The Agora
Behold My Servant (Isa 52:13-53:12)

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"He Hath Borne Our Griefs" (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The heart of the matter is reached in this section, as the realization comes to the onlookers that the sufferings of this man were for their sakes! Of the twelve assertions that Christ suffered for others, no less than seven are found in this one group of three verses. The middle verse of this small section, which is in turn the middle verse of the whole section, and the middle verse of the whole second half of Isaiah's prophecy, has four such assertions all by itself!

Verse 4

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted."
"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" -- The "surely", or "verily", is for emphasis. "Borne" is the word "nasa" ("lifted up"), the same word translated "extolled" in Isa 52:13. The word recalls John 19:17:

"And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull."
"Griefs" and "sorrows" are repeated from v 3. The spectators realize with shocked amazement that all the varied griefs of this man's life were endured lovingly, on behalf of others, even themselves!

"Yet we did esteem him stricken" -- The word signifies "to touch" or "to smite". It is translated "plague" over fifty times in Lev 13 and 14, in relation to leprosy. This loathsome disease required special cleansing and purification procedures. The sufferer was forced to dwell outside of the camp, and was pronounced unclean and avoided by all people. This, then, was the Jews' estimation of their Messiah; an unclean man to be shunned, lest they also become "defiled" by contact with him.

"Afflicted" -- A state of deep and lasting humiliation; the same word as in Exo 1:11,12.

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This is another impressive irony. The one who was treated as a leper by his "pure" countrymen, was all the while bearing the abuses they themselves deserved because of their sins. And he was approved by God as a righteous and faithful servant! They had stood at the foot of the cross and scorned him:

"He saved others; himself he cannot save" (Mat 27:41,42; Mark 15:31).
And it was true! He could not possibly have spared himself from the tortures of the cross if he hoped to fulfill the Father's purpose in the salvation of his brethren. How significant in the light of this figure of leprosy in Isa 53 is the healing of lepers by our Lord. His miracles are parables of the healing of sin, of which leprosy is a type.

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Verse 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."
"But he was wounded for our transgressions" -- "Chalel" signifies "pierced" (NEB), recalling Psa 22:16:

"They pierced my hands and my feet."
It was not just Christ's death that made atonement for us, but also his dying! His blood was shed -- by the scourge, the thorns, and the nails -- while he was still alive. He was, as our example, a "living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1,2)!

"He was bruised for our iniquities" -- Literally, "crushed". Though not the identical word, it certainly calls attention to Gen 3:15, the first great promise of salvation:

"I will put enmity between you (ie, the serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (RSV).
The bruising, or crushing, of the Messiah also shows his sacrifice to be the antitype of so many of the provisions of the law of Moses; the lampstand of pure beaten gold (Exo 25:31); the beaten oil of the daily sacrifice (Exo 29:40); the two cherubim of gold beaten out of one piece (Exo 37:7); the grain of the firstfruits beaten out (Lev 2:1,14); pure olive oil beaten for the light (Lev 24:2); etc. The beating or crushing in every case speaks of careful preparation and affliction, as necessary to fit the finished product for service to God. So it was with Christ, and so it must be with us:

"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

"That I may know him... and the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phi 3:10).
"The chastisement of our peace was upon him" -- "Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole" (RSV). This "peace" of reconciliation and renewed fellowship with God comes through our cleansing" -- healing or being made whole -- of the "leprosy" of sin that afflicts us. This we may have only through Christ. Of this Paul speaks;

"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition... that he might reconcile both (ie, Jews and Gentiles) unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Gen 3:15 again!): and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh" (Eph 2:14-18).
"And with his stripes we are healed" -- "Scourgings" (NEB). The "healing" reminds us of the experiences of Israel in the wilderness, when they cane to the bitter waters of Mara (Exo 15). The Lord showed Moses a tree and commanded him to cast it into the waters (v 25) He did so, and the waters were healed or made sweet. Thus by this miracle God declared His name to be "Yahweh Ropheka" -- "I will heal thee" (v 26)!

This healing was only the pattern of that greater "healing" to come in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. During his ministry, every act of healing served to identify him with his Father's character and purpose:

"They that be whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31,32).
The only logical conclusion of such an undertaking was the cross. And Peter, reflecting in later years upon that dread but wonderful day, could write that Christ "bare our sins in his own body on the tree... by whose stripes ye were healed." (1Pe 2:24). By his reference to the tree he was linking together the miracle at the waters of Mara, the prophecy of Isaiah, and the cross of Calvary.

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."
"All we like sheep have gone astray" -- The prophet Zechariah declared:

"Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (13:7).
To this Jesus alluded when he told the disciples on the night of his arrest:

"All ye shall be offended because of me this night" (Mat 26:31).
And so it was that they all forsook him and fled (v 56). Peter, recalling those same events, quoted Isa 53:6:

"For ye were as sheep going astray" –-
but added the final thought that, after the resurrection;

"(Ye) are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1Pe 2:25).
Let us, as we view the cross, remember that even the apostles, who accompanied Jesus for more than three years, were weak and fearful as sheep in the time of their testing. Let us, therefore, not be unduly cast down by our failures; but let us return to our Shepherd to be healed:

"I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Thy servant; for I do not forget Thy commandments" (Psa 119:176).
"And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" -- As Peter wrote, he "bare our sins" (1Pe 2:24). This is an evident allusion to the ritual of the scapegoat, who bore or carried away the iniquities of Israel to "a land not inhabited" (Lev 16:21,22) -- that is, "outside the camp" (Heb 13:13). This was certainly fulfilled in Christ's bearing of our sin-nature, as Paul expressed it:

"For he made him to be sin for us, who (personally) knew no sin" (2Co 5:21).
Possessing Adam's nature, the same nature as ourselves, he carried it outside the gate of Jerusalem where he was nailed to the cross and lifted up; thus symbolically was destroyed that which has the power of death -- the "devil" (Heb 2:1,14,15), or "sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3).

But let us not simply lapse into the "technical" aspects of Christ's sacrifice. It is true that Christ did not bear the guilt of our sins, and that he did not die in our steads. But if we stop at that, do we not still miss the point? Call it what you will, hedge it about with exceptions and careful definitions, when all is said and done, HE DID DIE -- and that is the important issue! Let us be careful here; let us examine ourselves. In our zeal for "truth", are we so caught up in the theory that the fact is almost ignored? Do we suppose that when we have explained, in man's imperfect language, why Christ died -- that our conception of the cross is complete? No; this man died because he loved to the uttermost his brethren. Here is the lesson. And here, also, the example and exhortation for us.

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New Testament Quotations

1. Verse 4 -- Mat 8:16,17: To those who have been accustomed to read Isaiah 53 as related only to the last day or so of our Saviour's mortal life, this quotation comes as quite a shock:

"When the evening was come, they brought unto him many demoniacs... and he healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.' "

Surely these verses are telling us that Christ's sympathy for poor suffering humanity was an intensely personal feeling. We can imagine no stronger words to convey the closeness, the unity, the fellowship of suffering. Here is not theoretical transferal of guilt or sin-effect; there is no ritual, no ceremony about it -- it is real! This man was one of us. He stood before the tomb of a friend and shed real tears. Our weaknesses were his, and our sufferings, and our sorrows. Our Lord's conquest of sin was not lightly achieved. It was by bitter hardship and sore travail, in a character of the tenderest sensibilities, that reception was achieved. And the sane was true when Jesus healed the sick, working those lesser "salvations" by which the greater was typified. At every step along the road that led to the cross his identity with burdened, mortal humanity was absolute.

2. Verse 5 -- Heb 12:11: "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness." Certainly this recalls "the chastisement of our peace". Paul has carried forward the lesson of Isaiah's Suffering Servant to apply to us all. We must follow on after our master and experience in our lives "the fellowship of his sufferings" (Phi 3:10). because these things will, by God's grace, make for our "peace".

3. Verses 5-7 -- 1Pe 2:22-25: Peter gives a long series of allusions to this prophecy, most of which have already been considered above.

4. Verses 5-7 -- John 1:29: When John the Baptist acclaimed Jesus with the words, "Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world", he was surely expressing a Biblical idea -- but which one? Possibly the Lamb of the Passover, or perhaps the lamb of the daily burnt-offering. But, in light of Isaiah's great stress upon the fact that the Servant of Yahweh was suffering, lamb-like, for the sins of others, it seems most likely that John had this passage uppermost in mind.

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