Posts Tagged 'Suffering Servant'

God and Iniquity, Part 4

Iniquity is an awful thing. Sure, it’s sin, but it’s the worst possible of all sins. We all sin. We may be redeemed, but we still struggle with sin. We live in it. It’s all around us. In a million different ways, every minute of every day of our lives we are exposed to sin. Whether we hear it or see it. And whether we like it or not, it influences how we think, feel, and act. That’s why we most of the time we aren’t ever aware that we are sinning until it’s too late. It’s as though we can’t help ourselves – that’s not an excuse, just an explanation. Iniquity is different. You have to out of your way to commit an iniquity. You plan to do it. You scheme to do it. And when at last you’ve done the deed, you hide it; you do your best to make sure nobody finds out. Unlike your run-of-the-mill, garden variety sin, you have the power to not commit an iniquity.

But of course, God knows all about your iniquities. As we’ve discovered, He not only knows about them, He reveals them. They are always right in front of Him. And you are stained with the guilt of your iniquities.

Is there any hope? Fortunately for us, there is.

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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. After he has suffered, 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. (Isaiah 53:5, 6, 11 | TNIV)

Context

As far as the majority of Bible scholars is concerned, the content of Isaiah 53 really begins back in 52:13.

See, my servant will act wisely ; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (Isaiah 52:13 – 15 | TNIV)

This is God the Father talking about “his servant.” We Christians view all the “Servant” passages in Isaiah as finding their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In these verses here, we get a glimpse into how the Father viewed His Son and His Son’s mission on earth.

God’s view

The first thing God draws attention to is the Son’s wisdom; His belief that Jesus Christ will act wisely. And He did. The wisdom of the Son was completely self-denying. He made all the right decisions that would put Him on the Cross. But Jesus Christ possesses all the wisdom needed to deal with man’s greatest problem: Sin. And what looked like foolishness to onlookers, was in fact wisdom on display.

He was beaten beyond recognition. People who saw Him were appalled and disgusted with the appearance of this so-called Messiah. And yet, as the Lord says, Jesus Christ “sprinkled many nations.” That’s an interesting phrase that is probably lost most of us today. It has the idea of a Jewish ceremony involving purification and the forgiveness of sins. Even as it appeared as though the Son of God was dying and helplessly nailed to a cross, He was acting in complete wisdom and in complete harmony with His Father’s will, obtaining the forgiveness of sins for people that hitherto was never available to them.

We don’t talk a lot about the wisdom of the Son of God, but a long time after Isaiah wrote what he did about the issue, the apostle Paul tackled it like this:

Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20 – 25 | TNIV)

Christians would do well to remember what both Isaiah and Paul wrote. It applies to our time as much as it did to theirs. Too many believers don’t have the confidence they should have in their faith, their Scriptures, or their Savior. There is no equivalence at all between man’s wisdom and God’s.

Man’s view

From God, we move to the astonishment of those who came to believe in the Savior. But it was hard fought belief.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 | TNIV)

Bible scholars love to debate who the “we” here is. Jews or Gentiles? Maybe both, since “the arm of the Lord” has embraced all people. Anybody who found Jesus has wondered in astonishment of a couple of things. First, we who love Jesus find hard to believe why so many don’t! “Who has believed our message,” indeed! Apparently few have!  Yet God in His great love and compassion has embraced all sinners who need saving. Why do so many people miss Jesus? It’s because He’s the unexpected Savior. Just read how Isaiah described Him in these verses.

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. He was despised and rejected by others, 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. (Isaiah 53:2 – 3 | TNIV)

Jesus didn’t come in power and glory. He came as one of us. Just an average guy who could feed 5,000 people with almost no food, walk on water, raise the dead, and change the weather. But Jesus wasn’t what people were looking for and He isn’t what people are looking for today. The great sadness is that people of every generation are looking for the same things: peace, happiness, contentment, security, love, and acceptance. But what they don’t know is that all those things are found only in once person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ became a “man of suffering” because He became one of us, and suffering marks the human condition. Living the life He did and hanging on the Cross, Jesus experienced, if only for the briefest moments in eternity, what it is like to be one of us: lonely, sad, abandoned, betrayed, and suffering alone.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:4 | TNIV)

We tend to focus on the first part of that verse, but it’s the second half that is the most telling: “…we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” In other words, we saw everything Jesus went through, but we got it wrong. We didn’t understand what we were seeing. And most people today still don’t. People today still don’t understand Jesus. They don’t get what He did for them, which is why when you share your faith them, more times than not you get a blank stare for your efforts.

But you understand what Jesus did for you. He didn’t have any pain, until He felt yours. He never suffered, until He began to feel your suffering.

The facts

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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5, 6 | TNIV)

The first four verses are basically what believers think about Jesus. Beginning with verse 5 are the facts. Let’s take a closer look.

Pierced for our transgressions. This simple phrase is really the basis of a wonderful theological doctrine: vicarious expiation. The English “pierced” comes from a Hebrew term meholal which means “pierced,” “transfixed,” or “bored through.” He was nailed – nailed for our pesha, our transgressions, which were our devious, deviant rebellions. The pain was all His, because of the sin that was all ours.

Crushed for our iniquities. Jesus Christ was shattered for our “inborn crookedness.” The Hebrew, medhukkdh, means “pulverized,” “crushed,” or “shattered,” and awonoth means not only “iniquities” but “twisted and perverted crookedness.” Our iniquity is basically our perverse, persistent, hopeless addiction to doing the things that hurt God, ourselves, and others. Our secret sins.

Punishment that brought us peace. The word “punishment” means “disciplined.” Can you imagine? That Man on the cross was being disciplined so that we could experience peace! What a wondrous thing that Jesus did for us. All that He went through on the cross – all the violence and pain resulted in peace for you and me.

By his wounds we are healed. This phrase is far more controversial than it should be. The natural way to read this is that what Jesus went through on the cross provided physical healing for us. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but there was physical healing before Jesus was crucified. Peter, over in the New Testament, gives us a divinely inspired interpretation of this phrase:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “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 2:23, 24 | TNIV)

It seems that Peter links this healing to the wounds caused by sin. And while you and I get all get all hung up on the notion that cancer or heart disease or a broken bone are the worst things that can befall a human being, the Bible teaches something very different. Sin, and what sin does to people – individuals and their relationships with others – is far worse than any physical problem you could think of. That’s not that we shouldn’t pray for sick people; the Bible says we should! But we shouldn’t minimize the devastating effects sin has on us. Your iniquities and sins are what put Christ on the Cross. He dealt decisively with sin, in wisdom and in full possession of all of His faculties, and once and for all freed man from his enslavement to sinning day after day, after relentless day, so that potentially every human being could enjoy peace with God, with his fellow man, and with himself.

Unfortunately, rarely do we human beings ever do what’s best for us.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 | TNIV)

Again, these are the facts. Man prefers his own way to God’s way. He has transferred his allegiance to a god of his own making, fulfilling his own will and desires, leaning on his own intellect and innate talents, proving he is wholly selfish. This is sinful man’s ongoing iniquity. This is humanity’s common guilt.  That’s the folly of the human race.

As we wrap up this study, the last phrase of verse 6 is haunting and continues to reverberate down the corridor of time: “…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Understand what that means, and you’ll understand the depth of God’s love. Ross Price, in his wonderful commentary on Isaiah, sums it up perfectly:

God became the Suffering Servant, provided the vicarious atonement, and bore, in His Son, the iniquities of the world. Since then, vicarious pain has been life’s highest decoration. God does not punish the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18: 25). He accepts the suffering of the righteous for the wicked (Mark 10: 45).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Messianic Prophecies, Part 3

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Isaiah 53 is famous because in it we read of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah. This verse in particular is among the most famous Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament:

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. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

However, the prophecy of the Suffering Servant really begins back at 52:13 –

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

This whole section has been referred to as the “holy of holies” of Isaiah. And Polycarp wrote of it as the “golden passional of the Old Testament.” However you like to refer these verses, they are profound in their meaning and life-changing when they are understood. The previous so-called “servant songs” in Isaiah all described the prophetic ministry of the Servant of the Lord, but in this one, He is portrayed as Priest, who suffers vicariously for the sins of others. This Servant is the sin-bearing martyr and while the other “servants songs” could refer to the nation of Israel, a faithful remnant, or the Messiah Himself, this one is clearly the Messiah, an individual sufferer.

The Suffering Servant passage is really only five paragraphs long, with each paragraph containing three verses.

The Servant Exalted, 52:13 – 15

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. (NIV)

This is God speaking, introducing His Servant, using terms ascribed to divinity – raised, lifted up, highly exalted – coupled with terms that can only be used in describing a man – his appearance marred by suffering. At the very beginning of this song, then, we have a Servant who is both divine and human.

The task of this divine-human Servant is to fulfill the purposes of God. He will do this “wisely” or “prudently” or with “understanding,” depending on which translation of the Bible you are reading. This great Suffering Servant will have an exalted nature with the destiny of a Martyr, but with great insight that will enable Him to deal wisely and effectively with the greatest problem of man: human hatred and sin.

And even though the Servant will suffer beyond normal human endurance, His shed blood will cause “kings” to marvel in silent awe as they see what they were never told or taught. The idea is that the Servant’s task will be to give the people an entirely new life, something kings can’t conceive of.

The Servant Despised, Isaiah 53:1 – 3

But, oh, how few believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal his saving power? In God’s eyes he was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want him. We despised him and rejected him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we didn’t care.  (TLB)

Jews consider this prophecy to be all about Israel – and they’re not necessarily wrong, but they’ve cast their nation on the wrong side. To them, Israel is the suffering servant, but what we’re reading about here is future Israel (“in our eyes”) when the people finally recognize and acknowledge the Lord Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. These verses are the thoughts they will have at that time. So profound will be their realization of the truth that, they say, “who would have believed it?”

It’s heartening to know that in the future, at long last national Israel will understand the truth. But, at the same time, there is an application of these verses for today. It’s not just Israel to whom God reveals the truth of Jesus; He reveals it also to repentant and penitent sinners. These verses could well constitute the awakened conscience of a saved man, for when he sees the truth, he just can’t believe why it took so long for him to believe.
Some day, the godly remnant of Israel will regret their rejection of Jesus, and that day they will turn to Him as their Messiah and Savior.

The Servant Wounded, Isaiah 53:4 – 6

Yet it was our grief he bore, our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, for his own sins! But he was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace; he was lashed—and we were healed! We—every one of us—have strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of every one of us! (TLB)

This paragraph is so powerful and moving, Handel based one of his more significant songs on it in his famous oratorio, “The Messiah.” During His earthly ministry, Jesus entered into our sorrows and afflictions; He experienced what we experience and He healed those who came to Him in faith. There are some who teach that healing is part of the atonement. Whether it is or isn’t is a debate for another day. It must be noted, though, that while Jesus healed all kinds of sickness and diseases, He died for our sins, not for our illnesses.

That evening several demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus; and when he spoke a single word, all the demons fled; and all the sick were healed. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, “He took our sicknesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16, 17 TLB)

This lone paragraph in Isaiah teaches the great doctrine of substitution. Israel of Christ’s day believed He deserved to die. He was accused of and condemned for blasphemy. He was considered punished by God because He deserved it. And yet, Jesus died, not for Himself, but for others and this wonderful prophecy is an absolute promise that one day Israel will see the truth.

And what pity he felt for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know what to do or where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36 TLB)

But they choose to live this way; sinners, believing that they are free – that they are forging their own destiny – yet they aren’t free at all. They are lost. God provided salvation for all the lost sheep through His infinite grace: Christ died for our sins. Paul expressed Isaiah’s thoughts his own way like this –

For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us! (2 Corinthians 5:21 TLB)

And Peter put it this way –

He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! Like sheep you wandered away from God, but now you have returned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls who keeps you safe from all attacks. (1 Peter 2:24, 25 TLB)

Of this doctrine, Alistair Begg notes,

Jesus did not come to live as an example of how to die as a martyr, but as a substitute, taking the place that we deserve in order that we might enjoy what we don’t deserve.

The Servant Cut Off, Isaiah 53:7 – 9

Twice in verse 7, the prophet tells his readers that Jesus never once protested. He was not an unwilling victim, forced to go to the cross. He was a voluntary sacrifice; He allowed Himself to be hurt, humiliated, and manhandled. He never offered a word in His defense before Pilate. He only spoke up in front of the Sanhedrin when silence would have been a renunciation of His deity. Before Herod, Jesus said nothing.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:7 NIV)

In other words, the “judgment” of the human courts (Roman and Jewish) was the instrument of “oppression,” as far as Jesus was concerned. And nobody cared! This is truly an astonishing thought. “Who of his generation protested?” The answer is nobody! The “close pals” of Jesus – His apostles – were either scared witless, or busy denying that they even knew Him at all.

The odd phrase, “cut off,” deserves a quick look. It suggests something beyond a violent, premature death – is strongly implies the just and certain judgment of God. So in the handling of our Lord, we see the terrible oppression of man and the justice of God. In a single verse, we see both the thoughtlessness of man and the plan of God converging upon one perfect Man. He was condemned by His own people, yet He bore the punishment for their guilt and sin.  Simply astonishing!

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. (Isaiah 53:9 NIV)

This is a curious verse and a little hard to understand. Man assigned the Servant’s grave, not among those of the saints or with due reverence and honor, but they treated Him like the wicked guys He was crucified between. Dishonor and humiliation chased our Lord even to His final resting place. That phrase, “with the rich in his death” refers to one Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and compassionate man if ever there was one. It’s an enigmatic, powerful verse, and Ross Price’s summary of it is particularly noteworthy:

He was an innocent man. Humanity vented its spleen in vicious treatment of God’s Holy One. But when selfish evil tries to masquerade as justice it prepares its own unmasking.

The Servant Satisfied, Isaiah 53:10 – 12

Decent, right thinking, unredeemed men see the treatment and death of Jesus Christ as a tragedy. In their ignorance, they see the Servant of Isaiah as a visionary, a martyr, a man ahead of His time, an unfortunate victim of circumstances who suffered and died for His ideals. But, none of that is true.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 NIV)

The Dead Sea Scroll translates verse 10 like this:

But Yahweh was pleased to crush him and he pierced him.

Clearly, God was in back of every movement against His Son by allowing it to happen as it did. Yet, Moffat’s translation varies slightly and captures the barest hint of a positive outcome:

But the Eternal chose to vindicate his servant, rescuing his life from anguish; he let him propser to the full, in a posterity with life prolonged.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ taken together constitute the greatest victory in the history of the world.

After he has suffered, 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. (Isaiah 53:11 NIV)

Jesus didn’t waste His time on the Cross! He, looking back, will be completely satisfied. Are you satisfied with what Jesus did for you? He did all He could for you. Nothing was left undone in His work for you.
And so this wonderful prophecy closes the way it began, on a positive note.

REDEMPTION, Part 2

Christ the Redeemer

Christ, Our Redeemer

Revival and renewal. These are two words Christians love. They are two things Christians love to experience and long to experience. And the fact is, all believers need spiritual renewal throughout their lives. Sometimes difficult circumstances, trials, or times of temptation can cause us to need a personal revival. Negative circumstances, especially when they are sustained over a long period of time, can cause our faith to weaken and wane and we know we need “something” to kick-start our faith. The truth is, we all need spiritual renewal regardless of our circumstances to that our relationship with God may stay fresh and vibrant.

Spiritual renewal began the moment we became born again. We became revived creatures when Christ redeemed our lives. Before the Holy Spirit took up residence in us, we were spiritually dead. Now we are spiritually alive in Christ! Revival and renewal are really key ingredients of our redemption, so in order to understand revival and renewal, we need to better understand the facets of our redemption.

1. It’s cost

The Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:1—12

Who has believed our message …

To the people of Isaiah’s day, the thoughts of a “suffering Messiah” were inconceivable. It is just not humanly possible to reconcile greatness with suffering. But that’s the point of this chapter: the greatness of the Messiah came by way of His suffering.

As Christians, we understand that what Jesus went through on the Cross was what set us free. He literally experienced our punishment so that our condemnation could be lifted. Literally, our salvation cost Jesus everything and that fact alone causes us to rejoice and exalt Him. Out of sheer appreciation for all He did for us—all He went through to procure our forgiveness—we love Christ even more. Not so the Jews:

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. (verse 3)

This was their estimation of the Messiah. It’s prophetic and was fulfilled when Jesus hung on the Cross. Why was He despised?

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

Not all the people hated Jesus, some like the apostles simply hid their faces from Him. They were ashamed. Jesus-as-Messiah didn’t fit their preconceived notions as what the Messiah should be like.

But Christ’s suffering was not to make Him great, it was for a distinct purpose:

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. (verse 5)

All of Christ’s suffering was for our “peace.” The Hebrew word means more than just the absence of strife, though; it means things like soundness, well-being, prosperity, and completeness. And He was wounded for our healing. Christ’s suffering was not only redemptive but curative as well! Yes, divine healing was provided for in our great Atonement!

Our High Priest, Hebrews 9:11—14

In the Old Testament, the high priest was the mediator between God and His people. The many priests involved in the elaborate worship and sacrificial ceremonies all functioned under the authority of the high priest. Regardless of the number of priests, there was only one high priest and he was the ultimate spiritual authority in the land.

But no matter how much authority he carried and no matter how many services he presided over, the high priest’s work never done; it was only temporary. He had to repeat his work year after year, generation after generation. Only Christ, the great High Priest, did His work once, for all people. Christ’s work of mediation was carried out one time because it never needs to be repeated. Christ’s sacrifice was the powerful and that effective.

2. Its value

The value of justification, Romans 3:21—26

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (verses 23, 24)

Man’s condition without Christ is dark and depressing; utterly hopeless. In the midst of the gloomy darkness, God’s light broke through from the Cross of Christ.

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

Paul quoted from Habakkuk in Romans 1. Of course, the Old Testament prophet knew nothing of Jesus Christ, but Paul did, so in Romans 3 he adds the object of faith: Christ Jesus.

The word “justified” or “justification” comes from the Greek dikaios, which refers to a pronouncement of righteousness or a declaration that one is just. In this context, justification refers to a legal declaration that a guilty person is now innocent because his debt has been paid by someone else.

The really stunning point of this verse is that our justification was “freely” provided. This doesn’t mean it was free or of no value, it means that Jesus Christ willingly, of His own accord, provided it.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Romans 3:25a)

Our Lord became a “sacrifice of atonement,” or a “propitiation,” an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. His blood was of sufficient value to give in exchange for our sins. That’s the true value of our justification.

The value of our redemption, 1 Peter 1:18—20

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Notice that not only were we justified by grace, we were redeemed by that same grace. “Free grace” might well be the most misunderstood phrase in the English language. God’s grace is anything but free; it cost Him the life of His one and only Son. It’s free in the sense that we didn’t pay for it even though we possess it.

The word “redeemed” comes from the Greek lytroo and hearkens back to the institution of slavery in Rome. Most first-century churches would have been made up three groups of people: slaves, freemen, and freed men. Individuals became slaves in different ways: the results of war, selling themselves to cover debts, or they could even have been sold by their parents. In this sense, “slavery” was term limited. Eventually a slave would serve their term and become free or they could exchange their money for their freedom. The price was their lytron.

We had no way to pay our “sin debt,” so Christ stepped in and paid it for us. That’s what free grace is! It is free from our perspective, but it’s value was the blood of Christ, shed for us.

3. Its results

The coming of the Holy Spirit, Galatians 3:13, 14

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

We were redeemed—bought back—from the treadmill leading nowhere by Christ becoming a curse for us. A lot of people wonder exactly when Jesus became a curse. It couldn’t have been at His Incarnation because Luke 1:35 refers to Him as “holy.” He couldn’t have become cursed as a child because, again, Luke says Jesus grew and God the Father looked on Him with favor, Luke 2:52. Nor was Jesus cursed during His ministry because God was well-pleased with Him, Matthew 3:17. He became a curse while He hung on His Cross—the tree. A lot happened while Jesus hung, dying on that tree. Among them, His death secured for us the precious gift of the Holy Spirit. That’s how badly we need the Holy Spirit! Jesus had to endure the shame of the Cross, becoming a curse for us, so He could in turn give us His Holy Spirit.

The promise of eternal blessings, Ephesians 1:3—10

Because we have been redeemed, we have become the recipients of blessings beyond our imaginations. In Ephesians, Paul refers to these blessings as “they mystery of His will.” We can know God’s will because we have been redeemed by Him! The thing is, though, many of these blessings are in “heavenly places.” In other words, some of the blessings Paul refers to aren’t ours just yet. We have to wait for heaven, then, all will be revealed to us with perfect clarity.

Believers were chosen in eternity to be the recipients of these eternal blessings. This group of verses is not teaching that believers had no choice in their salvation. The fact is, we became one of the chosen when we accepted Christ as our Savior. At that moment, the promise of all these blessings kicked in for us. These included:

  • Our adoption, vs. 5. Paul carefully chose His words: we were adopted “as sons.” No, he’s not being sexist here. In his culture, the son had more rights and greater favor than the daughter. Far from being sexist, this is the greatest proving the equality of men and women under Christ! All believers receive the highest and the best blessings and favor from God.

  • Our forgiveness, vs. 7. This forgiveness is full and complete because it is based on God’s wealth, which is endless.

  • A revelation, vss. 8, 9. This third blessing made ours through our redemption is “revelation.” This “revelation” is wisdom and understanding right from God. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who is always leading and teaching the Church as we allow Him to move in our midst. This is why the Gospel and the things of God make so little sense to the world; they don’t possess the Holy Spirit. We do, however, and He reveals God’s mind and sometimes, though not always, His purposes. Eventually, though, we will know all that God knows as it relates to the lives we lived on earth.

  • A gathering, vs. 10. At some point in the future, in the “fullness of times,” the final aspect of “revelation” will occur. God will literally “gather together” everything under His Lordship. He will be revealed as the ruler of all in heaven and earth (Matthew 6:10). This will be the culmination of all things when Christ becomes King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

These tremendous promises are all ours because of redemption in Christ.

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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