Sermon / March 25, 2016 / Good Friday / Isaiah 53 / Pastor Terry Defoe
4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; he punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (N.I.V.)
This morning, we turn our attention to a "Servant Song" in the book of Isaiah. There are four of these Servant Songs in Isaiah and we're considering the last one this morning. In these Servant Songs, we find descriptions of a special Servant of the Lord. Isaiah describes this Servant and what He is able to accomplish. These Servant Songs helped the early church to better understand Jesus of Nazareth. They do the same for us today. I pray that God's Holy Spirit would enable us better appreciate this critical part of His Word!
When it comes to Christ and the cross, things are not what they seem to be. There's more going on here than meets the eye. God wants us to have a good look, a good close look, at his Special Servant this morning. In the 8th chapter of the book of Acts, we encounter an Ethiopian pilgrim, sitting on the back of his chariot, reading the Servant Song we're considering this morning. This pilgrim had just been to Jerusalem and was now returning home. He was confused. He wasn't sure just who the prophet was talking about. Was it Isaiah himself or was it someone else? Perhaps Isaiah was describing something that had happened to whole nation of Israel. The Apostle Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to speak to this man. Philip asked the Ethiopian a simple question, appropriate for any student of the Bible:
Do you understand what you are reading?
The Ethiopian replied,
How can I, unless someone explains it to me?
So, beginning with this particular passage of scripture from Isaiah, Philip explained the good news of Jesus Christ to him. What Philip did for that Ethiopian so long ago is what I'd like to do this morning. I'd like to tell you the good news about Jesus. After all, this is GOOD Friday. And I've GOOD news for you.
It doesn't take us long to realize that the Servant Isaiah is describing is a very unusual individual. He's compared to a plant struggling for survival in an arid land. He's rejected by his own community. Pain and loneliness are his lot in life. Like many of God’s prophets before Him, He suffers at the hands of His own people. He's despised and rejected. He’s afflicted and wounded. He’s unjustly accused. The Servant, disfigured and abused, was considered to be of "no account.” But He accepted his fate without protest.
Isaiah describes God's servant in such a way as to lead us to think that the Servant suffered from leprosy and was disfigured by the disease. In ancient Israel, lepers were unclean. They were shunned, allowed to associate only with their own kind. In the scriptures, leprosy is symbolic of sin. Jesus, God's Servant, had no sin of his own. But when he went to the cross on Good Friday, he was disfigured by the sin of others. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah realized that God was hidden behind and actively at work in, with, and under the servant’s suffering. Isaiah realized that the servant’s suffering was his divine calling.
In his fourth Servant Song, Isaiah makes some very unusual predictions. He says that the Servant would be PIERCED (53:5) for our transgressions. Isaiah predicted this 700 years before it occurreded. The Servant was pierced for our transgressions and sins. He was CRUSHED for our iniquities. Isaiah tells us that God's Servant was "cut off from the land of the living." People grieved for him because they felt he had been left without children, with no descendants to carry on his name.
We human beings have a problem. And that problem is sin. Thankfully, God's Son, Jesus Christ, is the solution to our problem. At the cross, He Himself became the forgiveness for our sins. Because of our sin, we owed a great debt to God - a debt we could never hope to pay. But Jesus, God's Son, paid that sin-debt for us. He paid it all, in full, at the cross. We were sick. He has the cure. In Isaiah's words,
All of us, like sheep, have gone astray.
All of us have wandered far from God's holy will. We were doing our own thing -- trying to earn God's favor by our good works. All of us deserve God's wrath and anger. Each of us, in our own way, is responsible for the cross and for what happened there. Isaiah emphasizes, repeatedly, that the Servant's punishment would bring us peace. The Servant's death would be a sacrificial death. His love would be a sacrificial love. The Servant would be led like a Lamb to the slaughter. He is
... the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
God's servant didn't die without offspring. Over the years, millions of people have become part of His family of believers, through faith. God's Servant has done, and continues to do, God's will in this world. Isaiah 53, verse 11 says,
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied.
The Servant's victory over sin was so unexpected that it stunned the nations into silence. The Servant's mission was unexpected, astounding. It had a global impact. God startled the nations as they saw Him doing something brand new. As they pondered the God-forsaken Servant, the nations realized that the sins borne by the Servant were their sins, their iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). They realized that, hidden behind the servant’s suffering, was nothing less than salvation from Almighty God – God's gracious rescue from the curse of sin – not just for them but for the whole world.
Before Isaiah's prophecy, the critical problem of human suffering had been explained either as a result of disobedience to God's will (e.g. Deuteronomy 28:15) or as a test of faithfulness (e.g. Job 1-2). Isaiah presents us with a clearer revelation of God's will. According to Isaiah, the Servant's suffering, borne willingly and innocently, is an expression of God’s most holy will. The suffering of the Servant is a critical part of God's plan of salvation. The Servant’s suffering brings about the salvation of others. Those who had mocked and abused, humiliated and finally killed the Servant, came to realize he had dealt with, and overcome, their sin.
When the New Testament Gospels describe the events surrounding the cross, they often refer to the Psalms of Lament. These Psalms, and other scriptures, such as Job and Jeremiah, reveal that it’s nothing new or unusual for God’s servants to suffer. God's Servant takes on Himself our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities and sins. Martin Luther says, “These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold.” The Servant’s suffering and death is a clear expression of God’s mercy at work for us, for our salvation.
Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.
By the Holy Spirit's inspiration, Isaiah's audience realized that their fate was bound up with that of the Servant. Their fate depended upon what He did for them. He silently and willingly took on suffering for them! He willingly took on Himself the worst of their life and experience: their diseases, their sins! Isaiah's audience realized that His suffering was theirs! His disfigurement was part of God’s plan to make them whole. They came to see him as he really is, and, in seeing him, they saw themselves.
Those who first heard Isaiah’s prophecy, like Job's friends, thought that the Servant was being punished for something he had done, when in fact, it was they themselves who had caused his suffering. Isaiah's audience came to realize that the Servant removed the very sins that had produced His suffering in the first place -- their sins, not His. Who would have believed that God's plan would be revealed in such a way?
Exaltation of the humble is a prominent theme in the Scriptures. For example, in the book of Genesis, God chose a humble immigrant from the area of modern-day Iraq, along with his barren wife, Abraham and Sarah, who would eventually bring God's blessings "to all the families of the earth" (Genesis 12:1-3). In the Scriptures, God often chose the younger and less likely sibling over the preferred elder brother. God often selected individuals whose gender or ethnicity would normally have stood in the way of their service for the Lord. For example, God's will was accomplished through Hebrew midwives in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-22). His will was accomplished through an Egyptian princess, the daughter of the Pharaoh (Exodus 2:5-10). God's servants included Moses' sister Miriam (Exodus 2:4, 7-8; 15:20-21; Micah 6:4), and Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute (Joshua 2:1-24).
God spoke to His people through Deborah, described in the Scriptures as a prophet and a judge. (Judges 4:4-10). God's will was accomplished through the Moabite Ruth, an ancestor of King David (Ruth 4:13-22). His will was done through the Jewish Queen Esther of Persia (Esther 4:12-17; 6:14-8:2). I could go on, but I'm sure you can see the pattern - God exalts the humble, both men and women, calling them into His service. Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:48, 52-53) speaks of how God chooses the weak in order to upend the strong.
The most unlikely choice of all was God's choosing Israel as His own special people, His "treasured possession" among the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6). As one of my seminary professors, Dr. William Hordern, used to say, "How odd of God to choose the Jews!" Israel was a most unlikely candidate for this exalted vocation. Lowly Israel was, according to the Scriptures, the "fewest of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:7). Other nations could claim much older and grander pedigrees as powerful empires with deep roots in history. How odd, indeed, for God to choose the Jews! According to Paul's letter to the Philippian Christians (2:5-11), Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was humbled on a cross and then exalted above every name. By means of His death and resurrection, Jesus represents the ultimate culmination of a recurring biblical theme -- God's servants moving from humiliation to exaltation.
All kinds of things are going on behind the scenes on Good Friday that we're not immediately aware of. Jesus' disciples didn't know what was going on when their Master went to the cross. They deserted him. Only later, by the Holy Spirit's enabling, did they begin to make sense of it all. On this Good Friday, our Holy Spirit-enabled faith allows us to see what God is doing in and through our Savior, Jesus Christ. The words of our text this morning are not intended as self-help. These words aren't a recipe to follow in order to repair our broken relationship with God. Isaiah's words tell us the truth about ourselves and they tell us the truth about our status before a Holy God. Isaiah's words are not about describing what we are to do for God. They are describing what He has done for us, through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
God's ways not our ways. The world may wonder how much real effect the ministry of Jesus and his community can have. What good is it, they wonder, to preach the gospel, sing a hymn, to pour water over a baby, to offer a bit of bread and a sip of wine, to hold the hand of the dying. What good is it, they wonder, to speak a forgiving word, to stock a food shelf, to fold hands in prayer, or to fold clothes for the homeless? Why visit the sick, comfort the grieving, negotiate a conflict, advocate for the poor, carry out a daily vocation with integrity, all in the name of Christ? The world may denigrate these seemingly humble and weak ministries of Christ's church. Yet Scripture testifies that it is precisely through such seemingly weak and foolish means that God chooses to do His work (1 Corinthians 1:27-31).
God's Servant brings peace to this troubled, sinful world, and, most importantly, peace with God. He's the Prince of Peace. When he was born, the angels proclaimed "Peace on earth" Faith in Jesus brings peace with God. As the old bumper sticker said,
KNOW JESUS? KNOW PEACE!
NO JESUS? NO PEACE?
This special kind of peace doesn't come through possessing material things. It doesn't come from weapons of war. It comes from a heart reconciled to God. It comes through God's gracious forgiveness and a new beginning in life. Jesus said,
PEACE I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In Isaiah's prophecy, God revealed his plans for the future -- his plans for the salvation of Israel, and not just for Israel, but for the whole world. It's all there, carefully laid out for us. At the cross and empty tomb, Jesus completed God's plan of salvation. Jesus is the Door to heaven and to eternal life. He has every reason to be satisfied with the work He has accomplished. It is finished, he said, as he died on the cross. It is finished can also be translated "paid in full."
As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:8.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The Servant's suffering communicates, at one and the same time, both judgment ("the sins he bears are mine!") and also salvation ("... those sins have been dealt with on my behalf!"). God's servant has brought us a new beginning. Our text this morning ends on a note of promise. Death does not have the last word. Isaiah doesn't congratulate us on what we have done for the Lord. He calls instead, for humble contrition, a recognition of what God's Servant has done -- and is doing -- for us, not just on this Good Friday, but every day, and for eternity. Amen!
Let's Pray: Dear Heavenly Father: On this Good Friday, impress upon us the wisdom and hidden glory of the cross. By Your Holy Spirit, enable us see its meaning. We thank you for the truth you reveal to us in your Word. In Jesus' our crucified Savior's name we pray. Amen.