THE EXALTED SERVANT, HIGH AND LIFTED UP
April 16, 2017
Servant, Messiah, atonement, exaltation
Songs of the Servant
shall be exalted. 14As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred,
beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – 15so
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
53:1Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the
LORD been revealed? 2For 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. 3He 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.
4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him
stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But 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. 6All 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.
7He 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. 8By 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? 9And 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.
10Yet 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. 11Out 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. 12Therefore 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. (Isa. 52:13 – 53:12)
On this Easter morning, we come to the 4th of Isaiah’s servant songs. Once again, God
sings over us his praise of the Servant – a servant unknown to Isaiah, a man shrouded
in mystery, but this servant is known to us. He is Jesus. He is the Lord of Creation
born in a stable. He is the Lord of glory, born in shame to Mary, pregnant and
unmarried. He is the King of Glory, whose home was Nazareth – can anything good
come out of that city? He is the Messiah, who brought freedom by his death and life by
his resurrection. He is the Holy One, who bore the curse upon the Cross, condemned
as evil, a cheat and a liar, a charlatan, a peddler of false hope. He is the Resurrected
Lord of Life – still bearing the scars of his suffering, still joined to creation as one of us,
but the promise in his body, in his life, that our hope in him will not be in vain. Our trust
in him will not be disappointed. As he said to the women in the garden, Do not be
afraid. All will be well.
This 4th of Isaiah’s servant songs lays out for us in the gripping images of poetic
prophecy a summary of who Jesus is, why he came into the world, and what he
accomplished. We find in Isaiah’s words pointers to the events of Holy Week that we
have remembered and attempted to relive over the past several days. The willingness
of Jesus to give himself into the hand of those who would torture and kill him. The
purpose of God in sending Jesus into the world. Our need for Jesus to atone for our
sins and heal us. And how God himself opens our eyes to the gift of grace he places
upon us for Jesus sake.
This song, sung 600 years before the birth of Christ, is truly one of the Everests of all of
Scripture. But as I hear the music of this song, a question echoes off the mountain
walls. If this Servant is high and lifted up, If Jesus is exalted by God as Isaiah says he
is, why is grace so hard for us to see?
John Cleese: I find it disgusting that a religion would take as its central image, its
principle icon, an instrument of execution.
He sees but does not understand.
This song is all about the immensity of what Jesus has accomplished. But if who he
is and what he has done looms so large… large enough for the calendars of western
civilization to be calibrated to his time upon the earth… If God has taken such delight in
giving… and if Jesus has taken such joy in giving himself to the world in love… Why is
grace so hard to see and believe?
As Isaiah asks in vs 4: Who has believed the good news? To whom has the arm of the
Lord been revealed? That is, to whom has Jesus, the present power of God to save
been made known?
Isaiah says – there’s a disconnect for many of us. We see but do not believe. We
hear but do not trust. Who Jesus is and what he has accomplished has not dawned
upon us in faith and trust – he remains a mountain shrouded in clouds, and he has not
been revealed to us. The Cross is nothing more than a reminder of cruelty, inhumanity,
and injustice. Is this a farce that God in playing out – should we call evil good?
Why is grace so hard to see and believe?
Vs 3 – His sacrifice… we find it repugnant, and we turn away.
Vs 4 — He has shown us the greatest possibly sympathy for our sorrows and
struggles, but his love does not make sense to us. In fact, we even often completely
misunderstand what he’s doing and even assign false motives to God.
What is the good news that is so hard to believe? Isaiah tells us.
Look in vs 5 – this is the servant as our substitute. He is our substitute – he stands in
our place. He steps into our covenant with God as one of us, flesh and blood, and
Isaiah emphasizes 4 things that he accomplishes.
1. He takes to himself our transgressions
He was pierced for our transgressions.
He was dealt a mortal blow by taking responsibility for all our choices, all of our
sinful actions. Our lies, our adulteries, our idolatries, our murder – of all that
we do, he silently bears the accusation: You did that.
2. He also takes to himself our iniquities
He was crushed for our iniquities.
He was crushed – the word used here is that used of someone being trampled to
death. He was stampeded to death by taking responsibility for all the dark evil of
our hearts, the corrupt and rebellious engine of all we do – our motives, our
lusts, our hatred… our denials and rejection of his love. He silently bears the
accusation: You are an evil corrupt man… you even hate God
But the mission of the servant is not complete. He not only takes to himself our
transgression and iniquity, our sinful choices and our rebellious disposition.
3. He gives us peace
Upon him was the chastisement…the punishment that brought us peace.
This punishment he bore served as the means by which he then crowned us with
peace. Peace is the order that comes when things are made right… most
significantly, when relationships are made right. Jesus, the servant, bestows
peace upon us – he makes us right with God. He reorders our relationship
with one another and the world so that we can in turn be peace makers. He
alone has done this – the same hands that gave themselves to the nails of
the cross give to us a life ordered by right standing with the Father. The
Father looks at us and says, All is well. Do not fear. Welcome to my family
and my kingdom.
4. He heals us
And with his wounds we are healed.
The suffering that Jesus the servant endured was in part his entering into the
fullness and depths of this mortal life. David writes in Psalm 130, “Out of the
depths I cry to you.” Augustine said of that plaintive desperate cry, “This
mortal life is that great deep.” The depth of brokenness, sorrow, pain,
injustice – Jesus exempted himself from none of it so that he might in every
way be a sympathetic high priest when we cry to him from the depths of this
mortal life. He understands our struggle and shame and sorrow in his bones,
in his flesh. The scars of his suffering remain in his body as eternal
reminders of how deeply he has joined himself to us in our lives. But by his
wounds he has suffered. More than that… he died… that he might secure
our healing by his resurrection. He stands on the other side of death whole,
complete, immortal flesh and blood that he will give to us in the day of his
return and our resurrection. As he is made new, we have the guarantee that
in him we will be made new. Every sorrow will be wiped away. Every tear will
be dried. Every wound we bear will be healed. All will be well. Do not fear.
Hope in the promise of my return. Hope in the resurrection. Jesus even has
John write it down for us, Hope in the promise that he is making all things
new. These words are trustworthy and true. They come from the lips of the
one who has conquered sin and death.
But, why is the good news of God’s grace so hard to believe?
I’m sure there are many reasons, but let me suggest 3 reasons
1. Distortion — I don’t need grace… I just need a helping hand, a little
guidance, a little push to get me going in the right direction.
The gospel is a whole. As Isaiah describes the mission of the servant in vs 5, the work
of Christ is to address our whole person – what we do and who we are.
Similarly, his work impacts our whole person, every part of us – our relationships and
our very existence (our bodies, our minds, our affections, our wills)
But we distort the gospel and make it something other than grace… when we pick and
choose what we want or think we need.
This past week, a Christian writer described some ways we distort the gospel. He
reminded us of 4 things Jesus didn’t come to do:
1. He did not come to fulfill your American Dream – to satisfy our wish list, to center our
lives on happiness, to remove all discomfort and trouble from our lives.
2. He did not come to be the poster boy for your cause – even good causes that matter
to God like homelessness, injustice, human trafficking, abortion, immigration
3. He did not come so you wouldn’t have to change – it’s like Anne Lamott says: “God
loves you just the way you are, and he loves you too much to let you stay that way”
4. He did not come to merely raise your moral standard – to show you how to try harder
to please God, to help you become a better person Caleb Flora, TGC
To put it another way, it’s impossible for us to trust the grace of the gospel when Jesus
is someone we control to our own ends. We cannot see the grace of God when we
attempt to appropriate it for our own use, or when we come to the gospel on our own
terms. The gospel becomes visible, believable, and trustworthy when we have faith in
who he is and what he has accomplished. The gospel become difficult to value when
we are selective, when come to Jesus like he’s a restaurant buffet — we pick and
choose what we want and what we think will benefit us.
2. Discouragement – I can’t believe in grace… it’s too good to be true.
Why is it hard for us to believe the gospel?
We are overwhelmed. The hardship, difficulties, and disappointments of life loom so
large… they oppress us, and crush us. We are exhausted and defeated… life is like
walking through a field of cactus – every time we move we are jabbed and pricked, and
we are reminded that life’s pains are inescapable. It’s hard for us to see that life can be
any other way… trapped in addictions, smothered by depression, enveloped in despair,
weary of trying and failing, isolated in loneliness… how can it possibly be any different
when these realities are so immense.
Remember in the Gospels Jesus’ invitation: Come to me all of you who are weary and
heavily burdened. I will give you rest. Or, as Isaiah says, It is a fact.. Surely, he has
borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Why? Because otherwise, we would be
crushed. He lifts our head.. he comes close. He whispers to our heart, “I am with you.
Do not be afraid…. Put your hands in my wounds and believe.”
3. Deception – grace? I don’t need it. I’m fine on my own.
Why is it so hard to see and believe in the grace of God?
Very simply, we don’t believe we need grace. We are a proud lot, a proud race.
And why not. As David says to the Lord, You’ve made us like yourself… You’ve
made us a little lower than yourself. We are very nearly gods.
It’s true… and we believe our own press clippings.
We are God’s image bearers and there is much we can accomplish and much we can
But there is one thing we cannot do and one thing we cannot understand on our
own. We cannot understand the real nature of our sin and we cannot understand our
total helplessness to remedy our sin unless God opens our eyes and hearts to see
oursleves and him as we really are.
Isaiah asks, To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? That is, to whom
has Jesus, the present power of God to save been made known?
He asks the question, because left to ourselves we will not see Jesus and we will not
trust the gospel. It’s no small thing that Jesus chose for a text from Isaiah for his first
sermon (Lk 4) in which he announced, “I have come to give sight to the blind.”
It’s hard to see and believe in grace when we are proud and self-confident, when we
are independent and self-sufficient.
It’s fine to build a yurt and go live independently off the grid in Alaska.
But we cannot live off the grid in the kingdom of God.
It’s hard for us to believe that grace is not only the starting point for us as followers of
Christ. But grace sustains us every day of our lives. We never cease being completely
dependent upon Jesus – his forgiveness, his acceptance. Life in the kingdom of God
(Mt 5) becomes with empty pockets.
How then can we see God’s grace if we have such impaired sight and hearing?
The answer is in the song itself.
God singing over us and filling our ears with the melody of the gospel
These words are life – they are true, and we are to read them again and again lest
we become doubtful because of distorted thinking, discouragement, and decption.
Here is God’s covenant fulfilled – Here is the written testimony that God is satisfied
not with you or me… but with Christ alone, with the exalted servant, our substitute.
Believe these words and you will have life now and forever. Then you too will see
Jesus high and lifted up, exalted. The servant is our saviour. The substitue is our
salvation, our righteousness and our healing forever. All this is his doing. His alone.
This is the grace and good news of the gospel. Believe it today and always.
This is the glory of the resurrection.
New Life Presbyterian Church (c) 2017 – Ithaca, NY SSI04 – Exalted