May 17, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Isaiah 53:4-5, 11
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…
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.
The example of Isaiah shows us that when God stirs up our imaginations in redemptive ways, we may very well “see” what we have never before envisioned. We may learn that God wants to use us in ways we would have considered unlikely, undesirable, or even impossible. Yet, we will also discover that our God-inspired imaginations will lead us to participate more fully and fruitfully in the redemptive work of God in the world.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
In yesterday’s devotion, I began to reflect on the redemptive imagination of Isaiah, focusing on a prophetic vision in the ninth chapter. As you may recall, in this vision Isaiah “sees” the birth of a child who will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). Under his rule “there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom” (9:7). As Christians, we understand this prophecy as pointing to Jesus whose life, death, and resurrection ushers in the reign of God.
We could spend many days examining the redemptive imagination of Isaiah, but I want to focus on one of the most astounding and influential passages among all of his prophecies. It comes in Isaiah 53, where the prophet envisions the Suffering Servant of God who “was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (53: 5). He suffers, not for himself, but for us. “The righteous one,” says Isaiah, “shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:11).
In this unique and astounding passage, Isaiah sees the redemptive work of God as having come through one who takes upon himself the suffering, sickness, and sin of others. He is crushed as “an offering for sin” (53:10). Redemption comes at a great cost, not to those needing to be redeemed, but to God’s servant who “bore the sin of many” (53:12).
It’s hard to overestimate the impact of Isaiah’s redemptive imagination as portrayed in chapter 53. Perhaps as much as any portion of the Old Testament, this vision has influenced core Christian theology throughout the ages. In particular, as the first Christians sought to make sense of the saving death of Jesus, they found inspired guidance in Isaiah 53. That passage from Isaiah helped them see how Jesus’s death led to salvation for others.
It’s likely that Jesus himself found inspiration in Isaiah 53. In Luke 22:37 he quotes a portion of this chapter in reference to himself: “For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” That phrase – “and he was counted among the lawless” – is a quotation from Isaiah 53, which reads in the NRSV, “[he] was numbered with the transgressors” (53:12). Thus, when the risen Jesus interpreted to his disciples “the things about himself in all the scriptures,” most assuredly he drew from Isaiah 53.
The redemptive imagination of Isaiah and the way it was lived out by Jesus remind us that God’s ways are not our ways. It would not be intuitive for us to imagine that the death of an innocent person might lead to life for others. Indeed, through Isaiah the Lord once said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9).
Thus the example of Isaiah encourages us to be open to God in ways that stretch us, challenge us, and unsettle us. When God stirs our imaginations in redemptive ways, we may very well “see” what we have never before envisioned. We may learn that God wants to use us in ways we would have considered unlikely, undesirable, or even impossible. Yet, as we follow God’s lead, we will discover that our God-inspired imaginations will lead us to participate more fully and fruitfully in the redemptive work of God in the world.
As you read Isaiah 53, how do you respond? What do you think? What do you feel?
What difference does it make in your life that Jesus was wounded for your transgressions?
How open are you to the possibility that God might have plans for you that you have yet to imagine?
Take some time in prayer to thank Jesus for being the Suffering Servant of God. Thank him explicitly for taking upon himself “the punishment that made [you] whole.”
Gracious God, how I thank you for the prophecies of Isaiah. In particular, Lord, I’m filled with gratitude for Isaiah 53 and its vision of your Suffering Servant. This passage helps me to understand Jesus and his ministry. It stirs my soul as I consider what my Lord has done for me. It moves me to offer my life in response, serving the One who first served me.
As I reflect on the counter-intuitive nature of Isaiah 53, I’m reminded, O God, that your thoughts are not my thoughts and your ways are not my ways. So I ask you to help me be open to whatever you want to reveal to me. May my imagination be ready to receive what you want to show me. May my life be ready to respond with joyful obedience to your vision for my life. Amen.
Banner image by IV Horton on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Servant at Work (Isaiah 40ff.).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.