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The Suffering Servant

Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on

As the Easter season approaches I am drawn to the Book of Isaiah and in particular the 4 Servant Songs that begin in Isaiah 42 and end in Isaiah 52/53 with the powerful portrayal of the “Suffering Servant.”

            Interestingly, I am more familiar with Isaiah as part of my Christmas preparation, fondly reflecting on Isaiah 7:14 that “a virgin will be with Child and bear a Son, and she will call His name, Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” In Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah reveals that this Son will also be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

            I am struck by the progression of Isaiah’s prophecy that reveals the Child will become a Servant. And not simply a provincial Servant to redeem God’s People from their exile in Babylon and return them to Jerusalem. Rather, the Servant will be “Light to the nations,” bringing salvation to all people.

            The Servant will ultimately be rejected by the religious and political leaders of His day. Isaiah graphically depicts the suffering the Servant will endure in Isaiah 53. The Servant will be “stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, chastened, scourged, despised, forsaken and crushed.” 

            Yet, in spite of this unspeakable suffering, Jesus embraces His call as Servant when He declares that He is the One to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy after reading from the scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

            Hebrews 12:2 offers insight into the heart of Jesus when it states that Jesus “endured the cross and despised its shame” because of the joy set before Him in accomplishing His work.

            The Servant Song of Isaiah 49 offers a picture of the work of the Servant and how the Servant helps those in need. To those who are bound, the Servant says, “Go Forth.” To those who are in the darkness, the Servant says, “Show Yourself.” 

            To anyone who responds, the Servant brings comfort to the afflicted and compassion to the broken-hearted. The Servant acts as Shepherd, providing pastures to feed and rest, as well as springs of water to quench thirst. And this is reason to “Shout for Joy!”

            Today, the Servant continues to call to those who are bound and to those who live in the darkness. To the addict, the Servant says “Go Forth.”  To the hurting and broken, “Go Forth.” To the lonely, the Servant says “Show yourself.” To the one bound up in guilt and shame, “Show yourself.” 

The Servant knows our suffering. The Servant took on our guilt and brokenness. The Servant is ready to receive and restore us. The Servant is eager to be our Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd,” declared Jesus, “I have come that you would have life and have it more abundantly. 

On the journey home, you may encounter “scorching heat,” but the Shepherd promises you will not “hunger or thirst.” Green pastures and springs of water await.

What keeps you from “Going Forth,” today? What keeps you from “Showing Yourself?” The Servant awaits. He longs to embrace you. He longs to free you from the prisons and darkness of your life.