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Isaiah 53:4 “The Substitute”

By Shawn Thomas

Angleton, Texasshawn thomas Blue Ridge Christian News


In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, he writes of two men who, although they looked very similar, and both loved the same young lady, were very different in character. Sidney Carton was a man who wasted his life on drink and cynicism, and he lost out on the affections of Lucy Manette to his look-alike, Charles Darnay. But at a crucial time in the story, the debauched Carton takes the place of his rival for Lucy in prison and goes to the guillotine to die in his place. It’s a poignant ending to Dickens’ book, and yet many might think it somewhat fitting, that a man who had wasted his own life, might die to bless others.

What is inconceivable, however, is that One who was infinitely better than any of us would give HIS life to save ours. And of course, that is the Christian story: that Jesus, the glorious Son of God, took our place on the cross, and died for our sins.

Isaiah 53:4 says: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” Here we find the almost inconceivable truth that the Messiah would take our place in what theologians call the “Substitutionary Atonement”: that Jesus bore our sins in His body on the cross.

The griefs and sorrows that Jesus bore were the result OUR sin, not His: “OUR griefs He Himself bore, and OUR sorrows He carried.”Each of us carries the weight and guilt of our sins in our lives like a heavy burden.

John Bunyan’s famous story Pilgrim’s Progress opens with a man named Pilgrim who had a book in his hand, who was troubled by what he read — and he had a burden on his back. At one point in the story, Pilgrim says: “I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into hell.”

Pilgrim in that story is a picture of every one of us; how “ALL have sinned and all short of the glory of God.” Each of us carries the weight of our sins on our backs, which would drag us down to hell. These are the burdens and sorrows that Isaiah 53 talks about, and they are OURS; all the things we deserve to be punished for.

But by God’s grace, something else happened instead. Verse 4 says “Surely OUR griefs, HE Himself bore, and OUR sorrows, HE carried.”

Jesus suffered in our place. This is emphasized repeatedly in Isaiah 53, that what was OURS, HE took: “OUR griefs, HE bore. OUR sorrows; HE carried.” And it’s not just verse 4; it continues in verse 5 and beyond: “HE was pierced for OUR transgressions; HE was crushed for OUR iniquities; the chastening for OUR well-being fell upon HIM; by HIS scourging, WE are healed.”

This is the vital, scriptural doctrine of the “Substitutionary Atonement” of Jesus:

— “Atonement” means to “make amends” or make payment;

— “Substitutionary” means to take the place of someone else. So the “Substitutionary Atonement” means that Jesus “made the payment” for our sins by dying as a substitute for us, on the cross.

Leviticus 16:21-22 explains the concept of the “scapegoat.” In this ritual, they were to take a goat, and it says: “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel… the (scape)goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land”. So the people of Israel were to take a goat, and confess their sins over it, in a symbolic sense transferring their sins to this goat, who would “BEAR ALL THEIR INIQUITIES” to a far-away land. The “scapegoat” bore their sins. The “Scapegoat” of Leviticus was a prophetic picture of what Jesus would do for us. Isaiah 53 says He became the “scapegoat” for our sins; He bore the guilt and punishment of OUR sins on the cross, in His Substitutionary Atonement.

There have been different examples of this kind of thing all through history, where the common man would suffer for the king. BUT HERE IS THE INCREDIBLE THING: WHEN JESUS CAME, INSTEAD OF THE COMMON MAN SUFFERING FOR THE KING, THE KING SUFFERED FOR THE COMMON MAN!  Jesus, the Son of God, the glorious King, took OUR sins on Himself, as if He were a “scapegoat,” as if He were the “whipping boy”! The King of Kings substituted Himself for the common sinner! It is just as I Peter 2:24 says: “HE Himself bore OUR sins in His body on the cross.” The King suffered in our place. That is the “Substitutionary Atonement.” Jesus made atonement for us, as our Substitute.

This is the single most important thing you need to understand about Jesus. Jesus did not just come to this earth to be a good teacher. He did not come just to be an example of how we should live. He did not come just to show, in some generic way, “God’s love” for us, or to identify with us. He did in fact do all of these things, but He did them all for one great reason: He came to die as our Substitute on the cross, to make the substitutionary payment for our sin. Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 that He came “to give His life a ransom for many.”

And He did not just do this for “the world;” He did it for YOU personally. Galatians 2:20 says “He loved ME, and gave Himself for ME.” Jesus came to be the once-and-for-all sacrifice who would pay for YOUR sins, in YOUR place, so YOUR sins can be forgiven. He paid for YOUR sins once and for all on the cross in the Substitutionary Atonement.

The question is: Have you ever trusted what He did on the cross to save you? Today, if you’ve never done it before, acknowledge your sins to God, stop trying to pay for your own sins, and put your trust in the Substitutionary Atonement Jesus made for you on the cross.

One more word for some of us who are already Christians: Many Christians feel very badly, and “beat themselves up” over their sins. Now, it is good to be convicted about your sins. But once you have confessed your sin to God, and if you have really repented of it and claimed God’s forgiveness for it, if you are still “beating yourself up” over that sin, then you have not fully apprehended the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus the way you should. You don’t need to “beat yourself up” over your sins – Someone Else has already been beaten up for them!  JESUS took the beating for you. The Messiah became the “scapegoat.” Amazingly, the Son of God became your “whipping boy.” Jesus took the punishment for your sins. So rejoice! Rejoice in His Substitutionary Atonement; rejoice that He bore your sins; rejoice with the old song:

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

That is the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus:  “OUR griefs, HE Himself bore, and OUR sorrows, HE carried.”


Shawn Thomas has been a Southern Baptist pastor for almost 35 years, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Angleton, Texas. You can read more from Pastor Thomas Here.

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