HomeFurther DiscussionIsaiah 49-54: The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 49-54: The Suffering Servant

-by Pastor Ashley Brown

Last week Joel asked me to address an issue from Isaiah 49-54 that he wouldn’t have the time to develop in his sermon. And so, that is what I intend to do today.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

Isaiah 49 speaks of the singular individual who is the Servant, Israel, and yet redeems the servant Israel. This representative Israel assumes the nation’s mission. Thus, in verse 6, the LORD declares of His Servant Israel – the representative individual – “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This prophecy, originally spoken of national Israel in Isaiah 42:6, applies to the individual Servant in Isaiah 49:6. And we find out in Luke 2:32 that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy regarding Israel.

Jesus Is the Light to the Nations

In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem and present Him at the Temple. While there, they meet a man, named Simeon, who has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). This is a reference to the prophecy of Isaiah that the LORD would send His servant to console and comfort Israel by redeeming and restoring them. Interestingly, when Simeon meets Jesus, he declares that Jesus was the One sent by the LORD as, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Simeon realized Jesus was the individual for whom Israel was waiting. He was the One who, as Israel, would fulfill the mission of being a light to the Gentiles and bringing glory to Israel.

Jesus’ Mission Is Our Mission

Interestingly, in Acts 13:47 the Apostle Paul also references Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the light to the Gentiles. However, he applies this prophecy to the significance of his own ministry! What’s going on here?! Quite simply, because Paul’s identity is “in Jesus” – one of Paul’s favorite phrases – Jesus’ mission has become Paul’s mission! Paul is part of Christ’s Body, the Church. And, as Christ’s Body in this world, we are given the task of completing the work Jesus desires to be accomplished. We are the way in which Jesus is still being a light in this world!

How Our Mission Must Be Done

Of course, if our desire is to be a light to the nations, as Jesus’ Body in this world, we must do this in the same manner that Jesus would… and did. You see, the LORD wasn’t just particular about the focus of Jesus’ mission. The LORD was also particular about how that mission was to be carried out. Joel developed the how of Jesus’ mission quite well. Isaiah 52-53 make it quite clear that Jesus was to fulfill His mission by suffering well. This must also define the way we fulfill Jesus’ mission today.

In 1Peter 2:22-26  the Apostle Peter speaks of the need for Christians to suffer well. He declares that we have actually been called to suffer well. Why?

Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

In this passage, Peter quotes and alludes to Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus suffering on the cross, portrayed in Isaiah 52-53. And Peter says this is the example of suffering to which we are called if we are in Jesus!

The Need for Suffering Well

In Colossians 1:24 Paul says he rejoices in suffering because when he suffers well he is, “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” The idea is simple. A watching world has no frame of reference to understand the extent of the good news about what Jesus accomplished as the Suffering Servant. However, when we suffer well we provide them with a concrete, tangible picture of what a perfect, redeeming obedience and love looks like. When they see us suffer well – not returning reviling for reviling, not being threatening toward those who would threaten us, not lying to defend ourselves, but simply bearing the consequences of other people’s sin – the watching world gets a glimpse of what Jesus did. And in that glimpse they are able to understand the gospel in a compelling and fresh way. They see, firsthand, the light shining out among the nations!

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