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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Isaiah 53

 

 

Verse 1

Isaiah

THE ARM OF THE LORD

Isaiah 53:1.

In the second Isaiah there are numerous references to ‘the arm of the Lord.’ It is a natural symbol of the active energy of Jehovah, and is analogous to the other symbol of ‘the Face of Jehovah,’ which is also found in this book, in so far as it emphasises the notion of power in manifestation, though ‘the Face’ has a wider range and may be explained as equivalent to that part of the divine Nature which is turned to men. The latter symbol will then be substantially parallel with ‘the Name.’ But there are traces of a tendency to conceive of ‘the arm of the Lord’ as personified, for instance, where we read [Isaiah 63:12] that Jehovah ‘caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses.’ Moses was not the true leader, but was himself led and sustained by the divine Power, dimly conceived as a person, ever by his side to sustain and direct. There seems to be a similar imperfect consciousness of personification in the words of the text, especially when taken in their close connection with the immediately following prophecy of the suffering servant. It would be doing violence to the gradual development of Revelation, like tearing asunder the just-opening petals of a rose, to read into this question of the sad prophet full-blown Christian truth, but it would be missing a clear anticipation of that truth to fail to recognise the forecasting of it that is here.

I. We have here a prophetic forecast that the arm of the Lord is a person.

The strict monotheism of the Old Testament does not preclude some very remarkable phenomena in its modes of conception and speech as to the divine Nature. We hear of the ‘angel of His face,’ and again of ‘the angel in whom is His Name.’ We hear of ‘the angel’ to whom divine worship is addressed and who speaks, as we may say, in a divine dialect and does divine acts. We meet, too, with the personification of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, to which are ascribed characteristics and are attributed acts scarcely distinguishable from divine, and eminently associated in the creative work. Our text points in the same direction as these representations. They all tend in the direction of preparing for the full Christian truth of the personal ‘Power of God.’ What was shown by glimpses ‘at sundry times and in divers manners,’ with many gaps in the showing and much left all unshown, is perfectly revealed in the Son. The New Testament, by its teaching as to ‘the Eternal Word,’ endorses, clears, and expands all these earlier dimmer adumbrations. That Word is the agent of the divine energy, and the conception of power as being exercised by the Word is even loftier than that of it as put forth by ‘the arm,’ by as much as intelligent and intelligible utterance is more spiritual and higher than force of muscle. The apostolic designation of Jesus as ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ blends the two ideas of these two symbols. The conception of Jesus Christ as the arm of the Lord, when united with that of the Eternal Word, points to a threefold sphere and manner of His operations, as the personal manifestation of the active power of God. In the beginning, the arm of the Lord stretched out the heavens as a tent to dwell in, and without Him ‘was not anything made that was made.’ In His Incarnation, He carried into execution all God’s purposes and fulfilled His whole will. From His throne He wields divine power, and rules the universe. ‘The help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself,’ and He works in the midst of humanity that redeeming work which none but He can effect.

II. We have here a prophetic paradox that the mightiest revelation of the arm of the Lord is in weakness.

The words of the text stand in closest connection with the great picture of the Suffering Servant which follows, and the pathetic figure portrayed there is the revealing of the arm of the Lord. The close bringing together of the ideas of majesty and power and of humiliation, suffering, and weakness, would be a paradox to the first hearers of the prophecy. Its solution lies in the historical manifestation of Jesus. Looking on Him, we see that the growing up of that root out of a dry ground was the revelation of the great power of God. In Jesus’ lowly humanity God’s power is made perfect in man’s weakness, in another and not less true sense than that in which the apostle spoke. There we see divine power in its noblest form, in its grandest operation, in its widest sweep, in its loftiest purpose. That humble man, lowly and poor, despised and rejected in life, hanging faint and pallid on the Roman cross, and dying in the dark, seems a strange manifestation of the ‘glory’ of God, but the Cross is indeed His throne, and sublime as are the other forms in which Omnipotence clothes itself, this is, to human eyes and hearts, the highest of them all. In Jesus the arm of the Lord is revealed in its grandest operation. Creation and the continual sustaining of a universe are great, but redemption is greater. It is infinitely more to say, ‘He giveth power to the faint,’ than to say, ‘For that He is strong in might, not one faileth,’ and to principalities and powers in heavenly places who have gazed on the grand operations of divine power for ages, new lessons of what it can effect are taught by the redemption of sinful men. The divine power that is enshrined in Jesus’ weakness is power in its widest sweep, for it is to every one that believeth, and in its loftiest purpose, for it is ‘unto salvation.’

III. We have here a prophetic lament that the power revealed to all is unseen by many.

The text is a wail over darkened eyes, blind at noonday. The prophet’s radiant anticipations of the Servant’s exaltation, and of God’s holy arm being made bare in the eyes of all nations, are clouded over by the thought of the incredulity of the multitude to ‘our report.’ Jehovah had indeed ‘made bare His arm,’ as a warrior throws back his loose robe, when he would strike. But what was the use of that, if dull eyes would not look? The ‘report’ had been loudly proclaimed, but what was the use of that, if ears were obstinately stopped? Alas, alas! nothing that God can do secures that men shall see what He shows, or listen to what He speaks. The mystery of mysteries is that men can, the tragedy of tragedies is that they will, make any possible revelation of none effect, so far as they are concerned.

The Arm is revealed, but only by those who have ‘believed our report’ does the prophet deem it to be actually beheld. Faith is the individual condition on which the perfected revelation becomes a revelation to me. The ‘salvation of our God’ is shown in splendour to ‘all the ends of the earth,’ but only they who exercise faith in Jesus, who is the power of God, will see that far-shining light. If we are not of those who ‘believe the report,’ we shall, notwithstanding that ‘He hath made bare His holy arm,’ be of those who grope at noonday as in the dark.


Verse 2-3

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-I

Isaiah 53:2 - Isaiah 53:3.

To hold fast the fulfilment of this prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Jesus it is not necessary to deny its reference to Israel. Just as offices, institutions, and persons in it were prophetic, and by their failures to realise to the full their own role, no less than by their partial presentation of it, pointed onwards to Him, in whom their idea would finally take form and substance, so this great picture of God’s Servant, which was but imperfectly reproduced even by the Israel within Israel, stood on the prophet’s page a fair though sad dream, with nothing corresponding to it in the region of reality and history, till He came and lived and suffered.

If we venture to make it the theme of a short series of sermons, our object is simply to endeavour to bring out clearly the features of the wonderful portrait. If they are fully apprehended, it seems to us that the question of who is the original of the picture answers itself. We must note that the whole is introduced by a ‘For,’ that is to say, that it is all explanatory of the unbelief and blindness to the revealed arm of the Lord, which the prophet has just been lamenting. This close connection with the preceding words accounts for the striking way in which the description of the person of the Servant is here blended with, or interrupted by, that of the manner in which he was treated.

I. The Servant’s lowly origin and growth.

‘He grew,’-not ‘shall grow.’ The whole is cast into the form of history, and to begin the description with a future tense is not only an error in grammar but gratuitously introduces an incongruity. The word rendered ‘tender plant’ means a sucker, and ‘root’ probably would more properly be taken as a shoot from a root, the tree having been felled, and nothing left but the stump. There is here, then, at the outset, an unmistakable reference to the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, which is Messianic prophecy, and therefore there is a presumption that this too has a Messianic reference. In the original passage the stump or ‘stock’ is explained as being the humiliated house of David, and it is only following the indications supplied by the fact of the second Isaiah’s quotation of the first, if we take the implication in his words to be the same. Royal descent, but from a royal house fallen on evil days, is the plain meaning here.

And the eclipse of its glory is further brought out in that not only does the shoot spring from a tree, all whose leafy honours have long been lopped away, but which is ‘in a dry ground.’ Surely we do not force a profounder meaning than is legitimate into this feature of the picture when we think of the Carpenter’s Son ‘of the house and lineage of David,’ of the Son of God ‘who was found in fashion as a man,’ of Him who was born in a stable, and grew up in a tiny village hidden away among the hills of Galilee, who, as it were, stole into the world ‘not with observation,’ and opened out, as He grew, the wondrous blossom of a perfect humanity such as had never before been evolved from any root, nor grown on the most sedulously cultured plant. Is this part of the prophet’s ideal realised in any of the other suggested realisations of it?

But there is still another point in regard to the origin and growth of the lowly shoot from the felled stump-it is ‘before Him.’ Then the unnoticed growth is noticed by Jehovah, and, though cared for by no others, is cared for, tended, and guarded, by Him.

II. The Servant’s unattractive form.

Naturally a shoot springing in a dry ground would show but little beauty of foliage or flower. It would be starved and colourless beside the gaudy growths in fertile, well-watered gardens. But that unattractiveness is not absolute or real; it is only ‘that we should desire Him.’ We are but poor judges of true ‘form or comeliness,’ and what is lustrous with perfect beauty in God’s eyes may be, and generally is, plain and dowdy in men’s. Our tastes are debased. Flaunting vulgarities and self-assertive ugliness captivate vulgar eyes, to which the serene beauties of mere goodness seem insipid. Cockatoos charm savages to whom the iridescent neck of a dove has no charms. Surely this part of the description fits Jesus as it does no other. The entire absence of outward show, or of all that pleases the spoiled tastes of sinful men, need not be dwelt on. No doubt the world has slowly come to recognise in Him the moral ideal, a perfect man, but He has been educating it for nineteen hundred years to get it up to that point, and the educational process is very far from complete. The real desire of most men is for something much more pungent and dashing than Jesus’ meek wisdom and stainless purity, which breed in them ennui rather than longing. ‘Not this man but Barabbas,’ was the approximate realisation of the Jewish ideal then; not this man but-some type or other of a less oppressive perfection, and that calls for less effort to imitate it, is the world’s real cry still. Pilate’s scornfully wondering question: Art Thou-such a poor-looking creature-the King of the Jews? is very much of a piece with the world’s question still: Art Thou the perfect instance of manhood? Art Thou the highest revelation of God?

III. The Servant’s reception by men.

The two preceding characteristics naturally result in this third. For lowliness of condition and lack of qualities appealing to men’s false ideals will certainly lead to being ‘despised and rejected.’ The latter expression is probably better taken, as in the margin of the Rev. Ver. as ‘forsaken.’ But whichever meaning is adopted, what an Iliad of woes is condensed into these two words! ‘The spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes,’ the loneliness of one who, in all the crowd descries none to trust-these are the wages that the world ever gives to its noblest, who live but to help it and be misunderstood by it, and as these are the wages of all who with self-devotion would serve God by serving the world for its good, they were paid in largest measure to ‘the Servant of the Lord.’ His claims were ridiculed, His words of wisdom thrown back on Himself; none were so poor but could afford to despise Him as lower than they, His love was repulsed, surely He drank the bitterest cup of contempt. All His life He walked in the solitude of uncomprehended aims, and at His hour of extremest need appealed in vain for a little solace of companionship, and was deserted by those whom He trusted most. His was a lifelong martyrdom inflicted by men. His was a lifelong solitude which was most utter at the last. And He brought it all on Himself because He would be God’s Servant in being men’s Saviour.

IV. The Servant’s sorrow of heart.

The remarkable expression ‘acquainted with grief’ seems to carry an allusion to the previous clause, in which men are spoken of as despising and rejecting the Servant. They left Him alone, and His only companion was ‘grief’-a grim associate to walk at a man’s side all his days! It is to be noted that the word rendered ‘grief’ is literally sickness. That description of mental or spiritual sorrows under the imagery of bodily sicknesses is intensified in the subsequent terrible picture of Him as one from whom men hide their faces with disgust at His hideous appearance, caused by disease. Possibly the meaning may rather be that He hides His face, as lepers had to do.

Now probably the ‘sorrows’ touched on at this point are to be distinguished from those which subsequently are spoken of in terms of such poignancy as laid on the Servant by God. Here the prophet is thinking rather of those which fell on Him by reason of men’s rejection and desertion. We shall not rightly estimate the sorrowfulness of Christ’s sorrows, unless we bring to our meditations on them the other thought of His joys. How great these were we can judge, when we remember that He told the disciples that by His joy remaining in them their joy would be full. As much joy then as human nature was capable of from perfect purity, filial obedience, trust, and unbroken communion with God, so much was Jesus’ permanent experience. The golden cup of His pure nature was ever full to the brim with the richest wine of joy. And that constant experience of gladness in the Father and in Himself made more painful the sorrows which He encountered, like a biting wind shrieking round Him, whenever He passed out from fellowship with God in the stillness of His soul into the contemptuous and hostile world. His spirit carrying with it the still atmosphere of the Holy Place, would feel more keenly than any other would have done the jarring tumult of the crowds, and would know a sharper pain when met with greetings in which was no kindness. Jesus was sinless, His sympathy with all sorrow was thereby rendered abnormally keen, and He made others’ griefs His own with an identification born of a sympathy which the most compassionate cannot attain. The greater the love, the greater the sorrow of the loving heart when its love is spurned. The intenser the yearning for companionship, the sharper the pang when it is repulsed. The more one longs to bless, the more one suffers when his blessings are flung off. Jesus was the most sensitive, the most sympathetic, the most loving soul that ever dwelt in flesh. He saw, as none other has ever seen, man’s miseries. He experienced, as none else has ever experienced, man’s ingratitude, and, therefore, though God, even His God, ‘anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows,’ He was ‘a Man of Sorrows,’ and grief was His companion during all His life’s course.


Verses 4-6

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-II

Isaiah 53:4 - Isaiah 53:6.

The note struck lightly in the close of the preceding paragraph becomes dominant here. One notes the accumulation of expressions for suffering, crowded into these verses-griefs, sorrows, wounded, bruised, smitten, chastisement, stripes. One notes that the cause of all this multiform infliction is given with like emphasis of reiteration-our griefs, our sorrows, and that these afflictions are invested with a still more tragic and mysterious aspect, by being traced to our transgressions, our iniquities. Finally, the deepest word of all is spoken when the whole mystery of the servant’s sufferings is referred to Jehovah’s making the universal iniquity to lie, like a crushing burden, on Him.

I. The Burdened Servant.

It is to be kept in view that the ‘griefs’ which the servant is here described as bearing are literally ‘sicknesses,’ and that, similarly, the ‘sorrows’ may be diseases. Matthew in his quotation of the verse [Matthew 8:17] takes the words to refer to bodily ailments, and finds their ‘fulfilment’ in Christ’s miracles of healing. And that interpretation is part of the whole truth, for Hebrew thought drew no such sharp line of distinction between diseases of the body and those of the soul as we are accustomed to draw. All sickness was taken to be the consequence of sin, and the intimate connection between the two was, as it were, set forth for all forms of bodily disease by the elaborate treatment prescribed for leprosy, as pre-eminently fitted to stand as type of the whole. But the fulfilment through the miracles is but a parable of the deeper fulfilment in regard to the more virulent and deadly diseases of the soul. Sin is the sickness, as it is also the grief, which most afflicts humanity. Of the two words expressing the Servant’s taking their burden on His shoulders, the former implies not only the taking of it but the bearing of it away, and the latter emphasises the weight of the load.

Following Matthew’s lead, we may regard Christ’s miracles of healing as one form of His fulfilment of the prophecy, in which the principles that shape all the forms are at work, and which, therefore, may stand as a kind of pictorial illustration of the way in which He bears and bears away the heavier burden of sin. And one point which comes out clearly is that, in these acts of healing, He felt the weight of the affliction that He took away. Even in that region, the condition of ability to remove it, was identifying Himself with the sorrow. Did He not ‘sigh and look up’ in silent appeal to heaven before He could say, Ephphatha? Did He not groan in Himself before He sent the voice into the tomb which the dead heard? His miracles were not easy, though He had all power, for He felt all that the sufferers felt, by the identifying power of the unparalleled sympathy of a pure nature. In that region His pain on account of the sufferers stood in vital relation with His power to end their sufferings. The load must gall His shoulders, ere He could bear it away from theirs.

But the same principles as apply to these deeds of mercy done on diseases apply to all His deeds of deliverance from sorrow and from sin. In Him is set forth in highest fashion the condition of all brotherly help and alleviation. Whoever would lighten a brother’s load must stoop his own shoulders to carry it. And whilst there is an element in our Lord’s sufferings, as the text passes on to say, which is not explained by the analogy with what is required from all human succourers and healers, the extent to which the lower experience of such corresponds with His unique work should always be made prominent in our devout meditations.

II. The Servant’s sufferings in their reason, their intensity, and their issue.

The same measure that was meted out to Job by his so-called friends was measured to the servant, and at the Impulse of the same heartless doctrinal prepossession. He must have been had to suffer so much; that is the rough and ready verdict of the self-righteous. With crashing emphasis, that complacent explanation of the Servant’s sufferings and their own prosperity is shivered to atoms, by the statement of the true reason for both the one and the other. You thought that He was afflicted because He was bad and you were spared because you were good-no, He was afflicted because you were bad, and you were spared because He was afflicted.

The reason for the Servant’s sufferings was ‘our transgressions.’ More is suggested now than sympathetic identification with others’ sorrows. This is an actual bearing of the consequences of sins which He had not committed, and that not merely as an innocent man may be overwhelmed by the flood of evil which has been let loose by others’ sins to sweep over the earth. The blow that wounds Him is struck directly and solely at Him. He is not entangled in a widespread calamity, but is the only victim. It is pre-supposed that all transgression leads to wounds and bruises; but the transgressions are done by us, and the wounds and bruises fall on Him. Can the idea of vicarious suffering be more plainly set forth?

The intensity of the Servant’s sufferings is brought home to our hearts by the accumulation of epithets, to which reference has already been made. He was ‘wounded’ as one who is pierced by a sharp sword; ‘bruised’ as one who is stoned to death; beaten and with livid weales on His flesh. A background of unnamed persecutors is dimly seen. The description moves altogether in the region of physical violence, and that violence is more than symbol.

It is no mere coincidence that the story of the Passion reproduces so many of the details of the prophecy, for, although the fulfilment of the latter does not depend on such coincidences, they are not to be passed by as of no importance. Former generations made too much of the physical sufferings of Jesus; is not this generation in danger of making too little of them?

The issue of the Servant’s sufferings is presented in a startling paradox. His bruises and weales are the causes of our being healed. His chastisement brings our peace. Surely it is very hard work, and needs much forcing of words and much determination not to see what is set forth in as plain light as can be conceived, to strike the idea of atonement out of this prophecy. It says as emphatically as words can say, that we have by our sins deserved stripes, that the Servant bears the stripes which we have deserved, and that therefore we do not bear them.

III. The deepest ground of the Servant’s sufferings.

The sad picture of humanity painted in that simile of a scattered flock lays stress on the universality of transgression, on its divisive effect, on the solitude of sin, and on its essential characteristic as being self-willed rejection of control. But the isolation caused by transgression is blessedly counteracted by the concentration of the sin of all on the Servant. Men fighting for their own hand, and living at their own pleasure, are working to the disruption of all sweet bonds of fellowship. But God, in knitting together all the black burdens into one, and loading the Servant with that tremendous weight, is preparing for the establishment of a more blessed unity, in experience of the healing brought about by His sufferings.

Can one man’s ‘iniquity,’ as distinguished from the consequences of iniquity, be made to press upon any other? It is a familiar and not very profound objection to the Christian Atonement that guilt cannot be transferred. True, but in the first place, Christ’s nature stands in vital relations to every man, of such intimacy that what is impossible between two of us is not impossible between Christ and any one of us; and, secondly, much in His life, and still more in His passion, is unintelligible unless the black mass of the world’s sin was heaped upon Him, to His own consciousness. In that dread cry, wrung from Him as He hung there in the dark, the consciousnesses of possessing God and of having lost Him are blended inextricably and inexplicably. The only approach to an explanation of it is that then the world’s sin was felt by Him, in all its terrible mass and blackness, coming between Him and God, even as our own sins come, separating us from God. That grim burden not only came on Him, but was laid on Him by God. The same idea is expressed by the prophet in that awful representation and by Jesus in that as awful cry, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

The prophet constructs no theory of Atonement. But no language could be chosen that would more plainly set forth the fact of Atonement. And it is to be observed that, so far as this prophecy is concerned, the Servant’s sole form of service is to suffer. He is not a teacher, an example, or a benefactor, in any of the other ways in which men need help. His work is to bear our griefs and be bruised for our healing.


Verses 7-9

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-III.

Isaiah 53:7 - Isaiah 53:9

In this section of the prophecy we pass from contemplating the sufferings inflicted on the Servant to the attitude of Himself and of His contemporaries towards these, His patience and their blindness. To these is added a remarkable reference to His burial, which strikes one at first sight as interrupting the continuity of the prophecy, but on fuller consideration assumes great significance.

I. The unresisting endurance of the Servant.

The Revised Version’s rendering of the first clause is preferable to that of the Authorised Version. ‘Afflicted’ would be little better than tautology, but ‘humbled Himself’ strikes the keynote of the verse, which dwells not on the Servant’s afflictions, but on His bearing under them. Similarly, the pathetic imagery of the lamb led and the sheep dumb gives the same double representation, first of the indignities, and next of His demeanour in enduring them, as is conveyed in ‘He was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself.’ Unremonstrating, unresisting endurance, then, is the point emphasised in the lovely metaphor.

We recall the fact that this emphatically reduplicated phrase ‘opened not His mouth’ was verbally fulfilled in our Lord’s silence before each of the three authorities to whom He was presented, before the Jewish rulers, before Pilate, and before Herod. Only when adjured by the living God and when silence would have been tantamount to withdrawal of His claims, did He speak before the Sanhedrin. Only when silence would have been taken as disowning His Kingship, did He speak before Pilate. And Herod, who had no right to question Him, received no answer at all. Jesus’ lips were opened in witness but never in complaint or remonstrance. No doubt, the prophecy would have been as really fulfilled though there had been no such majestic silences, for its substance is patient endurance, not mere abstinence from speech. Still, as with other events in His life, the verbal correspondence with prophetic details may help, and be meant to help, to bring out more clearly, for purblind eyes, the true fulfilment. So we may meditate on the wonder and the beauty of that picture which the evangelists draw, and which the world has recognised, with whatever differences as to its interpretation, as the most perfect, pathetic, and majestic picture of meek endurance that has ever been painted.

But we gather only the most superficial of its lessons, if that is all that we find to say about it. For the main point for us to lay to heart is not merely the fact of that silent submission, but the motive which led to it. He opened not His mouth, because He willingly embraced the Cross, and He willingly embraced the Cross because He loved the Father and would do His will, because He loved the world and would be its Saviour,

That touching imagery of the dumb lamb has manifold felicities and significances beyond serving to figure meekness. And we are not forcing unintended meanings into a mere piece of poetic imagination when we note how remarkably the metaphor links on to that of strayed sheep in the preceding verse, or when we venture to recall John Baptist’s first proclamation of the Lamb of God, and Peter’s quotation of this very prophecy, and the continual recurrence in the Apocalypse of the name of The Lamb as the title of honour of ‘Him who sitteth on the throne.’ A kind of nimbus or aureole shines round the humble figure as drawn by the prophet.

II. The misunderstood end of the Servant’s life.

The difficult expressions of Isaiah 53:8 are rendered in the Revised Version with clearness and so as to yield a profound meaning. We may note that here, for the first time, is spoken out that end to which all the preceding description of sufferings has been leading up, and yet it is spoken with a kind of solemn reticence, very impressive. The Servant is ‘taken away,’ ‘cut off,’ ‘stricken.’ Not yet is the grim word ‘death’ plainly uttered; that comes in the next verse, only after the Servant’s death is supposed to be past. The three words suggest, at all events, though in half-veiled language, violence and suddenness in the Servant’s fate. Who were the agents who took Him, cut Him off and struck Him, is left in impressive obscurity. But the fact that His death was a judicial murder is set in clear light. Whether we read ‘By’ or ‘From-oppression and judgment He was taken away,’ the forms of law are represented as wrested to bring about flagrant injustice. And, if it were my object now to defend the Messianic interpretation, one might ask where any facts corresponding to this element in the picture are to be found in regard to either the national Israel, or the Israel within the nation.

That unjust death by illegal violence under the mask of law was, further, wholly misunderstood by ‘His generation.’ We need not do more than remark in a sentence how that feature corresponds with the facts in regard to Jesus, and ask whether it does so on any other theory of ‘fulfilment.’ Neither friends nor foes had even the faintest conception of what the death of Jesus was or was to effect. And it is worth while to dwell for a moment on this, because we are often told that there is no trace of the doctrine of an atoning sacrifice in the Gospels, and the inference is drawn that it was an afterthought of the apostles, and therefore to be set aside as an excrescence on Christianity according to Christ. The silence of Jesus on that subject is exaggerated; but certainly no thought of His being the Sacrifice for the sins of the world was in the minds of the sad watchers by the Cross, nor for many a day thereafter. Is it not worth noting that precisely such a blindness to the meaning of His death had been prophesied eight hundred years before?

But the reason why this feature is introduced seems mainly to be to underscore the lesson, that those who exercised the violence which hurried the Servant from the land of the living were blind instruments of a higher power. And may we not also see in it a suggestion of the great solitude of sorrow in which the Servant was to die, even as He had lived in it? Misapprehended and despised He lived, misapprehended He died. Jesus was the loneliest man that ever breathed human breath. He gave up His breath in a more awful solitude than ever isolated any other dying man. Utterly solitary, He died that none of us need ever face death alone.

III. The Servant’s Grave.

Following on the mystery of the uncomprehended death comes the enigma of the burial. The words are an enigma, but they seem meaningless on any hypothesis but the Messianic one. As they stand, they assert that unnamed persons gave Him a grave with the wicked, as they would do by putting Him to death under strained forms of law, and that then, somehow, the criminal destined to be buried with other criminals in a dishonoured grave was laid in a tomb with the rich. It seems a singularly minute trait to find place in such a prophecy. The remarks already made as to similar minute correspondences in details of the prophecy with purely external facts in Christ’s life need not be repeated now. One does not see that it is a self-evident axiom needing only to be enunciated in order to be accepted, that such minute prophecies are beneath the dignity of revelation. It might rather seem that, as one element in prophecy, they are eminently valuable. The smaller the detail, the more remarkable the prevision and the more striking the fulfilment. For a keen-sighted man may forecast tendencies and go far to anticipate events on the large scale, but only God can foresee trifles. The difficulty in which this prediction of the Servant’s grave being ‘with the rich’ places those who reject the Messianic reference of the prophecy to our Lord may be measured by the desperate attempts to evade it by suggesting other readings, or by making ‘rich’ to be synonymous with ‘wicked.’ The words as they stand have a clear and worthy meaning on one interpretation, and we even venture to say, on one interpretation only, namely, that they refer to the reverent laying of the body of the Lord in the new tomb belonging to ‘a certain rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph.’

If in the latter clause of Isaiah 53:9 we render ‘Because’ rather than ‘Although,’ we get the thought that the burial was a sign that the Servant, slain as a criminal, yet was not a criminal. The criminals were either left unburied or disgraced by promiscuous interment in an unclean place. But that body reverently bedewed with tears, wrapped in fine linen clean and white, softly laid down by loving hands, watched by love stronger than death, lay in fitting repose as the corpse of a King till He came forth as a Conqueror. So once more the dominant note is struck, and this part of the prophecy closes with the emphatic repetition of the sinlessness of the Suffering Servant, which makes His sufferings a deep and bewildering mystery, unless they were endured because of ‘our transgressions.’


Verse 10

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-IV

Isaiah 53:10.

We have seen a distinct progress of thought in the preceding verses. There was first the outline of the sorrows and rejection of the Servant; second, the profound explanation of these as being for us; third, the sufferings, death and burial of the Servant.

We have followed Him to the grave. What more can there be to be said? Whether the Servant of the Lord be an individual or a collective or an ideal, surely all fitness of metaphor, all reality of fact would require that His work should be represented as ending with His life, and that what might follow His burial should be the influence of His memory, the continued operation of the principles He had set agoing and so on, but nothing more.

Now observe that, however we may explain the fact, this is the fact to be explained, that there is a whole section, this closing one, devoted to the celebration of His work after His death and burial, and, still more remarkable, that the prophecy says nothing about His activity on the world till after death. In all the former portion there is not a syllable about His doing anything, only about His suffering; and then when He is dead He begins to work. That is the subject of these last three verses, and it would be proper to take them all for our consideration now, but fur two reasons, one, because of their great fulness and importance, and one because, as you will observe, the two latter verses are a direct address of God’s concerning the Servant. The prophetic words, spoken as in his own person, end with Isaiah 53:10, and, catching up their representations, expanding, defining, glorifying them, comes the solemn thunder of the voice of God. I now deal only with the prophet’s vision of the work of the Servant of the Lord.

One other preliminary remark is that the work of the Servant after death is described in these verses with constant and very emphatic reference to His previous sufferings. The closeness of connection between these two is thus thrown into great prominence.

I. The mystery of God’s treatment of the sinless Servant.

The first clause is to be read in immediate connection with the preceding verse. The Servant was of absolute sinlessness, and yet the Divine Hand crushed and bruised Him. Certainly, if we think of the vehemence of prophetic rebukes, and of the standing doctrine of the Old Testament that Israel was punished for its sin, we shall be slow to believe that this picture of the Sinless One, smitten for the sins of others, can have reference to the nation in any of its parts, or to any one man. However other poetry may lament over innocent sufferers, the Old Testament always takes the ground: ‘Our iniquities, like the wind, have carried us away.’ But mark that here, however understood, the prophet paints a figure so sinless that God’s bruising Him is an outstanding wonder and riddle, only to be solved by regarding these bruises as the stripes by which our sins were healed, and by noting that ‘the pleasure of the Lord’ is carried on through Him, after and through His death. What conceivable application have such representations except to Jesus? We note, then, here:-

1. The solemn truth that His sufferings were divinely inflicted. That is a truth complementary to the other views in the prophecy, according to which these sufferings are variously regarded as either inflicted by men {‘By oppression and judgment He was taken away’} or drawn on Him by His own sacrificial act {‘His soul shall make an offering for sin’}. It was the divine counsel that used men as its instruments, though they were none the less guilty. The hands that ‘crucified and slew’ were no less ‘the hands of lawless men,’ because it was ‘the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’ that ‘delivered Him up.’

But a still deeper thought is in these words. For we can scarcely avoid seeing in them a glimpse into that dim region of eclipse and agony of soul from which, as from a cave of darkness, issued that last cry: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani?’ The bruises inflicted by the God, who made to meet on Him the iniquities of us all, were infinitely more severe than the weales of the soldiers’ rods, or the wounds of the nails that pierced His hands and feet.

2. The staggering mystery of His sinlessness and sufferings.

The world has been full from of old of stories of goodness tortured and evil exalted, which have drawn tears and softened hearts, but which have also bewildered men who would fain believe in a righteous Governor and loving Father. But none of these have cast so black a shadow of suspicion on the government of the world by a good God as does the fate of Jesus, unless it is read in the light of this prophecy. Standing at the cross, faith in God’s goodness and providence can scarcely survive, unless it rises to be faith in the atoning sacrifice of Him who was wounded there for our transgressions.

II. The Servant’s work in His sufferings.

The margin of the Revised Version gives the best rendering-’His soul shall make an offering for sin.’ The word employed for ‘offering’ means a trespass offering, and carries us at once back to the sacrificial system. The trespass offering was distinguished from other offerings. The central idea of it seems to have been to represent sin or guilt as debt, and the sacrifice as making compensation. We must keep in view the variety of ideas embodied in His sacrifice, and how all correspond to realities in our wants and spiritual experience.

Now there are three points here:-

a. The representation that Christ’s death is a sacrifice. Clearly connecting with whole Mosaic system-and that in the sense of a trespass offering. Christ seems to quote this verse in John 10:15, when He speaks of laying down His life, and when He declares that He came to ‘give His life a ransom for many.’ At any rate here is the great word, sacrifice, proclaimed for the first time in connection with Messiah. Here the prophet interprets the meaning of all the types and shadows of the law.

That sacrificial system bore witness to deep wants of men’s souls, and prophesied of One in whom these were all met and satisfied.

b. His voluntary surrender.

He is sacrifice, but He is Priest also. His soul makes the offering, and His soul is the offering and offers itself in concurrence with the Divine Will. It is difficult and necessary to keep that double aspect in view, and never to think of Jesus as an unwilling Victim, nor of God as angry and needing to be appeased by blood.

c. The thought that the true meaning of His sufferings is only reached when we contemplate the effects that have flowed from them. The pleasure of the Lord in bruising Him is a mystery until we see how pleasure of the Lord prospers in the hand of the Crucified.

III. The work of the Servant after death.

Surely this paradox, so baldly stated, is meant to be an enigma to startle and to rouse curiosity. This dead Servant is to see of the travail of His soul, and to prolong His days. All the interpretations of this chapter which refuse to see Jesus in it shiver on this rock. What a contrast there is between platitudes about the spirit of the nation rising transformed from its grave of captivity {which was only very partially the case}, and the historical fulfilment in Jesus Christ! Here, at any rate, hundreds of years before His Resurrection, is a word that seems to point to such a fact, and to me it appears that all fair interpretation is on the side of the Messianic reference.

Note the singularity of special points.

a. Having died, the Servant sees His offspring.

The sacrifice of Christ is the great power which draws men to Him, and moves to repentance, faith, love. His death was the communication of life. Nowhere else in the world’s history is the teacher’s death the beginning of His gathering of pupils, and not only has the dead Servant children, but He sees them. That representation is expressive of the mutual intercourse, strange and deep, whereby we feel that He is truly with us, ‘Jesus Christ, whom having not seen we love.’

b. Having died, the Servant prolongs His days.

He lives a continuous life, without an end, for ever. The best commentary is the word which John heard, as he felt the hand of the Christ laid on his prostrate form: ‘I became dead, and lo, I am alive for evermore.’

c. Having died, the Servant carries into effect the divine purposes.

‘Prosper’ implies progressive advancement. Christ’s Sacrifice carried out the divine pleasure, and by His Sacrifice the divine pleasure is further carried out.

If Christ is the means of carrying out the divine purpose, consider what this implies of divinity in His nature, of correspondence between His will and the divine.

But Jesus not only carries into effect the divine purpose as a consequence of a past act, but by His present energy this dead man is a living power in the world today. Is He not?

The sole explanation of the vitality of Christianity, and the sole reason which makes its message a gospel to any soul, is Christ’s death for the world and present life in the world.


Verse 11

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-V

Isaiah 53:11.

These are all but the closing words of this great prophecy, and are the fitting crown of all that has gone before. We have been listening to the voice of a member of the race to whom the Servant of the Lord belonged, whether we limit that to the Jewish people or include in it all humanity. That voice has been confessing for the speaker and his brethren their common misapprehensions of the Servant, their blindness to the meaning of His sufferings and the mystery of His death. It has been proclaiming the true significance of these as now he had learned them, and has in Isaiah 53:10 touched the mystery of the reward and triumph of the Servant.

That note of His glory and coronation is caught up in the two closing verses, which, in substance, are the continuation of the idea of Isaiah 53:10. But this identity of substance makes the variety of form the more emphatic. Observe the ‘My Servant’ of Isaiah 53:11, and the ‘I will divide’ of Isaiah 53:12. These oblige us to take this as the voice of God. The confession and belief of earth is hushed, that the recognition and the reward of the Servant may be declared from heaven. An added solemnity is thus given to the words, and the prophecy comes round again to the keynote on which it started in Isaiah 52:13, ‘My Servant.’ Notice, too, how the same characteristic is here as in Isaiah 53:10 -that the recapitulation of the sufferings is almost equally prominent with the description of the reward. The two are so woven together that no power can part them. We may take these two verses as setting forth mainly two things-the divine promise that the Servant shall give righteousness to many, and the divine promise that the Servant shall conquer many for Himself.

As to the exposition, ‘of’ here is probably casual, not partitive, as the Authorised Version has it; ‘travail’ is not to be understood in the sense of childbirth, but of toil and suffering; ‘soul’ is equivalent to life. This fruit of His soul’s travail is further defined in the words which follow. The great result which will be beheld by Him and will fill and content His heart is that ‘by His knowledge He shall justify many.’ ‘By His knowledge’ certainly means, by the knowledge of Him on the part of others. The phrase might be taken either objectively or subjectively, but it seems to me that only the former yields an adequate sense. ‘My righteous servant’ is scarcely emphatic enough. The words in the original stand in an unusual order, which might be represented by ‘the righteous one, My servant,’ and is intended to put emphasis on the Servant’s righteousness, as well as to suggest the connection between His righteousness and His ‘justifying,’ in virtue of His being righteous. ‘Justify’ is an unusual form, and means to procure for, or impart righteousness to. ‘The many’ has stress on the article, and is the antithesis not to all, but to few. We might render it ‘the masses,’ an indefinite expression, which if not declaring universality, approaches very near to it, as in Romans 5:19 and Matthew 26:28. ‘He shall bear,’ a future referring to the Servant in a state of exaltation, and pointing to His continuous work after death. This bearing is the root of our righteousness.

We may put the thoughts here in a definite order.

I. The great work which the Servant carries on.

It consists in giving or imparting righteousness. It seems to me that it is out of place to be too narrow here in interpreting so as to draw distinctions between righteousness imparted and righteousness bestowed. We should rather take the general idea of making righteous, making, in fact, like Himself. Note that this is the work which is Christ’s characteristic one. All thoughts of His blessings to the world which omit that are imperfect.

II. The preparation for that making of us righteous.

The roots of our being made righteous by the righteous Servant are found in His bearing our sins. His sin-bearing work is basis of our righteousness. Christ justifies men by giving to them His own righteousness, and taking in turn their sins on Himself that He may expiate them.

Not only ‘did He bear our sins in His own body on the tree,’ but He will bear them in His exaltation to the Throne, and only because He continuously and eternally does so are we justified on earth and shall we be sanctified in heaven.

III. The condition on which He imparts righteousness.

‘His knowledge,’ which is to be taken in the profound Biblical sense as including not only understanding but experience also.

Parallels are found in ‘This is life eternal to know Thee’ [John 17:3], and in ‘That I may know Him’ [Philippians 3:10]. So this prophecy comes very near to the New Testament proclamation of righteousness by faith.

IV. The grand sweep of the Servant’s work.

‘The many’ is indefinite, and its very indefiniteness approximates it to universality. A shadowy vision of a great multitude that no man can number stretches out, as to the horizon, before the prophet. How many they are he knows not. He knows that they are numerous enough to ‘satisfy’ the Servant for all His sufferings. He knows, too, that there is no limit to the happy crowd except that which is set by the necessary condition of joining the bands of ‘the justified’-namely, ‘the knowledge of Him.’ They who receive the benefits which the Servant has died and will live to bring cannot be few; they may be all. If any are shut out, they are self-excluded.

V. The Servant’s satisfaction.

It may be that the word employed means ‘full,’ rather than ‘content,’ but the latter idea can scarcely be altogether absent from it. We have, then, the great hope that the Servant, gazing on the results of His sufferings, will be content, content to have borne them, content with what they have effected.

‘The glory dies not and the grief is past.’

And the ‘grief’ has had for fruit not only ‘glory’ gathering round the thorn-pierced head, but reflected glory shining on the brows of ‘the many,’ whom He has justified and sanctified by their experience of Him and His power. The creative week ended with the ‘rest’ of the Creator, not because His energy was tired and needed repose, but because He had fully carried out His purpose, and saw the perfected idea embodied in a creation that was ‘very good.’ The redemptive work ends with the Servant’s satisfied contemplation of the many whom He has made like Himself, His better creation.


Verse 12

Isaiah

THE SUFFERING SERVANT-VI

Isaiah 53:12.

The first clause of this verse is somewhat difficult. There are two ways of understanding it. One is that adopted in A. V., according to which the suffering Servant is represented as equal to the greatest conquerors. He is to be as gloriously successful in His victory as they have been in theirs. But there are two very strong objections to this rendering-first, that it takes ‘the many’ in the sense of mighty, thus obscuring the identity of the expression here and in the previous verse and in the end of this verse; and secondly, that it gives a very feeble and frigid ending to the prophecy. It does not seem a worthy close simply to say that the Servant is to be like a Cyrus or a Nebuchadnezzar in His conquests.

The other rendering, though there are some difficulties, is to be preferred. According to it ‘the many’ and ‘the strong’ are themselves the prey or spoil. The words might be read, ‘I will apportion to Him the many, and He shall apportion to Himself the strong ones.’

This retains the same meaning of ‘many’ for the same expression throughout the context, and is a worthy ending to the prophecy. The force of the clause is then to represent the suffering Servant as a conqueror, leading back from His conquests a long train of captives, a rich booty.

Notice some points about this closing metaphor.

Mark its singular contrast to the tone of the rest of the prophecy. Note the lowliness, the suffering, the minor key of it all, and then, all at once, the leap up to rapture and triumph. The special form of the metaphor strikes one as singular. Nothing in the preceding context even remotely suggests it. Even the previous clause about ‘making the many righteous’ does not do much to prepare the way for it. Whatever be our explanation of the words, it must be one that does full justice to this metaphor, and presents some conquering power or person, whose victories are brilliant and real enough to be worthy to stand at the close of such a prophecy. We must keep in mind, too, what has been remarked on the two previous verses, that this victorious campaign and growing conquest is achieved after the Servant is dead. That is a paradox. And note that the strength of language representing His activity can scarcely be reconciled with the idea that it is only the post-mortem influence of His life which is meant.

Note, too, the singular blending of God’s power and the Servant’s own activity in the winning of this extended sovereignty. Side by side the two are put. The same verb is used in order to emphasise the intended parallel. ‘I will divide,’ ‘He shall divide.’ I will give Him-He shall conquer for Himself. Remember the intense vehemence with which the Old Testament guards the absolute supremacy of divine power, and how strongly it always puts the thought that God is everything and man nothing. Look at the contrast of the tone when a human conqueror, whose conquests are the result of God’s providence, is addressed [Isaiah 45:1 - Isaiah 45:3]. There is an entire suppression of his personality, not a word about his bravery, his military genius, or anything in him. It is all I, I, I. Remember how, in Isaiah 10:13, one of the sins for which the Assyrian is to be destroyed is precisely that he thought of his victories as due to his own strength and wisdom. So he is indignantly reminded that he is only ‘a staff in Mine hand,’ the axe with which God hewed the nations, whereas here the voice of God Himself speaks, and gives a strange place beside Himself to the will and power of this Conqueror. This feature of the prophecy should be accounted for in any satisfactory interpretation.

Note, too, the wide sweep of the Servant’s dominion, which carries us back to the beginning of this prophecy in Isaiah 52:15, where we hear of the Servant as ‘sprinkling’ {or startling’} many nations, and the ‘kings’ is parallel with the ‘strong’ in this verse. No bounds are assigned to the Servant’s conquests, which are, if not declared to be universal, at least indefinitely extended and striding on to world-wide empire.

These points are plainly here. I do not dilate upon them. But I ask whether any of the interpretations of these words, except one, gives adequate force to them? Is there anything in the history of the restored exiles which corresponds to this picture? Even if you admit the violent hypothesis that there was a better part of the nation, so good that the national sorrows had no chastisement for them, and the other violent hypothesis that the devoutest among the exiles suffered most, and the other that the death and burial and resurrection of the Servant only mean the reformation wrought on Israel by captivity. What is there in the history of Israel which can be pointed at as the conquest of the world? Was the nation that bore the yokes of a Ptolemy, an Antiochus, a Herod, a Caesar, the fulfiller of this dream of world-conquest? There is only one thing which can be called the Jew conquering the world. It is that which, as I believe, is meant here, viz. Christ’s conquest. Apart from that, I know of nothing which would not be ludicrously disproportionate if it were alleged as fulfilment of this glowing prophecy.

This prophetic picture is at least four hundred years before Christ, by the admission of those who bring it lowest down, in their eagerness to get rid of prophecy. The life of Christ does correspond to it, in such a way that, clause by clause, it reads as if it were quite as much a history of Jesus as a prophecy of the Servant. This certainly is an extraordinary coincidence if it be not a prophecy. And there is really no argument against the Messianic interpretation, except dogmatic prejudice-’there cannot be prophecy.’

No straining is needed in order to fit this great prophetic picture of the world-Conqueror to Jesus. Even that, at first sight incongruous, picture of a victor leading long lines of captives, such as we see on Assyrian slabs and Egyptian paintings, is historically true of Him who ‘leads captivity captive,’ and is, through the ages, winning ever fresh victories, and leading His enemies, turned into lovers, in His triumphal progress. He, and He only, really owns men. His slaves have made real self-surrenders to Him. Other conquerors may imprison or load with irons or deport to other lands, but they are only lords of bodies. Jesus’ chains are silken, and bind hearts that are proud of their bonds. He carries off His free prisoners ‘from the power of darkness’ into His kingdom of light. His slaves rejoice to say, ‘I am not my own,’ and he only truly possesses himself who has given himself away to the Conquering Christ. For all these centuries He has been conquering hearts, enthralling and thereby liberating wills, making Himself the life of lives. There is nothing else the least like the bond between Jesus and millions who never saw him. Who among all the leaders of thought or religious teachers has been able to impress his personality on others and to dominate them in the fashion that Jesus has done and is doing to-day? How has He done this thing, which no other man has been able in the least to do? What is His charm, the secret of His power? The prophet has no doubt what it is, and unfolds it to us with a significant ‘For.’ We turn, then, to the prophetic explanation of that worldwide empire and note-

II. The foundation of the Servant’s dominion.

That explanation is given in four clauses which fall into two pairs. They remarkably revert to the thought of the Servant’s sufferings, but in how different a tone these are now spoken of, when they are no longer regarded as the results of man’s blind failure to see His beauty, or as inflicted by the mysterious ‘pleasure of Jehovah,’ but as the causes of His triumph! Echoes of both the two first clauses are heard from the lips of Jesus. As He passed beneath the tremulous shadow of the olives of Gethsemane, He appealed for the companionship of the three, by an all but solitary revelation of His weakness and sorrow, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; abide ye here and watch with Me.’ And even more distinctly did He lay His hand on this prophecy when He ended all His words in the upper room with ‘This which is written must be fulfilled in Me, And He was reckoned with “transgressors.”‘ May we not claim Jesus as endorsing the Messianic interpretation of this prophecy? He gazed on the portrait painted ages before that night of sorrow, and saw in it His own likeness, and said, That is meant for Me. Some of us feel that, kenosis or no kenosis, He is the best judge of who is the original of the prophet’s portrait.

The two final clauses are separated from the preceding by the emphatic introduction of the pronominal nominative, and cohere closely as gathering up for the last time all the description of the Servant, and as laying broad and firm the basis of His dominion, in the two great facts which sum up His office and between them stretch over the past and the future. ‘He bare the sin of many, and maketh intercession for the transgressors.’ The former of these two clauses brings up the pathetic picture of the scapegoat who ‘bore upon him all their iniquities into a solitary land.’ The Servant conquers hearts because He bears upon Him the grim burden which a mightier hand than Aaron’s has made to meet on His head, and because He bears it away. The ancient ceremony, and the prophet’s transference of the words describing it to his picture of the Servant who was to be King, floated before John the Baptist, when he pointed his brown, thin finger at Jesus and cried: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ The goat had borne the sins of one nation; the prophet had extended the Servant’s ministry indefinitely, so as to include unnumbered ‘many’; John spoke the universal word, ‘the world.’ So the circles widened.

But it is not enough to bear away sins. We need continuous help in the present. Our daily struggles, our ever-felt weakness, all the ills that flesh is heir to, cry aloud for a mightier than we to be at our sides. So on the Servant’s bearing the sins of the many there follows a continuous act of priestly intercession, in which, not merely by prayer, but by meritorious and prevailing intervention, He makes His own the cause of the many whose sins He has borne.

On these two acts His dominion rests. Sacrifice and Intercession are the foundations of His throne.

The empire of men’s hearts falls to Him because of what He has done and is doing for them. He who is to possess us absolutely must give Himself to us utterly. The empire falls to Him who supplies men’s deepest need. He who can take away men’s sins rules. He who can effectually undertake men’s cause will be their King.

If Jesus is or does anything less or else, He will not rule men for ever. If He is but a Teacher and a Guide, oblivion, which shrouds all, will sooner or later wrap Him in its misty folds. That His name should so long have resisted its influence is due altogether to men having believed Him to be something else. He will exercise an everlasting dominion only if He have brought in an everlasting righteousness. He will sit King for ever, if and only if He is a priest for ever. All other rule is transient.

A remarkable characteristic of this entire prophecy is the frequent repetition of expressions conveying the idea of sufferings borne for others. In one form or another that thought occurs, as we reckon, eleven times, and it is especially frequent in the last verses of the chapter. Why this perpetual harking back to that one aspect? It is to be further noticed that throughout there is no hint of any other kind of work which this Servant had to do. He fulfils His service to God and man by being bruised for men’s iniquities. He came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and the chief form of His ministry was that He gave His life a ransom for the many. He came not to preach a gospel, but to die that there might be a gospel to preach. The Cross is the centre of His work, and by it He becomes the Centre of the world.

Look once more at the sorrowful, august figure that rose before the prophet’s eye-with its strange blending of sinlessness and sorrow, God’s approval and God’s chastisement, rejection and rule, death and life, abject humiliation and absolute dominion. Listen to the last echoes of the prophet’s voice as it dies on our ear-’He bore the sins of the many.’ And then hearken how eight hundred years after another voice takes up the echoes-but instead of pointing away down the centuries, points to One at his side, and cries, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’ Look at that life, that death, that grave, that resurrection, that growing dominion, that inexhaustible intercession-and say, ‘Of whom speaketh the prophet this?’

May we all be able to answer with clear confidence, ‘These things saith Esaias when he saw His glory and spake of Him.’ May we all take up the ancient confession: ‘Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . 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.’

 


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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Isaiah 53:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/isaiah-53.html.

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