Expository Sermon on Isaiah 52 and 53
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/13/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
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Please open your Bibles to Isaiah chapter 42.
Just as a fun experiment, I’m going to say two last names, and see if you know who I’m talking about. Are you ready? “Jeeves” and “Wooster.”
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of those names together.
Second question: if you’ve heard of those names, how many of you heard them from a TV program?
Now, how many of you heard those names from a book or series of books?
If you remember the stories – and there were a lot of them – you probably remember the basic plot. Bertie Wooster was a fictional and very wealthy young man in England in the 1920s and beyond, and he is rich enough to have his own valet, sort of a butler-like servant. That valet is Jeeves.
The basic plot goes something like this. Bertie Wooster gets himself into all sorts of dilemmas. Jeeves, it turns out, is very intelligent, and knows a lot of things, and has a quick mind which can think up solutions to even the most difficult problems. And all of the stories end with Bertie being rescued. It’s not serious literature, but clean, cheerful British humor, and fun to read.
Strangely, as I was studying Isaiah this week to get ready for this sermon, I was fleetingly reminded of Jeeves and Wooster, because of the amazing way that God and His Son both act as servants to humanity in these chapters. It’s breathtaking and seems a bit blasphemous, to think of God as a servant, but in Isaiah He calls His Son a Servant, and when we see them both working together, they are a true Servant Team.
These are very important chapters we will be looking at today. We’re going to focus on chapters 52 and 53, but we’re going to start here in Isaiah 42, because Isaiah 42 is where God starts talking about His Servant the Messiah.
And as you will see, it is crucial to understand the services that our Heavenly Servant Team provided for us. Because God and His Son are truly going to show how they will rescue us from the dreadful dilemma of eternal death.
So let’s listen as God Himself introduces His Servant the Messiah to us for the first time in Isaiah.
Isaiah 42:1 – 7 [NKJV]: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”
Keep in mind that this was written something like 600 years before Jesus was born. In fact, in verse 9, God mentions that, sure enough, He knows how to tell the future.
Verse 9: Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
Now that we’ve met God’s Messiah, let’s move to chapter 52, because there we will discover the first of four services our Heavenly Servant Team provides us in these chapters. Remember, this is God speaking directly, and Isaiah is writing it all down. These chapters are a letter from heaven, first to the Jewish people, but then to all believers in God since then.
In chapter 52, we see God speaking to the people of Jerusalem. And not just to Jerusalem residents, but to all of the Jewish people, and also to us. We know this because He’s speaking about His Son Jesus, who died for the sins of the world.
First God has some good news for His people. But if you know anything about the Jewish people at that time, you remember that they haven’t really given God any reason to offer them good news.
For at least four centuries, the nation of Judah has tumbled over and over again into the ugliest idolatries, and then when things got unbearably bad, they would turn back to God in desperation. But then, down they would slip, into even more grotesque heathenism.
But if you ever wonder whether God is secretly – or publicly – fed up with you because of how you behave, then listen to what He says to His often forgetful and rebellious nation:
Isaiah 52:1 – 3: Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean Shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise; Sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion! For thus says the LORD: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, And you shall be redeemed without money.”
Notice what God is saying? He saying, “Wake up! Put on your dress-up clothes! Get out from the dust, and then sit down on a real chair. Take a seat!” The NIV says, “sit enthroned.”
If you’re taking sermon notes, get ready to take down Sermon Point One. What is the first service our heavenly Servant Team provided us?
Again, the people He’s talking to don’t deserve total freedom, and God knows that. But God loves them so much that He has come up with a plan to make sure this freedom happens, and we’ll hear about that plan as we go along.
When I was probably 19 or 20, the South Dakota farmhouse where I lived was located in a low area on the north side of the county highway. A wide, creek ran through the pasture about 300 feet from the house, and one winter there was a humongous amount of snow, which meant that a month or so later, that snow started to melt and fill that creek up.
The water rose, and rose, and rose, and got to our yard, and then filled up our basement, and kept rising, and it stopped just short of the floor level of the main part of the house. And eventually the water subsided, but dad could see the handwriting on the wall. And he immediately made plans to relocate our house, to have it moved across the street to the south where we had another few acres of property. The ground over there was quite a bit higher.
Dad’s plan was to dig a basement and plop the house on top of it, but the problem was, how to lay out the square basement hole? He would have an excavator with a scoop come in and do the digging, but first, the boundaries of the hole would have to be staked out, and it would have to be perfectly square.
Dad glanced at me thoughtfully. “You know how to do that, don’t you? You’re in college.” (Dad had attended only one week’s worth of high school before going back to help drag his family’s Great Depression farm out of debt.)
Well, I’d finished one year of college so far, but none of my classes had taught us how to square up a basement hole so that the cement-block foundation would be absolutely form-fitted to that house.
I don’t know what dad thought about the value of a college education at that point, but he realized that his oldest son had turned out to be a pretty weak resource for square-hole digging. So dad got one of our Adventist church members, Dan Dickhaut, who had some experience in construction.
Sure enough, Dan measured, and figured, and pounded down the stakes in a perfect square, and stretched twine between them. And after the hole was dug, Dan even poured the cement basement floor and laid the cinderblock basement walls, and he did it perfectly.
And I was greatly relieved. When Dan stepped in to make sure the hole would be square, I was off the hook. I no longer had to feel the guilt of failing my dad in his hour of need, because somebody came along who could do the job better than I could.
I can imagine that when some of those Jerusalem people heard Isaiah talk about God’s incredible generosity, maybe some of them were cautious. “Can that really be true? Can God be that tenderhearted to us, after all we’ve done to Him?”
But it was true.
So what do you and I do, if we have let ourselves be trapped into some kind of captivity because of our carelessness or rebellion toward God? Can we really depend on His offer of freedom?
In John chapter 8, verses 34 – 36, Jesus was speaking to the descendants of these Jerusalem people in Isaiah 52. The group Jesus was speaking to was too proud to accept that they themselves were in captivity. But Jesus insisted they were – and told them how they could be freed.
John 8:34 – 36: Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
That’s the New Testament version of the Old Testament promise God gave in Isaiah 52. It’s like God was telling the people of Jerusalem, “I’m going to make you free. You can depend on this.” And Jesus told a later generation of Jews, “Look. If you let Me make you free, you’re going to be really free!”
If you’re a little cautious about this generous liberation, all you have to do is keep reading, which is what we’ll do right now.
Look at Isaiah 52, starting with verse seven.
Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who proclaims peace, Who brings glad tidings of good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
This is joyful news, isn’t it? In fact, that happens to be Sermon Point Two. What’s another service our heavenly Servant Team provided us?
God and His Son provided us not only with total freedom, but with total joy.
Look at verse 9.
Verses 9 – 10: Break forth into joy, sing together, You waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has made bare His holy arm In the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see The salvation of our God.
To talk about a message-bringer’s feet being beautiful it’s kind of an unusual way of putting it, down here in the 21st-century. But the point is, someone brought you the message of the gospel. Who was that person?
I was raised in a Christian home, and attended Seventh-day Adventist schools for the first nine years of my schooling. My parents were dedicated Christians.
But it was not until I got a teaching job down at an Adventist College in Lincoln, Nebraska that I met someone who was a major “message bringer” for me. I knew about Jesus, of course, and my parents had lovingly taught me about Him, and prayed to Him.
But a college student named Don was my message-bringer, probably because it wasn’t until that point that I was really ready. He and his wife had recently learned about the gospel from a Seventh-day Adventist man in California, and since they had both come from a life of drug use and other problems, this was stupendous news to them. They gave their hearts fully to their Savior, and in their conversation, they always spoke about Jesus in such a natural, spontaneous and joyful way. And that showed me very powerfully what Jesus could do in a human life.
So what should we do, now that we have discovered that God and His Son promise us total joy?
I think one of the things we can do is remember Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The owner of a large estate had to do some foreign travel, so he gave various sums of money to three of his servants and challenged them to invest those amounts. Though one of the servants just blew off the whole challenge and didn’t do any investing, the other two did. They both basically doubled their money, and when they brought the increased amount back to the estate owner, he clapped them on the back and said, “Enter into the joy of your Lord!”
The point isn’t that we have to invest money to enter into the joy of the Lord. That’s not it. No, the point is that God’s service is joyful. God Himself experiences joy as He does His work, and also when He thinks wistfully ahead to the time when He can wipe away all the tears from our eyes, and swing wide for us the gates of the Holy City.
So, what do I do, now that I’ve been reminded that God promises us joy? I need to find ways to allow that joy to spring up in my heart. One of them is reading through the book of John. Another is dusting off your copy of Steps to Christ and re-reading that small but complete manual of salvation. Another way is to find a Sabbath school class to attend if you’re not already doing that, because that’s where you hear stories of how the Lord brings joy to real people just like you.
Let’s go back to Isaiah 52. Because now we are going to be reading some very familiar verses. The footnotes in the Andrews Study Bible at this point say that the following verses are the ones most quoted in the New Testament.
And the reason they’re quoted so much is that every New Testament Christian writer recognized Jesus in these verses. These are specific prophecies of the Messiah. And it’s absolutely thrilling to see how accurately Jesus’ life fulfilled them.
But get ready for some surprises as we read.
Isaiah 52: 13 – 14: Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men;
I mentioned to get ready for a surprise as we read, and here’s what’s surprising to me.
A lot of artists have painted Jesus’ picture over the years. Nobody knows what He looked like back then – except for this passage. But when have you ever seen a picture of an ordinary-looking Jesus, or even a disfigured Jesus? All the pictures I’ve seen of Him are of Hollywood-handsome men with long dark hair and perfectly trimmed beards.
Let’s keep reading, in the next chapter.
Isaiah 53:2 – 3: For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
So, what did Jesus look like? From what we just read, He wasn’t someone a girl would automatically get a crush on. It sounds as though His appearance was like someone (just from His looks alone) who you wouldn’t automatically be attracted to.
And this leads us right into Sermon Point Three. What’s another service our heavenly Servant Team provided us?
God and His Son provided us not only with total freedom, and with total joy, and also with total humility.
The Bible had a number of good-looking men. The young King Saul was tall and handsome. David had a cheerful and reddish face, and probably twinkling eyes. And his personality was such that people enjoyed seeing him walk up to them, and they like talking with him. And his young female fans sang praises when he was successful in battle.
But Jesus evidently didn’t want people to be so star-struck with His appearance that they followed Him around just to keep looking at His noble profile or staring into His large, expressive eyes.
Before He was born, Jesus could have chosen some really good-looking genetics. But He didn’t do that. It wasn’t important to Him. In fact, it would probably be dangerous if people started to follow Him for other reasons than for what He taught, and why He died.
So now that we know about Jesus’ total humility, what should we do?
Paul has an answer for us. In Philippians 2, starting with verse 5, Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
So what is Paul saying? He’s telling us to model our minds after Jesus’ mind. It’s a mind that chose humility. Jesus humbled Himself four times for us – from God to man, from man to servant, from servant to death, and from death to a criminal’s death. And over and over in His sermons, Jesus insisted that we be humble.
Now let’s read the most important Old Testament mission statement of Jesus the Messiah Servant. These words from Isaiah must have echoed in Jesus’ own mind as He moved through His ministry in Palestine. He knew what was ahead of Him, partly because He read it in these same verses.
Isaiah 53:5 – 11: But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked— But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
What’s one more service our heavenly Servant Team provided us?
God and His Son provided us not only with total freedom, and total joy, and total humility, but God and His Son provided us with total self-sacrifice.
How They can love us so much, we will never know. But They do. They didn’t just say they do—they proved They do.
Their gifts are free, and they are yours and mine for the taking, if we accept them and allow the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus Himself says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
And how do we overcome? Revelation 12:11 says that those whom Satan harasses overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” What that means is that we tell the Lord we accept His sacrifice for us, that we want His blood to wash away our sins.
What about you? Would you like to join me in accepting all that God and His Son and His Holy Spirit have done for us? Why don’t you raise your hand if that’s what you’d like to tell the Lord this morning.