The Willing Sufferer

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (v. 7).

- Isaiah 53:4–9

Jews and Muslims tend to reject Jesus as Savior because of the scandal of the cross. How, they ask, could God allow such a thing to happen to the Messiah, who must triumph over the Lord’s enemies? (2 Sam. 7:11b; Pss. 2; 92:9; 110; Jer. 23:5).

This question assumes the enemies of God are “out there” and do not in any sense include believers. Yet all people, even the holiest among us, are born into this world as the Lord’s enemies due to our sin (Gen. 3:22–24; 6:5; Ps. 14:3; 51; Isa. 6:1–6; Rom. 3:9–18). In His death, the Messiah conquered God’s enemies, for on Him the Father poured out His wrath on the sinners who make up His people. He condemned sin in the flesh and we died in Christ, being defeated by the Lord. Of course, that is not the whole story, for death gave way to resurrection, and now we are God’s friends (John 15:15; Rom. 6:1–10; 8:3). But make no mistake, the Messiah triumphed over the Lord’s enemies in His death.

That God could regard even His covenant people as His enemies is clear from today’s passage and its repeated emphasis on the fact that the Suffering Servant was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5–6). We esteemed the Servant as “smitten by God,” as receiving His just wrath for rebellion (v. 4)—our rebellion, not His. The Lord laid our iniquity on the Servant (v. 6). In Isaiah 53:4–6, we have atonement language. The terms for carrying sorrows and bearing griefs are used for the bearing of sin by animals and people under the old covenant (Lev. 5:1, 17; 10:17; 16:22; 17:16). Our Messiah does not carry a vague sadness that afflicts the human condition, but the grief and sorrow resulting from our guilt before the Lord. In God’s plan of salvation, the righteous Messiah provides a substitutionary sacrifice, dying in place of His people and receiving divine wrath for their sin.

Our Messiah is not taken against His will but chooses to endure the death His people deserve. The metaphor of a sheep tells us this (v. 7). Like sheep, He silently and willingly goes where the Master tells Him to go. He volunteers to serve God, needing no coercion to please the Almighty. The Messiah’s death is the supreme act of obedience to our Creator, so it can pay the price for our transgression. John Calvin comments, “If his death had not been voluntary, he would not have been regarded as having satisfied for our disobedience.”

Coram Deo

Born in Adam, we are God’s enemies as long as we remain in Adam and are unwilling to obey Him. This disobedience must be atoned for, but only willing obedience can cover disobedience. When the Messiah went to the cross, He did so willingly in an act that capped a life of perfect righteousness, which now covers His people. If you trust in Christ alone, you must not regard yourself as God’s enemy any longer, for you are reconciled to the Father in Christ Jesus.

Passages for Further Study

Matthew 5:48
Mark 8:31–33
Luke 9:51–56
John 10:14–18

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343