The Substitution of the Saviour
A Study of Isaiah 53:1-12
The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is called the Great Calvary Chapter. The chapter, however, goes back of Calvary describing both the childhood and ministry of Christ. Then in the conclusion of its message, Isaiah fifty-three passes beyond Calvary, setting forth the wonderful future when Christ's soul shall be satisfied.
1. The query of the opening verse. Before the Prophet leads to the discussion of the Cross itself, he cries out, "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Here are two questions:
(1) The first question. When the Prophet says, "Who hath believed our report," the Holy Spirit is suggesting that the Lord Jesus would not be received and accepted of men.
It does seem that a report backed, as was the report concerning the Lord Jesus would have been believed. However, such was not the case.
(2) The second question. When the Prophet asked, "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" he made plain that the power of the Lord would be circumscribed by the unbelief of the people. In Isaiah 51:9, we read, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days." The Lord answered Israel's plea by saying, "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city. * * Shake thyself from the dust; * * loose thyself from the bands of thy neck."
The truth is, that the Lord's arm is not shortened that it cannot save. He is strong and able to deliver. It was Israel's sin, which made it impossible for Christ to work.
2. The doctrine of substitution. We can scan with our eye the chapter as a whole. In Isaiah 53:4 there are two words, "our griefs," "our sorrows." In Isaiah 53:5 we will find, "our transgressions," "our iniquities," "our peace." Each of these expressions carries with it the thought of substitution either in life or in death. He hath borne our griefs; carried our sorrows; He was wounded for our transgressions; bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.
In Isaiah 53:6, "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." In Isaiah 53:8, "For the transgression of My people was He stricken." In Isaiah 53:10, His soul was made "an offering for sin." In Isaiah 53:11, we read, "He shall bear their iniquities." In Isaiah 53:12, "He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
I. THE CHILDHOOD OF CHRIST (Isaiah 53:2 )
The verse before us suggests several things:
1. That Christ sprang a root out of dry ground. We know that Jesus was the root and offspring of David. He is also called, the Stem of Jesse. It was Nathanael who said, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" The Prophet goes Nathanael one better, and seems to say, Can any good thing come out of a nation which has gone from God? Israel in her shame and unbelief was no fit ground from which such marvelous fruit as the Son of God should spring. Israel was "a dry ground." And yet, Christ after the flesh sprang from that nation.
2. That Christ grew up before the Father as a tender plant. The Lord Jesus, when an infant in His mother's arms, needed to be succored and protected against the wiles of the enemy. Satan stood ready to devour Him as soon as He was born. The decree of Caesar is sufficient proof that the enemy sought the life of the infant Christ. The massacre of the infants is described by God, as Rachel weeping for her children, and could not be comforted, because they were not.
The Lord Jesus Christ, the helpless Babe, was to God a "tender plant." Joseph was warned in a dream by an angel, saying, "Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word."
3. That Christ had no form nor comeliness, and no beauty. There are some who place this Scripture exclusively at the Cross saying that it was in the hour of His death, that He was without form and comeliness. This is partly upheld by Isaiah 52:14, which reads, "As many were astonied at Thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men."
We are sure that Christ in His dying agony upon the Cross lost all beauty and comeliness of form. We are not sure, however, that He was beautiful and comely as a child, or a youth, or a man. In Jesus Christ there seemed to be nothing in which the world, humanly, boasts. Men boast the great city in which they were born, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and brought up in Nazareth. The world boasts in learning and letters, of Christ it was asked, "How knoweth this Man letters having never learned?" Men dote upon being born in homes of the great and the noble, Christ was born into the home of a carpenter. Men delight in affluence and wealth, of Christ we read, He "had not where to lay His head." Men are considered great who make great political strides, and become leaders in the affairs of state, Jesus Christ never touched that realm whatsoever: He was not great as a philanthropist, as a statesman, as a poet, as a writer, as a musician, as a warrior, nor as anything else in common with the usually estimated greatness of men. For this cause we read, "When we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him."
II. THE MANHOOD OF CHRIST (Isaiah 53:3 )
The Holy Spirit, in the Prophet, leads us from the rejection that greeted Christ as the Babe when there was no room in the inn, to the sorrows that surrounded Him in life. If the truth were known, we believe that Christ was more or less despised and rejected in the days of His boyhood and youth. There is a verse in the Psalms that seems to suggest this. The verse reads: "I am become a stranger unto My brethren, and an alien unto My mother's children" (Psalms 69:8 ). No wonder that shame covered His face, as He bore these reproaches.
As Christ entered His ministry He seemed to become suddenly popular, owing to the miracles that He wrought, and the benefits that He brought to the common people. His popularity was not for long however; soon the high priest and his colleagues became filled with envy. They began to sow seeds of hatred among the people. The people began to hide their faces from Christ. The very ones who had eaten of His loaves and fishes; the very ones who had been recipients of the blessings of His miracles, began to join the rabble against Him, "He was despised, and [they] esteemed Him not."
Surely the way of Christ, from the cradle to the tomb, was paved with ungrateful rejection, until, in death, He was covered with shame and spitting.
III. CHRIST BEARING THE GRIEFS AND SORROWS OF OTHERS (Isaiah 53:4 )
There are those who carry this verse into the agonies of the Calvary experience, and urge that on the Cross Christ bore our sicknesses and our pains, and therefore we should never be sick. We do not deny that Christ's Calvary work included redemption from the whole sweep and sway of sin. The whole entail of Satan's work is destined to be undone by the virtue of the Cross. We do know that we see not yet all of the blessings of Calvary realized, even where faith brings salvation to the heart and life. It is not until the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of Heaven that we read, "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
Thus, in this life, we are subjects of those things which pass away only when the full fruition of Christ's Calvary work is brought in. However, we may rejoice in this at least, that if sickness or pain face us now, we have the promise of healing in answer to the "prayer of faith."
IV. CHRIST'S CALVARY WORK (Isaiah 53:5 )
How wonderful it all is: "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." Matthew did not include this portion in his statement of Christ's casting out of demons and healing during His earth life. The words, to us, lead on to Christ's Calvary work. We see Him now as God's substitutionary sacrifice, dying upon the Cross, the Just for the unjust. God is laying upon Him our sins; God is giving to our substitute the stripes that are due to us.
What matchless grace! What wondrous love! Christ bearing our sins; receiving our stripes; and we going free, healed! When Christ said that He came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, He used the same simile, saying, "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick."
In Jeremiah 8:20 we read: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Then in Jeremiah 8:22, we read: "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?" Here again is healing used as a simile.
Thus we take it, that this is the healing from sin. Christ died, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
V. SUBSTITUTION SUGGESTED BY THE SIMILE OF THE "SHEEP" (Isaiah 53:6-7 )
1. Observe in Isaiah 53:6 , the picture of the sinner under the simile of a sheep: " All we like sheep have gone astray." The sheep is the most careless of creatures in wandering away. It passes from green turf to turf, heedless of the way it is going. When lost it is seemingly senseless of its whereabouts, and moves hither and thither without any knowledge of its direction or destiny.
Not only that a sheep likewise takes its own way. It is willful in its wanderings. Never did animal need a shepherd and leader more than a sheep needs one.
2. Observe now, in Isaiah 53:7 , that Christ "is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth." The sinner is likened to a sheep in its wanderings; the Saviour is likened unto a lamb in His being brought to the slaughter, and to a sheep in His being shorn of His glory and power as He was stripped for death.
Christ was oppressed and afflicted; He was led before Caiaphas and Annas; He was carried before Pilate and Herod. He was struck, spitten upon, and rebuffed. He was delivered to the smiters; He was goaded along the way by the weight of His Cross; He was nailed to the Cross with dull blows; He was numbered with the transgressors and malefactors as He died. Yet like a lamb and like a sheep He suffered on in meek submission to the madness of His despisers.
VI. CHRIST'S DEATH AND BURIAL (Isaiah 53:8-9 )
As Christ died, He commended His spirit to the Father. He had fathomed the depths of sin's woe, and paid, to its last farthing, sin's penalty. Then, the Father seemed to say, "Hands off." He took His Son away from man's prison and judgment by which man had taken Him away and cut Him off from the living.
In the hour of Christ's seeming defeat God cries out, "For the transgression of My people was He stricken." God is defending the reason for the Calvary anguish of His Son, and establishing the fact that His death was substitutionary and not forced by the madness of man.
Man seemed intent upon leaving Christ's body to rot on the hill of Golgotha, as the bodies of malefactors were left. But once more God seemed to say, "'Hands off," and with the rich was His entombment: for Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus took down the body of the Lord and laid it in Joseph's tomb. In the midst of His death how blessed to hear God say, "Because He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth." Our Christ once more is God's Lamb, and this time He is a Lamb without blemish, without spot. The holy One of God; the sinless Son.
VII. THE OBJECTIVE OF CHRIST'S DELIVERANCE TO DEATH (Isaiah 53:10 )
God bruised the Lord Jesus. God put Him to grief. God made His soul an offering for sin. Let us read it this way: God was pleased to bruise Him and put Him to grief, because in so doing God made His soul an offering for sin.
Away forever with the thought that Christ died as a helpless victim to man's over-powering wrath, and super-abounding strength. Away with the thought that Christ died under pressure of persecution, and under the sway of Satan's tyranny. Jesus Christ could have baffled His enemies at any moment of His march along the via dolorosa. He could have spoken one word and have slain every foe. The same Jesus, who went like a lamb to the slaughter, will, when He comes again, destroy the antichrist with the brightness of His coming and with the breath of His lips.
Jesus died because He was God's offering for sin. He died that God through His death might be just, and yet the justifier of those who believe. He died that God might put "righteousness" into our salvation, and be Himself "righteous" in doing so.
VIII. CHRIST'S RESURRECTION AND REWARD (Isaiah 53:10 , l.c., and 11, 12)
The Prophet proclaimed that Christ would see His seed, and prolong His days. The Prophet, seeing Christ taken away, had cried, "And who shall declare His generation?" Now the Lord answers his cry "He shall see His seed."
It was in dying that the childless Christ travailed in pain and brought to birth countless children through His grace. It was in being cut off from the land of the living, that Christ brought salvation and life for evermore in the land where there shall be no cutting off, no death.
Isaiah 53:11 describes the suffering Saviour as He becomes the singing and satisfied Saviour. "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied." Sometimes we grieve that so few are saved. Sometimes we mourn because so few are willing to accept the Giver of life and light. However, the Lord will be satisfied. When He comes down the skies He will come with a shout. In the eternal ages, countless millions of saints, with the ranking of sons, will rejoice Him as they praise the Lamb who died.
Isaiah 53:12 is most marvelous. It proclaims that Christ will share His joy and the victories of His Calvary work with His saints. "He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
This gives an enlarged view of His sufferings. He died, and in dying, He spoiled principalities and powers. He died, and in dying and bearing the sins of many, He brought to life the many. He lives and lives a victor, a conqueror over death and hell, with the keys of both in His hands. He lives a victor and as a victor He divides the spoils of victory with His own. Every obtainment of the Cross which is His, is ours. He leads us in the train of His triumph. He makes us, in Him, more than conquerors.
This message would not be complete without we made an appeal to the sinner to trust the finished work of Christ. We do this in our illustration.
The Bible speaks of the "wrath of God," as well as the "love of God" (Matthew 3:7 ). The Lord Jesus used the expression (John 3:36 ). We cannot tell all that it means, but Christ assures us that all unbelievers shall experience it. Let me urge my readers, if you are not delivered from the wrath to come, to flee from it at once, by faith in the Saviour's Atonement. There is only one place of safety, and that is in Christ. As when the prairie is on fire, the traveler's safety is to fire the grass in front of him and then stand where the fire has been, so that when the fire comes up it has nothing upon which to feed, and the traveler is safe because he stands where the fire has done its work; so the soul that rests on Christ's finished work, and hides in Him, stands where the fire of God's judgment against sin has fed, and is saved and knows that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus."
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Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Isaiah 53". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany