Christmas is a study in contrasts. The light of the world shines in a world of deep darkness. A child born in obscurity who will reign over all. A message of hope announced to outcasts on the fringe of society. Perhaps the most shocking contrast is that the child was born to die. The manger sits in the shadow of the cross.
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 points a prophetic portrait of the Messiah as the suffering servant. Through five stanzas of three verses each, the prophet describes the inconspicuous, unappreciated servant of the Lord who will suffer and die for the sins of the world. Stanzas one and five speak of his exaltation, two and four address his rejection, and stanza three highlights the redemption he provides.
This is perhaps the best-known section in the book of Isaiah. It is widely quoted in the New Testament. Most of the passage concerns the suffering and rejection of the Messiah, but the main point is that his suffering will lead to exaltation and glory. The passage is at the heart of the gospel message.
Stanza 1: Exaltation—Though unrecognized, the Messiah will be successful (52:13-15).
The servant will act wisely in accomplishing his mission on the earth. As a result, he will be highly exalted.
By earthly standards, Jesus was not attractive when he was on earth. During his trial and crucifixion, he became so disfigured that people were repulsed by his appearance. Yet it was his extreme suffering that gave him the power to cleanse us from our sins.
In response, people will be struck dumb. They will stand in slack-jawed amazement.
Stanza 2: Rejection—Though unimaginable, the Messiah was rejected (53:1-3).
So few people will believe the message about the servant. So few will acknowledge the message as coming from God. The responses will move from simple astonishment to outright rejection.
People might say pleasant and complimentary things about Jesus. They will praise his ethics and his teaching. They will proclaim him a good man and a prophet. They will say he has the answers to the problems of society. However, they will not acknowledge that they are sinners and deserve punishment, and that Christ’s death satisfied the justice of God and reconciled us to God.
Stanza 3: Redemption—Though we deserved the punishment, the Messiah took it on himself (53:4-6).
The servant is characterized by grief and sorrow, but they are not his own. God was not punishing him. Instead, he was bearing the consequences of our sin.
The essence of sin is going your own way, rather than God’s way. The tendency of sheep is to follow others, even to their own destruction. Humans are no better.
We are fortunate that we have a shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, namely you and me.
Stanza 4: Rejection—Though innocent, the Messiah silently submitted to suffering (53:7-9).
Sheep are submissive when being sheared or slaughtered. That is the picture of Jesus as he quietly submitted to his death because he knew it would benefit those who would believe in him.
If his life ended with the grave, his heroism would have been admirable but futile. The empty tomb proved that there was more to his death than anyone realized.
Stanza 5: Exaltation—Though the Messiah’s death appeared a tragedy, it was part of God’s plan and would result in victory (53:10-12).
The suffering and death of the servant was clearly God’s will. None of this was accidental, it was all intended. His suffering was a guilt offering, but not for his own sins, but for those of the people. Still, God made him prosper.
His suffering led to life. Because his substitutionary work was completed, he now can justify those who believe. His bore our punishment so we would not have to die. Because of his sacrifice, he can now make many righteous.
Isaiah gives us a multi-faceted portrait of the message of Christmas. Jesus Christ is the child who brings hope to the world (9:1-7). Jesus is the king who will establish a kingdom of justice and peace (11:1-16). Jesus is the shepherd who delivers his people (40:1-11). Jesus is the savior who died for our sins (52:13-53:12).
Celebrating Christmas is as easy as A-B-C. Admit you are a sinner. Believe the gospel that Christ paid the penalty for your sins. Receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
Give thanks for the Savior who was born in Bethlehem and who died that you might be forgiven. Celebrate the Son!
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 23, 2018. It is part of a series on The Message of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.