Opening thought: As you drive westward in our state, you go from the coastal plain steadily up into the piedmont where the hills rise and fall with the streams and rivers, until you reach the mountain grade where you rise quickly into the mountains. There the weather is different. The air is cooler, and you continue to rise until you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. There you drive still farther up, up, up, until you come to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Once you park at the top, you still have to walk a quarter mile or so uphill to the summit where on a clear day you can look back and observe many miles distant the terrain and neighboring mountains.
That is what we will do today as we find ourselves at Isaiah 53, that great mountain peak in Isaiah, a height that is all about the Messiah. From this height you can look back and see across the breadth and depth of Isaiah’s prophecy. You can see specific places pointing directly to this passage, pointing like the rest of the canon of Scripture, to the Messiah, the one about whom the Bible tells, the one whose suffering and resurrection will save his people from their sins.
Pray and Read: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Well into the second section of Isaiah (since chapter 40) with a message of comfort, we reach a climax, a focal point, a mountain peak in Isaiah. The Servant, who was presented to us (“See” 42:1) and who has spoken of his experiences (49:1-6; 50:4-9) is now promised highest ultimate majesty through beyond the humiliation of suffering death.
Now we come to the fourth and most stirring of Isaiah’s Servant Songs (42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). In it we see the convergence of all the descriptions of the Messiah that Isaiah has used all the way back to chapter 4 (4:2-6). Here is the Old Testament’s clearest and most comprehensive description of the sufferings of the Messiah in one place.
Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 52:13-53:12 to point Israel to the Suffering Servant who suffered for their rejection, died for their salvation, and arose for their justification.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the Suffering Servant.
Key verse: Isaiah 53:5
Sermon Points: HE IS THE SERVANT WHO
- Suffered our rejection (Isaiah 52:13-53:3)
- Died for our salvation (Isaiah 53:4-9)
- Arose for our justification (Isaiah 53:10-12)
Exposition: Note well,
1. HE IS THE SERVANT WHO SUFFERED OUR REJECTION (Isaiah 52:13-53:3)
a. Overview: The Servant is valued by God but rejected by men (52:13-15). Looking for a powerful ruler, God’s people see no beauty in a Galilean carpenter despite his good works (53:1-2). Despised by his own people, the Messiah was a Sufferer, not a Conqueror (53:3).
b. 52:13-15 – This Servant, like Israel in exile, like the ancient Job, will be humiliated before being exalted for the salvation of the nations who have not even heard of him (Romans 15:21; Philippians 2:6-11).
c. 53:1-2 – Why was this suffering necessary? First, God does not play to appearances in order to win. Because someone’s appearance is one of the first things people see, they will not immediately approve of this servant. (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7: 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”; Luke 16:15: 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”). The Gospels never describe Jesus’ physical features, but they do tell us that he considered a right attitude of the heart much more important than image (Mark 12:38-44).
d. 53:2 – He will sprinkle/startle the nations. Sprinkle is the usual sense of this word, as in the sprinkling of the blood of atonement (Ezekiel 36:25-27: 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.), and it will be startling to the nations.
e. 53:3: Second, this suffering is necessary to prove the Servant’s faithfulness. The Servant is also a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Isaiah makes it clear that anyone who is faithful to God must know how to face persecution for the sake of righteousness (20:2-3; 50:5-6; 51:7), and on this day of prayer for the Persecuted Church, we remember this. But the Messiah’s suffering goes beyond this – John 1:11.
f. APPLICATION: Appearances are deceiving. Let’s not look at someone’s cash or clothing, their assets or bling, but watch their commitment and compassion. Looking for authenticity? Watch commitment and compassion.
2. HE IS THE SERVANT WHO DIED FOR OUR SALVATION (Isaiah 53:4-9)
a. Overview: The Servant’s affliction seems to be a mark of God’s displeasure, but the great irony is that his suffering is actually for us, that we might be healed by His wounds (53:4-6). He remains humble in life and death. Though innocent, he dies “for the transgression of my people” (53:7-9).
b. 53:4-9: Third, the real reason why the Servant’s suffering is necessary: God’s servant is not suffering only for righteousness, but also for the sins that all of us have committed. Because of these sins, the Sufferer, though innocent himself, is put to death (53:7-9). He dies “for my people” (53:8).
c. The Reason the Servant died: To heal us – 53:5.
d. 53:5 – By his stripes we are healed – Some take this verse to mean that there is physical healing in the Atonement, that the Christian can claim victory over sickness by faith. This interpretation is supported by Matthew 8:17 which applies this verse to the healing ministry of Jesus. The problem is that the context of Isaiah 53 is clearly speaking of inner healing, healing of the spirit. This word for healing, rapha, is used by Jeremiah of forgiveness and inner renewal (Jeremiah 17:9, 14: 14 Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.; 51:9). Rather than build a theology of healing on a questionable interpretation of this verse, it is better to keep the focus where Isaiah does clearly – on the spiritual health Jesus died to restore.
e. APPLICATION: In Christ we are truly healed eternally. Our bodies will weaken and die, but we will awake to eternal life. Then our transformed bodies too will share in the fullness of all Jesus has won for us.
f. Prophecy fulfilled minutely – 53:9
i. Died with criminals: Matthew 27:38: 38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
ii. Buried with the rich: 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.
iii. And in verse 8, the verse is difficult to translate. “By oppression and judgment he was taken away” may be also rendered, “By arrest and sentencing” (Matthew 26:47-56: twice Jesus says that his arrest was to fulfill prophecy: 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”).
g. APPLICATION: The Bible is trustworthy. It was inspired by the same God who watches over you. If it is so accurate and concerned about every minute detail of prophecy, then why do you question whether that same God is not concerned for every detail of your life? He is. He watches over you and takes care of you. Trust him with everything.
3. HE IS THE SERVANT WHO AROSE FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION (Isaiah 53:10-12)
a. Overview: It was God’s intent to crush Him, for the Messiah is a guilt offering, a substitute paying the price of our sins (53:10). Yet death is not the end. The light of life awaits the Servant beyond the grave. He not only rises, but is satisfied that his suffering was not in vain, for by it He “will justify many” (53:11). Vibrant, the Servant is raised to new life and glory. In submitting to God’s will, “he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:12).
b. ILLUSTRATION: It was this section of Scripture that led to the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).
c. Meaning of Jesus’ death: The theologians since the Apostles struggled to explain exactly why Jesus had to die. This passage in Isaiah gives perhaps Scripture’s clearest single explanation. Why did they struggle? Probably because they had become so anti-Semitic, so anti-Jewish. The answer comes from the Jewish sacrificial system. Jesus died as a guilt offering. He was a sacrifice who took our sin upon Himself and gave His life to pay for it in full.
d. Sin offering and Guilt offering: This sacrifice brings peace and justify many people (53:5, 11-12). The idea of something without sin dying to atone for the sins of someone who is guilty is embedded in the sin and guilt offering regulations in Leviticus 1:4; 5:15 & Paul Romans 3:21-24.
i. Sin Offering: (Non-sweet) Leviticus 4:1-5:13; 6:24-30; 12:6-8; 14:12-14 - Christ our Substitute for Sin; Hands on the head of victim
ii. Guilt Offering: (Non-sweet) Leviticus 5:14-6:7; 7:1-6; 14:12-18 - Christ our Restorer at six-fifths value. (He gives above and beyond).
e. From these verses develops our theology of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (Isaiah 53:5-6, 8, 10-12).
i. What is the Atonement? It is the work Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection to procure our salvation for us.
ii. Was the Atonement necessary? It was not necessary for God to save anyone at all. Angels were not spared (2 Peter 2:4). In perfect justice he could have left us to await judgment. But in his love, he decided to offer atonement to sinful human beings through his Son.
iii. What made the Atonement necessary? Christ came to earth and died for our sins because of two important characteristics of God: his love and his justice (John 3:16; Romans 3:25). Since his pure character could not accept us in our sinful state into a relationship with himself, God’s love and justice required him to find a way that the penalty of sin due us be paid, a payment that could bear God’s wrath, that would be propitious, or favorably disposed toward us, to “prove God’s righteousness” (Rom 3:26). Both love and justice are equally important. Without love, God would not have redeemed us. Without justice, God would have compromised his righteous character by not destroying sin and those who commit it.
iv. Was there any other way? No. It was not possible for Jesus himself to avoid the ‘cup of suffering’ (Matthew 26:39) if he was going to accomplish the work for which the Father had sent him and if people would be redeemed for God, it was necessary that he die on the cross (Luke 24:25-26). The Servant was the only one effectual sacrifice (Hebrews 2:17) because it was impossible for any other blood to be sufficient (Hebrews 10:4). A better one was required, only that of the divine-human Servant (Hebrews 9:23, 25-26).
v. How did the Atonement work? First, if Jesus had only died for us for the forgiveness of our sins, we would be in the same spot as Adam and Eve, with our guilt removed but having to live sinlessly from that point forward. Instead, Christ lived a perfect life of perfect obedience without blemish before his Father in order also to earn righteousness for us (Matthew 3:15; Philippians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 5:19). Second, Jesus had to suffer for us.
1. He suffered his whole life in a fallen world (Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 5:8; 12:3-4; John 11:35; Isaiah 53:3).
2. He suffered on the cross (Matthew 26:38)
a. in physical pain and death (Mark 15:24; John 19:31-33),
b. in bearing sin (Isaiah 53:6, 12; John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24),
c. in abandonment (Mark 14:34; Matthew 26:56; John 1:11; 13:1; Matthew 27:46),
d. In bearing the wrath of God (Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Isaiah 53:11). Making propitiation is a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God, making God propitious (or favorable) toward us.
vi. Penal Substitutionary Atonement – (Genesis 22) Penal: Christ bore the penalty of death. Substitutionary: He was a substitute for us when he died. It was fair for him suffer so, because he willingly received it because he loved us.
f. Jewish people also have a hard time understanding how the Messiah, God’s Servant, could suffer and at the same time be Messiah. The Servant’s suffering was a unique event in history. Its uniqueness was that He was the Son of God and his death was a Substitutionary sacrifice which won us salvation. One day, Zechariah says, they will mourn for the one they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10-11)
g. APPLICATION: At the same time, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah serves as an example to believers. He reminds us that we too are to seek the welfare of others, even at the cost of personal suffering.
h. Resurrection & Reward: For this suffering work, the Servant is repaid. He who was in the tomb will see his days prolonged (53:10b; like Hezekiah, 38:1-20). Isaiah has already pointed to resurrection (25:8; 26:19). Besides resurrection, the Servant also receives great power and authority (Matthew 28:18:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me). It was the will of the Lord both for him to suffer and to go in triumph like a conquering king (53:12; Ephesians 4:7-10: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)).
i. PROPHECY: The evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Servant-Messiah described in Isaiah is compelling, as many minute details in this passage are seen in the Messiah’s life and death. The Apostles recognized and taught this passage as prophecy being fulfilled in their time (Matthew 8:17; Luke 22:37: 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”; John 12:38; Acts 3:26; Romans 15:21; 1 Peter 2:22-25).
Invitation: He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. The Servant has interceded, gone before and between you and the Lord to make a way for you. Would you allow him to bear your sin today?