Isaiah has often been called ‘the fifth gospel’ because of the great detail in has in depicting the life of Jesus. When we read through Isaiah 53 I think we can see that this is justified as it depicts the suffering and death of the Messiah, not just the physical aspects but why he died.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIV)
After describing the coming Messiah as someone who would not be physically attractive but instead being a person who was despised and rejected, Isaiah details what some of that rejection involved. As we look at the words he used to describe this – ‘suffering’, ‘afflicted’, ’pierced’, ‘wounds’ – we see how well this describes exactly what happened to Jesus when he was crucified.
Although it is easy to see that this is exactly what happened to Jesus, notice what Isaiah said about the reason that he would go through this: “he took up our pain…our suffering…our transgressions…our iniquities…brought us peace…we are healed…the iniquity of us all.” Even though he was being executed, and people would consider that it was a punishment by God. The reality was that he wouldn’t go through all of this because of anything he did. It was because of our sins, because “we all, like sheep, have gone astray” by trying to do it our way that the Messiah would die. He died for us.
“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. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 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.” (Isaiah 53:7-9)
As we continue reading the details Isaiah gives, it is hard to believe that he wasn’t a witness to Jesus’ crucifixion – yet this was written around 700 years before the event! The Messiah would be silent as a “sheep before its shearers”. As we recall the events of the mock-trial that Jesus was subjected to we see that all of this happened. No one protested, despite it being a mockery of justice. And he was given a grave with the rich in his death, being buried in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
But why would this happen in this way? Why did this happen to Jesus? It was “for the transgression of my people he was punished”. It was because we sin. He had done nothing wrong. He died for us.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin…he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:10,12)
Although we shudder at such a price that had to be paid because we sin, we realise that this was the way God had planned it. Jesus’ life was an offering for our sin. He took on our sin. He paid the price that we could not pay. He died for us.
Because he died for us may we live for him.
Readings for next week: Isaiah 51-62