The Atonement and the Suffering Servant
Over the last couple of months, Ed Stetzer has been running a series of blog posts on the atonement. A number of leaders on the subject have shared and will share a bit from their studies on the scarlet thread that runs through the entirety of the Scriptures. As part of the series, Ed asked if I would take a brief dive into Isaiah 53 as part of the series that is connected to The Gospel Project. Here are the links to the series thus far.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
The book of Isaiah is poetic and soaring in much of its language. But, at times, it is difficult to read. Not because it contains material that is too difficult to understand but because it contains truth that is difficult to face. The 53rd chapter contains what might be one of the more familiar passages to many believers as it has often been taught upon during the Easter season. It is good that we cover such territory in the Spring of the year but would be better for us to apply such a rousing passage in every day of the year. It is a passage where we can once again preach the gospel to ourselves in order to see the atonement take shape through the Suffering Servant, Jesus the Messiah.
Not much to behold
In much of modern media, Jesus is portrayed significantly different than Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. In our movies (and sometimes in our own minds), Jesus is shown in a sanitized, sappy Hallmark movie version. He is a Hippie prancing around the countryside with perfect hair and a winning smile. However, Isaiah 53:2 describes as quite contrary to that caricature of the Christ. He was not impressive, not majestic, and had “no appearance that we should desire Him.”
The Savior we come to know as Jesus from Nazareth was the One whose life fulfills these verses. In verse 3, he is despised, rejected, devalued, and “was like someone people turned away from.” With not much to appreciate to eye, it seemed natural for the world to discard Him. For the Suffering Savior, dismissal would be the gut-level reaction of many. And yet, He presses on to deliver the gift of atonement.
To suffer for another
The bulk of the chapter gives us devastating detail after detail of what would happen to the Savior. It describes it with ancient poetic language that is delivered like deathblows. The Savior bears sickness and pain. He is described as being beaten and pierced; and it happening centuries before the invention of crucifixion. We see Him “cut off from the land of the living” (v. 8) and buried among the wicked (v. 9). Isaiah gives us the portrait of anguish on the part of the Savior.
The suffering is the “what” and, for our good, the passage offers the “why” as well. The Messiah does not appear in the flesh to simply give us a moral example or help us out by showing what sacrificial love looks like. Instead the “why” is so much greater. When the Savior bears sickness and pain, it is to carry it for us (v. 4, 11, 12). When we read that He is crushed and pierced, it is on behalf of how we have transgressed the Law of God (v. 5). All of the punishment that the Savior endures is on behalf of those who have actually committed iniquity (v.6). And who has committed these atrocities that punishment is doled out upon the Suffering Savior. It is in verse 6 that we find the phrase “the iniquity of us all.” The word “iniquity” is an interesting one. In the Hebrew language, it means moral evil or perversity. Jesus arrives on Earth to suffer the punishment due to us for our rebellion so that we can be reconciled to our perfect God.
The pleasure of crushing
In all of this, there is a great mystery for us. In the passage, we find this phrase: “Yet the LORD was pleased to crush Him severely.” It jars our souls to think that the Father is somehow gleeful to see the Son come under the crushing weight of wrath against sin. And we should be jarred by such a thought because He is not. The pleasure found in delivering suffering to the Savior is due to His great love for those being saved.
We must force ourselves to remember that the Savior has submitted Himself to this work. Jesus fully knew the punishment that was necessary to bear for atonement to be earned. The pleasure that comes from crushing the Savior is not in the judgment meted out but in the atonement that is accomplished. It is here that we see the Savior—that no one thought worthy to give a second look—stands with the beauty of our salvation. The pleasure of God’s crushing hatred toward sin has given us atonement through the Savior’s loving death.