The Suffering Servant - Isaiah 53

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©August 7th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
Most Americans over the age of 30 have pretty strong memories of September 11th, 2001. It was a day when not only the twin towers in New York fell, but the world in which we lived seemed to come crashing down around us. Many of the things we thought we knew about the world were called into question, and life in America (and the world) has been very different since that date.
There may be similar dates in your own life—dates that forever changed things.
· The date you got a phone call telling you a loved one had died.
· The date you received a devastating diagnosis.
· The date your spouse told you they wanted a divorce.
· The date of an accident that changed everything.
Each of us has different dates that change our lives, and the circumstances of each of those dates is unique. But they all share one fact in common—they were unexpected and left us looking for answers. Much of the time, we never get answers to why such things happened in our lives.
This morning, we look at a similar date in history. It is a date that was surprising and unexpected to almost everyone. It was a date that changed everything for everyone for all time. And it was a date that didn’t make sense to most people. That date is the day Jesus was crucified. The good news is that unlike many of the life-changing events of our lives, God tells us why this event happened.
The remarkable thing about this discussion of Jesus’ crucifixion is that the passage we are looking at this morning was likely written 500 years before it happened! Isaiah 53 contains one of the clearest and most striking teachings on the crucifixion of Jesus, and this morning we’re going to unpack it and seek to understand it more fully.

Introducing the Servant

As Isaiah begins chapter 53, he describes the servant who will be the subject of the remainder of the chapter.
1 Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? 2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. (Isaiah 53:1-3, NLT)
Isaiah tells us that from a human perspective, this servant would not seem like anything special. He describes him as a tender green shoot growing up out of dry ground. A young plant in dry ground is fragile and frail. Isaiah said the Lord’s servant wouldn’t appear to be someone on whom you could rely—He wouldn’t be the person you would choose to do the most important task in the history of humanity. He says there was nothing majestic about his appearance or anything to attract us to him.
Most of us seem to have the idea that Jesus looked like someone special. Maybe it is because renaissance art always depicted him with a halo or a heavenly glow, or maybe it’s just because that makes sense to us. If Jesus was God in human form, then He surely must have been easily identifiable as such, right? Isaiah tells us we are wrong. If you didn’t know better, you would have walked right past Jesus and never even noticed him. He looked just like everyone else. And because of that, the world turned their backs on Him.
Jesus was despised and rejected in his crucifixion, but He was also despised and rejected long before that. Nobody thought this man could have been the Messiah. He was born in humble circumstances. His family was poor. He came from a tiny town that no one thought much of. Jesus didn’t fit the mold of what people thought the Messiah should be. And so, they were skeptical and mocked him. Even his own family was not initially convinced! He didn’t seem like anyone special, but God would use Him to accomplish more than anyone could have imagined.

What Jesus Accomplished

After giving us a picture of how the world rejected this servant because He didn’t seem like anything special, Isaiah tells us what the servant would accomplish.
4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6, NLT)
This man who didn’t appear outwardly to be anything special ended up doing what no one else could. He carried the punishment for our sins.
Sin is not a popular topic of discussion in our world today. In fact, our world would tell you that telling someone what they are doing is sinful and wrong is hate speech. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to take on the punishment of our sins. But if we do not believe we have done anything wrong, then we do not believe we have any need for forgiveness. The first step in understanding the good news of what Jesus has done for us is understanding the bad news that we are all sinful creatures who need a savior. Talking about sin isn’t popular, but it’s absolutely necessary!
Isaiah describes us as all being like sheep who have strayed away. I have learned from people who raise sheep that they are pretty dumb animals. They will wander off and get themselves into all sorts of trouble without even realizing it. They don’t do what makes sense, to such a degree that sometimes you wonder how a sheep could have possibly gotten into the situation they are in. This is the animal Isaiah uses to describe human beings. We have all acted foolishly because we have chosen to rebel against God.
Here's the amazing thing: you don’t even have to believe in God to recognize that you are sinful. No matter who you are, there is some code of morality you believe you should follow. But we don’t even follow our own code! We certainly don’t measure up when it comes to God’s code of morality. The big problem comes when we recognize that there must be a reckoning for our failures—that if there is a moral code bigger than us, then there is a moral lawgiver to whom we are accountable…and we have broken the law. We cannot erase those failures on our own. This is where Jesus comes in.
Isaiah says Jesus bore our penalties. The punishments He faced were not things He deserved; He only bore them because He was taking our place. In theology, we call this substitutionary atonement. Rather than leaving us to take the penalty we had earned, He took our place and our punishment so that we might be forgiven.
Isaiah says that the result of Jesus offering himself in this way is that we are healed. The healing he speaks of here is not of physical illness, but a far deeper and more significant healing. Because of Jesus, our relationship with God is healed. No longer do we stand condemned before God. When God looks at us, He no longer sees our sin, but Christ’s sacrifice for us. By Jesus’ sacrifice, we are made sinless, just as He was. He took on our sin, which removed it from our account. This is the astounding truth of the gospel—and it is very good news for us.

Jesus’ Attitude

The remarkable thing is that Jesus had the power to stop everything happening to Him at any time, but He chose not to instead. Here’s how Isaiah describes his attitude.
7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. 9 He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. (Isaiah 53:7-9, NLT)
Isaiah tells us that Jesus was oppressed and treated harshly, which is an understatement if ever there was one, but despite this, He never said a word. Jesus did not protest or argue or try to stop what was happening to Him, even though He had every right and possessed the power to do so.
The crucifixion of Jesus is a firmly established historical fact, even among non-believers. And yet, people often misunderstand what happened. Some imagine Jesus as a victim of a corrupt system. They imagine that Jesus was a helpless pawn in a game of chess between Rome and Israel. But that simply isn’t true.
Jesus was God in the flesh. He may not have looked like anyone special to the outside world, but at any point in the process Jesus could have said a word and stopped everything. He could have called down fire from heaven, struck his captors with blindness, or destroyed anyone who opposed him. But He didn’t. He chose to allow those whom He had created to beat Him mercilessly, to mock Him, and to ultimately kill Him in a way that was utterly humiliating, not to mention agonizing. Jesus could have stopped it, but He didn’t.
And we are told that the disgrace of his life did not stop with his death. He died without children and was buried like a criminal, being put in a grave that didn’t belong to him.
The important point for us to see is that Jesus went willingly to the cross, knowing what He would face. Even more amazing is that Jesus created the world knowing this would be the outcome. He had planned from the beginning to come to earth and allow himself to be mistreated and ultimately killed—all so He could secure forgiveness for those who had rebelled against Him! Jesus came to earth knowing what He would face, but also knowing what it would accomplish. As Jesus hung on the cross, I imagine that He thought of you and me, and concluded that going through all of this was worth it.
The closest analogy I can think of to this is a mother choosing to get pregnant a second time. After going through the process of giving birth the first time, a mother knows what to expect. And yet, many women choose to go through the process again. Why? Because they know that the pain and struggle of pregnancy and childbirth is worth the reward. It is worth the struggle to bring a child into the world. On a far greater scale, Jesus knew what the cross would cost, but deemed it worth it to bring us to Him.

The Reason Why

Isaiah then explains why all of this was necessary. Why did God allow any of this to happen? How could God possibly call it good?
10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. 12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. (Isaiah 53:10-12, NLT)
Isaiah tells us that this whole arrangement was God’s good plan! How could he call it good? It was good because of what it accomplished. So, what did it accomplish? First, we are told that many will be counted righteous because Jesus has borne their sins. Righteous is a word we don’t use often, but it means to be in right standing—another way of saying we are without sin. On our own, we are not righteous; we are sinful. But Jesus has taken away our sin, and as a result, we are declared righteous, because there is no longer any sin left on our account.
Second, we are told that He interceded for rebels.The military language Isaiah uses is intended to evoke the idea of a great military victory. Jesus’ victory is greater than any military victory ever achieved, but it has an additional element that sets it apart even further. Jesus achieved this victory for rebels—and in so doing, made them His friends. Listen to how Paul describes Jesus’ sacrifice in the book of Romans.
6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. (Romans 5:6-10, NLT)
Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins, even though we had set ourselves up as enemies against Him. We continually choose to rebel against God’s direction. We treat Him with disdain. And yet, Jesus died for us.
Ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, God is honored and receives the glory He deserves. Paul speaks about this in Philippians 2,
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, NLT)
God is honored in Jesus’ sacrifice for us because it makes clear that salvation is only possible because of what God has done. We have done nothing to merit or earn our salvation. We do not deserve forgiveness. And yet, Jesus makes it possible for every person on the face of the earth, no matter how badly they have failed, to be forgiven and have a restored relationship with God. No matter who you are, you can have the confidence of eternal life with Jesus. It’s not because of anything you or I have done—it’s all because of God’s grace shown to us through Jesus.


Isaiah 53 lays out the essentials of the gospel message. It reminds us of several important truths that we must recognize and internalize.
First, we are sinful and cannot save ourselves. None of us is perfect. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we’re not even close. What we must come to understand is that our sin is outright rebellion against God. Because God is good, He cannot simply allow sin to go unpunished. God cannot overlook our sin any more than a good judge can choose to overlook a crime. Our sin carries with it a penalty which we cannot erase.
Second, Jesus provides the means of forgiveness. We cannot erase our sin, but Jesus came to earth so that He might bear the punishment our sin deserves, and in so doing, set us free. But there is an important caveat to this—not every person is forgiven. Only those who will embrace Jesus, trust in what He has done, and choose to follow Him with their lives will have their sins erased and enjoy eternal life. To receive the blessing of Jesus, we must commit our lives to Him.
Third, God is the One who deserves the glory. If we understand this, then we also understand that none of us has any reason to feel smug or arrogant. We have done nothing to earn or merit the salvation Jesus has extended to us. Each of us has only one hope, and that is the grace of God revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
If we understand these truths then they demand a response. If you are here today and are putting the pieces together for the first time, or maybe you’ve heard the story before, but realize today that you are trusting in something or someone other than Jesus, then my challenge to you today is to embrace Him. Choose today to commit your life to Jesus Christ, to trust in what He has done on your behalf, and to follow Him in the way you live your life. Make His priorities your priorities and seek to honor Him above all else. If you will trust in Christ today, then you can be guaranteed the forgiveness He purchased for you on the cross, and you can have assurance that you will live with Him for all eternity—both now and forever in Heaven. We must each choose whether we will embrace Jesus, or whether we will reject Him. Those are the only two options. I implore you today to embrace Him.
If you have already placed your trust in Him, then these verses today remind us that we are supposed to follow His example. We are to serve those around us. We are to sacrifice in order to bring about good in the lives of others. This starts with sharing the message of the gospel with people. It means pointing people to their only hope of forgiveness. We are not loving people if we are not pointing them to Jesus.
But it doesn’t end with telling people about Jesus. It also means serving the world around us and helping to meet their needs. We cannot separate the two. The greatest need people have is their need for forgiveness, but it’s not their only need. We should be seeking the best for those around us, which means trying to meet their needs in whatever ways we can. In doing so, we honor the Lord and follow His example.
Jesus’ sacrifice changed everything for everyone in all of history. Unlike 9/11, the change that took place at the cross was not one that brings sadness and new restrictions. It is just the opposite; it brings forgiveness, relief, and life filled with a joy that wasn’t possible before it took place. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the ultimate picture of God’s love for us. So, let’s embrace Him and follow His example.
©August 7th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
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