When we think about God, each of us has an image come to mind. We expect that God should look and act a certain way. But God’s words in Isaiah 53 highlight a theme that prevails throughout Scripture, a theme that finds its culmination on the cross: God reverses our expectations of him.
Isaiah describes Jesus—the Son of God by whom all things were created—not as one who came “to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many” (John 1:3; Mark 10:45). And he came to do so as a suffering servant.
Jesus’ form and appearance reverse the expectations we have regarding what we think God should look like. Isaiah describes him, not as a mighty, rooted, majestic tree, but as a tender shoot, a young plant, a weak, vulnerable sapling. “He has no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”(Isa 53:2).
Isaiah reverses our expectations further by telling us that Jesus, our suffering servant, is “a man of sorrow… familiar with suffering.” Because of his seeming weakness and his suffering, “he was despised and rejected” by humanity (Isa 53:3). We too turn away from him.
Our sin-filled judgments and expectations about Jesus lead us away from God. “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to [our] own way” (Isa 53:6). We reject the suffering servant. “He was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isa 53:3). We are betrayers like Judas, deniers like Peter, deserters like the Apostles.
Our sin-filled judgments and expectations about Jesus lead us away from God.
More of our expectations are reversed when we see that despite our waywardness, our weakness, and our sin, Jesus suffered for us. He bore our weaknesses, “our infirmities and carried our sorrows… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53:4-5, emphasis added).
He suffered as injustice was carried out against him (Isa 53:8). The religious leaders brought false accusations, bogus witnesses, and sham testimony to condemn him (Mark 14:55-59). Though Pilate reiterated Jesus’ innocence, in the end, he too condemned him to death (Luke 23:23-25). Yet, Jesus did not defend himself against these corruptions of justice. He remained silent in the face of affliction, oppression, and death. “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa 53:7).
Even more of our expectations of God are reversed when we discover that our suffering servant chose to suffer for us. Jesus chose rejection over acceptance. Spit over salutation. Bleeding and blows over blessings. Thorns over riches. Guilt over innocence. He chose torture over comfort and death over life.
Paul’s words in Galatians echo Isaiah’s. “Our Lord Jesus Christ… gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal 1:3-4). Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, focuses our attention on what Jesus did not give. He did not give gold, silver, or sacrificial animals, but gave himself. And he gave himself, not for our good deeds or any worthiness in us, but for our sin.
Still, more of our expectations are reversed. Jesus’ punishment reconciles us with God (Rom 5:10). His suffering and death make us whole and, “by his wounds we are healed” both spiritually and physically (Isa 53:5). Our healing includes both the forgiveness of sin and a promised deliverance from sin’s effects on us and the world we live in, namely suffering and death.
Both Isaiah and Paul point out that Jesus’ suffering was no accident. Isaiah writes, “It was the will of the Lord to crush him and cause him to suffer” (Isa 53:10). Paul says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ… gave himself for our sins… according to the will of the Father” (Gal 1:3-4).
By pouring out his life unto death, Jesus reverses our death (Isa 53:12).
God created the people who betrayed, denied, and deserted his Son. He created the people who beat him, mocked him, spat on him, and who miscarried justice against him. He created the very materials by which his Son would be killed: the iron of the nails and the wood of the cross. Then, Jesus used those instruments to die for those who betrayed him, denied him, deserted him, beat him, mocked him, spat on him, and who miscarried justice against him. He died for his enemies. He died for us.
This was God’s plan. Down to the day. It was no coincidence that Christ’s crucifixion happened on a Friday, the sixth day of the week. God created humanity on the first Friday. Then, the first humans fell, in turn, bringing death to us all. Jesus, by his suffering and death on the cross, reversed the fate of sinful humanity on a Friday that we call “good.”
God’s plan brings victory over sin, death, and the devil. Jesus, by his death, reverses our course as straying sheep. He took on our unrighteousness and sin and in exchange, gives us his righteousness and perfection. By bearing “the sin of many,” he reversed the power of the devil and sin’s hold on us (Isa 53:12). No longer are we separated from God; no longer are we numbered among sinners. By his death, Jesus makes us God’s sainted children.
All these reversals lead to the greatest reversal. By pouring out his life unto death, Jesus reverses our death (Isa 53:12). “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ, all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21). No longer is death the end. On the cross, Jesus crucifies our expectations. By his death, he wins for us forgiveness, life, and salvation.