************ Sermon on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 3, 2015
Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
"The Suffering Servant"
Good Friday 2015
A man was reading Isaiah 53. A believer came by, saw what he was reading, and asked him if he understood it. The man admitted he needed help. "Tell me, please," he said, "who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" The man wanted to know who the Suffering Servant is that Isaiah speaks of.
You can read this exchange in Acts 8. The man is the Ethiopian eunuch, the official in charge of the treasury of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. The believer is Philip, the deacon and evangelist; he was sent by the Lord to the Jerusalem road in order to meet the Ethiopian. Beginning with Isaiah 53, Philip
told the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.
This is now our fifth message on the Servant passages of Isaiah. So far in this season of Lent we have looked at the Compassionate Servant of Isaiah 42, the Discouraged Servant of Isaiah 49, the Obedient Servant of Isaiah 50, the Anointed Servant of Isaiah 61. Today, Good Friday, we look at the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
I An Ugly Servant
A First of all, we notice that the Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant.
Some here might have read "The Ugly American," a short story about an American tourist in Europe some fifty years ago. The tourist was loud, bossy, rude, and crude. He was this way because America's technology, industry, and military were second to none and he thought this proved Americans to be superior. A much loved children's story is "The Ugly Duckling," a story about a baby swan in a flock of baby ducks. The swan, of course, didn't fit in. Among the ducks it was a misfit. Next to the ducks it seemed ugly and clumsy.
Isaiah 52/53 takes a look at what is called "The Ugly Servant." "The Ugly Christ." The picture it presents is not pretty:
(Isa 52:14) many ... were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness ...Isaiah's intent is not to tell us what the Servant looks like; in fact, the entire Bible is silent on this question; rather, Isaiah wants to tell us about the Servant's humiliation, pain, suffering, and anguish.
In telling us about "The Ugly Servant" Isaiah has in mind those dark hours upon the cross. Again, the picture is not pretty.
Our age has forgotten how cruel and hideous crucifixion really was. We have unwisely and unconsciously glamorized the cross. We put ornamental and attractive crosses on jewelry and steeples but they carry nothing of the real story of crucifixion.Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Ugly Servant, endured six hours of such anguish!
Crucifixion was one of the most painful methods of public execution in the first century. The victim was placed on a wooden cross. Nails, undoubtedly wooden, were driven into the wrists and ankles of the victim, and then the cross was lifted and jarred into the ground, tearing the flesh of the crucified and racking his body with excruciating pain.
Historians remind us that even soldiers could not get used to the horrible sight, and often took strong drink to numb their senses.
It was the Ugly Servant hanging upon the cross Who said, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46). It was the Ugly Christ hanging upon the cross Who prayed the words of the Psalmist:
(Ps 22:6-7) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (7) All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads ...
B The Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant. We know from the Gospels that His humiliation and suffering were not limited to the cross, not at all. Isaiah's song mentions His humble beginnings:
(Isa 53:2) He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. The tender shoot, the first comparison that Isaiah uses, is the suckers that sprout from the bottom of a tree. As these suckers take water and nutrients away from the rest of the tree they must be cut off. A second comparison portrays the Ugly Servant as a root in dry ground. A root in dry parched ground must struggle to preserve life. Isaiah is telling us that by human standards there is nothing impressive about the Servant. He is the Ugly Servant.
The gospels confirm for us the humble beginnings of the Christ-Child. He is born in a stable and laid in a manger. This means that flies are buzzing around; spider webs are in the corners; straw and hay and manure are on the floor. He grows up in Nazareth, a region regarded as worthless and unimportant as indicated by the question of Nathanael: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (Jn 1:46). He is the son of a poor carpenter.
C The Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant. Isaiah's song also mentions His life and ministry:
(Isa 53:3) He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. People found Jesus to be contemptible. No one wanted anything to do with Him. The crowds stopped following Him. The disciples deserted Him. Peter denied Him. Judas betrayed Him. The leaders hated Him. The crowds shouted out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
D The Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant. Isaiah's song says that the Ugly Servant remains silent during suffering. He says nothing to defend Himself.
(Isa 53:7) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. We see this on the way to the cross. Before the High Priest and in the face of many accusations "Jesus remained silent" (Mt 26:63). Before Pilate, Jesus was accused of many things and again He gave no answer. Pilate asked Him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge -- to the great amazement of the governor (Mt 27:13-14). This is amazing because most people, when they are accused of something, speak vigorously on their own behalf; this is true whether they are innocent or guilty. But Jesus is silent.
E The Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant. Isaiah says that He, though innocent would be treated as one who is guilty:
(Isa 53:8-9) By oppression and judgment he was taken away ... (9) He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. We see this too in the life and death of Christ. Pilate called together the chief priests, the elders, and the people. He said
(Lk 23:14-16) "I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. (15) Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. (16) Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."What a gross miscarriage of justice: Pilate decides to punish Jesus though he found Him to be innocent. He is the Ugly Servant.
II A Saving Servant
A The second thing we notice is that the Suffering Servant is the Saving Servant.
During Lent this year, in our study of the other Servant Songs of Isaiah, we have been told about the Servant's compassion. We have heard about His struggle with depression, weariness, discouragement. We have heard about His obedience -- setting His face like flint to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die. We have learned about His anointing. Yet no reason was given for His suffering. It is Isaiah 53 that tells us the reason:
(Isa 53:4-6) Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... (5) But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (6) We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. According to Isaiah 53, Jesus suffered for me. I came across a poem this past week that speaks to this:
Under an Eastern sky,
Amidst a rabble's cry,
A Man went forth to die
Thorn-crowned His blessed head,
Blood-stained His every tread;
Cross-laden, on He sped
Pierced were His hands and feet;
Three hours o'er Him beat
The darkness of God's heat
For me. That should fill me with shame. He died for me, for my sin, for my misery, for my evil.
For me. That should also fill me with gratitude. He took my place on the cross. He suffered God's wrath so I wouldn't have to.
Isaiah teaches us here what we call the "vicarious" sacrifice of Christ. This means that He died not for His own sins but for ours.
B Here is another wonderful thing: the Suffering Servant is the Saving Servant according to the plan of God.
(Isa 53:6b,10a) ... the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all ... it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer ...It was part of God's plan that Christ should suffer.
On Pentecost Day, Peter makes the same point in his speech to the crowd. He says about Jesus:
(Acts 2:23) This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. It was in God's plan, according to His will, that the Servant should suffer and die. This plan, of course, was made in eternity even before the creation of the heavens and the earth, even before Satan rebelled and man first fell into sin. The plan of salvation was not a spur-of-the-moment thing, something God thought up when He first faced a disobedient Adam in the Garden.
The Servant suffered according to the will of God. This tells me two things. First, this tells me how much God hates my sin. God hates my sin so much that He does whatever He must to get rid of it. Second, this tells me how much God loves me. God loves me so much that He does whatever He must to save me from my sin. God hates sin so much and loves me so much that He sent His only begotten Son to suffer and die. God hates sin so much and loves me so much that He sent the Son He loves to be crucified. No matter how much I try, I cannot imagine sacrificing my child. From the beginning God planned on doing this because He hates my sin so much and loves me so much.
C This leaves us, finally, to mention the beautiful result of the suffering. Isaiah tells us that the Ugly Servant will "sprinkle many nations" (Isa 52:15). The verb used for "sprinkle" is a technical word -- found in the Law of Moses -- for the sprinkling of oil, water, or blood. When the oil, water, or blood is sprinkled the thing or person is considered cleansed, purified, holy.
The sufferings of Christ cleanse us, purify us, and make us holy in God's sight. Because of Christ it is as if I have never sinned nor been a sinner. Because of Christ it is as if I am perfect in every way. Because of Christ my sin is gone, covered, washed away.
III A Glorified Servant
A The third thing we notice is that the Suffering Servant is also the Glorified Servant.
Did you notice how the song ends? It ends on a note of triumph.
(Isa 53:11-12) After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ... (12) Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong ...
(Isa 52:13) See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
There is no doubt Jesus Christ is the Glorified Servant. He is glorified in His mighty resurrection, conquering sin and death. He is glorified in His ascension and enthronement in heaven as our great King and High Priest. He is glorified in the ministry of His Spirit empowering the church. Finally, He will be glorified when He come again to judge the living and the dead.
B Why is this His reward? Why is the Suffering Servant the Glorified Servant? The last verse answers this question:
(Isa 53:12) Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.Do you hear the reason? The Suffering Servant is the Glorified Servant because of the cross and the grave. The Suffering Servant is the Glorified Servant because He is the Ugly Servant and the Saving Servant. As the Apostle Paul tells us in the great hymn of Christ:
(Phil 2:6-11) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, (7) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! [THIS IS A PICTURE OF THE UGLY SERVANT.]
(9) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [THIS IS A PICTURE OF THE GLORIFIED SERVANT.]
The Suffering Servant is the Ugly Servant, the Saving Servant, and the Glorified Servant.
Some two thousand years ago, on Calvary's cross, the Ugly Servant died FOR sin. But there were two other crosses. One of those crosses portrays a thief dying IN sin, and the other cross portrays a thief dying TO sin.
In those two other crosses we see the most important division of all humanity: either you reject Christ and die in sin or you -- by grace -- receive Christ and die to sin.
I urge you to receive Christ, the Ugly Servant, Who suffered and died according to God's plan. I urge you to believe in Christ, the Saving Servant, so that you can die to sin and be counted righteous before God. I urge you to bend the knee before Christ, the Glorified Servant, and acknowledge that He is Lord.
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