1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
We are going to walk through Isaiah 53 to understand better what it has to say as the background and the basis for the message today.
The man’s name was Dwight D. Eisenhower. The time was the early days of his presidency. The occasion was the Christmas season. And he sounded more like a preacher and prophet than he did like a politician when he said, “A person may deny Jesus Christ, but he cannot ignore him.” Because of who he was and what he did, Jesus cannot be ignored. We must deal with him. We must be confronted with him. Jesus was and is the Messiah, the anointed one. The one spoken of by the prophet. The one who came not only to redeem Israel but to redeem the whole world. And in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ, God’s son, our Savior, the Messiah came and gave his life for us upon Calvary’s cross.
In 1741 George Frideric Handel wrote a beautiful musical presentation called “The Messiah.” And in that composition he went back into the Old Testament and then eventually wound up in the New Testament as he declared for us in beautiful music the message that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. A part of the lyrics he used in his music are from Isaiah 53. I want you to look with me at this passage of scripture today as a foundation for our thinking about Jesus as the Messiah. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Isaiah 53 is that it was written 700 years before Christ.
The early apostles believed that this chapter was fulfilled in the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ. You do not have to believe that the passage refers to Jesus, but you cannot refute the fact that it was written 700 years before Jesus came. And as you listen to what Isaiah had to say about the coming Messiah, about the suffering servant, you must admit that there is a striking similarity between what he says about the Messiah and what happened in the life of Jesus Christ. And so I believe as did the early apostles that this great chapter that zeros in on the atoning death of the Messiah has reference to and was fulfilled in the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ and thus declares him to be the Messiah, the promised one, the Savior, and our redeemer.
Isaiah begins his prophecy by asking a question: “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” That word report literally means “doctrine or teaching.” And he is asking the question, “Who will believe what I am teaching, what I am proclaiming concerning the coming Messiah?”
And then he tells us five things about the life of the Messiah that parallel the life of Jesus Christ. He begins in verse 2 by speaking to us of his lowly background. He says, “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” You would understand that “dry ground” has reference to barren and unproductive soil. And so here is a plant that is growing up in the most unlikely place. Where did Jesus grow up? In Nazareth of Galilee. And Nazareth was the most unlikely place for a great prophet of God or for the Messiah to come from. They could have anticipated the Messiah coming from imperial Rome. They could have anticipated the Messiah coming from the holy city of Jerusalem, but not a backwoods town like Nazareth. That’s the last place you would expect the Messiah to come from.
You remember when they told Nathanial that they had found the Christ. He said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” So Jesus had a very lowly background and Isaiah had said 700 years before that this would be true of the Messiah.
The second thing he said about the Messiah is that he would have an ordinary appearance. In the latter part of verse 2 he says, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” There is no reason that we should be attracted to him. No reason that we should value him or appreciate him. Jesus didn’t come with a body like Rambo. He didn’t come with a face like Clark Gable. He was not someone who by his outward appearance would capture your attention. Jesus looked just like anybody else. So his significance is not in his background. His significance is not in his appearance.
Having said that to us, then Isaiah talks to us about his suffering and his humiliation in verses 4–6. Now without a doubt this is the central stanza of what he is saying concerning the Messiah: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions.”
I want you to see what Isaiah is saying here. He is saying that though men would think that God was causing him to suffer for his own sins, he was in fact suffering for our sins. We did esteem him stricken and smitten of God. But here is the real significance. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. And with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah wants us to understand that the significance of the Messiah’s suffering was that he was dying in our place. He was suffering in our stead. He was vicariously making a way for us. It was not for his wrong but for ours that he suffered and in him and through him we have everlasting life.
So, having talked about his lowly background, and his ordinary appearance, and then his suffering and humiliation, Isaiah comes in verses 7–9 to talk to us about his death and his burial. The wording here is a picture of the trial of Jesus Christ. He was oppressed and he was afflicted and yet he opened not his mouth. Read of the trial of Jesus 700 years later and he makes no defense for himself. He does on one occasion acknowledge the fact that he is the Son of God, but he does that only after he has been put under oath by the high priest. He cannot refuse to speak. He cannot tell a lie. So he acknowledges that he is the Messiah, he is the Savior, he is divine. But beyond that, Jesus opened not his mouth at his trial. And then after the sentence it tells us he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah is telling us of the trial of Jesus and eventually of Jesus being led up to Golgotha where he will die for the sins of the whole world. Isaiah specifically talks about that death in verse 3 when he says, “He was cut off out of the land of the living.”
If you are cut off out of the land of the living, that means you are in the land of the dead and so he is saying to us that he was led to the place where he would die and he says that his death was for the transgression of his people. His death was for us. And following his death he was buried in the grave. Si in verse 9 it says, “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.”
I think that Isaiah is saying that Jesus’ death is with the wicked and his grave is with the rich. When Jesus was crucified he was crucified with the wicked. He was crucified between two thieves. But when they buried him, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, went to Pilate and said, “Can I have his body?” and was granted permission to bury Jesus. He took Jesus to his own tomb, to a new tomb, a rich man’s tomb, and Jesus was buried there in Joseph’s tomb in the midst of the wealthy and the affluent of Jerusalem. Crucified and died among the wicked, but buried among the rich.
And I submit to you that this was written 700 years before Jesus Christ was ever born and only the spirit of God could have revealed this to Isaiah. In fact, so vivid is this picture in the mind of Isaiah that every verb in it is in the present tense. He speaks of the coming of Jesus, the sacrifice of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the burial of Jesus as though it had already happened, as though it was already operative in his life. So far as he was concerned it had already happened, it had already come to pass and we were all sharing in that wonderful event.
Having talked to us then about the lowly beginning of Jesus, about the ordinary appearance of Jesus, about his suffering and his humiliation, about his death and his burial, he then comes in the last three verses 10–12, to speak to us about his resurrection and his acceptance.
In verse 10, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days.” Isaiah has just said that he died and he was buried. And now he says he shall prolong his days. A clear reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After he had died and been buried God raised him from the dead and he not only lived then, but he lives even now. Isaiah tells us in verse 11 that when God looked upon that sacrifice God was satisfied and he accepted what Jesus did on that cross on our behalf because it all happened for us and that in him and through him our sins are forgiven and we are made right with God. So he declares in the latter part of verse 11 that through him, through that servant, many are justified. Then in the latter part of verse 12 it says, “He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Isaiah says to us that Jesus Christ was both priest and sacrifice. He was priest in that he offered up a sacrifice. He was sacrificed in that he offered up himself. And in offering himself as a sacrifice on Calvary’s cross he became both priest and sacrifice, our redeemer, and he lives today to make intercession for us. And because of who he was and what he did, the Messiah, the Promised One of the Old Testament who found his fulfillment in the life and the ministry of Jesus Christ, many can be justified and the sins of many are washed away.
It is a marvelous testimony concerning our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it could have been written only by the inspiration of God since it was written 700 years before the fact. There are three truths that I want you to see about the Messiah out of this passage of scripture.
First of all, I want you to see the breadth of his forgiveness. Second, I want you to see the depth of his suffering. Third, I want you to see the extent of his mercy. The breadth of his forgiveness, the depth of his suffering, and the extent of his mercy. All of it is found right here.
1. The breadth of Jesus’ forgiveness.
Isaiah begins by talking to us about the breadth of Jesus’ forgiveness. And I want you to note the wide range of sin that is covered by the prophet in this passage of scripture. He says that he was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. And then in verse 10 Isaiah says that he became an offering for sin. In fact, twice in this passage he uses the word “transgression.” Twice in his passage he uses the word “iniquity.” Twice in this passage he uses the word “sin.” He keeps repeating those three very common words in the Old Testament that have reference to our wrongdoing, to our sin, to our evil and wrong.
The word transgression literally means “crooked.” The word iniquity means “uneven.” And the word sin means “wayward.” You put them all together and you get a full understanding of the sin and the wrong and the evil that was in our lives and that caused Jesus to die on the cross for us.
That word transgression means to step out of bounds. It describes every fact, every word, every thought that comes from us that is outside the will of God. Our life is like a serpent’s tail wiggling back and forth across the straight and narrow of life. And the best of us, as we try to walk in righteousness and to live in holiness, find ourselves drifting back and forth across that straight line. Isaiah says to us that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. He was wounded for our crookedness, for our stepping out of bounds.
The word iniquity means “uneven.” If transgressions take us back and forth, iniquities bring us up and down. And you know and I know that our relationship to God is always that way, up and down, up and down. We make such fine resolutions. We determine how we are going to live and we find ourselves reaching spiritual highs and the going down to the very depths of sin and wrong in our thinking and in our acting. When Jesus died upon the cross, he died not only for our back and forth behavior that transgresses the law of God, but also for those ups and downs in our lives that keep us from being always in right relationship with God.
That word sin means “wayward.” Originally it meant to miss the mark. It was the picture of a bowman who draws back his bow and the arrow goes astray and it misses the target and hits something else. And it is a general word that covers all the wrongs and all the evil and all the sin in acting and thinking and speaking that we may do in our lives. You put them all together and Isaiah is saying that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for this wide range of sins in your life and in mine. And it speaks to us of the breadth of his forgiveness.
Did you notice what Isaiah said in verse 6? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I saw a cartoon once with two sheep out in a pasture. One said to the other, “All we like people have gone astray.” Whether you are talking about people or you are talking about sheep, it is all the same. We have such a tendency to wander away, to drift away, to get lost. And as sheep get lost and wander away from their shepherd, so we get lost and we wander away from God and the Lord Jesus came to forgive us of our sins and to bring us back to him. And dear friends, every one of us desperately needs that redemption.
Somebody told me about a bumper sticker they read the other day. It said, “The more people I meet, the more I like my dog.” We are not such a holy righteous bunch, you know. I mean when you get right down to it, when you shuck right down to the cob, there are a lot of us who are far from what we ought to be. We’ve drifted from the straight and narrow and we have so many ups and downs in our lives and we’ve missed what we ought to be. So often the only hope for us is in what God would do. And he speaks to us of the breadth of his forgiveness. It covers transgressions, iniquities, and sins, whatever is in your life. God loves you and the Messiah came to die for you.
2. The depth of Jesus’ suffering.
I want you to see a second thing. Beyond the breadth of his forgiveness, I want you to see the depth of Jesus’ suffering. Isaiah speaks to us about Jesus being wounded for our transgressions, being bruised for our iniquities, being chastened so that we could have peace with God, being beaten with stripes so that we could be healed. And in those words wounded and bruised and chastened and beaten, we come to understand something of the depths of the suffering that Jesus Christ went through.
Be careful about talking about the freeness of salvation. It was not free to the Son of God. We are to be sure that it is free to us. God has made salvation free and available to all who will come. He says, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Dear friend, it cost the Savior his very life. The Messiah was bruised and broken and pierced and slapped and insulted. He went through every kind of humiliation that could be possibly be cast upon a person and he did that for you and for me. Those whom he loved hated him. Those he called rejected him. Those he tried to lead resisted him. Those he tried to teach ignored him. Those he offered himself to crucified him. When he offered to them his love and his compassion, he received instead from them hatred and slander and insults misrepresentations, and false accusations and finally they crucified him on the cross.
And in all of that we come to understand the depths of his suffering. I read about a slave woman, just out of slavery, holding the hand of her little grandson when the body of Abraham Lincoln was being transported up Pennsylvania Avenue where it would lay in state in the Capitol building. And as that body passed by, that old grandmother said to her little grandson, “You take a good look at that man. He died to set you free.” And that’s the Gospel. That’s the message of Isaiah. Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed. Take a good look at him. He died for you.
There is then in all of this, the breadth of his forgiveness, transgression, iniquity, sin—it covers it all. There is the depth of his suffering. He was bruised and beaten and pierced and chastened, and all of that for us.
3. The extent of Jesus’ mercy.
One other thing, there is the extent of his mercy. He did it, we are told in verse 11, that many might be justified. And then in verse 12 we are told that many might have their sins forgiven. And I want you to zero in on that word “many.” When Jesus was born the aged prophet Simon said, “This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34).
Jesus said one time that he had come “to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). He told the parable about a master who represents God. He said he gave a great supper and he invited many to come. Jesus said one time many shall come from the east and from the west and they will sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God. And Jesus said as he inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, “This is my blood which is shed for many.” And John says it so well: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:11-12). 11 And what it all says it that God’s mercy extends to anybody and to everybody who will believe, who will accept, who will respond.
Do you hear the question of Isaiah in the beginning of this chapter: “Who hath believed our report? Who has believed our doctrine? Who has believed our teaching?” As if to say, wherever there is one who will believed, wherever there is one who will accept it, his sins are forgiven. He is born again and he comes into the family of God.
We come to understand the extent of God’s mercy. The breadth of his forgiveness, all wrong is covered by it; the depth of his suffering, he went to the very bottom of hell itself for you and for me. And the extent of it, from east and west, from everywhere who will come to believe the report.
So, perhaps the greatest question of all is what is your attitude toward the report. First of Isaiah, and then of the New Testament writers, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Promised One, the Anointed of God, the Savior of the world.
Will you then honor him or scorn him? Will you receive him or will you reject him? Will you adore him? Will you abhor him? Will you crown him or will you crucify him? All of time and eternity rest upon your answer. Will you believe the report? Will you accept Jesus as the Messiah? As God’s son, our Savior?
We ought to go back in history, every one of us, and we ought to say, “Isaiah, you are right. It’s all come true, just like you said it was going to happen and we accept him. We bow before him. We trust him.”