THE SUFFERING SERVANT
Rev. Francis Balla, (Isaiah 52: 13--53: 1-12)
(Presented at Temple Israel, Sharon) 12/112017
1. Historical Background of Isaiah
2. The Messianic Prophecy
3. The prophetic fulfillment (Internal evidence)
4. The prophetic fulfillment (External evidence)
5. Personal Journey
I. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF ISAIAH: (740 BC-686 BC)
The Kingdom of Israel was known as the United Monarch between 1050 -930 BC. It was divided into two kingdoms in 930 B.C. Twelve Tribes moved to the north forming Northern Kingdom (Israel 930-722 BC). Two tribes moved to the south forming a Southern Kingdom (Judah 930-586 BC). God calls the prophet Isaiah during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isa 1:1) Under Jotham and Uzziah the conditions deteriorated. During Ahaz’s reign Assyria became a superpower and deported Judah’s sister kingdom Israel in 722 B.C. King Ahaz saw, Syria and Israel as greater threats. Isaiah’s ministry is placed between 740 BC-686 B.C.
Isaiah tried to reassure Ahaz, asking he only have faith in God, but Ahaz refused and later on in 701 BC, during Hezekiah’s reign Assyria ravaged the Judean country side, and Jerusalem itself almost fell. Isaiah chapter 40, begins a major section that looks ahead to Judah’s return from Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC. The later parts of the book look even beyond Isaiah’s time, and contain several prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah.
The New testament finds in many of these passages, including some in the first part of the book, prophecies about the Messiah. The most striking of these relate to Jesus, miraculous birth (Isaiah 7:4), and his suffering and death (Isaiah 53)
II. THE MESSIANIC PROPHECY (Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12)
This servant song makes some of the clearest references to the work of Jesus to be found in the O.T, Jesus Himself taught His disciples that He fulfilled at least part of it: Luke 22:37, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” (Isaiah 53:12)
Isaiah 53:1, “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Interestingly Isaiah started with a question, it looks like the audience of his time had hard time to hear, understand and believe this prophecy regarding the suffering servant. Who is this suffering servant that Isaiah was talking about? Down through the centuries, to the first century AD, this question has puzzled many a people and continues to puzzle many even today.
Here is just one encounter of an Ethiopian Eunuch around 70 AD, who had hard time understanding this text. He needed someone who could explain it to him. Acts 8:26-40, Let me summarize: An Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasure of the Queen of the Ethiopians (like our Secretary of Treasury), was returning home from worshipping in Jerusalem. In the chariot reading the book of the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit directed Philip to go and talk to this man. Philip heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. Do you understand what you are reading? Phillip asked. He said, how can I unless someone explains it to me. He invited Philip to ride along with him in the Chariot. This was what the eunuch was reading, Vs,32-33“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” Isaiah 53:7-8 The eunuch asked Philip, please tell me, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else? Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him how that was fulfilled in Jesus. In the end the Ethiopian Eunuch believed in Jesus, was baptized in the desert and went home rejoicing. This is one incident, unless under careful explanation, this prophecy remains one of the most miss understood Messianic prophecies. Let me unpack who is the “suffering servant,” in this prophecy: In Isaiah, there are five passages called the “servant texts).
They are: (Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13—53:1-12). God’s “servant” can be identified as corporate Israel, God’s people for example: Isaiah 41:8-9, “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen.” Isaiah 42:19-20, “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?” Isaiah 44:1, “But now listen, Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.” Vs21 “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you.”
These are dealing with the servant being the corporate Israel. Yet this figure is also to be identified as an “individual who will restore Israel.” Isaiah 49:5-6 “And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength—he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This begs a question who is this servant that the prophet is referring to here? Here are some of the things that the servant will accomplish:
1. He will bring back Jacob (Isaiah 49:5-6) 2. He will be a light to the nations (Isa 42:6, 49:6). Luke 2:32 “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 3. He will bring hope to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1-7).
Matt 12:17-21, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations…In his name the nations will put their hope.” 4. He will open the blind eyes, release the prisoners (Isaiah 42:7, Isa 35:5-6, Isaiah 61:1-2,) see Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
5. He will justify many bearing their inquiries (Isaiah 53:11) This servant figure is also known as the “suffering servant.” This brings me to ask us a question, according to the prophecy of Isaiah who is this suffering servant? Who has or will fit the criteria? This is where my Christian upbringing and, studying the scriptures comes into the picture. Reading the Bible that was directly translated from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts into my vernacular language called Telugu, I always saw and believed, the suffering servant as Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Jesus was like a lamb that was led to the slaughter. I believe this passage was referring to Jesus’ death on the cross, it was pointing to the Lamb of God who bears the sins of Israel upon himself. So, the servant is central to Israel’s salvation, but it is his death that will ultimately accomplish God’s purpose in bringing Jacob and being a light to the nations (= Gentiles)
More than any other prophet Isaiah envisioned that, during this time of restoration, the nations will come and worship God in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4) In accordance with God’s redemptive purposes, Isaiah sees a time when the nations will be blessed by God. (Isa 19:23-24) Isaiah announces that when God’s righteous king rules, the “nations” will turn to the root of Jesse (Isa 11:10) It took about 700 years, to see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s message. Let me share some internal, external evidence, and my personal story.
III. INTERNAL EVIDENCE:
The four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded their encounter with Jesus, his ministry, death and resurrection. They often quoted several OT prophets, including from Isaiah 53. Here are a few scriptures that give us the internal evidence as to Jesus being the prophesied Messiah. Matthew begins his gospel with these words, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He records a series of 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the deportation, and from the deportation to the birth of the Messiah. This is to establish that Jesus was indeed the, “seed of Abraham” “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed, “meaning one person, who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16
Listen to the prophecy of Simeon who took the baby Jesus in his arms at the time of dedication in the temple, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32. When Isaiah saw that the Servant will be a light to the nations, he was effectively saying that he would be a light to the nations.”
During Jesus’ ministry one day he went to a Synagogue he was given a scroll to read from, guess where did he read from? Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor...” Then remarkably says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Let’s look at a few from Isaiah 53, and see how precisely they were fulfilled during the death and resurrection of Jesus. Isaiah 53:3, “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.”
Fulfilment: Luke 18:31-33, “31 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” Fulfilment: This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Mat 8:17
Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Matthew 26:63, “Jesus remained silent.” Matthew 27:14
Isaiah 53:9, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” Matthew 27:57, “As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.” Isaiah, 53:11 “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” Romans 5: 18-19 “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
IV EXTERNAL AVIDENCE
What began as a first Church in Jerusalem, with about 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost, became a world-wide movement of people from many nations. People from far ends of the earth have been justified and brought into the Kingdom of God as they put their faith in the completed work of redemption. Even after 2000 years, the gospel of Jesus Christ is bearing much fruit gaining around 2 billion followers of Christ in the worldwide Church of God. Though in the USA the Church attendance may seem to be declining, in Africa, Asia, in Latin America it is increasing rapidly. World’s largest single Church is the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul South Korea with membership of 800,000 people. There is another mega Church in Nigeria. Etc. These are some of the external evidences of how the Suffering Servant Jesus Christ bearing the sins of the world, healing the broken hearted and setting people free who are imprisoned to their own guilt and shame. We believe that one-day Jesus Christ will come back to earth, “in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:27 One of the disciples of Christ, John the Evangelist saw how Jesus will be coming to the earth in the last book of the Bible, Revelation 1:7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds, “and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So, shall it be! Amen.
V. MY PERSONAL JOURNEY
Sometimes people have a misnomer, that Christianity is a western religion, but the truth of the matter is it is originated in the East, in Jerusalem from there it spread to the rest of the world. One of the twelve disciples of Jesus who was a skeptic and known as the “Doubting Thomas, when he was convinced that Jesus Christ was indeed the prophesied Messiah according to Isaiah, he was willing to die for the one who died for him.
Thomas travelled to India in the first century AD, preaching the gospel to the high cast Brahmins. Many were converted to Christianity. Eventually he was martyred for his faith, his tomb is still there in a city called Chennai in the southern part of India.
I was born and brought up in a 4th generation Christian family in a coastal village in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. India is the land of millions of Hindu gods. Approximately 80% of all Indians are Hindus. Four generations ago my family, too were Hindus. My great grandfather became a believer of Jesus through the efforts of some missionaries from UK.
I attend church regularly and read my bible but never had a close relationship with Jesus. My grandmother used to pray for my salvation earnestly. Since I did not have any bad habits like my friends I thought I was a good Christian hence that would get me to heaven. One day while I was reading a book about "The present and the near prophesied future,” Fear struck me that I would be left behind if Christ came back to the earth that day. By the end of reading the book I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my life, and that decision changed my life completely.
Over the years Jesus, healed my broken heart, forgave my sins and has given me a purpose to live for Him. After my graduation in 1985, I joined YWAM serving with them for 20 years, involved in preaching the gospel, teaching, discipling young people and challenging believers to love and live for God. I’ve been married to a wonderful woman from the Netherlands for 22 years, we are raising together our three teenage daughters. I graduated with an MDiv from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in 2008. I’ve been in pastoral ministry in Quincy MA for eight years and currently I am pastoring at Hope Church in Sharon MA. It has been an exciting journey to get to know so many wonderful people in Sharon. I enjoy working with the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association to make Sharon a better place.
Bibliography: CASKET EMPTY, By Carol M. Kaminski