“The Suffering Servant”
Isaiah’s song of the Suffering Servant is one of the masterpieces of literature in the Old Testament, and one of the most striking pieces of prophecy for the suffering, death and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant.
The song has fives stanzas of three verses each: 52:13-15, 53:1-3, 53:4-6, 53:7-8, and 53:9-12. At the beginning of each stanza the first line will give the theme of that stanza: 1) He will act wisely and be raised up; 2) Who would have believed it; 3) His suffering was vicarious and substitutionary; 4) He accepted his suffering silently and willingly; and 5) It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.
This devotion will look at the third stanza:
4 Surely He took our infirmities,
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered Him stricken by God,
smitten 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 upon Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray,
each one of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid upon Him
the iniquity of us all.
In the development of the message of the song, the people concluded that the Servant’s sufferings must have been penal; but they also realized that while that was true it was not for His own sins that He was being punished, but for their sins. To understand what we mean when we say theologically that the death of Jesus was vicarious and substitutionary, you just need to think about this stanza a little. Most suffering in the world is vicarious, for someone else. Parents know this when they are up all night suffering with a sick child. People in trouble spots in the world know that they are suffering because of things other people have done. But while a lot of suffering is vicarious, none of it is redemptive. A person could die for someone else, but that will not deal with the question of sin. God could have blotted Moses out and let the Israelite idolaters live—but that would only buy them time here on earth. No, it would take the work of the LORD God Himself to bring about the redemption of our race by suffering in its place.
Make a little chart of the verse: what we contribute, what it cost Him, and what we gain:
infirmities stricken by God peace with God
sorrows smitten and afflicted healed
gone astray punishment
turned to his own way wounds
iniquity iniquity laid on Him
Here is vicarious, redemptive suffering: all our sins and all our infirmities were placed on this Suffering Servant who would pay for them with His blood, so they we could be made perfectly whole and at peace with God. That is why this Friday is called Good.