Vol. 3, No. 11
The Book of Isaiah is a prophetic book written approximately 760 BC. Chapter 53 is dedicated solely as a messianic prophecy written approximately eight centuries before the coming of Christ. Verses 1-3 foretell the messiah's reception by man. Verses 4-8 show his pain and suffering on our behalf, and verses 9-12 reflect his death and the purpose for it.
Isaiah 53:2 "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him."
The prophet Isaiah refers to Christ as “a root out of dry ground." The dry ground could refer to the city of Nazareth, the Galilean city where Jesus was raised (Luke 4:16). Why is Nazareth referred to as dry ground? Nathaniel puts it best in John 1:46, "And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.” The city of Nazareth was nestled in the mountains half way between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Although Nazareth was located on the well-traveled road connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia, there was nothing special about it. The prophet likened the town to dry ground because Nazareth was an ordinary town.
Other than Isaiah 53:2, there is no physical description of Jesus. All we know is that he was in the form of a man while he walked this earth. "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7).
Isaiah 53:3 "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not."
The Gospels document the birth, life and death of our Savior. Throughout these books, we can read of the human emotions of Jesus as foreseen by Isaiah. Mark 7:34 shows that our Lord was indeed a man of sorrows when he looked up to heaven and sighed before healing a deaf mute. Again in Mark 8:12, he shows his sorrow and the reason for it, "And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” The shortest verse in the Bible (John 11:35) shows Jesus' grief by simply stating, “Jesus wept.” Prior to that in John 11:33 we read, “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled." His grief is again shown through tears in Luke 19:41 when he wept over an entire city. These verses show that Jesus had human emotions while walking this earth. He felt sorrow and grief.
Isaiah 53:3 also foretells man's reaction to Jesus during his life on earth. In Luke 4:28-29, the Lord's teachings filled the people with so much wrath that they threw him out of the city and planned to cast him from the top of the hill on which the city was built. Later, at his crucifixion, the spite and mockery of the people is shown in Mark 15: 29-30, “And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross." These actions show the value, or lack thereof, given to our Lord. Isaiah 53:3 uses the word esteemed, which could be replaced with the words valued, considered or knew. John 1:10 says, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” In John 1:26, Jesus is not even known when standing among the people. Christ's teachings were rejected so much that he was despised and unvalued to the point of bodily harm.
Isaiah 53:4 "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted."
From this verse, we read that the grief and sorrow suffered by our Lord was not over self, but others. Returning to John 11:33, let me point out that Jesus was troubled when he saw Mary and other Jews weeping over the death of Lazarus. In John 11:35, Jesus does the same. Luke 19:41 states, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it." Both accounts show Jesus weeping over the souls of others. In Mark 7:34 and Mark 8:12, Jesus showed his sorrow over the unbelief of the people. Our Savior weeps with grief and sighs with sorrow over the pain and concern of others, not his own.
Isaiah 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
Christ was indeed wounded and bruised. We read in John 19:1-3 of the suffering Christ endured. In verse one, he was whipped. Then in verses two and three, it is recorded that the soldiers placed a crown of thorns on his head and beat him with their hands. Later in John 19:17-18, our Lord bore the burden of the cross. He first carried it to Golgotha and was then crucified.
Why was our Lord crucified? He shed his innocent blood on the cross to bring us to peace with God (Colossians 1:20). Romans 5:1 reads, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." The peace we are given is the forgiveness of sins. We are reconciled to God into one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:16). In Colossians 1:14 we read, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins."
Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Here the prophet compares the people who stopped following God to sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without shepherds tend to go their own ways as God's people have frequently done throughout the ages. We, like all sheep, need a shepherd. Who better to shepherd our souls than the Son of God? Jesus said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." We are the sheep and Christ is our Shepherd.
Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record that Jesus was silent during his trial. Matthew 26:62-63 records Christ's silence before the high priest. Our Lord then appeared before Pilate and it is recorded in Matthew 27:14 that the governor marveled in his silence. Finally, Christ appeared before Herod in Luke 23:9, “Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing."
Jesus was also silent during his affliction. We read in John 19:1-9 of the many tortuous burdens Christ endured. First of all, he was scourged, or whipped (verse 1). In verse two we read of the crown of thorns placed on his head and verse three records that the soldiers “smote him with their hands.” Skipping down to John 19:9 we read, “And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer."
Isaiah 53:8 “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken."
Christ was cut from the land of the living in a very physical manner. He suffered crucifixion, the most horrible form of death. A person sentenced to death by crucifixion dealt with more than the agony of hanging on a cross. It began with a scourging, but our Lord had already received his scourging before the sentence (John 19:1, 14-16). The next affliction was that the condemned person was to carry his own cross to the crucifixion site as our Lord did (John 19:17). As with traditional Roman crucifixions, our Lord was led to a conspicuous place outside the city where he would then be offered a mixture of vinegar, gall and myrrh. This was to deaden the sudden, sharp pains induced by the crucifixion. Jesus denied this drink (Matthew 27:34). The condemned would then be nailed to the cross and hung for all to see during his slow and painful death. Since Christ refused the vinegar mixture, his mind was clear and therefore suffered great mental anguish to accompany his physical afflictions. Our Lord died much quicker than most men who suffered crucifixion due to the added mental sufferings. As you recall, the thieves beside him had their legs broken to quicken the death process, but our Lord did not because he was already dead (John 19:32-33). Christ suffered and died on the cross, thus separating him from the living. "When therefore Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and having bowed his head, he delivered up his spirit” (John 19:30).
As quoted above in Isaiah 53:8, our Lord was stricken for the transgressions of the people. In Isaiah 53:5, we read that he was “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities." First Peter 2:24 states that he bore our sins in his body on the tree. First John 3:5 states, “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin."
Isaiah 53:9 “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."
"Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left” (Matthew 27:38). This is what the prophet refers to by stating that he made his grave with the wicked. He was also rebuked during his life for keeping company with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:11; 11:19). In Matthew 27:57-60, we read that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, begged for the body of Christ. He then prepared the body for burial and laid it in his own new tomb. Christ made his grave with the wicked when crucified between thieves and with the rich when buried in a rich man's tomb.
Isaiah 53:10 “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand."
To understand why it would please God to bruise his own son, we must look at the whole story. "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God desired to bruise Christ's heel by his death in order to bruise Satan's head through Christ's resurrection. Christ demonstrates his victory by his own resurrection. “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
Christ was an offering for sin. First John 3:5 says that Christ had no sin, but died to take away our sins. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (1 Peter 2:24). He bore our sins on the cross by using his own physical body. He offered himself as a sinless sacrifice so we, the sinners (Romans 3:23), can be brought to righteousness.
After his death, Christ's life was prolonged by his resurrection. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:23-24). Christ is eternal, so it is impossible for death to hold him. In John 8:58 Jesus said he was here before Abraham, who died approximately 2000 years before Christ was born. In Revelation 22:13 Jesus says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” Jesus always was, is and always will be.
Isaiah 53:11 "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities."
Christ was satisfied because he knew his job was to die on the cross and also knew he had fulfilled that job. In Mark 8:31 Christ foretold his own sufferings, rejection, death and resurrection. According to John 6:64, Jesus knew from the beginning who would betray him. Christ was satisfied after suffering on the cross because he knew he accomplished his duty. "After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (John 19:28).
This righteous servant, the Son of God, justified many by bearing their iniquities. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). By tasting death for every man, Jesus put a stop to animal sacrifices. In the Old Testament, high priests made several animal sacrifices to purge the sins of the people, but it was not enough. Christ sacrificed himself one time to purge the sins of all man for all time (Hebrews 10:10-12).
Isaiah 53:12 “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Christ poured his soul into death by dying on the cross for us. Christ could have called on legions upon legions of angels to rescue him (Matthew 26:53), but he did not. Instead, he humbled himself and was obedient (Philippians 2:8). "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Galatians 1:4).
At his death, Christ was “numbered with the transgressors” by being hanged on a cross between two thieves. Mark 15:27-28 records fulfillment of this prophecy, “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors."
Through his death, our Savior bore the sins of many. Refer to 1 Peter 2:24 which was quoted earlier in this article. There it states that Christ bore our sins in his own body so that we could come to righteousness. He himself was sinless, but died to take our sins away. “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5). His blood justified us so that we could be saved from wrath through him (Romans 5:9).
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to this evil world, lived a life of rejection and was afflicted with grievous pain before his crucifixion. He conquered death by rising from the grave and ascending to heaven. He is coming back to reward his faithful servants (Luke 12:37). We do not know when he will return, so we must be ready. “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 25:13). Are you watching? Are you ready?
We stand, at this time, on the brink of a great abyss, a chasm that yawns before us deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon. We teeter on the brink of this place, not knowing the consequences of our actions. If we were to look and find a sign somewhere near the edge of this canyon, we would find one bordered in black with scarlet letters that would bear the inscription “There Is No Christ.” Kyle Butt spoke of this same place:
…Jesus Christ has had an enormous impact -- more than anybody else -- on history. Had He never come, the hole would be a canyon about the size of a continent. Christ's influence on the world is immeasurable... Whatever Jesus touched or whatever He did transformed that aspect of human life. Many people will read about the innumerable small incidents in the life of Christ while never dreaming that those casually mentioned “little" things were to transform the history of mankind. (Butt, Kyle and Bert Thompson, “Jesus Christ -- Unique Savior or Average Fraud? Part II,” Reason and Revelation, 21(3), 22)
Influence is defined as, "The power to produce effects, especially indirectly or through an intermediary; the condition of being affected; one exercising indirect power to sway or affect; to modify” (Kauffman, Liz, ed., Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus, 144). We live in a time when people in general are denying Jesus Christ, not just those who deny him with their mouths, but also those who deny him with their words and with their deeds. There are many who would claim that they believe in Jesus Christ, but their actions do not follow. Perhaps the reason why some do this is because they are not fully aware of the consequences of a world without Christ.
It is not hard to see what the world without Christ would be like; we need only look at the way the world was before his incarnation. The histories of the ancient world bear witness to what the world was like before Christ. Even the so-called “sages” were nothing compared to Christ:
The difference between Jesus and the great sages is so radical and fundamental, that comparison ceases. Cicero, who, with all his excessive vanity, was one of the noblest and purest of old Roman characters, confessed that he never found a perfect sage in his life, and that philosophy only taught how he ought to be if he should ever appear on earth. It is well known that the wise men of Greece and Rome sanctioned slavery, oppression, revenge, infanticide or exposure of infants, polygamy, concubinage, and worse vices; or, like the avaricious and venal Seneca, belied their purer moral maxims by their conduct. (Schaff, Philip, The Person of Christ, 45)
Imagine with this writer for a moment what this world would be like. In the world without Christ, there lives a boy that is eleven years old. His name is Paulus. He lives in a city in Macedonia that is under the domination of the Eastern Empire.
His father is a brutal man, whose only care is for the satisfaction of his own selfish will. His mother is this man's Wife Third. He has grown up with his half siblings that have managed to survive despite the uncaring nature of those who brought them into the world. Let us explore the world without Christ from Paulus' point of view.
Paulus got up in the morning and left his house where his mother and her co-wives live. As he walked on the streets of the city, he stepped over the small bodies of the children who had been thrown away the night before. As he made his way toward the temple of Jupiter and looked about him, lying upon the streets in various places were the city's beggars. Wrapped in whatever rags they could find, they lie there waiting for the opportunity when someone would walk by that they might accost them and show them the reasons of their infirmities and hopefully, by that, receive something that they might continue to live.
Paulus arrived at the temple where his duties included cleaning up after the sacrifice. To this place, many would come to bring their offerings that they might be healed of their illnesses, that they might be able to find a way to continue in this life as long as they could. Although a small boy, Paulus understood why these people came to this place. He understood that they, too, like him, were frightened of the idea of death. For he knew that there was nothing afterward. He had seen too many times the bodies lying in the streets. He knew that no one would care if he too were gone from this life. He knew that, while his mother might act like she was grieving in order to gain attention, she would be grateful for the lifting of the burden placed upon her that his absence would affect. Paulus knew something else: the sacrifices did not really work. He had heard the priest joke about it. Every day, day following day, he would attempt to live his life in such a way as best he possibly could.
Paulus is a child without hope, only knowing what he must do in order to fill his belly, that he might live another day, day following day, with nothing to look forward to. You see, Paulus lives in a world where Christ is not.
In another place, a place not the product of imagination, another child wakes in the morning. He can hear the sounds in the kitchen of his mother and father talking. He can approach the place where they are, with their heads bowed at the breakfast table. He can hear the name “Christ" within the prayer that his father leads. He can know that when the prayer is concluded, his mother will turn to him and show him the affection that he would expect. He takes it completely for granted that his parents go through life in the certainty of life after death. He takes it completely for granted that they live their lives according to a certain code of rules. He takes it completely for granted the love that they have for one another and for him. You see, this other boy lives in the real world where Christ is. Modern-day skeptics who deny the reality of Jesus Christ do so at their own peril. Wilbur Smith quoted an unknown writer:
…when skeptics can find such a place ten miles square on this globe, where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way and laid the foundation and made decency and security possible, it will then be in order for the skeptical literati to move thither and then ventilate their views. But so long as these men are dependent upon the religion which they discard for every privilege they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope, humanity of its faith, in that Savior who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave its glooms. (Smith, Wilbur, M., Therefore, Stand, 32)
The influence of Jesus Christ upon the lives of all humankind on this earth is beyond the scope of man's full understanding. While we may imagine what the world would be like without Christ, truly we cannot grasp the entire idea. Let us take a few moments and imagine some of the differences that there would be. Let us think about what the world would be like where our character Paulus lives.
In the world of Paulus, there are no benevolent hospitals. There is nowhere that a person may go who is sick or injured, where he might be able to find the care and compassion of other human beings to take care of them. If they have no money, no one will care for them out of Christian duty and dignity. If they are unable to care for themselves, they will be cast aside as useless members of society, for after all, if no gain can be gotten of them, what use are they anyway? A man named Rogers once wrote of a world without Christ, in which he is overwhelmed with horror at the realization of what it would be like:
Then it was that Rogers realized that if Christ were not, the schools, the hospitals, the orphanages, the missions, and many other of our twentieth century benevolent institutions would all perish, and this lawyer cried out that he would not want to live at all in a world where Christ were not. (Baxter, Batsell Barrett, “This and That -- What If Christ Were Not?” 470)
In Paulus' world, there is no mercy in war or peace. There is no man with a red cross on his arm that the wounded can cry out to in time of war. There are no heroes from the other side who will come and care for you. There is no American that will save the life of a German, no German who would save the life of an American. There is no Christianity.
In Paulus' world, women are objects to be used. They are useful to have around for the gratification of the stronger sex. They are easily possessed, for after all, what value is a woman? They are things of convenience, things that one likes to have around, for after all, who wants to have to take care of his own work? There is no Savior to raise womankind to a position of respect.
In Paulus' world, the poor are useful. The poor can be used for testing of new drugs or for gladiatorial entertainment. Sometimes, at a good slave auction, one might be able to pick up three or four young girls to use around the house. Why would we need any type of machinery when people are so cheap? It is easy to take care of hazardous waste in the time of Paulus; for you simply send the undesirable element of humanity, which is anyone weaker than you, to do that type of work. It doesn't matter if they get sick and die cleaning up the mess. After all, you can just buy more.
By far, the blackest part of Paulus' world is that there is no hope. There is no appealing to the better nature of a man's character, for there is not one. There is no hope that people will see that something is wrong and turn away from it, because nothing is wrong. There is no desire to make the world a better place for no one knows what that means. Truly, the world where Paulus lives is a bitter, dark and horrid place. What a difference Christ has made: "It has been said that Christ changed the course of the River of History and lifted the centuries off their hinges -- a stirring verbal tribute that is quite apropos, considering the evidence” (Butt and Thompson, 22).
Let us look now at the place where the other child lives, this is the place where Christ is. In that world, the people who wear the Red Cross are there to reach out to those who need it. There are those in that world who do what is right, for in that world, right and wrong truly exist. There is an objective standard by which things are measured. They are the very words of this One that we call the Christ.
In this world, there are those who stand outside the places where children are killed and scream, “Wrong!” and “Murder!” and “Stop!” In this world, where this other child lives, there are those whose hearts break to hear of people who don't have enough to eat. Not only are their emotions affected by this tragedy, but because they are the children of Christ, they reach for their wallets as well.
In this world, where the other child lives, there are places to which one can go where someone will say to them, “I will give you clothing. Come. Be sheltered under my roof. Please, take some of my food." This is so because they are the children of Christ. Not only that, not only will they ask that you partake of the things that are necessary for the body, but they will also say to them, "Come. Hear about my Savior. Let me tell you why you need not fear death. Let me tell you how to live a life in hope. Let me tell you how to live a better life."
The influence of Christ upon the lives of these people, that abiding peace, that never-changing joy that comes from the Christian life, is something that they freely share, in the knowledge that the world is a better place because of the influence of the glorious One called Jesus the Christ. For in this world, even in times of war when man's greatest desire seems to be to slaughter one another, the time comes when, under the banner of that Holy One, there are those who seek to bring peace. There are those who go out into the battlefield and, under the storm of gunfire and artillery, bring back enemy soldiers to the safety of the dugout, to the field hospital where they are taken care of and administered to just as their own. This is because in this world, Christ is watching and that same glorified One who has come and taught us all the things that are good in this life commands us that we love our enemies. Where else, under whose flag, under whose star, where is there ever such a One as Christ?
As we consider the two worlds, the world of Paulus and the world of the other child, let us reflect on what would happen if the world of the other child were to change. What would happen if, in the world of the other child, people began to forget Christ? What would happen if those who followed him no longer believed him? What if they were not willing to accept what he taught? The world would slip; it would change; it would become the world of Paulus.
As you stand upon the brink of the abyss and you consider the two worlds, as a Christian think on this: the world under the influence of Christ, as difficult as it sometimes is, is a far better place than it would have been if Christ had never come. However, imagine this: the other child is your child; you are the people in this story. Christians everywhere, please, remember to take the Gospel into all the world. The influence of Christ continues through us, and unless your fondest wish is for your child to grow up in Paulus' world, please, preach the Word.
The fact remains that we can lose what Christ has given us. “Without Christ man could not be saved, but not only that, man would slip back into paganism and barbarism" (Baxter, 472). Anyone who doubts this possibility need only watch the evening news. As the world in general continues to get worse, we should heed the words of Daniel Lapin who wrote in his book America's Real War:
The educational bureaucracy expects the state to accommodate every possible bizarre cultural mutation and lifestyle, but finds prayer at graduation an intolerable and fatal compromise of state neutrality toward religion. Those of us who venerate freedom, be we Jewish or Christian, be we religious or secularized, have no option but to pray for the health of Christianity in America. No other group possesses both the faith and the numbers sufficient to hold back the ever-encroaching, sometimes sinister, power of the state. (Dobbs, Buster, “Potpourri Irrational Fear,” Firm Foundation, Volume 115, Number 11, 32)
Mr. Lapin is Jewish. Even those who are not Christians can see the profound influence that Christ has had upon the world. More startling than that is that they can see the danger that we face if we turn this world into one in which Christ is not.
The Christian life is one that contains duty. That duty includes converting others to Christ. The only thing that can keep the world from slipping into a new Dark Age is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Great Physician yet heals a sick and dying world. As Phillip Schaff said:
Not for all the wealth and wisdom of this world would I weaken the faith of the humblest Christian in his divine Lord and Savior; but, if, by the grace of God, I could convert a single skeptic to a childlike faith in him who lived and died for me and for all, I would feel that I had not lived in vain. (Schaff, 124)