Imagine you are faithful worshiper of YHWH living in the 5th century B.C., reading Isaiah’s various descriptions of God’s servant. You are encouraged by powerful lines like, “and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (Isaiah 52:15). God is going to bring truth and light into the world through this servant.
But as you read, some problems confuse your understanding of Israel’s ability to fulfill God’s call upon this servant. How can this servant be made “an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10), for only a spotless lamb or animal without blemish or defect can be made an offering for sin? You might read that this servant is called “righteous” (Isaiah 53:11); you love your people, but you know that the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been anything but righteous. How can Israel as a people offer atonement when they need atonement themselves? How will Israel change such that they can bring this wonderful knowledge to the nations where they have failed before? In short, you believe that Israel is God’s servant, but you cannot imagine how Israel can live up to this calling.
Something has to change; something new has to occur. God’s servant must be transformed, or else it cannot be the servant who “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” in order that “the punishment that brought us peace” could be laid upon Him (Isaiah 53:5). It is for this reason that the early church saw Jesus as the best fit for God’s servant from Isaiah. The church didn’t just find ways to prove Jesus was the servant; rather, the church found that they finally could only make sense of God’s descriptions for the servant being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Only Jesus could be satisfactory sacrifice and, and as uniquely God and man, able to give understanding to the world.
Jesus alone suffered, on the cross, but with a significance no other death could carry. Let us be amazed at the scandal that our King would suffer as God’s chosen servant, to bring us life forever. It was foretold long ago, and now we see God’s good plan. Indeed, let our weary hearts rejoice.