The Suffering Servant
Cliff Jones, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Two sad, dejected and confused people were walking along the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. Their hopes and aspirations had been shattered because the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they loved, had been crucified. They had hoped that He would have redeemed Israel. As they walked, the Lord joined them, but they were prevented from recognizing Him, Luke 24. 13-16. The Lord explained to them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer before entering into His glory, vv. 25, 26, ‘And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’, v. 27. The two disciples listened, were taught, blessed and comforted. Later they said, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ v. 32. It was not when they were enabled to recognize Him that their hearts burned within them, but when they saw Him revealed in the scriptures.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the dominant theme of the scriptures; He is seen in both the Old and New Testaments. Isaiah, whose name means ‘Jehovah is salvation’, wrote about 700 years before the Lord was born and the book he wrote contains more detailed Messianic prophecies concerning the ‘sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow’, 1 Pet. 1. 11, than any other book in the Old Testament. Isaiah tells us of God’s suffering Servant who came to glorify His Father and do His will, and who will return to reign.
Israel, God’s chosen people, failed to serve God faithfully, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Servant, could not, and did not, fail. He was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’, Phil. 2. 8. Isaiah brings the Lord before us as the holy, sinless substitute, taking the punishment our sins deserve from a holy God. Isaiah tells how our sins were imputed to Him so that we could be declared righteous, having the Lord’s righteousness imputed to us.1 In Isaiah we can see His rejection by Israel, His suffering, sacrifice as the sin offering, resurrection and ultimate triumph. He satisfied divine justice. As a result of the suffering of God’s perfect Servant, God will be able to redeem a repentant, believing remnant of His people, Israel, and provide salvation for Gentiles. The Lord will ultimately rule over the whole world in righteousness and peace.
Behold My Servant, Isa. 52. 13-15
In these verses we have what amounts to a summary of what follows in chapter 53 verses 1-12. We are told in verse 13 to ‘Behold’ God’s perfect Servant, that is, look intently at Him, scrutinize and consider Him. As we study His life we see Him behaving prudently, with divine wisdom. He has been exalted, raised to God’s right hand and praised, for He is preeminent and all-sufficient. God has given Him a name which is above every name.2
When He was on the cross He was punished by God, His Father, for the sin of the whole world.3 His agony was so great that He could not be recognized as a man, and people were astonished by the extent of His sufferings, v. 14. Following the Lord’s substitutionary work on the cross, people of all nations would be saved eternally by putting their faith and trust in Him.4 The Lord will have glory, glory such as will astonish those who see it. So great will be the contrast between the glory and the humiliation and suffering He experienced to glorify His Father and finish the work His Father had given Him to do that Gentile kings will be speechless. Gentiles will hear and see things of which they were previously unaware, v. 15.
Rejected of men, Isa. 53. 1-3
The nation of Israel did not believe the things which had been reported concerning the Lord.5 The nation had waited for the Messiah but when He came the majority failed to recognize Him.6 The people did not see a manifestation of the ‘arm of the Lord’, that is, the power of God in the Lord’s birth, life, deeds, words and resurrection.
God delighted in His Son before the world was, and throughout His earthly ministry.7 During the Lord’s sinless life on earth He glorified His Father, always doing the things that pleased Him.8 He grew up before God as a ‘tender plant . . . a root out of a dry ground’, v. 2, the ‘dry ground’ being the nation of Israel and the sinful world in general. The nation was likened to a lifeless stump out of which the Messianic Branch would grow.9 Those who did not believe He was the Messiah could see no beauty in His Person, teaching, grace or moral glories. On earth He came from a lowly background, but they looked for a Messiah who would come in splendour, as a conqueror to deliver them from the power of Rome.
The Lord was despised, rejected and humiliated, but endured patiently. He, the source of all true joy, knew grief and sorrow, v. 3. The Jews rejected Him and His teaching; He ‘came unto His own, and His own received Him not’, John 1. 11.10
Wounded for our transgressions, Isa. 53. 4-6
One day, repentant Israel will ‘look on him whom they pierced’,11 and will say, ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows’, v. 4. When He was on the cross, men thought that the Lord was being punished for His own sins. They did not realize that He, the sinless One, was enduring the sufferings and punishment we deserve for our sins, v. 5. He suffered for our transgressions, sins and iniquities; He was our substitute, 1 Pet. 2. 24, making substitutionary atonement for our sins.
As a result of what He endured, we can be saved by grace through faith in what He accomplished, for He ‘once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’, 1 Pet. 3. 18. The Lord ‘made peace through the blood of his cross’, Col. 1. 20. He was the great sin offering, and His shed blood cleanses us from all sin.12
We have all sinned and gone astray from God like lost sheep, but the Lord Jesus came ‘to seek and to save that which was lost’, Luke 19. 10. God ‘laid on Him the iniquity of us all’, v. 6, and He, the Good Shepherd, gave His life for the sheep.13
He opened not His mouth, Isa. 53. 7-9
When speaking to the Ethiopian eunuch,14 Philip told him of the Lord, the Lamb of God, who was led like a submissive, docile, sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter, Isa. 53. 7. He, our Passover lamb was sacrificed for us.15 He was subjected to unjust trials and, unless it was essential, He, the One of whom it was said, ‘Never man spake like this man’, John 7. 46, said nothing. He did nothing to prevent His crucifixion, for this was the will of God.16
The Lord was ‘cut off’; He was sacrificed and died for the sins of the people, v. 8. Men intended to bury Him, the sinless One, among wicked men, but God ensured that He was buried in the new, unused sepulchre of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of the Lord, v. 9; cp. Matt. 27. 57-60.
He shall be satisfied, Isa. 53. 10-12
It was the will of God to punish His beloved Son as a substitute for sinners. He was punished ‘for our iniquities’. His substitutionary sacrifice made possible the salvation of a remnant of repentant Israel and all who put their faith and trust in Him, for the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect, cleanses from all sin.17
The Lord was the trespass offering.18 He will yet ‘see His seed’. Those who have been saved are, as it were, His offspring. His days will be prolonged eternally, for He rose from the dead, Matt. 28. 6, and lives in the power of an endless life. God’s plans and purposes will be fulfilled eternally through the Lord Jesus Christ, v. 10. The Lord, ‘for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’, Heb. 12. 2. He will see the results of His sufferings and will be satisfied when He is surrounded by those who have been saved by grace and have peace with God, Rom. 5. 1. The Lord said, ‘I and my Father are one’, John 10. 30. He, God’s ‘righteous servant’, knew and did His Father’s will, and we have been graciously saved through our God-given knowledge of the righteous, suffering Servant of God, who is our Lord and Saviour, v. 11.
God will ‘divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong’, v. 12. Those of us who are saved are ‘the great’ and ‘the strong’ because of our association, by grace, with the Lord. We shall enjoy the benefits of the victory He gained at Calvary; we ‘shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is’; we shall be with Him in the place He has prepared for us.19 All this will come to pass because He ‘poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’, v. 12.20 He interceded for those who crucified Him, and today, seated on the throne of God, He intercedes for us.21
Wonderful love, wonderful grace, wonderful salvation, wonderful Saviour!
- 2 Cor. 5. 21.
- Phil. 2. 9.
- John 1. 29; 1 John 2. 2.
- Eph. 2. 8.
- v. 1; John 12. 37, 38.
- Rom. 10. 16.
- Prov. 8. 30; Matt. 3. 17; 17. 5.
- John 8. 29.
- Isa. 11. 1.
- He wept over Jerusalem, Luke 19. 41, and on his way to the grave of Lazarus, John 11. 35, and in Gethsemane His soul was ‘exceeding sorrowful’, Matt. 26. 38. He was deserted by the nation, John 19. 15; by His disciples, Matt. 26. 56, and, on the cross, He gave what is surely the most awful cry ever uttered by a man when He cried, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Ps. 22. 1; Matt. 27. 46.
- John 19. 37; Zech. 12. 10.
- 1 John 1. 7.
- John 10. 11.
- Acts 8. 32, 33.
- 1 Cor. 5. 7.
- 1 Pet. 1. 20; 1 Cor. 15. 3, 4.
- 1 Pet. 1. 19; 1 John 1. 7.
- Isa. 53. 10; Lev. 6. 1-7.
- 1 Cor. 15. 54-57; 1 John 3. 2; John 14. 2, 3.
- Cp. John 19. 18; Heb. 9. 28.
- Luke 23. 34; Heb. 1. 3; Heb. 7. 24, 25; 9. 24.