Isaiah 53 is one of the most famous passages in Isaiah, in fact in the whole of the Old Testament. Because of it’s clarity in painting the one who would come to bear sin (the person we know as Jesus) and because of the time it was written (hundreds of years before Jesus) it’s the go-to passage in the Old Testament for Christians.
But the problem with familiarity is that we lose the shock and beauty of the picture Isaiah paints of the one God was going to send. The Servant here isn’t anything like Israel expected God’s deliverer to be like, and doesn’t do what Israel expected God’s deliverer to do. So to feel the impact Isaiah 53 would have had on the Jews who first heard and read it, and to feel once again the uniqueness of Jesus a swell as understanding what his primary mission was, we need to go back to basics with this person Isaiah calls “The Servant”.
If you were asking people to describe the “heart” of Christianity, how do you think people would describe it? Why would they describe it in this way?
Isaiah 53 is the hinge upon which the whole prophet’s vision turns. It reveals to us what God’s primary mission is for his people. But Isaiah 53 isn’t the only picture of the servant – there are three others.
Quickly read over the other three servant songs (listed below) and build a picture of what the servant will do and what he’ll be like.
At this stage, the identity of the servant isn’t clear. It could be Israel as they’ve already been described as God’s servant (41:9, 49:3) but how are they going to save themselves? (49:5-6) It could be Cyrus, the king of Persia (44:28) as he’s the one who after conquering the Babylonians sent the Israelites back to rebuild Jerusalem…but he seems like a short-lived saviour.
But when Jesus arrives, he sets the record straight – in Luke 4:16-21 he reads from Isaiah, and concludes that he’s the fulfilment of all that Isaiah had promised. But not quite in the way Israel had thought.
Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
This climax to the servant song is broken up into five parts. For each of them (below) build the final picture of what the servant does.
Head back now over the picture you’ve built above, and from what you know of the Jesus, see how he fits the picture of the servant.
If this is the pinnacle of Isaiah, and in fact the hinge upon which the Old Testament is going to turn, what does this passage tell us about what God’s key objective in the world is?
Does this match with what people see as the centre / heart of Christianity? Why or why not?
How is it that the centre of God’s mission informs those things that flow out of being caught up in God’s mission? (Or to put it another way, how is it we talk about the implications of being God’s people as distinct from how we become/became God’s people?)
What are the dangers when we confuse the two?
What can we do this week individually, and to encourage one another, to remind ourselves of God’s incredible mission & sacrifice of us described in Isaiah 53?