God Promises a Suffering Servant (pt. 2)

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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 15, Session 1
© 2019 LifeWay Christian Resources. Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser. Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., Jan. 2023.
Summary and Goal
In the previous unit, we explored why God would judge the sins of His people. In this session, we will examine how God showed mercy to us by transferring our sins to His Son, the Suffering Servant. Though people often look for a Savior who is a bold, charismatic leader, the Servant—Jesus—came to serve the least of these and ultimately redeem us by His blood. It is in living by faith in His sacrifice for us, following His example, that we will find a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Session Outline
++The Suffering Servant is despised and rejected (Isa. 52:13–53:3).
++The Suffering Servant is struck down as our substitute (Isa. 53:4-9).
++The Suffering Servant is exalted and victorious (Isa. 53:10-12).
Background Passage: Isaiah 49–55
Session in a Sentence
Jesus is the Suffering Servant who was rejected and struck down on our behalf in order to win the victory.
++In love, Jesus became what we are, so that we could become what He is (Isa. 52-53; 2 Cor. 8:9).
Christ Connection
God opened the eyes of Isaiah to see the coming Savior with detail no one had seen before. Isaiah prophesied about a faithful Servant who would be rejected and despised and yet accomplish salvation through His suffering. The New Testament shows that this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus and His work.
Missional Application
Because we have received life through the sacrifice of Jesus, we embrace a life of service and suffering on His behalf as we share the gospel with others.
Group Time
Introduction
DDG (p. 76)
Walk around the NICU at a local hospital and listen to the babies crying, unable to vocalize their hurts and their questions. Pokes, prods, tubes, and shots. These are painful and surely confusing for an infant. The weight of a child’s pain is felt profoundly by a parent, and its purpose may even elude us.
Now move to the Labor and Delivery Unit, where you hear a different sort of cry—laborious cries. What sounds like someone near an excruciating death are the pangs of childbirth. Moms endure the pain because they know what is coming—a beautiful, unique, wonderfully made baby. And moms are even willing to face this pain again for the sake of another child.
Our perception of pain often depends on what we hope for after the pain.
All suffering is part of God’s sovereign plan. We have no hope in our suffering if God has nothing to do with the pain, but the Bible is clear that God has everything to do with it, and He uses it for our good (Rom. 8:28).
This does not dismiss the hurt or the difficulty of suffering, but it does put it in perspective. Jesus Christ, our ultimate example, walked the path of suffering that God chose for Him to bring redemption for us.
God showed mercy to us by transferring our sins to His Son, the Suffering Servant. Though people often look for a Savior who is a bold, charismatic leader, the Servant—Jesus—came to serve the least of these and ultimately redeem us by His blood. It is in living by faith in His sacrifice for us, following His example, that we will find a life of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Start Here

Point 1: The Suffering Servant is despised and rejected (Isa. 52:13–53:3).

Start Here
Read Isaiah 52:13–53:3 (DDG p. 77), asking group members to circle positive descriptions of the Suffering Servant and to underline negative descriptions of Him.
52:13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. [Israel was told about Him, but didn’t recognize Him when He came, but the Gentiles who were not told of Him, saw and understood Him]
53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 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. 3 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.
DDG (p. 77)
For the overwhelming solemn, even negative, tone of this passage, one can almost miss the fact that it begins in victory. Honor would come to the Servant, yet this Man would suffer deeply. But His punishment would not be for His own sins but for those who would behold Him in faith. It’s this pivotal act that would cause knees to bow. The Servant’s suffering leads to victory. His broken body paves the path to glorification.
· Victory: The Lord starts by explaining the Servant’s great success with three various terms: “He will be high and lifted up and exalted” (52:13).
· Suffering: People would be appalled at the sight of Him. Can you imagine people bowing a knee to a disfigured, humiliated man (52:14)? How could people go from being horrified by this Servant to bending a knee before Him.
· We can’t seem to reconcile deep suffering with dynamic success; like oil and water, we assume they must be separate, so we hold them in tension. But God sent His Son as the Servant, which reveals this tension need not exist. Jesus faced rejection, abandonment, mocking, flogging, a spear to His side, and nails to His hands and feet for His eternal glory and our redemption. In Him, God painted a picture of utter bleakness and weaved it with ultimate victory so that we could spend a lifetime in faith reconciling our suffering with our eternal celebration.
Ask:
Why do people so often believe that no suffering is good?
(we equate our suffering with God’s punishment for our sins; we only have an earthly perspective regarding the result of suffering; we have an earthly perspective of glory, which involves riches, fame, and success)
DDG (p. 77)
We typically correlate leadership with charisma, power, and victory — not with suffering. With God’s perspective, however, we must correlate leadership with servanthood and glory with the lowly. In this passage we see three ways God weaves together these polarizing concepts through the revelation of the “arm of the Lord,” the Servant Jesus Christ: First, He comes onto the scene in an unassuming way. Second, this “arm” has no extraordinary beauty to draw people to Him. Finally, the Lord’s “arm” would be rejected because He would be marked by suffering.
· He comes onto the scene in an unassuming way. Jesus was born into this world and lived most of His life without earthly fanfare. He was “like a root out of dry ground” (53:2). No farmer’s almanac would find this a promising scenario.
God’s victory, however, comes in unassuming ways.
· This “arm” has no extraordinary beauty to draw people to Him. Since Jesus lived without an impressive form or majesty, no one had reason to take notice of Him (53:2). Our culture is so fixated on image that it seems impossible for us to accept a leader who is not polished and put together. God’s victory, however, comes in unassuming ways.
· The Lord’s “arm” would be rejected because He would be marked by suffering (53:3).Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world. Who would ever guess victory would come through a man nailed to a cross? But God’s victory comes in unassuming ways.
“The arm of the Lord” brought deliverance to the Israelites in the exodus (Ex. 6:6), and that same “arm” would defeat the mighty nation of Babylon (Isa. 48:14). God is a spirit and does not have a body like men, so His “arm” is a reference to His sovereignty and power to deliver His people. Yet the “arm” here is revealed to be a Suffering Servant—God in the flesh. As Paul wrote, the message of the cross is foolish and weak to the world, but to those who are being saved, this gospel of Jesus is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
Ask:
How should this prophecy about the Suffering Servant challenge our views about victory and success?
(we should not necessarily equate suffering with losing; we should not necessarily equate success with winning; if we would follow Jesus’ example, then we should expect suffering as an indication that we are successfully walking in faith)

Point 2: The Suffering Servant is struck down as our substitute (Isa. 53:4-9).

Read Isaiah 53:4-9 (DDG p. 78), asking group members to underline every instance of “our” “us” “we” (altogether, 9 x’s).
4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 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.
7 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. 8 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? 9 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.
DDG (p. 78)
Despite what many people would think when this prophecy was fulfilled—that the Servant deserved a punishment for His own doing—we see that:
One who was innocent would be killed due to “our” rebellion.
The repetition of these first-person plural pronouns hammer home that the Servant would suffer in our place because in our sin, we have chosen to go our own way. His suffering would not be just any suffering either.
Four types of attacks against the Servant (Isa. 53:7)
++1) He was oppressed
++2) He was afflicted
++3) He was a lamb led to slaughter
++4) He was sheared.
· 1) He was oppressed. In the Books of Exodus and Isaiah, this word is used to describe taskmasters and overseers—oppressors—treating their slaves and people with cruelty.
· 2) He was afflicted. By definition, “affliction” means “something that causes pain or suffering.” “A man of sorrows” (v. 3) doesn’t just describe blood and breathlessness but a mental and emotional burden as well.
· 3) He was a lamb led to slaughter. Jesus would bear a piece of wood on His back on the road to the cross—innocent yet afflicted, mocked, and spat upon, treated like nothing more than a dirty dog.
· 4) He was sheared. The Man who would bear the weight of our rebellion would be stripped of dignity, of life, of offspring, and of respect (vv. 8-9). He would do it all to fulfill His purpose—to save a world for a holy God.
Ask:
What are some reasons people struggle to understand the need for a substitute to pay the penalty for their sin?
(we are prideful people who don’t want to rely on others in life; we think we can make our own way; it doesn’t seem fair for someone else to pay for our sins; we may consider ourselves to have done so much wrong that we are beyond saving, so why bother)
DDG (p. 78)
The Servant, Jesus, knew that His purpose was to be the perfect sacrifice, thus fulfilling a temporary sacrificial system the Israelites had practiced for centuries. All throughout the Old Testament we read about animal sacrifices given to picture the sacrifice that would bear the sins of the human offender as an outward act of inward faith in God’s redemption. What repetitious and laborious work! There had to be a different way, and there was—the life and death of Jesus Christ. “With his wounds we are healed” (v. 5).
· At the time of Jesus, whips were made of braided leather with sharp stones attached to the end. During His flogging, every time a Roman guard lifted the whip, he would aim it at Jesus’ back to tear open His flesh. Jesus endured physical pain in the process of His crucifixion.
· Jesus experienced emotional anguish as well. In addition to the physical lashes Jesus received upon His back from Roman soldiers, God would lay the baggage of the sin of the world on His back, and although it was painful, Jesus determined to endure it in obedience and for our salvation (Phil. 2:5-11).
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 78)
Christ as Substitute: Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with humankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross, He made provision for the redemption of humanity from sin.
Essential Doctrine “Christ as Substitute”: At the heart of the atonement is Jesus Christ substituting Himself for sinners as He died on the cross. This truth is seen against the backdrop of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which provided a picture of humanity’s need for sin to be covered and guilt to be removed by an innocent sacrifice.

Point 3: The Suffering Servant is exalted and victorious (Isa. 53:10-12).

Read: Ask a volunteer to read Isaiah 53:10-12 (DDG p. 79).
10 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. 11 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. 12 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.
DDG (p. 79)
How are we to take the comment that the Lord was pleased to crush His Servant severely, or as we further understand the situation, that it was the Father’s will to crush His Son? The Father had a purpose for the pain, which the Son submitted to and agreed with: Through Jesus’ wounds would come the redemption of people, along with our every tear, every battle, and every heartache. Jesus willingly submitted to death because He also knew the plan and what His future would hold: reward for His obedience.
Voices from Church History
“The sorest afflictions … when we see them in the hand of GOD, Who dispenses them; when we know that it is our loving FATHER, Who abases and distresses us, our sufferings lose all their bitterness, and our mourning becomes all joy.” 1 –Brother Lawrence (c. 1614-1691)
· Just because we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice does not mean we will be immune to pain. Pain and suffering will follow us to our earthly graves. For those in Jesus’ arms, however, there is a reason to endure the pain, just as Jesus had a reason to endure His. Because God is working all things for His glory, we can walk through trials and sufferings trusting that ultimately there is purpose to our pain (Rom. 8:18).
Ask:
What is your personal story of purposeful suffering, past or present?
(be prepared to give an answer of your own to jump-start the conversation)
DDG (p. 79)
Just as the Servant, Jesus, came in the most unassuming way, so does a satisfied life.
Our culture will lure us in with tactics of living for oneself and the glory that comes with it.
But...
God’s economy is different and true. It is in serving by faith that we will be the most fulfilled.
It is in laying down our lives that we will find satisfaction. Ultimately, it is in our participation in the redemption of souls that we will find eternal joy.
· We live in a “me” culture where satisfaction is believed to come from fulfilling the desires of one’s sinful heart. “Look out for number one,” as the saying goes. But if we have accepted by faith the offering of the Suffering Servant, then we too have a responsibility to live like servants.
We too must bear the burdens of those around us:
We bear the sadness of those in our local church bodies as well as our brokenhearted neighbors.
We carry the weight of concern for aborted children, the sex-trafficked, and the homeless.
Social injustices weigh on us because we know they are signs of our broken world, evidence of ongoing rebellion against God.
· As we serve others, both near and far, we will always face the reality that we will be taken advantage of and possibly taken for granted. But we can find comfort in remembering that while the Servant was despised by men, the Father was pleased with His Son, and
The triune God loves and supports us even if our acts of service go unnoticed or are rejected by others.
· If we are to live successfully as servants, we must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our inheritance as sons and daughters of God is sure (Rom. 8:16-17).
Romans 8:16–17 NASB
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
God is sovereign
God keeps His promises
God rewards His children
—faith in these truths will allow us to flourish despite the weight of suffering servanthood, just as they did with The Suffering Servant.
Two Imperative truths to “get us through:”
++“God wins in the end!” — must become our battle cry.
++“We will persevere because of Jesus” — becomes our banner.
Ask:
What temptations of the world distract us from following the pattern of the Suffering Servant?
(the desire for worldly acceptance; ease and comfort; greed and the accumulation of stuff for our personal benefit; the boastful pride of life; hatred and rejection for those who are not like us)
My Mission
“The Suffering Servant that was prophesied has come. He died carrying our sin, but that is only half of the gospel.
Our sin was transferred to Him, and His righteousness was transferred to us.
Not only does this elicit a lifetime of praise, but it also sends us out to live as servants to the world, just as Jesus did. Only through belief in Jesus can one be saved, but His example to us reveals how we bring a dying world His message of hope.
Rather than running from a life of discomfort, we can find joy in knowing “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). We can live lives of sacrifice while on earth, all for the glory and honor of the One who died while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:8). May we find great satisfaction in our own personal redemption, covered by the blood of the Suffering Servant—Jesus!
DDG (p. 80)
Because we have received life through the sacrifice of Jesus, we embrace a life of service and suffering on His behalf as we share the gospel with others.
· What in our lives needs to be accepted, knowing that God has a greater purpose for it, even if it is paintful?
· How should we respond in faith to the Servant who suffered to justify sinners?
· What are some ways we can serve and intercede for the rebels like us, around us?
· What might we need to sacrifice so we can share the good news of the Suffering Servant with others?
Voices from the Church
“The Lord’s solution to sin is for his servant to take human sin on himself and to offer himself as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of others. He will be sinless, but by offering himself as a sacrifice, he will be the one through whom all others can receive forgiveness and salvation. Victory will come through suffering.” 2
–Paulson Pulikottil
Session in a Sentence
Jesus is the Suffering Servant who was rejected and struck down on our behalf in order to win the victory.
++In love, Jesus became what we are, so that we could become what He is (Isa. 52-53; 2 Cor. 8:9).
Close in prayer:
References
1. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Health Research Books, 1996), 50.
2. Paulson Pulikottil, “Isaiah,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 906.
3. D. Larry Gregg Sr., “The Servant Songs in Isaiah,” Biblical Illustrator (Winter 2007-2008): 33.
4. Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40–66, vol. 15b in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2010) [Wordsearch].
5. Paulson Pulikottil, “Isaiah,” in South Asia Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Brian Wintle, 907-908.
6. D. Larry Gregg Sr., “The Servant Songs in Isaiah,” Biblical Illustrator: 34.
7. Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40–66, vol. 15b in The New American Commentary [Wordsearch].
8. Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., “Isaiah,” in ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1339, n. 53:10.
9. Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40–66, vol. 15b in The New American Commentary [Wordsearch].
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