Recognize God’s Ways! – Isaiah 53:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 23, 2014 AM
God often works in ways contrary to human thinking to accomplish His glorious purposes. Bill, a college student, spoke to the church’s senior citizens’ group about his summer missions experience. He had been in Cambodia helping to create a sanitary water supply for a community. He told about the backbreaking work; the wonderful, generous people he met; and his call to return as a missionary to the area. After Brandon left, some complained he had not dressed very nicely. Others wished he had gotten a haircut or at least combed his hair. Still others pointed out he had made three grammatical mistakes and they wished students would pay more attention to speaking skills.
What factors sometimes cause you not to recognize God’s ways of working? As we look at the work of the Suffering Servant that Isaiah speaks about, let’s focus on ways we can recognize God’s ways of working in our life. Isaiah described God’s Servant as called to restore the people of Israel to their homeland and to speak His salvation to all the earth. The Servant’s faithful obedience would stand in stark contrast to the people’s disobedience and lack of faith. Israel and Judah fully experienced God’s punishment of destruction and domination by a foreign power, but God would bring them new life. To deal with Israel and Judah’s root problem of sin, God would send His Servant. The Servant would suffer, but through His suffering, He would bear the punishment for all human sin and provide forgiveness. They needed to recognize God’s ways…
We first discover that…
I. God May Use Unlikely People! (Isaiah 53:1-3)
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:1-3 NIV)
1. God inspired Isaiah to write four poems or songs about His Servant (Isa. 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12). My message today focuses on the last Servant song. Isaiah had begun this song by describing the Servant as One who would “act wisely” and be “highly exalted” (52:13). Prior to His exaltation, however, people would be appalled by His suffering (52:14). When the Servant had completed His mission, people would be astonished at what they saw (52:15). Isaiah prophesied the Israelites who saw the Servant and witnessed His voluntary suffering would not understand God was working through His Servant to accomplish their salvation. This divine revelation came through the arm of the Lord, symbolizing God’s presence, strength, and saving activity. The people of Israel could not see the true identity of the Servant because they concentrated on His appearance. They saw only a tender shoot… a root out of dry ground. Like a plant barely surviving in dry conditions, the Servant seemingly displayed no potential to accomplish anything of value. In fact, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Not content to just ignore God’s Servant, Israel despised and rejected Him. His suffering did not fit the people’s ideas regarding how a Savior should look and act, so Israel failed to value Him as the One sent from God. Despised did not carry the emotional meaning for Israel that we associate with the word, it meant, “To consider something or someone as worthless or insignificant.” In fact, we are told that He would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Esteemed expresses an accounting concept. When Israel listed the Servant’s assets and liabilities, the balance shifted heavily to His liabilities. Israel expected nothing of value or importance from this Servant. God may use unlikely people!
EXAMPLE: Israel had difficulty seeing as God sees and we often do as well. God often chooses people for His service we would never choose. We may say God can use anybody but not really believe it. We need to be sensitive enough to see God at work and encourage rather than abandon or criticize individuals. What individuals do you know who exceeded people’s expectations by allowing God to work through them? Remember, God may use unlikely people!
II. God May Use Unexpected Means! (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Surely he took up 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; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)
1. The Israelites would not understand that the Servant “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” When the Servant suffered, they assumed He suffered justly for His sin. Only after His death, would anyone realize the Servant had suffered for all our sins rather than His own. Israel completely misjudged the Servant, as many do today. Pierced and crushed describe the Servant’s terrifying suffering. Pierced typically described a stab wound that brought death. Crushed could describe an individual whose spirit had been utterly broken or an individual who had been killed. Both words emphasize violence. Do not make the mistake in thinking that the Servant’s “passion” paid for our sin, it did not. The Servant died for the people’s transgressions and iniquities. Transgressions emphasize sin as intentional rebellion. Even though we know God’s command, we deliberately disobey, demonstrating our complete disrespect for God and His law. Iniquities indicate the crookedness of our human nature. Rather than recognizing we are created in God’s image and following God, we delight in unrighteousness and in following our own desires. We willingly become less than God has intended. Sin robs our life of peace. We only can find wholeness and satisfaction through a personal relationship with God. As we look back at the life and death of the Servant (Jesus Christ), we realize our punishment was placed on Him; but we also realize His punishment brought the opportunity for our healing. The Servant’s ultimate suffering, his death, for our sin and disobedience has made possible a new start, a new relationship with God, and true peace and wholeness. The phrases “we all” and “each of us” emphasize all Israelites and all of us bear responsibility for the Servant’s sufferings. As much as we might like to remove ourselves from the list of guilty parties, we cannot. The comparison of humans to sheep provides a condemning portrait of sinful humanity. As sheep pursue their desires oblivious of others, so we pursue our desires typically thinking only of our needs. We make choices without considering the consequences. We too need a Shepherd. Yet, “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!” God punished the Servant when He should have punished us! God sent Jesus to die and rise again that we might have salvation. Miraculously, God can take the worst circumstances and from them accomplish His good purposes! God may use unexpected means!
EXAMPLE: Isaiah 55:8 states, God’s ways and our ways differ dramatically. No one saw the true nature of the Servant’s suffering until after the Servant’s death. The disciples did not understand Jesus’ suffering and death until after His resurrection. God continues to work in unexpected ways to accomplish His will. Rather than expecting God to work in ways we think appropriate, we need to recognize God is at work around us and within us–often in unexpected ways. How has God worked in unexpected ways in your life? Remember, God may use unexpected means!
Contrary to what much of the world believes, we learn that…
III. God May Use Undeserved Suffering! (Isaiah 53:7-9)
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9 NIV)
1. The Servant certainly had just cause to protest His treatment. He could have pleaded His case, condemned those who rejected and despised Him, and met violence with violence. Instead, He responded to unjust treatment with a calm demeanor and a peaceful spirit. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” As a lamb went mutely to be shorn or to be offered as a sacrifice, so the Servant offered no protest as He faced death. Unlike sheep who do not know their fate, the Servant knew what would happen to Him. Knowing the injustice of His suffering, He accepted His death. A lamb could not make forgiveness available. Only a faithful, willing Servant could bear the punishment for a disobedient, rebellious humanity. The Servant offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice and substitute. The Servant experienced violent treatment. “Taken away” could refer to a deceitful action or to the sudden removal by violence or force of something precious. “Cut off” almost always refers to an act of violence. Such punishment might be understandable for a person whose sin deserved horrible consequences. Yet the Servant had done nothing to deserve it. People wrongly assumed the Servant’s suffering was justified. No one realized the Servant suffered for others. It was “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.” Based on the common (but false) idea that sin causes all suffering, people buried the Servant in what they considered an appropriate place, with the rest of “the wicked, and with a rich man.” Having been crucified with criminals Jesus was assigned a place of death with the wicked, and later He was given a tomb of the rich man Joseph. Only later would people understand the Servant had engaged in neither violence nor deceit. Violence characterizes humanity at its worst. “Deceit” describes the action of an evil individual maliciously intent on causing trouble or destroying others. The Servant engaged in neither behavior. His actions and His thoughts indicated His innocence. We realize that God may use undeserved suffering for His glory!
EXAMPLE: While we cannot explain all suffering in our lives, sometimes God works miraculously through an individual’s undeserved suffering to bring salvation and deeper faith to ourselves or to the lives of others. The faith of Christian martyrs as they suffered and died helped spread the gospel. The quiet faith of some with terminal illness brings hope and belief to those around them. God can work despite and through tragedy to accomplish His purposes. What have you learned in your suffering or that of others? Never forget, God may use undeserved suffering for His glory!
Yet, for those who trust in Him…
IV. God Rewards the Faithful! (Isaiah 53:10-12)
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12 NIV)
1. Astonishingly, we learn that “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer”! God worked through the Servant’s suffering and his final death, placing on Him the guilt of and the punishment for the people’s sin. The Servant willingly accepted the burden and carried through God’s purposes. Isaiah described the Servant as a “guilt offering”, an offering for individuals who had sinned unintentionally but later become aware of their sin would offer a guilt offering to make restitution (Lev. 5:14-19). Thus, the Servant’s offering of Himself was an atonement not only for consciously committed sins but also for unintentional sins. When the people realized and accepted what the Servant had done for them, the Servant would experience the reverse of what people had believed He would experience, “though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand”! He would enjoy the blessings of those favored by God. He would see His descendants, live a long life (eternally), and accomplish God’s will for His life. Since the Servant died, God would bless Him after His burial in a resurrected life. If we labor and see no useful results, our toil seems meaningless; and we become discouraged. If we labor and see useful results or the promise of useful results, we feel satisfaction. The Servant experienced the same satisfaction. “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.” As a result of the Servant’s faithful obedience, God would reward Him. Like a king returning from winning a battle and bringing spoils with him, the Servant would come triumphantly. Once they had been condemned by sin, but through His sacrifice, they now are redeemed and made right with God: “For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” God rewards the faithful!
EXAMPLE: Applying the faithful obedience of the Servant and Jesus to our lives can be difficult. However, God does not call us to bear the sins of people. God has accomplished that miracle through Christ. God calls us to be faithful instead. God will reward our faithfulness. Some may find recognition and fame, but we all will experience the strength of God’s presence, the joy of allowing God to work through us, and eternal life with Him. What greater rewards could we receive? How has God blessed you as you have served Him? Remember, God does indeed reward the faithful!
1. God works through persons whom society rejects or views as insignificant.
2. God uses even unexpected means to accomplish His purposes.
3. God works even through people’s undeserved suffering to accomplish His purposes.
4. God works through His faithful people and rewards them.
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.