Summary: Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus (Acts 8:35).
JESUS, THE MAN OF SORROWS
1. The introduction to this prophecy of the Passion of Jesus begins not with His humiliation, but with His exaltation (Isaiah 52:13). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2). The reason for Jesus’ Passion was to accomplish the salvation of the “many” (Isaiah 52:14-15; Isaiah 53:11-12; cf. Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24).
The path to our salvation was, for Him, just as hard as He had prophesied (Mark 10:33-34). The gory details of His suffering are scattered throughout this Song. Our emotional response to this picture ranges from “astonishment” (Isaiah 52:14) to incredulity (Isaiah 53:1).
Some people read the verb at the beginning of Isaiah 52:15 as ‘startle’ - but “sprinkle” is more in keeping with the sacrificial system which lies at the back of much of the thought here. The religious imagery being invoked is that of the solemn Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:19) - with Jesus as not only the supreme sacrifice, but also as the High Priest who sprinkles the blood on the altar (Hebrews 9:12). The irony of the passage is that the One who was so marred that His humanity was barely recognizable (Isaiah 52:14) becomes the source of cleansing for others (Isaiah 52:15).
2. “Who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1). In the Cross, the “arm of the LORD” – His strength and power - was being revealed. Who else could have dreamt up such a scheme for the salvation of mankind?
There is nothing about this picture which draws us to Jesus: it is more likely to repel us. He may have looked well enough to His Father: as “a root out of dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2) - but now humankind can see nothing to commend Him. In that awful moment of history, there was nothing whereby we could recognize His majesty – and where now was His beauty?
Throughout history people have drawn back from our Jesus, recoiling at the very thought of the Cross. It is not that He turned away from men, but that men turned away from Him (Isaiah 53:3). He was despised, and we accounted Him as nothing worth.
3. The reason for all this, the specific Mission of Jesus, is explained in the middle section of the Song. The repulsion evoked by the Cross of Jesus is countered by the recognition of the substitutionary character of His sacrifice (Isaiah 53:4). We may have seen Jesus as One “stricken” by God – but the toll which He was paying was not His own.
No, indeed, it was for OUR sins that He was “wounded” and “bruised” (Isaiah 53:5). These are strong verbs, carrying the idea of being “pierced” and “crushed” in some translations. The continued interplay between pronouns emphasises what HE (Jesus) did for US.
Before I began going the Lord’s way, I was like the rest of my generation: ‘going my own way’ (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like sheep, when one of us (Adam) went astray, we all went astray. Yet the LORD lays our guilt upon Jesus.