Sermon — Isaiah 53:6

11 May

Isaiah 53:6  All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

           There’s not much worse than losing your child in a crowd. When you have four kids, it’s easier than you think to have one of them get away. I always tell parents that parenting is a breeze until you get outnumbered. If you have one or two, you can handle it most of the time, but three or more, it gets difficult. Children like to wander. A shiny toy, that place that sells cookies at the mall, look away a minute too long and they’re gone. 99% of the time this turns out just fine. Kids getting away for a minute for the most part is just a rite of childhood. But what most of the time is not a big deal with kids is a really big deal with our souls. This is what our text is about this morning . . .

 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.

           We are prone to wander spiritually. In fact, this Bible teaches that we will inevitably wander, it is in our very nature in a fallen world. And this wandering is not an innocent indulgence of curiosity, it is deadly . . . 100% of the time. Spiritual wandering is not a search for meaning. When we turn to our own way, we turn away from God’s way. Thus we are living in rebellion to Him, whether we are rebelling through pleasure seeking or money or even religion. Spiritual wandering is deadly. But God, in His grace, has forgiven our rebellion through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. That is what Isaiah 53:6 is all about.

There are two truths that will guide our meditation this morning: Our PROBLEM – All have gone astray, Each to his own way and God’s REMEDY – The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Let’s consider first this morning what this passage says about OUR PROBLEM.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;

Note first here the point of comparison. What a comparison Isaiah lays out here. We are like sheep. This is a common comparison in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are often viewed as a flock and their priests and other leaders as shepherds. In the prophets the criticisms are particularly pointed toward the shepherds, how they are not serving the sheep well and are filled with corruption. The sheep are usually looked at favorably. But here in Isaiah, the focus is on a fault in the sheep; their tendency to wander. Sheep are of all creatures likely to stray without supervision. But the straying of a sheep is slow. They don’t bolt into the woods never to be heard from again. They just drift away. It is a slow process.

The focus of this passage is on how we are like sheep. We are like sheep in that we are led by our sensual desires. We are like sheep in that we are prone to error. We are like sheep in our inability to return. We are like sheep in that we follow the crowd. We are like sheep in that we are prone to dangers. But most of all, we are like sheep because we have gone astray.

All have gone astray. There are no truly good people. We have gone astray because we are sinners in Adam. From the time we are formed we are accounted sinners in God’s eyes because of the sin of Adam. As genes are passed down physically from parents so we all are sinful by virtue of being human. Romans 5:12, “Therefore as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, so that death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.” We see in this verse not only a sin by lineage but also by practice. We live in accord with what we are. We follow in the steps of Adam. Our natures are corrupted, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We give in to the flesh, to self-serving. Our minds are hostile to God (Romans 8:7). We are not neutral, not blank slates. We are turned against God, “alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works” (Co. 1:21). Sin has a way of infecting us. You can catch a disease, but you cannot catch health. Our minds are sharp to worldly things, we can remember song lyrics from 10 years ago but our minds are dull to spiritual things, so that we struggle to memorize a well-known passage of Scripture.

And this is true of all people. Every person has gone astray. This means that it is not only Adam’s fault but we are all at fault, because we are sinners not only by nature but in practice. The number one way we stray is through unbelief. Hebrews 3:12, see to it that there is not in any of you an evil heart of unbelief causing you to depart from the living God. We stray because we trust in our plans more than in God’s promises and long for our selfish desires more than God’s design for us. We do not yield our hearts and submit to the Lord, we trust in ourselves. And the result is a heart far from God. I often hear parents speak of their hopes to raise strong, independent children. There is a sense in which this is good. We hope to raise children who grow into responsible adults who can work and make a way in life. But I would urge you parents, to also raise submissive children. Train your children to submit to the Lord God Almighty in all things. Teach them that self-giving love is the highest virtue. Show them that unmerited suffering is redemptive. Model for them the truth that faithfulness is better than flashiness, that character is better than outward beauty, and that the fruit of the Spirit is always to be preferred to the fruit of the flesh. There are lots of strong, independent people who are not free. Freedom only comes from turning away from our own way and throwing up the surrender flag to our Lord.

God’s path for us is narrower than the path we would make for ourselves, but God’s path leads to life. We often don’t see it that way, but it is true. Jesus says it is a way that leads to life, whereas Paul says of the path of the sinner in Romans 3:16, “Destruction and misery are in their way, and the way of peace they have not known.”

Yet, as we think about these things, we must realize that even those of us who are Christians who are seeking to walk the path God has for us, have like sheep gone astray. In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2).

And we each do it in our own unique way. we have turned—every one—to his own way;

Everyone has his or her own unique struggles. Background, personality, interests, the company we keep, these can all have an impact on those sin areas which are uniquely difficult for us. Each has turned to his own way. In turning to our own way, we reject God’s way. And as the well-known verse from Proverbs tells us, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” We need to recognize what Isaiah is telling us here. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, each and every one of us. And at the core of our rebellion is a turning to our own way, the inward turn, the turn to a self-centered life rather than a God-centered life. That was the key to the first rebellion and it is the key to every subsequent rebellion, big and small, in our lives. The thing is, I have different struggles than you. One person might really struggle with honesty in speech, another with pride, still another with lustful thoughts. Some might watch totally inappropriate things on TV while others just watch way too much TV and fritter away life that could be spent on godly pursuits. Still others might overeat or have a spirit of complaining while others are alcoholics or drug addicted. We tend to do something with the kinds of things I just listed that Isaiah here prevents us from doing. We categorize these things and tend to minimize the ones that apply to us. We think, “Yes, I like to talk about people behind their back but at least I’m not a drunk like that guy.” Or we excuse our complaining spirit because of all the hardship we are going through. Or we explain that our anger is due to our uncooperative children and our inattentive spouse. Meanwhile, we are very aware of how other people are sinning. So there is even in our rebellion a tendency to pretend that it is less a rebellion than it is a minor character flaw. And Isaiah comes in and says, no, this is a universal problem and this is an individual problem. Look at the river of humanity down through the centuries. Look at the wickedness, the evil, the revolt against God. But don’t forget to look in the mirror. Because staring back at you is the face of one who has turned to his or her own way. Every morning when you wake up you are looking at a naturally selfish person. This is why, when Paul describes love, he doesn’t describe warm feelings or emotional fireworks, he just says, “love does not seek its own way.”

Matthew Henry, the great old commentator, sums it up well: “It is certain that we are all guilty before God. We have all sinned, and have come short of the glory of God (v. 6): All we like sheep have gone astray, one as well as another. The whole race of mankind lies under the stain of original corruption, and every particular person stands charged with many actual transgressions. We have all gone astray from God our rightful owner, alienated ourselves from him, from the ends he designed us to move towards and the way he appointed us to move in. We have gone astray like sheep, which are apt to wander, and are unapt, when they have gone astray, to find the way home again. That is our true character; we are bent to backslide from God, but altogether unable of ourselves to return to him. This is mentioned not only as our infelicity (that we go astray from the green pastures and expose ourselves to the beasts of prey), but as our iniquity. We affront God in going astray from him, for we turn aside every one to his own way, and thereby set up ourselves, and our own will, in competition with God and his will, which is the malignity of sin. Instead of walking obediently in God’s way, we have turned wilfully and stubbornly to our own way, the way of our own heart, the way that our own corrupt appetites and passions lead us to. We have set up for ourselves, to be our own masters, our own carvers, to do what we will and have what we will.”

We have seen our problem. So what is God’s REMEDY?

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. This is one of the clearest statements of the gospel in the Old Testament. We see in this phrase first the author of this benefit – the Lord. Then we see the nature of this benefit – he laid our iniquities on him. Finally, we see the persons concerned – us all.

It is the Lord’s design to provide a way for us to get out from under the iniquity which sets us on a course of wandering and selfishness. Notice here how wandering and selfishness in the first part of the verse are connected to iniquity in the second part of the verse. This makes clear again that solid biblical theme that our problem is not genetics or upbringing or economics: our problem is sin. Your sins have separated you from God. God’s design was to lay our iniquity on Him. We will get into the significance of that when we get to verse 10, but for now just remember that Jesus was offered up by the definite foreknowledge and plan of God. It was all planned by God for our good and His glory.

The Lord blessed us by laying our iniquities on Him. The Suffering Servant,  who alone was sinless, was uniquely qualified to bear the sins of others, and all people contributed to his pain. Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep.

Hear the words of our Good Shepherd in John chapter 10 . . . So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The Old Testament spiritual shepherds constantly let the people of Israel down, because they were men of sin just as the rest. And even today, the shepherds of God’s people let the people down. But there is a Good Shepherd who will never let you down. Pastors come and go, if you cling to men you will always end up disappointed. If you cling to the Good Shepherd, you will be satisfied. In the Old Testament the shepherds wander and the sheep scatter. With the coming of Jesus, the sheep wander and the shepherd is slain for their wandering. John Calvin said, “In ourselves we were scattered; in Christ we are collected together; by nature we wander, driven headlong to destruction; in Christ we find the way to the gate of life.”

One commentator I read, I think it was Wiersbe, noted in verses 4 through 6 the contrast between the word “our” and the word “he” . . .





























The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions. We have gone astray, we have turned to our own way. He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done. This is our Savior and King. Here is our God.

And what does this one who bore our sins then do in us when He saves us? He turns us from our own way into His way. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, This is what it is to follow Jesus.

John MacArthur says, “There’s only one way to understand the death of Christ and that is under the principle of penal substitution.  He was our substitute to take the penalty for our sins, to satisfy the justice of God.  The New Testament affirms this, doesn’t it?  Second Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  Peter puts it this way, “He bore in His own body our sins.”  And Paul says in Galatians 3, “He was a curse for us.”  That’s the New Testament affirmation of the truth of Isaiah 53.  God has then not dealt with us according to our iniquities, He has not dealt with us according to our transgressions.  But nor has He overlooked our sins, rather He has punished His Son, the Servant, the Messiah in our place and grace reigns over righteousness.”

Father, we thank you for your great design. You sent your Son to bear our iniquities, to be our substitute. We thank you that you save wandering sheep through the blood of the Good Shepherd. We praise you that in trusting the Good Shepherd are made like Him. We are being turned away from our turn to self to a life of self-giving love. We thank you for the time this morning to reflect on this verse and we thank you for these weeks to go verse by verse and line by line through this great chapter of Scripture. Thank you Lord. We pray in Jesus’ Name, Amen



Sermon — Isaiah 53:5

7 Apr

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:5

With His Wounds We Are Healed

           In the big picture, in the grand scheme of things, God has a plan for you and for me. His plan was set from the foundation of the world. His plan is good. His plan is to redeem, to save, to bring us from darkness to light. His plan is to take all that has gone wrong and make it right. His plan is a plan of love. As the old hymn goes, Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart. God loves us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. He is making all things new. This is life and victory and peace. But there is a price to be paid for life and victory and peace.  The fallen world does not bend in the direction of the good, it fights tooth and nail against the good. So where there is any good to be obtained in this world in any area of endeavor, it is going to come with a price. The sweat of the brow, the spending of our treasure, even the shedding of blood. Nothing good comes without a price. Good marriages don’t just happen. They are the result of persistence in self-giving love between husband and wife. Weight loss and health don’t just happen. These things come through the sweat of exercise and a thousand small sacrifices that lead to big results. The greatest athletes don’t just come off the bench and excel. They give countless hours to practicing their skills. The virtuoso violinist only looks effortless in his playing because he gave himself to years of perfecting his craft. Nothing in life that is truly worthwhile comes without a price. The fall of humanity into sin has made the world a difficult place. Nothing ever quite works easily. We must sacrifice if good would come to us.

But there is one area where all our effort will never be enough. It is the matter of our own standing before God. Sin entered the race through Adam and we have all followed in his stead. This sin has corrupted us thoroughly. Sin has brought about this disconnect between God and people which puts us under His wrath. We deserve death and hell because we have all followed Adam’s pattern. We will face the sure and eternal judgment of God if left to ourselves. Because God is perfectly holy, our present standing of being sinners means we are already corrupt, already tainted in His sight. There is no way we in ourselves can escape the wrath of God, because we can’t go back and undo what we have done, and we cannot change our nature. So if we are going to escape God’s wrath, God is going to have to do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves. This frustrates many people and confuses others. We would like to be able to say if we just sacrificed enough, if we just prayed enough or repented enough, that all would be well. But it is impossible. We are condemned already because of Adam’s sin and our own actions. So we are left in the matter of our eternal soul as people who are wholly dependent on the mercy of God. The one area where self-help won’t help us is the most important area of all, the one aspect of our life that will go on forever. We simply can’t have what we need to have by just committing to do better. We are lost and on our way to hell unless God intervenes. But the good news of the gospel is that God has intervened. And that is what Isaiah 53:5 is all about . . .


But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.

What words of life we have before us this morning. The word “But” right at the start of verse 5, is pivotal. When we trace our finger over the verses we have already covered, we find that the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities was One who was not believed by those to whom He came. He was not attractive or majestic in His humanity. He was despised and rejected by men. He was one from whom we turned away. We considered Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. So the point here is not only are we unable to save ourselves, but the One God sent to save us is One we have actively resisted and rejected. BUT. In spite of our rejection, in spite of our resistance, Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. This is love. It’s no big deal to love people who love you but to love those who reject you? To love those who don’t respect you? To love those who turn away from you? That’s love. And the love of Jesus here was not a love of mere sentiment. It was not a decision of His will wherein He said, “Well, these people hate me, but I have determined to have a feeling of good will toward them.” No, this is love in action. “For God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul. The essence of the gospel is the sacrificial love of Christ. What a shame that in recent days some in the Christian world have diminished the sin-bearing, wrath-bearing death of Christ upon the cross. Some have preferred to focus on the cross as God’s victory over death or on Christ as an example of love. While both these realities are true, there has been among a segment of the Christian world, almost a sense of being ashamed of the old rugged cross. The worst writings have called it divine child abuse. Most others don’t go that far, but in their attempts to make Christianity palatable, they minimize the cross, they gloss over it with broader terms about God’s love and mercy and grace. The same people that minimize the cross tend to minimize the reality of hell and the holiness of God. There is a segment of the Christian world that in reality hold to that view so well expressed by Richard Niehbur a couple of generations ago, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” This is not Christianity, no matter what its proponents may claim.

Isaiah 53:5 is one of the great biblical antidotes to this kind of false glossing over of the realities of our salvation. Nothing of value comes in this life apart from sacrifice. We deserve death and judgment. And there is no way we can deliver ourselves from death and God’s judgment. No sacrifice we can make could ever be enough. So God sends His Son Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, to the world to sacrifice Himself for us. God had drilled this concept of sacrifice into His people from the beginning. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were called sacrifices because they involved giving up something of value, an animal, to bring one out from under God’s judgement. Over and over thousands of times these sacrifices were offered. The people of Isaiah’s day knew it and had seen it. Nothing of value in this life comes apart from sacrifice. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah would have immediately brought to the mind of any Jewish person who read it the idea that God was going to send One who would be like one of the animals sacrificed at the temple. The message of Christianity is that Isaiah 53 has been fulfilled. Jewish friends, your Messiah has come. And He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Those Old Testament sacrifices were ultimately insufficient. They only delayed the judgment of God, they didn’t take the judgment of God away. An animal sacrifice could never take away the sin of a human being made in God’s image. The sacrifice had to be at least equal in value to the one being sacrificed for and God, in the case of Jesus, provided for us one who was more than our equal. God sent His own Son for our sake.

And He was pierced. That this is said here, 800 years before the cross, 800 years before long nails were driven into Jesus’ hands and feet, said before crucifixion was a prominent way to put people to death, is amazing. He was pierced for our transgressions. The death of Christ was a payment for sin. All of the things we have ever done against God are covered by the once for all sacrifice of Christ. He was crushed. Now this is not literal in the sense that His body was crushed. We know that none of His bones were broken. But we know this is true in a deeper sense. He was crushed. He sweat as great drops of blood in the Garden as He contemplated the agonies of the cross. He who had no sin was made sin for us. He who had enjoyed the sweet fellowship of the Father from all eternity willingly bore the wrath of God and in His agony cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” How much more crushed could One be than that? He was crushed. There was with Jesus both an outward piercing and an inward crushing. And this piercing and crushing was for our transgressions and our iniquities, our outward violations of God’s law and our inward corruptions. Jesus was wounded inside and out in order to transform us through and through.

The most essential, most important transformation we need is transformation in our relationship with God. Some people approach God with fear and trembling, afraid of falling under His wrath, afraid of going to hell. Others look at God with indifference, putting all their eggs in the basket of this life, putting all their stock in what they can do and what they can get in this life. So most people are either fearful or foolish when it comes to God. And this is all-important, because the consequences of staying the same are eternal consequences. The apathetic person and the guilty person and the person trying to earn their salvation are all in the same place . . . they are lost. They are separated from God. They are not in a loving relationship with God. Their sins have produced a great gap between them and God and it is a gap they cannot span. But God has spanned it for them, with the bridge of the cross of Calvary. Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities and the result of this sacrifice is peace for God’s people. God chastised Jesus with our sins, and this chastisement brought us peace. The Prince of peace, the innocent One, was called to bear our sins so that we could be brought to peace with God. And with His wounds we are healed. There is not just a legal sense of peace with God that gives us a kind of legal approval in God’s sight. We are healed. We are healed in our relationship with God. We are no longer His enemies, we are His friends, even His sons and daughters. We are healed in our relationship with others. We don’t regard people any longer for what we can get from them but for how we can serve them. Because we are resting in our identity as God’s children dearly love, we can live a life of self-giving love. Isn’t it interesting that when the fall happened in Genesis 3 the first things Adam and Eve did? They hid from God in the trees of the Garden and they hid from each other by covering their bodies with fig leaves. And now in Christ God brings about the undoing of this. Jesus restores us to fellowship with God and with others.

But how? How is this peace given, how does this healing happen? Through sacrifice. Nothing of value in this fallen world comes without effort and toil. You may say, “wait, I love my children and it just comes naturally. I love my little baby.” But what sacrifice was involved in bringing that child into the world? Pregnancy, labor, sleepless nights, caring for every need. What sacrifices are involved in parenting? Your heart goes up and down like the waves with their every move because you love them so much and you want them to do well. Nothing good comes without a price. The debt we could not pay was paid by the only One who could effectively pay it. But it was a debt. There was a cost.

The 53rd chapter of Isaiah is focused on the payment of that debt by the Suffering Servant Messiah. Isaiah 53 is focusing on what Jesus has done for us. The rest of Scripture gives us our response. Our response is not to work to try to earn what Jesus has done. Our response is to receive what Jesus has done by faith. What God calls you to and what God calls me to today is to trust not in what we can do but in what Jesus has done. The banner over true biblical Christianity contains three words, “It is Finished!”

So this morning, what must you do to experience the peace and healing that comes through the saving, sin-bearing work of Jesus? You must turn away from any effort of your own to provide your own eternal peace and healing and you must turn to Jesus and trust His work on your behalf. He is God’s gift to you. You don’t pay for a gift, you receive it with thanksgiving. To try to pay for a gift is an offense to the giver. Deep gratitude is the right response to a great gift. So recognize this morning the preciousness of the sacrifice of Christ. Recognize that Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself for the greater good of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. Recognize that this is good and right and in accord with the way the fallen world works and has always worked. Recognize that in our day you will be called cruel and unloving for believing in most of the things we have talked about today. You will be charged with believing in a hateful God. You will be charged with having a mean streak. You will be called bigoted by believing Jesus is the One true Savior. You will be jeered for telling people they are helpless to help themselves. “Of course I can save myself, look at my iPhone! Look at my technology, look at my smart car. I can save myself.” Wrong! But just know this is the way of thinking out there. Understand that if you stand strongly on the biblical truth we have talked about this morning, you will not be applauded. You will more likely be despised and rejected and crushed. But remember, IT IS TRUE and IT IS FINISHED. Nothing can be added to Christ’s finished work and His finished work is the only way to eternal life. His work is the only way to peace with God and to wholeness of life inwardly and in our relationships with others. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.

Have you understood the price Jesus paid for you? Have you received the gift of eternal life? Don’t leave this place today until you are sure. And don’t leave this place today until you are determined to live not on the basis of what you can do but on the basis of what He has done for you. Determine to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Make it your aim today to please Him; not to be liked or approved.

I close this morning with this charge from 2 Timothy 1:8-10, Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,



Sermon — Isaiah 53:3

20 Mar

Isaiah 53:3

A Man of Sorrows

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.

 What is right is not always popular. What is popular is not always right. Never has this statement been truer than when we consider Jesus, the most righteous man who ever lived, yet despised and rejected by men. This man of sorrows lived a perfect life and died a death for sinners and yet in His lifetime was ultimately mocked, abused and abandoned by all. And in our lifetime He continues to face ridicule, skepticism, and apathy. He is pushed to the margins of most people’s lives only coming to mind when His name is brought up and only then with a dismissive statement about His having been a good teacher who did some good things. What is right is not always popular. What is popular is not always right.

          Isaiah 53 tells us that the Messiah was a Suffering Servant. And Isaiah tells us in his book that this Suffering Servant was the key to God bringing His people back to Him. As verse 2 told us of the appearance of the Servant, verse 3 begins to tell us of the sufferings of the Servant.  Isaiah tells us that the Messiah, a man of sorrows and grief, would be looked down on, rejected and hated. He had told us this before. In Isaiah 49:7 we read, “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: ‘Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’” Likewise, another part of the Bible that looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, Psalm 22, describes the Suffering Servant in very similar terms, Psalm 22:6 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” Jesus understood that this would be God’s plan for Him. In talking about Himself He says in Mark 9:12  “And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” The Old Testament predicted a Suffering Savior and Jesus affirmed this. So let’s look this morning at the Suffering of Christ, the Scorn of the Crowd and the Significance of the Man of Sorrows.


          He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The word translated “grief” here is often in the Old Testament translated “sickness.” So the idea of this verse may be that Jesus knew all about the maladies physical, emotional and spiritual, which befell people. We want to escape sickness and distress, but Jesus willingly embraced these things for our sake.

Jesus was a man of sorrows because of the multitude of afflictions He faced. He endured scoffing, persecution, contempt, unkindness, miseries, hunger, thirst, weariness. And Jesus faced the internal grief over those who rejected Him. We see it in Mathew 23:37 as Jesus enters Jerusalem at the end of His earthly ministry and has this deep longing for Jerusalem to trust Him. And above all that the indignity of the cross and the horror of bearing the sin of God’s people. How this all must have affected the innocent One, the One who never sinned, the One who left the glories of heaven to come to earth?

Jesus was acquainted with grief, meaning it was always in the background. His life was one of suffering. Fleeing to Egypt as a baby. Hunted by the Pharisees. All through His life He is subject to consistent grief. And then, the cross, the ultimate grief, the ultimate suffering.

Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Let’s look next at . . .


          He was despised and rejected by men. As one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised and we esteemed Him not. That word “despised” is significant. It is a strong word. The best example I can think of to illustrate this is our 2016 Presidential campaign. People despised Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. To be sure, both of them have some character issues that Jesus didn’t have but from the perspective of public opinion, if you were opposed to Trump you were really opposed to Trump. Likewise for Hillary. The left wanted to dump Trump and the right wanted to “lock her up.” There were very few Trump fans who could give Hillary any credit for anything good at all. She was despised. Likewise, among Hillary supporters Trump was the new Hitler and nothing he ever said or did could be good enough. He was despised. The difference of course is that Jesus was totally innocent, but again I just give you this example to illustrate what despising looks like. We’ve seen it in the past year in our country, maybe even in our own hearts.

Jesus was rejected. Like the kid at school who sits off by herself to eat lunch because she has no friends and no one is willing to sit with her. He was put out of the in crowd and abandoned to suffer outside the gate. He was rejected by men. Not just by the Jews but by men, by all people. How twisted our minds are to reject the perfect Son of God.

In Jesus’ case, the rejection was so complete that men turned their faces from Him. Perhaps we have felt this temptation to turn away our faces from someone. Maybe a homeless person. Or one of those people handing out flyers at an intersection. Or maybe a disabled person. Or a person from a different culture. There are many times we may be tempted to turn away our faces. We should not. Because Jesus did not turn away His face from us but set it like a flint to accomplish God’s plan of salvation. To turn the face away from human need is to fail to be like Jesus. And when we turn our faces away from Jesus, it is an act of rejection and unbelief. It is interesting to think about the connection between this verse and Numbers 21. When Israel was hit with a plague of venomous snakes in the wilderness Moses was told to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. And all those who looked upon the snake would live. In the same way, Jesus said in His conversation with Nicodemus in John 3 that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life.” Believing is compared with looking upon the source of salvation, rejection is compared to looking away.

And isn’t it amazing that in Jesus’ life, everything else acknowledged Christ, but man would not? Thomas Manton wrote, “The angels ushered in His birth. The wind and seas obeyed Him. The fish paid His tax. The wild beasts, when He was in the wilderness, would not touch Him. Even the demons acknowledged Him. The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask whether John the Baptist was the Christ, an honorable embassy. But they now never sent an honorable embassy to Christ, never put him to the question, but only in a scoff asked him whether he were the Christ or no. Yet John gave them as much ground of distaste as Christ did, freely talking about their sins. John was sent to in an honorable way, because he was a priest’s son, but Christ only a carpenter’s son, therefore Christ was not esteemed. Even Barabbas, a thief, was preferred before Christ. This is why Peter said in his Pentecost sermon in Acts 3, “You have denied the holy and just One and desire a murderer to be granted to you.”

They looked down on His hometown of Nazareth and His home region of Galilee. They called Jesus a Samaritan and a devil. They called him a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of sinners. They called Him a deceiver.

People even today regard His low estate but not His greatness and glory. We are not ready to give up worldly pleasures, honors, profits, esteem for the sake of Christ. Our affections are not for Christ but for the flesh. We find Christ unappealing so we make idols of other things: money or relationships or sexuality or success. This is the truth: the more you have of worldly comforts, the less satisfying they are to your soul, the more you have of Christ, the more you desire to have.

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood. Sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Let’s consider also . . .


So why did Jesus endure all these sorrows? Why was He so familiar with suffering a grief? Why was this all necessary?

First, Jesus was a man of sorrows in order that His promises might be fulfilled. Again, Mark 9:12, “God had foretold in the prophets that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be brought to naught.” The Jews may have been looking for a great Messiah political deliverer but the prophets say He would be a suffering servant.

Jesus endured sorrows to give us an example of obedience and to enter willingly into our experience. Hebrews 5:8 says, “He learned obedience through the things He suffered.” Jesus suffered willingly to show His love to us. Jesus suffered willingly to be a perfect mediator for us. Jesus was perfect in Himself, but His mediating work for us was perfected through suffering, as the One who came to save us did so by going through all the very same things we experience. Jesus endured sorrows to be able to comfort us more fully in our trials. Hebrews 2:18, “For in that He Himself suffered, being tempted, He is able to comfort those who are tempted.” Hebrews 4:15, “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all things tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus explains the significance of His sufferings after His resurrection on the road to Emmaus. When he comes alongside the two travelers He says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Do you think it might have been just possible that Jesus touched on Isaiah 53 in His discussions on the road to Emmaus? It was necessary for the Christ to suffer. It was God’s plan that Jesus suffer. Later in Isaiah 53 we will see this very clearly. Redemption through suffering. Life through death. Acceptance through the rejected one. God’s love through the One despised by men.

Lifted up was He to die, it is finished was His cry. Now in heaven exalted high, hallelujah, what a Savior!

What is right is not always popular. What is popular is not always right. As we close this morning, consider Jesus, and consider your heart. Are you among the scorning crowd or have you bowed the knee? John 1:10-11 says,  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. Are you a John 1:11 person? Or are you a John 1:12 person? “But as many as received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” Are you a John 1:11 person, or a John 1:12 person? Have you rejected the Suffering Savior or have you embraced Him? Are you on the broad way that leads to destruction or the narrow way that leads to life? Broad way/Narrow way. Do you acknowledge the man of sorrows as your Savior? Do you understand anything of the depth of His suffering for you? Do you accept Him as He is or do you try to reshape Him into your idea of Him? Do you treasure Jesus more than your comfort? Do you walk in Jesus’ example of humility? Do you live a life of self-giving love?

Or do you join in with the crowd that scorns and despises Him?

Do you face grief and suffering or do you try to avoid it at all costs? Do you feel shame over who Jesus is or His call on my life? Do you turn away from Jesus and seek your own way?

Manton says, “Christ went before you, He sympathizes with you. So learn from Him patient endurance. Strokes upon the wicked come from God’s hand, strokes upon His people come from God’s heart. Bear up, then, against the greatest crosses. Are you cast aside? So was Christ. So was the early church: “We are made the filth of this world and the off-scouring of all things” (1 Co. 4:13). Are you compassed about by losses, afflictions? So was Christ.

Learn from Christ humility. See the difference between Christ and Adam. The highest is become the humblest; our first parents would be as gods, Christ would scarce be as man. It is good to learn humility from this pattern showed us in the mount, even Mount Calvary, to deny ourselves to set up Christ, as Christ denied himself to set up us.

Consider His love. All for you. Christians should blow up the fire of love by these thoughts. Let it melt our hearts and draw us out in love to God again.

Don’t be a John 1:11 person. Be a John 1:12 person.

 When He comes our glorious King, all His ransomed home to bring. Then anew this song we’ll sing. Hallelujah! What a Savior!


Sermon: Isaiah 53:4

20 Mar

Isaiah 53:4

Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs

 J.R.R. Tolkein was a Christian. And when he wrote his Lord of the Rings novels he was communicating a Christian worldview through an alternate world of hobbits and elves and evil creatures. The goal in the story was to destroy the ring of power and that task fell to a lowly hobbit, Frodo Baggins who, though far from perfect, certainly had no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted to him. He had to bear the ring to the top of the mountain and there destroy it. But the bearing of the ring almost destroyed him. Thankfully, he had a trusted friend by his side, Samwise Gamgee. Toward the end of the third novel, Sam is trying to lift the spirits of Frodo. The journey has been so long and Frodo is about to give up. Yet the future depends of Frodo completing his mission. So Sam says these words to Frodo, “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”

          Jesus came, not into the fictional world of Middle Earth, but into space and time 2000 years ago. And He came as the light of the world, to shine into a dark world. But the darkness has not understood it. It was foretold by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:4 that Jesus would come to bear not a ring of power, but our griefs and sorrows. Yet the darkness has not understood it. That is the focus of our verse today.  So let’s note a few ideas from Isaiah 53:4 this morning.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

 The Evidence of Jesus’ Mission. Note that word “Surely.” What an important word. It makes clear that what we are dealing with in the coming of Jesus is not a work of fiction, like the Lord of the Rings.  It is instead a historical certainty, an event in space and time. In fact, it was so certain that the prophet could speak of it as if it was already happening, even though it was yet to happen for 800 years. It was such a sure thing that the prophet spoke of it in this way. How we as a church need to recover the historicity of the Bible. I know we are tempted to shy away from things like the flood or the tower of Babel or Balaam’s donkey or the parting of the Red Sea. We don’t want to be laughed at for believing that a man named Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. It sounds absurd to our world. But since God exists and has created all things, it is nothing to Him to do any of the things I have just mentioned. God can do miracles. He’s God. Now by definition, miracles are rare, but the maker of all things can shape things in any way He wants and work out His plan through whatever means He chooses. I want to urge you today not to be ashamed of the Word of God. There is certainly figurative and symbolic language in the Bible. But when the Bible portrays something as having happened in history, we should accept and believe that it happened in history. The very heart of our salvation hinges on real events that happened in history. Faith is not a blind leap in the dark, it is trust in God based on His actions in space and time. Christians are realists in the end. We believe real things happened in this life which affect life and eternity. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Two thousand years ago God stepped into this world darkened by sin through the light of His Son. There is no reason in the world to shy away from what God has said in His Word. Don’t be ashamed of the Bible. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.

The Effect of Jesus’ Mission. Thank God today that He sent Jesus to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. Far more than bearing a ring of power, Jesus bore the actual effects of our sin and rebellion on His body. This word for griefs is often translated diseases. And as we go further into Isaiah 53 we will find that not only did Jesus carry our grief and sorrows but He was also pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. And through His wounds we are healed. How are we healed? We are healed from diseases. We are healed from sorrows. We are healed from sins. We are healed from every transgression. And what do we see when we get to the end of the Bible?

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Jesus bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He is dealing with sin in all its ugliness. He was coming to bring God’s blessings to us by bearing our griefs and sorrows. We see this illustrated in Matthew 8:14-17  14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 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. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

The connection to the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and Isaiah 53:4 is that Jesus’ healings were the foretaste of the healing we would gain through the cross. He took away our sins in order that we might have His righteousness (2 Co. 5:21). The Son of God was made the Son of Man in order that sons of man might be made sons of God. He took our misery that we might have His glory. He was born of a woman that we might be born of God.  He took away our sins in order that we might die to sin (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus carries our sin so that we are no longer bound by it. In the gospel we are therefore free from our sin a filled with Christ’s own righteousness.

And notice Isaiah says, “our” griefs, “our” sorrows. The prophet Isaiah includes himself among those who needed the Messiah to bear his griefs, sorrows and sins. Jesus bore the pains we should have borne and carried. They were our griefs, not His. Jesus carried our sins without ever sinning Himself (see Is. 53:9). Everything that happened to the servant was in fact what should have happened to us. “We” thought he was being punished by God but we were wrong; it was our punishment that was on Him, as we will see in verse 5. He was beaten and we were made healthy. He was pierced and we became whole. He suffered that we might be forgiven.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life –
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart –
His wounds have paid my ransom.

Our Evaluation of Jesus’ Mission.

And yet for all the beauty of the heart of God toward us in His Son, the words of the prophet show us what our evaluation of Him is apart from grace. We considered Him cursed by God. Stricken, smitten, afflicted. By God. It was our sin that brought Him to earth and caused Him to be the man of sorrows who bears our griefs. But we looked at Him as cursed, not seeing that it was our sin that nailed Him to the cross. Jesus carries our sufferings but we ironically think that His sufferings come not as a result of our sin but as a result of God’s curse.

The Message renders this verse very well — But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—     our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.

Isaiah was saying that Jesus has borne our grief and carried our sorrows and these are the consequences of our sins. But incredibly, those who watched Him die thought He was being punished by God. We considered Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. The ESV Study Bible in its notes simply acknowledges that this is true. And in one sense, it is. Later in Isaiah 53 we will read that it was “the will of the Lord to crush Him.” There is a sense in which it was the plan of God that Jesus would come and suffer for our sakes. But that is not the sense here. This verse is not a simple statement of fact, it is an expression of irony. The key to understanding this is that little phrase at the start, “yet we considered Him” . . . The issue here is not whether it was God’s plan for Jesus to suffer but whether we see our part in His sufferings. There is no doubt that Jesus suffered. He is the man of sorrows. But it was our griefs that were the source of His sorrows. The irony of verse 4 is that Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows but we didn’t understand that and instead of considering His sufferings as an act of loving sacrifice from the perfect One we saw Him as cursed and crushed and cast down by God. We saw Him not as a Savior taking away judgment but as a sinner facing judgment.

Christ faced the assaults of the devil, sweat as great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, felt the sense of separation from the Father on the cross, the burden of carrying the sin of the world, the horror of bearing the wrath of God against sin, all for us, all to free us from facing the wrath He willingly endured for us.

Let’s have Isaac Watts carry us out this morning.

  1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed
    And did my Sov’reign die?
    Would He devote that sacred head
    For such a worm as I?
  2. Was it for crimes that I had done
    He groaned upon the tree?
    Amazing pity! grace unknown!
    And love beyond degree!
  3. Well might the sun in darkness hide
    And shut his glories in,
    When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
    For man the creature’s sin.
  4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
    While His dear cross appears,
    Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
    And melt my eyes to tears.
  5. But drops of grief can ne’er repay
    The debt of love I owe:
    Here, Lord, I give myself away,
    ’Tis all that I can do.

May you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that through His poverty you might become rich. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.


Sermon Manuscript — Isaiah 53:2

6 Mar

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53:2

A Root Out of Dry Ground

           Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was killed for his part in the plot to overthrow Hitler during World War II, once said, “Christianity preaches the unending worth of the apparently worthless and the unending worthlessness of what is apparently so valuable.” Bonhoeffer’s quote has never seemed more on target than it does right now. We are all about appearances. But when you pull back the curtain, there isn’t much there. Our society is heavy on information but light on thought. Most of the time we immediately judge people by their weight and their age. If you are heavy and/or old you are on the bottom of the ladder, no matter what kind of person you are. We think of successful people as those who are smart or talented or rich. Even in Christian culture those who wield great influence are often attractive, nicely-dressed leaders with great charisma preaching a message of prosperity, a message that God will make everyone with a positive attitude successful if they have enough faith. It hasn’t always been this way. Charles Spurgeon was a powerful preacher who had a heavy beard and a big gut. Martin Luther was never known for his outward attractiveness. Our Southern Baptist heroines of missions, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, were not going to win the Miss Universe pageant but they did do universal good for the gospel.

          When we look at Scripture, we see the powerful truth that God often works in ways contrary to our expectations. He chooses a barren couple, Abraham and Sarah, to begin His nation. He chooses a deceitful schemer, Jacob, to carry it on. He chooses the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers to be the thing that sets into motion their very salvation. He chooses a stuttering murderer named Moses to lead His people out slavery. He chooses the child Samuel to grow into Israel’s prophet. He chooses lowly shepherd David to be king. He chooses Esther to save the Jews. He chooses twelve ordinary men to be Jesus’ closest earthly followers. On and on we go, all through the Bible. And when things are done for the sake of appearance; like the tower of Babel or choosing Saul because he was tall, or Israel choosing a king in the first place because they wanted to be like other nations, they don’t go well. So why should we be surprised that when God sends us a Savior, He comes in an unexpected way, not according to our standards of what a Savior should be? The reason many people did not believe the message they had heard about Jesus was because Jesus came in a way they were not expecting of their great Savior and King. That is what Isaiah 53:2 is about.

 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.

The Messiah is seen here as a young plant, as a root out of dry ground. He is like a tender plant springing out of the ground, more likely to be stepped on than admired. This young plant or root is often referred to in other prophecies of Jesus. Isaiah 11:1 says that “a branch will shoot out from the root of Jesse.” Jesse was David’s father, so the promise here is that one will come from the line of David to bring life to the world. Jeremiah 33 says the same thing when the prophet says, “Behold the days are coming when I will raise unto David the righteous branch.” Zechariah 3:8 likewise prophesies of the “one whose name is the branch.” Jesus in coming was that branch the prophets were looking for, but in the end he was prophesied not only as a branch but as a great tree. Ezekiel 27 says the Messiah will become as a great tree which will shelter birds of every wing. In coming the first time, Jesus was as a tender branch. In finishing His work of redemption, Jesus is revealed as the great hope of the world, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. In a sense, Jesus is the fulfillment of the story he told of the mustard seed, which is among the smallest of seeds, but becomes the biggest of the garden trees.

Jesus’ obscure beginning came in a place of spiritual dryness, for though there was spiritual interest in Israel in Jesus’ day, the words of the prophets had not come for 400 years. Isaiah, seeing by the Spirit of God, prophecies this dry ground from which the Messiah would spring.

Jesus did not come to this earth with pomp and majesty. Christ’s beauties are inward. So Jesus is the most beautiful person who ever lived, but it is not about his external beauty. He did not look the part of a great king. But within, the fullness of the godhead dwells bodily. He is the radiance of the glory and the exact impression of God’s being. And yet, as Philippians 2 tells us, “He made Himself of no reputation.”

So few believed in Jesus when He came because of judgments based on outward appearances. Even the prophet Samuel fell for this when he went to Jesse’s house to anoint a king. Samuel saw Eliab and said, “Surely this is the one” because of his height. But God said, “Don’t judge by his appearance for I have rejected him.” We judge according to our senses.

But we make a great mistake when we judge by outward appearances. Remember again my earlier words about all the unlikely people God chose in Scripture. We must be careful not to sit in judgment of God’s ways and insist that God do things our way. He is God, we are not.

We are aliens and strangers on the earth. The world’s ways are not to be our ways. We are called to a life of self-giving love and spiritual warfare that issues from our secure identity as those who have trusted Jesus. But we are prone to fall into the false judgments of the world. So beware. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in all things, so that you would be discerning. Walk with God, trust and obey and He is faithful to show you the truth of things. Trust in the God that takes evil intent and turns it to good, who brings life from death. Don’t just by outward appearances.

Rejoice that God has ordained Jesus to come in this way, to come as one in whom there is no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him. Jesus came to a very lowly place, Bethlehem and was born not in a palace but in a lowly place and laid in a manger. When Joseph and Mary brought an offering for Him at the temple, they brought the offering of poor people, two turtle doves and a pair of pigeons. As Jesus grew, he worked with His hands in the carpentry trade. He hungered and He thirsted. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He was hated by the religious elites of His day. But through it all, He is the King of glory. How we should worship One who would come from such a height to stoop so low for us. As Galatians 4 says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” And 2 Corinthians 8:9, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that through His poverty you might become rich.” Rich in beauty? No. Rich in money? No. Rich in what is worthwhile. Rich in grace, rich in forgiveness, rich in love. Jesus’ humility was for our good. He was outwardly unlovely that we might have inward beauty. He was not attractive, but He was coming for a bride, the Church of the living God, which He through His suffering would make to be without wrinkle or blemish. He would be bloodied that the Church might be without spot, clean and pure.

So don’t despise your lack of money or lack of beauty or lack of earthly success. It is not easy to be poor. The Bible doesn’t celebrate poverty, but it does extend the hope of the gospel to all regardless of their economic standing. And honestly it is easier for people of outward beauty to gain advantages in the world. But is our goal to gain advantages or is it to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God? He became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. The royal One humbled Himself to show us the way to really live.

If you live for yourself and your lusts you will be poor, whether your bank account says $10 million or $10. If you live for Christ and for others you will be rich in everything that is really important. Bonhoeffer went to the gallows in peace because his hope was not in his riches, though he came from a fairly well-to-do family. William Borden sacrificed himself in missionary service because he knew his inheritance from the milk fortune of his family would perish, spoil and fade, and the great quote he is known for is “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.” Jim Elliot went to the tribes of Ecuador because he knew, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.” Maybe today God is calling someone here to such a sacrifice. To count all things loss and take Jesus to the ends of the earth. Or maybe for some it is the sacrifice of staying, because the temptation you face is to try to gain glory through Christian service rather than humbly serving Christ where you are without recognition. For others the challenge you face may simply be the challenge of believing in One or walking with One for whom you have little to no desire. In other words, there are probably some here for whom Jesus is not beautiful and His ways are not admirable. You see no beauty in Jesus. He bores you. Church bores you. When young people leave home and forsake Jesus that doesn’t happen because of universities indoctrinating kids, it happens most often because the child never saw Jesus as beautiful in the first place. So if you don’t see the humble, self-giving Jesus as attractive this morning, is there anything you can do to change that? Well, as we said last week, there is God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. There are things you can pursue which may be the means God uses to open your eyes to Jesus’ beauty.

First, let Christ be in your thoughts. If you feel a coldness toward Christ, I would just suggest that you read slowly through the gospels this year. You should be able to get through them at least a couple of times just reading them through slowly. Just expose yourself to the life and ministry of Jesus and see if God doesn’t show you His beauty. Most of the time we claim Jesus is not beautiful it is because we’ve never really looked at Him.

Second, remember that Jesus’ goal is to bring you to God not to make all your dreams come true. Many people get disappointed with God because they expect God to do things the way they want them done. But the chief cry of Jesus’ lips was, “Not my will but yours be done.” In the end, Jesus was always about the Father’s business. Jesus has better goals for you than the dreams you have for yourself. He has come to give you life with God and eternity and power for living today and transformation of life and heart. He has come to bring you into His kind of abundance so that you can give yourself away for the good of others.

Third, remember the emptiness of so much that we think is important. In the end, the handsome man’s broad shoulders stoop, the beautiful woman’s face shows her age and the strength of youth fades away. We give so much energy to things that don’t matter, to things that will go with us to the grave and so little energy to that which will last.

Christianity preaches the unending usefulness of the apparently useless and the unending uselessness of what is apparently so valuable. Shortly before his death, Bonhoeffer wrote a poem while in prison. It is powerful for its honesty and its deep faith.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!


In the end, what we have is this . . . Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Fun With Word Studies

21 Feb

A couple of weeks ago in an evening Bible study, I said I thought word studies were a bit overrated as a study method. My concern was that in doing word studies, we often miss the forest for the trees. We get a good grip on the range of meaning of this word or that word but we can be prone to fix our attention on the word and miss the flow of thought in the passage. This article from George Guthrie hits at the core of what I was addressing in my comments with humor and grace.

Sermon Manuscript — Isaiah 53:1

20 Feb

         This morning we are starting one of the golden prophecies of the Old Testament, our year verses for 2017, Isaiah 53. Over the next twelve weeks we are going to, Lord willing, look at this chapter word for word, verse for verse. We are going to turn it over like a diamond to the light, appreciating every facet, letting our hearts be lifted by the wisdom and goodness of God.

Many people have called this chapter the gospel according to Isaiah, and that is right. This chapter is a part of the second half of the book of Isaiah which is all about the coming Suffering Servant who would save a people through sacrifice. Isaiah 53 is the high point of the book of Isaiah, like Romans 8 is to the epistle or Luke 15 to the gospel of Luke. We are scaling to one of those biblical Mt. Everest peaks in these weeks. So let’s start the climb this morning with verse 1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

          Questions draw us in. Questions bring us to a point of participation in a way that statements do not. So Isaiah draws us in with questions. They are questions of longing. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? The answer is linked to the last chapter, where Isaiah said that the Messiah, the promised Savior, would “sprinkle many nations,” draw many people to Himself. Now the question comes, who has believed, to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? These are questions of complaint. There is good news, but few have believed it. There is great power, but few have received it. And in this unveiling of the good news of the Savior there is both the necessity of human hearing and divine revealing.

This message of a coming Savior is not limited to Isaiah 53. It is all over the Old Testament. This is why Isaiah says here, “who has believed what he has heard from US.” As Hebrews 1:1 says, “Long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” And the message of the prophets was to point to this coming Savior, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. So the Jews had received all these messages from the prophets, along with the law of God which showed them through its rules and through the sacrifices the holiness of God, the need for a substitute and the shedding of blood for forgiveness, and the need for purity. God’s old covenant law was to the Jews, as Paul says in Galatians 3:24, “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” Yet, we see here these words, “who has believed what he has heard from us?” Who indeed? You see, you can hear the greatest preaching in the world and not believe. You can have a beautiful leather Bible on your bookshelf at home and even read it regularly and not believe. You can have the best Christian friends and go to the most loving church and not believe. You can sing songs of praise and not believe. You can give money to Christian causes and not believe. The Jews had all the trappings of devotion to God but many of them did not believe what the prophets said. So it is in our day. There is much religious activity but little authentic faith. There are booming churches everywhere but the culture continues to turn away from God and His truth. A large majority in our nation still professes belief in God, but not many are really hearing His message. All you have to do is look at our lives to know this. How easily we trade God’s standards for our own notions of what is good. And how often we seek the good life in all the wrong places, through pleasure or success or power or chasing after dollar signs. Most of us present this morning have heard the message for years. Yet have we been listening? And has this listening led us to believe? As I look over the landscape of this great land I believe there has been much hearing but not much listening with the ears of faith. There have been multitudes of curious onlookers, like the multitudes that followed after Jesus in His days of earthly ministry, but there have not been many disciples. So the words of Isaiah still ring true for us . . . who has believed what he has heard from us?

The good news is there are still some in our land who are like Simeon in the gospel of Luke, a man who was waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior. There are a few who believe what God has said about the Savior rather than constructing their own personal Jesus, who has nothing to do with the Jesus revealed in Scripture.

As the people in Jesus’ day expected a political deliverer to triumph mightily over Rome rather than a Suffering Servant who would triumph over sin and death through self-sacrifice, so we look to Jesus to make America what we want it to be. Or we look to Jesus to satisfy our longings, to give us a comfortable life. Or we look to Jesus to do miracles for us. We are fine using Him to be healthy wealthy and wise but we are not willing to bow the knee to Him. Who has believed what he has heard from us?

We don’t believe because we are proud. We think the cross is a foolish thing. A Savior is supposed to dominate and decimate His enemies, not be mocked and spat upon and nailed to a tree to die naked between two thieves. We don’t believe because in our pride we can’t accept the words of lowly fishermen who lived 2000 years ago. We accept the word of modern novelists and their conspiracies or the word of New Testament scholars whose spin on the truth of God we trust more than those who were eyewitnesses of His glory. But more than anything, in our pride we are unwilling to come to terms with this one thing: there is but one God and one Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He alone is to be worshiped. In the end our problem is as old as the garden . . . we want to be a god ourselves. We are far too casual about the most momentous thing that has ever happened in space and time. We get worked up over a football game or the latest celebrity sighting but have no eyes to behold our God, our suffering Savior. We have a yearning for the things of God but we have not the will to seek them, even though Jesus urges us to this . . . seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Puritan Thomas Manton says, “It is a sign people do not prize a thing when they do not labor after it.” Who has believed our message?

Hard hearts lead to closed ears. So who has believed what he has heard from us? The answer is “not many.” And it has always been so. The way is narrow that leads to life and few find it. Now in the end, many through time will find it, for Revelation tells us that a great multitude from all the world will worship Jesus forever, but in each individual time period it seems that true believers are the exception rather than the rule. But this does not mean the story of Jesus is false. On the contrary, the truth or falsehood of something does not depend on how many people believe it. Copernicus was right about the sun being at the center of the solar system even though most of his contemporaries disagreed. So we are a part of this Copernican revolution called Christianity, a revolution that digs against conventional wisdom, standard operating procedure and the very fabric of our approach to life. This revolution that says saving comes by losing, living comes by dying and redemption comes through suffering.

So have you listened to the message? Have you heard the sermons and Sunday School lessons all these years and believed, or have you heard without a heart of faith? How can you know? You can know if you are moved by the truth of Jesus. You can know if you are changed by the truth of Jesus, if your life is different because you know Him. You can know if your love for Him and others is real and growing. The bottom line is simple: has Jesus made a difference in your life. If you could take all you have known of Jesus out of your life and be substantially the same person either way, you are almost certainly lost. But if the love of Christ compels you, if you can’t imagine life without Him (not your version of Him but who He is in Scripture) then you have real reasons to believe, yes, I have heard this gospel message, and I have believed. Oh, that this kind of self-examination would happen here and in every corner of every church in this nation, and in every bedroom of every house this morning where there is someone who today has been burned by the church or is done with so-called “organized religion” but still claims some kind of relationship with Jesus. Let us examine ourselves, in a world where so much filth is accepted, so much excess is applauded, so little sacrifice is demanded, could it be that there are far fewer Christians in America than we might think? Have we even fooled ourselves?

Who has believed what he has heard from us? We’ve looked at that question. Now let’s turn to the second question of this verse, a question similar do and different from the first question . . . “And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

The “arm of the Lord” here is parallel to “the message” in the first part of the verse. The arm of the Lord in Scripture refers to God’s display of power. Sometimes it’s the hand of God, sometimes the finger of God, sometimes the arm of God but whenever you have this kind of humanizing language for God about His arm, you are talking about the display of His strength. The greatest display of God’s strength and the focus of Isaiah 53, is the Suffering Servant Jesus and the message of the grace He brings through self-giving love. So the arm of the Lord in Isaiah 53:1 is the Lord Jesus and the gospel truth of salvation in Him. Jesus is the message and the might of God. And this of course is the way Paul describes it when he says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

The gospel is the power of God. It works, as Hebrews 4:12 says, to the dividing of the heart. The gospel troubles sinners, even though the sinner on hearing the gospel, though troubled, is also angered. This is actually a good way to observe the faith of another person. Does gospel preaching make them angry or does it cause them to make excuses or raise objections, or do they just receive it as the truth of God and bow the knee to that truth? For the believer, the gospel is the glory of God in the face of Christ, our way of eternal and abundant life, the sign of God’s victory in the world. This is what the devil does not want you to know. This is where he will fight you tooth and nail. The gospel is the power of God. Doubts will rise up in your minds, lusts and appetites will compete for your hearts, but this gospel is the arm of the Lord, the only strength we have for life and eternity.

So pastors, Sunday School teachers, is the gospel the arm of the Lord, is it the power of God? Then be not ashamed of this truth, preach boldly, teach powerfully. Know that since it is the arm of God, it has power and will have success. Though many will reject the gospel, not all will. Believe that God has a people He will save through the faithful preaching of the Word. Be faithful to present the gospel not as a means to hear yourself talk or as a way to enrich yourself or make yourself feel good. Preach not out of selfish ambition or envy but make it your goal to just faithfully carry out the call of God on your life. And ask the Spirit to reveal the arm of the Lord to all those to whom you preach.

To all of you listening today, when you listen to preaching or teaching of the gospel, do you listen with reverence? Do you tremble at the Word of God? Do you receive the truth into your hearts? Do you trust in what God is saying through His Word? Do you listen to all preachers and teachers who are preaching the gospel with a view toward learning what you can from them, or do you make your judgment on the value of a thing based on the appearance or the speaking ability of the preacher. Woe to us if we let a pastor’s clothing or accent or grammar or style be a roadblock to hearing the gospel. No matter how poor the speaker may be, there is always something to learn because we are dealing with the Word of God.

To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? We see here this morning the necessity of revelation beyond revelation. You see the message is out there, it can be heard. And it must be heard and believed. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” But this message which must be heard and believed must also be revealed. So we have in Isaiah 53:1 another indicator of God’s sovereignty. In order to hear and believe this message of salvation in Christ, God by His Spirit must reveal the truth to the inner man. This is why Jesus says in John 6:44 that no one can come to Jesus unless God draws him. This is why the great golden chain of Romans 8 is there, “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined for adoption as sons . . . and those he predestined he also called and those he called he justified and those he justified he also glorified.” This is why Ephesians speaks of our having been predestined from the foundation of the world. Yes, God has a plan and He is carrying it out in this world. His plan is to claim a people from every corner of the globe to serve and glorify Him for all eternity through Jesus Christ. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and He will harden whom He will harden. So in this first verse of Isaiah 53 we have this great question. In light of all Isaiah had said about the coming of a great Savior, there are not many who hear and believe, not many to whom the arm of the Lord is revealed. Here we have the great scriptural intersect between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. God rules over all but we are not robots. We have real choices and these choices have consequence but it is all under the ultimate dominion of God. So we do not live as though everything depends on us but we also do not live as if nothing depends on us, because God’s sovereignty plays out in the world as it is, a world of real moral choices. It is absolutely true that it is essential to believe if we are to be saved. And it is also absolutely true that no one will believe unless God reveals the power of the gospel to us. And don’t you see this reality in life all the time? You see it in the kid who is just ignorant and empty to the things of God until one day, one seemingly random Sunday, God opens her eyes and she sees the beauty of Jesus and follows Him. On the flip side, you see in the person who has been in these pews for years but is cold to the gospel and totally unchanged in life. I do not believe in God’s sovereignty because of an exhaustive theological search, though I have studied what the Bible says about these things. I believe in God’s sovereignty not only through the revelation of Scripture but because I have lived it. I was totally ignorant of God, unconcerned with Him. But one day He opened my eyes and I have never been the same. But I also believe in human responsibility for the same reason. Most of you have heard my testimony but you have not heard Cindy’s. Her testimony is a perfect illustration of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mom in middle school but in high school she moved to Columbia to live with her dad (God’s sovereignty). She went to high school and met a girl named Laurie whose parents were students at Columbia Bible College (God’s sovereignty). Laurie was a devoted young follower of Jesus who invited Cindy to church (man’s responsibility). Cindy decided to go with Laurie (man’s responsibility) and saw in that church a kind of Christian life she’d never seen before. She gave her life to the Lord and began to walk with Him. Through the influence of a couple of other friends (responsibility) she ended up going to Columbia Bible College where she grew deeper in the Lord and met me (sovereignty!) and off we went daily making choices but always under the hand and under the reign of God, who has even taken our sins and our failures and turned them for His purposes.

          Have you heard the gospel message today? Have you believed it? Has the arm of the Lord been revealed to you? At the end of the day you may say, “Well, the arm of the Lord has to be revealed to me, so I’ll just wait for that to happen in God’s time.” The first part of that statement is absolutely right, the second part of that statement couldn’t be more false. We are urged continually in the Bible to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call on Him while He is near, to forsake wickedness and walk in righteousness. The call to seek God is not inconsistent with His sovereignty it is something that He in His sovereignty uses to call you to faith. So this morning, if you are uncertain of your standing with God, seek Him. Call on Him. If you know this morning that you know the Lord I just want to ask you whether the faith you have professed is something you still are holding onto?

Are You an “If” Pray-er or a “When” Pray-er?

12 Jan

I heard recently a good insight from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, in speaking about prayer in the Sermon, continually uses the word “when” in reference to prayer. He warns against self-exaltation in prayer but He assumes we will pray. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites . . .” Jesus assumes His people will pray. And most Christians assume Christians will pray. But it seems to me that often we substitute the word “if” for the word “when.” “If I have time, I will pray.” “If I feel like it, I will pray.” “If times are tough, I will pray.” Instead, the pattern of our lives ought to be “when you pray.” Prayer should be as ordinary a part of the pattern of our lives as all the other habits of life. This is convicting to me, because God promises great blessing through prayer but I am far to often an “if” Christian instead of a “when” Christian. Would our consistency and joy in prayer increase if we substituted the word “when” for the word “if”?

Book Review: Befriend (Scott Sauls)

11 Jan

Scott Sauls is the Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. He seems to be a pastor in touch with today’s world but still grounded in a commitment to Scripture. He would fall for me somewhere between Andy Stanley and Tim Keller, more committed to core evangelical values than Stanley but a little more progressive than Keller. This sense also comes through in the endorsements at the front of the book and in the foreword by Ann Voskamp. Sauls comes from a centrist evangelical position, with Matt Chandler on his right and Richard Stearns on his left (both endorsed the book). Sauls’ centrist position serves him well in this book. I came to his book Befriend having never read any of his other work and having only heard him speak on a couple of occasions. I appreciate the heart that comes through in this book. Befriend is a collection of twenty one brief chapters, the bulk of which are directed at encouraging readers to befriend various kinds of people. We all know we are to befriend all sorts of people but Sauls, having laid a gospel basis for friendship in chapter one, is very effective at applying the need for friendship toward all for his evangelical audience. Sauls covers all sorts of groups, including often contrasting pairs (poor and rich, unborn babies and their mothers, conservatives and liberals). The book has an edge because most readers will come to a chapter that makes them uncomfortable, challenging their prejudices and lack of love. Because he is covering such a wide range of topics, the chapters are a bit uneven in terms of content, with some of them just pretty conventional in a way that will just be review for most believers. The best chapters are the ones covering issues Sauls has wrestled with deeply in his own life. Throughout the book, Sauls probes for the sweet spot of fidelity to the Bible combined with an open and loving heart. He most often succeeds in bringing this sense of grace and truth across in his writing. The book is well-suited for a small group, as it contains further Scripture readings and questions at the close of each chapter, but it may run just a bit long to be ideal for a small group. It may be best used by two or three friends who read it and discuss over coffee or a meal. Individuals of course, can also profit from a careful reading of the book.

The last chapter, on the God who befriends you, is the best chapter in the book in my opinion and is a fitting conclusion to a well-written and insightful book. For a people thoroughly connected but lacking community, Befriend gives us solid guidance.

My Favorite Hymns

6 Jan

Hymns are kind of outdated in the minds of many, but I still like them. I could take or leave the musical style in which they are presented, but the pattern of verses which build a story (often the story of the gospel) is a real encouragement to me. Here are a few of my favorites . . .

Be Thou My Vision —

And Can it Be? —

My Song is Love Unknown —

I Asked the Lord That I May Grow —

Crown Him with Many Crowns —

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross —

He Will Hold Me Fast —

If you ask me next year, I’ll probably have a new set of favorites.

I am thankful for the musical and lyrical treasures we have in the Church. I am thankful for these songs that can lift our hearts or help us re-focus on Jesus.

What are your favorite hymns?




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