Monday, August 07, 2006

Man of Sorrows: What a Saviour! A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 on 6th August 2006

Through the summer we have been looking at some favourite hymns, and considering their themes together. Tonight, we’re going to look at Man of Sorrows, and think about the passage of Scripture it is based on. So please turn with me to Isaiah 52 and 53, which you can find on the service sheet.

The text begins ‘See, my servant will act wisely’, so we should first ask who is this servant? We will then consider what the servant has done, before seeing the results of the servant’s action.

So who is this servant, described in verse 3 as ‘a man of sorrows’? The later part of Isaiah contains a series of ‘servant songs’, looking forward to the Messiah, and the work he would perform. But even more, we find in Acts 8 the same question on the lips of the Ethiopian Eunuch, as he read verses 7 and 8. “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:34).

Who was Isaiah talking about? Acts 8 continues: ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35). Philip was clear that Isaiah was speaking about Jesus. Indeed, we find that other New Testament writers use quotations from our passage to talk about Jesus – including Paul in Romans, and Peter in his first epistle.

So if the servant is Jesus, then what has he done, in the context of our reading? The reading starts with Jesus’ exaltation (52:12), but we will come to that again nearer the end, because as well as exaltation, Jesus undergoes humiliation and grief. Isaiah, writing 700 years before Jesus, accurately depicts his sufferings and rejection.

Verse 3 – ‘He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.’

We see this in Jesus’ ministry, as large crowds heard him, but few became followers. Or think of the crowds that followed him on Palm Sunday, and how their shouts of ‘Hosanna’ quickly changed to ‘Crucify’ at his trial. Or think of even his disciples, who fled and abandoned him in Gethsemane. As John 1:11 tells us, ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.’ He was despised and rejected by men.

The passage then turns to consider the sorrows that the man of sorrows has borne. Let’s read them – ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.’ (53:4).

The first part of the verse is used by Matthew as he reflects on Jesus’ healing ministry, in Matthew 8:17 – ‘That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases”’ (Matt 8:16-17). But even more so, it applies to the work of Christ on the cross.

Where else was Jesus so despised, and so thought of as being stricken? Last night I was reading Luke’s account of the cross, and very plainly, those who were watching considered Jesus to be under God’s curse. The rulers scoffed at him, and asked that if he could save others, why couldn’t he save himself? Indeed, we find the idea of the curse in Deuteronomy 21:23 – ‘a hanged man is cursed by God’ – that is, a man hanging on a tree. So, according to the traditional Jewish notion, the Messiah couldn’t be under a curse.

And yet, the Jewish leaders were fulfilling Scripture better than they knew, as they pushed for the Roman sentence of death – the cross. Because it was on the cross, under the purpose of God, that this chapter of Isaiah would be fulfilled.

We find the servant’s humiliation continued in verses 5-6. ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 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.’

In these verses we note what Jesus went through – he was wounded, he was crushed, upon him was the chastisement, and he was afflicted with stripes – marks, wounds on his back. Jesus experienced terrible, brutal violence – I’ve spoken before about the pains of crucifixion, with the nails through the hands and feet, the slow agony of suffocation, the pain involved in raising the body on his legs to get another breath of air.

But do you notice the cause of these injuries? ‘He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.’ If you read any of the four gospels, you clearly see that Jesus was entirely innocent, and didn’t deserve to die. For example, even the briefest scan would show that Pilate, Herod, the dying thief and the centurion all maintain Jesus’ innocence.

Jesus did not deserve to die. But we did. Verse 6 explains: ‘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.’ You see, we have all sinned, and gone our own way, rejecting God’s rule in our lives. We decide that we know better than God, and turn to our own way – but it leads to death.

As Romans 3:23 tells us, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ And the consequence of this is death, as Romans 6:23 says: ‘for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

All sin is an offence to a holy God, and must be dealt with. Look to Adam and Eve in the garden – when they disobeyed God’s word, they were taken out of the garden, out of God’s presence. And to cover their sin, a substitute animal died in their place, so that God could provide clothes of skin for them. (Gen 3:21)

Likewise, for us to be right with God, we needed our sins dealt with. But how could we do it ourselves, when we still sin, and could never pay back what we owe? God mercifully provided us with his servant, the man of sorrows, Jesus, who died for our transgressions, for our sins, bringing us peace and healing.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned He stood,
sealed my pardon with His blood
Alleluia! What a Savior!

Yet Isaiah is still not finished with his description of the man of sorrows. In verse 7, we find that ‘He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’ Even in spite of the sorrows, and oppression and afflictions he was undergoing, yet he did not complain, or answer back.

Think of Jesus’ restraint during his trials in front of the Sanhedrin, when he was slapped in the face, or in front of Pilate, and Herod, and with the baying crowd wanting his blood. And when he was nailed to the cross, he didn’t revile the soldiers, but prayed forgiveness for them. How many of us would be silent in the face of such undeserved suffering?

Guilty, helpless, lost were we,
spotless Lamb of God was He,
full atonement can it be
Alleluia! What a Savior!

Verses 8 and 9 detail his end – ‘by oppression and judgement he was taken away and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.’

The wounding wasn’t enough… Jesus died, cut off out of the land of the living. He was then buried in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who owned his resting place. Jesus, the man of sorrows died on the cross.

Yet death was not the end, as Isaiah saw so clearly. At the start, I mentioned about the exaltation, and here Isaiah returns to the theme, as he speaks of the man of sorrows being exalted. Death was not the end, as he is vindicated by God.

As Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ (Acts 2:23, 24, 36).

Following Jesus’ humiliation came Jesus’ exaltation: ‘out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied… I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.’ The one who divided the spoils of war was the conqueror, and we see that Jesus’ death was not the end – but that through his death, and his rising again, we can be saved, as he stood in our place, and received the punishment due to us.

I want to finish by considering the second half of verse 11. ‘by his knowledge shall the righteous one, the servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.’ By his knowledge, Jesus will make many to be accounted righteous. Or to say it another way, by knowing Jesus, he will make us be accounted righteous – he will make us right with God. Do you know Jesus? Is he your Saviour tonight? Do you know the peace that we achieved for you through the cross? Have you known the joy of having your sins forgiven by trusting in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross for you?

If not, will you come to him tonight, putting your trust in him, and recognising him as your Lord and Saviour?

Truly, we can sing ‘Alleluia! What a Saviour!’ as we consider what Jesus has done for us, as he died in our place, bringing us pardon and peace, and forgiveness of sins. Let us sing together hymn 227, Man of Sorrows.

No comments:

Post a Comment