The Gospel According to Isaiah

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Isaiah 53:1-6
Isaiah 53:10-11

Of all the pictures the Bible gives us of Jesus Christ, none is more powerful or moving than that of Isaiah 53, where we can read the gospel according to Isaiah.

So we sing, in the lovely words of the old German hymn, “Beautiful Savior.” It is a much-loved theme of Christian song: the beauty and the attractiveness of our “Fairest Lord Jesus.” We don’t mean this in a physical sense, of course. Interestingly, though his closest companions have left us detailed accounts of what Jesus said and did, they never wrote a word about what he looked like. When our songs and hymns speak of Christ’s beauty, they mean the beauty of his character, his nature, and his personality. They’re talking about his goodness and his purity, not his appearance. But this too is really an expression of our faith. The truth is, many people don’t find him all that appealing.

In fact, Isaiah 53 ??” the last and greatest of Isaiah’s Servant Songs ??” says something quite different from the message of “Beautiful Savior.” Isaiah writes this, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (v. 2). Instead of praising this divine figure, the first thing we are told about him is how unattractive he is. And that’s not all. Isaiah goes on to say this about the servant of the Lord.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

Isaiah 53:3-4

Despised and Rejected

Isaiah 53, one of the most beautiful and beloved chapters in all the Bible, in its profound description of the suffering Servant of the Lord, Christians have seen, from the very first, a detailed uncanny portrait of Jesus Christ. The New Testament, in fact, quotes no fewer than eight of this chapter’s twelve verses all with reference to Christ.

Though written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, it almost reads as if Isaiah’s words were a biography of Christ’s life and work. But Isaiah’s prophetic report starts on a dark note, with news of revulsion and contempt. His message is that the Messiah would not fit the profile of popular expectations. He would not be naturally attractive to the masses. Instead, people were going to turn on him. He would be “despised and rejected by men” (v. 3).

What a reception for the chosen Servant of God! Of all the hurts people can inflict upon others, one of the most painful surely is rejection. To despise someone means to look down upon them. We despise those whom we think are beneath us socially, morally, economically, or intellectually. Is it not amazing that God, in becoming human, should have stooped so low as to be thought to be beneath us. Instead of dazzling everyone with his glory, God chose to become the kind of person who earned the world’s contempt. How astonishing is that?

And because they looked down upon him, people therefore felt free to reject Jesus. They denied his authority, disbelieved his claims, and said no to his demands. The Bible testifies, “He came to his own, and his own people received him not” (John 1:10-11). It’s sometimes understandable when people reject an individual; after all, there are those whose personalities or actions make them hard to accept. But what did Jesus ever do to earn that kind of rejection? When did he ever speak falsely or do harm to anyone? Whom did he hurt? What did he ever do to earn such disfavor? The truth is, the only thing he deserved was the homage and love of everyone. People then ??” and now as well ??” should all have fallen at his feet in worship. Instead, they crucified him.

There is no more terrible and shameful sin in the whole history of humanity than the rejection of Jesus Christ. Nothing so reveals the depths of human sin. God himself took human form; the Creator became the Redeemer, and came only to save. But those he came to save treated him with contempt. They heaped scorn and abuse upon him, they struck him and spat at him, then they nailed him to a tree and did him to death.

A Man of Sorrows

There is more. Isaiah uses one more word to sum up the life of the Lord’s suffering servant. He is called “a man of sorrows.” Why call him that? In part, because of the rejection he experienced. But also because he knew sorrow first-hand. He was “acquainted with grief” (RSV), says Isaiah, “familiar with suffering” (NIV), another version translates it. The servant experienced grief and suffering in all its manifold forms. Jesus knew the sorrow of loss; he wept outside his friend Lazarus’ grave. He knew the sorrow of loneliness; even his closest companions misunderstood and failed him time after time. He knew the sorrow of persecution, of being falsely accused and unjustly judged.

He came in love and those he came for had no use for him. From the night he was born, when there was no room for him in the inn, to the day he died with the mob’s shouts ringing in his ears, Jesus was the man of sorrows. His heart broke as he wept over the city of Jerusalem, whose inhabitants refused to acknowledge their Lord. He came with news of the Father’s forgiving grace, and they said he was a drunk, crazy, demon possessed, a blasphemer. Their furious hatred knew no bounds, until it finally destroyed him.

As another hymn puts it, “Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim; Hallelujah, what a Savior!” But you know there is comfort as well as wonder in this name “man of sorrows.” Have you ever known sorrow in your life? Whatever it may be, the Lord not only understands, he has felt it himself. God is not some remote, passive, unfeeling being out there. He became one of us, taking our very nature upon himself, living in our world, and when he did it, he didn’t insulate or isolate himself from all the grief that we experience. He took that upon himself as well.

The Heart of the Gospel

But we still have not yet reached the heart of the matter. As moving as the sorrow of Christ is, as disturbing as his rejection may be, the ultimate sense in which he suffered is greater still by far. Here’s how Isaiah describes it:

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (vv. 5-6)

You have heard of the four Gospels; here is one more. This is “The Gospel According to Isaiah” ??” “He was wounded for our transgressions.”

What is the heart of the gospel, the core message that Christianity proclaims? If you listen to different preachers talk, you might conclude that the heart of the gospel is personal peace or social justice, or, perhaps on the other end of the theological spectrum, that it’s physical healing or material prosperity or still again that it’s having self-esteem or a good self-image. But all of these are secondary issues. The Bible says that the heart of the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures” (that’s the apostle Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 15:3). And almost certainly those scriptures to which he refers are these words from Isaiah 53:5-6.

Christianity is a message of salvation. It is all about how to have your sins forgiven and be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. The 20th century Christian writer G. K. Chesterton was once asked why he had become a Christian. “To get rid of my sins,” he replied. He had a knack for putting things succinctly. The heart of the gospel is the announcement of the great exchange whereby Christ takes our sins upon himself, pays our penalty by accepting the punishment that was due to us, and provides his perfect righteousness to us in place of our guilt??”his death for our life, and all made real for us and in us when we are united to Christ by faith. That’s the gospel!

Have you heard that message so often that it’s lost its power to thrill you? Is that why so many run off on tangents in a quest to be relevant? But the biblical gospel is eternally relevant. Nothing is more important for people to hear, or more essential for them to know, than that “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. . . All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” There’s the exchange, you see.

In “The Gospel According to Isaiah,” the prophet first tells us the bad news: we are sinners. We have gone astray like sheep. We have lost our bearings, we can no longer find our way back home. Alone, cut off from God, we are ripe for death. We have no hope unless someone finds us and delivers us. But then the prophet tells us the good news: Someone has done exactly that. God has provided a substitute, a sin-bearer, to take our place.

The substitute is Jesus Christ, the sinless One, whose perfect sacrifice satisfies the law’s demands for everyone who believes in him. That is why he had to suffer; that is why he had to die. That is the full meaning of the suffering of the servant of the Lord. All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. This is gospel: good news. Believe it, and you will live forever.