2.) The Godly Leader Endures through Hardships
Stanza #2: Isaiah 53:1-3
By Rev. Paul J. Bucknell
The purpose for our study of Isaiah 53:1-9 is to understand two things: 1) Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and 2) how Christ endured different kinds of hardship. We will reflect upon the variety of difficulties that Jesus went through and see that they did not hinder His ministry but enabled Him to serve. It is easy to be fooled into thinking certain things are important to a good ministry. In Jesus’ model ministry, we will find what is critical to a great ministry.
Not too long ago, I was going through a very difficult time. Just when one I thought it could not get any worse, one or two more things happen. I felt as if I was a log that was being split to be burned. If you are unfamiliar with the process, you must remember that a whole log does not properly burn and often simply does not fit. The log to be useful must be split into two or more pieces. Sometimes I can take an axe and drive it right through the log in one strike. At other times, however, I need to work much harder by splitting it using a metal wedge. Woods are either soft or hard, curved grain or straight. Sometimes it takes me ten or more strikes to drive the shaft down through the middle of that log. In these cases, before it actually splits, I usually can hear it starting to crack. The cracking goes on and off until it finally gives way and splits. This is a picture of being broken, split, torn asunder right at ones heart. My circumstances don’t at all compare to Christ’s, but I still feel broken and split.
I am glad it happens only occasionally. I usually don’t think that I can come out alive. And anyone who has been in such situations surely agrees he rather be anywhere than where he is at the moment. But choice is not an option. This was true of the Servant who made Himself available. I have heard several people tell me that they do not want to be totally available in case the Lord calls them to such and such a place. They are like the log that sits on the side and is never burned. Instead as it waits its time it just decays and gets soft and rots inside. That was not true of the Servant in the three stanzas that we will examine here. Remember as we study the work of Christ on the cross that we will miss half the message if we do not look at what He endured to get to the cross. Let’s now look at the second stanza.
Through this 4th Servant Song's second stanza comprised of three verses (53:1-3) we discover how much Jesus really suffered.
Remember that we are not only looking at what Christ has done on the cross but examining what it took to get Him there. Verse by verse we will find very difficult aspects of life that Christ has suffered. We of course should not think that only Christ had suffered such things. Perhaps, what He suffered was more extreme, but it was still the kind of thing we face today.
Isaiah brings up from the very start a very common problem that we face, that is, the rejection of the message that we speak. We don’t often think that Christ suffered this problem. But sure He did. “Who has believed our message?” This is the typical evangelism or missiological question that is again and again brought up today. Like Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, men hear the gospel but reject it for many reasons. Only those who recognize God’s mercy and power to deal with their sin problems will believe (1b). But let us first think about how people rejected Christ’s message. Rejection of His message as the Son of God is much greater than someone turning away from what we say. For Christ, it was rejection of Him. It is hard to see so few people rightly respond to God’s truth.
The Servant came with a special message of God’s love and grace. Christ had no doubt about the validity or authority of the message that He proclaimed. If anyone had faith, He did. The Lord revealed His love to His people. He longed that they hear and respond. People’s response to His message revealed what was in their heart. The reason that we do not associate the problem of indifference to Jesus’ preaching was that He drew such a great audience. When a person speaking draws crowds, we assume there is a good response. The average preacher is glad to have large crowds attending. But Jesus was not like this.
He saw through to the people’s hearts. In John 2 it speaks that Jesus did not entrust Himself to them for He knew their heart. “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:24, 25). When Jesus began to sharpen His message in John 6, we find that the crowd virtually vanished leaving only a few disciples. People were drawn to Jesus’ miracles and not to the truth (John 6:26). When He spoke out clearly, His disciples rejected Him. “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).
Remember, when people reject the Gospel message that we preach, it is His message they reject. But for Christ, it was a rejection not only what He said but of Himself. This was tremendously difficult for Him at times. Do you remember when Jesus’ approached Jerusalem? What did He do? He wept, “And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it” (Luke 19:41).
Application: Have you ever wondered why more people do not accept the gospel? Have you struggled why some believe and others do not? Sometimes we take a person’s rejection rather personal and are easily offended, whether it be the heathen’s response or those within the church. We have no right to shape the message that we preach to make it softer to gather a greater response. Neither do we have any right to negatively evaluate our ministries on the way people respond to our message. As preachers and evangelists, we focus on our faithfulness rather than on the response. We must be so careful here. This of course does not mean we are adverse to examining or improving how we speak, but only that we should not evaluate the success of our ministry solely by how many people attend the service.
We are Christ’s ambassadors and ought to proclaim God’s Word no matter how people respond to it, whether our circumstances be friendly like the Bereans or hostile like the Athenians. We need to preach in and out of season, whether the Word is warmly received or outright scoffed at. If our message is rejected, it is really Christ that is being rejected. Christ suffered more and was rejected more than we could ever imagine.
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (Isaiah 53:2)
The Servant Jesus did not start off His life or ministry like one would expect for someone sent from heaven. We see that He was described as a tender shoot out of some dry ground rather than some majestic tree. A shoot is just a sprout or beginning of life. One can step on it and crush it without even knowing it. Without water, the sprout was all the more vulnerable to be broken off. How different an image than a great tree that one cannot hardly look up and towers high above our heads. Jesus was like a tender shoot.
We can see this in the life of Christ. He was born in a little unknown town of Bethlehem. He was born in dingy circumstances (stable). There was nothing particularly impressive about Him. We like to point to our degree, our heritage, our wealth, our social status. But Jesus had none of this. He was not born in a palace or brought up under some famous rabbi or Pharisee. Paul the apostle could boast about these things but chose not to because he saw their inferiority. It was all rubbish to him (Philippians 3:8). We must remember that Jesus was not starting off with an extra step ahead of us. If anything, He was at a step far behind. He should have been treated royally but came as a peasant.
The end of the verse speaks about how the Messiah was physically unattractive. He didn’t have the looks that many associated with success. He was ugly. He had no “appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53:2). What a pity that we have contorted all these images of Jesus that make Him look so attractive. Jesus was as dirty as every other traveler. But He was less attractive than the average person like you or I. The Master of the Universe wanted us to know that the success of the Servant had nothing to do with His physical features, good looks, education, wealth or status.
Fortunately, having God’s call and Spirit is all that we really need. In fact, Jesus the Servant, had it worse so that we could always be encouraged from His example. Our confidence must be in Him and not in ourselves. If we are weak, poor, ill, have difficulty speaking, lame, we only share Christ’s weakness. Our success is not rooted in who we are but are availability and how much Christ lives within us. Don’t despise your weaknesses for they are places that God wants to show more of His glory and strength.
Application: We often think that we need some degree or some high status before we have the right to speak the Word of God. God has especially designed us, our heritage each within a special context. We have limitations, and we must accept them as part of our equipment that the Lord has given us. This includes our poverty as well as our wealth. It includes our caste and our educational level. As a exercise, write down the things you were given or not given. Seek the Lord in prayer and see whether you think that any of these things have to do with how effective you are as a minister of God.
The Servant’s social rejection is described here. It wasn’t just his message but He Himself that was rejected. God has made mankind to be sociable, kind and accepting. But God’s special servant had none of these things. Just think about the stigma surrounding His birth. His little town in Galilee was not like our mega-cities where no one was accountable to anyone but just the opposite. Everyone knew what was happening. Now Joseph and Mary had dreams from God to specially direct them. That was fine, but their neighbors didn’t have the dreams. What did they think? There was no doubt that His family and Jesus faced social rejection. This was not a very pleasant start.
Jesus was not only persecuted from His birth upwards but also socially rejected by those who should have learned from Him. Just think of all the social religious elitists. They should have fully welcomed Him as the Messiah, but they despised His birth, His lack of education, His accent, etc. They said, “Where is He from?” "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). He wore average clothes rather than the nice flowing robes. He had no esteemed education that others would want to associate with Him. On and on it went. He was forsaken of men. He was sorrowful. His life was not easy, normal or enviable. To make everything worse, He should have been warmly accepted and listened to but just the opposite occurred.
Approaching Christ’s death, we find that everyone turned from Him. The Messiah’s greatest work of all was about to be done and yet every last disciple of His turned away from Him. Again, we can be deceived by the great throngs that surrounded Jesus and that He faced none of this rejection but this would not be accurate according to this scripture.
Application: Any godly leader will need to recognize that association with the Gospel might mean social rejection by others. If we esteem people’s acceptance, then we will cater the message (pollute it) so that people will esteem us. Are we at an advantage when we have great degrees, high education, high salaries, etc.? No.
The minister of God must be willing to be rejected socially simply because we see that Christ our master was socially rejected because God’s Word would often be rejected. If we are those who favor people’s acceptance, then we will indeed be most troubled during our ministry. We will be tempted with compromising the Word of God. It is better to remember that we are those who fear God rather than man. “The fear of man is a snare.” Our thoughts about what those around us will think will cause us to take our eyes off our Lord.
The comfort of the faithful is that though everyone else turns aside, yet the Lord is with us. We do not seek rejection of men, of course, but we need to be ready for it when it comes. On the other hand, we are not to invoke isolation because of our pride, unteachable heart or competitive spirit. Sometimes we think our ‘suffering with Christ’ when in fact we suffer because of our own sins.
This inside picture of Jesus is radically different than what we often hear or think. In contrast to what we would expect, Jesus had no status, no attractable message, no good looks, nor any ‘in’ with society. So why did God send His glorious Son in such a way? Here are three reasons:
Success was not in who He was in the world but in the Spirit of God. Some of His first words strike us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” We all need to deal with this concept of image in our lives and ministries at some point or another. Our hope should not be status or wealth. It is too easy to base the success of our ministry on our worldly capabilities rather than the power of the Spirit of God. We need to focus on God’s way of doing things and not the worlds.
Exercise: How much anointing do you have on your life? What do you associate with a successful ministry? Crowds, status, acceptance or rejection? Identify a few past struggles with acceptance and the temptations that accompany such situations. What are the compromises that you face? Did you actually compromise? If so, confess it and turn away from it.
We are not saying that one will always be rejected when the Spirit of God is active in our lives, but we always will need to be ready if necessary to be rejected by the world for Christ’s sake. Some of God’s assignments call us into undesirable places. But then again, we are His servants ready to do His will.
• 1 Peter 2:21-25 & Application of Suffering to a Christian’s life
Peter clearly used Jesus’ example to affirm the way the Christian must endure suffering. Read the whole book and notice how Peter uses this logic to give pastoral advice to different groups in the church there. How would you apply it to people in your own context today?
• Reflect on persecution and suffering
John Wesley reviewed his past 16 or 18 years and remembered one man showing forth God’s grace. Reflect on your own suffering. What if you ended up as this man? Would you be faithful to the Lord? Make an appropriate commitment to the Lord.
“God had ‘shed abroad his love in his heart.” “He was expelled out of his society as a madman; and, being disowned by his friends and despised and forsaken of all men, lived obscure and unknown for a few months, and then went to Him whom his soul loved.” (The Journal of John Wesley, Moody Press, pp. 85).
#B. The Despised Servant (Isaiah 53:1-3)
1. How relevant is the question in 53:1 today? Is it still being asked?
2. Do many people believe in the Gospel today? Did they believe in Jesus’ message? Why were there great numbers but few real faithful followers? What is Jesus’ explanation of this in John 6:26? What is His recommendation to the crowd in John 6:27?
2. Ponder on verse 2. What does a little shoot look like compared to a majestic tree? Why might Jesus be described as a little plant in a dry ground? What incidents in Jesus’ life foster this description?
3. Who despised Jesus during His birth and ministry?
4. How was Jesus a ‘man of sorrow’ during His life on earth? Reflect on the Gospels and see how many ways this was true of Jesus Christ.
5. What did the situation at the end of Jesus’ life show about how people viewed Jesus. What did it show about the disciples when they all turned away from Him?
6. How do people respond to Jesus nowadays? Are we His follower? For what reason? Do we follow Him only because He is popular and we are well-accepted? What if we were persecuted for our faith?
Biblical Foundations for Freedom
Rev. Paul J. Bucknell