Read Isaiah 53
53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
This chapter covers the penultimate prophecy of Jesus, written by Isaiah an astonishing 700 years before the person of Jesus existed on earth. Believers consider this to be the “heart of the Bible,” while many modern Jews say that this passage is not about Jesus at all but about Israel.
Throughout this passage, Jesus is described as a “servant” who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (v. 2). This is hard for us to conceive, as most visual references imagining what Jesus looked like come from the Renaissance period where, yes, Jesus appears pious and humble, but also certainly handsome (and often with golden hair despite His Middle Eastern roots). Even in movies, Jesus is played by an attractive movie star with great bone structure embellished with fake dirt, sweat, and a scraggly beard. But the Bible describes Jesus as plain, ordinary, and nothing much to look at. We don’t actually know what he looked like or what his voice sounded like. We are more surface driven now than ever in history, and so we pay a lot of attention to external appearances.
We prefer the visual appearance of a King Saul in our lives, someone Scripture describes as very tall, impressive, and handsome. And yet the humble and unattractive appearance of Jesus is central to His message. We cannot take credit for anything in our human nature being drawn to the person and message of Christ: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is this same, inexplicable concept of believing in what we cannot see that leads us to root for the underdog, to not judge things by appearances, to hope even in a pit of despair.
God’s consistent message throughout Scripture is that His concern for us revolves around our eternal being, not the one we can see and touch now. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
- How can we develop the discipline of looking at the heart instead of outward appearances as stated in 1 Samuel?
- What in this chapter leads you to believe this is about Jesus and not Israel?
- What are some other references or stories in the Old Testament when God asks His people to walk by faith and not by their circumstances?
Did You Know?
Isaiah 53 is among the fragments of the Bible contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This may further emphasize the importance of the belief the record keepers had in the messianic prophecy laid out in the passage.
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