Friday

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (53:11)

Isaiah 52:13–53:12 Friday 10 April 2020

Psalm: Psalm 22

Background

The fourth and final “servant song” in Isaiah is the most well-known, not least to those who hear the words sung so movingly and powerfully in Handel’s Messiah.  As the soloist sings, “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (53:3), the pain of the suffering servant is made clear. It’s a pain that is experienced on many different levels. The servant is physically disfigured (52:14) which, as those with incurable skin diseases of the time experienced, would have also left them with the pain of being a social outcast.  They also have the mental anguish of being personally despised and rejected (53:3), and added to that they are not only “wounded” but actually “crushed” (53:5) by the burden they bear. Ultimately this leads to their death and even then, after all that has happened, the degradation continues as their grave is “with the wicked” (53:9).

And yet, amidst all this pain and suffering, or perhaps because of it, something incredible is happening. The servant is not only carrying the burden of the failings of others but through this process they are bringing others closer to God, “the righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:11). This is like the scapegoat on the Jewish Day of Atonement, bringing forgiveness to a whole community by being sent out of it (Leviticus 16:22). But unlike the scapegoat, that is lost to the wilderness, this servant will ultimately “be exalted and lifted up” (52:13), an outcome previously described by Isaiah as relating to God in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1).

The sorrow and anguish of thousands of people who have been bereaved or have loved ones struggling for life in hospital or at home as a result of the spread of Covid-19 infection is all too real in this time of a pandemic. In addition, many others are left depressed or anxious as they have lost their jobs or livelihood and are uncertain about the future.  Not for generations have we witnessed so many being impacted so rapidly and having to adjust to a new way of life.

This poetic passage helps us as we reflect on the events of Good Friday. As we journey to the cross and beyond, we watch as Jesus is humiliated, abused and unjustly killed, how he accepts his fate without resistance, how he forgives those who mock him, how he is taken in to the depths of despair and yet how those who witness what happens begin to see the Son of God before them (Matthew 27:54).

Isaiah’s servant shows how both individuals and a whole nation can be healed and restored in their relationship with God.  Handel’s chorus sings, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (53:6) but it’s Paul who understands that “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

 

To Ponder:

  • The suggestion that “It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain” (53:10) echoes the experience of Job (Job 2:7-8) but can be unsettling when we think of a loving God. How does this impact your understanding of what is happening on Good Friday?
  • Pray for individuals or communities around the world experiencing pain and distress.
  • Give thanks and pray for those individuals, groups, organisations and governments taking action to respond to and tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
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