Isaiah 53. Words on a suffering servant. The text is familiar, but lately in some dark times of trial, of haunted remembrances of the past and fears of the future, such comfort is here.
Who has believed our message? (Who hath believed our report?)
Indeed. The first question preceding the passage reminds us that Jesus would not be believed for who He was and is, the Christ. Questions, recrimination, false accusations, incredulous disdain, charges of blasphemy, sarcasm. Such was to be His world, a world that would laugh at His salvific name calling it a cruel joke as if to say, “Yeshua meaning Savior? Yet you cannot even save yourself.”
In whom has the LORD revealed His powerful arm? (and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?)
A stark contrast to the first question which implies that the message would not be believed, the second question sets the condition that none other than God’s personal emissary, very image, likeness, representation, and Revelation would be treading the Earth.
My servant… (For he…)
This cannot mean “my servant” as in the denoting of a person who is lower and thus rightly serves a person of higher worth. Why? Because very quickly, the speaker will admit to rejecting Jesus, so this cannot be the voice or thoughts of God the Father. “My servant” can be understood in two ways: A man may say Christ is my God not in the sense that the man owns God any more than saying “My world is large” implies a universal kingdom that I own. Secondly, though we should feel a prohibition to claim Christ as our servant in feeling a healthy reverence, it is Christ Himself who says in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
…grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. (…shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground:)
Because Jesus was begotten–not made–and was with God the Father from eternity past, His growing up refers to the earthly life. A poor child of a woodworker, how did He grow? Still in the Lord’s presence. Absent from the emotive, bursting, eternal-past love that the Father and Son had always known, the Son still grew in His Father’s presence: transcendent, prayerful, obedient, growing in favor (and infinitely always growing so!) The next two images are negatives. The tenderness of the green shoot is weakness, the root in dry ground is the stunted environment of a fallen world. This is evident because rather than the natural images being a contrast, the images’ ideas extend into a description of Jesus’ homely appearance, rejection by men, and deep sadness.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance. Nothing to attract us to him. (he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.)
Really? What kind of an earthly body was God the Father imagining? Why not give Him the kind of attractiveness that would make people seek Jesus’ face? Surely the eyes were evenly set, deep brown, penetrating, a royal and strong nose, a singular symmetry to his strength. Might Jesus have been cross-eyed? Missing a couple of teeth? A deformity of the ear? The images of our mind’s eye will not allow it. It seems to disdain Him. And yet Jesus would spend a lifetime trying to convince people that though the outside of a grave may be whitewashed or the outside of a cup may be clean, the inside was integral to understanding the content. So nothing majestic, kingly, sovereign, regal. No Caesarial pomp. Nothing physically magnetic.
He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. (He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:)
Where are you in your life? Battling to move forward to tomorrow? Struggling with the kind of depression that makes you want to sleep? So Christ. Misunderstood by Dad and Mom? So Christ. Impugned with doing wrong for doing righteousness? So Christ. Falsely accused? So Christ. Slandered by others? So Christ. Humiliated and rejected? So Christ. The list is not endless, but it is all-inclusive in the sense that no temptation or sorrow will come to you that He did not willingly bear here on Earth in order to become the High Priest described in the unsurpassed book of Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
We turned our backs on him, and looked the other way. He was despised and we did not care. (and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.)
For Jesus’ goodness, what did we return? He left His father’s immediate presence and humbled himself as Philippians 2 recounts, “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man,” an incredibly shocking condescension. Bawled as a baby. Spit up. Had growing pains. Fell in learning to walk. Must it have seemed an outrage to the heavenly hosts but for an understanding of the infinite mercies of God the Father and the Son? And yet for Jesus coming to “seek and save the lost,” forgive prostitutes and tax collectors, cleanse the corruption of false religion, give sight to the blind, make straight the feet of the lame, drive away depression, demons, and death, lovingly welcome children, obliterate cultural stereotypes, embrace beggars and lepers, eat with the rejected and unclean, feed hundreds, become the propitiation for sin–what was our reaction? What was your reaction and mine? We turned our backs. At best, we slept in the Garden as He painstakingly poured out His heart to His Father and sweat drops of blood (perhaps I fell asleep yet again meaning to converse with Him but thoughts of tomorrow’s concerns drifted me off to sleep). We kept the false bravado of heroic martyrdom up only to deny Him (perhaps I did not want to seem judgmental, narrow, or offensive so I weakly remained quiet when the topic of religion came up). At worst, we kissed Him and traded the infinite joys of being with Jesus for the guilt-ridden clang of false hopes as the silver haunts us in the worst exchange we had ever made, a truth for a lie, a joy for a sorrow.
Yet it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down. (Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:)
While we did not care and had our backs turned, He carried our burdens. O Lord, how could you take my weaknesses? I am one of billions of your creatures, but I believe you personally shouldered my guilt, my fleetingness and wandering heart. You exchanged my sadness so that I might have joy. You tasted death that I might live. You didn’t deserve to shoulder what I could not.
And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for His own sins! But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was broken so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. (yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.)
Not only would Jesus be wrongly impugned as having done wrong and encountering God’s punishment in much the same way that Jesus’ own disciples asked what the parents of the man blind from birth had done wrong (likewise Job’s friends probe to find out Job’s supposed secret sin). But you and I deserved to be pierced, crushed, broken, whipped for the wrongs done–not Him! Now our present age is one in which many scoff at the idea of man’s greatest problem being his sinful state. The Good News no longer becomes “good” if man doesn’t think he has a problem in the first place and is not in need of salvation. But we are. And so your palm remains unblemished while His were pierced. The Great Exchange is made. With the fury we deserve, God sees our foul rebellion and takes out His anger on His own Son so that in Judgment, He can look not on us in our frail weakness. Instead, He will look at the perfect, humble, righteous obedience of His Son and judge us on His accord. What mercy and love have I to thank you for, O Lord!
All of us like sheep have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own paths. Yet the LORD laid on Him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. Unjustly condemned, He was led away. (All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment:)
Jesus followed a straight-and-narrow path for the increased glory of His Father. He sought His Father’s will, praying, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” I often follow the paths of my own gods, the Will, Possessions, Dreams of Power, Self-Exaltation. Not Jesus. When I feel wronged, I be sure to let the person know. Of late being in the military, a great pet-peeve is being cut by someone in line. I feel the greatest sense of outrage and wrong. Why? Because I will eat 10 seconds later? I be sure to say something. And yet for the greatest crime and outrage perpetrated both in history and in the universe, Jesus is silent. He follows His Father and when persecuted, remains obedient to the call. I follow my heart and when given the natural result of doing so, complain to God about Him putting me in a situation I insisted upon having. How good is the Lord that He is not done with me yet!
No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. (and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.)
No one cared. The Lord Jesus greatly battled the fight of His life in the Garden, overwhelmed to the core of despair–alone. In the trial, the shouts for Bar-Abbas drowned out all else. When Peter who had promised to be there to the death was questioned, he shouted, “I don’t know the man!” The words of belief came from a fellow cross-bearer pleading mercy. Take it not for granted that Jesus “had done no wrong” and the purpose of His death–your rebellion. Mine. Buried like a criminal? There would be no funeral anointing save for the pre-anointment from Mary of Bethany (Mark 14:8). Around 700 years before, Isaiah foretells the wealthy Joseph of Arimithea providing a tomb carved from stone.
But it was the Lord’s good pleasure to crush Him and cause Him grief. Yet when His life is made an offering for sin, He will have many descendants. He will enjoy a longer life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in His hands. (Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.)
I love my son Ishmael. Should I be asked to sacrifice him to a peaceful death for the sake of another that I loved, I could not. To put him to death in pain, much less excruciating pain, is incomprehensible to me. And yet to do that for a deserved criminal in a state prison–never! Yet it was the “Lord’s good pleasure to crush Him” even though no greater sorrow or sacrifice has ever been made. What is the end result? Notice the contrast. While no one cared that Jesus’ life was cut short and lacked descendants, “He will have many descendants.” I gave our newest son Immanuel the middle names of “Justin” and “Gerald,” in no small part because I want him to grow up to be like his uncle and grandfather in spirit and in character. So just as we name children after those we would like them to be like, so we take the name of Christ.
Christian, you may have life cut short by persecution, pain, or the finite leaves of time inexorably marching from this autumn season to winter’s grave. But because of Christ, you will “enjoy a longer life.” God the Father’s good plan will prosper in the hands of His son. Worship in the images: a father holding his son’s hands, the scarred hands making our way possible, the trees and the rivers and multitudinous peoples clapping their hands. And in a quiet moment some day hence, look at the very hands of your Father* and see graven in His palms the very name whispered to the nurse at your earthly birth.
*Note (not in Men Like Trees Walking post): For a discussion of how Jesus Christ is both Father and Son, see the article Fatherhood and Sonship of Jesus Christ by Robert L. Millet.