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Wounded For Us

Isaiah 53
30th January 2005

Lovers of Handel’s great oratorio “The Messiah” know how meaningful the Chapters 40–55 in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah are. They are referred to as the “Servant Songs” because they present the “Suffering Servant” of God who has a special mission. Handel based his musical upon the theme: “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29 At one point the alto soloist sings “He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3 “He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; He hid not His face from shame and spitting.” Isaiah 50:6

Then the Chorus sings, “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.” Isaiah 53:4 “And with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5 “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.” Isaiah 53:6 All of these verses referring to Jesus are found in the Book of Isaiah. In the New Testament we read of Philip the Evangelist was on the road to Gaza when the Spirit of God directed him to a chariot containing the treasurer of Ethiopia. This high government official was reading and trying to make sense out of Isaiah 53:7-8: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” Acts 8:32-33 He asked Philip who the prophet was talking about. Luke records, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

There are many insights in Isaiah 53 that speak about Jesus’ ministry and mission. When John the Baptist cries out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John 1:29 he could have been thinking of this “lamb led to the slaughter” Isaiah 53 The Suffering Servant figure of the lamb in Isaiah 53 deals with sin on a universal basis — the sins of the nations, the sins of the whole world. Notice the scope of the Servant’s ministry in Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12: “He will sprinkle many nations” 52:15 “He laid on him the iniquity of us all.” 53:6 “transgression of my people” 53:8 “He will justify many” 53:11 “He bore the sin of many.” 53:12. 53:8 Isaiah at first focuses on the sins of the Jewish nation. But the Suffering Servant’s role is broader; it clearly extends to “many nations.” The Servant, depicted as a lamb, 53:7 “takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29

This passage has been extremely influential in the way that the Apostles understood Jesus’ death. It is clear that this passage was at the core of how Jesus understood his own mission. Let me offer some examples that prove my point: Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 This parallels four ideas from Isaiah 53: servanthood, atoning death, the voluntarily giving one’s life, and it was “for many.” Jesus knew the significance of His life from Isaiah’s prophecy.

Jesus said at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28 Jesus said to His disciples “It is written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected.” Mark 9:12 — a clear reference to Isaiah 53:3.

To His companions on the road to Emmaus, Jesus begins, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” Luke 24:25-27 Isaiah 53 provides an Old Testament prediction of Messianic suffering. Jesus directly quoted Isaiah 53:12: “It is written: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Luke 22:37 Jesus obviously knew the Servant Songs well and was convinced that they spoke about His own mission and destiny. In Isaiah 53 are four themes on Jesus’ work of atonement.


The first clear theme on atonement is that the Servant or Lamb of God, is more than a helper, an advisor, or a victor over mankind’s cruelty. He is a substitute for our sins. He bears our sins instead of us. Consider these verses: Isaiah writes: “Surely He took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities…” 53:4–5 “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” 53:6 “The Lord makes His life a guilt offering…” 53:10 “He will bear their iniquities.” 53:11 “For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” 53:12 The Servant-Lamb bears the heavy load of sin, as would a sacrifice. But it is our sin — the sin of all of us — that is laid upon Him. Last week I mentioned sin was transferred from the sinner to the sacrifice by the laying on of hands. Sin passes from the sinner to the sacrifice.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 That is an awe-inspiring concept: that our sins are transferred to Him, and His righteousness is transferred to us. The Apostle Peter paraphrases Isaiah 53 pointing to the atoning work of Christ: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” Isaiah 53:9 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. Isaiah 53:5 “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:24-25 He became our substitute: “In my place condemned He stood, Sealed my pardon with His blood, Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”


Besides bearing the sins of the people, the Servant in Isaiah also bears their punishment, as a substitute for them. Notice the verbs that indicate the punishment He undergoes from both God and man: “we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted.” 53:4 “He was oppressed and afflicted.” 53:7 “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” 53:10 In the Jewish Day of Atonement ritual, the high priest transferred the sins of the people symbolically to the scape-goat. So Jesus bore punishment on our behalf.

The Servant took our place: “For He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” 53:5 Piercing, crushing, suffering are descriptive of the Crucifixion. As a result He has procured God’s peace for us. We have sinned and deserve punishment. But we cannot stand the punishment we deserve. So the Servant-Lamb steps in to take our punishment. He takes it and takes it until it kills him — on our behalf! You and I have questions on how this could happen. Is this fair? How could one person be allowed to take another’s sin and punishment?


The Servant acts willingly, voluntarily taking our sin upon Himself. He is not a victim, but a willing participant. Notice the active verbs showing the action of the Servant: “He poured out His life unto death.” 53:12 “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…” 53:4 “He was oppressed and afflicted yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.” 53:7 “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” 53:7 “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.” 53:11 An unwilling victim would cry out and complain. Jesus did neither, but was silent before His judges and executioners. He poured out his life unto death. He carried our infirmities and sorrows — because He wanted to. “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Here is a picture of the willful and yet purposeless waywardness of sin.

The sheep went away willfully, but the Saviour acted willingly. The divine Shepherd is tender, loving yet we go astray. This aimless wandering is marvelously conveyed in the music of Handel’s Messiah, with its jerkily wandering melody, and likewise, in total contrast, the deeply moving affirmation of atonement of great cost with which the verse ends, for “by His wounds you have been healed.” Meekly and without protest the Servant accepts sentence to death and suffers execution. Although innocent, He is given a felon’s grave. In the trials and death of Jesus, Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas all oppressed Him. They had authority and misused it when they condemned Him or, washing their hands of Him, allowed others to take Him to the place of death. Yet in it all, He was quiet and uncomplaining. He gave His life for the people who were His murderers. He transmutes what might have been the murder of a good man into a holy Messianic sacrifice for the sins of His people, not only them but us.


A final theme in Isaiah 53 is God’s exultation of His Servant. “See, my servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” 52:13 “Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong.” 53:12 Paul echoes this theme: “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9–11

The Servant is vindicated and exalted publicly. This exaltation includes resurrection from the dead. “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.” 53:11 The Servant’s contemporaries saw Him as “cut off from the land of the living.” 53:8 But 53:12 the Servant will see “light”, that is, life outside the grave, even after His atoning death. I expect that Jesus also saw this promise, which underlies His teaching to His disciples that “it is written” that the Son of Man would be raised from the dead. Luke 24:25–27; 8:31; 9:31; 10:32–34; 14:21

Jesus Christ is not just a great teacher, but a Saviour. Not by His knowledge does He justify us, but by bearing our iniquities. We are saved, not by revelation, but by redemptive suffering. Once we know this we must respond in faith. It is our faith that appropriates the benefits of His death for us. By believing in the Lamb of God who died to take away our sins, we are justified through the blood of Christ, appropriated by faith.

These four themes in Isaiah 53, cover much of the Christian understanding of atonement. The Servant-Lamb in Isaiah 53: bears our sin as a substitutionary atonement, receives the punishment due to us on account of our sin, acts voluntarily as a sacrifice for us, and is finally exalted and vindicated by God in resurrection from the dead. “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”

Who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Jesus! Have you asked him to take away your sin? Do so now. Do not delay. Accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Know He died for your sins and bore in His body the punishment of us all! Accept Him now!


Gordon Moyes

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