Week 32

Isaiah 6, 52-53

ISAIAH’S VISION OF GOD AND HIS CALL TO BE A PROPHET

Isaiah is called to be a prophet in 742 bc—the year of King Uzziah’s death. Uzziah has enjoyed a long reign, but lived in isolation as a leper during his last years.

Isaiah has an awe-inspiring vision of God (6:1–13). The Lord is enthroned in his temple, surrounded by seraphs—the winged beings that worship and serve him continually. God is utterly holy. He is infinitely higher than his creatures. He is completely pure in his character. Isaiah, in stark contrast, sees himself as a moral leper. He is riddled with sin, and can have nothing to do with this holy God.

But, as Isaiah cries out in despair, a seraph touches his mouth with a live coal from the altar. God in his mercy reaches out to purge Isaiah’s sin and remove his shame. His lips are consecrated to speak God’s word.

When he hears God asking, ‘Whom shall I send?’ Isaiah gives the heartfelt response, ‘Send me!’

God commissions Isaiah to a difficult and unrewarding task. He has to take God’s message to people who will listen but never understand. Their senses will be dulled by self-interest. They won’t allow God’s word to reach their hearts because they don’t want to change their lives. This is the experience of many prophets, from Jeremiah to Jesus (Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Mark 11:17–18).

Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 279.

As you read through the Scripture, choose from the following questions to guide discussion in your group. Don’t feel that you need to talk about all of them. 

Read Isaiah 6

  1. If King Uzziah represents stability to Judah, what does his death mean? Why does God choose this time to reveal himself to Isaiah?
  2. Imagine you are Isaiah. What do you tell a friend about what you saw, heard, felt and smelled in verses 1-4?
  3. What questions about God’s nature and purpose does this encounter raise for you?
  4. What makes Isaiah despair for his life and confess his sin (v. 5; see Exodus 20:19; 33:20)?
  5. Compare Isaiah’s response in verse 8 with verse 5. What is significant about that?
  6. How is your experience with God like Isaiah’s: Awe struck? Guilt-ridden? Cleansed? Are you willing to serve anywhere, anytime?
  7. John 12:40-41 relates this vision to Jesus. How is Jesus’ glory like the suffering and healing Isaiah saw?
  8. Why has God sent you to your world?

THE FOURTH ‘SERVANT SONG’

God’s servant is to be raised up (52:13). He has been rendered almost unrecognizable by what he has suffered. The nations and their rulers fall silent at the sight of him (52:14–15).

There seemed nothing special about the servant when he first appeared—like a root out of dry ground. No majesty. No beauty (53:1–2). He suffered in so many ways—sorrow, rejection, illness—that people dismissed him as hopeless and worthless (53:3).

But now we see the servant’s suffering in a new light. It was our suffering he was carrying—and we thought God was giving him what he deserved (53:4). The servant was wounded and crushed for our sins—so that we can be healed (53:5). He has been our scapegoat, our sacrifice, our sin-bearer (53:6).

The description of what happened to the servant is, for Christians, a description of what happened to Jesus—and for the same reasons. In his suffering he was meek and unprotesting, like a lamb being shorn or sacrificed (53:7). It was John the Baptist who recognized Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29).

Like the servant’s trial, Jesus’ trial was unfair and his fate undeserved. Crucifixion was the ultimate cut-off from dignity, life and hope (53:8). Most strangely, the servant’s grave was ‘with a rich man’—and Jesus on his death will be given the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57–59).
Isaiah sees that all this is God’s will. Through this innocent suffering and death will come a great forgiveness and mighty resurrection (53:10–11). This terrible death endured means life and victory for all (53:12).

Andrew Knowles, The Bible Guide, 1st Augsburg books ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001), 290–291.

Read Isaiah 52:7-53:12

  1. The songs in the previous chapters of 42 and 49 indicated that the “suffering servant” would “be a light to the Gentiles.” How is that idea communicated in these opening lines?
  2. If all you knew about the Servant’s adult life was summed up in 53:7-9, what would you assume must have happened to him? How does this relate to the picture of the servant in 50:6?
  3. What was the purpose of the Servant’s suffering (53:4-6)? What was the nature of his suffering? What benefits come to others be cause of his suffering and death?
  4. How do you account for the paradox between his death (v. 9) and his seeing the “light of life” (v. 11)?
  5. Chapter 53 verses 7, 10 and 12 use sacrificial imagery to speak of the Servant. How does that make his death more than a mere martyr’s death?
  6. The New Testament freely applies this song to Jesus (Matthew 27:38,57-60; John 1:29; Acts 8:32-34; 1 Peter 2:22-23). From this song, how would you explain to someone else the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection? How does it bring reassurance to you of God’s forgiveness and love?
  7. Paul applies 53:1 to the ministry of the Christian (see Romans 10:16). How have you experienced rejection from others because of your faith? Has obedience to God ever left you feeling “cut off from the land of the living” (v. 8)?
  8. Does knowing of God’s approval give you courage to serve, even when others turn against you? How so?
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