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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
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:2022
Added:2022-04-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 118:1,6                                                                                     

Ps 33:1  [after Nicene Creed]

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, imagine what it was like for the Ethiopian man in Acts 8. He’s traveling south through the countryside, having just been to Jerusalem to worship. He’s a foreigner, but he’s devoted to the Israelite faith—for he knows it is God’s truth! Now on his way home, the LORD is still very much on his mind. As his chauffeur drives, the Ethiopian official is seated in the back of the chariot, and he’s doing what lots of us of do while traveling: he’s reading. He’s got open a scroll of Isaiah, reading the prophet’s poetic and powerful words.

But there’s a problem. He doesn’t understand what he’s reading! He’s come to Isaiah 53, and it’s 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, looking out at the passing landscape to think, the man wonders to himself: ‘Now what on earth does that mean? Who’s this lamb, and why did He have to die?’ Listen to what the man asks Philip, “How can I understand this, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). He’s in serious need of a teacher.

We’re trying to imagine what it was like for the Ethiopian, but it’s actually hard to relate. It’s hard because we read the same passage as he did—Isaiah 53—and we always have our New Testament glasses on. We look at this chapter and at the same time we picture everything that took place on Good Friday. We see a compelling picture of the cross!

These startling events were already history by the time of Acts 8, but this man seems unaware of them. So in his providence, God sends Philip. The official puts this question to him: “Of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34). 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! Already 600 years before Jesus came, Isaiah announced the coming Redeemer.

The Saviour would be a Servant, one who suffers, who even dies. It’s the gospel of Isaiah 53,

The Servant of the LORD 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.” For 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 cut through the wilderness, going all the way back home.

So how was redemption going to happen? Who’d bring it about? In these chapters, we get a picture of someone critical to God’s plan, one who’d work out the project of saving his people. Isaiah introduces him as the Suffering Servant. There are 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 four passages together, we get a portrait 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 himself be punished instead of the people of God. This servant will suffer in their place, suffer to save them. He’ll redeem his people, but not from Babylon, in the first place. Not from our earthly discomforts or disappointments. But He’ll redeem us from sin itself.

Now in this last of the four ‘Servant Songs,’ in chapter 53, Isaiah reaches the heart of the Servant’s profile. He will be deeply terrorized, more than anyone before or since. Sure, Judah was going to suffer in Babylon—exile was no picnic, and even the return from exile was painful. And God’s people struggle and sweat and bleed in every age, for it’s a broken world. But there is one who joins us in our pain, then far exceeds our pain, because He takes it all upon 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 told us that God’s Servant is a righteous man, He is faithful and holy, a light to the nations and gentle with the weak. He was the one person in Israel who actually trusted God! So He’s the very last one who should be afflicted.

And then, despite being innocent in his sufferings, “He opened not his mouth” (v 7). The first thing that we do when we’re badly treated is to complain and talk about our rights. Not God’s servant. He accepts his unjust humiliation with patience.

With this text open, sitting with the Ethiopian, you can imagine Philip telling him all about Jesus in those last hours of his life. Maybe he shared things like what Matthew says in his Gospel, “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 did Jesus ‘open not his mouth’? Couldn’t think of anything to say? He said nothing because He didn’t want to stop what was happening. He could’ve rebuked the soldiers, or admonished Pontius Pilate, shut up the Sanhedrin. One word would’ve done it. He could’ve called ten thousand angels to save him from all this! But Christ was quiet.

The picture of quiet willingness continues 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.” We know that a sheep is a passive animal, ready to be corralled this way or that. When it’s time for shearing or butchering, a sheep is quick to submit. That’s what the Servant was like: totally docile in his suffering. He just took it!   

But there’s another layer of meaning here, for sheep were also used in the temple sacrifices. It was sheep often offered to atone for the people’s sin. A lamb was a key part of Passover, when its blood was smudged onto the doorposts, and its meat was eaten in commemoration. God had made those feeble lambs important, gave them a place in the story of redemption.

“And now here’s the thing,” you can imagine Philip saying, “What do you think Jesus was known as? The Lamb of God.” That’s how John the Baptist introduced him at the start, and that’s how He lived. He was gentle and lowly in spirit. Physically, not much to look at, “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa 53:2) Emotionally, a “man of sorrows” (53:3). And at the end, Jesus did the weakest thing of all: He surrendered. He was killed, his blood poured out. And the whole time, He was silent, so that He could save us.

It’s an amazing story. But Philip probably tells his friend how not everyone accepts the Lamb. See how the chapter begins, “Who has believed our report?” (53:1). Who can accept that a slaughtered lamb brings salvation? If this is the Messiah, said many people, then He’s not for them.

It’s still the challenge, because we look at things in a similar way. We tend to respect those with physical strength. We place a lot of value on appearance. The people we most admire are dynamic and talented and successful. The people we notice are those have who lots of nice things, and who get big stuff done: leading nations, performing stunts, and winning awards. But a helpless lamb is nothing.

Yet this one sacrifice opens the kingdom of heaven. Though He was God himself—greater than all who arrested, ridiculed and pierced him—Jesus allowed himself be led to the death. Only by dying would this lamb take away the sins of the world. The Servant is our Saviour. The Lamb is our Lord. Sounds foolish, but this is God’s way.     

“Who has believed our report?” Beloved, this question reminds us about how we all need God’s gift of faith. You won’t accept Christ because you think it’s all very logical. You won’t accept him because you reckon that you’re needy and you could really use some help. By nature, we won’t believe—not one of us.

So pray to God every day that you’re able to receive Christ with a faith that is hungry and thirsty for him, a faith that truly delights in him. Pray that you’re able to keep going with him, no matter the difficulty. Pray that your faith will withstand the threats that come against it every day, especially that deadly temptation to trust in yourself or to trust in this world’s idols. And put your trust in the Lamb of God.

 

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 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 pulled from prison and dragged away to his punishment.

Here too, Philip could’ve explained to his friend 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 scared of the angry crowds who called for Jesus’ death. So he let them pick between Jesus and the criminal Barabbas—one to kill and one to free—to satisfy their lust for blood.

Imagine a trial being decided by the people watching in the courtroom. They kept shouting their opinion of the accused, until the judge caved in. It’s the kind of thing that happens today when a person gets ‘canceled’ for having the wrong views on this or that cultural issue. Everyone piles on, they flood social media with angry comments, until the person has to quit their job or withdraw from public life. It’s not justice, but it’s the will of the mob. And this is what happened to Jesus.

So, Isaiah says, “Who will declare his generation?” (v 8). In other words, who’s going to stand with him, support him? The Servant looked totally hopeless, all alone. His own generation had left him, everyone from the religious leaders to his own friends and disciples. No one noticed the injustice, and few cared. And why should they, 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.

What was it all for? Wasn’t this death just a waste? But the last phrase in verse 8 says so much. Now we start to see what is going on here: “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken.” There’s the purpose, the reason. He died for sin.

From chapter 1 of his prophecy, Isaiah has described the sinfulness of God’s people. We are rebellious. We are proud. We make idols, and we give our first and best to false gods. We steal and lie and mistreat one another. ‘Sins like scarlet, deep as crimson.’ And there’s a deserved penalty for all this, a covenant curse which means the loss of everything.

God will do all that in Isaiah’s time: He’ll punish Judah. But He’ll also restrain his hand. And He won’t treat us as our sins deserve—not even close. But God will forgive and rebuild. This is what 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 God can take us back: sin is dealt with, iniquity pardoned.

And this is how God does it: through the Servant. The people’s punishment was fully dumped onto God’s chosen one. He was the sinners’ substitute: “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken” (53:8). Like Isaiah said in verse 4: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Or verse 5—and just notice the exchange taking place every time, the transfer of responsibility, “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 do you think Philip would’ve 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. He could’ve told him about the whipping; the beating; the crown of thorns and the robes of purple. He could’ve described that terrible instrument of death, the cross—and mentioned the utter 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 Australia or Canada. 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—we figure that we deserve our nice things and our comfortable lives. Think about the ugly desires that flow within us, the nasty thoughts brooding in our mind, or the words that come rushing out when we’re upset. We don’t love people with the care that we should, or pray to God with the zeal that we should. So many sins and failings!

Can we say this? You can’t really appreciate the cross if you don’t know how bad you are every day, how guilty. The cross doesn’t mean anything if you’re a good person, comfortable and at ease with yourself. The cross means nothing if you’re not really striving to put your sin to death. Do you know how much you need the work of Christ?

A humbled sinner thanks God that Jesus was stricken for our transgressions. A repentant sinner thanks God that the punishment we should’ve carried was laid on him. Our guilt is taken away, every bit of it, and we are free. By his grace God makes life worth living, because now we can live it with him, and for him, and through him!

 

3) being buried with the wicked: There’s one more scene to look at in the labours of the Suffering Servant. It’s his burial: “They made his grave with the wicked…with the rich at his death” (v 9). To us, burial is perfectly normal when someone dies. We drive to the cemetery, gather at the edge of the hole, and watch the coffin descend into the earth. 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’ll carry him to the tomb, He’ll be laid down in a quiet corner—and then the grave will be closed, sealed up in darkness.   

We know that a corpse has no feeling. We know that by the end of that dark day, 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 is important! And so for Christ, this was important. What happened to his body said something. Being buried was consistent with all his humbling.

They made his grave “with the wicked” (v 9). Do you wonder about this part of the prophecy, if it’s actually true? 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. It doesn’t seem that Joseph was a wicked man—far from it! After all, he gave up his own tomb for the Lord—this was 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 mortals go through the dishonor of decay. Once the spirit of a person departs, his body returns to the ground. There it gets eaten by maggots and decomposes. God says that’s one more consequence of sin. A cold and dark tomb wasn’t a fitting end for someone sinless like Christ. But He died, and then He was buried in a borrowed tomb.

Such was the nature of Christ’s humbling throughout his life. I read somewhere this week a summary of his lowliness: “A borrowed manger at his birth, a borrowed donkey to enter Jerusalem, a borrowed room for Passover, a borrowed tomb at his death. Jesus humbled himself to save us!” He had nothing, but He gave everything. There was no price He did not pay.

And his death has a consequence for how we live today. By his death, Christ 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. The New Testament tells us that in Christ, our 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 in the moment, temptation is only a gateway to misery. Christ destroyed the power of sin and told us not to go back to it. So put away your anger, and your disrespect, your greed and pride and lust—whatever it is. Don’t go back, for 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 the burial of the LORD’s Servant 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, to see what will be on the day of the resurrection. For Christ didn’t stay in the grave, but was raised up three days later.

If Christ doesn’t return before long, we too will die and be buried. We don’t have to fear death, because through the work of the LORD’s Servant, our death has become an entrance to eternal life. He will raise us, like He himself was raised!

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 the million dollar question, the question on which life and death are decided: “Who has believed this message? Who has believed our report?” If you can imagine it, the man from Ethiopia believed. Having heard the gospel that day, he believed in Christ, he was baptized, and Acts tells us: “he went on his way rejoicing” (8:39). What a happy journey home, because now he knew the best news in the world! No more searching, no more wondering, no more waiting.

Beloved, let this be your answer too, to the gospel of the Suffering Servant: Believe in Christ, 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.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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