“He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.” Isaiah 53:3-6 (MSG)
Although this is the prophecy in Isaiah that speaks of Jesus, it is somehow at odds with what we see and hear about Jesus during His ministry.
It is plain to see in the gospels that everywhere He went people were drawn to Him. His magnetism was such that when He called his disciples they immediately dropped what they were doing and left with Him. In Luke chapter 5 Luke includes the details of how Peter, John, and James met Jesus as they were cleaning their nets after fishing all night, and how they came to subsequently drop those same nets at Jesus’ invitation to “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” and simply walk away. So obviously He had a magnetic personality. So then what does the Isaiah prophesy mean when it says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him?” or “He was despised and rejected by mankind?”
If you read through the gospels to see why the crowds were following Him, you will see three things, they sought healing, teaching, and, in the case of the Pharisees, either answers to accusations or words that could be used against Him. If you weigh all of this against the fact that He says He has no place to lay His head you can truly see the picture of how the give and take between Jesus and His followers was and still is today. Much of the time, He gives and we take. It’s what He does.
I found Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible useful to me in understanding exactly what this passage is saying since I have wondered about this same thing. According to Gill, being despised and rejected refers to the company He kept. He was not rejected by all men, but by all important or powerful men, such as the religious leaders. Moreover, the company He actually kept – fishermen, tax collectors, women, and prostitutes – further reduced His standing in the eyes of the elite. Also, considering the Jews were looking for a great leader come to save them from Roman oppression, they reasoned that this certainly could not have been the man; therefore, claiming to be the Messiah probably incited even more furor in some circles.
Furthermore, being of common birth, conducting Himself in public in a common manner (eating with “sinners,” performing no ceremonial washing before eating, plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath), and even healing on the Sabbath was used to back up the claims of the Pharisees that He was more a criminal, or even Satan, than a Messiah.
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this? Isaiah 53:1 (MSG)
Jesus knew many sorrows in His lifetime. Other than the circumstances around His birth and the subsequent flight to Egypt to escape Herod’s annihilation of all babies under the age of two in his bid to eradicate the world of the prophesied king, we know very little of Jesus’ life before His public ministry began when He was 30.
During His three-year ministry, He was met by unbelief, carnal thinking, and even self-promotion and that was just the apostles. At one point, as He is speaking about the communion, many of His followers left Him saying “this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” But, the 12, when asked if they too would leave, with Peter as their spokesman replied in the negative, asking, “’Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (John 6:68b).
In the garden when He knew the time was a hand, His sorrow was so great His sweat was tinged with blood, a physical condition known as hemosiderosis, and the final ultimate sorrow as God turned His face away in the final moment when “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Gill says of the double reference to shame and loss of honor in verse 3, with regard to Jesus He is spoken of as one considered to be of no esteem or use to anyone anywhere:
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)
So great was the disdain for Christ and the wrongs attributed to Him on our behalf, that people would not even look at Him, but instead averted their gaze.
He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared ,he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off— and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true. Still, it’s what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him. Out of that terrible travail of soul, he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many “righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins. Isaiah 53:7-12 (MSG)
From thousands of years ago Paul exhorts us, as he did the Philippians, to conduct ourselves like Christ:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV)
Christ did not die in vain. He died so that we can have abundant life. Let’s not let it be in vain.