YOU CAN’T GO OUT LOOKING LIKE THAT!
Analysis by Timothy Hoyer
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. 14Just as there were many who were astonished at him—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals— 15so 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.
53Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For 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. 3He 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.
4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But 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. 6All 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. 7He 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. 8By 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. 9They 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.
10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. 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. 11Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore 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.
DIAGNOSIS: Judging a Book by Its Cover
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Look at That
When we see someone whose looks we appreciate, who is dressed stylishly, we are attracted to that person. When we see someone whose facial features are mismatched, or whose face has been horribly scarred from accident or war, our gut reacts with disgust. Perhaps we cringe inside also, realizing the pain that created the scars, or the pain that is caused by being rejected. We do not like looking at pain.
There was a man who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him” (53:2). He was one “from whom others hide their faces,” “we held him of no account” (53:3).
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): We Judge What We Look At
Not only did we hold him worthless, but “we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted” (53:4). For those we see scarred we may feel pity, but not for this one. His despised appearance was no accident. It was “the will of the Lord to crush him with pain” (53:10). He must be evil, horrible, a committer of heinous acts. He was judged by God’s righteousness, by human law. His pain was the consequence of what he had done. Whatever he had done must have been quite terrible. That is how the system of retribution works—reward for the good and punishment for the bad. We use this system when we talk of fairness, getting what we deserve, or we earned it, or “just desserts,” punishment, or justice.
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): As We Judge, So Are We Judged
Yet by judging this afflicted nameless one, we have done something terrible. It is not our place to judge others, yet we do, easily and often to everyone. We have left God’s way of love and each of us has gone our own way, that is, not God’s way. Death comes to us all as an accounting for our actions—in this case, our actions of judging and going our own way away from God’s. Those who live by the way of retribution, die by the way of retribution. What we believe is what we get.
PROGNOSIS: Looks Can Be Deceiving
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Behold, the Man!
But this one who was nothing to look at is the righteous one, God’s very servant and child. Yes, the way of retribution happened to this Son of God—he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and he was stricken for the transgression of God’s people (53:5, 8), namely, us. It was the will of God to crush him with pain, but by his punishment we are made whole, by his bruises we are healed (53:5). As Jesus was put to death on a cross so he could be raised from death, so we see that God kills to make alive, humbles to raise up, weakens so he can be our strength, brings us to despair so that he is our hope, shows us our sin so that we may truly know his forgiveness.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): The Blind See
When we hear of what the Afflicted One has done for us, the Spirit uses that good news to create faith in us, faith in the Afflicted One. It is faith in the Afflicted One that assures us he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases. Without faith, Jesus (that Afflicted One) is just another person killed on a cross. It is when we hear what he has done for us—and that through him the will of the Lord shall prosper—that we no longer hold him of no account but allot him a portion with the great. We declare that his weakness on a cross is our greatness, his affliction is our comfort, his death is our life. Now our life is worthwhile because the Spirit gives us trust in Jesus, not because we are rich or have a fun time or have done what we were supposed to or believe in retribution.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Let Me Tell You What I Saw
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Only those to whom we give Jesus’ mercy: they are the ones who believe what they have heard. To give people Jesus’ mercy is not just a kind act or neighborly helpfulness. We tell others of Jesus when we have his peace in the midst of our own afflictions—whether matters of health or poverty. We tell others of Jesus by our insistance that being gathered together with others on Sunday morning to hear of Jesus is our highest priority. We give others Jesus’ mercy when we forgive them instead of choosing retribution. When faith in family or faith in feeling good about life fails, we can offer them faith in Jesus who does not fail because he is risen from the dead. When someone worries that they lose the very things they trust in to make their life good, we can offer them Jesus as the one to rely on for life’s worth, and he cannot fail because he is risen from the dead. We can offer them Jesus, who looks like nothing, who looks worthless, yet we are promised that this Jesus is our life, for he is risen from death to a whole new created life. He gives us his new life of mercy to replace the systems of death and retribution. So when we see what we like or, conversely, someone who does not look good, here is Luther on Isaiah 11:3:
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see. We, too, should well learn this, not to permit appearance to impress us, lest we judge a girl reading a book to be better than one sweeping the house. In his innocence a Christian in no way changes appearance; the Christian only has a heart full of faith. This single praise is given to the Christian, that they fear the Lord” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 16:120).
We are free from judging how others’ appear and instead give them Jesus’ mercy.