Friday, March 25, 2016

Isaiah 52: 13-15 - GOOD FRIDAY : "He was wounded for our transgression"

Today we remember “Good Friday”.  It is a good  day, not  because Jesus died a horrible death  at the hands  of horrible, sinful people. It is a good day because on this day  God, in Christ provided an answer  to a terrible dilemma  which we  could not  fix.  This is the day when  we remember that the perfect, sinless Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Lord   Jesus,  gave His  life in exchange for  all those who trusted in His Name and in His work  for them. This is the day   on which  the Lord Jesus Christ provided an effective cure  for  the  problem of sin. This is the day  when   redemption  became a reality. 

This is the day  when our sin died with Christ on the cross (Col.2:14,15). This is the day when  Christ  paid for the penalty  for  our sins. Oh,  how our God knows how to turn tragedy into triumph!

On Palm Sunday  we worked through   most of the 52nd chapter of Isaiah. The ESV entitles  verses  1- 12,   “The Lord’s coming salvation”,  and I showed you  on that Sunday  how aptly  this text fitted  into the context of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.[1]  In the 4 gospels  we see  that Christ came  riding  into Jerusalem  in a most unassuming manner, as a servant [2] on a donkey, and yet the crowd shouted  “Hosanna”  (save  we pray! Cf. Psalm 118:25 ). Now combine that  with the fact  that  Jesus’  name  means,   “Yahweh saves[3], and  then we understand that Jesus’   journey into Jerusalem was   for the purpose of  saving His people  from their sins.  But  more than that, He  did not just ride  into Jerusalem to preach good news – the gospel.  Jesus Himself was the gospel! He Himself  was the good news in person, riding   into Jerusalem   to do for His people what they  could never  have done for themselves. They were so weighed down by their own  sins and  so weighed down by their  nation’s  sins.   As a result they had  experienced  themselves  forsaken by God (Isa. 49:14).   People were acutely aware of their need for a Saviour. The truth of Isaiah’s prophetic preaching (e.g. Isa.  45:22-24 ; 48:1,2)   was ever before them, even while they were experiencing the physical threats of the  assault of the Assyrians.  It is into this  spiritual  darkness  that the prophet  Isaiah speaks  his twin messages of  doom and  encouragement.  This  is nothing new as you may recall from  passages  such as Deuteronomy  28, in which God spells out  blessings for obedience  and curses for disobedience.

Thus,  Jesus came riding into a city  so burdened with  a sinful history  and  burdened with present idolatry. He came riding into  the city  of David which had  been favoured  with so  many  blessings  in the past – the temple, God’s  manifest presence, the priesthood, all which was  designed  to  be  a blessing from  God  to serve  the people, helping them to remain focussed on God in this earthly journey  …  and yet, all that blessing was now terribly abused  and  empty  of  the true presence of God.  So Jesus, the gospel in person,   entered  the city  to save a people  who could not save  themselves, and  Isaiah  with  joy  sees the servant of God  by faith and  by the Holy Spirit he declares: “How beautiful upon the mountains  are the feet of  him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness , who publishes  salvation, who says to Zion, your God reigns.” etc. (52:7-10). 
And please note,   He comes not only to Zion, symbolic of  the heart of Israel’s  existence, but Isaiah also   declares, “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall  see the salvation of our God.”  Thus Jesus, the Saviour came to die not only for the chosen Jews, but  He came  to die  for all the chosen people among  all the nations. As I said  on Palm Sunday, so I say again : This is BIG!

And so  this  amazing  pre-amble, the  triumphal entry  in the ‘gospel of Isaiah’  (53:1-12)   gives way to   Isaiah  52:13-53:12, that legendary and mind boggling text  which describes  the death  and resurrection of Christ,  more than 700 years before it actually happened.  Just in passing we  also want to remember that it was this text that puzzled the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts  8:26-40, until  God miraculously sent an expositor  called  Philip   to  his side, explaining that this  scripture  containing information concerning the  mysterious suffering servant,  was nothing less  than  the good news about Jesus  (Acts 8:35). When  the eunuch saw that  he  believed in Jesus there and then and   he was  baptised,  and he went  on his way to his country rejoicing!

Our  chosen text begins with these words : Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)

Let us now consider  the  closing  3 verses of Isaiah 52. Josh Hooker will pick up on  Isaiah  53 tomorrow  morning ,  the silent day of Easter, the day that Jesus  was in the grave .

TAKE  ANOTHER  CAREFUL  LOOK AT THE SERVANT ! (V. 13)

"Behold my Servant.”   Stop, and look at Him! … says Isaiah.  This one who came riding into Jerusalem, unassuming, on a donkey,  this servant  ….look at Him!  Do not be fooled by His  unassuming appearance! Do not be fooled by His humility! What He is about to do  is stupendous!  Behold ! (Look!), says John the Baptist , the Lamb of God  who  takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29,36) “Behold, my servant shall act wisely…”. This is the  servant  of God, and as such  He will act wisely. Another way to read this, according to the footnote  is,  “my servant  shall prosper”. Notwithstanding the fact that He looks so very  unpromising, He will succeed in this  divine mission. This text sets the  direction for the rest of the chapter.  Because  the servant  acts with wisdom,  the prosperity  or  the success  of his mission is guaranteed. Now this is very important  to understand, since at face value  you may not see  Christ’s  identity with the poor,  and the powerless  and the sinful  and  weak, and  you may not see His unassuming  entry  into Jerusalem,  and then His  cruel trial and death in terms of a success story. And so we ask the question as we contemplate Good Friday: What good can come out of a suffering servant? The prophet, speaking for God   maintains: “ Behold my Servant  shall act   wisely”. He will prosper…  We are  of course privileged to know the story from the other side of the cross. We  now know  and appreciate the wisdom of Jesus  as   He  rode into Jerusalem,  as He was  tortured by cruel men, as He was crucified  and as He rose   again. We  now know that this was the wisdom of God.  He did prosper. He did succeed, and we are amazed at the wisdom of God, so contrary to the wisdom and logic of this world.  The apostle Paul comments on this in 1 Corinthians  2:6,7.
But  the  success of His mission is seen in particular in this  phrase:  “He will be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted”.  Isaiah  goes on to describe  Christ’s  exaltation, and once again we are reminded of this  in Philippians 2 :  “Being in very nature God … (He) made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant … He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow .. every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The suffering servant  is the exalted Christ , who after His  death and resurrection ascended  to the Father in heaven, from where He shall come again , but this time as  conquering King  of kings and Lord of lords , to judge  the living and the dead and   thus to set up His eternal kingdom, just as He had proclaimed at His first coming .

BEHOLD  THE SUFFERING  SERVANT! (vv. 14, 15a)

Behold  my servant! … But now  from  a completely different angle. “As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind”.  The first  portrait was  of the servant   high and lifted up, and  exalted! But  now   we find a  striking contrast  as we are introduced to a very different picture. Isaiah expresses  “astonishment”  that this exalted servant should  be so disfigured … a man whose appearance is marred beyond human semblance.  
We imagine  that we  hear someone asking : “Excuse me, but is this the same  person we are looking at?” He looks  scarcely human. He is entirely disfigured.   Why this disfigurement?  Verse 15 a provides us with the profound answer. “… so shall  he  sprinkle  many nations.”
The sprinkling  referred to here  was something  associated  with the work  of the  priests of the OT.   The  sacrificial system which they administered  was  associated with the sprinkling of blood[4], and this act signified  an act  of  cleansing and purifying the sinner who by faith had brought the blood sacrifice to the priests for  the  atonement of His.  Isaiah, with this picture of  the disfigured servant, is saying  here  what  he will  frequently  repeat in this text, namely that  by the suffering of this servant there will be healing and wholeness and cleansing. 
The most  famous  text  in this regard is  Isaiah  53:5,6 : “With His stripes we are healed … the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The effect  of  the servants work will  be  BIG…by His blood He will sprinkle the nations, not just those that believed in Him  in Jerusalem, and not just those who believed  in Him in Israel, BUT all who would believe  in Him  among the nations!  He will sprinkle them with His blood of  atonement  (Hebr. kippur à covering)

BEHOLD, OUR RESPONSE TO THESE CONTRASTING PICTURES OF JESUS (v. 15b-c)

…kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand”.The image  of  the Jesus, the suffering servant, whom we are called to look at  is strangely mixed: triumphant, reigning, in control,  and full of authority.Yet  we find Him also disfigured, distorted and  seemingly defeated.  Mankind simply does not know how to deal with such an image. We struggle  to  accept such   redemptive, vicarious suffering. It  is beyond our grasp.How do we reconcile this apparent paradox? Isaiah leads us  to a  conclusion.  “Kings shall shut their mouths because of  Him.”  They do not know what to say.  The picture is too powerful – it transcends language. “… for that  which  has not been  told them they see; and that which they have not heard, they  understand.” This unassuming  servant, who is  riding on the  foal of a donkey, who is  recognised by some as the Messiah in His triumphal  entry, but who is then   arrested, beaten and  killed upon a cross is in fact  the King of kings and the Lord of lords

And so the thought of the Servant’s supreme exaltation causes the lesser kings of the earth to shut their mouths. The truth about  this servant  has dawned. Sadly  for many people and kings, the truth about this  great Servant King who  has been revealed to the world  has dawned , but  not really sunk in.  But on the day of His appearing , “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father. “  On that day it will have no saving effect .

The final question is therefore : do you trust this  exalted , disfigured King now  for  His work on the cross ?






[1]  All four gospels record the triumphal entry : Matthew 21: 1- 11 ; Mark 11:1-11 ; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19
[2] Note the four servant   passages  in this regard :  42:1-9; 49:1-7 ; 50:4-11 ; 52:13-53:12
[3] Matthew 1:21
[4] Ex 29:16,20 ; Lev. 1:5,11  etc. 

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