What’s Isaiah’s theme? His theme is Jesus. The chapter is quoted seven times in the NT (Matt. 8:17; Mk. 15:28; Jn. 12:38; Acts 8:32–33; Rom. 10:16; 1 Pet. 2:22, 24–25). Equally important is the fact that this chapter is quoted by each of the major NT authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and Peter. They use this chapter to work out the theological significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
What’s Isaiah’s purpose? His purpose is to account for man’s unbelief. He asks two questions in v. 1, which John quotes as follows: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’” (Jn. 12:37–38).
(1) The Reason for Unbelief (vv. 2–3)
Isaiah explains why people don’t believe in the Servant. In a word, He’s unappealing.
The Servant is unimportant to the natural man (v. 2). His family isn’t powerful. His family isn’t wealthy. His family isn’t connected. In a word, He’s nobody. Who wants to associate with someone so insignificant? We’re drawn to people of power and influence.
The Servant is unattractive to the natural man (v. 2). There’s nothing appealing about Him. He isn’t the kind of man that people naturally follow – no charm, no beauty, no glamour, and no charisma. Who wants to associate with someone so ordinary?
The Servant is unpopular to the natural man (v. 3). He’s so miserable in terms of His disposition that He’s despised. No-one wants to keep company with Him. Who wants to hang out with someone so serious?
(2) The Remedy for Unbelief (vv. 4–12)
Isaiah explains why people should believe in the Servant. He says four things about the Servant’s suffering, designed to make Him appealing to us.
First, the Servant suffered vicariously (vv. 4–6). That is to say, He suffered for our griefs, sorrows, transgressions, and iniquities. There’s a profound truth in Rembrandt’s painting, The Raising of the Cross. It depicts the cross as Roman soldiers hoist it into place. In the background stands a priest, encircled by the mocking crowds and grieving women. At the feet of Jesus stands an out-of-place man wearing a blue painter’s hat. He’s helping the soldiers hoist the cross. It’s Rembrandt. He painted himself into the scene as one of those who crucified Christ. Why? He understood that his sin was the cause of Jesus’ suffering. As Martin Luther says, “We carry the nails of Calvary in our pocket.”
Second, the Servant suffered willingly (v. 7). He was silent in the face of abuse, betrayal, and abandonment. He never hurls screams of rage toward the heavens. He never hurls threats of defiance toward the crowds. He never utter sobs of self-pity. He only speaks to pray for others or cry to God. His silence demonstrates the depth of His devotion to God: “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). And His silence demonstrates the depth of His affection for us: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1).
Third, the Servant suffered unjustly (vv. 8–9). The council sought “testimony against Jesus to put him to death.” The whole thing was a sham. He was innocent in word and deed. Humanly speaking, His crucifixion was the greatest miscarriage of justice ever committed.
Fourth, the Servant suffered triumphantly (v. 10). Notice three details. (1) The cause of His suffering: “it was the will of the LORD.” In other words, it was foreordained. (2) The nature of His suffering: “when his soul makes an offering for sin.” Far eclipsing the torment of His body was the torment of His soul, as He experienced His Father’s displeasure. (3) The fruit of His suffering: “He shall see his offspring.” Christ counts the salvation of sinners to be satisfaction enough for all His suffering.
Do our hearts melt in wonder of His love?
Quotable: “Christ took our misery that we might have His glory” (Thomas Manton).