“The Suffering, Sacrificing, Saving Servant” (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)
“Behold, my servant,” says the Lord. Yes, behold him today. Behold the servant of the Lord serving in a most unexpected way: serving by suffering. Today on this Good Friday we behold Jesus Christ, the Lord’s faithful, righteous servant, suffering a death he doesn’t deserve. But because he does, you will receive what you don’t deserve. And that is good news on this Good Friday. So now behold Jesus Christ, “The Suffering, Sacrificing, Saving Servant.”
“Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” So opens our text today, the Servant Song that begins at the end of Isaiah 52 and continues through all of chapter 53. With an opening commendation like that–wise, exalted–you would think that everything should go well for this servant through the rest of this song. You would think.
“Behold, my servant.” We’ve heard those words before. We heard them back in Isaiah 42, when we were introduced to the servant in the first of the Servant Songs. There we heard the Lord say of his servant: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” There the Lord told his servant of the great things he will send him to do: “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Oh, this is a marvelous ministry the servant of the Lord will have!
And this is the ministry that Jesus had. At his baptism, the Father commended Jesus, saying of him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And the Spirit came down upon Jesus in the form of a dove, anointing him for his ministry. And in his ministry, Jesus did open the eyes of the blind and do all those other marvelous things. Yes, behold the Lord’s servant. Jesus fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 42.
The glowing picture then continued in the second Servant Song, in Isaiah 49. There the servant himself speaks: “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’”
Again, this fits Jesus. Literally from the womb of his mother, the Lord named his name. Jesus’ mouth spoke words of wisdom. Jesus fulfilled what Israel had failed at in being the servant of the Lord. And so the Lord was glorified in the life and ministry of Jesus.
But then a dark cloud appears on the horizon in these Servant Songs. In Isaiah 49 the servant then says: “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.” And so it was in the ministry of Jesus. He came to that which was his own, and his own received him not.
The third Servant Song, Isaiah 50. The servant faithfully does the Lord’s will: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” Again, this describes Jesus. He says, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
But the darkening gloom we saw in Isaiah 49 now turns to outright rejection and suffering: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” This is precisely the suffering Jesus endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers. The scourging of his back. The slaps to the head. The spitting in his face.
Behold, my servant indeed. Now he is clearly a suffering servant as we come to the fourth Servant Song. Marred and disfigured, beaten up, no beauty that we should desire him. Despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Betrayed, deserted, and denied by his disciples. Rejected by the religious leaders of the people. Handed over to the Gentiles. Declared innocent, yet condemned to death. Crowned with thorns. Mocked and reviled. Led off to crucifixion, the most shameful, painful death. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Smitten by God! But why? Here is the most faithful, the most righteous, servant of the Lord who has ever lived! And yet here he is, suffering like no other. Why? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why? Because this suffering servant is also the sacrificing servant. He gives his life, he gives his body into death, as the sacrifice for sin. Not his own sin. He had none. But for your sin. For the sin of the whole world. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Like a lamb led to the slaughter. Like the Passover lamb, by whose blood death passes over, and we are spared. Like the lambs and bulls and goats offered at the temple as sacrifices for sin, but which could never finish the job. But this Lamb, the Lamb of God, could, and did. “It is finished,” he cries, as he completes the one atoning sacrifice that covers all the sins of all people of all time. The Son of God sheds his holy blood for all sinners everywhere. For your sins, dear friend. Jesus has finished the job for you. You are forgiven. You are clean. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus is the suffering servant. He is the sacrificing servant. And because he is, Jesus is also the saving servant. He saves you from sin and death. He saves you and puts you right with God. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” This is the result of what Christ has done. His righteousness is credited to your account. You are justified, you are pronounced righteous before God, because of what Christ has done. No longer are you guilty. Now you are declared innocent. Now you are reconciled back to God. In his body on the cross, Christ established peace between heaven and earth, between God and man. “Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
We are healed! Christ comes with healing in his wings. Christ brings wholeness, shalom, peace, to our souls. And to our bodies. Your soul is at peace with God because of what happened on this Good Friday. And because of what happened on this day, your body will be healed also. That will become clear on Sunday, the day when Jesus rises from the dead. And joined to Jesus, you will be raised also. More on that on Sunday. But for now, know that you are saved, rescued and redeemed from all threatening peril. You are safe and secure in God’s embrace, saved for eternal life.
“Behold, my servant,” says the Lord. Yes, behold Jesus Christ. Behold him with the eyes of faith. Hold on to him as your Savior. In the darkness and the shadows, know that he is holding you close. Fear not. Let nothing terrify you. Your Savior is right at hand. Behold Jesus, the suffering, sacrificing, saving servant of the Lord.