JUN 30, 2019: Servant Songs in Isaiah 50~53*

In the book of Isaiah, a preserved “remnant” becomes the focal point of God’s promises in Isaiah, and eventually the remnant is identified through and in its one messianic representative, the Anointed One. And this Anointed One will suffer on behalf of others: in the New Testament we discover that Jesus the Messiah is the one who absorbs the covenant curses—so that those who are united to him by faith might live in his covenant blessings.

When we come to the last two of the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah this idea of the Suffering Messiah becomes more prominent. The third Servant Song in Isaiah 50: 4–9 portrays the servant not only as personally innocent (v. 5) but also as one who is nevertheless willing to be struck and to take the disgrace and shame for Israel (vv. 6–7). He is able to take on this substitutionary role with God’s help, for his vindication and strength come from above (vv. 7–9).

As we recognize these messianic truths as applying to the work of Christ, Scripture is showing us how to respond when our sins testify against us. Our only comfort in such moments comes from looking to the suffering servant: he was innocent yet stricken on our behalf, so that we might be free from condemnation. Paul proclaims, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:33–34).

The fourth Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13–53:12 (sometimes called the “fifth Gospel”) beautifully and movingly portrays a remnant vicariously suffering on behalf of others. Yet this remnant is narrowed down to one (see also notes on Isa. 42:1–17). He is an individual who is exalted through humiliation: his glory comes not through attractive physical appearance (52:14; 53:2–3), but by his willingness to experience the disgrace and judgment due to others (53:4–12). It was not for his sin, but for “our transgressions . . . our iniquities” that he suffered. He has “brought us peace” and by his pain “we are healed” (53:5). In a unique way, this coming servant would be “crushed” and would face “anguish” (53:10–11) in the process of offering himself as an atoning sacrifice, bearing the sins of others and making “intercession for the transgressors” (53:12; cf. Heb. 7:22–25).

Few passages in the Old Testament so clearly anticipate and give texture to the person and work of Jesus. These verses helped the apostles make sense of the significance of Jesus’ death: he was condemned with sinners so that we might be pardoned (cf. Isa. 53:12; Luke 22:37). God providentially used this passage (Isa. 53:7–8) to allow Philip to explain the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–40) and encourage his baptism (cf. Isa. 52:15). Peter appears to apply the passage (53:5, 9) to Christ hanging on a tree: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:22–24). For both Isaiah and Peter, such grace transforms the receiver, so that having been healed, believers are called to “die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24).


This week’s Bible reading schedule:

Monday: Isaiah 56 Thursday: Isaiah 59
Tuesday: Isaiah 57 Friday: Isaiah 60
Wednesday: Isaiah 58 Saturday: Isaiah 61