I have been studying the 53rd chapter of Isaiah over the last little while and it has been a blessing to me. So I thought I would share with you what I have learned in the hope that it will be a blessing to you as well.
Isaiah 53 is one of the passages in Isaiah that speak about the Servant, who is the Messiah. This chapter is remarkable for its details about the life of the Messiah. Some have called it the fifth gospel for it seems like it was written by one who saw the suffering of our Lord. But in fact, it was written hundreds of years before the Messiah ever came. The Spirit who knows all things in the future, inspired the prophet to write down this stunning prophecy.
"Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"
In the first part of this verse Isaiah asks, 'Is there any one who has believed the message we preached.' This was true in his day and is true throughout all of history. The second part of this verse is a little more tricky to understand. The arm of the Lord refers to God's power since arm is the symbol of strength. The arm of the Lord and our message are parallel ideas in this verse. Romans 1:16 helps us understand this a little better. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...." God's message is a powerful message that must be revealed by God to sinners. But it is often the case that most people still walk in darkness. This is really Isaiah's lament in this verse.
Shockingly we are told in the first verse of this Messianic chapter that few people would believe the Messiah's message. This is not what should be expected. For hundreds of years the Jews had been eagerly waiting for the Messiah. It would be normal to expect that when He came, all Israel would flock to Him. They should have eagerly drunk in His teaching and followed Him. His message should have been embraced and cherished after waiting so long for Him to appear. How strange it is that we are told here that few have believed His message and few have recognized that He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.
Why was the Messiah rejected? This question is clearly answered in John 3:19-20, "This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." Jesus' holy conduct exposed their evil hearts and lives. Jesus' message was one of holiness and repentance, and the Jews didn't want to let go of their sins. This reason for rejecting the Savior is the same for the Jews as well as for the Gentile.
John quotes this verse in John 12:38 to show his readers that the rejection of Jesus was something that the Scriptures foretold. Paul quotes part of this verse in Romans 10:16 to support the truth that most of this world remains in unbelief. The person and work of Christ is largely rejected by Jew and Gentile. Those who believe the gospel message are always few--not many. "For many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14. Revivals are rare and the majority of the time sinners come into the kingdom of God in small numbers. This is the reality we live with in this present age.
We should learn from this to temper our expectations in ministry and evangelism. We should pray for revival, but should also realize that often there may be little outward success. We shouldn't be shocked if few embrace the gospel message. When all around us people reject the gospel message, we shouldn't be downhearted. Our Lord was the best teacher and preacher. None spoke like Him. Yet most of the people in His time rejected Him. So if our attempts at evangelism are met with unbelief, we shouldn't be discouraged. The servant is not greater than the master, and if the master and His message was rejected, we should not expect more. The important thing is to be faithful to teach and preach the gospel whether any believe or not.
When we feel all alone in this unbelieving world, remember that our Lord went through the same experience. When tempted to despair because of a lack of success in our ministry, consider the Son of God who understands how you are feeling. Your High Priest understands your troubles better than you think.
As we look around at so much unbelief in the world, we should weep over it like Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Then we should look at ourselves and wonder that God should be gracious to me. What grace is mine that I should be chosen. What a precious gift faith is! Such love and mercy should melt our hearts to love and obey our Savior.