The Suffering Servant Substitute
The Suffering Servant Substitute (Isaiah 53:1-6)
Has history ever been written in advance? Those who believe biblical prophecy say, "Yes." Centuries before the Lord Jesus' ministry Isaiah foresaw a coming Somebody whom the prophet called "The Servant of Jehovah." He described this Somebody in Isaiah 42; 49–50; and 53. We know that this Somebody is Jesus.
It should strengthen our faith that the meaning of the Lord Jesus' life was foreseen seven hundred years before He came. Isaiah looked forward to the same great truth we see by looking back. God sent a suffering Substitute for our sin. These words from Isaiah 53 concentrate on the beginning of the Lord's life and the very ending on the cross.
The Prophet Considers the Beginning of the Lord's Life
The prophet begins with an exclamation: "Who has believed our message?" He is surprised at the scant, small response to the report he brings. Relatively few people believe the story of the Suffering Substitute. A small group sees "the arm of the Lord" (v. 1), the strength of Jehovah God, displayed in the Suffering One. Yet the truth never depends on the number of people who believe it. Regardless of the rejection of this report, it stands true.
The prophet continues with an explanation about the origins of the Suffering Servant's life. The coming Servant will have an unlikely origin. He will be like a twig or sucker in comparison to great trees. In His own time and place He will appear negligible. He will be "like a root out of dry ground." Like a shrub in arid soil, the conditions of His early life will be unfavorable. Consider the family, locality, and history of the Lord Jesus? He came from the nobodies who lived nowhere, but He saves the world.
The coming Servant will have an unlikely appearance. There is "nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (v. 2). Both outwardly and inwardly, the first impression of the Lord would not compel belief. Only for those who see God in Him will His word bring life. Only God creates the faith that sees the Servant the act of God to save life. Do you see in the Lord Jesus Christ the One can rescue you?
The Prophet Considers the Means of the Lord's Work
The prophet Isaiah leaps as it were from Nazareth to the cross. Centuries before the cross Isaiah stands before the cross to consider the reaction to and the reason for the cross.
The prophet considers the reaction to the cross. The reaction of others is one of rejection. The One on the cross is despised. He is both shunned and shunning others in shame. He is the One from whom people turn and avert their faces. People even fear lest His gaze contaminate them. The reaction of the One on the cross is a reaction of sorrow and suffering. The words reflect the pain and sickness that relates to leprosy. The Servant on the cross carries with Him the sum total of sickening pain related to sin.
The prophet considers the reason for the cross. This is the heart of Isaiah 53 and the work of the Lord Jesus. "Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows." The Servant came to be a Substitute. The great contrast is between "he" and "our." Nothing was wrong with Him. Everything was wrong with us. Yet we had a false estimate of Him. "We considered him stricken by God" (v. 4). Jesus Christ is the misunderstood One. That is part of His own suffering. We should understand that He is our Substitute.
The Prophet Considers the Meaning of the Lord's Work
Isaiah saw that the Servant came to take penalty and provide the remedy for our sin. He considers the severity of the penalty: "he was pierced, . . . he was crushed" (v. 5). The image changes from One sick because of sin (v. 3) to One Who takes into Himself violence because of sin. The Lord Jesus not only felt the sickening suffering sin brings all of His life, but at the end was pierced through and crushed on Calvary for the penalty of sin.
Beyond the penalty, there is the reality of the remedy. This is the grace of God too good to imagine. The chastising punishment that fell on Him actually gives me peace. Every blow that landed on the Lord Jesus cries out "Peace, peace" to my own heart. In an incredible trade-off, the gaping welts left on His back are the very things that completely heal me. His stripes are my salvation. His pain is my peace. He is both penalty and remedy.
The necessity of Calvary rests in what we are: "We all like sheep have gone astray" (v. 6). Only after we see the Servant can we see ourselves for what we really are— straying out of our own stupidity, nearsightedness, willfulness. This is true of us "all." There is not one of us to help the rest of us other than the Suffering Servant. Yet God caused the twistedness of us all to fall upon Him.
Your only hope is the Substitute. You may be outwardly righteous or openly sinful. Your only hope before God is to come to the Substitute. He is the Wounded Healer.