Suffering Because of Sin – The Suffering Servant
March 24, 2024

Suffering Because of Sin – The Suffering Servant

Passage: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Am I Being Punished for My Mistakes?

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve discussed parts of the Bible that give insight into the sufferings of Christ and into our sufferings. And when it comes to suffering, people often ask, if something bad happens to me – if my life becomes hard, is it because I’ve done something wrong? Am I being punished for my mistakes? Am I suffering because of my sin? Tonight we’re going to explore the relationship between suffering and sin by taking a look at a figure known as the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah. So please turn with me in your Bibles to Isaiah chapter 52, verse 13. (If you’re using one of the Bibles from the back table, you can find our passage on page 574.)

Let’s pray, though, before I read the text.


Israel, the Suffering Servant

The man, Isaiah, who wrote this book – he was a prophet of God, which means he was a messenger sent by God to speak on his behalf. Isaiah lived in the Middle East in the 8th century BC, about 700 years before the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar. And the prophet Isaiah was sent by God to speak to an ancient nation named Israel. Prior to this time, God had established a unique relationship with Israel called a covenant. This special covenant authorized Israel to be close to Him, and to be His royal servant – to represent his priorities and to carry out his purposes.

But at this time, Israel was defying the covenant. The people refused to align themselves with God, which is to say they sinned. So back in chapter 1, verse 4, Isaiah rebukes them: Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”

And just a few verses later, Isaiah makes it plain that Israel’s sin will have a consequence. Isaiah 1, verse 7: “Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence, foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.” God, in his justice, brings a consequence for Israel’s sin that affects their earthly lives. The nation is overthrown and the people are sent into exile. God’s servant Israel is subjected to suffering because of sin.

Jesus, the Suffering Servant (52:13-53:3)

All this might lead you to believe that God always punishes evil crimes with earthly consequences. Every time you suffer in life, you may assume that you must have some sort of guilt that God’s punishing you for. And the longer your suffering continues, the more you’ll tempted to think of God as harsh and demanding – that he’s pushing you away, almost as though He’s saying, “First you have to go clean yourself up, and only then will I give you relief. Only then can your suffering end.”

But our passage tonight unravels this theory of suffering. Because as God looks at his sinful, suffering servant, Israel, he doesn’t abandon the nation. He doesn’t insist that the people have to fix themselves before he’ll be willing to help them. Instead, while Israel is still stuck in their downward spiral, God promises to raise up another Servant for the good of His people. This servant will represent Israel and restore Israel and succeed in the ways that Israel failed. We’re given an elevated description of this new servant in Isaiah 52, verse 13. “Behold, my servant shall act wisely, he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” This servant that God’s telling Isaiah about – it’s Jesus Christ. And Isaiah is getting clued in about it 700+ years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

But Isaiah goes on to tell us some astonishing news. This exalted one, Jesus, will stoop down and serve by entering into Israel’s suffering. He’ll be marred by suffering, just like Israel was. Verse 14: “As many were astonished at you (astonished at Israel’s destruction) – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.”

When you imagine an exalted servant of God, this probably isn’t what you’d expect. It’s difficult to accept that God’s servant would be a suffering servant, as Isaiah himself acknowledges in verse 1 of Chapter 53. But in verses 2 and 3, Isaiah insists that God’s Servant will seem unimpressive and ordinary. He’ll be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and one who is acquainted with suffering.

Suffering Because of Sin (53:4-6)

But why? Why does Jesus come as a suffering servant?

Look at verse 4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken by God, smitten by God, and afflicted. [Verse 5]: But he was pierced for our transgressions (meaning that he was pierced for our crimes); he was crushed for our iniquities (he was crushed for our guilt). On him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

We had griefs and sorrows – we had transgressions and iniquity, crimes and guilt. And this was true for every single one of us, as Verse 6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray!” We’ve been like foolish sheep who have abandoned their Shepherd, and we’ve run off alone, to do things our way! “We have turned – every one – to his own way.” And if you’ve turned to your own way, that necessarily means that you have turned away from God’s way!

But God sent His servant, to take the blame for your crimes, to carry your guilt, and to be stricken with suffering on your behalf. “The LORD has laid on Him – on the suffering servant, Jesus – the iniquity of us all.”

Suffering as a Sinless Servant (53:7-9)

So notice – Jesus himself is innocent. Jesus comes as a suffering Servant – NOT because He’s guilty of doing wrong or failing to do good. But Jesus suffers because YOU failed to live for God. Because I failed. Because Israel failed.

During his whole life, Jesus remains committed to God the Father. He perfectly cares for the needs of those around him. And Jesus’s righteousness is what allows him to die in our place – the just for the unjust, the holy for the unholy. But tragically, the very sinners Jesus has come to save are the ones who oppress and afflict him, as mentioned in verse 7. They’re the ones who cut Jesus off out of the land of the living – who make “his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Being blameless and upright – belonging to Jesus – won’t protect you from suffering in this world. In fact, you may suffer more. People you know may insult you, reject you, or possibly even harm you because you’re committed to God, or because you refuse to bow the knee to certain social theories or political parties. If people persecuted Jesus, you can be certain that they will also persecute his followers. Jesus himself says as much in John 15:20. And makes it clear – not all suffering is a punishment for guilt. Instead, when you suffer as a Christian, your affliction is actually proof that you’re a genuine servant of God, as you suffer with faith, endurance, and hope.

Suffering By the Will of God (53:10a)

And it’s important to note: suffering of this sort isn’t accidental. When Christians suffer around the world, it’s not as though God is helplessly wringing his hands, wondering whether his church will make it through. When Jesus was mocked and crucified, it’s not as though God wanted to intervene, but he couldn’t. No, verse 10 confirms, “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.”

The sufferings of Christ were part of God’s plan all along – after all, Isaiah predicted them hundreds of years beforehand. But it isn’t just Christ’s sufferings which have happened according to the will of God. The same can be said about your sufferings. Though trials have come from many different directions – through angry people, health care emergencies, natural disasters, money problems, or whatever – God is ultimately in control over it all. He’s limiting the harm it will cause to his children. And He’s ensuring that your suffering will ultimately bring forth good.

It was God’s will for Christ to suffer. And in various times and ways, it very well may be God’s will for you to suffer, too. This is part of what it means to live as a servant of God. But if you’re suffering according to God’s will, that means that God has power over your suffering. He’s restraining it. He’s intending for that suffering to take place in order to accomplish his good purposes. Even if we can’t possibly see what the good is that God intends to produce from our suffering, we can still trust the goodness of His will.

No More Suffering Because of Sin (53:10b-12)

And to encourage your trust in God during suffering, I want to point out two good outcomes that He produces out of Jesus’s sufferings.

First, you’ll see in verse 10 that the suffering servant, Jesus, “makes an offering for guilt,” and verse 11 adds to this, saying, “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” So Jesus both offers himself for our guilt AND Jesus, the one who is perfectly right in God’s eyes, makes us to be counted as right in the eyes of God.

And don’t miss the significance of this. If you have received this Jesus, then his self-sacrifice is credited to your account. God no longer sees you as guilty, because Jesus has carried your guilt, and has paid the consequence for it. God no longer sees you as unrighteous, or even as neutral, because Jesus has credited you with his uprightness – he makes us to be accounted righteous. And this means, that your earthly sufferings are never an indication that God’s wrath is burning against you, or that he’s turned his back against you. Instead, when you encounter suffering in this fallen, corrupt world, you can remain confident of your standing before God, because Jesus has paid it all on your behalf.

But here’s the last thing I want to point out, at the very end of verse 12. This suffering servant who “bore the sin of many,” what does he do? He “makes intercession for the transgressors.” When the text tells us that Jesus “makes intercession,” it literally means that Jesus is pleading to God on behalf of others. And who is he pleading for? He’s pleading for transgressors. This Jesus who entered into your guilt, who paid the price for your crimes, and who has clothed you in his righteousness – He now speaks to the Holy Father in the presence of angelic hosts, on behalf of transgressors – on behalf of you. He declares that you are forgiven! That you are clean. That you, poor, weary soul, are forgiven of every wrong.

As a Christian, if you’re suffering, if you’re burdened with a sense of guilt, if you’re groaning and can’t think of the words to pray, remember that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).

But if you aren’t a Christian, let me close with this. On that last day, when you face the Maker and Judge of the Universe – when you stand before Him, and are asked to give an account for all your words, thoughts, and actions, who will intercede for you? Who will be able to present you to God as one who is guiltless, and righteous? How will you respond to the suffering servant of God?