The Cross – A man despised and rejected.
Isaiah 52v13 – 53v12.
In Part 1 we saw the Servant as having the most exalted position possible [52v13]. In spite of his appearance which would suggest exactly the opposite he is in fact the one who will rule the nations. This passage is the clearest portrayal of the sufferings of Christ in the OT.
He is clearly someone of the highest status yet at the same time is portrayed as one who suffers so much as to make onlookers wonder if he is even human. He who is the highest becomes the lowest — BUT why? Let’s see!!
If verses 1-3 tells us about the rejection of the servant then in these verses 4-6 he is the Man of Sorrows. They give us the deeper meaning of the purpose for his sufferings.
- THE RESPONSIBLE TASK OF THE SERVANT. [53v4-6]
The thing that makes the suffering of this servant so significant is that it is not for something he had done wrong. However, it is not simply random.
Furthermore, we are not allowed to stand off at a distance and be passive observers. We [humans] are part of the reason for his predicament.
a) The Onlookers’ perspective [53v4]
Isaiah 53:4… yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (NIV)
Who is the “we” here – probably the original Jewish onlookers who saw the original sufferer and jumped to conclusions about the causes for his suffering.
Just like the story of Job – a wealthy man who God allows Satan to test. Job looses everything and ends up living on a garbage dump covered in boils and sores and his friends tell him he must have done something to deserve this – God must be punishing him. BUT that was not the case. God was testing – and Job honours God and is again restored and richly blessed.
Here this Servant who suffers appears to be receiving God punishment – at least that is the considered opinion of the onlookers. They assume that he has done something wrong to deserve God’s judgement. They consider that his suffering is God’s doing.
Ironically they are half-right! God is actively involved in the suffering of this servant. The wrong-half of their thinking is that this man has done nothing to deserve God’s punishment.
b) God’s Purpose
Isaiah 53:4-5 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. (NIV)
The sufferings of the servant were not a consequence of his wrongdoing – or even just a bad mistake. But he does suffer at God’s hand – it seems appalling that a Holy, loving God should do such a thing – yet v.10 says Isaiah 53:10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,..
WHY? Because the humanity that God had created turned its back on its creator. We rejected / insulted God and his righteous / holy anger burned against us BUT his love and compassion caused him to desire to embrace us and forgive.
ILLUS.: If you look across the skyline in London you can see the Old Bailey. On top of that home of British justice is Pomeroy’s magnificent golden statue of the Goddess Justicia holding her scales of justice and her sword of wrath. She is blindfold, so unable to show partiality, and the message is clear: if we are found to be guilty, then the sword of wrath must fall. We are more wicked than we ever realised.
But just across the skyline, on the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, is another golden symbol. It is a cross and it’s a powerful reminder that the sword of God’s wrath did fall; it fell on Jesus Christ.
So the holy perfection of God’s character is appeased.
The cross of Christ is not just about our sins being dealt with – It is primarily about the holiness of God.
c) His Role
The role of the Servant is that he both appeases the justice of God and in so doing takes the punishment due to us.
He is crushed, weighed down with the burdens of others, punished and wounded to bring peace and restoration to others.
If we are tempted to think that this is the pathetic capitulation of a weak man we must think again! NO! This is the bold, deliberate choice of someone who willing takes the rap for others.
The NT writers clearly identify Jesus in this role.
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
14 “I am the good shepherd; … and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 … 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18 No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 …. 8 … God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
By taking the full brunt of God’s punishment this servant has brought us peace and restoration. He is not a helpless unwilling victim – he chooses to do this.
d) Our Plight [v.6]
As hard as it may be for our human pride to accept that we are sinful – there is no one who can honestly say, “I am perfect!”
Proverb “To err is human!”
We don’t like to think we are so bad – usually we compare ourselves to others. BUT in light of God’s perfection we are way off the mark. ILLUS.: Clean windows on cloudy day – then sun comes out and exposes the smudges.
Or to put it in the words of Isaiah 53:6 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.
Whether we have wandered off or deliberately turn away is in many respects irrelevant. The point is we strayed! AND we would stay in the plight without the intervention of this suffering Servant.
- THE DREADFUL DEATH OF THE SERVANT. [53v7-9]
These verses develop much of what has already been described.
a) It was voluntary
He who is actually the great, good Shepherd of John’s Gospel becomes like us, a sheep.
All OT sacrifices up to this point have been involuntary – the animals are helpless victims. BUT this sacrifice is human, in full possession of all his faculties, who knows where he is going and what is going to happen to him yet he willingly permits others to victimised him and put him to death.
He doesn’t try to defend himself – normally a people will confess their guilt if they feel guilty or protest their innocent if they feel no guilt BUT this Servant makes the deliberant choice to remain silent.
Matthew 27:12-14 12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor. (NIV)
He is led like a lamb to the slaughter in the place of the sheep that have gone astray – like for like! All the ritual sacrifices of the OT could not deal with human sin. Ultimately only a person can substitute for people. That is what Jesus did on the cross. Isaiah 53:8d …for the transgression of my people he was stricken. (NIV)
His death is for others. He himself is innocent Isaiah 53:9 … he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (NIV)
b) It was violent [v.8]
Stricken / smitten / afflicted / crushed / punished / wounded / oppressed / judged / cut off (killed) – so badly marred as to not even look human.
It is interesting that the Gospel writer never try to describe crucifixion. The people of the time had all witnessed crucifixion – a cruel and agonising death. They simply report. “… and they crucified him”
c) It was paradoxical (burial)
Common criminals would be buried in an unmarked grave – pauper’s grave.
All Jesus had was the clothes he wore and the soldier had gambled for those. So “he is assigned a grave amongst the wicked” yet Isaiah goes on … and with the rich in his death,
How can both be true – they contradict each other, don’t they?
Jesus dies a pauper, common criminal, the lowest of the low – Yet where is he buried Matthew 27:57-60 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
- THE SPECIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE SERVANT. [53v11 – 12]
When we hear of his burial among the rich we get a hint of a turn of events – ‘til now it has been gloom and doom / suffering and judgement.
a) He fulfils God’s will
In his willingness to suffer and die for others he actually fulfil God’s will perfectly. He appeases God’s wrath and satisfies God’s justice and holiness. He is the supreme guilt offering – also, in satisfying God’s requirements, he removes human sin and guilt and opens the way for a relationship with God.
b) He receives God’s approval
God’s approval of what he accomplishes is seen in the astounding results of what he receive as a result of his unselfish self sacrifice for others.
He faced the prospect of being cut off from the land of the living and having no future descendants [v8]. Now there is a complete reversal!!
² He who has no descendants [v8] will see his offspring [v10].
² He who is cut off in the midst of life [v8] will now prolong his days [v10].
² He who was stricken [v8] will now prosper [v10].
² He who was dead [v9] will come alive .
² He who is unjustly condemned [v9] will be satisfied [v11].
² He who was despised and rejected [v3] will become the centre of a great throng [11-12].
² He who was a helpless victim [v7] becomes the triumphant victor [v12].
This unprecedented reversal confounds kings and nations which is seen at the beginning of the song in 52v15.
This takes us to 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,
c) He rescues many people
Isaiah 53:11 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. (NIV)
He is the righteous One who bears the unrighteousness of others and in so doing transfers his righteousness to them – IF they will accept his sacrifice on their behalf!
2 Corinthians 5:21 21 God made him [Jesus]who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Who is this for – anyone who believes … and the result is… 2 Corinthians 5:17 17 …, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (NIV)
d) He triumphs over sin [v12]
How is all this possible?
Isaiah 53:12 … 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. (NIV)
What is it that makes all this suffering and sacrifice necessary? Why was it necessary for Him to go through all this?
The damaged caused to the human race and creation in general through the wilful disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden needed to be undone. The Bible calls it sin. A creature imperfect and contaminated by sin could not remove the problem – a perfect man was needed … Jesus Christ. He is the channel of God’s grace to sinners. In the cross the holiness and mercy of God are perfectly reconciled. And we are able to enjoy sins forgiven and eternal life with God.
The Cross – A man despised and rejected.
Isaiah 52v13 – 53v12.
- THE PARADOXICAL MYSTERY OF THE SERVANT. (52v13-15)
– His Status [v.13]
– His Image [v.14]
– His Effect [v.15]
- THE DISDAINED REJECTION OF THE SERVANT. (53v1-3)
– God’s Work [v.1]
– Man’s Impression [v.2]
– Utter Rejection [v.3]
- THE RESPONSIBLE TASK OF THE SERVANT. (53v4-6)
– The Onlookers’ perspective [v.4]
– God’s Purpose [v.4-5]
– His Role [v.4-5]
– Our Plight [v.6]
- THE DREADFUL DEATH OF THE SERVANT. (53v7-9)
– It was voluntary [v.7]
– It was violent [v.8]
– It was paradoxical (burial) [v.9]
- V. THE SPECIAL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE SERVANT. (53v10-12)
– He fulfils God’s will [v.10]
– He receives God’s approval [v.10-11]
– He rescues many people [v.11]
– He triumphs over sin [v.12]