We are familiar with the phrase, “Suffering Servant.” God reveals His Son as the Servant who was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). The suffering was for the purpose of satisfying the law of God, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin” (Isa. 53:10). We must not think of this Servant as an example for men, as if in suffering there is a way out of our dilemma. For the difficulty that we find ourselves in is not redeemable by what we can do. The Lord tells us that we have all sinned, and that wages of this sin is death.
The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 12) asks this question: “Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, is there no way by which we may escape that punishment, and be again received into favor?” That is, the favor of God. The reply given is, “God will have His justice satisfied: and therefore we must make this full satisfaction either by ourselves, or by another.” The implication is that the law of God has been broken by all people and satisfaction must be made in full for that transgression.
To understand Christ as Servant or Suffering Servant, we must first acknowledge that we have sinned against God. The Larger Catechism (Q. 24) defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.” (See 1 John 3:4.) This transgression of God’s law brought upon all the “displeasure and curse” of God, “so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come” (W.L.C. #27).
We are back to the previous question: who can satisfy the law or justice of God, ourselves or another? The punishments of this life and the next, put together, cannot satisfy God, because they are not eternal. Therefore, we cannot save ourselves. Only the Suffering Servant can save us. His ‘Suffering’ here on earth; especially that which He suffered on His cross, is the only satisfaction which God the Father can and will accept. “Christ made penal satisfaction, by suffering the very penalty demanded by the law of sinners” (Robert Dabney). Christ, being Divine, could take upon Himself our sins, being punished in our place, and so satisfying the justice of God. The penalty for our sins was poured out upon Him. He paid the ransom price. This is Christ’s work of suffering, to satisfy the justice of God, reconciling us to the Father. Trusting then in His work, we know that our sins have been forgiven and we have been given eternal life.
The prophet has declared that the Christ would be exalted and proclaimed (Isa. 52:13). The Christ will also “sprinkle many nations” (52:15). His Word will go out to the nations, and the mouths of kings will be shut. Both kings and nations will be astonished at the preaching of the Gospel. The King of kings is Sovereign over nations today. Let them be astonished or rebellious. However, let us not be weak-kneed when it comes to proclaiming His Word.
The prophet’s heart is heavy as he asks, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Isaiah represents all those who preach the gospel and wish to see men turn to God in repentance and faith. Calvin calls us to “groan and complain along with the Prophet, and let us be distressed with grief when we see that our labour is unprofitable, and let us complain before God.” We do not rejoice in man’s rejection of the gospel. We must cry over Jerusalem as did Christ. Should we not shed tears for the seed that falls by the wayside or among the thorns, when we know how beautiful is the soul redeemed by the precious blood of Christ? Paul relates himself and all ministers of the Word to Isaiah, saying, “Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed” (Rom. 12:37–38).
Christ has grown from “a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” The human eye will see only the desert. But the eye of faith will see the beauty of the King and His kingdom. Truly, Christ is “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him.” Men continue to reject Christ as Lord and Savior. Ingratitude is written on their hearts and in their actions. They don’t believe they have sinned. They deny the Savior who can save them. Christ is “despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Yet, this is the Christ who has “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” The wicked look at the suffering Christ as wounded by God for some sin of His own. They judge Christ by their own standards. The truth is that Christ “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.” The reason for our Lord’s suffering is that the justice of God be satisfied. On the cross of Calvary, our Savior took upon Himself our filthy sin and washed us clean with His precious blood. He ransomed us with His life from our bondage to sin and all its consequences.
We are healed, redeemed, cleansed from all unrighteousness by the saving work of Christ. Our peace was upon Him. There is no peace between us and our heavenly Father except in Christ. Paul wrote, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ …For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly …being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:1–9).
The following word of Isaiah brings us to the cross of Calvary by first revealing to us the need for such a cross. To know the depth and height of the love of God in Christ, we must first know the darkness that has been our daily habitat. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The guilt is ours to bear as transgressors of the law of God, and so is the punishment. We have determined to follow our own self-made road; but this is the road that leads to death. Contrast this life with that which Christ gives us. He is the Shepherd who has not only laid down His life for the sheep, but He has reached out and gathered His sheep in His everlasting arms. The Good Shepherd, who knew no sin, has accepted what the Father has laid upon Him: “the iniquity of us all.”
That which was laid upon our Savior, He received without any complaint: “he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearers.” He was punished by the Father on His cross for our sins. He “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). He was taken from prison to be put to death, a sentence we deserved. Christ died. He was “cut off from the land of the living.” He took the wrath of God, which means that He took our eternal punishment. He took our cry, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Forsaken for our transgressions, He made His grave “with the wicked.” This grave would have been ours for eternity.
Isaiah writes that “it pleased the Lord to bruise him.” It was the Father’s delight to put His Son to grief. How could our heavenly Father find such pleasure in bringing such sorrow to His Son? For the love of His chosen ones! When the Father made the soul of Christ an “offering of sin”, the Son would “see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
The Bible reveals this pleasure in the Son of God, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Christ saw the “travail of his soul.” The Father testifies that by the Son’s “knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” There is no chance of failure on the part of God. His Word does not return void. For those whom Christ died: they will be saved.
Our Lord reigns today as the victorious King and Savior. That which was promised is kept. The Lord spoke clearly to Isaiah, declaring the work of His Servant to be accomplished years before the coming of Jesus. The Father promised that He would “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.”
Christ did die for the sins of His chosen people. He came to redeem. He found His lost sheep and drew them to Himself. He continues to draw His sheep to His caring arms. His days are prolonged, for He has risen from the dead. His victory is assured. The ministry of Christ continues as the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed. He has poured out His soul on His cross for many. He has born our iniquities. He conquered death and the devil. He once suffered. He now reigns as our King. He is our Mediator. Let us give thanks as we continue to look to Him with faith and wonder.
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