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Monday, July 4, 2011

The Suffering Savior: Isaiah 53

The Suffering Savior: Isaiah 53

There is a tragic tendency of organized religion to minimize God's involvement in the death of Jesus. Even more offensive is to ignore or conceal God's intense indignation against sin, together with His awesome and incredible desire to see sinful mankind rescued from His own wrath.

The plan of God to rescue us from His own wrath required that a perfect human, God's Servant, take upon Himself that wrath, as an offering for our sin, much like an innocent lamb is slaughtered as an offering.

But God's Servant is much, much more than an innocent lamb. The One chosen by God to bear the sins of the world was One adored by God: Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Isaiah describes a vivid picture both of the indignant wrath of God against our sin and His anguish in seeing His Son pay for our sin. Understanding the 53rd chapter of Isaiah's revelation is best understood by looking first at chapter 52. Through revelation to Isaiah, God gives hope to the beaten, conquered nation of Israel, telling them to expect His salvation. In Isaiah 52, God told His people to "Awake, awake!" Although God's name was then despised throughout the world, soon His name would change all things.

God described the coming salvation as His "bared holy arm" (Isaiah 52:7). He called the One through whom salvation would come "My servant" (Isaiah 52:13). However, God said that His Servant would appear "marred" (disfigured, as from decay or ruin) beyond human semblance" (Isaiah 52:14).

Isaiah has described a seemingly impossible situatution: God will bring the nation of Israel out of oppression and suffering, but the One through Whom this deliverance would come would appear to be utterly weak and worthless.

Isaiah begins chapter 53 by expressing doubt that anyone will believe this message about a suffering Savior:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Isaiah 53:1

BELIEVED: "Aman", to build up or support; to foster as a parent or nurse; to render (or be) firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent; to be true

REVEALED: "Gala", to denude, especially in a disgraceful sense; to exile or reveal.

Through Isaiah, God implied that the world would not accept this message of hope. Few, if any, would take this message of hope to heart. Few would nurture such a message, allowing it to grow and support them through times of trouble. The message that describes God as disgracefully naked and disfigured would appeal to few, if any.

God continues His description of the One, the Servant, through Whom salvation would come:

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:2

YOUNG PLANT: "Yoneq", a sucker; a twig (of a tree felled and sprouting); from "yanaq" (to suck; to give milk)

"Young plant" describes the small regard that the world would have for God's Servant. A tree cut down for timber or firewood, left perhaps for a season to dry out, might produce a few live sprouts from its dying roots. These struggling attempts to extend the life of the tree are futile. The twig is sucking nutrients from a dying tree and has little chance of growing to maturity.

A plant attempting to grow in parched, dry soil would be just as unlikely to survive.

MAJESTY: "Hadar", magnificence, ornament or splendor; from "hadar" (to swell up, favor, honor, or be high or proud)

Just as we would ignore or tread upon a weed growing from a crack in the sidewalk, God's Servant would appear to be worthless, without any promise of usefulness or beauty.

We delight in things that appear beautiful, things that appear to offer sweetness or pleasure. A spindly weed growing out of dry ground appears worthless and ugly.

God now leaves the metaphor of a struggling plant and describes His Servant plainly:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3

REJECTED: "Hadel", vacant, ceasing or destitute; from "hadal" (to be flabby or to desist; to be lacking or idle

Salvation from God would come in the form of a man appearing to be empty of life, skin sagging, without movement or strength. Those seeing this Man would despise and reject Him. Isaiah places himself as one of the crowd who would despise this Servant of God.

SORROWS: "Makob", anguish or affliction; from "kaab", to feel pain, to grieve or spoil

GRIEF: "Holi", malady, anxiety, calamity; from "hala" (to be rubbed or worn, weak, sick, afflicted

ESTEEMED: "Hashab", to plait or weave; to fabricate or plot

God's Servant would suffer anguish and torturous pain. Those seeing Him would turn their faces away, despising His sickness and weakness, regarding Him as utterly worthless. The plans and schemes of the world would completely ignore Him, esteeming Him of little worth, of little consequence.

Isaiah now hints at the role in which His Servant would have in bringing salvation:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Isaiah 53:4

STRICKEN: "Naga", to touch, to lay the hand upon, reach or strike

SMITTEN: "Naka", to strike

AFFLICTED: "Ana", to depress; related to "ana" (to eye or heed, to pay attention or respond)

The sorrow and grief described in verse three belongs to us. It was our sorrow and grief that God's Servant lifted from us, carrying it upon Himself.

Yet our response was not thankfulness. We considered Him as deserving all the punishment He received, punishment as from God upon a sinner.

We, however, were the sinners.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

WOUNDED: "Halal", to bore; to wound, dissolve, profane, break, or begin

TRANSGRESSIONS: "Pesha", a revolt; from "pasha" (to break away, tresspass, apostatize or quarrel)

CRUSHED: "Daka", to crumble

INIQUITIES: "Awon", perversity or moral evil; from "awa" (to crook)

CHASTISEMENT: "Musar", to chastise (punish by whipping), reproof, warning, instruction or restraint; from "yacar" (chastise, instruct)

PEACE: "Shalom", safe, well, happy, friendly, welfare; from "shalam" (safe, completed, friendly, to reciprocate)

STRIPES: "Habbura", bound with stripes, a weal (black-and-blue mark); from "habar" (to join or fascinate)

HEALED: "Rapa", to mend (by stitching) or cure

God's Servant took upon Himself the punishment for our sin. He was wounded, crushed and whipped, not for His sin, but for ours. Our crooked rebellious hearts and actions were healed and forgiven by God because of the awful punishment borne by His Servant on our behalf.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:6-7

OPPRESSED: "Nagas", to drive, tax, harass or tyrannize

LED: "Yabal", to flow or bring (with pomp)

"All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king." Psalms 45:13-15 (ESV)

The sacrificial murder of God's Servant would appear as a parade, with celebrants joyfully driving Him to the place of death. And as a sacrificial lamb, the Servant would be silent, submitting to His death quietly.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? Isaiah 53:8

OPPRESSION: "Oser", closure or constraint; from "asar" (to inclose or hold back; maintain, rule, assemble)

JUDGEMENT: "mishpat", a verdict or sentence; from "shapat" (to judge or sentence, vindicate, punish, govern or litigate)

CONSIDERED: "Siah", to ponder, converse or utter

GENERATION: "Dor", a revolution of time, an age or a dwelling; from "dur" (to gyrate, to move in a circle or remain)

CUT OFF: "Gazar", to cut down or off; to destroy, divide, exclude or decide

Isaiah again asks the question, Who will accept this message? Who will ponder the sacrificial murder of One who will be arrested, convicted and executed for a crime of which He is innocent, a crime of which the entire nation, the entire world, is guilty.

The death of God's Perfect Servant would be indignantly common:

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:9

WICKED: "Rasha", morally wrong or bad; from "rasha" (to be wrong; disturb or violate)

RICH: "Ashir", rich or noble; from "ashar" (to accumulate, to grow or make rich)

VIOLENCE: "Hamas", violence or wrong; unjust gain; from "hamas" (to be violent or maltreat)

God's Servant would be murdered and buried, a life without violence or deceit apparently wasted, ending in the same death suffered by the wicked and rich alike.

God reveals to Isaiah clearly that the ignoble murder of His Servant was according to His will:

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10

WILL: "Hapes", to incline to; to bend or be pleased with; to desire

OFFSPRING: "Zera", seed; fruit, plant, sowing-time or posterity; from "zara" (to sow; disseminate, plant or fructify)

The death of God's Servant was part of God's plan for redemption, an offering for our guilt. The sacrifice complete, God would raise His Servant, bringing to fruit the happy result of redeemed mankind.

The Sacrifice would satisfy God:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:11

God would anguish over the suffering and death of His Servant, despite it being according to His will. God would see the sacrifice, and knowing the righteousness of the One sacrificed as an offering for sin, God would erase all charges of guilt, accounting many to be as righteous as the sacrificed Servant who bore their sin.

God's Servant will be elevated and exalted:

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12

MANY: "Rab", abundant (in quantity, size, age, number, rank or quality); from "rabab" (to cast together; to increase, especially in number; and "rebaba" (abundance, a myriad)

SPOIL: "Shalal", booty or riches taken in war; from "shalal" (to drop or strip, implying plunder)

All of mankind made righteous by God through the sacrifice of His Servant will be given to The Servant as a reward. The Servant will become King of innumerable redeemed saints, sharing with them the riches of His Kingdom.

Praise God for Jesus!

Image courtesy of Hafsah Al-Azem, modified with GIMP