Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 April 14, 2019
“The Gospel of the Evangelist Isaiah (Part 1)”
(An earlier version of this sermon was preached at Sylvania EPC, upper Lonoke County, Arkansas, on Sunday morning, April 17, 2011.)
We have today perhaps the clearest expression of the Gospel in Old Testament prophecy. This famous passage from Isaiah’s prophecy shows us what we also see in Paul’s famous hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. In that text, we see what suffering God laid upon Christ (Philippians 2:6-8), and then we see both what honor God bestowed upon Christ and what good comes to us in Him (Philippians 2:9-11). We’ll adopt a similar order here this Sunday and next. Today we deal with this text from the shadow side. Next week, God willing, we deal with it from the sunny side. Both weeks we shall find ourselves agreeing with Matthew Henry, who called this text the Gospel of the evangelist Isaiah. We’ll read the entire passage both weeks, but we’ll focus on Isaiah 53:1-9 this week and Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:10-12 next week. Let us hear this powerful, profound portion of God’s Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
In Isaiah 53:1-3 we note Jesus’ esteem (1-3). We note what we, and others, thought of Him. Note the incredulity of the testimony concerning Him. Isaiah asks, through the Spirit, “Who hath believed our report…?” Indeed, none could believe it save those empowered to believe it. In the natural man, this account simply cannot be believed; it is incredulous that this lowly-esteemed Man could be our Savior. Yet, through the God-given eyes of faith, we see that our Savior must be He—and none other.
Part of the incredulity concerning this Gospel report concerns Jesus’ appearance. He presents no appearance eliciting desire for Him. At best, He appears unremarkable—like an everyday sapling or root in dry ground—and, at worst, His appearance appalls (cf. Isaiah 52:14). How appalling is the sight of Jesus to the natural eye? He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and He had no beauty that we should desire Him. In fact, He was despised (i.e., looked down upon) and rejected (or forsaken, Hebrew lacking). He was a Man of sorrows (or of pains) and acquainted (or knowing, or known by) with grief (or sickness). His appearance was so unpleasant to the natural eye that He was One from Whom men hide their faces. Truly we esteemed Him not, for there appeared at first glance nothing to esteem. Words fail to convey how wrong that first glance was.
Now, having noted the lack of Jesus’ esteem, we note His suffering (Isaiah 53:4-6). We noted what He bore in His body and soul in the place of elect sinners. He bore our infirmities—our weaknesses—and our sorrows. Moreover, He bore our transgressions, our iniquities—our sins—and He bore punishment for the same upon the Cross. The pains Jesus bore for our sakes can only be called agonizing. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed—yes, crushed—for our iniquities. He was chastised for our peace, and He was wounded for our healing. Consider further the even greater agonies He endured in His soul—as Scripture reveals elsewhere. Jesus, Who abhors sin with infinite abhorrence, became sin for us. He also endured the necessary separation from His Father to atone for sin—hence, his cry from the Cross, prophesied in Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” This is unfathomably deep love for His Father and His Father’s glory—and for us, Whom the Father has given unto Him.
Some may be led here—as Job’s three friends—to make a false diagnosis, namely, that Jesus bore all of this for His sin. There is a hint of this in the phrase from today’s text, “We considered Him stricken….” He bore no sin for Himself, for He had no need (2 Corinthians 5:21). The true diagnosis is this: Jesus bore our sin for us. Isaiah declares the matter most pointedly, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Now we look at Isaiah 53:7-9, and we note Jesus’ endurance. We note how He bore what He bore. He went not railing, or blaming, or blaspheming, or anything. Rather, Jesus was silent, as a sheep before the shearer or slaughterer. He was silent despite being oppressed and being wronged, and these not for His sin, but in behalf of sinners saved by grace. Jesus was silent despite being led to His physical death. Isaiah further enlarges upon this, writing prophetically that Jesus was cut off from the land of the living and stricken for the transgression of God’s people. Moreover, Jesus was assigned a grave with the wicked (between two thieves) and the rich (in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb). The New Testament record records these remarkable fulfillments of Isaiah’s prophecy—written over seven hundred years before the predicted events transpired.
Jesus, in His silence, spoke neither violence nor deceit. He made no attempt to vindicate Himself nor to wound His oppressors. On the contrary, His plea concerning His oppressors was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We also hear no attempt to wriggle out of His mission by deceit—or by any other means. Jesus, as the author of Hebrews said, endured the Cross—and He did it in a remarkably quiet fashion.
Many in our time—even some Christians—minimize our ills by underestimating our true condition. We think, to alleviate our inmost needs, we need education, or therapy, or outside esteem, or something else. All of these are good in their places, but these fail to address—let alone meet—our fundamental need. What we really need is resuscitation, regeneration, renovation, and rescue. Only these, given us by the Lord Himself, will bring us the life that truly is life.
Also, because we underestimate our true condition, we sanitize the Cross. We polish and beautify it—like we try to do to our lives. Thus, we minimize Christ’s suffering. We also minimize why He suffered—though, at one level, we hardly can be blamed, for our sin is a horrible thing upon which to gaze. If we be not careful, we minimize our suffering in Christ also. Everyone wants Heaven on earth with Jesus. Yet He suffered, and therefore we must—for the servant is not above the Master. However, if we sanitize the Cross, we empty it of a good portion of its meaning—and that to our soul’s impoverishment.
Jesus is the sole remedy for our fundamental need for atonement of sin. This passage corrects our view by pointing out our sole remedy—Jesus Christ. It also heightens our estimate of the cure, and of Him Who is the cure. Therefore, let us—either initially or afresh—heed what Paul calls the Philippian jailer to heed, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved—thou, and thine house” (Acts 16:31).