The central message of salvation is the Cross of Jesus. Christianity is the only world religion that celebrates the death of its founder as a GOOD thing, something essential and part of its fundamental teaching. Why? The Word explained the event 700 years BEFORE it took place. First, a few words about the context of this passage:
• The ministry of Isaiah took place from 740 BC to 680 BC, a span of 60 years. Jesus was born in about 6 BC, so we have about a 700 year gap between Isaiah’s prophecies and the coming of Jesus.
• The introduction to the book tells us he was the son of someone named Amoz. Some Rabbis taught that Amoz was a brother to King Amaziah. This would make Isaiah the cousin of Amaziah’s son, King Uzziah. It would also explain why Isaiah enjoyed a free pass into the royal courts to speak. Isaiah was family.
• His ministry extended across the reigns of four kings as it says in the first verse: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1).
• Isaiah was married and he called his wife “the prophetess” (8:3) suggesting that prophecy was the family ministry, not his alone. They had two sons, one named Shear-Jashub (7:3), which means “a remnant shall return,” and one named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, which means “quick to plunder.”
• Some Jewish sages said that due to his relentless passion to speak for God he was put to death by King Manasseh. There is a reference in Hebrews 11:37 about God’s heroes being sawn in two; Isaiah is said to have been killed this way.
• James Smith in his book, The Major Prophets says, “For the Christian the Book of Isaiah is extremely important. Forty-seven chapters of this book were directly quoted or alluded to by Christ or the Apostles. With more than four hundred allusions, Isaiah stands second only to Psalms as the most cited book in the New Testament.”
The book of Isaiah clearly presents a picture of the coming Messiah as a Suffering Servant. For those of you who are reading Isaiah, you will discover four passages which are often called the “Servant Songs”. They aren’t actually songs, but they are like the Psalms in their poetic and lyrical style. The four “Servant Songs” the present a portrait in poetry of the one the Lord calls “my servant.”
- Isaiah 42:1-7; shows the Lord’s delight with his anointed servant and the gentle characteristics of the servant’s ministry.
- Isaiah 49:3-7; describes the chosen servant of the Lord and the world-wide scope of his influence.
- Isaiah 50:4-10; Details the obedience of the servant and his vindication after suffering.
- Isaiah 52:13 – Isaiah 53:12; Explains the atoning sacrifice of the suffering servant who is despised and rejected yet obeys to the point of death and is therefore highly exalted by God
A little closer to our text, it is probably important to remind you that the Jewish sages and rabbis largely and uniformly recognized Isaiah’s prophecies in chapter’s 52-53 dealt with the coming Messiah until about 1150 CE when the Jews abandoned the traditional interpretation if these chapters in favor of saying that Isaiah was really talking about the people of Israel. The New Testament also affirmed that understanding in the story of Philip in Acts 8. The evangelist was told by the Holy Spirit to go to the desert road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. In a remarkable moment of Spirit driven destiny Philip finds an Ethiopian eunuch studying a scroll. And what is he reading specifically? Isaiah 53, where the Servant is led like a lamb to the slaughter. He is fascinated but puzzled and he asks Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’
Jesus was killed for three reasons according to the ancient prophecy written before His coming in Isaiah 53:
I. Jesus’ death showed God’s power to break the hold of the enemy over man’s fallen kingdom (53:1-3).
In the battle that was set in motion in the Garden of Eden, God used this one act to confound His enemy. He literally tricked him in an unbelievable way (53:1). That is why the prophecy begins with these words: “This message is unbelievable! God rolled up his sleeve and showed his forearm strength!” How did God trick the enemy?
A. God used something small and seemingly weak! (53:2) He used something tiny and tender (yo-nak: sapling from “yaw-nak” : nursing baby).
B. God used something from a dead place! (53:2b). He used something from the dead soil (tsee-yaw: burned desert ground).
In 1917 a vial of blood was taken from a dying African man, who was racked with pain as a fever raged in his body. He shook so uncontrollably it was difficult to draw the blood from him. He died shortly after, but his blood contained the singular best viral strain of a highly infectious disease, and literally millions of lives have been saved from the cultures grown and vaccines created from this one dying man’s blood.
C. God used something that showed little promise (53:2b). He had no form (to-ar: shape or outline or frame) nor adornment (haw-dar: ornament). He was not attractive (chaw-mad: deired or coveted).
D. God used something not recognized nor well received (53:3). He was despised (baw-zaw: regarded with contempt) and judged “found wanting” (khaw-dale: seen as lacking).
E. God used something that did not seem to have His protection or help (53:3b). He was a man of sorrows (ma-kobe: pains) and “acquainted with grief” can be translated simply “knew sickness” (yodea cholae).
F. God used someone that was easily forgotten by those He met (53:3b). He was not “esteemed” (literally: chosev- thought about).
An article in the National Geographic (9/91) tells of a young man from Hanover, Pennsylvania, who was badly burned in a boiler explosion. To save his life, physicians covered him with 6,000 square centimeters of donor skin, as well as sheets of skin cultured from a stamp-sized piece of his own unburned skin. A journalist asked him, “Do you ever think about the donor who saved you?” The young man replied, “To be alive because of a dead donor is too big, too much, so I don’t think about it.”
II. Jesus replaced me in my deserved punishment (53:4-9)
A. In unbelief, we misjudged what was happening to Jesus. Our deserved griefs (cholae: illness) He bore (nawsaw: carried upon himself). Our deserved sorrows (makobe: pains) He carried (sawbal: took the weight that was lowered on). Yet, we thought God beat Him, but it was the affliction that we put there! (53:4).
B. In our unbelief, we were replaced. His crushing was our healing! (53:5-6)
• He was pierced (khawlal: penetrated with an illness or defiling) because of our transgression (pehshah: rebellion).
• He was crushed (dawkaw: ground down) because of our iniquities (awvone: depravity, perversity).
• He was chastened (moosawr: discipline) for our well being (shalom: everything as it should be).
• He was scourged (khaboraw: bruised, beaten) for our healing (raphaw:made well).
Actor Kevin Bacon recounted when his 6-year-old son saw Footloose for the first time: He said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you swing from the rafters of that building? That’s really cool, how did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that part–it was a stunt man.” “What’s a stunt man?” he asked. “That’s someone who dresses like me and does things I can’t do.” “Oh,” he replied and walked out of the room looking a little confused. A little later he said, “Hey, Dad, you know that thing in the movie where you spin around on that gym bar and land on your feet? How did you do that?” I said, “Well, I didn’t do that. It was a gymnastics double.” “What’s a gymnastics double?” he asked. “That’s a guy who dresses in my clothes and does things I can’t do.” There was silence from my son, then he asked in a concerned voice, “Dad, what did you do?” “I got all the glory,” I sheepishly replied. That’s the grace of God in our lives. Jesus took our sin upon himself and did what we couldn’t do. We stand forgiven and bask sheepishly triumphant in Jesus’ glory.
Verse 53:6 summarizes: We have all gone our own directions, but the Savior took the blame for all of what we did!
Steve Winger wrote about his last college test a final in a logic class known for its difficult exams. “To help us on our test, the professor told us we could bring as much information to the exam as we could fit on a piece of notebook paper. Most students crammed as many facts as possible on their 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper. But one student walked into class, put a piece of notebook paper on the floor, and had an advanced logic student stand on the paper. The advanced logic student told him everything he needed to know. He was the only student to receive an ‘A’.” The ultimate final exam will come when we stand before God and he asks, “Why should I let you in?” On our own we cannot pass that exam. Our creative attempts to earn eternal life fall far short. But we have Someone who will stand in for us.
C. In our unbelief, we would have judged the Savior guilty (53:7) or powerless in His own punishment (53:8-9).
A soap manufacturer and a pastor were walking together down a street in a large city. The soap manufacturer casually said, “The gospel you preach hasn’t done much good, has it? Just observe. There is still a lot of wickedness in the world, and a lot of wicked people, too!” The pastor made no reply until they passed a dirty little child making mud pies in the gutter. Seizing the opportunity, the pastor said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world; for there is much dirt, and many dirty people around.” The soap manufacturer replied, “Oh, well, soap is only useful when it is applied.” And the pastor said, “Exactly, so it is with the gospel.”
• He didn’t defend Himself well (53:7).
• Powerful people swept Him away (oppression is “otser”: coerced – 53:8)
• He was executed with criminals (53:9) yet strangely buried with the rich (53:9b).
• He did nothing wrong but become unable to defend Himself!
During his last illness, just before he died, someone asked Mr. Spurgeon to declare his faith briefly, simply, and clearly. This is what he said, “Jesus died for me.” Four, simple words, but four more comforting, soul-cheering words could never be spoken by a sinner. “Jesus died for me.”
III. Jesus satisfied the judicial payment for my sin (53:10-12).
A. The Lord was pleased (“judicially satisfied” as in 53:11, where God is satisfied, also in 1:11 translated “had enough” of the sacrifices) with the payment of the “awshawm” that Jesus self offered. (53:10).
B. The Lord allowed the sacrifice to cover many others as a substitute (53:11).
C. The Lord will reward the Savior for pouring Himself out, allowing Himself to be called a criminal, and taking the sins of others upon Him and meeting them (pawgah: standing at their face.)
Peggy Key, of Portage, MI. said, “While driving to church on Easter Sunday two years ago, I told my children the Easter story. “This is the day we celebrate Jesus coming back to life,” I explained. Right away, my 3-year-old son, Kevin, piped up from the back seat, “Will He be in church today?”
He IS here, and He wants you to be one of the ones that He has met, face to face. Are you ready to face Him?
In his book “Next Door Savior” Max Lucado shares a story told by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. A man had been inured in a fire while attempting to save his parents from the blaze. He couldn’t get them out. They both died. In his attempt to rescue his parents the man’s face was burned and disfigured. As many who suffer do, the man mistakenly interpreted his pain as God’s punishment. He wouldn’t let anyone else see him – not even his wife. She went to Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, for help. He told the woman not to worry. “I can restore his face.” The wife was unenthused. Her husband had repeatedly refused any help and she knew he would again. Then why visit? “I want you to disfigure my face so I can be like him! If I can share in his pain, then maybe he will let me back into his life.” Dr. Maltz was shocked. He denied her request but was so moved by this woman’s love for her husband that he paid a visit to their home. Knocking on the man’s bedroom door, he called loudly, “I’m a plastic surgeon, and I want you to know that I can restore your face.” No response. “Please come out.” Still no answer. Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man of his wife’s proposal. “She wants me to disfigure her face, to make her face look like yours in hope that you will let her back into your life. That’s how much she loves you. There was a brief moment of silence, and then, ever so slowly, the door-knob began to turn.” The way the woman felt for her husband is the same way God feels about us. The difference: he did more than make the offer. He took on our face, our disfigurement. Our failures. Our pain. Our brokenness. Our imperfections. He became like us so that we might know Him. He did it all because he loves you.