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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God reveals the unbelievable outcome of the Servant's suffering
Text:Isaiah 53:11 (View)
Occasion:Easter
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2011
Added:2011-08-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 32
Hymn 82:3
Hymn 33
Psalm 18:1,2
Hymn 34 + Hymn 68:1,8

Reading:  Matthew 28:1-15
Text:  Isaiah 53:11
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Christian church has long recognized that Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter is a powerful prophecy about Christ.  It has such an amazing correspondence to what we read in the Gospels that one must be blind in order not to see that Isaiah spoke of Jesus.  On Good Friday, we considered the first three verses of this chapter and how they speak of Christ’s humiliation.  But the chapter also speaks of the first stage in Christ’s exaltation.  Martin Luther said these words about this chapter:

There is, indeed, in all the writings of the Old Testament, no plainer text nor prediction, both of the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ, than in this chapter.  Therefore all Christians should be well acquainted with it, even know it by heart, in order to strengthen and defend our faith.

Note how Luther said that it speaks “both of the sufferings and the resurrection of Christ.” 

Typically commentators find reference to the resurrection in verse 10.  And it’s certainly there and I could have chosen that as our text or maybe taken that together with verse 11.  Isaiah speaks there of the Servant of Yahweh and makes it clear that the Servant will live again.  The Servant of Yahweh dies and is buried earlier in chapter 53, but by verse 10 we find him alive again.  So he is also in verse 11.  And it’s there that I want to turn this Easter morning as we commemorate the resurrection of our Saviour. 

As we look closely at this verse, we need to keep in mind that it too is part of the message or the news mentioned in verse 1.  On Good Friday we noted how Isaiah is basically saying that what he says here is unbelievable.  The natural human inclination is to say that this is impossible.  Or that this is ridiculous.  A Jewish audience would find a suffering Messiah a stumbling block.  Gentiles would find the description of the Servant in Isaiah 53 to be foolish. And now we come to the resurrection.  Talk about unbelievable. 

Even if they can’t see or agree with the theological significance of the crucifixion, many unbelievers can at least agree that it happened in history.  Many will grant that a man named Jesus was nailed to a cross during the governorship of Pontius Pilate.  They won’t grant that Christ did anything for sinners in that, but they can agree that it happened.  After all, thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world.  It happened all the time.  So the crucifixion of a Jew named Jesus is certainly plausible.  But who has ever seen a man coming back from the dead?  When has that ever happened?  Now that’s unbelievable.  That’s part of the message Isaiah brings from God.

On this Easter morning, I proclaim to you God’s Word from Isaiah 53:11 and I’ll show how God reveals the unbelievable outcome of the Servant’s suffering.  We’ll consider how:

1.      He sees the light of life

2.      He justifies many

Isaiah says that what happens next happens after the suffering of the Servant’s soul.  The suffering encompasses all the misery we heard about on Friday and all the misery in the rest  of this chapter.  The prophet reveals that all this was inflicted upon the Servant’s soul.  Now we do have to be careful not to read too much into the word “soul” here.  As you may know, there is a new edition of the NIV that’s recently been published.  The 2011 NIV at Isaiah 53:11 simply says, “After he has suffered...”  The word “soul” has disappeared from the 2011 NIV.  The Hebrew word is nephesh and sometimes that word refers to the immaterial aspect of our being – the soul as contrasted with the body.  When we die, it is our nephesh or spirit or soul that goes to heaven while our body stays in the grave.  However, in other places in the Old Testament, this word refers to people in their totality.  It essentially means “life.”  That’s what it means here in Isaiah 53:11.  It’s a reference to all the suffering that the Servant experienced, both in his body and in his spirit.  The entire person of the Servant suffered.

It’s important to remember that because it is rather easy to focus on just the physical aspect of Christ’s sufferings and death.  The physical was only part of it, and not the worst of it.  We can understand physical pain.  But the spiritual agony that he endured -- we can only begin to get it.  To comprehend Christ’s agony to a fuller degree, including the spiritual aspect, you would have to be cast into hell yourself with body and soul.  There you would have to feel the full force of God’s wrath against sin forever and then you would only begin to know what he experienced on the cross for you.  Be thankful that, because of Christ’s suffering in body and soul, you won’t have to do that!  You can take the Word at face value – it was a deep and terrible suffering, the full measure of holy justice, endured in love for you. 

So our text proclaims the great depth of the suffering of our Lord Jesus.  And then it tells us that there is an “after.”   Normally there is no “after.”  Typically humans die and that’s it.  But for the servant there is an “after.”  This “after” involves the Servant seeing again.  Our translation, working with some earlier manuscripts, expands that to seeing the light of life.  That’s good.  That’s what Isaiah means.  Isaiah is saying that the Servant comes back to life.  Light again enters into his eyes.  He lives among the living.   This makes up part of Isaiah’s unbelievable message.

Throughout history the resurrection has been undermined and attacked by unbelievers.  This happened already the day it happened.  During the 1700s, these attacks became more sophisticated.  This was the period that we call the Enlightenment, sometimes people call it “The Age of Reason.”  Everything had to subjected to rational investigation.  If it could not be proven with reason, nobody should believe it. 

David Hume was an Enlightenment philosopher.  He wrote a book that included a section about miracles.  In that book, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he writes of a hypothetical situation.  He says, imagine if all historians agreed that Queen Elizabeth died on January 1, 1600.  Imagine that all her doctors and royal officials saw her before and after her death.  A successor was appointed and took the throne in her place.  Now imagine, Hume writes, that Queen Elizabeth had been buried in the grave for a month, and then suddenly appeared, resumed the throne and ruled England for another three years.  Says Hume, “I must confess that I should be surprised at the concurrence of so many odd circumstances, but should not have the least inclination to believe so miraculous an event.”  He went on to say that he would have to assert that her death had been pretended.  She could not have really died.  It is more likely that people would conspire to lie about such a “miracle” than it is for the laws of nature to be violated in this way. 

In a way, Isaiah would agree with Mr. Hume:  “Who has believed our message?”  This is lacking in plausibility.  No one dies and then comes back to see the light of life.  No one can believe that unless the Lord gives eyes to see and ears to hear.  With the grace of the Holy Spirit, we read the testimonies of Christ’s resurrection and then we can accept them.  With God’s work in our hearts, then we can understand that, yes, there are things that happen in regular ways.  There are scientific laws that describe these things.  But the Christian knows that this doesn’t mean that irregularity is impossible.  We’ve never seen what everything does all the time.  We can’t see everything and we can’t be everywhere at once.  The resurrection is attested by Scripture and the Bible is God’s Word, so we believe it.  Apart from believing it, nothing in this world makes sense.  It is in God’s light that we see light. 

As Christians we’ve been given the eyes to see this and for that we can be thankful.  Not proud, but thankful.  We don’t believe that Christ saw the light of life after his suffering because we’re better people.  We believe because it has been given to us to believe.

It is a great blessing and comfort to believe the unbelievable message delivered by Isaiah.  The Servant sees the light of life – that means he has victory over death.  Death has not been able to hold him down.  The grave could not keep him.  Moreover, what has brought death into this world?  Why do people die?  It’s because of sin.  So the resurrection of Christ is also a victory over sin.  This victory we share, brothers and sisters.  As we look to the risen Christ, we know that sin and death have no hold on us any longer.  We are not captive to them.  We have hope for eternal life.  And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ’s resurrection is the first fruits of our own resurrection.  Because Christ has been raised, we too will be raised with glorified bodies.  This happens when he returns with the clouds.  We’re not destined to live forever as disembodied spirits.  It’s not God’s plan for you to spend eternity as a soul without a body in heaven.  God’s design is that when Christ returns your soul and your body will be reunited and you will spend eternity in a world in which heaven and earth are melded perfectly.  The resurrection prophesied in Isaiah 53:11 is the guarantee that this is on its way. 

The resurrection is a blessing for believers.  But for unbelievers it is quite the opposite.  According to Paul in Acts 17, the resurrection is proof that God will one day judge the world with justice.  That judgment will be executed by Christ – the risen Christ.  He will judge all men.  He is either your Redeemer -- the one who is victorious over sin and death for you – or he is the Judge who will condemn you to eternal death because of your sin.  Obviously we want to see the light of life with Christ and so the call is again to continue trusting him and to believe the message of Isaiah and the other prophets and apostles. 

There is something in Isaiah 53:11 that goes with seeing the light of life.  Isaiah also says that the Servant will be satisfied.  I have to admit that I scratched my head over this.  These words seem open to various interpretations.  I find it difficult to be absolutely sure what this means.  But I will tell you what I think the most likely meaning is.  The best interpretation seems to work with the idea that there is a parallel between verse 10 and verse 11, especially the second part of verse 10 and the first part of verse 11.  Notice the mention of “seeing” in verse 10.  Then after that we find mention of the Servant prolonging his days.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament, we find the expression “satisfied with days.”  It seems to me that this is meant to be understood here too.  Isaiah is often using language that’s abbreviated.  That’s probably what we find here.  If that’s true, then what “he will be satisfied” means is that he will live long.  In the nature of the fulfillment, he will not just live long, he will live forever.  When Christ comes back to life, he comes back to life for good.  He will never die again.

Today he lives.  We cannot see him, but he continues to see the light of life.  He’s there at the right hand of God still living and breathing.  He is not a disembodied spirit, but a true human being even at this very moment.  Our human flesh is in God’s presence.  That’s not just a little fact for Bible trivia time, that’s a gospel word of comfort.  Why?  Because his hair, skin, bones, and organs in God’s presence is the guarantee that your hair, skin, bones, and organs will some day dwell perfectly in God’s presence.  Where he is someday you will be too.  Sounds unbelievable, but the Word promises it to us and Christ’s resurrection and ascension underwrite the promise. 

Our text also speaks of justification as part of the outcome of the Servant’s suffering.  Isaiah reports God’s words, “...by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.”  First of all, it’s clear that Isaiah is speaking here about justification.  To remind you, justification is God’s declaration that a sinner is right with him.  Justification is an event, not a process.  Justification is a courtroom word.  In this courtroom, God is the judge and he is the one makes the declaration. 

Now here in Isaiah 53, the Servant is involved with justification.  It happens “by his knowledge.”  That means two things.  First, “by his knowledge” refers to the Servant’s knowledge of God’s will.  He knew what he needed to do to bring about our redemption and then he did it.  By doing what he knew was necessary, he opened the way for the Judge to declare sinners righteous.  In other words, in this first sense, the Servant’s knowledge relates to the basis of our justification.  We are justified on the basis of what the Servant did.  We are declared right with God entirely because of Christ’s work.  That includes his obedience on our behalf – imputed to us, credited to our accounts.  That also includes his payment for all our sins on the cross.  He knew that both things were necessary and he knew God’s will here and he did it for us.  He was and is God’s Righteous Servant, the one who has always done what is right in God’s eyes and doing it out of love for you.    

Second, “by his knowledge” refers to our knowledge of the Servant.  As elsewhere in the Bible, this is not merely an intellectual knowledge, a knowing about the Servant.  This is primarily about a relationship of fellowship with him.  You could even say that this is about faith.  “By his knowledge” then refers to the instrument of our justification.  Faith is the means by which we appropriate the justification in Christ, faith is the way we make it our own.  Solely by resting and trusting in Christ, we are declared right with God.

So who will be justified by God’s Righteous Servant?  Isaiah reveals God’s answer to that:  many.  No, not all, but many.  It’s important to stress that today.  In Grand Rapids, Michigan, there is a mega-church called Mars Hill Bible Church.  The pastor’s name is Rob Bell.  He recently wrote a book entitled Love Wins.  Bell argues that everyone goes to heaven because of Jesus – in other words, all are justified.  There is no place called hell where people experience eternal conscious torment, where they receive the just wrath of God.  Everyone goes to heaven, everyone is right with God through Christ.  Now for those who don’t believe, heaven is like hell.  But eventually, there in heaven, God’s love wins them over and everyone lives happily ever after.  The work of Jesus brings everyone to heaven.  But that is categorically not what the Bible says.  That’s not what Isaiah 53:11 says.  Many will be justified.  Not all. 

And what separates those who are justified from those who aren’t?  Faith.  Simply faith.  By faith, we mean resting in Christ.  We mean trusting his perfect work on your behalf.  We mean receiving all his benefits.  This is the only way to be declared right with God.  Again, this too is something where human beings will be taken aback.  Is there nothing for us to do except resting, trusting and receiving?  Can’t we contribute something to our justification?  To that the Bible’s uniform answer is, “NO!”  The true Christian doctrine says that justification is by faith alone and this puts man in his proper place – humbly empty-handed before God.  Everything is of grace.  We’ve done nothing except earn our condemnation.  God has done everything for our salvation.  We’re just called to believe it and it’s ours.  That’s the gospel, the good news.           

That gospel includes what Martin Luther called the “joyous exchange.”  In modern language, we can call it “the Sweet Swap.”  The last part of verse 11 says that the Servant of Yahweh will bear the iniquities of many.  Their sins will be placed on his shoulders.  They will be imputed to him, credited to his account.  In the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus becomes sin for us.  He doesn’t just take our sins, he becomes sin.  He doesn’t just become a sinner, he becomes sin.  Sin is what God hates.  At the cross, our Lord Jesus became what God hated.  For us.  For you.  He took our iniquities and sins and he gives to us his righteousness.  This is the swap, the exchange.  Our sin for his righteousness.  He becomes what he is not so that we can become what we are not.  He becomes sin so that we can become righteousness.  This is just about the best good news one can hope for, which is why we call it sweet, the sweet swap. 

It might be sweet to believing ears, but to unbelievers it just sounds bizarre.  Why?  Because they suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness.  Romans 1 and 2 tell us that unbelievers know that God is a righteous judge.  But they suppress that truth, don’t and won’t allow it to come to the surface.  So while they know in their hearts the true truth, they can’t speak of it.  They can’t acknowledge it.  If they have a stated view of God, the person in sin will have a distorted view.  The distortions and perversions are far-reaching.  But one of the most common, and perhaps even universal, distortions has to do with God’s justice and holiness.  God won’t judge.  After all, we’re not supposed to judge, so why would God judge?  What could be worse than being judgmental?  God will accept everybody.  That’s where Isaiah’s message rubs people the wrong way.  Because he speaks of justification – and that implies that there is a problem between us and God.  There is a need to be justified.  There is a God who is holy and there are people (you and me and everyone) who are sinful.  That is a view that cannot be accepted except through the work of the Holy Spirit.  When Isaiah says that the Servant will bear their iniquities, the natural human response is:  what iniquities?  Who needs someone to bear their iniquities?  I’m not a bad person.  I make some mistakes here and there, but generally I’m pretty good.  So here too Isaiah’s message runs up against carnal or fleshly thinking.  Truly accepting the gospel means accepting a certain view of yourself – the view that you are sinful and God is holy and you’ve got a problem on your hands.  That problem is what the gospel addresses. 

Loved ones, if anyone ever tells you that the gospel is only a New Testament message, my hope is that you’ll point them to Isaiah 53.  The heart of the good news is here in these twelve verses.  Isaiah reveals not only the suffering and death of Christ, but also his resurrection.  Isaiah speaks of our justification also – which ties into all of this.  The good news is here in the form of prophecy, but what a vivid prophecy it is!  It’s unbelievable from a human perspective, but through God’s grace, we can and we will hold to it steadfastly.  Isaiah points us to our Lord Jesus and in him we will see the light of life and be satisfied.  AMEN.              

Prayer:

O Holy God in heaven,

You are righteous, holy, and just.  There is no wrongdoing in you.  We, however, are weak and sinful.  Of ourselves, we deserve your eternal wrath.  How grateful we are for your Son, our Lord Jesus!  We thank you for sending him to suffer in body and soul.  We thank you for raising him from death on the third day.  We praise you that he lives today and will live forever.  We love you for the fact that we have comfort and confidence from the fact that he today sees the light of life.  Father, we’re also grateful for the justification we have through him.  Thank you that you’ve declared us right with you and that you take us for your children and heirs through Christ.  Please help us today and always to be believing this gospel of our salvation.  Strengthen us, we pray, with your Spirit and with your Word.  Left to ourselves, we would surely fall.  Left on our own, we would surely disbelieve.  We need you and your help.  Father, please hear us and answer, for the glory of your Name. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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