Part 5: The Successful Servant

See, my servant will be successful; he will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were appalled at you— his appearance was so disfigured that he did not look like a man, and his form did not resemble a human being—so he will sprinkle many nations. Kings will shut their mouths because of him, for they will see what had not been told them, and they will understand what they had not heard.

Isaiah 52:13-15

In the first few verses of this section, the Lord speaks through Isaiah in the first person, calling the servant, “my servant.” He claims that the servant will be successful, lifted up, disfigured, and misunderstood. It’s interesting to note that the first thing the Lord says about his servant is that he will be successful. The world today has a very narrow definition of success. In most people’s eyes success is found in a combination of independence and dominance. Success, thus, is the ability to do what one wants to do when one wants to do it. A biblical definition of success is quite different. In God’s eyes, a successful servant is one who lives a life of holiness and obedience before him. When the Jews in the time of Jesus were awaiting their Messiah, they sought someone who would free them form Rome’s rule over them, establish them as an independent world power, and grant them sovereignty. When Jesus arrived, he was rejected because he did not do any of these things. Rather, he submitted himself to God, represented him in humble obedience to Israel, and allowed himself to be lifted up, disfigured, and misunderstood.

The phrase “lifted up” may carry a double connotation. This passage, if read from a human perspective, may cause someone to believe that the Messiah would not have to suffer, but rather would be exalted from the start. If read from a divine perspective (and through the lens of the New Testament) it becomes clear that suffering precedes exaltation. Further, the phrase, “his appearance was so disfigured” indicates that the success of the servant would not be separated from intense beatings that would leave him disfigured. Paul explained in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” (Philippians 2:7-9). When Jesus was “lifted up” on the cross and died, his blood was shed, and like the blood of the offerings in the old testament that was sprinkled on the people and before God, Jesus’ blood was presented to God on behalf of sinners and “sprinkled” on all while believe (Hebrews 9:12, 10:22). After Jesus was “lifted up” on the cross, he was “lifted up” into heaven and “elevated” and exalted by God. Young shows that these verses show the “highest peak of exaltation. He who has suffered most deeply is now raised to the point where he towers high above everything else.”[1]

Finally, this passage predicts that the Messiah would be misunderstood. As mentioned earlier, the Jews in Jesus’ day were anticipating a ruler who would free them from the tyranny of human oppression. When Jesus came, he appeared as a servant who would free them from the tyranny of spiritual oppression and help them be restored in their relationship with God. Though Jesus stood silently before a king at his trial, kings will one day stand silent before him.

Jesus, the successful servant, shows people today the true definition of success. A life lived in humble submission to God’s will, though uncomfortable and often misunderstood, will results in greater future exaltation. Believers must keep their definition of success in line with that of God’s. We must remember to keep our eyes “fixed on Jesus,” looking forward to the joy that lies before us, enduring hardship in expectation of the good that will come at Christ’s return. Success, though, should not be measured only by whether a person reaches heaven or not. Instead, just as Jesus brought benefit to many people, we should also seek to live in such a way as to influence people to return to God. Jesus did not serve for his own benefit but for the benefit of those around him.

[1] Young. Isaiah 53. 12

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