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  • Micah Smith

Advent Devotional Day 20: Isaiah 53

The Suffering Servant

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty, with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and we numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53.11-12)

In yesterday’s installment of the Advent devotional, we studied the prophetic office of the Messiah that was prophesied long ago. The Messiah, the Servant of the Lord that was to be given to Israel was to discharge the duty of making the glory of Yahweh known throughout all the earth. We also noted that His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King are all tightly wound together so that we cannot look at one of them and not be drawn back to the others. This is the case with the passage before us today and Christ’s Priestly office. How does the Christ reveal the full nature of God to all the nations? He does so by in His Person displaying the full range of God’s attributes in His Gospel-work. Christ’s priestly office reveals much to us about God’s nature. In Christ’s atonement He puts God’s justice, wrath, mercy, love and so many more attributes on public display as He dies for the sins of His people. So even in His priestly office He manifests the awesome glory of God. However, the essence of this work that He accomplishes is intercessory.

If we were to visit Old Testament Jerusalem during the Passover festival, the reality of death would be palpable. As you approach the city you can smell the blood of the sacrificed animals in your nostrils as you contemplate the curse of God that your sin deserves, and His magnificent mercy in offering a substitute for you on the altar. The priesthood of Levi played the critical role of slaying these beasts in the place of God’s people and bringing their blood as an offering to Yahweh, sprinkling it on the altar as they interceded on behalf of God’s people. Between God and His people there stood a priest with blood-soaked garments asking the Lord to not give His people what they deserve, but to render that sentence upon a worthy substitute, a propitiatory sacrifice.

Throughout this series, we have been tracing the themes of the work of the coming Messiah throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis. This theme of intercession and sacrifice is no different. It runs all throughout the Old Testament as God’s people are instructed to make sacrifices in order for God’s presence to dwell in their midst. These theme of intercession on behalf of God’s people is part and parcel of the complex of promises that surround the coming Seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. As these sacrifices are continually offered in the nation year after year, however, it becomes more and more apparent that they are pointing to something beyond themselves. The blood of these animals could never eternally atone for human sin, (Hebrews 10.4) and in the spilling of their blood there was only a reminder of their sin that still hadn’t been dealt with finally. (Hebrews 10.3) Within the Old Testament theme of the intercession of the priesthood and the blood of their sacrifices, there is a keen awareness that these things only point beyond themselves to some ultimate reality. They pointed beyond themselves to the Seed of the woman, the Suffering Servant who would offer Himself in His high priestly work, crushing the serpent’s head and justifying the many through His death.

This entire chapter of Isaiah 53 focuses on the intercessory work of the Suffering Servant, but in verses 11-12 we have a specific focus on what His suffering produces. His bearing of His people’s iniquities is compared to “anguish” or “travail.” These are words which literally depict childbirth. As He is pierced for His people’s transgressions, bearing their iniquities (verse 11) His suffering is producing something. He is bringing forth a people for God that are produced through His intercessory work as the offering that bears sins. This is a song of immense suffering, the worst suffering that anyone could ever experience. This is a song about the Messiah bearing the wrath of God finally and completely for His people. This is not only a solemn song, though. We are not meant to walk away from this song feeling downtrodden and sullen because our Lord suffered in our place, as if we were exiting a funeral. This is just as much a song of victory as it is one of suffering. We are meant to leave this song leaping for joy and falling on our knees before our great God and Savior! The Suffering Servant’s intercession for His people is triumphant, perfect, and unfailingly successful. Those whom He died for, He intercedes for. Those whom He died for and intercedes for will infallibly receive all of the benefits of His perfect work.

Take a look at some of descriptions of those whom He intercedes on behalf of. They are “the many” who are justified. (verse 11) They are the fruit that His suffering produces which He “sees and is satisfied.” (which implies a resurrection) They are called “the great,” and “the strong,” whom this Servant in all of His glory shares the spoils of His victory with. (verse 12) Although these poor, helpless sinners are not great or strong in themselves, the picture that is being drawn here is a King who has won the battle and is sharing what He has won with those who are His. This is a picture of resurrection glory that will be shared by the Servant, with those whom He purchased in His immense suffering. Eternity in glory will be spent in the worship, adoration, and fellowship of the Suffering Servant with His people. All of the New Creation bought by Him will be theirs in Him. This is a picture of perfect atonement, invincible intercession, and immense glory that is won by Him.

Our Lord Jesus did not die to make anyone “savable.” He died to actually save sinners. His suffering actually produces and effectuates all that the Lord intended for it. His sacrifice and intercession make our salvation sure. His suffering and death in our place is ultimately the point of the incarnation that we celebrate this time of the year. This is a Gospel of blood. A Gospel of the Incarnate God who came to suffer violent death. He was born in a manger, with His entire life being a steadfast march to the cross. In His violent death His heel crushed the serpent’s head as He makes perfect sacrifice for His people. His people are perfectly and eternally justified through His intercession as their Priest, and they are infallibly ushered into eternal glory with Him because “He bore the sins of many.” (verse 12) If you are His, you can rest in the fact that Christ purchased you in His suffering. All of God’s wrath for you has been extinguished in Christ. He loves you with an everlasting love, and daily prays for you as your high priest at the Father’s right hand. You cannot be lost because He cannot fail.

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