Series: In the Shadow of the Cross: Isaiah Portrait of Jesus
Do you have a friend who is upset about what God has not done? More and more people seem to be upset that God has not stopped some type of tragic event. One young lady is upset because God did not stop her father from dying at a relatively young age. Another father cannot believe in God because God hasn’t stopped his child’s cancer from advancing. ”I cannot believe in a god who allows so much pain and suffering in the world.” Maybe you know someone who wonders why God doesn’t seem to care. For the next 7 Sundays, I want to show you what God has done. Let me show you what God did – Christ died for you.
Nowhere in all the Old Testament does the gospel shine more brilliantly than in Isaiah 53. This one chapter is quoted seven times in the New Testament and it is alluded to another 44 times in the New Testament. This is such a remarkable and unique passage that we are going to spend the next seven weeks allowing Isaiah 53 to prepare our hearts to celebrate Easter.
One of the most surprising items for the earliest Christians was Jesus death on the cross. Yet, shortly after His resurrection, the early Christians were surprised again to discover the Old Testament had predicted Jesus but also His mysterious death for sinners. Can you imagine the impact of knowing much of Jesus’ life was predicted hundreds of years before He existed?
Yes, there’s a lot of pain in this world and focusing on this may convince you God doesn’t care but I want to show you for the next few moments that God does care. This is a poem and it is a quotation from the very voice of God Himself.
Chapter 53 really should begin at verse 13 of Isaiah 52 and it’s there we begin reading.
”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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.” (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
There is a mysterious figure described in this chapter who is to come in the future. Remember, Isaiah’s ministry was around 2,700 years ago or approximately 700 years before Jesus. This is the Mount Everest of Old Testament predictions. Again, this is a mysterious figure who is to come and bring salvation. Isaiah calls this mysterious person a ”Servant” and this ”Servant” achieves something that makes infinite and eternal difference in the lives of people. The New Testament will come many years later and tell us that this mysterious figure is Jesus.
There are five stanzas of three verses each to this poem. Notice that each stanza is little longer than the previous stanza. Let’s focus on the first predictions made in this first stanza in Isaiah 53:13-15 for the next few moments.
Along the path of today’s message, pick up on this theme: Promise made … promise kept.
1. He Succeeds Where Others Fail
1.1 Who Are We Talking About?
Notice Isaiah calls this mysterious person, ”my servant”: ”Behold, my servant…” (Isaiah 53:13a) This is climax of what is known as the ”Servant Songs” in Isaiah: 1) Isaiah 42:1-6; 2) Isaiah 49:1-3; Isaiah 50:4-9.
Who is this Servant? There’s considerable debate over who this chapter is talking about. But it’s not just some ”Bible question” but it is a personal question.
Mitch Glaser had grown up in a Jewish home where he attended Hebrew school in Queens, New York between the ages of eight and thirteen. Like any good Jewish boy, he had his Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen but later he dropped out of college in 1970 and move to California. He explored Eastern religions for a period of time but he received Jesus as his Messiah in November of 1970. He had read Isaiah 53 for the first time then and could not believe this chapter had been in his Hebrew Bible the whole time. He hitchhiked back across the country to his parent’s home in New Jersey to share the gospel with his parents. When he revealed his conversion, his mother and father stared at first, followed by his father gasping out loud and his mother crying. At that point, my parents told me that I had to leave the house and they began laying down the law. Mitch’s mother then told him that he could not go to church, read the New Testament, etc. That evening – supposedly to be his last night at home- Mitch asked his mother if I could show her why he believed Jesus was the Messiah. She said, ”Yes” but that I was not allowed to use the New Testament. So he begins to read Isaiah 53 to his mother. Mitch begins to read and by verse seven Mitch’s mother had fallen asleep. He woke her up and asked if he could keep reading. She sort of nodded in a sleepy stupor and at that point I finished the passage and said, ”So what do you think?” She said, ”I told you not to read the New Testament to me.”
Jesus quotes Isaiah 53:12 between the Last Supper and Gethsemane: ”For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment” (Luke 22:37). This is only hours before Jesus is crucified. Peter also quotes Isaiah 53:5, ”by his wounds you have been healed” in 1 Peter 2:24 and applies it to Jesus.
1.2 The Success of Jesus
”Behold, my servant shall act wisely…” (Isaiah 53:13a). The words ”shall act wisely” don’t simply mean Jesus will be book-smart or even wise like your mother or father. Yes, Jesus is wise but in addition the prophet predicts that the Messiah will be effective and successful. Maybe your translation of Isaiah 53:13 says something like this: ”Behold, My servant will prosper…” (NASB) God is telling us He will sent a ”Servant” who will accomplish what Israel was not able to accomplish. The prophet predicts Jesus will accomplish God’s will – Jesus will be effective and successful.
When I think of the wisdom of Jesus, I think of Jesus’ ability to navigate through an argument. Over and over again, the gospels show us how strong Jesus’ wisdom was through His teaching. ”And they came and said to him, ”Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ”Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, ”Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, ”Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, ”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him” (Mark 12:14-17). Again, when I think of Jesus’ success and wisdom, I think of His wise words. Remember, the enemies of Jesus’ attempted to entangle Jesus with their riddles and clever traps. Yet, Jesus is too wise to be entangled in such matters. Like waving His hand through cobwebs, Jesus’ wisdom baffled His adversaries.
Promise made … promise kept
1.2.1 The Success of Jesus vs. Adam
”And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2).
Look at three connections Jesus and Adam for a moment.
1) Adam was directly the son of God but Jesus has an even greater relationship to God – He was born of a virgin (Luke 1:35).
2) Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. Adam was tempted and failed, bringing all of his people into misery. Jesus, the Second Adam, is tempted, but He does not fail.
3) The first Adam failed in the Garden and was defeated by temptation but the Second Adam, Jesus, succeeded in the Desert. And the first Adam has a companion to help him, but Jesus had no one with Him.
1.2.3 The Success of Jesus vs. Israel
Jesus spends forty days in the desert where Israel spent forty years in the wilderness. The people of Israel were fed manna, a food that God supernaturally dropped out of the skies to feed His people. Jesus, in direct contrast, was also in the wilderness. Despite God providing their food, the people of Israel sinned – they grumbled against God Where Israel ate and failed, Jesus succeeded and was hungry.
I heard it said this week that the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament is like a bow tie. Can you picture a bow tie for a moment? God starts with Israel but the people of Israel are more and more unfaithful as time goes by the triangle on the left. Ultimately, all of Israel comes down to just one true Israelite – Jesus. Jesus is the knot in the middle of the bow tie. Isaiah keeps eliminating Israelites until he finds one faithful Israelite who is obedient to God. You can hear Jesus say, ”I am the true vine” because the former vine, Israel, has disqualified itself. From Jesus, a whole new people of God emerge – the triangle on the right. God remakes us into obedient people in Jesus.
Promise made … promise kept.
2. He Starts Small but Finishes Big
”As many were astonished at you- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14). The traditional hero is viewed as a powerful, mighty conqueror. There’s an expectation that the hero will kill the enemy and conquer evil. God, however, often does things in ways that defy our standards. Isaiah loves to put contrasts in front of us when he’s speaking of the future Servant. Like showing black and white or tall versus short, he wants us to know that the future Messiah will be humiliated before he’s exalted.
Even though the Servant will eventually be exalted, he will not start out this way. Instead, people will be ”appalled” to look at Jesus (Isaiah 53:14). The word ”appalled” is a very strong word – it means to be shattered. It’s actually a word that can be used to mean a city that has just been invaded and destroyed, turned to rubble. When it’s used of a person, for a person to be appalled means to be so shattered by something they’re looking at so as to want to vomit.
There’s this horrible mixture in Jesus’ life as predicted here. Look at how low Jesus begin His life: ”we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4b) Yet, eventually ”…he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” (Isaiah 53:13b). This astounding mixture of light and darkness, of success and defeat, of sunshine and storm is always there in the lives of the great servants.
Don’t you dare say, ”Well, if God really loved me and was really working in my life, he wouldn’t let these terrible things happen to me.” Understand this: God’s wise love in your life is completely compatible with the very rough, difficult experience of Jesus.
Jesus’ life began in Bethlehem as small, insignificant and unimportant but grew to eternal and cosmic proportions..
3. He Suffers Where You Don’t Expect it
There are two timeless questions: what is wrong with the human race (what’s wrong with me)? Second, what can be done about it? Let me show how Jesus effects both of these questions.
3.1 Philip, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Acts 8
In Acts 8 we find a man known to us as the ”Ethiopian Eunuch” and he is reading the scroll from Isaiah. ”Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: ”Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth” (Acts 8:32-33). The Ethiopian Eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53:7-8. These two verses describe the innocent and submissive death of the Servant. Philip asks, ”Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30b) The Ethiopian Eunuch says in effect, ”who is this passage talking about?” (see Acts 8:34). So, Philip connects the dots between Isaiah’s prediction of the Servant’s humiliating death that shocks everyone who sees it: ”And the eunuch said to Philip, ”About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:34-35). Far from being applauded by men, Isaiah says He will be ”despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). He would be a ”man of sorrows” and ”acquainted with grief.”
3.2 The Sprinkling the Nations
”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” (Isaiah 53:15). his mysterious figure will act like an Old Testament priest and will sprinkle people clean. What is so astonishing about Jesus? Why will kings shut their mouths? Because God cares for you and takes a crushing burden off you. The kings of the earth witness the God’s care for lowliest on the earth and they are silenced.
Isaiah 53 ”looks as if it had been written beneath the cross upon Golgotha.” This is the best single chapter in the whole Bible to explain what happened on the cross. ”Jesus was born with the shadow of the cross upon him. With the shadow of the cross upon his heart, he learned to walk, he learned to talk, he learned to work. From his earliest moment upon this earth it was his burden by day, his pallet by night.” R. G. Lee
A moment I told you the story of Mitch Glaser reading this poem to his mother. Remember her reply? – ”I told you not to read the New Testament to me.” Why would she say this? Here is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:
– Who borne our griefs (verse 4)
– Who carried our sorrows (verse 4)
– Who was wounded for our transgressions (verse 5)
– Who was bruised for our iniquities (verse 5)
– Who was chastised for our peace (verse 5)
– Who heals us by His stripes (verse 5)
– Who borne our iniquities (verses 6, 11)
– Who was oppressed, afflicted (verse 7)
– Who was slaughtered (verse 7)
– Who was cut off (verse 8)
– Who was stricken for our transgressions (verse 8)
– Who was bruised by the Lord (verse 10)
– Who was put to grief (verse 10)
– Whose soul was made a sin offering (verse 10)
– Who poured out His soul unto death (verse 12)
– Who was numbered with the transgressions (verse 12)
– Who bore the sin of many (verse 12)
– Who made intercession for the transgressors (verse 12)
Let others focus on what God hasn’t done, you focus on what God has done for you.
Promise made, promise kept.
As the great song Before the Throne of God Above reminds us:
Because the sinless Savior died,?My sinful soul is counted free.?For God the just is satisfied,?To look on Him and pardon me.