The Suffering Servant

FFF 12:7 (Aug-Sept 1966)

The Suffering Servant

Dr. John Boyd

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 forms a separate, complete unit in the Prophecy. There should be no chapter division between 52:15 and 53:1. As is frequently his custom the Prophet gives the title of the new section at the start. With the words, “Behold My Servant,” he expresses so concisely the subject matter of this sublime foreshadowing of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Here God draws our attention to His appreciation of Christ as He carried out the work of man’s redemption.

These fifteen verses are divided into five portions of three verses each. The first and last of these subdivisions stand like two high mountains, each setting forth the exaltation of Christ because of the satisfactory execution of His work. Between these two mountain peaks lies the valley of humiliation into which God’s Servant must needs enter to accomplish His purpose.

The last subdivision of this chapter (vv. 10-12) presents to us the satisfaction that the work of Calvary gave to God. Jehovah was pleased to bruise Him, not that He took a sadistic delight in it, but rather He rejoiced to find in Christ One willing and able to accomplish the great work of redemption and reconciliation. Christ Himself finds satisfaction as many through Him are justified. Verse 12 indicates the reward that will belong to God’s Servant in a coming day — the reward for His perfect devotion to duty. The powers that were hostile to Him will be subdued; they will be spoiled; the spoil will be given to Jehovah’s satisfying Servant, who will share it with His own. His victories, His reward, His exaltation will all accrue to Him because of the successful accomplishment of His work on Calvary, the work outlined in 53:4-9. This accomplishment Jehovah epitomises in four brief but comprehensive sentences that set forth so definitely the experience of the suffering Servant. Concerning these four declarations one has commented, “Every word stands here as if written beneath the cross on Golgotha.”

Let us concentrate our thoughts on the first of these sentences, “He hath poured out His soul unto death.” As we do so our hearts should overflow in adoration and worship, for in these words there lies such a depth of meaning. The more one ponders them the more one wonders at the graphical description God gives of His suffering Servant entering into the realm of death. Three main lessons are presented for our adoring wonder.

(1) The Exposure of Christ’s Soul to Death

The verb, “to pour out,” implies a laying bare, an uncovering, an exposure. Thus the Lord exposed His life to death. He who was the Author of life went into death. He partook of man’s ‘blood and flesh’ that He might die, that through death He might bring to nought him that wielded death’s power, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). Death had no claim upon Christ, for He had never sinned. But it was part of God’s purposes of grace that the perfect Servant should experience death on behalf of all men, that He might lay a basis for the sanctification of all who would believe on Him (Heb. 2:9). This the Lord Jesus Christ did once for all when He died on Calvary. This death the Prophet described earlier in the chapter. After an oppressive judgment the Saviour was taken out to be crucified. It was a judicial murder. He was cut off out of the land of the living, with few to give Him any consideration, for they would have buried Him in the grave with the wicked. To all this the Lord exposed His pure, unsinning soul.

(2) The Voluntary Nature of Christ’s Death

The tense of the Hebrew verb translated ‘hath poured out’ suggests the Servant’s own definite action in this going into death. He died of His own free will. It had ever been His desire. His delights being always with the sons of men He planned in the bygone ages to do all that was neccessary for their redemption. His coming into manhood was no afterthought, no expedient in time, but an eternal purpose of grace. He came to do the will of God (Heb. 10:7). He knew that meant death, even the death of the cross. God’s will was His will. The perfect Servant submitted Himself fully to Jehovah.

To go into death was ever Christ’s set purpose during His sojourn on earth. He often spoke of His death, and of its nature. “The Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14): “He must go unto Jerusalem… and be killed” (Matt. 16:21); “The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill Him” (Matt. 17:22); “The Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests… and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him” (Matt. 20:18). Yet He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. He wanted to lay down His life for His sheep. He alone of all men had the power, the right to say whether or not He would go into death. None could have put Him to death against His wish. But on to Jerusalem He went willingly, knowing full well all that would befall Him there. This determined purpose of Christ gave great pleasure to his Father. “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life” (John 10:17).

The Lord was silent throughout the travesty of justice that He experienced before the chief priests, and Herod and Pilate. Though oppressed and afflicted He opened not His mouth to protest against their injustice and irregular methods, or to assert His innocence. He was doing a work for God on behalf of sinful men, and He was determined to see it through.

This self-dedication to death was fully realized at Calvary, for there He put into effect His eternal plan, and the purpose He had outlined to His disciples since coming to earth. His death was not accomplished by man. Satan and men did their worst, but they could not take His life. The writers of the four Gospels all agree in their description of the final stage of His crucifixion. All report that He dismissed His spirit. He had a unique birth; He lived a unique life; He died a unique death. Ordinary men die because they must; they cannot stay; they must obey the summons when death commands. Christ alone chose to go into death in His own time, and in His own manner. It was His hour (John 13:1).

(3) The Perfect Accomplishment of Christ’s Death

The Lord took no short cuts in carrying out the will of God. That will meant the shedding of blood, and God’s perfect Servant was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Not only did He expose His soul to death, but He poured it out unto death. He experienced the death of the cross in all its awfulness.

The Hebrew word translated ‘poured out’ carries also the idea of stripping, or emptying, or pouring clean out, even to the very last remnant (Delitsch). Thus the phrase expresses the fact that the Lord experienced the fulness of all that the death of the cross meant — the horror, the suffering, the reproach, the darkness, the loneliness. Not only did He taste death for every man, but He drank the bitter cup to its dark dregs. It was a bitter, bitter cup. “Not a mite was left unpaid, when He my judgment bore.”

The Psalmist described in the words of Psalm 69:2 the horror that Jesus felt when going into death, “I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing.” The Lord knew what it meant to become engulfed by death. It was like being overwhelmed in a morass, searching for, and finding no sure foundation for the feet.

The awful sufferings the Lord endured are graphically portrayed in the five-fold metaphorical description of His extreme weakness in Psalm 22:14-15. “I am poured out like water” — complete helplessness; “all My bones are out of joint” — absolute powerlessness; “My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of My bowels” — total absence of inward security; “My strength is dried up like a potsherd” — utter physical exhaustion; “My tongue cleaveth to My jaws” — intense thirst.

The Lord experienced the totality of all that crucifixion entailed. The writer to the Hebrews in exhorting the believers to patience pointed to the example of Jesus, who endured the cross. The Greek word here rendered ‘endured’ means literally, remaining under. Jesus remained under the sufferings of the cross till all was accomplished (Heb. 12:2). This the Lord Himself expressed as at the end He shouted triumphantly, “It is finished.”

But over and above the physical sufferings and the shameful reproach the Lord experienced an unfathomable depth in being forsaken by God. As we see Him emerging from the three hours of darkness we hear His despairing, desolate cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me”? Who can understand this predicament? Who can appreciate its meaning? Never was there sorrow like unto His sorrow. Yet for our sakes Jesus had poured out His soul unto this death, for “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

The Lord knew what it was to expose His soul to death, and voluntarily to pour out His soul completely thereto, in all its awful realities. He has drunk to the full the bitterness of that cup. In consequence there has been given to us who have believed in Him the cup of salvation, the cup of remembrance, the cup of blessing. Let us praise His great name! Let us fall down before Him in adoring wonder! Let us worship Him because He has fully accomplished the work of our redemption! “He hath poured out His soul unto death.”

“See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”