The Suffering Servant

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What is it that draws you to Jesus?

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12

God promises that his servant will lead wisely and will be exalted, raised up so that people will look to him. However, how this will happen is deeply shocking.  People will not be attracted to him because of beauty, glory and majesty, instead, something awful, brutal and ugly will happen to him that will disfigure him. Yet, it is by this very act, this very incident that he will have an mazing impact on the nations, silencing their rulers and causing them to look and turn to him (52:13-15).

This surprising twist is perhaps difficult to comprehend and so Isaiah asks the question “Who has listened to what we are saying? Who has believed it?”  The Cross of course turns out to be an offence, a stumbling block and foolishness to many. In fact, the message throughout Isaiah has been that people have been unable to perceive and understand what God is saying and doing. However, the servant himself sees, hears, understands and obeys (53:1).

So, the servant is one who grows up, “like a root in dry ground”, or in a surprising, obscure and unexpected place. It almost seems as though he turns up out of nowhere.  There’s nothing to point us to him as worthy of attention.  He does not display outer strength, majesty or beauty (53:2). In fact, the opposite happens, he is rejected, people despise and look down on him, they mock him, reject him, hate him. The brutal events that leave him disfigured mean that people can’t even look directly at him and turn away in disgust, revulsion, shame, embarrassment, fear (53:3)

We associate the servant with shame, suffering and sorrow. However, Isaiah is clear that it is our shame and sorrow that he is carrying, not his own. However, we continued to assume that he suffered because he was guilty, because God was angry at him.  Yet, we are reminded again that when he was wounded and crushed, it was for our sin (53:4-5).  We, in contrast are like disobedient, foolish sheep wandering away from the shepherd (God) and safe pasture. This is why we needed him to come and deal with the problem of our sin (53:6).

If we have acted like disobedient wandering sheep, he by contrast is the obedient lamb going willingly to be sacrificed without protest (53:7). He is treated as a criminal, executed in the prime of life so that his death seems like a tragic waste of life The reference to “wicked and rich could be because the rich were often considered to be corrupt, especially in prophetic literature, though there seems to be a hint here to the borrowed tomb which belonged to a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea (53:8-9).  

Even more shocking throughout this, is the announcement that despite his innocence and our guilt, it was God’s plan and good purpose to crush him.  This is because the servant is offering his life as a sacrifice for sin.  He is bringing about atonement (53:10a).

However, death and judgement do not have the last word.  He is cut off in his prime but somehow he gets to see future days and many children because his anguish or suffering means that many people are declared right with God (53:10b-11). The end of the chapter confirms that his sacrifice is effective, pleasing to God and so God rewards him (53:12).

Jesus, the suffering servant

It seems obvious to us that the servant in Isaiah has to be Jesus but we know that because the New Testament writers tell us so.  People who don’t accept the New Testament as God’s Word however are more likely to question this and suggest alternatives including the prophet himself or the nation of Israel. Yet, it should be clear from the text that the language here cannot point to finite and fallen human beings.  Israel suffered because of her own sin and so was not in a position to pay the penalty for others. Indeed, given that Isaiah speaks to Jewish listeners first, it would require quite a level of logical gymnastics to suggest that he is telling the people that someone else has taken their place who just happens to be themselves. 

So, Jesus is the one who is obedient and faithful where we are disobedient, the one who gives up his majesty and experiences brutal suffering that is horrific and disfiguring.  He is cut off in his prime, executed with criminals at a young age and laid in a borrowed tomb.  We are told that he does all this on behalf of us. He takes our guilt and shame on himself so that we might be declared righteous.  God vindicates him, raising him from the grave and so he reigns for ever and “sees many offspring” as millions throughout the generations come to faith in him.


Meditate on these words:

“He was pierced for our transgressions.” (53:5).

  1. Name the specific sins you are prone to that Christ died for.
  2. How does it make you feel to know that Christ died for your sin?

Lord Jesus, thank you that you took my place on the Cross.  It was because of my sin that you died. 

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