“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
“All professing Christians know that the cross is important, but we often fail to grasp the all-encompassing significance of it—that the cross is not only at the heart of our faith, but it encompasses the entire existence of our faith, our life and our worship. In order for us to possess a proper theology of the cross, the reality of Christ crucified must possess us in all we believe, and in all that we do.” Pastor Burk Parsons
Isaiah 53:4-6 forms the middle section of the five portions of Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song of Yahweh (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). These three verses in this section form what is arguably the most significant statement of substitutionary atonement contained in the Old Testament. Everything Isaiah has written thus far, and everything he will subsequently write, frames these three verses.
I have entitled this section The Ordeal of the Suffering Servant. An ordeal is a setting or a circumstance of torment, suffering, tribulation, trouble and affliction. Isaiah described the ordeal the Servant of Yahweh, Jesus Christ, would endure. However, the prophet made it quite clear the ordeal Jesus encountered and experienced was not because of any sin He committed, but rather His ordeal was on our behalf because of our sins.
The Messiah’s humiliation and agony of being despised, rejected and not esteemed is explained in Isaiah 53:4-6. The text presents, as one author writes, “a staggering awakening” regarding the ultimate reason for the cross.
Today, we examine Isaiah 53:4. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)
“Surely.” This adverb means truly and certainly with a strong sense of emphasis on the truth of what is going to be said. What truth was so predominant in the prophet’s mind?
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” On the surface it may seem that this verse is saying that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, helps people through their griefs and sorrows. While this is biblically true (Hebrews 4:14-16; I Peter 5:7), this is not what this particular text means.
On the contrary, the sure truth is that the Messiah, has borne and carried something on behalf of sinners. The word borne means to carry, to lift and to bear. The word carried means to carry a heavy load. What is it that Jesus has borne and carried?
The text says, respectively, our griefs and our sorrows. The word “griefs” means illnesses, wounds and afflictions. “Sorrows” means pain, anguish and suffering.
Israel in particular and the world in general, often tend to evaluate Jesus’ death as the result of Him being stricken, smitten and afflicted by God for His own sin. Stricken means to be violently struck. Smitten means to be destroyed or to be struck resulting in death. Afflicted means to be mistreated, oppressed and to suffer.
However, the text is saying that Jesus took upon Himself the humiliating death on the cross not only because of the griefs and sorrows we experience because of other people’s sins, but also the griefs and sorrows we have caused other to experience because of our own sin. It was on our behalf, and because of our sin, that God the Father struck, smote and afflicted the sinless Son of God.
The pain the Servant bore was our own. The affliction He endured was because of the affliction we have caused others and others have caused us. It was the price to be paid for our sins and for our salvation.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Jesus acts as the Substitute, taking our place at the bar of God’s justice. For this reason, we sometimes speak of Jesus’ work on the cross as the substitutionary atonement of Christ, which means that when He offered an atonement, it was not to satisfy God’s justice for His own sins, but for the sins of others. He stepped into the role of Substitute, representing His people. He didn’t lay down His life for Himself; He laid it down for His sheep. He is our ultimate Substitute.”
This truth is beautifully expressed in the song His Robes for Mine by Chris Anderson and Greg Habegger. May it be our testimony on this Good Friday.
His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage.
Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified.
In Christ I live, for in my place He died.
I cling to Christ, and marvel at the cost:
Jesus forsaken, God estranged from God.
Bought by such love, my life is not my own.
My praise-my all-shall be for Christ alone.
His robes for mine: what cause have I for dread?
God’s daunting Law Christ mastered in my stead.
Faultless I stand with righteous works not mine,
Saved by my Lord’s vicarious death and life.
His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased.
Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased.
Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!”
Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.
His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!