Summary: In Isaiah 53 the rejected servant of God brings our acceptance through: 1) Living through Rejection (Isaiah 53:1-3), 2) Bearing the Consequences of Rejection (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Abraham Lincoln existed at a time of much division as we have today. In the forthcoming Hollywood movie on him, we see how Lincoln suffered from his ugliness throughout his lifetime and even during his tenure as President. Those who knew him, however, saw past the ugliness and through the gentleness of the eyes into the compassion of his heart. At one time, Lincoln is reputed to have responded to a question about his ugliness by saying, “The face you have before forty you cannot help, but the face you have after forty you deserve.”

Physical features, even in Jesus’ time, influence social esteem. When physically beautiful people reveal their emotional insecurities or their moral emptiness, we are surprised because people tend to equate beauty with esteem. Physically Ugly people live with the opposite reputation. Our first reaction to a disfigured face is withdrawal. Our second reaction is to devalue the worth of that person on our scale of esteem.

The Servant of Isaiah 53 will not have the advantage of time to communicate the beauty of His person and His personality. To the end of His life, He will know the sorrow and the grief of being “despised and rejected by men” (v. 3). Like the shock of the hideous face behind the half mask of the Phantom of the Opera, those who see the face of the Servant will hide their eyes, and without ever knowing the person behind the mask, they will write him off as inhuman. The “sorrow and grief” that the Servant felt from hidden eyes and debasing glares meant that He entertained no masochistic pleasure in His rejection. Just the opposite. With a verve for living, a desire for friends, and a wish for good will, the “sorrows” and “grief” of the Servant come because of His total rejection (McKenna, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1994). Vol. 18: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 18 : Isaiah 40-66. The Preacher's Commentary series (159–160). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).

We must realize that He bears the full rejection of the Father that we would have the Father’s full acceptance. Because of His rejection, we are accepted by God. Yet for this acceptance we must accept His rejection on our behalf. In Isaiah 53 the rejected servant of God brings our acceptance through: 1) Living through Rejection (Isaiah 53:1-3), 2) Bearing the Consequences of Rejection (Isaiah 53:4-5)

1) Living through Rejection (Isaiah 53:1-3)

Isaiah 53:1-3 [53:1]Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? [2]For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. [3]He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (ESV)

Isaiah felt that he spoke, mainly, to unbelieving ears (ch. 28:9–15; 29:10–15; 30:9–11; 42:23, etc.) so he asks: Who has believed?. The unbelief was likely to be intensified when so marvelous a prophecy was delivered as that which he was now commissioned to put forth. Still, of course, there is rhetorical exaggeration in the question, which seems to imply that no one would believe. This anticipation found literal fulfillment at Christ’s first advent. Israel did not welcome Him at His first advent (John 1:9–11; 12:38). Paul applied the same prophecy to the world at large (Rom. 10:16) (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:1). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.).

• Unbelief confounds believers. Those who believe and proclaim the truth do not understand why some refuse to believe. Sadly, it happened in Isaiah’s day; a part of the prophet’s mission was to confirm Israel in its unbelief. Rejection of the gospel dogged the work of the apostles, and rejection of our witness will occur, even after we have proclaimed the gospel as clearly and eloquently as we can (Braun, J. A. (2001). Isaiah 40-66. The People’s Bible (222). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.)

The referent to “us/we” is most likely Israel, who fails to recognize the “Lord” when it is revealed to them. Delitzsch shows that this is the normal referent of “we” throughout the book (16:6; 24:16; 42:24; 64:4–5 [Eng. 5–6], etc.). Thus the prophet is probably identifying himself with his people and speaking for them (see Jer. 14:7–9) (Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (381). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

What has been heard by us/ Our report is used technically for a prophetic revelation (see ch. 28:9, 19; Jer. 49:14). Here it would seem to refer especially to the Messianic prophecies delivered by Isaiah. In this supremely important chapter, Isaiah describes in graphic detail the crucifixion of Christ nearly 800 years before it actually occurs! (Willmington, H. L. (1999). The Outline Bible (Is 53). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)

When God called this man Isaiah, back in chapter 6, He told him, “You are going to get a message that the people won’t hear. When you tell them My words, they won’t believe you.” God’s messengers have not been welcomed with open arms by the world. The prophets have been stoned, and the message unheeded. That is still true today (McGee, J. V. (1997). Thru the Bible commentary (electronic ed.) (Is 53:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

The arm of the Lord is used by metonymy for the Lord’s strength. The revelation of the Lord’s strength and believing what we have proclaimed are two aspects of the same thing. The revelation of God’s arm upon a person is one of power (cf. Jer. 17:5), and hence to believe the report proclaimed is evidence that the Lord’s power has been manifested. It is the arm of the Lord that brought the nation out of Egypt (cf. 51:9–10; 63:12), and this arm of power enables belief. The passage clearly teaches that faith is a gift of God and not a work of man’s unaided power. It also teaches that unless God manifests His power, people will not be converted. We must ever depend upon God to work that His kingdom may be extended

In the context of the statement: To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?, refers to that has been “made bare in the eyes of all the nations” (ch. 52:10), yet requires the eye of faith to see it. The entire description given in the body of the passage is in the past. This is to be understood as a prophetic perfect. To the mind of the speaker, what he depicts is so vivid and sure of occurrence that he sets it forth as already having taken place. What is sure is that the prophet is not speaking of someone who has already lived upon earth before the prophet’s own time. (Young, E. (1972). The Book of Isaiah: Volume 3, Chapters 40–66 (341). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

At His first coming, the nation did not recognize the mighty, incarnate power of God in the person of Jesus, their Deliverer (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:1). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.).

Many Jews would not see the working of God’s providence in the victories of Cyrus, or in the decision to which he came to restore the Jews to their own country. Unbelief can always assign the most plainly providential arrangements to happy accident.

• When we consider situations like the current conflict in the Middle East, American division or world wide financial unrest, the are not modern phenomena. Human nature does not change and the consequences of sinful rebellion are not happy accidents. God warns about the consequences of rejecting Him, and that consequence will be felt in global markets, national divisions, local unrest, conflict ridden households and personal anguish.

The verbs starting in verse 2 in the statement that he grew up, are in the past, or completed tense, until ver. 7, and are to be regarded as “perfects of prophetic certitude.” “All has been finished before the foundations of the world in the Divine counsels.”

This all happens: Before him; i.e. “before Jehovah”—under the fostering care of Jehovah (comp. Luke 2:40, 52). Though unrecognized by the world (v. 1), Messiah Jesus was observed carefully by God, who ordered every minute circumstance of His life (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:2). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.).

God the Father had His eye ever fixed upon the Son with watchfulness and tenderness and love: like a young/tender plant; literally, as a sapling, or as a sucker (comp. Job 8:16; 14:7; 15:30; Ps. 80:12; Ezek. 17:4, 22; Hos. 14:6). The same idea has already been presented in Isaiah 11, where the Messiah has been called ‘the root of Jesse’ (verse 10). Here the emphasis is on the insignificant appearance of the servant and the unglamorous environment from which he will come (Harman, A. (2005). Isaiah: A Covenant to Be Kept for the Sake of the Church. Focus on the Bible Commentary (363). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.).

Please turn to John 15 (p.901)

The Messiah will be a fresh sprout from the stump of a tree that has been felled; i.e. from the destroyed Davidic monarchy: like a root (so ch. 11:10; Rev. 5:5). The “sapling” from the house of David shall become the “root” out of which his Church will grow (comp. John 15:1–6).

John 15:1-6 [15:1]"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2]Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3]Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4]Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5]I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. [6]If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (ESV)

• This allegory of the vine and the branches was originally used as a symbol for Israel. Israel’s failure to produce fruit resulted in divine judgment. True believers are connected with one another through a common faith and submission to Christ. They bring benefit or fruit to the lives of others, advancing the work of God in the world. There are some who receive common grace by benefiting of the fruit of believers but one day will be pruned by the vinedresser, God Himself.

The Messiah came: Out of a dry ground, out of the “dry ground” of a corrupt age and nation, and in general, out of the arid soil of humanity. In the East it is not unusual to see a tall succulent plant growing from a soil which seems utterly devoid of moisture. Such plants have roots that strike deep, and draw their nourishment from a hidden source. He had no form nor majesty/comeliness. What he means is that “the Servant” would have no splendid surroundings, no regal pomp nor splendour—nothing about him to attract peoples eyes, or make them think him anything extraordinary. His appearance was of a kind that was not adapted to draw the gaze of the multitude. Therefore, he was not noticed: “that we should look at him”. The Servant will arise in lowly conditions and wear none of the usual emblems of royalty, making His true identity visible only to the discerning eye of faith, “that we should look at him” (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:2). Nashville, TN: Word Pub. ).

He had: No beauty; literally, no sightliness; i.e. nothing to attract the eye or arrest it. The spiritual beauties of holy and sweet expression and majestic calm could only have been spiritually discerned.

• We live in such a visual age: we demand our politicians be outwardly picture perfect, we only buy products that are without a scratch and produce without blemish. As a result of this lack of inward scrutiny, we get politicians that are inwardly morally corrupt, products that are cheap defective knock-offs and food that is devoid of nutritional value.

• Both my wife and I had dated various people before we met, but as soon as I met her I saw an inward beauty that stopped me in my tacks. Her moral character, intellect, and love of God shown so bright that it was if I found a jewel that I had been searching for, and once found, was she was instantly recognized as a prize beyond compare.

Because of only the focus of the exterior, in verse three we see how the Messiah: was despised (comp. ch. 49:7 and Ps. 22:6). It is important to understand the word in its Hebrew sense, not the English one. The English word has a heavy emotive content with a consequent connotation of belittling and contempt. The Hebrew lacks the strength of emotion. It means to consider something or someone to be worthless, unworthy of attention. The Servant will not suffer a conscious and deliberate rejection so much as a hasty dismissal. He will be a rejection of people (ḥadal ʾîšîm),(Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (383). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

The prophet foresees the hatred and rejection by mankind toward the Messiah/Servant, who suffered not only external abuse, but also internal grief over the lack of response from those He came to save (e.g., Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34) (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:3). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.).

People’s contempt was shown, partly in the little attention which they paid to his teaching, and partly in their treatment of him on the night and day before the Crucifixion (Matt. 25:67, 68; 26:29–31; Mark 14:65; 15:18, 19, etc.) He was: rejected/forsaken by men “one from whom men held themselves aloof” (Cheyne); comp. Job 19:14. Our Lord had at no time more than a “little flock” attached to him.

Of these, after a time, “many went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). Some, who believed on him, would only come to him by night (John 3:2). All the “rulers” and great men held aloof from him (John 7:48). At the end, even his apostles “forsook him, and fled” (Matt. 26:56).

• We tell our kids to not live their lives based on what is popular. Logically, it is the fallacy of the defense of an argument based on “popular opinion”. Yet, we seem to base our buying decisions, our voting and other choices on the popular.

• Jesus told us to expect rejection for doing what is right and the broad or popular way leads to destruction. (Mt.7:13)

Because He called people to the narrow way, The Messiah was: A Man of sorrows. The word translated “sorrows” means also pains of any kind. (see Exod. 3:7; 2 Chron. 6:29; Ps. 32:10; 38:17; Eccles. 1:18; Jer. 30:15; 45:3; Lam. 1:12, 18, etc.). He was: Acquainted with grief; literally, with sickness; but as æger and ægritudo are applied in Latin both to the mind and to the body, so khōli, the word here used, would seem to be in Hebrew (see Jer. 6:7; 10:19).

• Because we want to be a part of community it will be sorrowful and produce grief when rejected. Yet when the rejection comes because of doing what is right, then we can take comfort in being regarded like Christ was. We have the promises and comfort of God Himself.

Because people tend to follow the herd: The reaction to Christ was one from whom men hide their faces People turned their faces from him when they met him, they would not see him, would not recognize him (comp. Job 19:13–17; 30:10).

Their avoidance of Him was to the point where he was: Despised. (see ch. 1:7; 3:12; 4:3; 6:11; 14:25; 15:8; 17:12, 13, etc.).

Illustration How far will someone go in the despising of Christ to avoid the obvious:

A citizen of Tel Aviv once went to court against a stone mason who refused to chisel A.D. dates on his father’s gravestone. The court referred the case to the Rabbinate (the highest religious body) for an opinion. The Rabbinate rejected the citizen’s appeal, saying that the Christian-Gregorian calendar was unacceptable since it was based on the birth of Jesus. The court, however, overturned the Rabbinate’s opinion, noting ruefully that the rabbis’ statement was dated 1972! The Jewish calendar was 5733 then (Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.).

2) Bearing the Consequences of Rejection (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Isaiah 53:4-5 [4]Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5]But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (ESV)

Having set forth at length the fact of the Servant’s humiliation (vers. 2, 3), the prophet hastens to declare the reason of it: Surely he has borne our griefs. Twelve times over within the space of nine verses he asserts, with the most emphatic reiteration, that all the Servant’s sufferings were vicarious, borne for His saints, to save them from the consequences of sins, to enable them to escape punishment. The doctrine thus taught in the Old Testament is set forth with equal distinctness in the New (Matt. 20:28; John 11:50–52; Rom. 3:25; 5:6–8; 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:18–21; 8:9; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 2:24, etc.),

His vicarious substitutionary atonement has carried our sorrows. It provides hope.

Even with this undeserved provision: Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God. They believed this about the Servant because the Law said, “he who is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). The onlookers thought Christ was suffering only what He deserved, but His experience of pain and anguish was for His people (1 Pet. 2:24). The extremity of His suffering shows that His compassion is real and not theoretical (Heb. 2:17, 18) (Whitlock, L. G., Sproul, R. C., Waltke, B. K., & Silva, M. (1995). The Reformation study Bible: Bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture: New King James Version (Is 53:4). Nashville: T. Nelson.).

The justice of God demands that sin meet its deserved penalty: either in us or else in a substitute. It is the good news of the gospel that such a substitute is provided for us in Jesus Christ. The passage finds its fulfilment in the heart-rending cry of dereliction from the cross: ‘About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ’ (Matt. 27:46) (Thomas, D. (1991). God Delivers: Isaiah Simply Explained. Welwyn Commentary Series (339). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.).

Finally in verse five we see: But he was wounded for our transgressions. This verse contains four asseverations of the great truth that all Christ’s sufferings were for believers, and constituted the penal substitutionary atonement for sins. The Servant suffered not for His own sin, since He was sinless (cf. Heb. 4:15; 7:26), but as the substitute for sinners. The emphasis here is on Christ being the substitute recipient of God’s wrath on sinners (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:3,4; Heb. 10:9,10) (The MacArthur Study Bible. 1997 (J. MacArthur, Jr., Ed.) (electronic ed.) (Is 53:5). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.).

Please turn to Ephesians 2 (p.976)

Christ was “wounded” or “pierced” (1) by the thorns; (2) by the nails; and (3) by the spear of the soldier. The wounds inflicted by the nails caused his death. He was crushed/bruised; (comp. ch. 3:15; 19:10; 57:15 Ps. 72:4). “No stronger expression could be found in Hebrew to denote severity of suffering—suffering unto death” (Urwick). Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace. “The chastisement that brought us peace,” which put a stop to the hostility between fallen humanity and an offended God—made them once more at one (cf. Col. 1:20). The peace which only God can give is the fruit of our salvation and is concomitant with it. Thus, it is only by His substitutionary atonement that we may be saved and experience peace with God and, by our continued obedience, also the peace of God (KJV Bible Commentary. 1994 (E. E. Hindson & W. M. Kroll, Ed.) (1390). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).

Ephesians 2:15-17 [15]by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16]and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [17]And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (ESV)

• People cannot earn the acceptance of God. Sin separates a holy God from sinful humanity. Because of love He sent His son to be a payment for sin, reconciling humanity with God. The father had to reject the son on the Cross so that we might be accepted. It is faith in that Son, Jesus Christ, which is evidence of that reconciliation.

With his stripes we are healed (comp. 1 Pet. 2:24”). Besides the blows inflicted on him with the hand (Matt. 26:27) and with the reed (Matt. 27:30), our Lord was judicially scourged (Matt. 27:26). Such scourging would leave the “stripe-marks” which are here spoken of. The result is that we are healed. The verb healed (from rapah, to mend or cure) may refer to physical healing; but, more extensively, it indicates a condition of being made whole. Within the book of Isaiah it is used of the healing and forgiveness of the gentile nations (19:22; 57:18). In view of the spiritual provision that is met by the atonement of Christ, it would not be inappropriate to translate it as “by his stripes we are forgiven.”( KJV Bible Commentary. 1994 (E. E. Hindson & W. M. Kroll, Ed.) (1391). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

Poem: Until that time when the remnant acknowledges Him, we who are Christians can confess through the words of Thomas O. Chisholm:

He was wounded for our transgressions,

He bore our sins in His body on the tree;

For our guilt He gave us peace,

From our bondage gave release,

And with His stripes, and with His stripes,

And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,

We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;

As our sacrifice He died,

That the law be satisfied,

And all our sin, and all our sin,

And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered,

Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;

But He sought us where we were,

On the mountains bleak and bare,

And brought us home, and brought us home,

And brought us safely home to God.

(Thomas O. Chisholm as recorded in MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.) (Is 53:4–6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

(Format note: Outline & some base commentary from The Pulpit Commentary: Isaiah Vol. II. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (295–296). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)