The Fourth Servant Song describes the Man of Sorrows in five stanzas.
Stanza 1, found at the end of Chapter 52, introduces the summary of Jesus’s exaltation.
Stanza 2, found at the beginning of Chapter 53, speaks of Jesus’s early life and ministry.
Stanza 3, still in Chapter 53, describes the perfect substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.
Silence of the Lamb
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,Isaiah 53:7-9 (NRSV)
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Silent Before His Accusers
Isaiah’s prophecy was specifically fulfilled when Jesus stood indicted before the high priest Caiaphas, the procurator Pontius Pilate, and Rome’s client king, Herod.
- Caiaphas: “But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God’” (Matthew 26:23, NRSV, italics mine).
- Pilate: “But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed” (Matthew 27:14, NRSV, italics mine).
- Herod: “He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer” (Luke 23:9, NRSV, italics mine).
That Jesus was silent before all His accusers and those who ridiculed Him, though He was God the Son, left a deep impression in His disciples.
Peter quoted Isaiah from this passage when he wrote,
If you endure when you do good and suffer for it, this is a commendable thing before God.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.1 Peter 2:2-23 (NRSV, italics mine)
Jesus allowed Himself to be humiliated because there was an eternal purpose in it. The humbling of Jesus was the humbling of God, the death of Jesus is, in a certain sense, the death of God, the resurrection of Jesus could only happen because He is God. God the Son was committed to the will of God because it was also His will. God the Son consented to bear the judgement of God.
in Solidarity With The Marginalized
In Acts, there is an account concerning the Queen of Ethiopia’s treasurer. Though he was a eunuch (and therefore barred from entering the temple), he was a proselyte of Judaism and had come to Jerusalem to worship. As he was returning home, he got out the scroll of Isaiah to read to himself while riding in his chariot, and he came to this stanza about the Servant being led like a lamb to slaughter.
A good friend of mine recently pointed out to me how poignant these words would have been for this man, a foreigner in Judea, and permanently altered because of his high station.
My friend first pointed to this line,
By a perversion of justice he was taken away …
The perversion of justice in Jesus’s situation had to do with His innocence colliding with the Sanhedrin’s political agenda. But the Ethiopian official had also experienced something similar. Because of his intelligence, gifts, and ability, he had been removed from his clan and village in order to serve in the queen’s court.
Even more poignant, my friend said, is this next line.
Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living …
According to all four Gospels, not only did Jesus not marry, His life was cut short while still a young man. Though His had been a powerful, popular, and widespread movement when He was so suddenly killed, and in such ignominy, His ministry and His legacy, it at first seemed, died too.
Similarly, by having been made a eunuch, the Ethiopian official – though highly honored, powerful, and wealthy – would also never be able to carry on his name, to have a family, or to have a legacy. When he died, his name and legacy would die with him.
At that moment, the Holy Spirit told an evangelist, Philip, to run over to the Ethiopian’s chariot. Philip asked the official if he understood what he was reading. How can I? the Ethiopian replied, if no one will explain it to me. Philip then showed how this passage was about Jesus, and as they passed by some water the eunuch asked to be baptized into faith.
And this could happen because of Jesus, Who had been stricken for the transgression of God’s people.
The Ethiopian, because of his castration, would remain ineligible to enter the physical temple in Jerusalem. But God considered him worthy to be a living temple in whom God would put God’s Own Holy Spirit, as the eunuch put his faith in the risen Jesus.
Luke ended this account with the words the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing. There is no doubt the Ethiopian official took the gospel with him back to Africa.
(as an aside, tradition holds that Christianity first came to Ethiopia with the conversion of King Ezana somewhere between 320 and 360 CE)
The Wicked and the Rich
Interestingly, even Jesus’s burial was the subject of prophecy, fulfilled in each point, as described below.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who also was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
- So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth
- and laid it in his new tomb,
- which he had hewn in the rock.
He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.Matthew 27:57-61 (NRSV, modifications mine)
- In dying between two thieves, Jesus’s grave was among the wicked.
- Yet, being buried in the new-cut tomb of the very wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’s tomb was with the rich.
- And by being buried in a new tomb, freshy hewn from rock, Jesus’s body never came in touch with decay.
Jesus’s death brings peace and healing to the guilty
What makes our unbearable guilt go away? We know deep down that justice means guilt must somehow be propitiated, in some way. There must be a reckoning. Guilt cannot be swept under the rug—it may be out of sight, but it is not actually gone.
You and I know this from our own experience. When you and I are wronged or injured, someone has to answer for it. If the person who wronged us, or hurt us, does nothing, then we will be left holding the bag, the price of reparation, or restoration, will be entirely ours. The damage and cost do not just go away. If it is going to be put right, someone has to pay the cost.
Forgiveness is definitely the key. Cleansing and release from guilt is definitely vital. But only one person in the universe can cleanse us and release us, and it is not you or me, no matter how rich, creative, vibrant, and powerful our imaginations are.
By putting Himself in the place of us, the unbearable weight of our guilt was placed on Jesus and it crushed Him, as Isaiah described. The reality of forgiveness must come from God, by God’s supernatural power.