In our region of Eindhoven we can hardly escape the carnival festivities, traditionally marking the beginning of the passion weeks which last till Easter, now 12 April 2020. One of the most important prophesies about the passion (= suffering) of Jesus is the passage we study in this article. It is the last in a series of four Servant Songs in Isaiah and is a most astonishing prophecy about what happened to Jesus, the Servant of God, our Messiah.
2 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.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
In this verse we read that the Servant had no beauty, even ‘nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’ This is striking. In the Bible we often read about the beautiful appearance of important people in salvation history: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Moses, Saul and David. But about Jesus, we read nothing of this kind in the Gospels. And Isaiah 53 even confirms the opposite.
This verse begins with the line ‘He was despised and rejected’ and was fulfilled in the mocking and crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans, on instigation of the Jewish leaders. The verse continues ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (KJV), which could be interpreted as revealing the reason for his rejection. People like to be identified with celebrities and winners, not with losers, the weak and those who mourn. But the suffering Servant identifies Himself with those who are despised and rejected, those who lack all beauty, those who suffer and those who are the losers of this world. He was one of them. He understands. He has been through it all.
Then comes ‘SURELY,’ the exclamation so powerfully interpreted in the Air of GF Handel’s Messiah. He took up OUR infirmities and carried OUR sorrows. This is the heart of the Biblical message of the passion of Jesus. It moves us to worship with humbleness and eternal gratitude. WE made Him suffer, WE crucified Him and yet it was our infirmities and sorrows He carried. How did this happen? It seems the world upside down. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 2:8 we read ‘None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’
The change of perspective from the Servant of God who suffered from the hands of Jews and Romans, to the Servant of God who took up our infirmities and sorrows, is made clear in this next verse reading ‘the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.’ We can only begin to understand this awesome truth in the light of the resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, it was made clear that what mankind did to Jesus in despising, rejecting and crucifying Him, was not the final word about Jesus. He lives and now is able to take His suffering as punishment from God and therefore will forgive those who acknowledge their sins for which He suffered.
Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Pastor Gilbert van Bueren