Written by Paul J. Bucknell on February, 18, 2022
MGL1 Isaiah 52:13-53:12, An Overview of The Making of a Godly Leader
This Isaiah 53 study provides key insights on how God develops godly leaders. This passage wonderfully opens up the life and death of Christ portraying the Father’s way of training and using Him to carry out His will, enabling Christian leaders to better grasp godly character. The Making of a Godly Leader strives to understand what a godly leader is and bring ourselves to be that kind of person by God’s grace.
King Saul, head and shoulders above all, proved the need for godliness in leadership positions. Although robust enough to fight any enemy and lead the army, God rejected him as king because he refused to dedicate his heart to the Lord. Our heart’s condition as pastors, church planters, missionaries, elders, and evangelists is critical to securing God’s genuine blessing. God rejected King Saul and chose another.
God chose an unknown young man named David. Though despised by his brothers, God esteemed this younger shepherd boy due to his heart. Only God knew about this lad’s heart and sent Samuel the prophet to anoint him. Psalm 4:3 says, “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself. The Lord hears when I call to Him.” God hears the godly man when he cries out to Him. David learned it’s these men whom God gathers into His presence. Psalm 15:1-2 says, “O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell in Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity and works righteousness.”
This pursuit is not a course; school and training can’t accomplish godliness, though good training can help. It’s admittedly a lifetime pursuit with each of us called to live out Christ-like characteristics to strengthen others.
We must ask ourselves, “How can we become a more godly leader?” Besides identifying Biblical passages and characters, like King Saul and Samson, that deal with specific areas that constrain effective ministry, we also need to train up new leaders in our congregations. Think of it. What would your congregation be like if you could replicate your devotion, character, and vision in three or four other men? We would gain an extensive expansion of ministry, trust development, and fellowship enrichment. Let’s look at the practical steps needed to form these men.
A godly leader lives close to the Lord. He lives in God’s presence and has been changed by God’s person and Word. He loves what God loves and hates what God hates.
An Introduction to Isaiah 53
Isaiah 53 has held a special place in the heart of God’s people throughout the centuries. Many rightly use the prophecies of Isaiah 53 to affirm Jesus as the Messiah. Isaiah 53 graphically portrays Christ’s sufferings, many hundreds of years before He died on the cross; Isaiah depicts them with extreme vividness.
Others use Isaiah 53 to clarify the significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Can there be any more apparent discussion on the meaning of the cross and our salvation, excluding Romans, than here? Probably not.
Critics thought Christians, long ago manipulated Isaiah chapter 53 due to the perspicuity of Christ’s death, alleging editors changed this portion of Isaiah after the fact. The problem persisted because we could not prove otherwise, even if our faith believed in its integrity. But a shepherd boy’s discovery in 1947 led to finding what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Altogether, they found tens of thousands of scroll fragments from eleven caves over a ten-year period, consisting of about 1000 Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek compositions. They consisted of Biblical portions, Apocrypha, and sectarian, including pietistic ordinances. All were not holy books in this library, but the Great Isaiah scroll lay among these many scrolls.
Many excitedly turned to Isaiah 53 to see if it was present and then judged its accuracy against the latest version. They dated this scroll to around 300 BC, well before Jesus claimed to be Christ and died on the cross. Before this, the earliest (oldest) manuscript was the much-doubted Codex Leningrad dated about 1000 AD. An amazing 1300 year gap existed between the old and new. What did they find? A largely different text? No. Just the opposite. Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53 there were only 17 letter differences, including 10 spelling differences and the present tense of the word ‘light’ in 53:11. The Great Isaiah scroll proved original and prophetic, giving excellent clarity on Jesus, the Son of God’s crucifixion.
The Ethiopian eunuch had a driving question on Isaiah 53 when reading the Jewish scriptures. “How can I, unless someone guides me?”…He was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth” (Acts 8:31-32). The Holy Spirit sent Philip there to lead this seeker to salvation. When asked who Isaiah 53 referred to, Philip unabashedly shared “beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Philip no doubt asked him, “Did you hear what recently happened in Jerusalem? Did you not hear of Jesus the Messiah?” We aren’t sure what Philip said but know that the eunuch, being quickly convicted that Jesus was the Messiah, sought baptism.
Isaiah’s Pointed Structure and Isaiah 53
The second half of Isaiah is composed of 27 intricately-written chapters. A marker separates the 27 chapters, a description of the wicked with no peace marking the end of each section (48:22; 57:21; 66:24). We can see this division in the following diagrams, with the 27 chapters separated into three sections, each consisting of nine chapters. When we see these three sections through the eyes of Hebrew poetry, we observe how the second section, chapters 49-57, forms the inner core, like a flower’s stigma and stamen. Let’s take a closer look.
Isaiah’s focal point revolves around the work of God’s Servant, Christ the Messiah, primarily found in Isaiah 53, The Fourth Servant Song amazingly designs and frames the heart of the Gospel. Hebrew poetry uses the physical placement of its lines to reveal parallel thoughts. The outer two thoughts run parallel, then the next inner parallel set of ideas, and so forth. The thoughts go deeper and deeper, penetrating downward until it reaches the inner core—the singular all-consuming thought, the chief emphasis. Hebrew poetry strategically centers the book’s key thought in the middle, even as a flower’s sweet nectar is hidden deep in the blossom.
Isaiah 53 describes Christ’s majestic work on the cross and depicts the promises and hope stemming from that work. Isaiah 53 is placed in the center of chapters 49-57 and serves as the focal point for the latter half of Isaiah, chapters 40-66.
The Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) and its Outline
Chapter 53, the fourth servant song, forms the focal point of the last half of Isaiah, composed of 27 chapters. The whole of Isaiah points to this prized chapter (see diagram) with the outer sections to protect, shield, and provide the context for the precious inner one. Each of the outer two shields present one idea in parallel. At each level, we uncover more majesty.
There are five stanzas in this most inner chapter (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), each having three verses. Though later-added verse numbers are generally helpful, section 52:13-15 unquestionably belongs to Isaiah chapter 53, as the outline below shows.
A. The Accomplishments of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-15)
B. The Confusion of His Mission (Isaiah 53:1-3)
C. The Pain of His Suffering (Isaiah 53:4-6)
D. The Willingness of Him to Suffer (Isaiah 53:7-9)
E. The Glory of the Servant’s Suffering (Isaiah 53:10-12)
Stanza A and E form the outer parallel stanzas. Stanzas B and D fashion the inner parallel stanzas, providing a sublime understanding of the events surrounding the Servant’s death. Isaiah in stanza C carefully situates the Servant’s death and its significance as this section’s centerpiece. It both serves as the most concealed and shielded center, the most sensitive and wonderful part of God’s redemptive plan, and a focal point for those willing to let their mind grasp the Servant’s pain.
The closer we look, the more we are mystified at our discoveries. Though many inquiries are raised, many other questions find their answers in these most profound, extraordinary insights from God’s Word.
This study finds us peering at the chapter like one staring at a beautifully spreading blossom. The outside is attractive, telling us to look more closely. Petal after petal, bound immaculately together, exude their fabulous design and marvelously colored textures.
Isaiah reveals the extent of God’s glorious love in the centerpiece of 53:4-6. If attentive, you will observe the master centerpiece with its special design, delicacy, and function. The five-stanza parallelism acts as shields rather than enclosed circles. However, its cultural-linguistic expressions might disguise this progress of thought and emphasis. Here, the reproductive elements are deeply seated inside the blossom, bringing the symbolic hope of new life and salvation.
We always hide treasures in uniquely well-conceived places. I hope we possess the same seeking and desirous heart as the Ethiopian eunuch as we study these verses, for only then will the Holy Spirit mightily stir our souls. The nature of the Gospel clearly reveals itself in these verses. The Jews, for many centuries, hid this passage from their readers because of its prominent association with Jesus the Messiah’s death. The Messiah’s work on the cross is unashamedly, yet protectively, displayed. God uses suffering and pain to create greater wonders than beauty and glory, for this is where we witness God’s astounding love (Eph 3:16-19).
The intense suffering that the Chinese have endured over these last years produced a powerful theology on the cross. The cross becomes not only the gospel’s focus but produces fortitude to courageously and kindly work through all the difficulties faced.
Many have faced more severe persecution than I, facing only curses, risks to my family, antagonism, threats, empty pockets, illness, and rejection. But no matter what we face in the days ahead, God has chosen us as His special appointees to possess a firm foundational theology of God’s love in Christ to grapple with the large oncoming waves of challenges.
We might feel as if we are alone, but no. We are never alone. As our pioneer of faith, Jesus has gone on ahead of us (Heb 12:2; Mat 28:20). He now prepares a place for us where there will be no tears, pain, or sorrow (John 14:1-6; Rev 21:4). We now quietly meditate on Isaiah 53 and find personal comfort from God’s amazing love, but one day God’s people will join the angels to fully delight in the full display of the cross’ power to liberate the people of God completely (Rev 5).
Isaiah’s Servant Songs
Our quest for godly leadership must find itself in the pursuit of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 53 is the last of four ‘Servant Songs.’ Although not grouped, Isaiah carefully places each in its context, where each song reveals a bit more about the True Servant who gives His all to accomplish God’s supreme purpose. Let’s look at the theme of each.
Servant Song #1
Servant Song #2
Servant Song #3
Servant Song #4
Unfortunately, most Christians turn to Isaiah 53 to only guide them to teach prophecy and salvation. This chapter provides an admirable discussion of Christ’s work. There is, perhaps, no clearer place than here to get a grand perspective of our Savior and His precious work on the cross. However, there is much more to learn.The Identity of the Servant
I have not spent much time wrestling with the identity of “My Servant.” I could have; I have. One of my seminary paper’s researched various perspectives on the Servant’s identity through history. Although I enjoyed the pursuit, the time was largely wasted as we never really got to the heart of Isaiah 53.
In short, I fully agree with the Apostle Peter’s assessment in Acts 3.
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him” (Acts 3:13 NASB).
“For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26).
Peter connects “My Servant” (Isa 52:13; 53:11) with the Messiah and with Jesus. Having said this, I believe this study will still enhance your appreciation of the Servant, even if His identity is still veiled for you. Isaiah wrote this passage to help us to identify Him, the Messiah.
The Glory of Christ’s Work
Isaiah 53 also teaches us much about the work and ministry of Christ, where we observe how to care for and serve others. This passage, after all, focuses on the availability of the Servant. He made Himself willing to do whatever His Master wanted, whenever He wanted it, and however He wanted it done. Jesus, while still living, poignantly said,
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
His disciples are to follow after Him. The cross represents an integral part of Isaiah 53—not primarily used as a symbol of pain or torture but of the willingness to endure all things to complete God’s will for one’s life. Jesus came to earth for this purpose: “…You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mat 1:21). Jesus saved us by dying for us. This servant motif, then, becomes the grand design for our lives, graciously calling us to esteem the will of God over our preferences. Of course, there is no challenge like pain, which tests our devotion to God, but the ultimate good comes from Jesus’ pain and rejection, becoming, no doubt, His hardest test.
Carrying the cross carries two major emphases. The first calls us to repent from our selfish ways—we turn from the things that keep us from prioritizing God’s will. Second, we practically make His will a priority for our lives.
Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). What is food but that which keeps us living and functioning? His desire sought to accomplish God’s will above all, even if it meant giving up His life.
Jesus Himself endured this test so that He could please the Father, securing great reward as the later stanzas point out. Let us keep learning from Christ’s example.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
We run after Christ; He’s the author of our faith, probably referring to His work on the cross. Our personal salvation starts with our faith in Christ, but Christ also is the perfecter of our faith (Phil 1:6), showing us how to live out our lives and ministries.
Many people talk about the cross, but rarely come to grips with what happened there. The Messiah put aside all His choices as God’s Servant, utilizing all His remaining energies and time to do that which pleased God the Father. As a result, many have been and will be blessed through His ministry, indeed beyond anyone’s imagination.
It’s my purpose to expound each of these marvelously-designed stanzas that form the fourth Servant Song, starting in Isaiah 52:13 and running to the end of Isaiah 53. We will observe how Christ served as our Savior, as our Lord, and grand Mentor. He provides salvation (forgiveness and justification) for us by His suffering, displaying how to live out godly lives (sanctification) that we might live with Him forever (glorification).
Isaiah 53 introduces three overall characteristics of a godly leader:
1. Accepts God’s Design for His Life (Isaiah 52:13-15)
Understand the overall process God trains His people through difficult times (the letter: U). This overview of Christ’s life and ministry keeps us from locking into a sinful mindset that weighs us down. Faith in God’s vision lifts us up and enables us to live above life and ministry’s difficulties.
2. Endures Hardships (Isaiah 53:1-9)
Understand how Christ endured different kinds of hardship. Though Jesus faced a variety of difficulties, they did not hinder but aided His ministry. The least desirable often are the most consequential. We will focus on what is critical to a great ministry.
3. Embraces God’s Greater Purposes of Hardship (Isaiah 53:10-12)
Learn to live in hope despite oppressive situations. This begins when we find the right way to understand and perceive our hardships. But even more, we will observe how embracing God’s purposes ushers in greater blessings, even as a key unlocks a mansion door.
The Fourth Servant Song opens the door to numerous marvelous life discoveries. It’s humbling to see how much our Savior endured for our sake, but hopefully, as a result, we will more closely fix our eyes on Jesus Christ and increase our confidence in the way the Father leads His children. Our Father, like His Son, equally calls us to make ourselves fully available to do His will, no matter the cost.
Other Related Resources on Isaiah 53’s Overview
Jesus, The Pioneer of Humility (Philippians 2:3-11): Developing a correct view of self.
Faith into Faithfulness (Philippians 2:3-5): The process of developing a right attitude.
The Secret of Humility (Matthew 18:3): Decrease and Increase principle
The Pattern of Humility in Jesus: Blessing and trouble!
Five Kinds of Humility: Sickness, sin, design, persecution and death.
Humility and Leadership: (Matthew 20:16-28): Great Men
Dying to Self: (Romans 6-8): Key to Christian Living
Moses and Humility: (Psalm 90): The Most Humble Man on Earth
Becoming an Overcomer: From Overcoming Anxieties Seminar : The Victory; Overcoming Spirit; A Change of Heart; A Father’s Love; Goal of Conformity; Overcoming the Fear of Death; Stepping Forward; Praying Power; The Bridge of Hope
Tragedies and Judgment: Answers to many questions on suffering.
Job: An Outline and Overview.