Monday, December 6, 2010

The Substitution of Jesus

Part 2 of Born to Die


Christians and Jews disagree on the identity of the Servant in Isaiah 53. Christians believe that the Servant is Jesus. Jews believe that the Servant is Israel. Here are three of their arguments against Jesus being the Servant: (1) The Servant is "despised and rejected" (v. 3), but Jesus was popular. Jesus was popular with the common people but never with the Jewish authorities. Eventually, His popularity faded and the people of Jerusalem cried, "Crucify him!" (2) The Servant "shall see his offspring" (v. 10), but Jesus died childless. Of course, Jesus didn't have any physical children, but through faith in Him we become the spiritual children of God. "He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12). (3) The Servant "shall prolong his days" (v. 10), but Jesus died young. Christians see the prolonging of the Servant's days as a hint of the resurrection.


The Servant was misunderstood in two ways. First, His identity was misunderstood. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (v. 3). The Jews were expecting someone like David. David was "handsome" (1 Samuel 16:12). He was famous for killing Goliath. Jesus did not meet their expectations for the Messiah. Second, His suffering was misunderstood. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted (v. 4). (Note the repetition of "sorrows," "griefs," and "esteemed" in verses 3 and 4.) To the Jews, Jesus' death on the cross was clear-cut proof that He was not the Messiah. How could God allow His chosen one to die in this way? Paul wrote,
"Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). While Jesus hung on the cross, His enemies mocked Him, saying, "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:32). Was Jesus punished by God (see v. 10a)? Yes, but not for His sin—Jesus was sinless (see v. 9b). He was punished for our sin.


Isaiah 53 is often called the "gospel in the Old Testament." Verses 4-6 give us the two core truths of the gospel (the bad news and the good news). First, every single one of us is a sinner. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way (v. 6a). It's often said, "People are basically good." But God says we are all sinners. Second, Christ died in our place. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (v. 4a). But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (v. 5). And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (v. 6b). Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; cf. Matthew 20:28). In the original Greek, the word "for" (anti) means "instead of" or "in place of." Jesus is the "good shepherd" who "lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). He is the shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). "When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Our sin was "laid on him," like the sin of Israel was laid on the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20-22).

Paul might have been thinking of this passage in Isaiah 53 when he wrote, "For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Peter wrote, "He himself bore our ins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:24-25).

How should we respond to the substitutionary death of Jesus? "Die to sin and live to righteousness."

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