Isaiah 53: How the Cross Secured the Ascension
By Daniel Mayfield
If somebody were to ask you, “Which one is the good news—that Jesus died on the cross or that he was raised from the dead?” I wonder how you might answer them. In the cross, Jesus was sacrificed for my sins, and therefore I no longer need to be “good enough.” In the resurrection, Jesus was found to conquer the death he died so that I don’t have to die.
Which one is the good news? The cross or the resurrection? And, of course, the answer is both. The gospel (good news) must have both the element of death on a cross and a resurrection. In other words, the resurrection wouldn’t be good news without the cross, and the cross wouldn’t be good news without the resurrection. My point is, you can’t really talk about Jesus’ resurrection without talking about his death.
Let me illustrate what I’m saying. Let’s say Jesus went to the cross for your and my sins. That’s good news because there has never been and there will never be a sacrifice that remotely compares to that of Jesus. He was perfect—he never sinned once. But what would happen if Jesus were to die that death, but he was never raised again? Well it would only be good news for a moment, and guaranteed you wouldn’t know it was good news if it were left at that.
In John 10, Jesus paints a picture of the good shepherd, who cares for and loves the sheep of his pasture. Listen to John 10:11-15: 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
So there’s this imagery here of Jesus, the good shepherd, standing between his sheep and a wolf; and actually dying because of the wolf. That’s an image of the cross. The wolf is sin and death and Satan and everything that kept us from God’s presence. But what problem do you see if the story were to stop there? Here’s a picture of a whole pasture of sheep, and now their shepherd has died. What happens now to the sheep? Well, without a shepherd, it doesn’t really matter that the wolf problem has been taken care of, because now the sheep have nobody to guide them. They’re free to wander into mud and get stuck. They’ll aimlessly wander into rivers and be swept away. They will eat all of the grass in that spot but have nobody to shepherd them to new pastures for feeding. Without a shepherd, it doesn’t matter that the wolf problem has been taken care of—sheep are still helpless.
We get a real-life picture of this in John 21:3. After Jesus died, and the disciples believed this to be the end of it all, the text reads, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’” What’s the point? Without the resurrection, Peter and the apostles would have gone back to their lives as fishermen. And if the apostles were not out evangelizing, then would there ever be a church? No. Without the resurrection, we would have no direction.
Now, let me prove the opposite point. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection. I showed a moment ago that without the resurrection, the cross would lose its influence—because in the resurrection we have a shepherd who not only died for us but who lives for us and guides us through channels like the Bible, which was written by people like Peter and Paul, who would not have written those things if they didn’t see the resurrected Lord!
But the opposite point is that there would be no resurrection without the cross. So I want to spend the rest of the lesson proving that point to you. Had Jesus died by any way other than the cross, he would not have been gloriously resurrected to having the status of king. And by the way, I think that truth is the conclusion Isaiah is trying to reach in chapter 53 of his prophecy. So I wanna spend the remainder of our time this morning walking through Isaiah 53 in order to reach this truth regarding the resurrection—that Jesus was only raised so gloriously because he died so obediently. And as we work to that end in Isaiah 53, I want to capitalize on two strands of truth employed by Isaiah—namely, (1) our disbelief and disobedience, and (2) Jesus’ perfection in life and death.
The Problem of Our Sin
Now look first to Isaiah 52:7—the verses leading up to our text today: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Now that’s a prophecy concerning the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It’s a prophecy about the gospel.
I was pondering the concept of “good news” this week, and I concluded that good news is often times a matter of perception. In other words, if you tell me you have good news, but I don’t perceive the value in what you’re saying, it may not appear as good news to me. There are dozens of millions of people in the world, who are not even remotely aware of their sinfulness and estrangement from the Father. They are perfectly content to be satisfied by peers and children and their secular pursuits, and to top it off—they think of themselves as “good people.” Why? Because they don’t murder; they don’t steal; they are active contributors to society.
So if you are to go to a person like that and tell them of your message of peace and salvation, what are the odds they’re going to perceive it as good news? It’s only going to be good news if somebody is fully aware of their sin, and thus their need for forgiveness, and is aware of their estrangement from the Father and what that means for their eternity. A message like this is going to be good news to the cracked out drug addict whose wife and family left him, and who’s living under the bridge in downtown San Diego. He KNOWS he screwed up. But this gospel message is not going to be good news to the self-sufficient person, who feels they’ve mostly got it together. So let’s use Isaiah 53 to paint a picture of our condition after sin came into our lives.
Chapter 53 opens immediately with Isaiah’s dumbfounded disposition regarding our sinful unbelief. Isaiah says, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Isaiah asks two questions, and we’re gonna answer both of them. (1) Who has believed what he has heard from us? Answer: Hardly anybody. The vast majority have not believed. I’ll prove that to you with the text in a moment, but just hold that thought while we answer the second question: (2) And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? In other words, who has seen the salvation of the Lord? This question is merely rhetorical because Isaiah answered it in chapter 52. Look at 52:10: “The Lord has bared (exposed/revealed) his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
So to whom has the salvation of the Lord been revealed? EVERYBODY. All the nations, Isaiah says. So when you read verse 1, Isaiah is dumbfounded. He’s in disbelief over the ridiculousness of our disbelief. He’s saying, “How many believed? Answer: Very few. And that just doesn’t add up because how many saw the salvation of the Lord? All nations!”
Listen to the apostle John’s validation of this: 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
It’s preposterous! God’s presence has been so apparent throughout history that man is utterly without excuse for unbelief. And Isaiah gives his commentary as to why this is the case. Look at verses 2-3: For he grew up before him like a young plant, 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. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
So everybody saw the salvation of the Lord; hardly anybody believed; and the reason? Jesus wasn’t physically beautiful. You can just imagine the world being scolded by God. “I showed you my Son, and he did more in your presence than one could dream! Why didn’t you believe?” And the shamed response would be: He wasn’t pretty. When you paint our sin like that—that’s BAD. That’s messed up.
Drop down to verse 6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way. So God didn’t give us a beautiful, king-looking Savior, and everybody—everybody— turned and went his own way.
Now I want you to notice that every horrible thing done to Jesus; every horrible weight he carried—all of it—every ounce of it—belonged to us. Verse 3 says he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, but verse 4 says, “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” So those sorrows and griefs Jesus bore every day of his life—they were mine and yours.
Verse 5: He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Just in that one verse, he was wounded, crushed, chastised, and slashed. All of that horror was hanging over our heads everyday because of our sin. And it’s still hanging over us if we are living in sin.
The end of verse 6 says, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” So I left God. I went astray. I chose the pretty things of the world rather than the shame of following God. And God just picked all of that guilt off of my shoulders and laid it across Jesus. That’s outrageous.
Verse 8 says, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.” Oppression, judgment, excommunication, death—all of it done because of your and my sins. And Isaiah’s point is—those things should’ve been us.
Verse 10 says that Jesus’ soul makes an offering for “guilt.” Verse 11 says he bears our iniquities. Verse 12 says he bears the sin of many.
So here’s the image we should picture of life outside of Jesus: Those outside of Jesus are rejecting his perfect compassion and love because he’s not pretty enough—he’s not cool enough. He just cramps my scene! And because of that, we have this cloud of judgment looming over us, which consists of every bad thing Jesus endured—sorrows, grief, future wounds, future crushing, Divine chastisement, slashes, sin, oppression, judgment, guilt, and ultimately death. Imagine all of those things like a funnel cloud looming overhead. That’s our condition under sin!
So when you have that picture of your condition—and you believe it—and somebody comes along and says, “I’ve got good news! I know how to send that looming cloud of destruction packing,” you ought to say, “HOW!?”
Jesus’ Perfection in Life and Death
Now, I want to contrast the despicable nature of our sin with the perfection of Jesus, who bore that sin. But before we do that, let me show you that all of this was God’s plan. Notice verse 5: It says, “He was crushed for our iniquities.” Then look at verse 10: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” So that crushing was by design of God.
Look at the end of verse 6: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” So every act of oppression and ridicule and misery Jesus bore, we should not see it as though he was merely dealt a bad hand. This was by God’s design. And therefore, everything Jesus endured was endured for the express purpose of obedience. This is why God says in 52:13, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”
Verse 7 is absolutely heartbreaking if you’ve got a heart: 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.
Can you imagine the obedience to keep quiet here? That’s not me. If I feel like I’ve only been wronged over something really petty—like somebody blames me for not remembering to pick up the plastic cups for an event—it’s my first inclination—God have mercy—to say, “No that wasn’t my job! That was delegated to somebody else! I’m not gonna bear that consequence—cause I didn’t do it!” How ridiculous! Every sin man had every committed since Adam and Eve, and every sin man would every commit was laid on Jesus, and as such, he was being carried off so that the wrath of God might be rained down upon him in death. And Jesus, knowing all of this, didn’t once yell out, “But I didn’t do anything wrong! I was perfect every day! I never lusted a girl. I never lied to my parents. I never cheated anybody. I never even called somebody a name. I never lived a day outside of your presence, my dear God…” That breaks my heart. Perfect obedience under the worst imaginable conditions.
Verse 9 provides further clarity to Jesus’ perfect: And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. He never acted violently to anybody, and there was no deceit in his mouth—in other words, he was perfect. James says that if anybody doesn’t sin with their mouth, they are a perfect person.
The Basis For Jesus’ Resurrection
I started the lesson by suggesting that the basis of Jesus’ resurrection was his obedience on the cross. In fact, had Jesus not gone to the cross, there would be no resurrection, and thus there would be no reigning king. And that’s really the concluding point of Isaiah 53. We don’t often use this passage to deal with Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s the end purpose of Isaiah!
Now Isaiah minces no words in detailing the death of Jesus. He makes it so clear that Jesus dies. Verse 8 says he was cut off out of the land of the living. Verse 9 says that they made his “grave” with the wicked. You don’t have a grave unless you die. Verse 9 says he was with a rich man in his “death.” So he died! That’s the cross.
But notice the wording of verse 10: Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his [Jesus] soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
So when his soul—Jesus’ soul—makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring, and he shall prolong his days. Just a moment ago, he was pronounced as dead. He had a grave, and he was cut off out of the land of the living. But here we read three things (1) he shall see his offspring, (2) his days are prolonged, and (3) the will of the Lord prospers once again in his hand. You don’t see and have prolonged days and prosperity without a resurrection!
Now look at verse 11—this is a recap of the death of Jesus. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his [Jesus] knowledge shall the righteous one [Jesus], my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Now after saying that, you cannot miss the connection in verse 12: Therefore [because he bore his soul on the cross and bore the sins of the world] I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Now before I talk about what I think that verse means, we need to note a couple of things: Because Jesus went through with the cross, God gave him some kind of great blessing. Jesus was eternally rewarded for his obedience at the cross. That’s the gist of Isaiah’s statement in verse 12. But let me tell you what I think it actually means…
God says, “I will divide him a portion with the many.” Well, immediately before this, in verse 11, the text says Jesus will make “many to be accounted righteous.” Same word “many.” Then 52:15 says, “so shall he sprinkle many nations.” I think the point is simply, Jesus is going to get back these people that have gone astray. The rest of 53:12 says of Jesus that he will “divide the spoil with the strong.” I think Satan takes souls captive and thinks of them as his spoil. And they live enslaved to him, miserable, and Satan just wants to keep taking more. And Jesus comes along and with one fail swoop breaks the chains of Satan’s spoil, and those people are delivered into the kingdom of Jesus.
The point is that Jesus will now be a reigning, supremely powerful authority!
We often say, “Jesus could have called 10,000 angels,” and we say that because Jesus said it—“Do you not know that I could at once call down 12 legions of angels?” So yeah, Jesus could have done that. But what we don’t often say is that if Jesus were to do that, he would be operating outside of the will of the Father. And if he were to disobediently walk away from the cross by calling 12 legions of angels, the perfect union shared by the Father and the Son would be eternally severed. And I can’t imagine what kind of chaos would have ensued. We act as though Jesus could just say, “Father, I changed my mind. I don’t want to go through with this,” and God would just say, “Yeah, I understand.” So yes, Jesus could’ve disobeyed. But I don’t think we can even fathom that chaos that would occur if the one triune God was divided.
When Jesus said he could appeal to the Father and call down 12 legions of angels, his point was not that it was a viable option—like some alternate plan! Immediately after making that point, Jesus said, “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled?” (Matthew 26:54).
In Philippians 2:8ff, Paul says, “8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
So, if death on a cross is called “obedience,” then what would you call not dying on the cross? Disobedience! But Paul’s point is that because he was obedient in dying, God has highly exalted him. Verse 9 says, after mentioning Jesus’ obedience, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.”
We experience the benefits of a resurrected Savior today and every day because he lived and died according to the will of His Father. We praise God for the resurrection of Jesus because it means he died for us like he was supposed to die. We praise God for the resurrection because his obedient death led to his supreme exaltation. And today we have a king living for us.
After hearing all he’s done for you, please, don’t go another day outside of his presence. He loves you so so much. Come to him now as we stand and sing.
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