52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 21

Isaiah and the Suffering Servant

Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 21
Watching Now
Isaiah and the Suffering Servant

I. Exaltation of the Servant

II. Humiliation of the Servant

III. Work of the Servant

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Isaiah and the Suffering Servant
Lesson Transcript


Introduction: A Special Promise

There is a promise that weaves its way all the way through the Old Testament. It is a promise that there will be an individual in the future who will come and be our Savior. This promise starts in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 when God pronounces the curse on the snake, he says that Eve is going to have a descendant and that descendant will bruise the serpent's head. In other words, one of Eve’s descendants will crush Satan, will kill Satan. This thread of special promise runs all the way through in the Old Testament. But this promise comes to the forefront in the book of Isaiah. Near the end of the book there are four prophecies of a person in the future whom God calls “my servant." Yet we will see that people are going to reject him and bring him suffering, so we use the term “Suffering Servant” for this person in Isaiah. There are four times in the book of Isaiah that the suffering servant is discussed, but the fourth is the most significant of all the passages and that’s the one I want to look at this morning. It is Isaiah chapter 52 starting at verse 13 and goes to the end of chapter 53.

Gospel in the Old Testament

This is hands down the most quoted passage from the Old Testament in the New Testament. It has earned the name “the gospel in the Old Testament” because of its clarity and significance. If you spend the time to go through your cross references. you will find that almost every single verse is actually a prophecy that 700 years later was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is one of those passage in your Bible that every single word is underlined and highlighted after you read it once. The Servant Psalm, the fourth one, breaks into five stanzas. I am going to concentrate this morning on the third, but before that I want to walk us into the psalm.

Exaltation of the Servant

So the first of the five stanzas is in Isaiah 52:13-15. Isaiah is introducing us to the servant by discussing his exaltation, who he is. He says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you [speaking to the Servant]--his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind--so shall he sprinkle many nations [(in the ESV you need to follow the dashes to make sense of that sentence. Many were astonished and also many will be sprinkled; many will be forgiven of their sins.)] kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which ahs not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” Isaiah starts this passage on the suffering servant by emphasizing his exaltation and does it in language that is reminiscent of Isaiah 6, “My servant shall act wisely. He shall be high and lifted up.” Then he emphasizes the exalted, the wonderful, the majestic nature of the servant and he does it by contrasting it with his humiliation, his lowliness.

Humiliation of the Servant

This is a theme that is introduced in verse 14. Evidently the weight of Jesus’ ministry, especially on the cross, had an effect on his appearance and he “was marred beyond human resemblance.” Later on in 53:2 Isaiah says, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” In other words, Isaiah is telling them that people will not expect great things when they look at the servant. The servant will be the guy that has a big “L” written on his forehead for “loser.” He will be the last player you would pick for teams. Yet what appears to you to be so humble and so lowly, the worse player you could possibly have on your team, it turns out that he’s the Exalted One who will dominant the game. He is going to be high and lifted up because God is going to exalt him. This is the same kind of contrast between Christ humility and his exaltation that we read in Philippians 2, again another one of those passages that needs to be highlighted in your Bible. Paul is talking to the Philippian church about Christ and he starts in chapter 2:6 by saying, “Though he was in the form of God [referring to the servant, Jesus], he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This is the giant loser; this is the big “L” on the forehead, the last guy you would pick for your team. But because of what Christ did on the cross, see how verse 9 starts, “Therefore [because of his humiliation] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So you have at the beginning of this Servant passage the statement of his exaltation contrasted with the fact of his humiliation, that from the human standpoint he looks like a loser. That is what he goes on to talk about in the second stanza, the humiliation. Isaiah says, “Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.” In other words, is the prophet crying out, “Is anybody listening to me? Does anyone believe anything that I’m saying? I know that its hard to believe, given his humiliation.” “For he [the servant] 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. 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.” On the one hand you have God’s estimation of the servant, that he’s high and lifted up and on the second hand you have the human estimation; that he is a loser. There is no natural reason to be attracted to him and, in fact, people will recoil from him. They will turn away from him because He is too full of sorrow, too full of grief. “I don’t want anything to do with him. In fact, I don’t even want to look at him.”

Work of the Servant

The first two stanzas set the stage for the third stanza, which is in the middle of the prophecy. (That is often where the heart of prophecies are put, right in the middle.) Isaiah 53:4-6 is the third stanza. As I read this passage, please pay really close attention to the pronouns. It is very important that you notice the shifting back and forth. Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely he [the servant, Jesus] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” A marvelous passage in Isaiah, the gospel in the Old Testament. There are many themes that I could talk about from these three verses, but I will only emphasize one: what does it mean in verse 4 when it says that the servant bore our griefs and carried our sorrows? What does that language mean? This is language that we are familiar with. We often talk about that Jesus was punished for our sins, which is certainly true. I committed a sin and Jesus was punished for what I did. And yet as you go through Isaiah and especially as you go into the New Testament, you will find that there is much more to it then simply being punished for our sins. Perhaps the most important verse on this topic in the entire Bible is 2 Corinthians 5:21. If this is not highlighted in your Bible it must be; it is a crucial verse if we are going to understand what happened on the cross. I am going to read it and substitute antecedents for pronouns. Paul tells the Corinthians: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” That although Jesus never sinned, God made him sin to be sin so that you and I who are sinful could be made the righteousness of God. It is not so much that Jesus died in our place, though that is certainly true, but it is that he sinned in our place. And so when Jesus hung on the cross and for the first time in all eternity separated from the presence of God the Father, He, in God’s mercy, grace, love and justice saw Jesus who had committed sin and therefore when Jesus hung on the cross he had committed Bill Mounce’s sin. He sinned in our place and therefore he was punished for that sin. The flip side of that is marvelous because it is not that you and I are somehow treated as if we were righteous; but that we are actually made righteous. That we in a sense partake in the character of God and it is Jesus’ righteousness that we now possess. It is not as if Bill Mounce is righteous. Bill Mounce is righteous because Jesus is righteous. That is what it means in its fullest sense when Isaiah says he has borne our griefs and he has carried our sorrows. The technical term in theological circles for all this is the “atonement.” What happened on the cross. What did Christ’s sacrifice accomplish? And we often talk about substitutionary atonement, and the idea is that Jesus took our place, in our sin, and in our death, so that we could take his place in his righteousness. There are a couple of illustrations I wanted to give you because these are truths that are so deep that if you do not reflect on them and mull over them, they wouldn’t sink in.

One of the illustrations comes from John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim's Progress. He also wrote his own autobiography called Grace Abounding. Bunyan struggled with sin. He struggled with understanding how, especially since he had sinned so much and the sins he had committed were so bad, how could God possibly forgive him? He tells the story of his reflection on the verse in Romans 3:24. Let me read what John says. "As I was walking up and down in the house as a man in most woeful state, that Word of God took hold of my heart. 'You are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' (Romans 3:24). But oh, what a turn it made upon me. Now, as I was awakened as out of some troublesome sleep and dream and listening to his heavenly sentence, it was if I had heard it thus expounded to me." In other words, this is how he understood Romans 3:24. It was as if he heard God say to him, "Sinner, you think that because of thy infirmities [because of your sin], I cannot save your soul? Behold, my Son is by me and upon him I look and not on you, and will deal with you according as I am pleased with him." That is substitutionary atonement. That is someone who understands the horrificness of his own sin and what Christ did on the cross, understanding that God is treating you and me in the way that Jesus deserves to be treated, and he treated Jesus on the cross in the way that you and I deserve to be treated. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." It is not a fact that you can just read and understand off the top of your head, but it is something that takes time and sometimes experience to really drive home.

Three other things I wanted to point out in this section of the Servant Song. The second is the fact that the Servant was going to be rejected by the very people he came to save. Look at the second half of verse 4. "Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted." God just doesn't do things our way, does he? Here we see this Servant and we see him with a giant "L" on his forehead. You all know the song I keep referring to, I'm assuming that you all know this. It is The Loser. Loser is all over his face. And you see that and you reject him, say, "I don't want anything to do with him". And when we look at him, we even get to the point where we say, "It's God punishing him. He is smitten by God. He must be really lousy to be such a loser. Look what God is doing to him." The very Servant of God, rejected by the very people he came to save. And yet he was still wounded for our transgressions. You read the story in the gospel of John about the piercing of his side by the spear and we can talk about the crucifixion. But sometimes I think we really need help to understand what it meant to be wounded for our transgressions.

The last time I went to Israel, I went to an Israeli museum and about 10 years ago they dug up, and to the best of my knowledge this is the first one they have ever found like this, a small coffin and inside the coffin was part of a leg, ankle and foot of a person with a 4-inch iron spike driven right through the ankle. You look at that and you go, "He was wounded for our transgressions". For the 10 years I have taught at a university, four times a semester I taught New Testament Introduction, 30, 40 students in each one. Every time I showed the Jesus Film, the one that Campus Crusade for Christ made. In every single class, in every single year, every single person, from the stereotypical, small, frail coed to the big, tough football player, to the international student who could barely understand English, tears poured from their eyes as they for the first time perhaps, really came to understand what it means that this "loser" was wounded for our transgressions. He was crushed. The weight of your sin and my sin crushed Jesus on the cross. For the first time in all eternity, he was separated from the presence of God the Father because God the Father cannot be in the presence of sin and had to turn his head while God the Son was made to be sin so that you and I can be made the righteousness of God; it was crushing and he finally cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" quoting Psalm 22, knowing that Psalm 22 ends in an affirmation of faith and joy. We rejected the very person, the very God that was sent to save.

The third point has to do with the chastisement in verse 5b. "Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace." He brought us peace. He didn't bring us feelings of peace. He didn't make us say, "Well, you can feel good about yourself today and that may be gone tomorrow". He didn't kind of patch us up. My mom has had seven operations in seven years. She is 82. They did patch Mom up, and she is doing okay. But God didn't patch up our souls. He didn't patch us up. He healed us. The chastisement that was upon him brought us peace and we are healed.

The fancy term for this in theological circles is the “sufficiency of the cross.” In one fell swoop Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, so that no matter how big of a sin you commit, no matter how often I commit my favorite sin, the peace and healing are always within our grasp, because Jesus is always within our grasp. There is nothing that you can do that can push you outside of the scope of the cross, as long as you ask for it. It doesn't matter whether you are a prostitute on Second Street, whether you are a hen-pecking wife that has made your husband's life absolutely miserable, whether you have a hateful husband who has abused verbally, perhaps physically your wife and children. It doesn't matter whether you are a rebellious child, who has done everything you possibly can to make your parents and your sisters and your brothers hate you. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that you can be at peace, that you can be healed, that you can move through hurt and through dysfunction and through pain, to wholeness and to the peace and to spiritual health. And you don't have to go to mass every day and re-crucify Jesus; or as my cousin says, "going to go sacrifice". You don't have to go to purgatory, as if suffering somehow helps Jesus save you. You don't have to knock on doors with the Jehovah's Witnesses; and you don't have to do a lot of religious things with the Baptists. Because you're not the one who brings peace. You're not the one who brings healing. This is not something that you and I do, because it was upon Him that the chastisement was placed. And it was when he was chastised, when Jesus suffered the penalty of our sins, that we could therefore be healed and that we could therefore come to peace with God. We do not help him. We do not deserve it. We are dead apart from Christ. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. But it is all the grace of God, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for me. Not because I deserve it, not because I have done anything to merit it, but because of his mercy and his grace and his love. The chastisement was upon Jesus and therefore we have peace and we have healing.

The fourth point has to do with the universality of human sin. There is a lot in this short stanza, isn't there? The universality of sin is that absolutely everyone has sinned. Isaiah 53:6: "All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to our own way" to his own way. Listen to the pronouns. "And the Lord", Yahweh, "has laid on Him", the Servant, "the iniquities of us all". There is no exception to this rule whatsoever. Every last sheep that God created, you, me, our good friends, our good neighbors, every last person, apart from the work of Jesus Christ in their life, has gone astray, has left the path of God's righteousness and has fallen into sin. There is absolutely no exception to this. Again, it is one of the major themes in the Bible; it is here in Isaiah 53:6. Paul spends about three chapters in the Book of Romans driving this point home, that we all apart from Christ, deserve nothing but hell, because we all apart from Christ, have sinned. And at the end he quotes a bunch of Old Testament passages to drive it home. Here are just a couple of verses: Romans 3, starting at verse 10: "None is righteous, no, not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one."

Apart from the work of Jesus Christ working in our hearts and drawing us to himself and offering us the free gift of forgiveness, everyone has sinned. You have this marvelous picture in verse 6 of all this ugly, horrific sin; and instead of treating us in the way we deserve, what does God do? He lays on his precious son your sin and my sin. This is grace. This is the best explanation, the best picture of grace I think there is in the entire Bible. God's holiness, enduring the darkness of my sin, for absolutely no reason whatsoever; I do not deserve it. I am not doing anything to help him. But he endures the darkness of my sin for one reason and one reason only, because he has chosen to love us. He has chosen to send his Son, who will become my sin, so that I can become his righteousness. That makes no sense to me at all.

We often cry out, "That's not fair, God", don't we? When things don't go the way we want them to, we say, "Come on, God, step in here and fix this problem. You're not being fair." I'll tell you what is not fair -- Jesus dying for me, that’s what’s not fair. Jesus was made to be sin, who knew no sin, but it is God and it is grace and it is mercy and it is love.

Isaiah continues to the two final stanzas, talking about the humiliation of the Servant and eventually the exaltation. I would encourage you to read them. If you check your cross references, just about every single statement is a prophecy fulfilled by Christ, from being crucified between two wicked thieves, to being buried with the rich Joseph of Arimathea. It is a powerful prophecy of Christ's death and his resurrection.

This is about as clear as the Gospel gets. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than Isaiah says it in the third stanza, because it is as clear as the A, B, C's that we talk about. That if you want to be whole, if you want to be a peace, if you want to be healed, then it starts with A - admitting you are a sinner. It starts by saying, "I am a sheep and I have gone astray and I have turned to my own way." B - to believe that Jesus' death on the cross pays the penalty for that sin. Believing that the Lord has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. Believing that Jesus has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Believing that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities, and upon Jesus was the chastisement that brought us peace. And with Jesus' stripes, his beatings, I am healed. And then C - commitment. Jesus says, if you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself and daily take up your cross and follow me. Live as one who has died to himself and follow me as a disciple.

At the end of the first service, Rita Clark came up to me and told me a story. She had been in Italy 10 years ago and she had gone to a church somewhere that she said had the most amazing sculpture she said she had ever seen. She said it was a statue of Jesus and it was absolutely so life-like and you could see the indentations in his hands. You could see the effects of being crushed for your sin and mine. She said, "I know I wasn't supposed to touch it, but I reached out and I touched it, and I said, 'I'm sorry I did this to you, I'm sorry'". Then Rita said, "It was if I heard a voice in my head that said, 'It's okay, it's okay'". I said, "Rita, look at Isaiah 53. 'Out of the anguish of his soul, the Servant, he shall see and be satisfied'" That is Isaiah's way of preparing us for Jesus' final words, "It is finished". It is completed. I have done the task that God, my Father, sent me to do. I have become sin so that you now can become right with God. You now can become the righteousness of God. All that we wouldn't understand, what Rita saw, we did this to him. And it's okay, it's okay. That is why he came. On him was the chastisement that brings us peace and brings us healing.

There is no other way to peace and healing. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me". Apart from Jesus Christ, we spend eternity in hell. Peter tells the Jews in Acts 4: "There is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." This is the only way. Confucius, Buddha, Mary Baker Eddy, none of these people did anything about sin. There is only one Servant and only He carried your burdens. He was a man of grief and sorrow and he became my sin so that I could become the righteous of God. May we understand that in a way that perhaps we never have before.

Reflection Questions

  • What was the main point of the sermon today?
  • It is helpful to check your cross references and see how Jesus fulfilled every verse in the Servant passages. How do you think your friends would respond to the claim that 700 years before Jesus died, Isaiah saw it?
  • What are some ways in which the exaltation of Jesus is made even greater when compared to his humiliation? What specific events in the New Testament may make this clearer for you? For me, it is being beaten by the soldiers before the crucifixion.
  • Can you think of any other ways to help understand what it means that Jesus died “for” my sins?
  • Without becoming morbid, how can you help yourself and others understand the horribleness of Jesus being “crushed” for our sins?
  • Do you know of any stories of people who think their past sins were so bad that God could not forgive them? Have you ever done the same sin over and over to the point that you give up asking for forgiveness?
  • What are ways in which people try to pay the penalty for their own sins? How can you help them see that God’s chastisement was laid on Jesus, not them, and that Jesus became their sin?
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