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Isaiah 52:1353:12comment (0)

November 29, 2007

By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh

Related Scripture: Isaiah 52:1353:12

Chair and Armstrong Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

The Savior of Christmas — Recognizing the Savior
Isaiah 52:13–53:12

Martin Luther once commented that Scripture was the “manger in which Christ was laid.” It is in the Scriptures that we discover and discern a deeper appreciation of the wonder of what it meant for God to become incarnate during this season of Advent.

The Book of Isaiah has been known from the period of the early church as “more evangelist than prophet” and has more than once been described as the “Fifth Gospel.” This is because the prophecy of Isaiah is cited over and over again in the pages of the New Testament to enable us to plumb the depths of the mystery of God’s love in sending His Son to be our Savior. Although the initial message of Isaiah was addressed to Jewish believers during the period of Babylonian exile, the reading of a passage such as Isaiah 53 inevitably leads the Christian to “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.”

Suffering Servant (52:13–15)
The early church identified these verses as referring to Jesus (Acts 8:32–35), and He Himself understood His messianic ministry in terms of suffering (Mark 8:31). Isaiah suggests that the servant of the Lord will prosper, will succeed in his mission of accomplishing God’s purposes although the people of his time will not recognize him. Christ was often ignored, because He didn’t fit it with the stereotype of what a messiah would look like. In fact, rather than receive His message, they rejected Him and the result of that rejection was suffering, “being marred in his appearance” through the events of the cross.

Unrecognized and Unappreciated (53:1–3)
The Gospels spend very little time depicting the early life of Jesus. Apart from the birth narratives and the events surrounding His two visits to the temple of Jerusalem as a baby and a boy, we have a paucity of information concerning His life until He was about 30 years old. Outwardly there was nothing to draw people’s attention to Him because “He had no form or majesty” about Him. His humanity was, in one sense, very ordinary, just like our own, and yet He took it upon Himself so that He might become “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” for our salvation.

Bearing Our Sin on the Cross (53:4–6)
To try and describe the work of Christ in atonement is to attempt the impossible, for we will never fully plumb the depth of its meaning. Yet Isaiah seems, in Christian interpretation, to grasp the essence of what occurred during those three hours of darkness. At one level, the cross occurred because Judas betrayed Him, because the Jews plotted against Him, because Caiaphas wanted Him out of the way, because the Romans were anxious to get rid of Him. Yet the Scriptures continually point us to the idea that He died “struck down by God, and afflicted, wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.”

Silent in His Suffering (53:7–9)
The writers of the Gospels, especially Luke, focus on the innocence of Christ, who died, not because of His own sinfulness but, for the sake of others. Here a Christian reading of Isaiah 53 reflects on the silence of Christ, His willingness to be “led to the slaughter” and not protest but die for the sake of others.

Vindicated by God (53:10–12)
The ending of Isaiah 53, like that of the New Testament witness to the events of Easter, reminds us that although Christ, as a suffering servant par excellence, was rejected by the world, His offering for sin was accepted by the Father and He has been vindicated in resurrection. He “shall see His offspring” in the sense of “bringing many sons and daughters into glory,” and those who are guilty of sin will be “made righteous” in His presence.

The chapter resonates with incidents and citations from the New Testament account of the cross of Christ. In remembering the events of the coming of the Christ child, we look beyond the crib toward the cross and stand amazed in the presence of Jesus, wondering why He loved us so much.

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

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