March 25, 2005

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Permalink

Isaiah 52:13-53:12
(March 25, 2005, Sermon Notes)

For several Sundays, we’ve been looking at Isaiah’s songs about the Servant. Israel was to be God’s Servant but Israel was blind and deaf. But God didn’t abandon His plan to bring blessing to the world through Israel, His Servant. He sent one man to be His Servant, to represent Israel, and to carry out His task faithfully.

In Isaiah 50, we learned that the Servant’s task would involve suffering followed by vindication. Now, in Isaiah 52-53, we discover that the task involves suffering and triumphing as a representative and as a substitute.


The song starts with Yahweh’s announcement that His Servant will act wisely, taking the best path to the right goal. That path will end up with a triple exaltation (“exalted, lifted up, made high”: see Paul’s invented word “superexalted” in Phil. 2:9).

But the surprise is that the path to that exaltation is the path of humiliation. The Servant will be exalted above all men because he will be humiliated more than all men.

Through that humiliation, the Servant will triumph. He will “sprinkle many nations,” which alludes to the Old Covenant washings (which Heb. 9 calls “baptisms”). Israel was sprinkled when God established His covenant with her at Sinai and God promised to sprinkle her when He restored her after her exile (Ezek. 36:25). Israelites who were afflicted with “leprosy” also had to be sprinkled to be restored to the community (Lev. 14:7).

The Servant, however, will not merely sprinkle Israel; he will sprinkle “many nations.” Gentiles, too, will be brought into covenant and will draw close to God through him. When the church carries out the Great Commission, discipling the nations by baptizing them and teaching them to obey Jesus, the Servant is “sprinkling many nations.”

The Servant is triumphant and even the kings of earth, who may have spoken against him or against his people, will shut their mouths in awe when they hear the news of him. His path might look like failure, but it mysteriously turns out to be the route to exaltation over all the rulers of the earth.


But who could believe this report? Who recognized that the suffering Servant was the “arm of Yahweh” that had rescued Israel from Egypt in the past, Yahweh’s own personal power and presence? Not the people to whom his followers preached and not those followers themselves, at first. Human wisdom can’t recognize the meaning of this Servant’s suffering.

The Servant grew up before Yahweh as a tender plant, but he grew out of dry ground. The nation of Israel and the house of David weren’t fertile territory for the coming of this Servant.

Nor was the Servant attractive in the way that David was. Even his own people rejected him. His whole ministry was characterized by suffering and by the end people didn’t even want to look at him. It appeared as if everything about him added up to nothing because it all ended in apparent failure and in death.

But now the Servant’s followers recognize that he was suffering as a substitute, carrying away our griefs and sorrows. That was what Jesus was doing when He healed the sick and cast out demons (Matt. 8:16-17) and that was what He was doing on the cross. At first, his followers thought he was stricken by God for his own sins, but later they saw that he was wounded and crushed for ours. He suffered to bring about the peace and healing we needed.

We had wandered away from our shepherd like sheep — all of us, but also each one of us — but our iniquity was laid on the Servant instead of on us. Like a sheep who doesn’t fight back when he goes to be sheared or like a lamb who doesn’t retaliate when he is slaughtered, Jesus did not lash out or defend himself.

But no one of His generation understood what was happening. Verse 8 is often translated as if it were saying, “Who will report that he had any children?” but “generation” isn’t usually used in the sense of offspring. More likely, it refers to His contemporaries: “Who of His generation will report that He was cut off from the land of the living, and that it was for the transgressions of my people that He was stricken?”

No one recognized it, even when they saw His burial. He would normally have been buried with the other criminals, but instead He lay in a rich man’s tomb. That tomb was a foretaste of glory, a sign of God’s favour because He was faithful in His speech and actions. But no one recognized it until later. Only then did they understand the meaning of His suffering and death. Only then did they acknowledge Him as our substitute.


The Servant was innocent, and yet “it pleased Yahweh to crush him.” It is not that Yahweh took pleasure in the crushing of the Servant in itself. Rather, it pleased Yahweh to crush His Servant because of what that crushing was and what it would accomplish.

The Servant died as “a trespass offering,” as the kind of offering you would bring, not for inadvertent sins or sins of human weakness, but for sins of outright rebellion and for direct violations of God’s holiness. God made Jesus the final trespass offering so that we who were rebels might live as God’s people.

The amazing thing is that this death wasn’t the end of the Servant’s life. After being offered as a trespass offering, the Servant would see his seed, the offspring God promised to Abraham and to Israel and to the Servant, seed like the sand on the seashore. He would “prolong his days,” living forever to carry out Yahweh’s pleasure. He would look back at his work and what it accomplished and be satisfied.

The Servant was faithful and God declared him righteous. But the Servant was not faithful for himself only. He knew how to bring others to share in his own righteousness, to share in his status but then also to be transformed into people to begin to live in righteousness. He did it by bearing their iniquities.

Because the Servant chose this path, Yahweh promises to reward him: “I will allocate to him the many and he will allocate the strong as spoil” (a better translation than the NKJV’s “I will divide him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong,” which makes it sound as if Jesus were just one “great one” among many and which obscures the fact that the word translated “the great” here is the word translated “the many” elsewhere in this passage).

Yahweh gives the Servant “the many,” the ones for whom he died, the people who were once horrified (52:14) but who are now justified (53:11) because he bore their iniquities. They are allotted to the Servant as his reward. More than that, he will conquer the earth so that all “the strong ones” (= the “kings” of 52:15) are the spoils of war for him to do with as he pleases.

He receives this reward because he poured out his soul unto death (to which Paul alludes when he says that Jesus “emptied himself”: Phil. 2:7), was counted as a transgressor, bore the sin of “the many,” and interceded for the transgressors.

That is the solution to the mystery of His exaltation: His humiliation wasn’t punishment for his own sins but was the punishment for the sins of others and therefore the path to glory. Jesus died as a substitute, as the faithful one who bore the sins of “the many” He came to save, so that we could be declared righteous and become His seed who will inherit the world with him.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:58 am | Discuss (0)

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