The Cross: Isaiah 52:13–53:12 – A man despised and rejected (part 1)

The Cross – A man despised and rejected.

Isaiah 52v13 – 53v12.

[Part 1]


The Bible teaches us that God is loving and kind. It also tells us that he is perfect and holy therefore our imperfection / our sin as the Bible calls it/ is an offence to God and deserves his judgement and punishment. The warning to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden while they were still perfect [un-sinful] was that death would be the result of sin.

When they did sin their feeble attempt to cover themselves with fig leaves was inappropriate and God supplies animal skins. Clearly animals had to die – symbolising that death is both a consequence of sin and a covering for sin.

What we have seen so far in the OT as we anticipate the cross is that animal sacrifice is used to deal with our sinfulness BUT is must be repeated over and over and over again — it is never enough!


BUT now Isaiah describes a servant of the Lord that is modelled on the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement. However there is something profoundly different and startlingly new – the sacrifice is human.

This was abhorrent. God had condemned the pagans for human sacrifice – he prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son and rejected Moses’ offered to died in the place of the Israelites.

But now here in Isaiah 53 it is this human suffering servant who becomes a sacrifice for the sins of many.

Isaiah doesn’t name this person – BUT clearly he is human yet also highly exalted – language used only of the divine. As the same time he is so marred that he is scarcely recognisable as being human.

This passage is the clearest prophetic passage in the OT foreshadowing the sufferings of Christ.

The heart of the passage is 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.

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. (NIV)

This tells us why he came and what he did. Or as one commentator puts it “ [it] … reflects on the purpose of his mission and the meaning of his sacrifice”.



ILLUS.: You know how sometimes a movie / story starts at the end – a scene at the end of someone’s life then it takes you back to the beginning and tells the story ending up with the scene that was at the beginning.

This passage is like that.

a)     His Status

Isaiah 52:13  See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. (NIV)

This verse tells us to look carefully and consider who this servant is.

The word translated “act wisely” is a combination of being wise and being prosperous. This person is successful because he has acted wisely. As we will see this is a remarkable status in view of what is said about him in the following verses.

Not only is he successful / prosperous BUT look what happens as a result – … he will be raised … lifted up … highly exalted.

His destiny is to have a supreme status – this is language usually reserved for God. Does this language not point us to the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ.

Philippians 2:7-11         7 [Jesus]… taking the very nature of a servant, …became obedient to death … on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,


b)    His Image

v. 14 stands in stark contrast to this exalted status of v.13.

The exalted status the servant will enjoy in the future seems hard to believe when we consider Isaiah 52:14

14 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 — (NIV)

ILLUS.: What is our instinctive reaction when we see someone who is extremely disfigured? It is to turn away. It horrifies us.

This servant who is so exalted after his death has first suffered so violently that he is almost not recognisable as being human.

When people look at this body so battered and damaged they ask themselves “It this human?”

Consider Jesus suffering – scourged, punched in the face, his beard pulled out, thorns driven into his head – his face and body was a bloody pulp – he was disfigured beyond human likeness.


c)     His Effect

We have these two mysterious and puzzling contrasts. On the one hand such high and majestic status and on the other so debased as to be almost inhuman.

The language of v.15 casts this servant in the role of a priest.

Isaiah 52:15  so will he sprinkle many nations,…

In the ritual of OT sacrifice and forgiveness the priest would sprinkle that blood of the sacrifice over the people to ritually cleanse them from their sin.

It is in this role that this suffering servant is cast – this is startling news – a battered. Bleeding, damaged body would have been considered unclean.

BUT what is so remarkable is that the one considered to be unclean turns out to be the one who cleanses others. It astounds even the most elevated people – kings are speechless. Hebrews 10:19-22 19 [we can] … enter the Most Holy Place [the Presence of God] by the blood of Jesus, 20 … a great priest …, 22 … having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us …

These first 3 verses tell us that the Servant life is a paradox in the extreme.



Verses 13-15 [chapter 52] are the summary outline of what is to come. All the way through to the end of chapter 55 he now fleshes out the suffering and then the triumphant accomplishments of the servant.

There were no chapter and verse divisions originally – they are there purely so we can find our way around the text.


a)     God’s Work

The concept of a degraded human accomplishing so much and then being exalt to such a high position is so astounding that the writer now ask “Who will even believe such a thing?”


You see the human mind because it is distorted in its thinking as a result of sin is so incapable of understanding the ways of God that only divine revelation can bring enlightenment.

How is it possible that the arm of the Lord [53v1] – i.e. his strength and power – can be seen in this apparently feeble and helpless suffering servant?


It is impossible unless God shows us his way!


b)    Man’s Impression

Verse 2 gives us the human impression of this suffering servant.

In the world of image and spin-doctors this servant would have been at the bottom of the pile. There was nothing to commend him.


Isaiah uses idiomatic language of his day  53:2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground…

He seemed to lack the necessary nourishment and well being to develop – in fact it is miraculous that he survived at all.

He was considered to be a nobody. They ask the usual questions – Was he good looking? [beauty]

–         Did he have an impressive personality [majesty]

–         What impression did he make? [appearance]

He seemed to fail on every front


He was not considered to be of any consequence.

Is that not how many people think of Jesus today. They scoff at the idea of a Saviour. It is fairytale stuff to think of a rescuer coming from heaven and dying on a cross.


ILLUS.: I was watching a chat show this week – Esther – and when an audience member spoke from a Christian perspective a panel member scoffed “Now we have moved beyond the rational!”


This is what the early Church faced too – 1 Corinthians 1:23 23 .. we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, (NIV)

It is easy for us to fall into the temptation to try and soften the message of the cross – or to try and make it in some way sophisticated and palatable BUT it seems foolish and offensive to the pride of the human heart.

You see the way of the Suffering Servant is the way of humiliation and rejection.


c)     Utter Rejection

Not only was he considered to be unimpressive BUT he was completely rejected by those who considered him.

Isaiah 53:3 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.


The apostle John writes of Jesus John 1:11 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (NIV)

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane Mark’s records Mark 14:50-52 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled. 51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, 52 he fled naked, leaving his garment behind. (NIV)


To say that we esteemed him not is to use the financial language of accounting – it means that when you come to the end of the Tax Year and you value an item it has no value. It is written off, it is worthless. On the balance sheet of humanity considered nothing.

Philippians 2:5-11 5 … Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself NOTHING, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place…


The Son of God, the one who created the universe, the one who gives and sustains all life makes himself vulnerable at the hands of his creation – and is considered by them to be nothing. He becomes the Man of Sorrows who receives no esteem, who chooses a path of self-destruction rather than self-fulfilment.

Why does he do this? He chooses to do this – it is not forced on him He took up our infirmities [v4] he chose not to defend himself [v7 – kept silent] [look at this next week]


So that he could take away the thing that is destroying us – sin – that we might be justified before God [v11]


What should be my response??

Listen to the words of the song Alice taught us [v3]

What shall I give

to the man who gave everything,

humbling himself

before all he had made?

Dare I withhold

my own life from his sovereignty?

I shall give all for the sake of his name!

[Stuart Townend – in Praise! 427]


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