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Sermon preached on Isaiah 53:5 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Good Friday Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 04/15/2022.
This chapter is one of the suffering servant prophecies in Isaiah. Those prophecies foretell the suffering that Jesus as the Messiah would undergo to save us. Isaiah 53 especially foretells not only that Jesus would have to suffer and die, but why that was necessary. The chapter as a whole tells us this, but if you had to pick just one verse from it to summarize it, surely verse 5 is it. And so, I’ve selected that verse for us to focus on this evening. Let me read verse 5 again. “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.” What a treasure of a verse. The late OPC minister and professor EJ Young wrote of this verse, “Because of its clear-cut statement of the substitutionary atonement, it is a verse that is dear to every devout Christian heart.” Indeed, may our hearts be stirred today as we consider Christ’s suffering and why he suffered.
Let us begin first by considering what all Jesus’ suffering involved at the cross and the events immediately leading up to it. Start with how verse 5 describes it. The verse has a four-fold parallel structure to it, so it describes his suffering in four parallel ways. Given the nature of Hebrew poetry and parallelism, I think we should avoid thinking that each of these four descriptions describe four different and distinct sufferings Jesus experienced at Calvary. It’s likely not given as a bullet point list of things he suffered. Rather, each of them is a summary of his suffering and taken together they paint a picture of his passion.
So, verse 5 says that he was pierced. That he was crushed. That there was a chastisement put upon him. That he was wounded. The word for pierced, sometimes translated as wounded, most often carries the sense of a puncture wound. Like something that would happen by a sword, or a spear, or say a nail. The word for crushed is a word about smashing and breaking something into pieces. The word for chastisement refers to discipline, not in a mere punitive sense, but in the corrective sense, in the sense of bringing something good out of it. The word for wounds is actually singular in the Hebrew, though translators like to translate it here as a collective singular, meaning they seem to prefer to translate it as wounds or stripes instead of wound or stripe. The meaning of the word itself is about being struck by some blow. Often people have heard this word and thought of scourging, but as a word it could be used to describe any kind of way someone is struck, whether it be by a whip, or a hand, or a sword, or some other object. I would note that three of four of these descriptions would lend them to think of something fatal. I refer to the language of being pierced, crushed, and struck. The third description of chastisement stands out differently in that it thinks of suffering that results in some good that comes out of it. Taken together, we can see how the poetic language of verse 5 wonderfully brings together a picture of Jesus’ death on the cross that nonetheless results in something wonderful.
Moving from beyond the poetry of verse 5, remember how this came to pass then in Jesus on that Good Friday. He was betrayed, arrested, falsely charged and convicted, reviled, struck, scourged, mocked, exposed, and crucified until he died. Even after his death, they further defiled his body by piercing his side with a spear. More could be mentioned, like the crown of thorns or how they divided his garments or how he thirsted as he hung there. So much suffering. But it was for a purpose.
Let us then turn next to consider that purpose — how Jesus’ suffering was vicarious. Verse 5 makes that point, but only after it setup a question in the verses right before. For example, verse 3 said that we despised him and esteemed him not, that he was like one from whom men hide their faces. And verse 4 said how we esteemed him stricken and smitten by God. In other words, the verses leading up to verse 5 imagine that people would see Jesus go through all that suffering and basically say, “Wow! What happened to this guy? What did he do that God would end up punishing him like this? He must be someone terrible, so I better stay away from him and anything related to him.” That’s what the lead up to verse 5 had setup for us. But then verse four begins to tell us the real reason why Jesus would have to suffer like this: he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. And then our verse 5 continues to tell us the reason. Why was he pierced? Because of our transgressions. Why was he crushed? Because of our iniquities. Why was he chastened? So we could be at peace with God. Why was he wounded? So we could be healed.
These parallel reasons clearly demonstrate the vicarious nature of Jesus’ suffering. Children, the word vicarious describes when someone does something in the place of someone else. Jesus suffered in our place. Jesus suffered instead of us. We deserved to suffer but he suffered as our substitute. That is what vicarious means – Jesus was our substitute on the cross. Verse 5 clearly and repeatedly teaches the vicarious suffering of Christ.
So then, think about how this vicarious language reveals our fallen condition before God. Our fallen estate is why Jesus needed to suffer in our place. In the four complementary lines in verse 5 we can see why he had to vicariously suffer. The first two lines reveal that we humans are sinners. It says that Jesus died for our transgressions and iniquities, and those are both synonyms for sin. There are several words in the Bible that describe the concept of sin and these are two of them. Sin in general is to break God’s laws. The word for transgression here in the Hebrew especially brings out the rebellious aspect of sin. The word for iniquity here in the Hebrew especially carries the connotation that our sin incurs guilt and thus makes us liable to punishment. So, I appreciate that these are first two descriptions given here for why we needed Jesus to suffer in our place, because they most clearly state the underlying issue. The reason why Jesus had to suffer and die in our place is because we had sinned. We rebelled against God’s law and lordship, making us guilty lawbreakers who deserve God’s wrath and curse.
The next line in verse 5 then infers we are in conflict with God apart from Jesus’ vicarious suffering for us. When speaking of chastening that brings peace, that tells us that we were in trouble with God. The idea is that because we had rebelled against God’s law and heaped up guilt upon ourselves, we had offended God and set ourselves in conflict with him. He then stood poised to chasten us accordingly. But Jesus took our place. He took our punishment in our place.
The last line in verse 5 then infers that our fallen condition is one that is sick with sin. That’s what’s inferred with the language of healing. Jesus had to vicariously suffer for us because we were sick, spiritually speaking. As Jeremiah 19:7 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick”. This is the natural condition of all fallen mankind. Our spiritual sickness is also part of why Jesus had to vicariously suffer on the cross for us.
So, verse 5 clearly teaches the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ suffering. We’ve observed our underlying issue which necessitated his vicarious suffering for us. Let us now in our last point for this evening consider what his suffering accomplished. We can again go through the four lines of this verse to recognize this. Considering again the first two lines that referenced our sin, we acknowledge that his suffering accomplished the forgiveness of our sins. As it will go on to describe in verse 10, his soul was an offering for our guilt, addressing the concern of our iniquity. Likewise, in verse 12 it says that he bore the sin of many transgressors by pouring out his soul to death. So, Jesus’ suffering was to put away our sin by removing its guilt. To be clear, the only way to deal with guilt is to satisfy it. Our guilt means there is a debt to God because of our sin. There is a punishment to be handed out. Ordinarily, that would mean we’d have to receive it. But none of us mere men could ever fully bear God’s wrath so as to satisfy it. But the Son of God who came down to us in the person of Jesus could, and he did. He was an offering for sin to pay for its guilt for us. We refer to this with the word “expiation.” Expiation is the act of making amends or atonement for our guilt or wrongdoing. Likewise, this is why we refer to his substitutionary atonement as “penal” substitutionary atonement because he bore the legal punishment God’s law demanded for us in our place.
The third line tells us further what Jesus’ vicarious suffering accomplished. It says it brought us peace. This surely refers to peace with God. Until that chastening took place, things weren’t going to be right between us and God. God was angry with us for our sin. But Jesus took on the chastening for us. We refer to this as propitiation, in that Jesus turns away God’s anger from us. That’s what the word propitiation means, to turn away anger through a sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice bore the chastening in our place, thus turning away God’s anger. The result is reconciliation between us and God. In other words, peace between us and God was restored because Jesus took our punishment for us.
The final line in verse 5 tells us that Jesus’ suffering brings about our healing. Now, we could take that in a basic sense and that say that because our problem was sin, and that since we are now forgiven of our sin, then we are cured of the problem. Our sickness wasn’t a bum knee or a broken leg but it was a soul afflicted by sin. By removing the guilt of sin, there’s a general sense that we’ve been healed. But our disease isn’t just the guilt of our sin, it’s also the power of sin. Our very nature has been in a state of depravity ever since mankind fell into sin. We need not only forgiveness, but we need a cure for the depravity in our souls. That cure is rooted in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is true that his death on the cross wasn’t the specific cure in itself. But in making us right with God by dealing with our sin, it made the way for God’s sanctifying Spirit to take up residence within us and begin the healing process in our hearts. This should remind us that Jesus didn’t die on the cross to forgive us of our sins so that we could just keep on sinning. No, that forgiveness of sins is only a beginning of what it means for Jesus to save us from our sins. He also intends to save us from our sins in the sense of healing our hearts from the power of sin.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, this evening we’ve heralded Christ and the cross. We’ve seen how his death was the penal substitutionary atonement we needed. It
Involved expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, and more. He saves us from both the guilt and power of sin. This passage reminds us that sin is such a serious thing to God. What Jesus did on the cross was the only way to save us from it. Apart from salvation, each of us would be under the wrath of God with the expectation of the coming judgment of the unending fires of hell. If we don’t appreciate the seriousness of sin, we won’t possibly comprehend the need for Christ to suffer and die on the cross to save us. But if you do recognize the gravity of our sin, then you will put your faith in Jesus and be saved. For this salvation is held out to all, but you will only receive it if you turn to Jesus and believe on him.
In closing, the apostle Peter gives us a great application of our verse today from Isaiah. He references it in 1 Pet. 2:24 and gives an application from it. He says Jesus died on the cross, “That we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Let us indeed respond to God’s grace in Jesus by daily looking to die to our sin and live to his righteousness.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.