MEMORY VERSE: ISAIAH 53:5 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.
Isaiah told us of a Servant who would come for the purpose of paying for our sin so that we could have peace with God. Through faith in the sacrificing Servant, we find forgiveness and restoration. Our God made a way for a restored relationship with Him. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to redeem His creation. Jesus paid the redemption price fully by His death and suffering on the cross at Calvary.
THE CONTEXT (ISAIAH 51:1 - 57:21)
As one reads through Isaiah, the prophecies begin to unveil the thread of redemption describing the coming of God’s messiah. When we arrive at chapter 53, the Servant is clearly an amazingly perfect individual. Only the Son of God could and does fit this description.
Chapters 51 and 52 inform us that after Jerusalem and its people had drunk from the cup of God’s wrath (52:17), they would experience hope. Isaiah declared that punishment from the Lord was a temporary situation. It would come to an end. In chapters 51-57, Isaiah restated that the whole purpose of the exile was as a means of correction. As with a parent disciplining a child, the discipline ideally produced a change in the sinful behavior and restored the relationship. When the discipline concluded, God Himself would lead the people out of captivity even as He led them out of Egypt (52:7-12). The Lord would not abandon His people.
The servant song in Isaiah 52 and 53 shows how God would make sure the exile would never need to happen again. Because of the Servant’s work, Jerusalem would be renewed. Chapter 54 describes Jerusalem as a widow or barren woman who was crying over the loss of her children. God would restore her and give her more children than she could imagine. So great would this restoration be that the very walls of the city would have jewels set in them (54:11). There would be peace for God’s people. They would be satisfied and would not need to fear any nation that might come and try to invade and steal the jewels from the city.
Chapter 55 calls for the people of God to trust Him. God provided what they really needed with cost. Chapter 56 calls the people to seek God first and foremost. Their primary concern should be living righteously. God would even make a way for eunuchs and foreigners to be included in this call to seek Him. These two groups might think that they would not be included in the full blessing of God, but Isaiah stated that their faithfulness was more important than a blood heritage (56:6-8).
Chapter 57 reviews Israel’s sins and reiterates that God would bring restoration. The Israelites had practiced injustice and idolatry. This is why judgment came. The chapter closes with a warning to the wicked. Those who continued to rebel against God would not find the peace that comes to those who repent.
DISPISED (ISAIAH 53:1-3)
53:1 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.
3 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.
Here, Isaiah relates to the difficult reception the Servant would receive from the people. To think that the God of Israel, the Creator of the universe, would work through one individual in such a miraculous way did not register with the people of Isaiah’s day. In deed, the fact that the Servant would claim to be the “arm of the Lord” would be seen and downright blasphemous unless that Servant was God incarnate.
Isaiah indicated that the Servant would grow up just like any other child. He would not suddenly appear in a blinding light. In fact, the individual in question would be nothing special to look at. The Servant would not stand out in terms of physical attributes but would look quite ordinary.
Not only would the Servant have a common appearance, he would also earn the hatred of the people around Him. As a result, He would be a man who knew both suffering and sickness. The Servant would be someone that people turned away from. The implication of the original Hebrew is that of disgust or complete rejection.
In summary, the Servant of ordinary human appearance would be hated by those around Him. He would not deserve the malice and rejection that He would experience.
SUBSTITUE (ISAIAH 53:4-6)
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 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.
These verses show that the Servant would suffer physically. What is even more surprising is that this suffering would be unjust. The Servant would suffer on behalf of others because of their sin. Much like the animal sacrifices given in the temple, the Servant would be the substitute for the people who hated Him so much.
Isaiah stated that the Servant bore our sicknesses, and he carried our pains. How shocking this must have been for Isaiah’s audience. The shocks keep coming. Isaiah revealed that the Servant’s substitutionary suffering was brought about by the hand of God. Why would God do such a thing? In fact, this very idea continues to be a stumbling block for many people today who think that a just God would never do such a thing. However, if the perfect Servant was a willing sacrifice, that changes everything. There was no injustice being done.
Verse 5 states that the Servant was pierced due to our rebellion. The word translated “pierced” is often associated with a fatal blow. (See 22:2; 51:9). The word “crushed” leaves little to the imagination. This is a wound that is permanent and from which recovery was unlikely. As Isaiah noted in 1:5-6, the wounds of our sins are incurable unless the cycle of sin and punishment is broken. The Servant would break this cycle by His wounds.
6 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.
Sheep are stubborn and relatively ignorant creatures. They lack the foresight to connect the past to their present and future actions. They do what they want and have difficulty learning from their mistakes. People and sheep have more in common that we would like to admit. The Lord has punished the Servant for the sins of the stubborn sheep-like people. We dare not take this sacrifice for granted.
WILLING (ISAIAH 53:7-9)
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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 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.
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.
In these verses, Isaiah emphasized the Servant’s willingness to be a sacrifice for others. The words “oppressed and afflicted” emphasize the external nature of the abuse suffered. The Servant would not bring affliction on Himself, but would be oppressed by others. Despite the injustice of this situation, the Servant would “not open his mouth”. He would not complain or defend His actions.
Sheep were often used in the sacrificial rites as a substitution to pay for the sins of the owner. By comparing the Servant to the silent sheep that quietly goes to its brutal fate, Isaiah marked the Servant as the One who suffered for another’s sin. According to Exodus 12:5, the one making the offering must offer an unblemished lamb. The unblemished lamb did not deserve its fate. It stood in the place of the one who did deserve it.
Both oppression and judgment were the instruments of the Servant’s death march. Unlike the people who were in exile as a result of appropriate judgment, the Servant would deserve no such treatment.
No one among His generation considered the Servant’s work. He would die on behalf of a people who did not recognize Him for what He was doing. Very few would realize that the Servant’s suffering and death were for them - at least not initially. Adding insult to injury, the Servant was assigned a grave with the wicked. He would be slain among thieves and criminals.
The Servant would be opposite of those with whom He would be buried. Even in death, He is a stark reminder of the people’s sin and His righteousness.
SACRIFICED (ISAIAH 53:10-12)
10 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.
11 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.
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.
Why would God allow an innocent individual like this to be crushed? Here all doubt is removed. He was a guilt offering that atoned for others. The One sacrificed was not guilty but paid for the guilt of others through His death.
Those who repent, and accept the sacrifice of the Servant on their behalf, will become the offspring of the Servant. Thus, the Servant would not be limited to genetic offspring but would have children from every tribe and nation.
The suffering and resulting death of the Servant would not be the end. After His death would come the “seeing of the light” and its resulting satisfaction. His sacrifice would make it possible for the guilty to escape punishment and be restored to God.
The ones who are saved by the Servant’s sacrifice are those who enter into a relationship with Him through faith. Through this connection, many would have their sins carried by the Servant. It is no surprise that the Book of Acts links this idea to Jesus (Acts 2:23-24). There can be no doubt at this point that such a perfect Servant would become the perfect guilt offering and then rise from the dead. Jesus is to inherit many as His children through their faith in Him.
The Servant will receive all of the people under His authority. Some will be saved through acceptance, while others will continue in a state of judgment for their refusal to repent and to recognize the Servant’s amazing work.
Finally, the reason the servant would receive this reward is because he willingly submitted to death. He would accomplish God’s will fully and self-sacrificially. He would be treated like a rebel, but He was not a rebel. He was put to death like a criminal who deserved such punishment, but He did not deserve it. In all this, He would accomplish God’ plan completely.
In Jesus’ own words in His prayer to His Father in John 17:4, “I have glorified you on the earth by completing the work you gave me to do”. Jesus is the Son of God who died as a guilt offering for those who will repent and believe in Him.