THE SUFFERING SERVANT
Isaiah 42:1-7, Isaiah 49:3-7, Isaiah 50:4-10, Isaiah 52:13 – Isaiah 53:12, Philippians 2:5-11
SCRIPTURE READING: Isaiah 53:3-12
We seem to think of suffering as something foreign and strange. But scripture tells us clearly that those who follow Jesus Christ WILL share in His suffering. A look at the church’s history over the last 2,000 years shows us that this is true. For example,
At the Nicene Council, an important church meeting in the 4th century A.D., of the 318 delegates attending, fewer than 12 had not lost an eye or lost a hand or did not limp on a leg lamed by torture for their Christian faith. Vance Havner.
In this century, in fact, right now, today, thousands of Christians face persecution and pain and even death because they have chosen to name the name of Christ.
The book of Isaiah clearly presents a picture of the coming Messiah as a Suffering Servant. For those of you who are reading Isaiah, you will discover four passages which are often called the “Servant Songs”. They aren’t actually songs, but they are like the Psalms in their poetic and lyrical style. The four Servant Songs the present a portrait in poetry of the one the Lord calls “my servant.”
1.Isaiah 42:1-7; shows the Lord’s delight with his anointed servant and the gentle characteristics of the servant’s ministry.
2.Isaiah 49:3-7; describes the chosen servant of the Lord and the world-wide scope of his influence.
3.Isaiah 50:4-10; Details the obedience of the servant and his vindication after suffering.
4.Isaiah 52:13 – Isaiah 53:12; Explains the atoning sacrifice of the suffering servant who is despised and rejected yet obeys to the point of death and is therefore highly exalted by God.
In the New Testament, the four Gospels give us most of what we know about the life of Jesus Christ here on earth. But the “Gospel of Isaiah” also gives us a portrait of the life of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us in past tense about the Messiah they knew. Isaiah tells us in future tense about the Messiah who in his day was yet to come.
Isaiah foretold Jesus’ character, obedience, and relationship with His Father in amazing detail, 750 years before He came to earth. Let’s look at the Messiah according to the Gospel of Isaiah.
1.The Nature of the Suffering Servant
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
We tend to put a lot of importance on physical appearance. But when God “put on flesh” and came to earth as a man, notice that he did not choose to come as one of the “beautiful people.” Jesus was evidently an ordinary, average-looking person. And yet, all through scripture you find people are drawn to him. The attractiveness and power of Jesus did not come from outward strength or beauty.
Jesus was a man of astounding magnetism and power. But his attractiveness did not come from physical beauty. And his authority did not come from a forceful, assertive personality. Look at this description in Isaiah 42:
42:1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:1-3
Can you feel the tender gentleness of this Messiah? He will be able to bring justice to the nations without even raising his voice. How unexpected and astounding that the King of the Universe would come so quietly.
This description reminds me of the expression: He wouldn’t hurt a fly. When ALMIGHTY GOD came to earth, he lived with such gentleness that he wouldn’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. No wonder crowds followed him. This gentle Messiah was entirely approachable. Little children ran to him. The outcasts, the lame, the sick, all flocked to him. And when they came, he ministered to them:
Isaiah 42:7 tells us the Messiah will come to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
Isaiah predicted the amazing healing ministry of the Messiah. He also predicted that his teaching ministry would be unparalleled. Look in Isaiah 50:4:
4 The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
Here the Messiah is speaking in first person through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus spoke with wisdom that came straight from His Father, the Sovereign LORD. This reminds me of the words Jesus spoke in John 14:
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing the work. John 14:10
Jesus lived a life of perfect, willing obedience to His God and Father. Let’s look again in Isaiah chapter 50:
2.The Obedience of the Suffering Servant
5 The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.
6 I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. Isaiah 50:5-7
Just as Isaiah foretold, Jesus NEVER rebelled against the will of God. These words were written hundreds of years before Jesus was beaten and mocked. And yet they not only tell us the specifics of what the Messiah would suffer. They also give us a glimpse into the very MIND and HEART of Jesus Christ.
Jesus consciously offered his back to the whip of the Roman soldiers. He offered his cheeks to those who pulled out his beard. He offered his face to those who mocked and spit on him. And here are the very thoughts of Jesus – foretold hundreds of years before the events. These are the thoughts of Jesus Christ as he was flogged and tortured and mocked: Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
We see here the Heart and Mind of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about a messiah full of obedience and courage and faith. And Jesus displayed all those qualities in abundance.
Isaiah 53 gives more details about the suffering and death of the coming Messiah. And more than that, it tells us WHY that suffering was necessary. Look in vs. 5:
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. Isaiah 53:5
I want you to think a moment about the wounds of Christ. These were wounds he accepted willingly so that we could be healed. We sometimes see pictures or sculptures of Jesus hanging on the cross. His suffering is obvious in these pictures, but the reality of the wounds of Christ are obscured. We see little marks where the nails went in his feet and hands. We may see trickles of blood on his face from the crown of thorns. Even though the Romans crucified people without clothing, piece of cloth is always added for modesty.
We could not bear to look upon the reality of the wounds that brought us healing. Isaiah foretold how hideous he would look after the terrible beating he endured. He wrote in Is. 52:14, “…there were many who were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”
When the Romans hit him in the face and planted a crown of thorns on his head those weren’t playful slaps. The soldiers bruised his face deeply and probably broke facial bones and knocked out teeth. His eyes were probably swollen shut.
Realize that most victims of the Roman 39 lashes with the cat-o-nine-tails did not live through the experience. It was like being skinned alive. Most of Jesus skin and outer muscles on his torso were hanging in ribbons. No wonder he didn’t have enough strength to carry his own cross all the way to Golgotha. Jesus had to be a man of uncommon vitality to even make it to the cross let alone endure it for those horrible hours before he succumbed to death. The torture at the hands of the Roman Soldiers was so intense that he was severely dehydrated and probably in some stage of shock from blood loss. As Isaiah had predicted, “he was marred beyond human likeness.”
If you are ever tempted to under-rate the ugliness of Sin, remember the horrific kind of wounds that were necessary to bring us healing.
3.The Reward of the Suffering Servant
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12
God has a reward in store for his Suffering Servant. He will see the light of life and be satisfied. Jesus knew all along the reason for his sufferings. He was keenly aware of the atoning work he would do on that cross. When Jesus told his disciples about the cup he would soon drink and the baptism he would soon undergo, he was talking about his suffering and death. (Mark 10:37-38). We know that Jesus was anxious, not to go through the pain of it all, but for it to be accomplished so that his atoning work would be finished once and for all.
His reward in all this is that his sacrifice on the cross enabled him to be the first-fruits of a huge harvest of souls that would follow. Even though Jesus never fathered any human children during his 33 years on earth, he became the progenitor of a vast multitude of spiritual offspring. The church is his inheritance and his reward. For the church he willingly bled and died. Therefore God was delighted to lift him up higher than any other and give him a name that is above every other name. We call Jesus “Lord,” the same name reserved for Jehovah in the Old Testament, and the name the Father was pleased to share with his Son after his atoning sacrifice on the cross.
But remember that Jesus’ lordship came from his willingness to humble himself and come to earth as the Lord’s servant. His willing obedience and humility provide for us an example, for just as he was the Lord’s servant, we are also servants of God, and of Christ our Lord.
God offers that same reward to all of us who are willing to be like Jesus Christ. We, too are called to be servants (sometimes even suffering servants). Look at this challenge in the book of Philippians:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, begin made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8
To choose to suffer means that there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. Oswald Chambers.
Jesus came the first time as the Suffering Servant, but he will return as the Conquering King. And we need to remember that if we join Him in His suffering, we will also join in His great reward:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name
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. Philippians 2:9-11