Your child comes home from school one day and you ask her how school was. Your young student says that school was okay. “Did anything special happen today?” “We had a substitute teacher.” Now if your child’s experience was anything like my experience when I was a young child, you’re going to probably come to the conclusion that not much happened that day except crowd control. Substitutes are often thrown into an unfamiliar classroom not knowing exactly the situation and often accomplish little more than crowd control. As I recall it, the days when we had substitutes were pretty much lost learning days, mostly because the kids would make life as miserable as possible for the substitute teacher. Not much happened with a substitute.
Last week, we began looking at Isaiah 53, that great passage about the suffering Messiah. We saw very clearly that the Messiah would be a suffering Messiah, despised and rejected by men. The next part of this powerful passage looks at why the Messiah would have to suffer. The answer lies in the fact that the Messiah is suffering for us as our substitute. But while Jesus was a substitute who was despised and rejected, in his substitution, he accomplished an amazing thing. He was despised and rejected, yet Jesus is the Savior who would bring us salvation as our substitute. Let’s read Isaiah 53:1-6.
I. Let’s look first at the mistaken doctrine.
In order to fully grasp the impact of these verses, we must really begin at the second part of verse 4. This reflects the common view, the orthodox view, of suffering in those days. If a person had a terrible disease or suffered, it must be the result of sin in his or her life. We still subscribe to that view, don’t we? I think I have mentioned this before but when I was first diagnosed with cancer, I asked my doctor why I had gotten this. I wanted to know what I had done wrong, not morally but practically. Was it something I was eating or doing that was wrong? We tend to subscribe to the view that if we suffer, we are being punished one way or the other for whatever sin that caused it.
So when the people would see the Messiah suffering, they would naturally assume that it was because of the Messiah’s own sin. They would consider him stricken by God because of his own sin. Smitten by God spells it out even more clearly that God was punishing him. Afflicted means that he was humiliated by God because of some specific sin that he had done. The Messiah suffered because he was being punished by God. That is just what people would think.
But the fact was quite the opposite and very startling. Verse 4 says that those infirmities and sorrows were in fact OURS. We saw them in the Messiah, assumed they were the result of his sin. They were, in fact, the result of our sin. Jesus picked up the sin and the punishment of our sins and carried it on Himself.
That becomes powerfully clear in verse 5 in the pronouns used. Now usually pronouns are not that thrilling unless you enjoy reading an English grammar book. But here the contrast between us and him is striking. The Servant-Messiah becomes a complete substitute for us. Note the examples and how the pronouns strike the contrast between the Messiah and us. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. His punishment brought our peace. His wounds bring our healing. Moreover, there are two main results from this: something is taken away and something is added.
What is taken away is our sins, which are forgiven and taken away by Christ. We sinned, transgressed and committed iniquities. These are not accidental lapses, but deliberate instances of disobedience against God. We deliberately disobeyed God. The penalty for that disobedience was death and we deserved it fully. However, Christ took up both the sin and its punishment on Him. He was pierced, which means literally that he was pierced through to the death. He was violently killed in order the pay the punishment. He was crushed, which literally means being shattered, completely destroyed. This does not refer to literal crushing since Christ’s body was not literally crushed. Yet he was brutally killed to pay our penalty for us.
But there are also the positive benefits of peace and healing brought to us. Because of Christ, verse 5 says that now we have peace with God. We have a sense of well-being, fullness, security; we have shalom. The relationship with God is now restored. Because of sin, there was at one time alienation and estrangement. There was tension, a barrier between God and us that we erected because of our sin. We were afraid of God, or at best, uncomfortable with Him. We still are that way when we sin. We feel separated or alienated.
But Christ removed the barrier, gave us peace and healing by taking on the punishment of sin Himself. Now we can pray confidently. Now we know that our faithful covenant God is with us. The point here is that Christ stepped in and took our punishment that we deserved. We are forgiven and we have peace. But why? Why did Christ have to do this?
III. What is the reason for his suffering?
Isaiah says we are like these sheep in that we have all followed our own way. We became lost, not because God abandoned us, but because we wanted to go our own way. The thing is we still want to do that even now that we believe. In our jobs or businesses, some may feel the pressure to go their own way and not act according to Christ’s principles because we think it will be better for us. In the way we spend our leisure time, we often think of going after our own needs first and pursuing our own way rather than doing what God wants. In the way we spend our money, when we make sure all our needs are taken care of first before we think of the church’s needs or the needs of others. We too want to go our own way, but when we do that, it is sin, iniquity, and disobedience to God which must be punished.
Now did God see all this rebellion, all this disobedience and then just write us off? “All these people do is sin! Forget them! And not only that, all the future generations will do the same! Forget it!”
No, for Isaiah says that the Lord laid on Christ, the great Servant-Messiah the iniquity of every one of us. That term “laid” may make us think of a burden being placed on someone. But it literally means to hit or to strike violently. We rarely spanked our children but we still disciplined them. My wife, Claire, developed a discipline technique that proved to be quite effective: she would clap her hands. Now I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never heard anyone clap their hands as loudly and sharply as she can clap her hands! But she did it at first because while she wanted to spank them, she wanted to know how hard it would feel to herself to hit our children. She knew it would hurt but wanted to make sure it wasn’t too hard. I’ve tried it a few times and I can’t get the volume or the intensity, but I got the pain. She took the pain intended for our children on herself. Christ took our blows when God laid our iniquity on Him.
The result is that we now have a shepherd once again. But the shepherd had to lay down his life for the sheep. But the flock, the people of God, is safe and together once again. This verse should prompt us to marvel at God’s great love and grace! We didn’t deserve this at all! In fact, we deserved quite the opposite but God did this for us anyway.
IV. What this should prompt us to do is see the need for our confession.
During Lent this year, let’s take a very hard and honest look at ourselves and our human nature. We must confess that we have often gone our own way. You know where you have wandered and I know where I have wandered. We still often think of ourselves first and often only ourselves. In different ways, we have tried to ease God out of the picture of our lives. Still these verses assure us that God in His love saw us as wandering sheep and called us back. He sent His Son Jesus, to save us from destroying ourselves. We are those wandering sheep that Jesus died to save. We need to admit that readily.
Moreover, we must continue to confess our sins and failings to God. We continue to sin and fail and continue to go our own way. I want to encourage you to confess your sins very specifically to God for when we confess our sins specifically, we can be even more assured of God’s lavish love and forgiveness. We don’t like to do that because it is embarrassing and perhaps we are even hoping that God won’t notice the sin if we cover it up by “all our many sins.” However, confessing our sins specifically makes us realize even more what God has done for us through Jesus. Being saved by grace doesn’t make a Christian perfect, just forgiven. That is something we need to understand: we are not perfect, but we are forgiven. We still make mistakes; we still sin! We need to confess those ongoing sins as well. But if we confess our sins, God will forgive us! However, we must not fall into a pattern of casual sin and forgiveness when we sin, ask forgiveness, then sin again and ask forgiveness. We must gradually learn to change our way of life and fight against the sin in our lives or else we may be overwhelmed in our sin.
Are you grateful for what Christ has done for you? I urge you to let the fact that Christ took your place become an even greater reality for you. We believe that Jesus died to take away our sins, but often the impact of that gets lost on us. Jesus died for you personally! Remember that! Jesus died for you! Believe that it is true for you. Will you live a life of gratitude as you serve the One who gave Himself for you?