Friday (Good Friday)

“See, my servant shall prosper” (52:13)

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 Friday 30 March 2018

Psalm: Psalm 22


Background

This is one of four passages in the book of Isaiah (the others are Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9) which describe the “Servant of the Lord”. Who the prophet believed that servant to be has been a question to which both Jewish and Christian commentators have offered a number of answers, but it is clear that from the earliest days the Church has associated these passages with the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Ethiopian eunuch whom Philip met on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:25-40) was reading from this, the longest of the four ‘Servant Songs’, and so provided the opening for Philip’s preaching.

It is not hard to see why this is a passage for Good Friday as there are five clear resonances between what Isaiah describes and the Passion of Jesus:

  • The servant endures suffering that is not deserved; not only was he someone who experienced physical pain, but he was also ostracised because of it (verse 3).
  • The servant endures this unmerited suffering in silence (verse 7).
  • There is a sense that this suffering is somehow part of God’s purposes, in that God wills the servant to suffer (verse 10).
  • The prophet goes further and suggests that the reason for this is because the servant is carrying the punishment that should have been borne by others (verse 8) and that his role was to be an “offering for sin” (verse 10) on whom the Lord laid our sinfulness (verse 6). The image of the scapegoat comes to mind.
  • The suffering (even the death) of the servant is not the end of the story. He will be vindicated (verse 12) having endured his suffering for the benefit of others.

It is not surprising that the first Christians, schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures, began to read this passage in the light of Jesus’ death, and to understand Jesus’ death as a fulfilment of this prophecy.


To Ponder

  • As you read or hear the story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion today, look out for those five resonances with the Servant Song and give thanks that Jesus embraced this role.
  • There has been much discussion of the idea that Jesus ‘carried our sins’ on the cross. How do you begin to understand what that means? And how might you explain it to someone else?
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