How could a blog post ever capture the profundity of these chapters, especially from 52:13 through the end of 53. The first 12 verses of chapter 52 declare the salvation to come, and the rest describe what that salvation will include. The NIV titles that section, “The Suffering and Glory of the Servant.” He is addressing Zion and Jerusalem, the holy city, and that is what is to be redeemed, but it is not a place; it is what he calls in 52:5 and 6, “my people.” Zion is where God dwells with his people. This salvation will be brought to God’s people by one man, a man who will be beaten and maimed and despised and rejected and punished and crushed, all for us! How a Jew could read this and deny that it points to Yeshua I have no idea.
There was nothing special about this man. His appearance told us nothing about the earthshaking, and eternal, things he would accomplish. Jesus was a nobody peasant from some obscure village in the Middle East. When he was born, was the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords heralded in Rome and other great world capitals? No, it was heralded to a few smelly, dirty shepherds in a field. How subversive! Even his own family thought he was nuts, literally. Nobody believed him; even his own disciples! Those closest to him obviously thought he was a fraud; the supposed great Messiah, the Savior of Israel, hung on a Roman cross, cursed of God, as a common criminal. But they also obviously hadn’t deeply studied these two prophetic chapters of Isaiah.
Chapter 53 starts out typically skeptical, “Who has believed our message”? Well, nobody, unless it is revealed to them by God. The verse finishes, “and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” As Jesus says to Peter when he proclaims Jesus the Messiah, it was done by the Father. And just prior to that question, we read this at the end of chapter 52:
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
From first to last, Christianity is a revealed religion. Unless God opens our eyes and ears, we will never get it. In our natural state of spiritual death, we can’t raise ourselves! We can’t inject life into the rotting core of our spiritual selves. These declarations of revelation are how the Lord prefaces the prophecy of what his Suffering Servant will do for his people. And what will he do? Pay the price for our sins, and the wage is death.
There are so many references here to penal substitution, i.e., a substitute will pay the penalty demanded by the law for someone else.
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 our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
In verse 8 it says, “for the transgression of my people he was punished.” Verse 10 calls his life a “guilt offering.” Verse 11 says his “righteous servant will justify many.” And we read these final words of the chapter:
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
I think it is a challenge to wrap our minds around how radical this is, and how much it makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world that are based on works and not grace.
The essense of Christianity, it’s core, is that a holy God must punish sin, and that the wages must be paid. We can either pay them ourselves, or accept that he took it upon himself to pay those wages in our place. The payment, the transaction, is critically important to understand. The cross is for sinners, and as the word implies, sinning is not just something we do, it is who we are. And we and our sin must incur God’s wrath. That wrath we deserve was poured out on Jesus, as it is graphically portrayed in these chapters. He did this so he could have a relationship with guilty sinners who continue to sin! As Luther put it, simul justus et peccator: we are simultaneously justified and sinners.
To me the most important words in all this are, “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” This is the peace Paul talks about in Romans 5 that we receive when we are justified through faith. It is the peace he talks about in Philippians 4. God is no longer our judge, and he has given us his very own righteousness that he might be our Father. It’s what RC Sproul calls in the video linked to above as “double imputation”: he gets our sin, we get his righteousness. What a deal! This means practically that we can have a certifiably clean conscience, not based on what we have or have not done, but on what he did for us in Christ! Talk about revolutionary! In Hebrews 9 we read this:
14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
In chapter 10 this:
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
How many Christians go through their daily lives with nagging guilt because they don’t really buy into what’s going on in Isaiah 52 and 53. In Christ before God we are as pure as Jesus himself, or God would have to destroy us. As I’m contemplating this the voice of the Who’s lead singer, Roger Daltry, popped into my head, I’M FREE!!!! They lyrics, strangely enough, fit perfectly:
I’M FREE- I’m free,
And freedom tastes of reality,
I’m free-I’m free,
AN’ I’m waiting for you to follow me.
If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say ‘nothing’s that simple’
But you’ve been told many times before
Messiahs pointed to the door
And no one had the guts to leave the temple!
I’m free-I’m free
And freedom tastes of reality
I’m free-I’m free
And I’m waiting for you to follow me.
How can we follow?
How can we follow?
As Christians we ought to feel like Daltry swimming and running through the field, exhilarated, almost out of our minds with joy that we are right with our Maker! And it is not based on anything we did or could do or have done, but all on what the suffering servant did for us in our place. As we might have said in the 60s, that’s heavy, man.