The Suffering and Exalted Servant
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
Often, when we want to underline the sorrows and the humiliation of our Lord, we quote the well-known verses from Isaiah 53. There He is so minutely described as "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" that the prophet's message has come to be associated almost exclusively with this aspect of His redeeming work.
Yet running through the section Isaiah 52. 9 to 53. 12 is another line of thought that wonderfully balances the presentation of the Suffering Messiah, and casts its rays of heavenly light across the dark background of sorrow. In a study Bible, I once wrote beside these verses: Heaven's Response!
The four contrasts are connected with: (i) The changed site of burial, 53. 9. (ii) The Messianic line, 53. 8, 10.
(iii) The world rulers' silence, 53, 7; 52. 15. (iv) The divine might revealed, 53. 1; 52. 10.
The Changed Site of Burial. The heavenly reaction is clearly seen beginning in Isaiah 53. 9. The plans of the authorities were to consign the body of the Lord Jesus to the degradation of the communal pit. There was no ceremonial burial for common criminals. They made his grave with the wicked, R.v. The precious body, formed in the womb of the virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, was thus planned by men to be denied. The wonderful body of Christ, culminating point of creation and to become the perfect basis of the new creation, was to have joined the corpses that had been removed from so many other crucifixions.
But heaven intervened. How fragrant is the scene in the garden in John 19. 38-42. A good man and just, Joseph of Arimathea, pleads with Pilate for the body of the Saviour. Loving hands carefully remove the nails from His wounded hands and feet, and gently lower Him from the cross. Surrounded by the sweet-smelling myrrh and aloes, the precious body is placed in the pure white linen and laid in the clean new rock tomb in the midst of the garden. What a contrast willed by God! They had planned His grave with the wicked ones, but He was with the rich one in His death. Heaven's response!
The Messianic line. Then comes the prophet's query concerning the lineage and the posterity of the suffering Servant. Who shall declare His generation?, 53. S. This question is all the more poignant when one remembers how the Messianic line had been divinely protected across so many centuries. Through Egyptian bondage and the Babylonian deportations, through the domestic crises of Judah and David, through links with unexpected incomers like Rahab and Ruth, the line of the Promised Seed was maintained. The wicked queen Athaliah thought she had destroyed all the seed royal, but the Lord preserved the tiny Joash. What a slender thread! Now the Messiah has come in fulfilment of all the promises, and His life has abruptly ended. There are no successors! Have all God's purposes fallen to the ground? Who shall declare His generation?, Acts 8, 33.
How infinite is the vision inspired by the words of Isaiah 53. 10-He shall see His seed. One hundred and twenty gathered in the upper room had become three thousand one hundred and twenty on the day of Pentecost. Many more thousands were soon added. Syria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain and the uttermost parts of the earth were to join the Risen, Glorified Lord in the power of the new creation on resurrection ground, as new believers from every region became true Christians. "Behold I and the children which God hath given me", Heb. 2. 13. The once lonely, despised Man of Sorrows, in whom the Messianic line seemed to have irremediably terminated, is now surrounded by the countless myriads of the redeemed. He shall see of the travail of His soul. He shall be satisfied!
The World Rulers' Silence. Our Lord's silence in the presence of His accusers and judges surprised them. "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth", Isa. 53. 7. One appeal from His lips and twelve legions of angels or more would have sped to His rescue. The silent Sufferer, wrists bound, does not protest. His only desire is meekly to accomplish His Father's will.
What a contrast in 52.15! So shall He startle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at Him! Here is a scene of regal glory, when our Lord will be revealed as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In the full-orbed vision of His multiple glories all earthly authority will bow in the dust and not a voice will be heard in the vast assembly but that of Him who was so silent before those who thought they were His judges. Now, as in Psalm 29. 4, the voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. He who wore the crown of thorns in mockery will then have on His head many diadems.
The Divine Might Revealed. The expression "the arm of the Lord" occurs several times in the book of Isaiah, speaking of the revealing of His strength in domination and in salvation. The question, To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed, Isa. 53. I, seems to use it as a title of our Lord Jesus. How difficult though to discern the infinity of divine strength in the One presented in the following verses. A tender plant, a root out of a dry ground, no form nor comeliness, no beauty, despised, rejected, stricken, smitten of God, afflicted .. . these terms epitomise the totality of weakness and defeat. The final scenes at Calvary only seemed, to the natural man and to the outward eye, to confirm the hopelessness of the position of Jesus of Nazareth. Then in 52.10 comes the heavenly reaction, "The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God". 2 Thessalonians 1. 7 comes to mind: "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God ... when he shall come to be glorified in his saints". Heaven's response to all iniquity, rebellion and sin will once again grant to our beloved Lord the central and supreme position, revelation of the eternal infinity of the light and life and love of God.