Isaiah 52:13–53:12. The Servant and the Cross. Pt. II.
Key Notes: Weakness. Substitution. Wrath of God. The cross lifts Him up. Summary of 4 Servant poems.
There are scandals in this Gospel of the Old Testament that begin the section.
•The Servant is weak, injured, defaced--and therefore He must be bad. People who are beautiful, strong, and healthy are good. We attribute goodness (unwisely) to Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Grant and Tom Kruse because they have beautiful faces. Many will be astonished at Him (52:14), and He will be rejected. 53:3
*Nietzsche (d.1900) said
"What is more harmful than any vice is active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak---Christianity."
It " has taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted", "a religion of pity." (The Cross of Christ; JRW Stott; IVP;’86; p.43).
*Moslems find suggestions here for murder, suicide, and human sacrifice. Any one of these would be scandal enough. But they are convinced that Jesus was not killed at all but that either Judas or Simon of Cyrene took his place. (Stott; p.41)
*The idea of substitution, the innocent for the guilty, is widely resisted. The Koran says "no soul shall bear another's burden". "If a laden soul cries out for help, not even a near relation shall share its burden." (Stott; p.41) (Note the contradiction of finding a human substitute for Jesus' crucifixion but saying no one shall share another's burden.)
But the central truth of substitution is taught in Isa.53 with great force. How is substitution accomplished? In OT sin offerings, the hand of the sinner was laid on the head of an innocent animal (Lev.4:4, 15, 24, 29) before the animal was killed. Atonement is made and sin is forgiven. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest "shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over him all the iniquities of the people Israel...and he shall put them upon the head of the goat." (Lev.16:21) It is a transfer of sin from the sinner onto the head of the innocent.
In order for the concept of salvation to be complete, we need also to find the theme of propitiation--the offering of a gift to God to take away wrath. The wrath of God has been rejected by many moderns as incompatible with a loving God but it is clearly taught in Scripture.
First, we find severe physical punishment in the text:
53:4 "stricken, smitten by God and afflicted."
53:5 "pierced", "crushed", "chastisement", "stripes"
Second, we look for evidence of the wrath of God elsewhere.
Jerusalem has been handed the cup of the wrath of God. Isa.51:17–23).
"...the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness...." (Rom.1:18)
"…storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath...." (Rom.2:5)
"for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury." (Rom.2:8)
Third, we find Jesus saving us from the wrath of God by taking the punishment on Himself.
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole...and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
"Since therefore we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God." (Rom.5:9)
Why does God not simply forgive, as we are supposed to forgive?
He is all-powerful and can do whatever He wishes.
Didn't the Prodigal Son's Father, for example, forgive him unconditionally?
No. The son thought, “ I will arise and go to my father and I will say to him 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.'" (Lk.15:17–19)
The son reconciled to the Father, repented of sin and expressed willingness to make restitution. The key to the process is that the son ceased to be a rebel. Then the Father could lavish his affection on him.
The essence of sin is rebellion->selfishness->stealing, etc. How can God deal with a selfish rebel? (We are looking at the plan of redemption from below, from our side.) He has three options:
1) teach by word and deed.
2) discipline by sickness, poverty and other adversity such war.
3) destroy. Ultimately "...the soul that sins shall die." (Ezek.18:4)
God chooses to do all of these, but also He did something strange. He interposed the Cross between Himself and the rebels.
How does the Cross reconcile us to God?
1) The Cross lifts Jesus up. Crucifixion is the most cruel of deaths--piercing the arms and feet, stretching the joints, hindering breathing, leaving the victim exposed to flies and vultures, to die days later of thirst and shock. But no other death has the person dying standing up with arms outstretched as if in welcome.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life." (Jn.3:14–15)
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (Jn.12:32)
2) Jesus on the Cross is a model of innocent suffering, asking forgiveness for those who crucified him. (Lk.23:34). The onlooker could not help but be dismayed and wonder at the meaning of it. Many view the Cross as a demonstration of self-sacrificing love. It is that and much more than that.
3) When Jesus cried "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsake me?" (Matt..27:46) the unimaginable happened. God had taken the place of the rebel Himself. So the decree to separate, to destroy, fell upon God Himself.
"He Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls." (IPet.2:24)
In this passage we see both the transfer and the propitiation, and the beginning and end of the rebellion. When we lay our hands on the head of the Holy One, our sins are transferred, and the wrath we deserve is laid upon Him. The righteousness He is, is laid upon us. The sin we are is laid on Him. (IICor.5:21). By His stripes we are healed.
By His stripes you may be healed.
Have you transferred your sin and guilt to Him and received His righteousness in return? It is yours for the asking.
To summarize the four Servant Poems.
1. Isa.42:1–9. The Servant as a Light to the Nations, opens the eyes of the blind, and releases the prisoners.
2. Isa.49:1–7. The Servant as Prophet is an apparent failure but will bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
3. Isa.50:4–11 The Servant as Martyr consents to suffer but God helps and vindicates Him.
4. Isa.52:13–53:12. The Servant as Sin-Bearer suffers for the sins of the people and is rewarded greatly.
They are fulfilled only in Jesus Christ and show His ministry in detail 700 years before His birth.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.