SHOCKING Suffering and Supernatural Success-Isaiah 53

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Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 (What a shocking salvation!)

"If we make success our goal, as the world counts success, we run the serious danger of losing everything." John Oswalt, Isaiah, The NIV Application Commentary.

"God's power is at its greatest not in his destruction of the wicked but in his taking all the wickedness of the earth into himself and giving back love." John Oswalt.

"As you look at the incarnate son of God dying on the cross the most powerful thought you should think is: this is the true meaning of who God is. He is the God of self-giving love." N.T. Wright.

"The Servant did not come to tell people what God wants; rather, he came to be what God wants for us." John Oswalt.

"This chapter contains a beautiful summary of the most peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of Christianity." Adam Clarke, 1760-1832, British Methodist theologian.

Isaiah 53 may be like a one stop shop in one single chapter of the Bible:

  • Everything you need to know about everything that is important.
  • The heart and pivotal center of Isaiah, of the O.T., of the entire Bible and of your life.
  • Deals directly with life’s most troubling problems: suffering, injustice, violence, evil and the utter finality of death.

It has been said that Romans 3 is the center and Romans 8 is the mountain peak of the Bible. If that is so, Isaiah 53 may be regarded as the "center" and the "mountain peak" of the Old Testament, if not of the entire Bible. Isaiah 53 is like a one-stop shop where a seeker of the good life is able to discern all the fundamental key elements about the very heart of God, who the Servant Messiah is, the way of salvation, the grace of God, the nature of man, the redemtive meaning of sadness, sorrow and suffering, and the way of life that leads to success, satisfaction and fulfillment.

Why would anyone believe in Jesus"Isaiah 53 is arguably the greatest chapter in the Bible. Charles Spurgeon (1834-92) called it 'the Bible in miniature, the Gospel at its essence.' It is the leading messianic text of the Old Testament and is referred to by the early church more than any other passage. It points to the person and mission of Jesus -- his life, death, resurrection, ascension and intercession -- more than any other Old Testament passage. It also lays the theological foundation for the Gospel like no other. It points both to the crucifixion and the atonement of Christ in a manner that sounds as though Isaiah 53 were written as history rather than prophecy. Indeed, it is as if Isaiah was an eye witness to what was going on between Good Friday and Easter -- and even to Christ's intercession!  And yet Isaiah 53 is prophecy -- proclaiming with infallible accuracy 700 years in advance what Jesus would be like and what he would do." R. T. Kendall, Why Jesus Died: A meditation on Isaiah 53.

Do we obscure Christ when we attempt to make the church appealing and attractive? "These days it appears that we must dress up the gospel to make it attractive. We have to use the methods of technique which must be smart, well-presented, streamlined. There must be something about the presentation of the gospel that will appeal to people … to what is called 'the modern mind.' I wonder if we stop to think that in our efforts to make the gospel message 'attractive' we are drawing a curtain across the face of Jesus in His humiliation? The only one who can make Him attractive is the Holy Spirit." Redpath.

The heart and center of Isaiah. From the great homecoming of Isaiah 52 we turn to the solitary figure whose agony was the price of it. This is the heart of the book, the center of its whole pattern of sin and righteousness, grace and judgment.

Unusally symmetrical poem in five paragraphs of three verses each. It begins and ends with the Servant's exaltation (first and fifth stanzas). Set within this is the story of his rejection in sections two and four, which in turn frame the center piece (4-6), where the atoning significance of the suffering is expounded. God and man reconciled, share the telling (see the "my" and "I" of the outer sections and the "we" and "our" of 53:1-6).

Five Stanzas of Three Verses Each (Virtually every single one of these 15 verses from Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 could be a “key verse.”):

1. (Success) Introduction (52:13-15): Success through suffering.

                2. (Suffering) Why he was despised (53:1-3): Unattractive and sorrowful.

                                3. (Significance) What his burden is (53:4-6): God laid our sins on him.

                4. (Suffering) What his life as a servant was like (53:7-9): Meekness before violence and injustice voluntarily.

5. (Success) What the nature of his servanthood is (53:10-12): Flourishing and exaltation through humiliation.

"This chapter foretells the sufferings of the Messiah, the end for which he was to die, and the advantages resulting to mankind from that illustrious event … This chapter contains a beautiful summary of the most peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of Christianity." Adam Clarke, 1760-1832, British Methodist theologian.

"Is it very dry ground? Ah, well, that is hopeful soil; Christ is a 'root out of a dry ground,' and the more there is to discourage the more you should be encouraged. Read it the other way. Is it dark? Then all is fair for a grand show of light; the light will never seem so bright as when the night is very very dark." Spurgeon.

"He was also 'a man of sorrows,' for the variety of his woes; he was a man not of sorrow only, but of 'sorrows.' All the sufferings of the body and of the soul were known to him; the sorrows of the man who actively struggles to obey; the sorrows of the man who sits still, and passively endures. The sorrows of the lofty he knew, for he was the King of Israel; the sorrows of the poor he knew, for he 'had not where to lay his head.' Sorrows relative, and sorrows personal; sorrows mental, and sorrows spiritual; sorrows of all kinds and degrees assailed him. Affliction emptied his quiver upon him, making his heart the target for all conceivable woes." Spurgeon.

"'With his stripes [By his wounds] we are healed.' Will you notice that fact? The healing of a sinner does not lie in himself, nor in what he is, nor in what he feels, nor in what he does, nor in what he vows, nor in what he promises. It is not in himself at all; but there, at Gabbatha [Jn 19:13], where the pavement is stained with the blood of the Son of God, and there, at Golgotha, where the place of a skull beholds the agonies of Christ. It is in his stripes that the healing lies. I beseech thee, do not scourge thyself: 'With his stripes we are healed.'" Spurgeon.

"If I were to die for any one of you, what would it amount to...? For we must all die, sooner or later. But the Christ needed not to die at all, so far as he himself was personally concerned. There was no cause within himself why he should go to the cross to lay down his life. He yielded himself up, a willing sacrifice for our sins." Spurgeon.

"The phrase 'cut off' strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death but also the just judgment of God, not simply the oppressive judgment of men." Grogan.

"My Lord suffered as you suffer, only more keenly; for he had never injured his body or soul by any act of excess.... He felt the horror of sin as we who have sinned could not feel it, and the sight of evil afflicted him much more than it does the purest among us." Spurgeon.

"I do see that out of this dunghill of sin Christ has brought this diamond of his glory by our salvation. If there had been no sinners, there could not have been a Savior. If no sin, no pouring out of the soul unto death; and if no pouring out of the soul unto death, no dividing a portion with the great. If there had been no guilt, there had been no act of expiation [the act of making amends or reparation for guilt or wrongdoing; atonement]. In the wondrous act of expiation by our great Substitute, the Godhead is more gloriously revealed than in all the creations and providences of the divine power and wisdom." Spurgeon.

"'He hath poured out his soul unto death.' I will say no more about it, except that you see how complete it was. Jesus gave poor sinners everything. His every faculty was laid out for them. To his last rag he was stripped upon the cross. No part of his body or of his soul was kept back from being made a sacrifice. The last drop, as I said before, was poured out till the cup was drained. He made no reserve: he kept not back even his innermost self: 'He hath poured out his soul unto death.'" Spurgeon.

And Can It Be (Charles Wesley)

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.


  1. (52:13–15) What is the sharp dramatic contrast in this first stanza (13 vs. 14–15)? Why such a contrast? How does the servant "act wisely," "succeed" (13a)? [The verb translated “deal wisely” or “prosper” also means “to succeed” and it may be the sense here.] This servant song begins and ends with triumph (52:13b; 53:12a). What about the rest of the song? What principle of life/success can you find (Phil 2:5-11 [kenosis]; Jn 12:24)? How could Jesus go through the cross (Heb 12:2)?
  2. Why will kings be speechless when looking at this servant (52:14-15; 53:1; Lk 24:21; Ac 1:6)?
  3. (53:1–3) Explain “ whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed” (53:1; 52:10; 50:2)?
  4. Why would people despise such a person (2)? Compared with 53:3, do you see a theme at the descriptions of the servant in 42:1–9; 49:1–4, and 50:4–9? Look also at 11:1–3. Why will Yahweh’s promised deliverer look like this (Mt 8:17)?
  5. (53:4–6) Why did “we” think the servant suffered (4b)? But what was the actual reason for his suffering (4a, 5, 6a)? Notice the pronouns.
  6. (53:7–9) What is the difference between the sheep nature in us (6) vs. the sheep nature in him (7)?
  7. What was the servant's attitude when he has brutalized and humiliated (7)? Why (50:5-6; Jn 10:14-18; 1 Pet 2:23)? In that culture, what is the significance of the servant being cut off without children (8a - “generation”)? Who protests or ponders the injustice he encountered (8b)? What does his burial and his attitude reveal about him (9)? What about the fairness/justice of what happened to him (7-9)? How might this apply to us?
  8. (53:10–12) How is the servant being a victor (cf. 52:13) a logical conclusion of 10–11 (12)? Why did the servant die a substitutionary death? Who did this to him? Why? When will God’s will be successful (10 [“prosper”])? Why?
  9. What kind of “knowledge” are we talking about (11, cf. 12)? How do you relate 52:13–53:12 to 49:1–52:12, especially to the increasing sense of anticipation there? How would you explain Jesus' words in Mk 10:45 in light on 53:12?

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