The Sufferings and Victory of the Saviour
2. The Misunderstood Messiah
Isaiah 53: 1 - 3
Teddy Kollek served as the mayor of Jerusalem for 38 years. Enormously popular, he often met with Christian leaders to discuss issues of mutual interest, especially those pertaining to Israel’s security and the prospect of peace in the Middle East. Inevitably questions would arise regarding Jesus and the Jews. Was he or was he not the Messiah of Israel? Many observant Jews believe that when the Messiah comes, everyone will recognize him. On one occasion when Teddy Kollek was asked if Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he crafted a disarmingly simple answer. He said that when the Messiah comes, a committee of Christians and Jews should seek an audience with the Messiah. At the top of their list should be this question: “Sir, have you ever been here before?”
It’s a good line, and one that you might expect a politician to use. It also points out the truth that after all is said and done, this is the whole difference between Jews and Christians. “Sir, have you ever been here before?” Christians answer one way. Jews answer another.
There really is no middle ground. Either Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, or he wasn’t. If he was, how it is that the Jewish people by and large didn’t recognize him when he came 2000 years ago?
Isaiah 53: 1 - 3 tell us that the people misunderstood Jesus when he came. How did that happen? Each verse gives us one part of the answer.
1. They Did Not believe His Message v. 1
“Who has believed our message?” The answer is, almost no one. Jesus came as the Messiah but Israel wanted nothing to do with him. We know that for a time Jesus had a powerful and growing ministry, especially in Galilee. Thousands flocked to hear him speak and watch him heal the sick. As his reputation grew, the common people heard him gladly. If they did not know who he was, they instinctively knew he was not like the other religious leaders.
We also know that many people followed him for shallow reasons. They thought he would proclaim himself king and lead a revolt against Rome. Or they liked his miracles. Or they admired his courage. Or they were drawn to the beauty of his teaching. But multitudes turned back when confronted with the call to become his followers. So many left that at one point Jesus asked his inner circle, “Will you also go away?”
By the time Jesus came to Jerusalem for the final time, the nation was deeply divided over him. Even though the common people heard him gladly, they did not know who he was. They liked him, but they did not worship him. To them he was a great teacher and a great miracle-worker, nothing more.
The leaders were a different story. With few exceptions, they wanted nothing to do with him.
They accused him of being in league with the devil. They hated him so much that they plotted to kill him - and they succeeded.
They should have known better. They knew he was coming—God had told them over and over again many times in many ways. They had ample warning. Moses said, “He’s coming.” David said, “He’s coming.” Isaiah said, “He’s coming.” Jeremiah said, “He’s coming.” Daniel said, “He’s coming.”
Every book of the OT testifies to one great truth—"He’s coming.” That’s the theme of the Old Testament—that God would one day send the Messiah to the earth to deliver his people Israel. When Jesus finally arrived, they didn’t believe it. Some of them decided to put him to death.
Think of the long history of Israel. Over and over again they rebelled against God’s law. Time and again they killed the prophets who delivered God’s message. Is it any wonder they crucified the Son of God? That rejection continues in large part to this very day.
The next verse explains why the nation misunderstood who Jesus really was.
2. They Judged Him Insignificant v. 2
A. He came from a common background.
Jesus was not born in Rome. He wasn’t even born in Jerusalem. When God decided to enter the world, he came in a most unlikely way. He came not as a conqueror or a world leader but as a helpless little baby, born in a stable, in the little village of Bethlehem. Years later his critics dismissed him by asking, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?”
It wasn’t a compliment. These were people from his hometown of Nazareth. They had seen him grow up. They knew Mary and Joseph. They knew his brothers. Who did Jesus think he was?
The people who knew him best couldn’t take him seriously.
He was a tender shoot and a root out of dry ground, meaning that he didn’t come from a promising background. Jesus wasn’t born to royalty. He didn’t have a Blue Blood heritage. He didn’t come with the usual marks of greatness so the rulers completely misunderstood him and his mission on the earth.
B. He had an ordinary appearance.
For 2000 years people have wondered what Jesus looked like. Artists in every era have painted Jesus as they imagined him to be. Perhaps that is inevitable since the gospel writers tell us nothing at all about Jesus’ physical appearance. We know he was Jewish and that he was raised in the Middle East. But that doesn’t tell us anything about his height, his weight, the colour of his eyes, the colour of the hair, or anything about his distinctive features. So it is no surprise that in various cultures around the world, Jesus often looks like people within those various cultures.
A Chinese Christ. A Brazilian Christ. A Norwegian Christ. An African Christ.
The people who rejected him did so precisely because he wasn’t very impressive. Though he was the Son of God, he appeared on the earth as an ordinary man. Though he came from the majesty of heaven, he hid that majesty behind a workingman’s face.
The Jews of Jesus’ day missed this, just as many people miss it today. Jesus’ contemporaries had various opinions about our Lord, many of them quite wrong. They concluded that Jesus simply could not be the Messiah. He didn’t look the part.
You can be wrong about many things and still go to heaven. But you can’t be wrong about Jesus and go to heaven. That’s the tragedy of unbelief then and now.
3. They Despised Him for His Suffering v. 3
A. The people had no use for him.
He has always been despised and rejected by men. The world has no use for the Son of God. The people of the world have no problem with Jesus as the “Great High Priest” (a concept they probably don’t understand) or “Prince of Peace” (which sounds good to almost everyone), but they have great issues with Jesus as the Judge before whom they will one day stand. “Who does he think he is?” “He’s not qualified to judge me.”
Which is pretty much what people said 2000 years ago. People can handle a meek Jesus who knows his limits and makes no hard demands or extravagant claims. But they cannot reckon with a Christ who is both Savior and Judge.
B. His whole life was marked by suffering.
Did you know that the Bible never tells us that Jesus smiled or laughed? I assume that he did, but the gospels never mention it, perhaps because his whole life was marked by suffering. When he was born, Herod tried to kill him. When he began his ministry, the people in his hometown took offense at him. In the closing hours of his life, he was betrayed by Judas and denied by Peter. His sufferings did not begin on the cross, but it was his suffering that led him to the cross.
Our sins have cut us off from God so we are left to our own feeble devices. Most of us think of ourselves as pretty good people, or at least we’re not as bad as the guy next door. And it’s true—we haven’t done every terrible thing that others have done. But still our hands are not clean. We have cheated. We have lied. We have gossiped. We have falsely accused. We have made excuses. We have cut corners. We have lost our temper. We have mistreated others. When we finally get a glimpse of the cross of Christ, we see how great our sin really is. In the light of Calvary, all our supposed goodness is nothing but filthy rags.
Isaiah 53 contains the good news we all need. He was bruised—for us. He was wounded—for us. He was beaten, betrayed, mocked, crowned with thorns and crucified— all for us. Our sins drove Jesus to the cross. But he did not go unwillingly. If our sins drove him there, his love for us kept him there.
C. He wasn’t the right sort of Messiah.
Twice in v. 3 Isaiah reminds us that people “despised” our Lord. That goes beyond rejection to a kind of settled hatred. They saw his suffering, and reckoned that he could not be the promised Messiah. “He’s a nobody to us.” The Jewish leaders added it all up and decided that Jesus was worth 30 pieces of silver.
So they bribed Judas - Who betrayed Jesus -Who was crucified - By the men who despised him.
Jesus was truly the misunderstood Messiah. His own people misread him completely. They had him in a box labeled “Insignificant Rabbi from Nazareth.” The more he proved he didn’t belong in that box, the more they hated him, counted him a nobody, and ultimately despised him. No wonder they were so rabid to kill him in the end.
He is still misunderstood today. The greatest mistake is to ignore him as if he doesn’t matter or to think that you can postpone a decision. You can’t wait until his return to casually ask him, “Sir, have you been here before?” We already know the answer to that question. He came to this earth 2000 years ago as the promised Messiah who is the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Do not make the same mistake the Jewish leaders made so long ago. Do not put Jesus in a man-made box. Do not demand that he meet your expectations. Christ has come! Do not despise him.
Do not say, “He doesn’t matter.” Christ has come! Will you bow before him? Will you open your heart? Christ has come! To those who receive him he gives the right to become the children of God. What will you do with Jesus?