Isaiah 53:1-3 God’s Servant Will be Despised Part 2 of 5

Isaiah 53:1-3 God’s Servant Will be Despised Part 2 of 5

The second stanza in this servant song deals with the attitude of the nation of Israel towards God’s servant when He came. We can consider it in three parts:

1. How they responded to Him: 53:1

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Many of the Jewish prophets might have felt that way about their ministry, but twice in the New Testament this text is quoted with reference to the Jews’ response to the Lord Jesus.

John applies it to their rejection of His ministry. In His person and in the signs that He performed, the message went forth and the arm of the Lord was revealed in a powerful way, but towards the end of His ministry it was evident that the nation at large wasn’t convinced and we read, “Although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?...’” (John 12:37-38).

Paul applies this prophecy to their rejection of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Wherever Paul went it was his practice to preach first to the Jews, but for the most part they did not believe. For example, on his first missionary journey, the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia, “contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:45). On his second journey, in Corinth, the Jews “opposed him and blasphemed” (Acts18:6). His third journey brought him to Ephesus where “some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude” (Acts 19:9). Finally, when he arrived in Rome Jews listened to his gospel but “some disbelieved” (Acts 28:24). Certainly there were individual Jews who gladly received the message but, on all of his journeys as illustrated in these examples, the Jewish response was mostly negative. It is not surprising then that Paul should appeal to this text in Isaiah and write, “They have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ ” (Romans 10:16).

2. How they saw Him: 53:2

While this stanza emphasizes how the Jews rejected the Lord Jesus, it also tells us how His Father saw Him: “For He shall grow up before Him as tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground.” When the Lord Jesus came, the nation of Israel to a large extent was characterized by dead legalism and formalism and there was very little there for God. All around was barrenness and dryness and yet out of that barren wasteland the Lord Jesus appeared like a tender shoot, full of life and vigour. What pleasure He must have brought to the heart of God as He grew up before Him! “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). The climax came when He was baptized and His Father announced His delight in Him, “You are My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). God saw something very different and attractive about Him.

It was somewhat similar with Jacob and his description of Joseph as “him who was separate from his brothers

(Genesis 49:26). Joseph stood apart from his brothers and their sinful conduct which was so offensive to him that he felt compelled to talk to his father about it. And “Israel loved Joseph” (Genesis 37:2-3). Of course his brothers didn’t share their father’s delight: they didn’t believe Joseph’s report when he told them of his dreams and they envied and hated him. So it was that God found joy and delight in the Lord Jesus but the nation as a whole didn’t share in this. As far as they were concerned, He had “no form”. That refers to His physical appearance (as in Isaiah 52:14). Saul had “form”, standing head and shoulders above the people, and so he was the kind of person the people were looking for in a king. But there was nothing physically striking about the Lord Jesus. There was “no comeliness” about Him in that they didn’t see anything majestic or glorious or regal. Rather they saw “no beauty that we should desire Him”, not that there was no beauty there because He is “fairer than the sons of men” (Psalm 45:2). But they did not recognise it; He did not measure up to their expectations and wasn’t at all what they were looking for in their Messiah.

3. How they despised Him: 53:3

Consequently, He was “despised and rejected by men.” This is strong language which we find elsewhere on the lips of the Lord Jesus, “I am a worm and no man, a reproach of man and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6). Again, He says that “they hated me without a cause” (John 15:25). John tells us that “He came to His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). It was true at every level. He came to His own home, but His own brothers didn’t receive him (John 7:5). He came to His own town, and His own townsmen didn’t receive him (Luke 4:29). He came to His own country, but His own people didn’t receive (Matt 27:20). He came to His own world, and His own creatures didn’t receive Him. Peter explains that the Lord Jesus is the living stone “rejected indeed by men but chosen by God and precious” (1Peter 2:4).

He was also “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. We have glimpses of this when He wept at the graveside of Lazarus (John 11:33-35) and over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), but more than anywhere else we see it in Gethsemane. Despised and rejected, fully aware of the attitude of the people towards him and of the ordeal that lay ahead of Him at Calvary, “He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death…He went a little further and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…’ ” (Matthew 26:37-39). These words “O My Father” are striking. There are eight recorded prayers of the Lord Jesus in the New Testament and six of them begin with the word “Father”, expressing the intimate relationship between the Lord Jesus and His Father. Significantly different was the cry of desolation on the cross when He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And different too is this prayer in the garden. “O My Father” expresses not so much His consciousness of His relationship with His Father but His anguish and distress.

And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not.” It implies a turning away as from someone with a loathsome disease that is sickening to behold. When Joseph confronted his brothers in Egypt, they remembered how they had put him in the pit and subsequently sold him to the Ishmaelites: “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us; and we would not hear” (Genesis 42:21). They hid as it were their faces from him! The reason was that they “hated him” (Genesis 37:4); he had a dream and “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5); he had another dream and “they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (Genesis 37:8). The problem was twofold. On the one hand he exposed their sin by refusing to join with them. At the same time he announced his lordship and the prospect of their bowing before him. It was similar with the Lord Jesus. He was the very personification of love and grace and goodness and truth, yet they hated Him. He explains, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). By what He said and did, indeed by what He was, He revealed to them the truth about themselves (eg. John 8:34,44) and that was deeply offensive to them. Moreover, He made some remarkable claims about Himself (John 8:12,24,28,58) which called for a major change in their attitude. But they would rather not have been confronted with these things… and they despised Him.

The tabernacle in the wilderness was nothing much to look at, with a rather drab covering of badgers’ skins. It wasn’t intended to impress or attract, but was designed to provide protection from the elements. There was no beauty there and the casual onlooker would not have been impressed. But the priest who went inside was confronted with something altogether different. He saw the boards overlaid with gold, the curtains of fine twined linen, the veil, the golden altar, the table and the lampstand. Everything was striking and beautiful and declared the excellence of the character and the ways of God. The casual onlooker had no idea but the one who went inside had a revelation of the beauty of the Lord. So it was that, as far as the nation was concerned, there was no form, no comeliness, and no beauty. But we who have received Him see Him quite differently and can identify with John, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

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