Week 7: Holy Week “The Way of the Servant”: The Way of Suffering



Good Friday, April 14

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.

 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
     Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
(Isa 52:13—53:12).

With the fourth Servant Song, we come to the end of Second Isaiah’s exploration of the way of the Servant. Now, we can at last see what the prophet has been up to in these Songs, as he pulls his many themes together into this final poetic masterpiece. The hiddenness of the Servant’s destiny is a consistent theme of the Songs, but the hidden work of the Servant is most powerfully expressed in this final Servant Song, where the nations look on the Servant in bewilderment: “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (53:2). But the major theme of this fourth and final Song is the Servant’s suffering:

He was despised and rejected by others;

a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;

and as one from whom others hide their faces

he was despised, and we held him of no account (53:3).

Christian readers have long seen the Servant of the Lord as Jesus. In Acts 8:32-35, when the Ethiopian eunuch asks if the prophet in Isaiah 53 speaks “about himself or about someone else,” Philip wastes no time in sharing with him “the good news about Jesus.” In 1 Peter 2:22-25, that writer alludes freely to the fourth Song, declaring of Jesus “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”  

Certainly, no Christian reader can consider today’s passage without remembering Jesus’ passion. But even the writer of 1 Peter, who sees Jesus’ cross in Isaiah 53, does not therefore think that we are relieved of the responsibility for walking in this way ourselves. Indeed, he writes, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The apostle Paul as well understood this: indeed he could say, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:19). In Wednesday’s prayer, we remembered that the writer of Hebrews calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Heb 12:2). What might it mean for us to follow such a pioneer—to, in the words of the old Gospel hymn, “go with him, with him, all the way”?

Prayer: O Jesus, we do indeed want to go with you—but we are afraid of where your path leads. Remind us, as you reminded your first disciples, that your way of service is a way of life, not of death. O God, give us the courage to stand where you stand, alongside the oppressed, and to take up our cross, that we might inherit Christ’s eternal, invincible life. In the name of the Crucified, Amen.