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Bible Search
The Surprising Servant - Isaiah 52:13-53:14
God’s Servant
The Surprising Servant
Isaiah 53
 
I want to begin with you this evening a study of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. As you may remember, the subject of Isaiah 53 is Jesus.  He is pictured there as the Suffering Servant.  In fact, in many Bibles, that is the subtitle you will find on this chapter.  But there is much more to see and discover about the nature and character of Christ than just His suffering.  And that is what I hope to help you discover in these studies.   
 
Now in order to fully appreciate what we find here, we need to see some of the background and context that leads up to it. The beginning of what we find in chapter 53 is actually begins at chapter 52, verse 13.  In my opinion, when the scholars made the chapter breaks, it would have been better if they had broken it there because verse 13 actually because verse 13 sets up what is detailed in the fifty-third chapter.
 
Now if you’ve been a Christian for any time at all, you’re probably very familiar with this section of Holy Scripture.  It has been called by some scholars, “The Fifth Gospel.”  Martin Luther said, “Every Christian ought to be able to repeat it by heart.”  One German scholar writing back in 1866 said, “This chapter is the most central, the deepest and the loftiest thing that Old Testament prophecy itself has ever achieved.”
 
And I find it intriguing that in this section of Scripture, even though it is Old Testament contains the very root and heart of Christian theology.
I would guess this section of Scripture has been taught and preached from and used by more gospel preachers and writers through history than any other portion of the Old Testament.  In fact, Isaiah 53 is the heart of Hebrew writing. 
 
Now to understand chapter 53, it would help us to better understand Isaiah in general so let’s begin with
 
1. The History
 
Isaiah is a very long and in-depth book.  It was written about 680 B.C., which would date it about seven hundred years before Christ. It is divided into two sections.  The first half of the book, chapters 1 through 39, warns of an immediate coming judgment and captivity for the nation of Israel. 
 
And come it did. These 39 chapters address the Southern Kingdom of Judah and less than 100 years after its writing, they are in captivity.  Beyond that, there are warnings about divine judgment on sinners of all ages and all time, and even indications of a final, terminal, eschatological day of great judgment. 
 
But primarily and historically it’s about Judah.  Listen to how chapter 39 ends:
 
Isaiah 39:6-7
 
That is a specific prophecy about the Babylonian captivity which began in 603 about 80 years after Isaiah wrote it.  He prophesied that it would happen and it did happen.  So that’s the focus of the first section and history proves its authenticity by verifying its fulfillment to the letter.
The second section the 27 chapters of 40-66. Now the theme of this section is grace and salvation.  It is a beautiful portion of Scripture that is actually one great prophecy about salvation coming through the Messiah. 
 
And it is extremely comprehensive.  It addresses, not only the deliverance of Israel from Babylon, but the deliverance of sinners from sin and the deliverance of nations from the curse as Messiah comes to rule His kingdom
 
There are some very interesting comparisons between the second half of Isaiah and the New Testament.  Chapter 40 actually begins where the New Testament begins in the redemptive story. 
 
Chapter 40:1
 
That is in stark contrast to
 
Chapter 39:5-7
 
There is this great pronouncement of judgment at the end of chapter 39, but chapter 40 turns the corner to speak of grace and comfort and salvation. 
 
Then notice verse 3
 
That is a prophecy of one who will prepare the way of the Lord.  We know that it was John the Baptist who came in fulfillment of that prophecy as the forerunner of Christ.  He was the voice crying in the wilderness and that’s exactly where the New Testament begins. 
 
This section of Isaiah begins where the New Testament begins.  By the way, this section of Isaiah ends where the New Testament ends also. 
 
Isaiah 65:17, 66:22
 
Isn’t that amazing?  Isaiah ends the same place the Bible ends in Revelation 21 and 22 with the new heavens and the new earth.  So this section of Isaiah begins where the New Testament begins with the arrival of John the Baptist and it ends where the New Testament ends with the new heaven and the new earth and all of it is written 700 years before Messiah comes to begin to fulfill it.
 
So we have this section dealing with salvation and grace.  So Who will provide this deliverance?  Isaiah’s answer is “the servant of the Lord”. He is
 
2.  The Fulfillment
 
Isaiah 52:13
 
See why we need to begin there?  It is the “servant of the Lord” of chapter 52 that is suffering in chapter 53.  But if you just read chapter 53, you don’t know that. That word “servant” is used many hundreds of times in the Old Testament.  It is the Hebrew word for slave as well as servant.  It is God’s slave or God’s servant who will deal prudently and be exalted. 
 
He is the one who will bring salvation.  He is the one who will bring comfort.  He is the one who will bring the forgiveness of sins.  And as such, He is the theme and focus of this final section of the book of Isaiah.
This is the fourth time Isaiah has specifically prophesied of a servant.  Chapters 42, 49 and 50 all mention this designation.   But this one is the most extensive and the most astonishing.
 
I say that because of where Israel found herself.   
Throughout their history, the prophets regularly told the nation there would be an age when God would rule and reign in Israel and from Israel over the world and that rule would be administered through a righteous king. 
 
This King would deliver Israel from its enemies.  This King would deliver Israel from its sins.  Not only would there be physical and military blessings, there would be a spiritual deliverance.
 
Because of that, dating all the way back to Abraham and his promised seed, the hopes of the Jews had been high.  They wanted that King.  They looked for that King.  So they chose a king for themselves by the name of Saul.  But Saul was rejected by God.   Not only was he rejected, but his line was cut off from ever reigning again in Israel. 
 
Hope then shifted to David.  But David had his own problems.  And David was such a sinful man that God didn’t even allow David to be the one to build the temple.  So obviously David wasn’t going to be that righteous King. 
 
But the promise came through Samuel that this king would be a son of David, so the attention shifted to Solomon.  And it must have looked really good when Solomon came along and enlarged the Kingdom vastly and became the wealthiest person in the world.
And not only that, he asked for wisdom and God gave him abundant wisdom so he was able to be successful in everything he did.
 
But it turned out that Solomon was a total tragedy.  He got so messed up with wine, women and wealth that he wasn’t going to be the righteous king.  And by the time you get to the end of his reign, the whole kingdom splits in pieces.  The northern kingdom never has another godly king and winds up in captivity.  The southern kingdom struggles to survive with a long list of mostly corrupt kings and a few decent ones sprinkled in.
 
So people were beginning to lose hope in the human king, even out of the loins of David.  In fact, the line of David was so bad that at one point, one of David’s descendants by the name of Manasseh became king and Second Chronicles 33:9 says of him, “Manasseh mislead Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.”
 
 A son of David led Israel to do more evil than the most vile, idolatrous, pagan people the world had ever known.  In fact, Isaiah’s life comes to an end during the reign of Manasseh and tradition says  Manasseh has Isaiah sawn in half with a wooden saw. That’s how bad it got.
 
How bad was it?  It couldn’t get any worse than it was.  Except it did.  Their temple would be destroyed, their capital would be destroyed, the northern kingdom was gone permanently never to return, and the Southern kingdom was next. 
 
And in a time when the line of David was the most corrupt and the most vile and the most wicked, God steps in and gives to Isaiah a dramatic new revelation about the righteous King.  If ever there was a time in their history they needed it, it was then. 
 
But here was the shocking news.  Their Righteous King would be a Suffering Slave.  He would be exalted, but not until after He suffered.  And further, He would not suffer for any evil that He had done because He would be a righteous king.  But He would suffer for the evil that others had done.
 
In fact, to top it all off, the righteous King would not only suffer, He would die. But He wouldn’t die for His own sin, He would die for the sins of the people.  He would die in paying the penalty for the sins of His people.  He would be a substitute who died in His peoples’ place.  And though that reality is pictured in the animal sacrifice system, it wasn’t until this prophecy that it was made clear.
 
So let’s meet the Suffering Servant of this amazing prophecy. 
 
3.  The Focus
 
Now let’s meet this suffering Servant. 
 
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
 
It’s easy to see Christ in that passage.  Proof that God is the author of Scripture and Jesus its fulfillment is found in that one passage alone. 
 
Here we find the essential details exactly fulfilled in the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, intercession, coronation and salvation provided through Jesus Christ. 
 
This is the passage the apostles of the New Testament, the writers of the New Testament will reference when proclaiming the gospel. Jesus referred to it.  The apostles referred to it.  The New Testament writers referred to it again and again and again.  There are references to Isaiah 53 in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and 1 John.
 
No Old Testament Scripture is so often and so convincingly applied to Jesus Christ by the New Testament as this one.  The New Testament writers refer to virtually every verse in the fifty-third chapter.  It contains the sum and substance of the gospel, and to reject Christ is to reject the clear testimony of history, fulfilling every detail in this prophecy. 
 
But, on a bigger scale than the history and the fulfillment, as vital and important and wonderful as it is, is this question: what does that mean to me?  That’s the big issue.  Here is where it all comes into focus.
 
You could be in awe of the history.  You could be amazed that detailed prophecies concerning a person’s life and death and resurrection could be predicted 700 years before the person arrived, and you should be. 
 
You could be convinced that Scripture is authored by the only One who knows the future and that’s God.   You should be in awe of the divine nature of Holy Scripture, you should be.  But that’s not where you want to stop, because there’s a bigger, grander question than that.  What does it mean to you?  What does it mean to me and everybody else?
 
So let me talk about that for a minute.  The truth of this ancient prophecy and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ answers the most crucial, essential, critical question that can ever be asked by any human being and that is,  
 
“How can a sinner be right with God so as to escape hell and enter heaven?”
 
That’s the question.  This is the great moral dilemma that exists in the world.  And it is to answer that question that the Bible was written.  It is to answer that question that Isaiah 53 was written. 
 
And no matter where you read in the Bible, whether it is God providing coverings for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden or Paul providing a theological discourse on the subject or listening to Isaiah prophecy of a suffering king, the Biblical answer is always the same. 
 
A sinner can be right with God and escape eternal hell and enter eternal heaven only because God’s Servant became a substitute and suffered the judgment of God in the sinner’s place. 
 
Now this is the heart of the section from 40 to 66.  Let me show you how the question is answered in this section of Scripture.
There are 27 chapters from 40 to 66.  They are divided into three sections of 9 chapters each.  The first section ends with this statement:
 
Isaiah 48:22
 
The second section ends by saying
 
Isaiah 57:21
 
The third section ends with a similar judgment that is rather than stated, described.
 
Isaiah 66:24
 
All three sections end with a warning of judgment on the wicked.  But all three sections also promise salvation.  They’re very evangelistic. 
 
Specifically, the first has to do with the deliverance of Israel from Babylon.  The middle one has to do with the deliverance of sinners from sin and the third one, the deliverance of the earth from the curse, the glorious coming Kingdom of Messiah.
 
So the middle one, which runs from chapter 49 to 57, is the one we’re in and it’s the one that deals with forgiveness of sins. Now that raises a very important question.  Why does God need to save His people from their sins? 
 
I raise that question because that is the question the Jews would have asked.  They were not convinced they needed a savior.  They thought they just needed a righteous King.
 
After all, they were the children of Abraham.  They had the covenants and promises of God.  They were a religious people.  Everyone else was pagan and heathen, but they were God’s chosen.  And by virtue of their religious activities and ceremonies and rituals and attempts to obey the Law of God, they had earned their favor with God.  By race and by merit, they thought themselves right with God. 
 
So this message about a savior to deliver us from our sins so that we escape eternal hell and enter eternal heaven is a foreign language to them. 
 
It shouldn’t have been.  If they had been listening to Isaiah, they should have known better. In chapter 1 he calls them a sinful nation that has abandoned the Lord.  It is there that God tells them He hates their sacrifices and rituals.  They need to be washed so they are made.  He invites them to reason together with them so that they can be made white as snow.    
 
They needed salvation.  They didn’t realize it or accept it, but they desperately needed a Savior. 
And that is the focus of this centerpiece section as these three nines tell them of their need of salvation from Babylon, salvation from their sin and salvation for their cursed world and it’s all going to come through the Servant who will be the Savior sent from God. 
 
Now if you want proof that thought is the focus, then watch this:  The middle section is chapter 49 to 57.  The middle chapter of the section is chapter 53.  The middle verses of the chapter are 5 through 7. 
 
 
I don’t think it is by accident that the middle verses of the middle chapter of the middle section are that verses that focuses our attention on the substitutionary sacrifice of the Suffering Servant of God. 
 
One final thought and we’re through. 
 
In Acts 8 we are told about an encounter that Philip had with a eunuch from Ethiopia.  Philip is led by the Spirit to join up with this man as he is riding in his chariot. 
 
This man is a Gentile proselyte to Judaism.  He’s been to Jerusalem to worship and as he is traveling home, he’s reading the book of Isaiah. 
 
Acts 8:30-31
 
Philip got up into the chariot. 
 
Verses 32-34
 
He’s reading right out of Isaiah 53
 
Verse 34
 
I love this.
 
Verse 35
 
That’s what we’re going to do over the next several weeks.  We’re going to preach Jesus from that same Scripture.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride. 
 
Let’s pray.