Summary: The servant who suffered for his people.
Here’s some INTERESTING advice to parents, ‘People get very upset by the idea that their children might have to suffer. Well, why? […] are you having children? You want them to be Christians, don’t you? If they are going to be Christians, they are going to suffer. That is what life is about’ (Stanley Hauerwas).
I found this ADVICE a little confronting. Doesn’t the world think that LIFE all about maximising PLEASURE and minimising pain?
This morning we come to the most well KNOWN of the servant songs, and probably one of the most well KNOWN parts of the Old Testament. There are at least EIGHTY references to Isaiah in the New Testament and most of them come from Isaiah 53. Hymns and songs abound on the faithful suffering of the SERVANT who laid down his life for the iniquities of us all.
A challenging passage—well known—just read and ADMIRE its beauty. Relax and let the POETRY speak for itself. Immerse ourselves in the faithfulness of the SERVANT in life and in death. And be thankful! Be thankful that the SERVANT should do this for us. ‘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. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Let's REMIND ourselves of the bigger picture. Chapters 1 to 39 promises exile because that's how God responds to sin. ‘Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done’ (Isaiah 3:11). The JUSTICE of God. So in the eighth century B.C. the Babylonians came SWEEPING through Judah and Jerusalem and the TEMPLE was destroyed and the cream of SOCIETY were taken into exile. God is good, but he is not safe!
In chapter 40 the language CHANGES from condemnation to comfort. Israel has served her time. And the message of COMFORT is a simple one: God has NOT abandoned Jerusalem. God is faithful to his promises and he will KEEP his promise to reverse the curse of sin. This is no simple promise to rebuild the same old CITY and reinstate the same old PEOPLE doing the same old WORSHIP in the same old TEMPLE! Then the same old PROBLEM would repeat itself!
The prophet ends his book with a VISION of a new Jerusalem, a heavenly Jerusalem PERCHED on God's holy mountain. A place of worship far BEYOND human expectation. A new LAND, a new PEOPLE, a new CITY, a new TEMPLE beyond our wildest dreams. Incredibly the Gentiles will ASCEND the heavenly Mt Zion and they too will worship God. And then Isaiah tells us in chapter 65 that this New Jerusalem is a SYMBOL of the new age, the new creation (Isaiah 65:17-18). The best is yet to come.
The ministry of the suffering servant EXPLAINS how we move from the old creation to the new creation. Out of the BABYLONS of this world, God will save his people. God will find for them a NEW city where he is the Maker and Builder. The heavenly Jerusalem REPLACES the ill-conceived humanistic dream of the TOWER builders of Babel. But SIN must be dealt with, JUSTICE must be done, WORDS must be spoken, MERCY must be poured out, REDEMPTION must be bought, BLOOD must be spilt.
The fourth servant song EMBRACES these themes and brings the earlier songs to a STRONG and powerful climax. For the servant is NOT the traditional action hero. He is not an ‘incredible hulk’ type figure who CRUSHES his enemies with brute force. Instead he OFFERS love and forgiveness in return for hatred and justice. He is COMMITTED to carrying out the will of the Lord. The rejection and suffering of the servant occupies most of the song. But what we must NOTICE is that the song is drenched in glory and victory.
Which is STRANGE given the biographical details. In fact the servant is so unattractive that NO-ONE would ever go to his FACEBOOK page. His photo is ugly beyond belief. Isaiah 52:14 says that the servant’s appearance is disfigured, ‘beyond that of any man’. His form MARRED beyond human likeness.
We learn more about his humanity. Isaiah 53:2, ‘He grew up before the Lord like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground (which is easily blown away). He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not’ (Isaiah 53:2–3).