"To Our Weakness No Stranger"
One could argue that this week’s reading has been a bit gory; after all, we’ve been reading about the blood of lambs, goats, and rams. But in Isaiah 52:13–53:12, we see something new altogether: Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song declares that the Servant who is coming to rescue God’s people (sent from the lineage of David to be a light to the nations) will take on an unusual role. Old Testament priests offered animal sacrifices on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of their sins. But this Servant wouldn’t bring a sacrifice; rather, He Himself would be the sacrifice.
Human sacrifices weren’t unusual in this culture; foreign nations worshipped in this way frequently (and while we saw that Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, recall that the Lord intervened before the sacrifice could occur, and it also wasn’t a sacrifice connected with sin). Yet in this passage, it wasn’t a ram caught in the thicket or a goat sent into the wilderness that bore the sins of the people; it was the innocent Servant Himself! He would bear our griefs and our sorrows even unto a divinely-appointed death, to be “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8 ESV) for our sakes. Thematically, Isaiah looked forward to a day when priests wouldn’t simply bring the offering for sin; this priestly Servant would make “an offering for guilt” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV).
I take comfort reading this passage because of the reminders that this Servant would not just bear our burdens; He would know them. Though innocent, He would know the ways of mankind, familiar with even our sorrows and grief—a Servant like His people, yet without sin. It isn’t surprising that the gospel writers and Paul attributed this prophetic word to the ministry of Christ, to the Word who became flesh, who put on skin and walked around with us. As the beloved Christmas carol puts it, “The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger; in all our trials born to be our friend. He knows our needs, to our weakness no stranger!” Take comfort today that we have an advocate in Christ Jesus the Suffering Servant, the High Priest who not only suffered for the sake of our sin, but who is intimately acquainted with all of our ways, with every pain, every fear, every grief, and every sorrow.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (ESV):
He Was Pierced for Our Transgressions
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.