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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Christ suffered in my place
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 21:1,3

Psalm 62:3,4

Psalm 88:1,2,3,4,8

Psalm 22:8,9

Hymn 21:4,7

Read:  Isaiah 53; Psalm 88;  Matthew 8:1-4

Text:  Lord’s Day 15
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we suffer, our world tends to become very small.  We feel isolated and alone, abandoned and forsaken.  We find it hard to face the world, to face our friends, even to face up in church.  When we suffer, we quickly become our own little island.  We’re crying out for help, but no one seems to be able to give it, and when they offer it we find it hard to accept.

And if it feels as though our friends and family are far away, it sometimes feels as though God is even further away, that He is not there for us, that we can not reach Him. 

In Psalm 88 Heman the Ezrahite experienced that.  In verse 6-9 he says to God,

“You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the depths.  Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves.  You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out; My eye wastes away because of affliction.”

Psalm 88 is the darkest psalm in the whole Bible, expressing the lonely pain of one who is in the middle of intense suffering.

“Where are you, God?  Don’t you see my affliction?  Why do I suffer all alone?” 

And yet the writer of Psalm 88, Heman the Ezrahite, does not suffer all alone.  We must see that there is more to this psalm than just a cry of hopelessness.  Not only does the psalm writer continue to pray to the LORD, the God of his salvation (verse 1), but the psalm is to be read in the context of the rest of the Psalter.  The very next psalm, 89 (written not by Herman the Ezrahite but Ethan the Ezrahite) begins with the verse,

“I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations.”

And Psalm 23:4 says,

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.”

And Psalm 139:11,12

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.”

So already in the Old Testament, for both Heman the Ezrahite and all those who read and could relate to Psalm 88, a glimmer of hope shone even in the darkest of suffering. 

But today that glimmer has become a bright light that the darkness will never overcome!

This afternoon the Heidelberg Catechism directs our thoughts towards suffering.  But Lord’s Day 15 does not focus on our suffering in the first place, but on the suffering of our Lord, the suffering of the Son of God.  For in the suffering of Christ we learn that God heard not only the cries of Psalm 88 but that He has heard the cries of all His children, including you.  And not only has He heard those cries, but He has done something about them.  For He has sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to take away the cause of our suffering, namely sin, so that we can look forward to the redemption of our body and soul, to enjoy the blessings of the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life.

I preach to you the Word of the Lord concerning the sufferings of Christ under the following heading:

Christ suffered in my place.

1.    He suffered because of my sin.

2.    He suffered for my salvation.

1. He suffered because of my sin.

There are times when we become quite overwhelmed with the suffering in this world.  The millions starving in Africa, the children in the slums of India, the homeless on the backstreets of Manila.  But it is not just in such places that we find people who suffer.  Suffering is a universal phenomenon, and is also experienced in our own country, our own community, our own church and our own lives.  Homes and communities, also in Australia, are wracked with violence, abuse, alcohol and drug dependency. Broken relationships, husbands and wives at war with each other, parents and children not getting along.  Homes and hospitals filled with the pain-wracked bodies of the sick.  Lonely people crying out for love and acceptance, and countless millions suffering from depression or another illness of the mind.

And at times this suffering all gets to be too much.  We want to make sense of it, to explain it all away, but we can’t.  And in our efforts to make sense of the suffering in this world, the thoughts of many people turn to God. 

But where is God when it hurts?  

Yes, where is He?  It is an old age question.  It was the question that David asked in Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” and it is the question asked by Heman the Ezrahite in Psalm 88.

Just who Heman the Ezrahite was is not completely clear, but 1 Chronicles 2:6 lists a Heman along with his brother Ethan as a son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah.  1 Kings 4:31 also speaks of Heman, along with Ethan the Ezrahite, as being a very wise man; and 1 Chronicles 15:9 speaks of both a Heman and an Ethan being musicians.  So there is reason to conclude that the Heman of Psalm 88 was a wise man and a musician who lived in the time of David and of Solomon. 

From verse 1 of Psalm 88 we can learn that Heman was faithful in serving the LORD, the God of his salvation, crying out to him day and night.  But the LORD did not seem to be hearing those prayers, for instead of seeing things get better, his life was sliding deeper and deeper into the pit.  Verse 3,

“For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave.”

He is a sick man, at death’s door, and his friends and colleagues have written him off as one who was already dead.  But even worse, verse 8 –

“You have put away my acquaintances far from me; you have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out.”

And verse 18,

“Loved one and friend You have put far from me, and my acquaintances into darkness.”

These verses paint the picture of one who was suffering, who was sick to the point of death, who was an abomination to his friends, and that he was completely isolated from them.  And that gives us a picture of Heman the Ezrahite as one who was suffering from the disease of leprosy.  For leprosy in its various forms was a wasting disease and in Old Testament Israel a leper was banished from his people.  Leviticus 13:45,46 says,

“Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his moustache, and cry, ‘Unclean!  Unclean!’  He shall be unclean.  All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean.  He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

It seems to fit to read Psalm 88 in the light of Heman having leprosy and so being banished from both the house of God and the people of God.  He was cut off from the other musicians in the temple, and separated from his family.  He has no one to support him.  He is utterly and terribly alone.  No friends.  No family.  No God.  And all that he had left was the darkness.

Heman was suffering, and it appears that he was suffering alone and was living alone, outside the covenant community.  But assuming that the cause of his suffering was leprosy, why was it that the LORD had sent these lepers to live alone outside of the covenant community?  Weren’t they suffering enough already because of the illness that they had to bear?

There is a case to be made for saying that the laws for leprosy quarantined those who were sick, and that this was for the good of the rest of the people of Israel.  But it was not for reasons of health and hygiene in the first place that lepers were sent out of their communities.  Of greater importance was the spiritual significance that this disease pointed to.  For leprosy was a sign of the deathly and decaying nature and of the unclean-ness of sin.  Leprosy spoke of disease, decay and death.  In many ways one who was afflicted with leprosy was a dead man walking.  And for that reason leprosy was a clear picture of what sin is, and a leper in Old Testament Israel was a clear picture of one who lived under the curse of sin. 

And leprosy was also a picture of how sin contaminates everything it gets into contact with.  Israel was to be a nation holy to the LORD, and were therefore to be separated from all things unclean.  For if they touched something unclean then the uncleanness of what they touched would be transferred to them and they too would be defiled by it.  And that is why those with leprosy were to live outside the camp, away from the people of the Lord.

And the only way back was to be healed, to be cleansed and so have the shame, and the curse removed. 

But since leprosy was only a picture of the real problem, what was so badly needed by all – including the leper himself – was not a cure for leprosy as such, but for a cure that could take away what leprosy represented, the contamination and the curse of sin.

And that was not just the case for Heman the Ezrahite:  that is the same for you and for us all.  For we have all fallen under the curse of sin.  And all suffering is the result of the fall into sin.  Genesis 3 already taught us what happened when Adam and Eve fell into sin and were driven out of the garden, away from the presence of the Lord and into a wilderness of pain and suffering and separation from the God who had created them.  Genesis 3 already makes it clear that it is sin that is the cause of all the grief and all the suffering that we experience today.  And the only true and lasting answer to suffering therefore, can be found in the removal of what caused it – and that is sin.

And then we see the gospel in the words “He suffered.  In the Apostles’ Creed we confess,

“I believe in Jesus Christ … [who] suffered under Pontius Pilate, [and] was crucified.”

Lord’s Day 15 explains just what it was that Christ suffered:  “the wrath of God” (answer 37), and “the severe judgment of God” (answer 38) and “the curse of God” (answer 39).

Heman the Ezrahite may have felt all alone in his suffering, he may have felt that the LORD, the God of his salvation, was so far away that he did not see his suffering.  But the truth of the matter is this:  God does see His people in their suffering.  And it grieves the LORD to see His children suffer – even though we have no one to blame but ourselves for the suffering we endure.  But God knew what Heman’s real problem was – and it was not leprosy.  The real cause for Heman’s suffering – and ours – is our sin.  And if that was not taken away we would all experience the curse and the wrath of God against sin not just now but for all eternity.  And so the Lord God sent His Son, Jesus, to suffer in Heman’s place and in your place.  Jesus carried the curse of my sin to the cross.

And so He suffered.  He suffered for me, in my place!  And when you understand this, then you can no longer think that God is either unable or unwilling to do anything about the suffering that we experience.  For   God loved this world so much that He could not let it remain suffering under the tyranny of the devil, but he sent down to earth His One and only Son to suffer in our place and rescue us from the eternal pain of hell.  In Jesus Christ we see that God made the way to put an end to the eternal cause of misery, sin, so that we might be freed from suffering as the just payment for sin and look forward to living with Him in eternal blessedness forever.

2. He suffered for my salvation.

Psalm 88 is a dark psalm for it expresses the intensity the depths of human suffering.  In Psalm 88 Heman the Ezrahite is separated from all that he loves.  He is in the lowest pit, the darkness, in the depths.  He is an abomination to his acquaintances and they see him as one who is already dead.  “Unclean!  Unclean!  Keep your distance!  Stay away from the one who carries the curse of leprosy!”

But the LORD would not leave Heman in the darkness.  The LORD would reveal Himself to be the Saviour whom Heman confessed Him to be.  For the LORD would come not just to take away the curse of leprosy, but to take away the curse of sin.  And that is what He did in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 8 we read of a man with leprosy coming to Jesus and saying,

“Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.”

Did you notice the exact words spoken by the leper?  He did not say “You can heal me” but “You can make me clean, Lord!”  Clean!  Not just healed but clean!  Purified, with the stain, the shame, the uncleanness removed!

And Jesus said:

“I am willing; be cleansed.”  (Matthew 8:3)

And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

But there is more to this miracle than a leper being healed.  For take note of what Jesus did before He said those words.  Before Jesus said, “I am willing; be cleansed” He put out His hand and He touched him.  Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the One who was perfectly clean and perfectly holy, the One who knew no sin, touched an unclean leper.  He touched him, held on to him quite firmly.  And in this way Jesus said to the leper,

“I will take your unclean-ness upon Myself, I will bear your sin and your shame.  And in its place I give you My cleansing, My healing, My holiness, My forgiveness.”

For that is what Jesus came to do.  He came to carry the guilt, the shame and the curse of my sin and your sin.  And He came to offer Himself as the only atoning sacrifice, the sacrifice to cancel the curse that lay upon us.  He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.  And so He redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.

And that is why our Lord Jesus suffered: He suffered in our place to cancel the curse which lay upon us, to take away the cause of our suffering, to take away our sin.

And He did that for Heman the Ezrahite too.  In Psalm 88 Heman asks where God is.  Verse 14,

“LORD, why do you cast off my soul?  Why do You hide Your face from me?”

But the prayer of Heman the Ezrahite was answered.  It was answered fully and completely in the sending of Jesus Christ, who took the curse of sin and with it the suffering of Heman and the suffering of all God’s people upon Himself.  Jesus came to take Heman’s place! 

And now see how Isaiah 53 describes the suffering of our LORD – and how much His suffering resembled the suffering of Psalm 88! 

Isaiah 53:3 –

“He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

And verse 4,

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

And verse 8,

“He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation?  For He was cut off from the land of the living.”

And the gospel of the suffering of Christ is that He did this for you.  Isaiah 53:5 –

“But 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.”

And that is the good news of the suffering of Christ. The curse which lay on me and the curse which lay on you was laid on Jesus and He carried it to the cross.  And through His suffering, He has carried and so cancelled the curse that lay upon us.  He bore the full wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, and has fully redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation.  He has obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.  And Jesus wants nothing more than to freely give those things to all those who come to Him in faith.

Psalm 88 is still in the Bible.  It is still in our Psalm books and it is still appropriate to sing it.  But when we read or sing this psalm today, we do so in the full awareness of the suffering our Saviour Jesus Christ.  For Christ carried my curse to the cross.  He took my sin, my shame and my uncleanness so that I might receive His holiness, His cleansing, His healing and His forgiveness.  We do still suffer and we will continue to do so for as long as this sin-filled world remains.  But as we suffer we may remember that the curse has been cancelled, that we have been taken out of darkness and infused with the Light of life! 

We do still suffer, but the suffering that we, God’s children, experience today, is not a punishment in the sense of payment for sin.  That payment is finished; it has been made in full.  Now, in Christ, our suffering takes on a different meaning. God is not punishing us to cast us away from His presence, but He uses suffering to mould us, to shape us, to perfect and strengthen us, making us ready to live with Him in eternal blessedness forever.  In all our suffering today, we may be comforted in the sure truth that we are not alone, but that He who suffered in our place is with us.  His Spirit is there to guide us, to hold on to us, and to bring our tears into the very presence of God.  And He is working all things in such a way that one day all our suffering will be over.  And then we will enjoy the full fruit of Christ’s suffering, the eternal blessedness life in Him.  Come, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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