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Sermon Bible Commentary

Isaiah 53



Verse 2

Isaiah 53:2

"Religion is a weariness." Such is the judgment commonly passed, often avowed, concerning the greatest of blessings which Almighty God has bestowed upon us. And when God gave the blessing, He at the same time foretold that such would be the judgment of the world upon it, even as manifested in the gracious person of Him whom He sent to give it to us. Not that this prediction excuses our deadness to it; this dislike of the religion given by God Himself—this distaste for its very name—must obviously be an insult to the Giver. Consider human life in some of its stages and conditions, in order to impress upon you the fact of this contrariety between ourselves and our Maker.

I. "Religion is a weariness." So feel even children before they can well express their meaning. Consider their amusements, their enjoyments, what they hope, what they desire, what they scheme, and what they dream about themselves in time future, when they grow up; and say what place religion holds in their hearts. Watch the reluctance with which they turn to religious duties, to saying their prayers or reading the Bible, and then judge.

II. Take next the case of young persons when they first enter into life. Is not religion associated in their minds with gloom, melancholy, and weariness? When men find their pleasure and satisfaction lie in society which proscribes religion, and when they deliberately and habitually prefer those amusements which have necessarily nothing to do with religion, such persons cannot view religion as God views it.

III. Passing to the more active occupations of life, we find that here too religion is confessedly felt to be wearisome; it is out of place. The transactions of worldly business find a way directly to the heart; they rouse, they influence. The name of religion, on the other hand, is weak and unimportant; it contains no spell to kindle the feelings of man, to make the heart beat with anxiety, and to produce activity and perseverance.

IV. The natural contrariety between man and his Maker is still more strikingly shown by the confessions of men of the world who have given some thought to the subject, and viewed society with somewhat of a philosophical spirit. Such men treat the demands of religion with disrespect and negligence, on the ground of their being unnatural.

V. That religion is in itself a weariness is seen even in the conduct of the better sort of persons who really, on the whole, are under the influence of its spirit. So dull and uninviting is calm and practical religion, that religious persons are ever exposed to the temptation of looking out for excitements of one sort or other, to make it pleasurable to them.

VI. "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." It is not His loss that we love Him not; it is our loss. He is all-blessed, whatever becomes of us. He is not less blessed because we are far from Him. Woe unto us, if in the day in which He comes from heaven, we see nothing desirable or gracious in His wounds; but instead, have made for ourselves an ideal blessedness, different from that which will be manifested to us in Him.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. v., p. 9 (see also J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vii., p. 13).

References: Isaiah 53:2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1075; R. Milman, The Love of the Atonement, pp. 34, 46, 59, 66, 83, 91, 102. Isaiah 53:2, Isaiah 53:3.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 277.

Verse 3

Isaiah 53:3

This was one of the marks by which Israel was to know his Christ. He was to be a Man of sorrows. The power by which He was to draw men to Himself, the charm by which He was to keep men near Himself, was not to be the charm of cheerfulness, not the pleasantness of His speech or the gladness of His character; it was to be just the opposite of this; it was to be His acquaintance with grief.

I. His own personal life was a sorrowful one. He was away from home, from His Father's presence. He was a Stranger in a strange land. From His childhood He was full of thoughts which He could not utter, because, if uttered, they were not understood. He was a lonely man. His sympathy with others by no means implied their sympathy with Him.

II. But His sorrows, like His labours, were for others. (1) Jesus Christ sorrowed over bodily suffering; (2) He sorrowed over mental suffering; (3) He sorrowed over spiritual suffering.

III. He was a Man of sorrows also, and chiefly, in relation to sin. (1) He had to see sin; (2) He had to bear sin.

IV. The subject teaches (1) that if it is as a Man of sorrows that Jesus Christ comes to us, it must be, first of all, as a memento of the fitness of sorrow to our condition as sinful men. (2) Again, only a Man of sorrows could be a Saviour for all men, and for the whole of life. (3) Sorrow, however deep, has its solaces and its compensations. (a) Whatever it be, it is of the nature of sorrow to bring a man nearer to truth, nearer to reality, nearer therefore to hope. (b) Sorrow makes a man more useful. It gives him a new experience and a new sympathy.

V. The question remains, How do we stand, we ourselves, in reference to this Saviour?

C. J. Vaughan, Christ the Light of the World, p. 88.

I. In trying to bring into view some of the leading sorrows of our Lord's life, it is impossible not to begin with one which lay at the bottom of them all—that, namely, which arose from His close contact with the sin and defilement of this fallen and guilty world. The fact of our Lord's becoming a man involved the necessity of His living in immediate contact with what of all things in the universe was the most repulsive, hateful, and horrible to His soul. No doubt there were many beautiful things in the world, and even in men's lives, that could not but interest Him; but there was an awful drawback in the case of all. It was a world in arms against its Lord, a world divorced from its God.

II. The sorrow of unrequited love. "He came to His own and His own received Him not." There is something very sad in the repulse of a generous love and a love that seeks truly and disinterestedly the welfare of those loved; and we learn from Scripture that the rejection of His loving offers cut very deeply into the heart of Jesus.

III. A third grief arose from what is called, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the contradiction of sinners against Himself. He had to endure a great amount of keen, active opposition, often of a peculiarly trying kind. Looking at the number and variety of His enemies, He might have said, "They compassed Me about like bees." Hardly ever did He undertake an unembarrassed journey, or spend an easy hour. The contradiction of sinners became only more intense the longer He laboured. And it was the more trying because it was so successful.

IV. Among the sorrows of Jesus we notice, next, those which came from the infirmities of His own disciples. (1) There were vexations arising from their want of understanding, want of sympathy with Him in the great purposes of His life. (2) There were disappointments arising from their want of faith and of the courage of faith.

V. The last of the special griefs of Jesus was the sorrow of His last conflict; the grief, so peculiar and so intense, of what He often called His hour. It is apparent, from all the records of His life, that our blessed Lord looked forward to His last span of life as one of peculiar horror. At this solemn crisis of His life, more than at any other part of it, it was His lot to feel the position of the sinbearer and the scapegoat—the position of one who stood in the sinner's place and bore the sinner's doom. It was then that God said, "Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow."

W. G. Blaikie, Glimpses of the Inner Life of Our Lord, p. 151.

I. There is an instance in Scripture, but we believe it stands alone, of Christ feeling and displaying gladness of spirit. A solitary exception there is to the melancholy description, "A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" and by examining the exception we may get clearer views of the general character of Christ's sufferings. "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit"—an hour in which there had been given Him such proofs of the prevalent power of His name as assured Him that through His sacrifice the kingdom of Satan would be finally demolished. In that hour the Saviour forgot the load of His griefs, and beheld Himself through His sacrifice exalted as a conqueror. For a moment He saw "the travail of His soul and was satisfied."

II. Christ seems to make it matter of thanksgiving that the Gospel had been "hid from the wise and prudent and revealed only to babes." And surprise might naturally be felt at this. Could the joy of the Redeemer have sprung from the thought that any were to perish? Is it not strange that an instance like this—an instance in which gladness is associated with anything so fearful as the everlasting destruction of the proud and self-sufficient—that this should be the single recorded exception to the accuracy of the melancholy description set forth in our text? It cannot be that Christ gave thanks because His gospel was hid from the wise and prudent; but He rejoices that though God had hid these things from the wise and prudent, He had nevertheless revealed them unto babes. Why might not the Saviour give thanks that the propagation of His gospel was to be such as would secure the honour of His Father? When with prophetic glance He looked onward to the struggle of His Church, and saw that in every land and in every age there would flow in multitudes of the mean and illiterate, while those excluded would be, for the most part, the mighty and the learned—excluded only because too proud to enter; and when He thought how God would prevent the glorying of any flesh in His presence by thus choosing the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and the foolish things to confound the wise, and thus out of the mouths of babes and sucklings perfecting praise,—we know not why He might not, in perfect consistence with that love which embraced every child of man, rejoice in the prospect on which He gazed—ay, though this rejoicing was the single exception to that intense, that ever overpressing sadness which is indicated in the emphatic and plaintive description of our text—"A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2331.

References: Isaiah 53:3.—W. Brock, Penny Pulpit, No. 693; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 79; D. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 53; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1099; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 336; J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 102; R. Milman, The Love of the Atonement, pp. 117, 138, 150, 171, 183, 202.

Verse 3-4

Isaiah 53:3-4

I. Consider first the humiliation of our blessed Lord. Not only did He suffer extreme pain in body, but also in mind. The divinity of our Lord does not mitigate the intensity of His sufferings. A man's sorrows are mercifully shortened by his ignorance, short-sightedness, and infirmity; but Christ knew all, even the depth of sin in every heart; He foresaw all, even to the hour of death for each single soul for which He was suffering, even to the Day of Judgment, even to the endless misery of those who would crucify Him afresh. We see in Him no sign of a Divine power superseding human feeling and destroying it, nor anything of the hard indifference and pride of an earthly hero; but that which is most human and tender—pitiful and unswerving patience. In His parting with friends, in His meeting death, in His fear and trust, in His considerate-ness for others, He did and suffered all with the feelings and affections of man.

II. Notice the glory transparent through His humiliation. The result of these sufferings is salvation to others and glory to Himself. There appears even in His hours of deepest distress a character of unearthly greatness. At His first word, "I am He," the multitude goes backward and falls with a shock upon the ground. Just now He leant on disciples for support; again He shelters them from harm, saying, "If ye seek Me, let these go their way." Just now He stooped to take comfort of an angel's hand; again by His Divine authority He keeps back whole legions of angels, lest they should interrupt His work. Likewise His death—though death is a very sign of human weakness—displays His power. He lays His life down freely, as He took it up; so that, in the sweet words of St. Bernard, we may truly say, "Who of us so gently boweth his head when he desires to sleep? To die is indeed of the weakness of man, but to die thus is of the power of God."

C. W. Furse, Sermons Preached at Richmond, p. 208.

Verse 4

Isaiah 53:4

Jesus Christ is the comforter we need, for—

I. He is an afflicted Man, the most afflicted of all the human race, a Man of sorrows. If He wishes to sympathise He has only to recall the past. We cannot take a single step in our gloomy path without finding some traces of Him. We cannot light upon an affliction through which He has not passed before us. He knows what sorrow is, and this is why He can comfort. We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

II. Jesus Christ has not only shared our sorrows, He has redeemed our sins. Observe, that He truly represents humanity, not merely because He is its ideal type, but also because He has entered into full communion with its sufferings and made Himself partaker of its destiny. He has thrown Himself into the midst of the battle-field; He has in some sort covered us with His body, and so the chastisement which we deserved has fallen on Him. It is precisely because He is the only man on earth who, as a representative of our race, endured a punishment which He did not deserve, and did not add a fresh sin to a fresh pain, that His suffering rises to the height of a redeeming sacrifice. This redemption was completed on the Cross. It would not have been enough for the Son of man to have been pierced with all the sorrows of humanity except the last. It would not have been enough for Him to have endured all the consequences of man's rebellion except the last. Death is the wages of sin, and the striking sign of God's condemnation resting on a guilty world. These wages have been received for us by Him who did not deserve them, because He freely made Himself a partaker of our misery in order to save us. Our comforter is the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. In all our distresses, therefore, and in all our shipwrecks, there is but one shelter, and that is the Cross.

E. de Pressensé, The Mystery of Suffering, p. 16 (see also Pulpit Analyst, vol. iii., p. 205).

References: Isaiah 53:4.—J. Baldwin Brown, The Divine Mysteries, p. 5; C. Clemance, To the Light Through* the Cross, p. 35. Isaiah 53:4, Isaiah 53:5.—R. Tuck, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 8. Isaiah 53:4-6.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 200. Isaiah 53:5.—Bishop Moorhouse, The Expectation of the Christ, p. 63; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 249; Ibid., Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 834, vol. xviii., No. 1068; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 91; Pulpit Analyst, vol. i., p. 702. Isaiah 53:5, Isaiah 53:6.—C. Clemance, To the Light Through the Cross, p. 46. Isaiah 53:6.—A. Watson, Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 2nd series, vol. ii., p. 68; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 694, vol. xvi., No. 925; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 94; W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. ii., p. 112; C. Clemance, To the Light Through the Cross, p. 195.

Verse 7

Isaiah 53:7

St. Peter makes it almost a description of the Christian, that he loves Him whom he has not seen; speaking of Christ, he says, "Whom having not seen, ye love." Unless we have a true love of Christ, we are not His true disciples; and we cannot love Him unless we have heartfelt gratitude to Him; and we cannot duly feel gratitude unless we feel keenly what He suffered for us. No one who will but solemnly think over the history of those sufferings, as drawn out for us in the Gospels, but will gradually gain, through God's grace, a sense of them, will in a measure realise them, will in a measure be as if he saw them, will feel towards them as being not merely a tale written in a book, but as a true history, as a series of events which took place.

I. Our Lord is called a lamb in the text, that is, He was as defenceless and as innocent as a lamb is. Since, then, Scripture compares Him to this inoffensive and unprotected animal, we may, without presumption or irreverence, take the image as a means of conveying to our minds those feelings which our Lord's sufferings should excite in us. Consider how very horrible it is to read the accounts which sometimes meet us of cruelties exercised on brute animals. What is it that moves our very hearts and sickens us so much at cruelty shown to poor brutes? (1) They have done no harm; (2) they have no power of resistance; it is the cowardice and tyranny of which they are the victims which makes their sufferings so especially touching. He who is higher than the angels deigned to humble Himself even to the state of the brute creation, as the Psalm says, "I am a worm, and no man; a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people."

II. Take another example, and you will see the same thing still more strikingly. How overpowered should we be, not at the sight only, but at the very hearing, of cruelties shown to a little child—and why so? For the same two reasons, because it was so innocent, and because it was so unable to defend itself. We feel the horror of this, and yet we can bear to read of Christ's sufferings without horror. There is an additional circumstance of cruelty to affect us in Christ's history, which no instance of a brute animal's or of a child's sufferings can have; our Lord was not only guiltless and defenceless, but He had come among His persecutors in love.

III. Suppose that some aged and venerable person whom we have known as long as we could recollect anything, and loved and reverenced,—suppose such a one rudely seized by fierce men, made a laughing-stock, struck, spit on, scourged, and at last exposed with all his wounds to the gaze of a rude multitude who came and jeered him: what would be our feelings? But what is all this to the suffering of the holy Jesus, which we can bear to read of as a matter of course. A spirit of grief and lamentation is expressly mentioned in Scripture as a characteristic of those who turn to Christ. If then we do not sorrow, have we turned to Him?

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. v., p. 86 (see also J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vii., p. 133).

References: Isaiah 53:7.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 94; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi., No. 1543; G. S. Barrett, Old Testament Outlines, p. 221. Isaiah 53:7, Isaiah 53:8.—C. Clemance, To the Light Through the Cross, p. 57. Isaiah 53:9.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 286. Isaiah 53:10.—J. Parsons, Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 440; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 173, vol. x., No. 561; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 93; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 147; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 352; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1966; C. Clemance, To the Light Through the Cross, pp. 100, 106,115, 123, 130.

Verse 11

Isaiah 53:11

I. The travail of His soul. This seems to be a short expression to indicate the whole of Christ's humiliation, more especially in its inner and more spiritual aspect. We may take note of some of the ingredients that entered into the cup, although we cannot measure the degree of their bitterness:—(1) He who was from all eternity the beloved of His Father put His glory off and put on our nature. (2) He severed Himself from the company of the holy, who loved and worshipped Him, for the company of the unholy, who in feeble friendship vexed, or in open enmity crucified Him. (3) "He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (4) He met personally with the person of the wicked one in our quarrel. (5) His heart was often sore vexed by ignorance, selfishness, unfaithfulness, even of His own selected disciples. (6) The people for whose sake He came into the world—the Israel among whom He was born and bred—would none of Him. (7) The office of the priesthood, which He loved and honoured as God's institute to hold up the promise of redemption, was by those who held it prostituted to reject the counsel of God. (8) But alone, and above all, incomprehensible to us, yet awful, both for the part that we know and the part that we know not, is the desertion by the Father and the final descent of wrath, due to sin, on the Redeemer's soul.

II. The fruit that results from the travail of His soul. It is not to the sufferings in themselves that the Redeemer looks. Herein appears the greatness of His love. He looks over and past the travail of His soul, and fixes His regards on the results that it secures. The fruit is that twofold gain which was celebrated in the angels' song at the birth of Christ, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to the children of men." It is not merely the deliverance of a lost world from the doom that it deserved, it is the honour given to God by that deliverance. The means and end are linked together as the stalk and the grain in the cornfield; by the redemption of sinners God is glorified; and this double blessing is the fruit springing out of His soul's travail to which the risen Redeemer looks back yet with joy.

III. The satisfaction which the Saviour experiences in the results of the travail of His soul. He does not pass by, when His saving effort has been put forth, as if that were all; He lingers on the spot, and looks and longs to see men actually saved through His suffering for sin. "His delights were with the sons of men" from the past eternity, in anticipation of His saving work; and now that the work is completed, He is not content that His suffering should be fruitless. More than weary benighted watchers wait for the dawning of the day; the Lord who suffered for us longs and looks for the multitudes coming to Himself for life, as the fruits of His dying.

W. Arnot, The Anchor of the Soul, p. 52.

I. Mark the singularity and greatness which these words would seem to teach us to attach to Christ. "He shall see of the travail of His soul." These words imply a distinction between Christ and the Church, a distinction between Him and all the saved from among men. He, looking upon men, shall see the travail of His soul; they, looking to Him, shall behold the Source of their spiritual existence.

II. The passage indicates Christ's peculiar work, and attaches pre-eminent importance to that. The expression, "the travail of His soul," implies that all the glory of the Church, all in the salvation of sinners, the perfection of the faithful, whatever, in the consequences of His undertaking connected either with God or man, can be regarded as a source of satisfaction to Messiah—all is to be attributed to the fact that "His soul was made an offering for sin."

III. The next idea which the text warrants is the greatness of the results which are to flow from the Redeemer's sufferings. "He shall be satisfied."

IV. Consider the grounds of the Saviour's satisfaction, the results of His work to the world and man: (1) in the inconceivable number of the saved; (2) in the inconceivable perfection of their character.

T. Binney, Sermons in King's Weighhouse Chapel, 2nd series, p. 1.

References: Isaiah 53:11.—Pulpit Analyst, vol. ii., p. 512; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 146. Isaiah 53:12.—J. Keble, Sermons for Holy Week, p. 153; C. Clemance, To the Light Through the Cross, pp. 134, 149; T. Monod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 327; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii., No. 458, vol. xxiii., No. 1385; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 90. Isaiah 54:1.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 649; Ibid., Evening by Evening, p. 243; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 18. Isaiah 54:1-7.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 531.


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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 53:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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