The Suffering Servant

Written by Hungsu Lim, Pastor, St. John’s United Methodist Church, Buena Vista, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant shall prosper;

    he shall be exalted and lifted up

    and shall be very high.

Just as there were many who were astonished at him

    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,

    and his form beyond that of mortals—

so he shall startle many nations;

    kings shall shut their mouths because of him,

for that which had not been told them they shall see,

    and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Who has believed what we have heard?

    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

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,

    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others;

    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity,

and as one from whom others hide their faces

    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities

    and carried our diseases,

yet we accounted him stricken,

    struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions,

    crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole,

    and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

    we have all turned to our own way,

and the Lord has laid on him

    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

    yet he did not open his mouth;

like a lamb that is led to the slaughter

    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

    so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.

    Who could have imagined his future?

For he was cut off from the land of the living,

    stricken for the transgression of my people.

They made his grave with the wicked

    and his tomb with the rich,

although he had done no violence,

    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with affliction.

When you make his life an offering for sin,

    he shall see his offspring and shall prolong his days;

through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.

     Out of his anguish he shall see;

he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.

    The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,

    and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,

    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

because he poured out himself to death

    and was numbered with the transgressors,

yet he bore the sin of many

    and made intercession for the transgressors.

_______________

My church has profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and I also have a Facebook account. I often find myself unsure of what to post on these social media platforms. Typically, I try to share posts that are meaningful both to me and my church. This includes news, upcoming events, live-stream videos, mission work updates, and inspiring quotes. I believe that social media is an incredibly powerful tool to communicate with my congregation and the wider community, and it has become an essential aspect of our ministry.

As part of my efforts to improve communication skills, I recently read an article on “How to make your content go viral on social media.” It provides step-by-step guidance to enhance your chances of going viral:

  1. Create shareable content.
  2. Use eye-catching visuals.
  3. Craft compelling headlines.
  4. Leverage trending topics.
  5. Promote engagement.
  6. Maintain consistency.
  7. Boost your reach through ads.

Their advice is valuable and practical, but they are ways to follow trends and solicit others. Of course, their focus is on marketing skills, which are essential in business, and the content needs to be relevant and worthwhile.

However, Isaiah’s description of the servant is characterized by its contrast with common cultural beliefs and practices.

“See, my servant, shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him – so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals.” (vv. 13-14)

How could nations and kings be startled by the servant and at what they see? In today’s language, he doesn’t look like he’s going viral on social media. What makes them surprised? Is it surprising that the one who is so marred would be elevated?

Isaiah 52 features poetic language that can be interpreted in various nuances and meanings. But it is apparent that the Lord is raising up the servant, despite the servant’s disfigured appearance. The servant has been through humiliation and pain.

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” (v. 4)

In Isaiah 53, the voice shifts to that of the kings of the nations, wondering what to see in him. Then, by verse 4, it appears that the nations have gained some understanding. They have come to see that this servant is someone who carries out God’s will, and acts as God’s instrument. Furthermore, the servant is willing to suffer for the sake of God’s mission, and this suffering has significance for the redemption of the community.

This is a unique way of perceiving suffering and pain. Suffering doesn’t necessarily have to be the final chapter in our story. If our suffering is aimed towards God’s mission, if it’s for the purpose of justice or to inspire and guide others, then it can hold a deeper meaning that we may not have initially recognized. Suffering can then become redemptive. Those who willingly choose a lot of suffering for the sake of the mission can actually be meaningful amid that brokenness. It is those who are not the victims, that choose to suffer can make a difference.

The image of the suffering servant is a representation of the community in exile and how the early church perceives Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Jesus is seen as the perfect model of the suffering servant who sacrifices himself to save everyone. These texts become significant when the faith community accepts its belief and faith through them. They offer a meaningful way to follow what they are called to do.

We are now in the season of Lent, which is a time of self-denial and repentance. During this period, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect on the lifestyle of the suffering servant. It is essential for us to recognize ourselves as God’s servants and follow in Jesus Christ’s footsteps. He lived on earth as a suffering servant and loved everyone unconditionally.

During Lent, we are called to be a beacon of light and bring justice to the nations, even though we may experience humiliation and suffering. We have hope because God can use our sacrifices, pain, and suffering to bring redemption and restoration to others. We may not need to go viral on social media, but our actions will inspire others and teach them new meanings of life. As believers, we can follow Jesus and his loving ways because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24