A Biography in Prophecy

Isaiah 53

If any one enquires of me as to this greatest chapter in the Old Testament, as did the Ethiopian Chancellor of Philip the evangelist, "I pray thee, of whom speaks the prophet this? Of himself or some other man?" I can but answer as Philip did, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture and preached to him Jesus" (Acts 8). That name which is above every name is the sure key to the chapter, there is none other, and of Him who bears it, it is my determination and privilege to speak. Here we have set in true and divine order the sufferings of Christ and the glory that shall follow. The chapter gives us in vivid terms the great steps in the history of the Lord from the manger-cradle to the universal throne, from the First Advent to the manifested glories of the Second Advent, it is on this line that I ask you to consider it with me.

The Prophetic Word

"Who has believed our report?

The prophets had spoken, telling in appealing words of His coming, of His great love for His people and His determination to save them; but who cared for the prophets? Who believed their report? Not many. So few indeed, that an aged widow knew them all in Jerusalem and could speak with them! Yet there they were, that godly expectant, few who looked for redemption in Israel, for God did not permit the light of faith and hope to wholly die out; but the mass of the people were indifferent to any words that God had sent to them by His holy prophets.

His Birth in Jerusalem

"And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed."

"The arm of the Lord" is a divine title. In the 51st chapter of the prophecy the arm of the Lord is called upon to awake for the deliverance of the people as in the ancient days. "Art thou not it" cried the prophet, "which has dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that has made the depths of the sea a way for thy ransomed to pass over." The arm of the Lord was manifested in such glorious power at the Red Sea, that even the sceptics in Israel's host must have been convinced. But now, where do we see the arm of the Lord? Not in the thunder, the lightning, the earthquake or the fire, not in the mighty wind that divided the sea, but in a Babe in the manger at Bethlehem. A weak Babe, apparently entirely dependent upon His mother's breasts for sustenance! Could that lowly Babe be the arm of the Lord? Yes, He was, but to whom was He revealed? for verily a revelation was necessary if He was to be known; a revelation which only faith could receive. And not many received it.

A few did, such as the shepherds of Bethlehem, and the aged Simeon, and the widowed Anna, and Elizabeth the mother of John, and the Virgin mother who treasured the revelation in her heart. Just these, and very few beside them, for the eyes of the heart had to be opened before men could see in that lowly Babe the arm, the strength of the Lord.

The Hidden Years

"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground."

Here are described those thirty hidden years in which our Lord grew up before the eyes of Jehovah. Other eyes did not discern the freshness of that apparently insignificant and tender shoot, but no words can describe its beauty in the eyes of God. "Thou art My beloved Son in whom is all My delight," are words in which are summed up all that those hidden years meant to Him.

And it was in a dry ground that He grew. He derived no nourishment from His surroundings. Israel had become debased and degraded, an apostatising and barren nation. They were like a sun-parched desert in which God could find no pleasure, and the godly no sustenance. Not from the schools of the Rabbis, nor from the teaching of the scribes did Jesus draw His supplies as "He grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40). No, they contributed nothing to Him; all His springs were in God. He was cast upon God from the womb; He hoped in God when He was upon His mother's breasts; and in His law He meditated day and night as He grew up to the full stature of a man.

How He Appeared to Men

"He has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him."

Thus He appeared to the eyes of men. He had attracted no notice during those hidden, quiet years. The absurd and blasphemous legends of the Romish church have no foundation in fact. Men had no eyes to see or hearts to appreciate Him, who was altogether lovely in the eyes of heaven. If He had come with power and arrogance, crushing all opposition to His will beneath all-conquering feet, they might have admired and followed Him, but they could not understand His holy separation to God, His loveliness, His meekness and His lowliness. The grace of heaven was unattractive to their eyes; they had no use for Him who sought only the honour that comes from God and lived only to serve, who came not to be ministered to but to minister.

His Entrance on Public Service

"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as if were our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not."

This was what He received when He stepped out of seclusion into public ministry. Many a man has been rejected by his fellows, yet respected, but this Man — who was none other than the Lord of glory, was despised as well as rejected. How scornfully the great men of the nation spoke of Him; with what disdain they said: "Is not this the carpenter?" "This fellow receives sinners!" "He has a devil and is mad, why hear ye him." And even those who did not treat Him with the undisguised contempt of the Pharisees, hid their faces from Him and His appeals of love. In the last great test, when His visage was more marred than any man's they were afraid to speak out on behalf of Him whom their leaders despised. None, save perhaps one or two women, understood the meaning of His deep poverty; His sighs and tears moved the multitude only to derision and laughter.

The Sorrows of His Life

"Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted."

But it was not for Himself that He sighed and wept, but for them. He would have lifted every sorrow from their hearts, and been exceedingly joyful in doing it, but they would have none of it; they were blind to their blessing, and hugged their sins and rejected Him. It was for them He wept. In the midst of men, because of what men were — sin-loving, devil-deceived, God-hating — He was the Man of sorrows.

Yet their enmity did not change His love. How greatly He loved them! Right on to the end of His day of service He served them with unwearied mercy. He healed their sick; He touched their lepers with a compassionate and powerful hand; He gave sight to their blind, and delivered multitudes from the blighting tyranny of demons. And let no one suppose that these were acts of power only as when He created the worlds. No, He felt their miseries and bondage; in His tender heart He carried their burdens; He was afflicted in the midst of them because they were afflicted; virtue went out of Him to heal them, and His spirit was weighed down by the loads that He lifted from them. It was in His spirit that He felt these things, for His sinless, holy body could not be seized upon or defiled by disease, even though His enemies said, "An evil disease cleaveth fast to Him" (Ps. 41:8). But they thought that God was against Him when they saw His sorrow: that He was stricken and smitten of God. Why was He so poor if He was in God's favour? Why should He sigh and weep? If God were pleased with Him would He not be popular with Pharisees and priests? So they reasoned and reasoning thus they appeased their consciences while they rejected Him.

His Cross

"But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed."

Now we reach the cross, the great end for which He came into the world. The nation of Israel will yet take up these words; for the veil is to be removed from their hard and unbelieving hearts; at His feet and with broken and penitent spirits they will bow down in wonder. But we also, who are not of Israel, but are sinners of the Gentiles, we can find room enough for us in this great statement. We might well ask, why He, the Prince of life, bowed His bead in death? Certainly death had no claim upon Him, and could have had no power over Him, had He not submitted Himself to it. The enmity of His foes, fierce as it was, was not enough, no matter how fixed was their determination to do it to account for His death. Then where shall we find the answer to our question? We find it here. It was for our iniquities and transgression that He suffered and died, that by His stripes we might be healed. And those stripes were not those that men laid upon Him, but those that fell upon Him from the throne of eternal justice. What was it that carried Him to the cross, and enabled Him to endure until justice could demand no more from Him? It was love, invincible, eternal love, the love of Christ that passes knowledge, love to us who had no love for Him.

Our Condition For Whom He Died

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

What words are like God's words? Here in two brief sentences there is described our character and condemnation. Like sheep we have strayed and have, in our straying, shown the folly of our sin; "we have turned every one to his own way," and thereby have declared the wilfulness, the wickedness of our sin. What but the just condemnation of God could fall upon us, after we had so definitely and deliberately declared what we are? But God has undertaken for us, and whether it be the folly or the wilfulness of our sin — all our iniquity He laid upon our Surety. It is the saved remnant of Israel that is speaking in these wonderful words, but every believer may use them, for "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

His Character Who Died For Us

"He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth."

The Spirit of God would not engage us wholly with the great work that has been done for our salvation, but with Him who has done it, and here is described His character and the way He met all the sufferings that men and devils forced upon Him. There was no resentment in His heart and no resistance to evil. It was the will of God that He should suffer and in absolute subjection to God's will He went to the cross. "That the world may know that I love the Father, and as He has given Me commandment even so I do. Arise let us go hence," are surely words that should fill us with wonder and worship, for they describe as no other could, this holy subjection, this complete obedience to the will of God. "And they took Jesus, and led Him away. And He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull" (John 19:16-17).

His Apparent Complete Eclipse

"He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken."

So complete and unanimous was His condemnation by His judges that it seemed as though the desire of His foes would be realised when they said, "When shall He die, and His Name perish" (Ps. 41:5). He was cut off out of the land of the living. The whole earth groans beneath the ways of Adam's generation. Violence and corruption, pride and selfishness declare what his progeny is; the world is full of Adam and his disobedience; but this Man, the obedient One, shall His heavenly graces that shed their fragrance amid the moral putrefaction of Adam's world survive? Shall He have a generation that shall fill the earth with His beauty? It did not seem like it when He was led to the cross and when He was stricken for the transgression of the people. "It is expedient," said the godless high priest, "that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." He did not understand the meaning of his words, but when he succeeded in his design, it did appear as though the visit of our Lord to this world had been a disastrous failure and that He had spent His strength for naught and in vain.

His Burial

"And men appointed His grave with the wicked [correct translation] but He was with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, neither was there guile in His mouth."

It was the custom of the Romans to leave the bodies of crucified criminals upon their crosses until the carrion birds had cleaned the bones of every shred of flesh, but as a concession to the Jewish laws, which said: "if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God)" (Deut. 21:23), they permitted the bodies of Jewish criminals to be buried at nightfall; and the custom was to dig a rough hole near the spot of the crucifixion and cast them in there. These soldiers, who had gambled for the clothes of the Lord, were keen to get back to their dice and their wine, and had prepared beforehand a grave big enough to hold the three corpses.

They made His grave with the wicked, for He was nothing more to them than these other poor wretches, and they had their brutal work to do, and the sooner it was done the better for all concerned.

But when the great work was finished, and the darkness was past and His beloved Son hung dead upon the cross, God stepped in and cried, Halt! No further were men permitted to go on dishonouring the One who had done His will with a perfect obedience. His enemies were thrust aside and from this point onward He was honoured and revered by those who loved Him. "He was with the rich in His death." God had held His man in reserve, and now Joseph, the timorous and secret disciple, stood forth with the courage of a lion, and in the very teeth of a hostile world, and regardless of all consequences, took his stand by his crucified Lord and begged His body. It was an unheard of thing! Whoever before had set any value on the body of a crucified criminal? It was so strange that Pilate made special enquiries as to whether He was really dead, and then he granted Joseph's request. The sacred body was wrapt in pure linen with a hundred pounds of spice, and Joseph and Nicodemus with two or three women gave Him the burial of a King.

And here lies the meaning of the grave being introduced before the sufferings are fully told. The sort of grave He was to fill, was not an after thought, either on man's part or God's; both were prepared and ready before He died.

His Death as God's Judgment

"Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He has put Him to grief when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin."

Justice has often miscarried in this world's sad history, and men have suffered for crimes of which they were not guilty; but here was not a miscarriage of justice; though He had done no violence neither was there any deceit in His mouth, "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him," and there is no unrighteousness with the Lord. He is the just God. He is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works (Ps. 145:17). Oh, why did the just God bruise Him, who is "that just One" (Acts 22:24)? Why did God who is holy forsake Him "that is holy, Him that is true" (Rev. 3:7)? Why was the sinless One put to grief? There is only one answer, and it is that God chose to deal with Him as our Surety and Substitute. It gave God no pleasure in the way in which we understand pleasure, to do this. but it was the only way if He was to be a Saviour God, for just He must ever be. And this bruising was not the physical wounds that He endured, but the indescribable sufferings of His soul when He was made an offering for sin. Injustice there was from man's side, inveterate and unrestrained wickedness was in the judge's seat and absolute goodness at the bar; sin upon the throne, crowned with almost universal acclaim, and holiness on the cross, despised and execrated by Gentile and Jew. But God was over all and permitted men to go thus far that they might fully declare themselves in their hatred of Him and that He might show in absolute justice the exceeding riches of His grace to them.

His Resurrection and Present Work

"He shall see His seed, He shalt prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands."

Not until resurrection could He see His seed, for "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it brings forth much fruit" (John 12). And it was after death and in resurrection that He said to Mary "Go to My brethren, and say to them… My Father and your Father, My God and your God." These were His seed, His generation, and the multitudes who "have believed on Him through their word" (John 17), are the answer to the lament of the prophet, "Who shall declare His generation, for He was cut off out of the land of the living?" "He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2). His life, His character, His graces are not lost, the earth is to be filled with them through His seed, and their great destiny is to be conformed to His image that He may be the Firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Israel also will be gathered and He will be able to say as He presents them to God, a redeemed nation and a wholly right seed, "Behold, I and the children that Thou hast given Me."

And He "dies no more." He lives "after the power of an endless life." He has glorified God and saved His people by one offering. He prolongs His days into eternity; God's answer to those who would have cut Him off for ever.

And "the pleasure of the Lord" prospers in His hand "for Him has God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, or to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of slim" (Acts 5:31). And to this day He is working from His throne in glory and wino fling men for God.

His Coming Again

"He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied."

A great hope fills our hearts and His, and I believe that I am justified in bringing it in here, though the Old Testament does not speak specifically of it. We have read in the Word that "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). When that hour of presentation of the church to Himself comes He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. He will say the prize is worth the price, for His church will yield everlasting joy to His once broken heart as she receives His boundless love into her heart and responds to it without reserve. How near the hour of His supreme joy may be we cannot tell, but this we know, He has said, "Surely, I come quickly;" and His church, the Bride of the Lamb replies, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

His Glorious Kingdom

"By His knowledge shall My righteous servant instruct many in righteousness, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul to death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."

He will establish a kingdom according to God's own righteousness and everyone who enters it will be instructed by Him in ways of righteousness, and He Himself will be for ever the manifestation of the righteousness in which He instructs His subjects; for they will never forget that they could not have been in the place of blessing at all if He had not borne their iniquities. "And He shall be great … and of His kingdom there shall be no end," but He shall have companions with Him in that kingdom — the great and the strong — and who are these? Those surely who have taken character from Him and learnt His ways, and have delighted to follow in His footsteps; to suffer with Him and for Him in the day of His rejection that they might reign with Him in the day of His glory. He that is greatest among you let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve … I am among you as He that serves." Yes that is the way of true greatness and for it strength is needed; and it is those who are conscious of their need of strength that are made strong, for He has said, "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

But among the crowns that shall shine upon His sacred brow in that day of glory this shall shine with the greatest splendour — He is the Lamb that was slain. This shall never be forgotten: He poured out His soul to death: and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.