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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Lord’s Servant Served us to Save us
Text:Isaiah 53:7-9 (View)
Occasion:Easter (Good Friday)
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-04-08
Updated:2018-04-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 118:1,6                                                                                     

Hy 1

Reading – Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12; Acts 8:26-40

Hy 25:1,3

Sermon – Isaiah 53:7-9

Hy 25:4,5,6

Hy 15:1,2,3

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


Beloved in Christ, for a moment try to put yourself into the sandals of that Ethiopian official, in Acts chapter 8. You’re traveling south through the countryside. You’ve just been to Jerusalem to worship, because even though you’re a foreigner, you’re a follower of the Israelite faith. Now on your way home, the LORD is still very much on your mind. As the driver steers the chariot along, you’re seated in the back, reading aloud from a scroll of Isaiah the prophet. It’s good stuff for a quiet journey: poetic and powerful.

But there’s a problem: you don’t understand what you’re reading! You’ve come to Isaiah 53, and a real puzzle. For it says, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not his mouth. In humiliation his justice was taken away, and who will declare his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” Putting the scroll down, you wonder to yourself: Now what on earth does that mean? Who’s this lamb, and why did he have to die? Like the Ethiopian asks, “How can I understand this, unless someone guides me?” (8:31). He needs a teacher.

We said, “put yourself in his sandals,” but it’s actually hard for us to relate to him. It’s hard, because we read Isaiah 53 with New Testament glasses, knowing all about what took place at Easter. Of these events, the Ethiopian seems unaware. So God sends to him Philip, one of the seven chosen for ministry in the early church. The official just has to ask him: “Of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34). He really wants to know.

So Philip will tell him. It says he “opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (v 35). Philip, taking Isaiah as his text, preaches Christ! Because six hundred years before Jesus came, Isaiah told God’s people about their Redeemer. The Saviour would be a Servant, one who suffers, who even dies. The Ethiopian needed to know this—and we need to know it, and believe it with our whole heart. It’s the gospel of Isaiah 53,

The Lord’s Servant willingly served us to save us:

  1. suffering like a lamb
  2. dying through injustice
  3. being buried with the wicked

 

1) suffering like a lamb: Long centuries ago, Isaiah came to the people of Israel and he said, “Let me tell you how God will save you.” He wanted to talk about deliverance—but not in the way God’s people expected. Salvation would not come through military might, nor through big payments to buy off other nations.

In Isaiah’s day, Judah’s kings could maneuver all they wanted, but disaster was coming. Their sin had reached the limit, and God could take no more. So earlier in this book, Isaiah announced that armies would come and besiege Jerusalem, then topple her walls. The temple would be filled not with the smoke of sacrifice, but the smoke of its burning timbers. Mothers and fathers and children would walk for days not on happy pilgrimage, but on a miserable trek into exile. For much of the first part of Isaiah, his message was one of death and destruction, executions and exile.

But then comes the second half of his book, by contrast a volume full of joy and consolation. There’s no mistaking where it begins, when the LORD comes near in grace: “Comfort, yes comfort, my people” (40:1). And what was the word of comfort? That just as God had brought his people up from Egypt, so He’d bring them out of Babylon. Valleys would be raised up, mountains and hills brought low—there’d be a highway for Israel, cutting through the wilderness, running all the way back home.

So how was this marvelous redemption going to happen? Who’d bring it about? In these chapters there’s a picture of someone essential to God’s plan, one who’d work out the project of saving his people. Isaiah introduces him to his audience as the Suffering Servant. Since chapter 40, we find four so-called “Servant Songs.” You can read them in chapters 42, 49, 50, and now here in chapters 52-53.

When we put these passages together, we get a profile of the one who is going to restore God’s struggling people. “Here’s what He’ll do,” says Isaiah. The Suffering Servant will preach the good news to the poor. He will heal the sick, and mend the broken. More than that—and here’s the real mystery—this servant will be exiled for the people of God. This servant will suffer in their place, suffer to save.

Now in this last song, in chapter 53, Isaiah reaches the heart of the Servant’s profile. He will suffer, and this is how deeply. He’ll redeem his people, and this is what He’ll redeem them from. Not Babylon, in the first place. Not from all our earthly discomforts or disappointments. But He’ll redeem us from sin itself.

And to do it, He’ll be greatly oppressed. Judah was going to suffer in Babylon, there was no question: exile was no picnic. In fact, God’s people suffer in every age, for it’s a broken world. But Isaiah announces that there’s one who joins us in our pain, and then exceeds us in our pain, because He takes it all on himself.

Literally, verse 7 says that He’ll be “treated harshly”—and that’s a hint of how this treatment is undeserved. In previous chapters, Isaiah has told us that God’s Servant is a righteous man, faithful and holy—the one person in Israel who actually trusted God and did his will! So why should He be afflicted, and go through harsh treatment? And then, despite being innocent, “He opened not his mouth” (v 7). He won’t complain. He won’t protest. The Servant will accept his unjust humiliation with patience.

So with this text open, sitting with the Ethiopian in his carriage, you can imagine Philip telling him all about Christ in those last hours of his life. Sharing things like what Matthew records, “The high priest arose and said to him, ‘Do you answer nothing? What is it these men testify against you?’ But Jesus kept silent” (26:63). Or maybe he told the story of Pontius Pilate, who said to him, “‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But [Jesus] answered him not one word” (27:13-14).

Why was Jesus so quiet? Couldn’t He think of anything to say? He didn’t open his mouth, because He didn’t want to stop what was happening. He could’ve rebuked the soldiers, or admonished Pontius Pilate. One word would’ve done it. He could’ve called ten thousand angels to protect him! But Christ was quiet.

That picture of quiet willingness is continued in verse 7, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth.” You probably know that a sheep is a very passive animal. It lacks natural defenses, so it needs continuous care. And when it’s time be rounded up for shearing or butchering, a sheep is only too ready to submit. That’s what the Servant was like, Isaiah says: totally submissive in his suffering. He just took it!

But there’s another layer of meaning here, for sheep were used in the temple sacrifices, offered to atone for the people’s sin. A lamb was also central to Passover, when its blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of their homes, and its meat was eaten at the meal of commemoration. So you see, God had made those feeble lambs important, and He’d given them a place in the story of redemption.

“And now here’s the thing,” you can imagine Philip saying, “Just a few years back, a fellow named John the Baptist announced the coming of God’s Servant. And when he first saw Christ approaching, what was it that John announced? He said ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” The promised lamb had come.

He wasn’t a military commander, not a heroic king. Physically, He wasn’t much to look at. In character, they said He was gentle and meek, a “man of sorrows.” Finally, this Jesus did the weakest possible thing: He surrendered! He was killed, his blood poured out during the Passover feast. And the whole time, He was silent. He just took it, so He could save us.

It’s an amazing story. But Philip has to tell his friend how not everyone is ready to accept the Lamb. For how could a slaughtered lamb bring salvation? If this is what the Messiah was all about, said many of the Jews, then He wasn’t for them. “Who would’ve thought that a lamb could rescue the souls of men?” It doesn’t make sense.

Is it so different today? Today, we respect those with physical strength. We place a lot of value on appearance. The people whom we most admire are dynamic and talented and successful—people who have a brand, people who are trending. The people we notice are those have who lots of nice things, and who get big stuff done: leading nations, and winning awards. But a helpless lamb is nothing. A dead Jew on a cross is nothing.

Yet this one sacrifice opens the kingdom of heaven! Though He was God himself—greater than all who arrested him, ridiculed and pierced him—Jesus allowed himself be led quietly to death. For only by dying would the Lamb of God “take away the sins of the world.”

And like at the first Passover, those who believe will be saved. Those who trust in his blood will be delivered from death. The Servant is our Saviour. The Lamb is our Redeemer! Call it silly, call it strange, but this is God’s way.

Beloved, pray that you are able to receive Christ, and that you are able to keep going with Christ. Because it takes humility to follow a Lamb, even to eternal life. It takes a lot of faith to trust in a Lamb, even to save us. But so He will.

 

2) dying through injustice: It wasn’t easy to be the Saviour. We spoke of how the LORD’s servant would be harshly treated. Isaiah continues that profile in verse 8, “He was taken from prison and from judgment.” Now, it’s one of the hallmarks of our society that someone accused gets a fair trial. All the evidence needs to be heard, and then a reasoned judgment is made. That’s how it normally went in the days of Jesus too. But verse 8 says something terrible will take place: the Servant of the LORD won’t receive a proper trial. He won’t have his day in court, but He’ll be quickly taken away to his punishment.

Here too, Philip could’ve explained to the Ethiopian how it went. How the Jews falsely accused Jesus. How Pilate said three times that Jesus was innocent: “He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (v 9). Yet Pilate was alarmed by those angry crowds, calling for Jesus’ death. So he let them pick between Jesus and the criminal Barabbas—one to kill and one to free—just to satisfy their lust for blood.

Imagine a trial being decided by the people watching in the courtroom, or waiting outside in the hall. Imagine they kept shouting their opinion of the accused, until the judge caved in. Today we’d call it a grave miscarriage of justice. But this is what happened to Jesus.

So, “Who will declare his generation?” (v 8), continues Isaiah. Because on that day, the Servant looked like he was totally hopeless, all alone. His own generation had failed him, everyone from the religious leaders to his own friends and disciples. No one noticed his suffering, and few were concerned. And why should they care, once He was dead? “For He was cut off from the land of the living” (v 8). The brutal misery of Servant ends with him as a corpse. After just a short life on earth, it was all over.

So what was it all for? What was the point of this unjust death? Was it not a waste? But the last phrase in verse 8 says so much, “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken.” There’s the purpose, the reason.

First, those transgressions. Earlier in his book, Isaiah has described the sinfulness of God’s people. They were rebellious. They were proud. They made idols and worshiped false gods. They stole and lied and mistreated one another. In short, they broke the covenant that God had made with them. There was a deserved penalty for all this, a covenant curse which meant the loss of everything they once knew.

God will do all that: He’ll punish the people. But He’ll also hold back his hand. He won’t treat them as their sins deserved—not even close, for then they’d never come back from exile! But God will forgive, and rebuild. He announces in chapter 40, “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (v 2). That’s the only way He can take us back: sin has to be dealt with, iniquity pardoned.

And this is how God did it: through the Servant. The people’s punishment was dumped onto God’s chosen one. He was the sinners’ substitute: “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken” (v 8). Like Isaiah said in verse 4: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Or verse 5—and notice the exchange taking place every time, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.”

What would Philip have said to explain all this? What would he have told his Ethiopian friend to give some colour to this wounding, this bruising, this chastising? He could’ve spoken about the last hours of Christ’s life, his arrest and trial. Told him about the whipping; the beating; the crown of thorns and the robes of purple. Described that terrible instrument of death, the cross; mentioned the misery of being forsaken by God. He might’ve said some of these things, but Philip was a bringer of good news. He’d also tell his friend what all this means for us.

For all people are covered with the shame of sin, whether they’re from Ethiopia, or Judea, or somewhere else. Think about how we disbelieve our faithful God so often, and we act like we don’t trust his promises. Or think about how ungrateful we are for God’s daily goodness. Think about the ugly desires that live in our hearts, the nasty thoughts brooding in our mind, or the words that come rushing out when we’re upset. Think about how we don’t love people as we should love them, or pray to God like we should. So many sins and failings, making us worthy of God’s wrath.

But for our transgressions He was stricken! The punishment we should’ve carried was laid on him. The wounds that should’ve been inflicted on our bodies and souls, were inflicted on Christ. And so all our guilt is taken away, every bit of it. By his grace God makes life worth living—because now we can live it with him, and for him, and through him!

As we think about Christ condemned, someone might ask, “But was this fair? Was this right to punish an innocent man, in place of those who actually deserved it?” But remember that Jesus wasn’t forced to do what He did. He volunteered, freely accepting his place in God’s project of salvation. As He says, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). He did, because He loves us. Again He says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He chose to lay it down. Jesus knew what was involved in being the LORD’s Servant, but He did it anyway.

It’s an awe-inspiring gospel. It’s an amazing story of love that Phillip was allowed to tell. But see again how the chapter begins, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (v 1). As he brings his message to Israel, Isaiah is looking for believers! And God is looking for faith. He’s looking for it among us too: “Who has believed it? Have you believed it? Can you say that the work of Christ is your joy and treasure? Have you made this the greatest thing in your life, the foundation of everything else, the meaning and purpose of all? “Who has believed?” For that’s the only way to share in what Christ has done—by faith alone.

 

3) being buried with the wicked: There’s one more scene for us to look at in the work of the Suffering Servant. It’s burial: “They made his grave with the wicked…with the rich at his death” (v 9). Now, to us, burial is normal when someone dies. It’s part of living (and dying) in a broken world. But for the LORD’s Servant, this was a final disgrace. Someone will wrap him up in grave clothes, they will carry him to the tomb, He’ll be laid down in a quiet corner—and then the grave will be closed, and He’ll be sealed up in darkness.

We know that a corpse has no feeling or understanding. We know that by the end of Good Friday, Christ’s spirit had already gone to be with his Father. And yet a body isn’t just a body. It’s not just a fleshly container for the soul, ready to be recycled. What happens to the body—even after death—is important! And so for Christ, this was important. What happened to his body said something. Being buried continued his humbling.

They made his grave “with the wicked.” Do you wonder about this part of the prophecy, and how it was fulfilled? Maybe you recall that a disciple of Jesus asked Pilate if he could take away the body. We don’t know much about Joseph of Arimathea, but we know he wanted to honour Jesus with a decent burial. Doesn’t seem that Joseph was a wicked man; after all, he gave up his own tomb for the Lord—an expensive gift!

But the point isn’t where exactly the LORD’s Servant was buried. The point is the fact that He was buried. For sinners die and are buried. Wicked people go through the dishonor of decay. A cold and dark tomb wasn’t a fitting end for someone sinless like Christ. But so it happened. He died, and He was buried.

For God said that the punishment for sin is death. Once the spirit of a man departs, his body returns to the ground. There it’ll get eaten by maggots and decompose, and eventually it will be just a handful of dust. God says that’s not just a natural course of events, it’s one more consequence of sin. Man’s relationship to the earth is reversed. Instead of submitting to him, the earth resists him, and eventually it swallows him.

The burial of Christ brings us back to God’s justice. This is what God said would happen to sinners. And it did. Christ died, and his body was placed in the earth. This humiliating burial was one more part of God’s punishment of sin.

So for us, his burial brings a rich benefit. First, it means that our punishment has been carried in full. There’s nothing that Christ left unfinished. There is no humbling He did not endure, no part of the price that He did not pay.

And that’s not just ancient history: his death has a consequence for how we live today. On the cross, the Lord Jesus solved the problem of sin. Our old nature—that whole wicked way of thinking and speaking and acting—our old self is finished. As far as God is concerned, the power of sin has been broken. In Christ, sin is dead and buried.

So don’t dig it up again. Don’t return to sins that you’ve already put away. We shouldn’t dig in the dirt and sift through the maggots, looking for a life that has already been ended. Because sin only leads to death. No matter the pleasure it offers you, temptation is only a gateway to misery. In principle, the power of sin has been destroyed—don’t go back to it, but put it away from you. Put away your anger, and your disrespect, your greed and lust and pride—whatever it is. Recall that you have new life in Christ, a life of righteousness and holiness, filled with the joy of purity and faith and service.

That’s the life we get to lead, even until our time on earth is done. For that’s something else Christ’s burial does: it points forward. Scripture says that putting a body in the ground is like the planting of a seed. For like a seed, a body is planted in hope, with the expectation of what is going to be on the day of the resurrection. It’s all because Christ didn’t stay in the grave, but He was raised up three days later.

Death is still a sad reminder that creation is broken. And if Christ doesn’t return before long, we too will die and be buried. But we won’t have to fear. For through the work of the LORD’s Servant, our death has become an entrance to eternal life.

Beloved, the LORD’s Servant willingly served us to save us: suffering like a lamb, dying through injustice, being buried with the wicked. And one more time God asks, “Who has believed this message? Who has believed our report?” The man from Ethiopia believed. He believed in Christ, Acts tells us, “and he went on his way rejoicing” (8:39).

Beloved, may that be your answer too, to the gospel of Christ on the cross: Believe it, and then go on your way rejoicing!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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