ISAIAH, Part 8

The Man of Sorrow, Isaiah 53:1—6

A bird’s eye view of Isaiah 53 might look like this:

  • verses 1—4, the life and earthly ministry of Jesus;

  • verses 5—8, His death and burial;

  • verses 10—12, His resurrection and exaltation.

The chapter’s overall theme, which is the innocent Savior dying in place of the guilty, ties the whole chapter together. This chapter deals with what theologians call the “vicarious atonement.” There is much that we find difficult to explain about what happened on the Cross; those are the infinite, divine things that our finite, earthly minds cannot understand. One day, when we reach the other side, all will be made clear. However, this much is clear and this much we do understand: Jesus Christ took the place of guilty sinners and paid the price for their salvation.

Unfortunately, this is something the people of Jesus’ day could not grasp:

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (verse 1)

The “who” in verse 1 probably refers to the Jews and the collective “our” are likely the prophets. The Jews, to whom the Savior came, didn’t recognize Him as such because they didn’t believe the message of the prophets. This reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Romans:

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:16—17)

The phrase “arm of the Lord” is significant and its usage here is often missed. It frequently refers to God’s mighty strength, but God’s mighty strength wasn’t revealed to just anybody; only to the Jews. When God made the material universe, He used His fingers, which was plain for anybody to see:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place… (Psalm 8:3)

When He delivered Israel from Egypt, He did so by His mighty hand, which was plain for onlookers to see:

Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.” (Exodus 13:3)

However, in order to save sinners, God had to bare His strong arm, yet it went unrecognized. The people to whom was revealed God’s strong arm refused to see it and refused to believe this awesome manifestation of God’s power in love.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37, 38)

This Savior who went unrecognized was part of history for He “grew up” among them (verse 2). God didn’t just miraculously deposit a full-grown, mature Savior in the midst of His people. Their Savior was literally one of their own; there was nothing outwardly special about Jesus. He was part of their history for He had a history.

He was just an ordinary Baby
That’s the way He planned it, maybe
Anything but common would have kept Him apart
From the children that He came to rescue,
Limited to some elite few;
When He was the only Child who asked to be born.
And He came to us with eyes wide open,
Knowing how we’re hurt and broken,
Choosing to partake of all our joy and pain.
He was just an ordinary Baby,
That’s the way He planned it, maybe
So that we would come to Him and not be afraid.

Despite this, the people didn’t recognize Jesus as their long-awaited Savior. Instead, Jesus Christ became a “man of sorrows.” Throughout history, there have been many men, full of sorrow, but only one Man was a “Man of Sorrows.” The sorrows of the Son of Man were unique to Him and unparalleled. His sorrows included:

1. Humiliation, verse 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.

The Servant, was the eternal Son of God, and yet He became human and had to grow up! We may find the prophet’s choice of words a bit odd. Why compare the growth of a child to a “tender shoot?” The Jews of Isaiah’s day would have made a connection we modern Bible readers miss:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1)

I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king. (1 Samuel 16:1b)

The connection is really two-fold. The obvious one is that King David was a kind of foreshadow of Israel’s true Messiah. David was the son, or the shoot from the stump, of Jesse and both Mary and Joseph were descendants of David. Hence, Jesus was also a “shoot from the stump of Jesse.” But the second connection is a little more subtle and is found in 1 Samuel 16:7—

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Samuel, when he was looking for which of Jesse’s sons would be chosen by God as king, took note of their outward appearance, but the Lord mildly rebuked him and set him straight. Israel, as a nation, had a preconceived notion of what their Messiah would look like and how He would act, and because Jesus didn’t fit the bill, they didn’t realize that He was their Messiah. His humiliation was complete. Not only did the glorious, majestic Son of God leave heaven to become a nondescript man, but His people failed to recognize Him!

2. Opposition, verse 3

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Verse 3 carries the idea of Christ’s humiliation a step further. The people not only failed to recognize Him and desire Him, but they actually rejected Christ outright, refusing to even look at Him. The Hebrew words behind “despised and rejected” mean literally “to look upon with disdain” and “to forsake.” As one scholar observed, “Loneliness is often the crown of sorrow,” and surely our Savior was lonely.

The words translated “suffering” and “pain” really mean “pains” and “sickness.” Jesus was well acquainted with “pain” and “sickness,” in other words. Does this imply that our Lord was a sickly, physically weak man? Certainly He experienced all the maladies a human being experiences in their lifetime, but consider Jeremiah 15:18 where these terms are also used:

Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?

Here, the pain is the pain of a broken and breaking heart. So, perhaps the “pain” and “sickness” referred to by Isaiah are both physical and emotion anguish. And no wonder! While Jesus’ teaching attracted great crowds at first, eventually they turned on Him, egged on by the religious leaders of the day. Once those who adored Him came to despise Him and oppose Him. They put a cheap price on His head. They were ashamed of Him because He wasn’t the kind of Savior they were looking for. They thought they had been had.

3. Anticipation, verse 4a

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering

The dominant theme of “atonement” is what this phrase is all about. The innocent taking the place of the guilty; the Sinless Son of God bearing the punishment for sinners. This phrase views our punishment figuratively in terms of a disease. In this case, the disease is the disease of sin. This is an awful way to view sin: as disease from which there is no escape; an infection that cripples and kills. Who in their right mind would walk into a colony of people infected with such a contagion? A person that would do that would certainly die. And yet this is exactly what the Son of God did! He knowingly descended into a world of people infected with a disease.

Theologians recognize the atonement as “the” theological issue of Scriptures. Without it, what was the point of it all? Even G.F. Handel saw the power of the atonment and based one of his most important compositions upon it in his famous oratorio, “The Messiah.”

It should be noted, though, that the disease is ours, not His. The pronoun “our” is emphatic here, meaning ours were the sicknesses He carried; ours were the pains He bore. Christ foresaw all this, and yet He came to offer His life a ransom for many.

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32—33)

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him; there was no way He couldn’t. He was the perfect Son of God.

4. Separation, verse 4b

... yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.

Our Lord walked to His crucifixion alone. This is the heart of the whole passage; the heart of the Bible. Interestingly enough, the message of atonement is not only the central message of the Christian Gospel, but was at the heart of the Jewish religious system—the innocent animal offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the guilty sinner.

He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

Only Jesus could do this by Himself. Nobody could help Him. He was the perfect choice because He was the only choice.

Imagine this: The Son of God living for an eternity in the glories of Heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit. One God, three Persons living in perfect unity and perfect fellowship. Imagine willingly leaving that kind of perfect paradise; imagine separating yourself from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Now imagine entering our world, being born and growing up and making friends and having fellowship with your family and with friends. Imagine Jesus spending some 30 years living, working, and ministering to those people He loved so much, those people He identified with and came to save. And finally, imagine being forsaken by them. Jesus Christ, separated from the glories of Heaven and separated from world He loved.

And yet, while all this is true, the word “considered” is important to, well, consider. It means that by the estimation of man, the Savior was being punished by God, stricken and afflicted by Him. However, the next verse shows how wrong that estimation was!

5. Relationship, verse 5

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Man made his estimation, but the facts are:

  • He was pierced for our transgressions;
  • He was crushed for our iniquities;
  • Our punishment was put on Him;
  • His wounds resulted in our healing.

This describes another theological act performed by Christ. Not only did He make atonement for our sins, He suffered in our stead. This is known as vicarious expiation. Everything He endured on the Cross sinners themselves should have endured.

He was “pierced” for our transgressions. The word pierced really means “transfixed” or “bored through,” in other words, He was quite literallyfastened to or secured to the Cross. He was joined to the Cross for our “transgressions,” or for our rebellions. The pain was His, a result of sins which were ours.

He was further “crushed” for our iniquities. The Savior was “shattered” because of our “inbred crookedness.” This is different from “transgressions,” which are sins of determination; sins which are deliberate. “Iniquities” refer to the sin principle within all human beings; the tendency to sin.

The “punishment” He bore resulted in peace for us. The KJV uses the word “chastisement,” and that accurately reflects the Hebrew, which literally means “disciplinary sufferings.” On the Cross, Jesus got what we deserved. This we understand, but the stunning part of this phrase is the word “peace,” for it means many things. It means, for example, the absence of strife. Christ secured our peace with God; thanks to what Christ did for us on the Cross, God is no longer angry at us. But “peace” also means soundness, health and well-being, prosperity, and completeness. It’s amazing what Jesus did for us!

Lastly, we were “healed” by His wounds. There are those who take that literally, teaching that physical healing was included in the atonement. In other words, Christians have a right to good health and divine healing simply by virtue of their relationship with Jesus Christ. But is that what Isaiah means here? Probably not exactly, although divine healing is certainly part of the Savior’s continuing ministry. The phrase, when translated literally, means “it has been healed for us.” In other words, the idea is that by His wounds, we could be healed. The question is, healed of what? The overriding theme of this passage is sin and atonement for sin. The healing, therefore, must not refer to physical healing only, but rather the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the soul. Sin is, after all, a sickness and a disease that man cannot rid himself of. That is the healing which Christ secured on the Cross for all those who call upon Him as Savior.

This was the beginning of His relationship with redeemed man. He alone could do all these things for us, as a devoted mother carries the griefs and sorrows of her child. So intense was the love of Christ for sinful man, that He could not refrain from doing what He did.

the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (verse 6b)

And our Lord took it! It was for us that He poured our His holy, perfect soul!

he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. (verse 12b)

The Suffering Servant did all that on the Cross for people that never even noticed.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger? (Lamentations 1:12)

In answer to the question, “Who has believed our message?” may we always be able to answer, “We do!”

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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