Our Savior as a Tender Shoot
We will focus in this third meditation on Isaiah 53. This is a chapter which we normally associate with the Easter season, but the imagery of vs 2 comes from the Christmas promise made in Isaiah 11. There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (11:1) Isaiah comes back to this language in 53:2, noting its fulfillment in the Servant, “He grew up before Him like a tender shoot.”
Nowhere in all the Old Testament does the gospel of Jesus Christ shine more clearly than in Isaiah 53. This incredible chapter is a distillation of God’s purpose in the incarnation. Seven hundred years before Jesus came into the world, God opened the eyes of his prophet to see into the very heart of Christ’s saving work. And the heart of that saving work is substitution. The Messiah is pierced and crushed in our place. The righteous in the place of the unrighteous. The loving shepherd in the place of the lost sheep. The king in the place of the rebel subjects.The gospel ministry of this 53rd chapter centers on the “Servant of the Lord.” Notice 52:13, “Behold my servant shall act wisely” and again in 53:11, “My servant shall make many to be accounted righteous.” Who is this Servant? Sometimes this title is used to refer to Isaiah himself, sometimes to Israel. But the Servant of the Lord in this chapter can be no one less than Jesus the Messiah – because the “we” in vs 2 and the “our” of vs 4, and the “all” of vs 6 includes both Isaiah and Israel!
Add to this that in Acts 8, Philip approaches an Ethiopian eunuch as he is reading Isaiah 53 up in his chariot, and he asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?” Then Philip open His mouth and beginning with this Scripture, he hold him the good news about Jesus.” In fact, a compelling reason to include this passage in a Christmas sermon is because Jesus Himself said, “The Son of man did not come (Christmas!) to be served, but to serve (to be the suffering servant) and to give his life as a ransom [a substitute!] for many (Mark 10:45).
Let me show you four stages of what Isaiah sees, and therefore what we should see at Christmas time:
1. Rebel Subjects. Chapter 53 begins, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” It is a rhetorical question and the answer is: scarcely anyone. Why not? Why did Isaiah, and why do we, find such unbelief when the message of salvation is preached? Why are there so many deaf ears turned to the true meaning of Christmas? One answer is given in verse 6: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” This is the essence of rebellion and unbelief—a people going their own way. So this is the condition that Isaiah begins with. This is what makes substitution necessary. All of us are rebel subjects. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.” My own way. Give me my own way! That is our condition.
2. Rejected Servant. The next glimpse is the rejected Servant of Vs 3: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised and we did not esteem him.”
When God sent his Servant to save the rebel subjects, we despised him. Why? The answer is given in verse 2: “He grew up before him [God] like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him. And no beauty that we should desire him.”
Now, as we saw at the beginning of this meditation, this tender shoot is prophesied back in Isaiah 11:1, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” So this Servant is a King! He is from the line of David, and He will sit again on David’s throne, forever! But when we comes, he does not come like a king. He comes like a child – humble, lowly, a tender shoot, barely eeking out an existence in the dry desert ground. With nothing to attract us to Him in our rebellion, we despised him. We even hoped it was God that struck him. That would be a divine endorsement of our rejection! He was an offense. A rejected Servant.
3. Ransoming Substitute. But he knew this rejection would come. In fact this was the purpose of His coming. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. And so the next glimpse we get through Isaiah’s eyes is a glimpse of the rejected Servant as a ransoming Substitute. “Surely he has borne our griefs, and our sorrows he carried…vs 5, but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed…vs 6, the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
This is the heart of the gospel of Jesus—substitution. Instead of collapsing in grief over our rejection, he bears our griefs. Instead of increasing our sorrows, he carries our sorrows. Instead of avenging our transgressions, he is pierced for them in our place. Instead of crushing us for our iniquities, he is crushed for them as our substitute. Substitutionary atonement is a marvelous and profound mystery. We will spend eternity singing the praise of the Lion of Judah who is the Lamb slain (Rev. 5). But you don’t have to understand all the intricacies of how this works in order to be healed and forgiven. God tells us what we need to know. His rejected Servant is in fact a ransoming Substitute for rebel subjects. That’s the saving gospel.
4. But the gospel doesn’t stop there. Isaiah 52:15 promises us Restored Sight! God opens our eyes to see this Servant as our Savior and we no longer despise the tender shoot lying in the manger, but we worship Him as our Sufficiency, our Treasure, and our Lord! Isaiah 52:14, “kings shall shut their mouths because of Him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” The arm of the Lord will be revealed…and all flesh will see it together!
This is the reverent, overwhelmed, joyful, worship that should flood our hearts at Christmas time. This is what we are celebrating. The baby came to serve. But he didn’t stay in the manger. He served us by dying as our substitute on a cross. But he didn’t stay on the cross. He saved us by rising again on the third day for our justification! But he didn’t stay in the earth. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, where He will not stay, but will soon come again to receive the worship of the entire earth!
This is what we celebrate at Christmas. This is its true meaning. Most likely, we have seen all of this before. But we must ask for eyes to see again, until it stuns our hearts! Over these three posts we have seen that Christmas means (1) Immanuel – God is with us to bless us by saving us from our sins. Christmas means (2) a child born and a son given – who alone can be our counselor, our God, our Father, and our Peace. And Christmas means (3) the Servant comes as a tender shoot – to take our place beneath the wrath of God and to raise us up with Him – healed and whole – in glory. All of this God promised beforehand in the prophets; His Messiah would be His Son, and His Son would be our Servant. And His service would be our salvation. And all of this Jesus perfectly fulfilled when He was born in Bethlehem. “I have come to fulfill the Prophets!”
Indeed, all the promises of God are ‘Yes and Amen’ in Him, who:
…though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.