I am not exaggerating when I say that Isaiah 53 has been crucial to my understanding of the person and work of Jesus. If you've never read this chapter, written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, or if it's been a while, stop reading this for a minute and head over there and give it a read. I'll wait.
Church councils have convened and libraries of book have been written on the subject of the nature of Jesus, but this chapter from Isaiah shows us who he is, what he came to do, and why. These verses describe how God would fulfill his Covenant of Peace.
Who Is Jesus? Isaiah 53:1-3 tells us he is the Servant of the Lord, who was, in every way, ordinary in appearance. His birth was like a root out of dry ground—unnoticed by almost everyone. He had no beauty that people would be drawn to his appearance. Nor would he have an easy life. His life would be filled with sorrow. People would despise him.
But he came to be our Man of Sorrows (Isa 53:4-6). Jesus took upon himself our grief. He carried our sorrows. Yes, people in positions of power brought pain upon pain into his last days, but they were not ultimately the ones to crush him. God was the one who did that. Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that would bring us peace was laid upon him.
Then, in vs 5-9, we learn that Jesus would willingly submit to the Father’s plan. As the full weight of God’s wrath toward the sins of his people was placed upon his Servant, Christ received it. When he could have spoken up to defend himself, he stayed silent, like a lamb led to its slaughter.
He would be struck dead, cut off from the land of the living for the sins of God’s people. He would die among the guilty and be buried in a rich man’s tomb, even though he had done no violence. And yet he would yield willingly, even unto his own death.
Why? Why would Jesus go through all this?
Because we all have gone astray and deserve God’s wrath. But God laid upon his servant the iniquity of his people, Isaiah tells us. Jesus took God’s wrath toward our sins upon himself. He stood in for us and be our substitute in death, and God looked upon this substitution and was satisfied. The Servant of the Lord would “make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11).
Listen, God did not perform some magic trick to secure our salvation. It was a life for a life—the Suffering Servant, his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, described in Isaiah 53, who came incarnate as a living, breathing man to die a real death in our place. But since death held no claim on him, he rose on Easter, securing our victory over death forever—thus fulfilling God’s Covenant of Peace.
It’s a lot, isn’t it?
It’s also true.
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Russ Ramsey is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative, and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is a graduate of Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary. Follow Russ on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.