored. Isaiah 52:13 describes His position with a string of superlatives. “Behold, My Servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and highly exalted.” He may have humbled Himself to become like a man and suffer death on a cross, but now He is highly exalted and given a name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9).
With joy He now sees His sick and dying children restored. Jesus died childless, which to the Jewish mind was a deep tragedy (Isa. 53:8). But they did not understand! Jesus would be raised from the grave, having conquered sin and death, and as a result, “he will see his offspring” and “justify many”(Isa. 53:10; Heb. 2:10).
Men may expect this sad song to end at the grave. Not this song! It’s time to celebrate! He died, yet His work goes on. He sees it, and He is satisfied.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Isaiah 53 & Salvation
Isaiah 53 caught the attention of an Ethiopian official on the way home from worship. He wondered about the identity of this suffering Servant, so he invited a vibrant preacher named Philip to help him study. “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:35). Philip replaced the anonymous Servant pronouns with a name. It was not an unknown “He” who was despised, pierced, and rejected. It was “Jesus” who’s blood flowed, who’s back was striped, who’s head was bruised. Now the Ethiopian knew who deserved all his loyalty, it was Jesus.
A. An Inclusio Of Exaltation. 52:13-15 forms an inclusion with the theme of the exaltation of the Servant with 53:10-12. This inclusio is held together by the following parallels:
1. Inclusio In Tense. The first and fifth stanzas are in the future tense, while the middle three stanzas are in the past tense.
2. Inclusio In Speaker. “My Servant” (52:13) and “I will give him a portion among the great” (53:12), identify the speaker in the first and last verse as God, while the speaker in the middle verses are the prophet who refers to God as “him” (53:2) and by name as “God” (Elohim, 53:4), and “Lord” (Adonai, 53:1,6,10). Only in the first phrase and last phrase does God speak in the first person.
3. Inclusio In Content. The first and last verse have the save them of exaltation, a theme nearly absent from the rest of the song, which emphasizes vicarious suffering. Yet it begins and ends with exaltation. “raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (52:13) “I will give him a portion among the great” (53:12).
B. A Chiastic Structure Which Contains The Bible’s Message. It can also be argued that the inclusio of the section is only a part of it’s chiastic structure, which has as it’s focal point—53:4-6. The power behind this point is that 53 lies at the focal point (the exact center) of the section of comfort—Isaiah 40-66. And at the center of the focal point is the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the sins of mankind, which is the focal point of the entire Bible story.
C. The Perspective Of The Text. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 form a nice compliment to each other, giving a fuller view of the cross.
1. Psalm 22 views the cross from Christ’s prospective.
2. Isaiah 53 views the cross from the Crowd’s prospective.
3. Will we say, “Save yourself!” like the unbelievers. Or, will we say, “Truly, this was the Son of God” like the faithful Centurion?