The Servant Songs Of The Messiah

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Coming as I do from a management background, I think of the following four passages as the Mission of the Messiah, the job He came to accomplish.  Theologians call them the Servant Songs of the Messiah, and they’re all from Isaiah, making them a terrific Old Testament witness to prophecy fulfilled in the Life of Jesus.

Four is considered to be the number of Earth, because by the end of the fourth day, the Earth’s creation was complete. Days five and six were devoted to populating the Earth, first with fish, fowl, and animals, and finally with God’s crowning achievement, man. When Biblical things come in fours, it means the whole Earth is in focus.

Song One, Justice For The Nations … Isaiah 42:1-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the LORD says— he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”

Right away Isaiah made it clear that the Messiah would be a gentle man, the personification of God’s love. A bruised reed has no strength and a smoldering wick puts off an acrid odor so they represent those who society has deemed worthless and offensive, but even they would be the recipients of His love.

He would not minister to Jews alone, but to the Gentiles as well. Fulfilling the Everlasting Covenant, He would satisfy God’s need for justice by paying the penalty for all of mankind’s sin, thereby reconciling God to His creation (Colossians 1:19-20). Nothing would deter Him from accomplishing His mission.  As proof that He would send His servant to accomplish these things, God said, “Look at my track record. Hasn’t everything I’ve told you in the past come true? You can count on this new thing happening too.”

Song Two, Israel and The Messiah … Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Initially, Israel was given the task of being God’s emissary to the Gentiles, and that’s who is speaking here.  In another series of four, also from Isaiah, Israel was appointed to accomplish four tasks, too. They were to:

  • transmit God’s Scriptures (Isa. 42:9)
  • be His witnesses on Earth (Isa. 43:10)
  • showcase His blessings (Isa. 49:3), and
  • be a channel for the Messiah (Isa. 49:5)

God knew from the beginning that Israel was preparing the Earth for its most distinguished visitor.

And now the LORD says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength- he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

But Israel was not sufficient to the task.  They became prideful and exclusive, and because of this were drawn off the path God had set them on.  Therefore, the Messiah’s first priority would be to restore Israel, but much more than that would be required of Him.  Again we learn that He would be a light to the Gentiles as well, bringing the message of salvation to the whole world. I should note here that the Hebrew word translated “my salvation” in this passage is the Messiah’s Hebrew name, Yeshua. (When translated into English, Yeshua becomes Jesus.)

This is what the LORD says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel— to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Ironically, God’s own people, though given the first option on the Messiah’s offer of redemption, would refuse it. Instead, the Gentile nations would be the first fruits of His mission. Even their rulers would bow before the Messiah. But God did not reject Israel, and at the End of the Age will pour out His Spirit upon them again, and this time they’ll respond (Zechariah 12:10).

Song Three, Resistance … Isaiah 50:4-9

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.

The Messiah was a voluntary servant of God (Phil. 2:5-8) and nothing in the world could prevent Him from accomplishing His mission. Even the beatings and the humiliation of being mocked and spat upon and having His beard ripped from His face would not cause Him to falter. Since God was for Him, who could stand against him?

Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.

His enemies thought they had beaten him. They didn’t realize until it was too late that the only power they had over Him had been granted by His Father to suit His purpose.  Cautioning Peter to put away his sword, Jesus said,

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:53-44) On another occasion He told them:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18)

And at His last trial He told Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11).

Song Four, Victory … Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness— so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

By the time they finished punishing Him, He wouldn’t even look human anymore. The phrase “lifted up” would come to symbolize crucifixion, but that most humiliating form of execution would become the means of His exaltation.  While our initial faith comes through hearing about what He has done for us, the abiding faith that sustains us is not the product of words, but of the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads us into all understanding.  While it’s often true that seeing is believing, it’s even more true that believing is seeing.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 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. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Even though He had created the universe, there was nothing about Him that would distinguish Him from us. He would look like the commonest of men. And when He spoke, He would contradict what the religious leaders of the day were teaching, and therefore would be rejected by the establishment. His friends would be mostly common folk, many of them outcasts themselves.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The leaders of the day would consider Him to be demon possessed (John 8:48), but by giving His life He would purchase our healing from the devil’s diseases, and our freedom from the devil’s enslavement. The Hebrew word translated infirmities means sickness or disease, and the one translated sorrows also means pain.  Transgressions and iniquities refer to sin.  Because of His suffering and death, we can receive both physical and spiritual healing.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Though innocent of all the charges brought against Him, He would offer no defense because He would really be standing in our place, to be punished for our crimes. And we have no defense.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 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.

His death would make vicarious atonement for our crimes against God, and though it was common practice to throw a crucified body into the garbage dump, He would actually be buried in a rich man’s tomb.

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, 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.

But that wouldn’t be the end of Him. After suffering death to bring us life, He Himself would take up life again (John 10:17-18) and witness first hand the enormous fruits of His labors.

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.

In return for His selfless act of sacrifice, God would give Him the nations as His inheritance (Psalm 2:8) and make His name the name above all names (Phil. 2:9-11). In keeping with His generous nature, He would agree to share His inheritance with all who would accept His death as payment in full for their sins. (Galatians 4:4-7)

From 750 years before the fact, the Lord had Isaiah record this series of promises.  They were explicitly and conspicuously fulfilled in the Life of Jesus of Nazareth, supposed son of a Jewish carpenter, who has become the (still unaccepted) King of the Jews and will soon be acknowledged as the Lord of the whole Earth (Zechariah 14:9).

The unique testimony of Jesus is not just that He was a great teacher Who performed many miracles, but that every detail of His life was foretold by the prophets. Most of the promises of the four servant songs were fulfilled in the Lord’s first coming. As the world rushes toward its final chapter of history, it’s becoming clear that those few remaining will come true very soon. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.

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