Isaiah 52:13-53:12
The Suffering Servant

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The passage of scripture that we read today is often called "The Song Of The Suffering Servant." Who might this servant of suffering be? Since his name is not written in the text, there is no longer any way to know who the prophet had been talking about. But, the main thing is that for Jesus the words of this scripture truly had great significance. The Lord frequently spoke on his own trials and suffering. About himself the Lord said, "The son of man did not come in order to be served but to serve and to offer his own life as a sacrifice for many people," (Mark 10:45). Clearly in these words is visible the reflection of "The Song Of The Suffering Servant." At one time, the Lord must have walked the way to the cross while seeing his own figure in the words of the prophet.

2. Then even the later church had seen Jesus Christ bearing trials upon himself in this depiction of this servant of the Lord. One of the episodes associated with this passage of scripture is recorded in Acts chapter eight. An eunuch who managed the properties of the Ethiopian queen had come to Jerusalem to worship and was riding in a coach on the way back. While in the coach he was reading this passage from Isaiah out loud. Sent to him there by the Lord, Philip approached him. The eunuch asked Philip some questions. "Please tell me. Who is the prophet speaking about in this? Was it about himself or was it about some other person?" Then Philip began explaining this passage from the scripture and he informed him of the gospel concerning Jesus, (Acts 8:26-35).

3. We sense a special leading of the Lord on being given a passage of scripture like this on the first Lord's day in Advent. In twenty-four days we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. We celebrate that day with great joy. However, the day that Jesus was born on this earth was truly the first day of life for "the suffering servant." If we take Christmas with a thought like that, the day will not be just a happy and pleasant day. In order to appropriately prepare ourselves for that day, I would like for us to make the first day in Advent a day to contemplate Jesus as "the suffering servant."

To Whom Is The Arm Of The Lord Revealed?

4. To begin, please look at chapter fifty-two and from verses thirteen to fifteen. It speaks here in the first person "I," that is as the Lord God. God speaks saying "Behold, my servant is flourishing. He is lifted up so high and revered." These words point out to us the risen Christ, the Christ seated on the right hand of God lifted up on high. But, the resurrection of Christ is a resurrection of a person who had died upon a cross. The exaltation of Christ is the exaltation of a Christ who was made low.

5. Even in this song of the servant, before the lifting up of the servant the picture is given of him that "his figure was injured [to the point that] he did not look like a man, he no longer had the shadow of a son of man." How in our minds should we ever even imagine this injured figure given here? Yet, if we give it some thought, we will see that the figure of the suffering Christ was really that bad off as it said in the text. Just as we often times go too far in imagining the Old Testament sacrificial rites all tidied and spruced up, we might be going too far in imagining the figure and the face of the suffering Christ too beautiful and elegant.

6. When Jesus was dragged into the governor's house, it is recorded in a gospel that an entire unit of troops was mustered there, (Mark 15:16). If taken in a literal sense, that would typically be six hundred men. Even if there weren't exactly that many, but what might have happened with a fair proportion of those soldiers ganging up on Jesus, toying with him, spitting upon him, and beating him in the head after making him wear a crown of thorns? For that reason I think the figure of Jesus was damaged and he was no longer in a condition of looking like a human being. After that the Lord was dragged off, and his damaged and wretched figure was treated like an exposed criminal on the cross. That is the figure of the crucified Christ's pain and death.

7. What was this pain and death? Going into chapter fifty-three, those who had insight into its meaning opened their mouths and began to speak. Please look at chapter fifty-three and verse one. "Who will be able to believe what we have heard? To whom has the Lord shown the power of his arm?," (53:1). These are their first words.

8. "The power of his arm" could be defined as the power of a salvation bringing God. People are ready to see the power of God's arm in the great miracles that God causes. They are not wrong in doing that. The people saw the arm of the Lord in the works of God when he once delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians or in the miracle of when he parted the Sea of Reeds. But, what is being talked about here in this text is not the arm of the Lord that is revealed in miracles like them. The arm of the Lord is revealed in a completely different manner. It was in a manner that no matter who heard it it would be incredible. The arm of the Lord was not revealed in a great miracle, but in a completely unimpressive looking man. That's what these people are saying.

9. "... Not an appearance worth looking at, neither does he have a bright presence about him, nor does he have a pleasant personal appearance. He is despised, forsaken by men, he will bear many diseases and know sickness," (53:2-3). That's the picture of him. But, we don't know what kind of sickness it was. It is not necessary to think of a specific "sickness." In one translation, it has "deep sorrow." Either way, his condition, as seen by anybody, was a state that only seemed smitten of God. Therefore, they said, "We thought this, that he suffered at the hand of God, after being hit by him," (53:4).

10. However, the suffering that he bore on him was by nature the suffering that they were supposed to be bearing. He was impaled and pierced. He was beaten and crushed. Certainly at the hand of God, he was hit and crushed. It was just as they had thought. But, now they confessed that "He was pierced for our rebellion, he was struck for our faults. Through the chastisement that he received we are granted peace, by the wounds that he received, we are healed," (53:5). That was the exact place indeed, it was the arm of the Lord, which was revealed in a really incredible manner.

11. Now we think of the figure of Jesus in the words of their confession. In a Jewish court, Jesus was deemed guilty as a person who defiled God. What the people were seeing on the cross was the figure of a truly convicted criminal hung on a tree, cursed by God, and about to die. God had certainly struck Jesus with his arm. And right there also we too see the power of the arm that saves us.

For Our Sins

12. In addition, their confession continues on. Please look at verse six. "We are a flock of sheep, we have strayed from the path and gone in all different directions. The Lord has made him bear all of our sins," (53:6).

13. In verse five the text says, "because of our rebellion" and "for our faults." Humans turning their backs and doing wrong - that, so to speak, is like sheep wandering astray and freely going off into their own directions. Today's people may say, what's so wrong about a person deciding his or her own direction of advancement? What's wrong with living according to your desires and dreams? But, sheep are the kind who by their nature live with their shepherd. The shepherd works to keep his sheep alive. When lead by a shepherd, the sheep are able to live. When the sheep go astray from the shepherd advancing along according to self, there will only be destruction.

14. In reality, as they notice themselves on the edge of destruction, as they take note of themselves that they are not moving ahead on the road of life, people realize "We are a flock of sheep, we have wandered astray and gone in all different directions." Consider the Israelites, the experience of when the state fell and the people became captives was an opportunity to really make the people look back over their history. It was an occasion to make them think deep about their misery as sheep who lost their shepherd and who got lost themselves.

15. However, from the places that the Lord scattered these people, he still gathered them and wanted to give them life. He forgave them and was ready to grant them life. But, sin is sin. It doesn't vanish. So, what does become of it? It says, the Lord put the burden of their sins on his servant. This servant of the Lord is ultimately depicted as a sheep. He is depicted as a lamb pulled to the slaughter room and as a sheep that says nothing before the shearer. In one sense, we have some sheep that are going along their own way doing as they please, but the lamb here proceeds to its death as it silently bears the hardship.

16. Here we find the figure of Christ being silent before Pilate. The gospels certainly tell us that while the chief priests and the elders were making their accusations against Jesus, Christ was silent saying not a single word to the point that Pilate wondered about it. Then, as it says in the scriptures (53:8), "he was arrested, received judgment, and he had his life taken," so Christ the servant of the Lord was crucified as a convicted criminal.

17. This was all [part] of what God had willed and planned. It was also what the servant of the Lord willed and what the servant of the Lord himself had carried out. The text in verse ten says, "The Lord willed that he strike this man to suffer with sickness and make him an atoning offering. He looked at the descendants to follow in the coming future. What the Lord wanted would be accomplished through his hands," (53:10). Here it says that the Lord and his servant were totally one. Thus Christ was one with God the Father and accomplished the redemption of sin.

18. From verse eleven the speaker again goes back from "we" to "I" or God. God himself has this to say about the servant. "He will see the fruit of his suffering and will be satisfied knowing it. My servant has borne their sins on his own back in order to make many people righteous," (53:11). The fruit of Christ's suffering is us, that is the church. Because of the fact that he alone carried our sins through the Lord, we are made righteous. We celebrate Christmas as that kind of people. The celebration is a celebration where the sorrow we feel for our sins that caused suffering for the Christ born in this world is one with the joy that we have had Christ carry our sins upon himself for us, even the Christ who was born into this world.

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