Theme: Jesus’ Vicarious Suffering
This week’s lessons explain how Isaiah 53 clearly points to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Suffering Servant who would accomplish salvation for his people.
Scripture: Isaiah 53
Beginning with verse 4, we have the Messiah’s vicarious suffering. Vicarious means “in place of another.” It goes back to the Latin word vicis, which means “a substitute.” We have it in the English Word “vicar,” which is what the Church of England calls its ministers. Thomas Hardy wrote a novel about The Vicar of Wakefield, for instance. The ministers of the Church of England are called vicars in reference to their priestly functions in which they are supposed to represent the people to God. Most other Protestant denominations do not use that term because they think it misconstrues what ministers are supposed to be. They talk about ministers or pastors, but not priests or vicars. The point I am making is that “vicarious” means “substitutionary,” and that this is the central meaning of the death of Jesus Christ.
Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, once said that the Greek word hyper (“on behalf of”) is the most important word in the entire Bible. I suppose that the people who first heard him say that must have been stunned. It was like being told that the most important word in Shakespeare is “to” or “be” or “a.” But Barth explained. He said that hyper means “on behalf of,” which is the central idea in the gospel. The Bible teaches that Jesus died “on behalf of” the ungodly. He died in their place. Salvation depends upon the fact that He did that. None of us can die to achieve our own salvation. When we die, all we collect is the wages of our sin. But Jesus, who did not sin, could die in our place and did. By His death we are saved. By His stripes we are healed.
If you look at what is probably the most important verse in Isaiah 53, verse 5, you will discover that in this one verse the vicarious or substitutionary atonement of the Messiah is stated four times: 1) “He was pierced for our transgressions,” that is, he was wounded not for his own sins but for ours; 2) “He was crushed for our iniquities”; 3) “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him”; and 4) “By his wounds we are healed.”
We find the same thing in verse 4: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” You find it in verse 6: “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Verse 8: “For the transgression of my people he was stricken.” Verse 10: “The LORD makes his life a guilt offering.” It is in verse 11, and in verse 12. It is the note on which the chapter ends: “He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” Is there any way that the Messiah’s vicarious or substitutionary death could possibly be emphasized more than it is in this chapter?
Another word that describes this vicarious work is propitiation. Propitiation means turning aside the wrath of God. God is wrathful against sin, but Jesus Christ steps into the gap for us. He turns God’s wrath aside by bearing it Himself.
These doctrines might take a long time to describe. We could trace the origins of the idea of sacrifice. We could discuss the development of the idea of propitiation. We could distinguish between the way propitiation was viewed by the heathen and the way it was viewed by Jews, between an unbelieving view and a biblical view. But complex as it may be, and greatly as it may stretch the minds of the greatest theologians, this is all also profoundly simple. It is stated in a very simple way in this chapter. I cannot think of a simpler statement of the gospel than what we find in the very last line of verse 5: “By his wounds we are healed.” That is only six words. How can you say it more simply? We are not well. Jesus suffered so we could be healed. It is by His suffering on our behalf that salvation comes to us.
Did you ever think how simply God presents the gospel when he calls upon us to believe? Once we come to believe, there can be a whole lifetime (even an eternity) of study before us. But when He calls on us to believe, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31). It is as simple as that. You do not have to understand a great deal. You only need to know that Jesus is the Savior and trust Him.
What does “vicarious” mean? Why is it an important part of the Servant’s work?
Explain the meaning of “propitiation.”
Application: Are you prepared at any given moment to explain the gospel to anyone who might ask you?