There is a story about a French priest who claims the following actually happened to him. An armed robber accosted him on a dark, back street in Paris and demanded his wallet. As the priest opened his coat to reach for the wallet, the thief caught sight of the priest’s clerical collar for the first time and immediately apologized. “Never mind, Father, I didn’t realize you were a priest. I’ll be on my way.” The priest was obviously relieved and good naturedly offered the man a cigar. The robber said, “No thank you, Father. I gave up smoking for Lent.” Obviously that robber did not get the whole picture in whatever instruction he received.
There are a lot of people who don’t only get Lent; they don’t really understand the very basics of the Christian faith either. They understand some things about Jesus but not enough to grasp what Jesus did in its entirety as well as its implications for our lives. This morning, we will begin looking at the familiar passage of Isaiah 53 we begin to see very clearly what it was that Jesus did. Quite simply, what Jesus did was unbelievable and should still today after all these years strike us with wonder and amazement! Let’s read Isaiah 53:1-3.
I. Let’s look first at the unbelievable message.
First of all, who is speaking when the question is asked: “Who has believed OUR message?” Here Isaiah is speaking for the people of Israel. These are the people who have seen and experienced God’s salvation. And they stand amazed at how God has done this salvation. Notice as well that this is prophecy. This has not yet happened, but Isaiah is certain that it will. Thus, Isaiah is the voice of all future believers in Christ.
Isaiah says God will bring powerful salvation, but it will be through a means that will make it hard for people to believe. Prof. Neal Plantinga sums this contrast up nicely when he describes God’s working out of salvation through Christ. He simply says, “How odd of God!” God’s plan is not what the people would expect. God will bring salvation through the servant-Messiah referred to in chapters 42 and 52.
Take a look at the description in verse 2 of how men would view the servant Messiah. The Servant is like a tender shoot. This refers to a little sucker shoot of a tree which grows from the trunk of the tree. It is often weak, and compared to the tree itself, very insignificant. It is something that a person prunes off with little thought. Moreover, the Servant is like a root in dry ground. A root that is in dry ground is in trouble. It will likely be weak, ineffective, and not likely survive. The Messiah will be living and serving in very harsh circumstances which will make it seem unlikely for him to survive.
Moreover, the servant had no beauty or majesty. In Old Testament times, a person who was handsome or beautiful was considered to be blessed by God and potentially a great leader. The Servant was not handsome or beautiful so people would not think he was blessed in any extra way by God. And there was no majesty, nothing about him that would make him attractive to others. He had no royal characteristics, no natural qualities of leadership. From a human point of view, the Servant Messiah was very plain, common and very ordinary. People would look at him and would not give him a second glance. Certainly the Servant Messiah would not appear to be the powerful arm of God working salvation.
That is precisely what Jesus experienced in His life here on earth. Consider the events in his life. He was not born to royalty in a palace, but in a barn or cave to poor, common people. He grew up and no one took any notice of Him. In His own town of Nazareth, as He began His ministry, people were very skeptical of Him. His disciples formed no elite corps of soldiers or hardened commandos, but were common working men. Christ may have been an interesting person to many people in His day, but certainly not the arm of God working out salvation.
Again, look at how Isaiah describes the servant in verse 3. The servant is not only ordinary, but a man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering. When we think of suffering in the Bible, we often think of the Psalms for often people who were hurting expressed their suffering and sorrows. But in the Psalms, this suffering was often just a one-time event, or an occasional problem. But the Servant’s entire life was filled with sorrow and suffering. Every day meant more and more suffering and sorrow. The reason that His life was so full of sorrow and suffering was that he was despised and rejected. Despised means more than severely hated; it means that he was viewed as worthless. Rejected means that men gave up on him because they felt he was not to be trusted or followed. He was in man’s eyes thoroughly useless.
Moreover, he was like one from whom men hide their faces. People thought the Messiah was revolting and hideous, something you can’t bear to look at. When I was in high school, I worked in a small grocery store. About every two weeks, a man would come in who had a truly hideous face. I don’t know if he had some kind of disease or he had suffered some severe burns, but his face was discolored, disfigured and had a strong odor. I am ashamed to admit it, but I couldn’t look at him; it turned my stomach. That is what people felt like when they saw the Servant Messiah. People couldn’t stand to look at his continual pain and sorrow. So people despised him, which Isaiah emphasizes again by repeating it; “He was despised!” Then he points to the folly of it when he says that we esteemed him not. The very one they should have entrusted their lives to for salvation, they rejected because he didn’t meet their specifications.
Of course, the people in Jesus’ time rejected him as well. But what about the multitude and crowds who followed after Jesus? They didn’t despise him. Yet we see in John 6 that when Jesus started laying out clearly who He was and as well as what they needed to do, they turned on Him and rejected Him. They wanted a hero, a national leader, a miracle worker. Jesus told them that He had to suffer, be rejected and be crucified. That was not the arm of the Lord, power of God, they wanted to see. The mockery of Jesus’ trial makes that clear. The people rejected Christ and wanted Him crucified. And so Jesus suffered all through His life, knowing it would all come to this.
Now let’s be clear on Isaiah’s point here. Isaiah is saying that this plain, ordinary man who ended up being despised and rejected by the people is God’s mighty arm. We will see in the coming weeks how God used Christ to show His power. But the message of salvation is so unusual, that the people had a hard time believing. Who could believe that God would save His people in such a startling way? “How odd of God!” Yet it is true and Isaiah confidently shares this message with the people. And so must we!
IV. So how do we go about sharing the message?
We should begin by asking the same question as is found in verse 1. Who has believed our message? Who in the world today sees the power of God in the gospel of Jesus? Many in the world today do not see the power of God as God wants us to see it through Isaiah’s words. In fact, I suspect that when the world thinks of Christianity today, many think of things like elaborate and huge church buildings with pastors always talking about money. Or they think of programs, staffs, activities and rules. But this is not the Christian faith; it is not the gospel of Christ. The real gospel is Christ suffering as a servant, giving Himself up to be abused and beaten, to suffer rejection by and for a sin-filled world. The real gospel is sinful people believing that good news of salvation. It is people in great need entrusting their lives to Him. But often that is not what the world even sees.
Is it any wonder that the world has trouble taking Christianity seriously? We have a gift of tremendous value, but does our familiarity with it or our trivializing it stifle our proclamation of it? The world around us needs to see the Gospel of Christ as it really is, not the misconceptions. The way the world will see it is through you and I. Will the Gospel of Christ excite you enough to gladly share it with others?