Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter Convention 2006: The Sinless Sufferer

Last Supper Collage
Tonight there was a last supper. ;-)
And before that, the second talk given by David Jackman in the English Presbytery's Easter Convention 2006 series:

The Sinless Sufferer (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

We are looking at series of 3 potraits of the life of Jesus. Last evening, we saw he was the Passover lamb and tonight, we will see that he is the sinless sufferer.

It was a pretty desolate road that ran from Jerusalem to Cush, even if you were a finance minister riding on the best chariot in the market. Enough time to get to grips with some scrolls you bought in Jerusalem. It was confusing stuff...until Philip, prompted by the Holy Spirit, ran up to the Ethiopian finance minister and asked him, "Do you know what you are reading?". Philip started with that and told him about the good news of Jesus.

None of the Christians had any doubt who this Servant was. All the New Testament authors referred to it in their letters. We have the authority of Jesus himself in the upper room (Luke 22:7ff).

We must keep this in mind: we are keeping our eyes on Jesus. This should give us great confidence in God's ability to make and keep his promises. One of the uses of this passage is to stimulate God's people to real biblical faith. Not just a false faith but a real faith that God will do what he has promised.

This is the fourth in a series of four poems on the Suffering Servant. The divisions are odd. So we started at 52:13. It is a poem or song in 5 verses or stanzas in increasing length. It's like going to art gallery and looking at the wall, and on the wall you have 5 pictures all depicting the same theme. So first part and last part talk about the Servant's great victory over those who conspired to destroy him. There are the facts of death and burial. In the middle, Isaiah 53:4-6 takes us to the meaning and heart of whole display. In Hebrew thinking, the central concept lies at the midpoint, the middle: he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.

Bear this in mind. The central of song is Jesus and central to that is crushing and wounding in order that we might be healed and be right with God.

1. Mysterious Identity (Isaiah 52:13-15)
In the immediate context, it is a call for people to leave Babylon. Just like we saw that God brought them out of Egypt, God will bring them out of Bablylon; a new Exodus. The sequence runs from Isaiah 42. The Servant will come to cure their idolatry and their resulting despair.

When things start, everything is subdued tones. Mind-boggling contrasts. We see in Isaiah 52:13 that the Servant will act wisely, that is this will be result of his wise actions. Wise meaning that the Servant will know exactly what to do to be successful. This Servant will do God's will and as a result he will be exalted and will be ascended. But there is a contrast: he will be disfigured more than any man, his form beyond any human likeness. But this must be true: many nations will be sprinkled etc. He will be like a bruised and battered boxer whose arms are raised in victory but his appearance is a contrast to his claim.

Do you remember how Charles Wesley described it? "'tis mysterious all the immortal died". It is only mercy that makes sense of the mystery.

The enormity of his suffering was such that he was unrecognisable as a human being. Victory was accomplished not inspite of the suffering but because of the suffering. And his blood was sprinkled over the nations, sprinkled like the blood of the lamb on the altar.

When on one Friday afternoon, a young man carried his cross down the road, he had been scourged within an inch of his life, spat upon. He was unrecognisable as a human being. We must understand that he died for us.

"Tis mercy all immortal dies."

2. Incredible Strategy (Isaiah 53:1-3)
The tone is one of astonishment: who would ever believe it? Who would have thought God would have revealed it like this? Through a bruised and battered son on the cross?
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.(Isaiah 53:1-3)
And that is of course the story of the life of Jesus. His entire lifespan had one theme: suffering. A root out of parched soil has to struggle to preserve his existence. Right from the beginning, Herod tried to cut the tender shoot at birth by the murder of the infants. Is that how the Lord revealed his powerful arms? Were those few pounds of vulnerable flesh really God? There were no film-star looks, no charisma. No Nazareth Idol. Those that came to him came to him because of what he said.

He was constantly beset. A man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. That is, he knew suffering as a close friend. Even his disciples despised him and fled. Look at the pronoun at the end: we esteemed him not. And we still do it nowadays don't we? People praise his teaching and his fine example, as long as it doesn't cut across their own presuppositions. But how could the Son of Man die on the cross?
Alexamenos Worships His God
Alexamenos worships his god
Some time ago, they were excavating around some Roman ruins. They found a cartoon of someone worshiping a figure on a cross. The head of figure was that of a donkey. That was what the first century thought about the worship of Jesus. If you worship someone dying on the cross, you might as well worship a donkey.

So the Da Vinci Code calls Christ a wonderful man but denies that he was more than that. He walked on earth but a Roman emperor took advantage of Jesus' influence to say that he was the son of God.

It's easy to nod to Jesus isn't it and say he was a fine man who inspired many people? In the 21st century we lose our nerve and present the gospel making it market-friendly. We are ashamed, so we have to move away from the wrath of God and from humbling ourselves to a crucified God. Marketing to the felt needs of our me-centred culture is a real danger today. The true gospel won't go in out glitzy contemporary world. Maybe his friendship, power, understanding etc will be just what will give us what we don't have in our lives.

The Bible's question is not how we can be persuaded to accept God, but whether God will be persuaded to accept us. If there isn't a cross, there will be nothing left. And you get people who say I've tried it, I've tried Christianity. When we bypass God's wrath and God's judgement, we are just asking people to try this religious product. A diluted gospel is no gospel at all.

3. Perfect Remedy (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Wonderful verses. The Servant's suffering becomes more real to us. In one sense, the watching world is right: he must be suffering for what he deserved. No smoke without fire, is what they say. That's what the Jewish leaders thought – punishment for blasphemy. Then it suddenly becomes clear: he took up our infirmities…he is facing the curse that we deserve. What is shocking and undergirds the verse is that he suffers for us! No other issue has such consequences. Isn't it wonderful news that he was crushed for our iniquities? Until we understand how serious our iniquities are, we wouldn't know.

When I was a student, they used to patronise us at exams. Attempt any 5 questions, they'd say on the exam paper. So you come to this examinations thinking you know something? Well, attempt 5 questions. That's why some people think about the 10 commandments: attempt any 5.

The 10 commandments are more like windscreen. One stone comes up and the whole thing shatters.

The 2nd half of the verse explains how great this remedy is: by his wounds we are healed.

This is right at the heart of the song. Because Jesus has carried our transgressions, we are at peace with God and with one another. Martin Luther used to say that the punishment lies on him in order that we might have the peace. In the doctrine that has been come to be known as substitutionary atonement, the Servant carried the righteous anger of God in our place. Only Jesus could do that because he was the only innocent person. The God who is not at peace with us, makes peace with us in his Son.

Sheep that have gone astray have no food, no protection, no comfort. It is a miserable vulnerable defenceless thing. And that's what we were. But God has laid on his Son the iniquity on us all.

4. Unparalled Humility (Isaiah 53:7-9)
We move back from Christ's death to see that it was a voluntary death. The determined submission comes out from the word "afflicted", that is, he allowed himself, he submitted himself. In Isaiah 52:6 we are the straying lost sheep, in v7 the lamb is Jesus who refused to defend himself. I have been privileged to have been on the Mount of Olives. When you go to the top, you will see the Judean wilderness on the other side. Jesus could have easily could have slipped away. But he didn't. He laid an obedient will in place of our rebellious will. That's why his death was sufficient for us.
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 52:8-9)
His life was cut off. And the prophecy in Isaiah was fulfilled in detail – he crucified between two thiefs, and buried in Joseph's tomb.

5. Total Victory (Isaiah 53:10-12)
The wheel comes full circle. The beginning of Isaiah 53:10 is tremendously important. The death of Jesus is not ultimately in the hands of wicked man but in God eternal. He was crushed – not because a deity was venting his anger on an innocent third party, not because God had pleasure in suffering, but this was the only way that the offenders could approach God without fear. That was the whole plan of God.

Though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, the one who leaves no descendents will see the light of life. Multitudes from every nation are being put in the right with God, redeemed and healed because of this one man's suffering.

He will have a portion amonst the great, he will divide the spoils with the strong. He made intercession for the transgressors. His own sacrificial death is the case he pleads. As he ascends on high, he shares the spoils, like a victor, with us. King of kings, Lord of lords.That's why we rejoice, because he has conquered the sharpness of death, tasting it on our behalf. He has deprived even death of its power. Jew and gentile, rich or poor, we are all one in Jesus.

The New Testament explores this in many verses. They remind us that he who went through the darkest valley for us has conquered and is victorious.

John says that Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him (John 12:41). Luke reports the words of Jesus: "It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment" (Luke 22:37).

And beginning at that very verse, Philip shared the good news of Jesus. And we share that good news as we break the bread and drink the wine.

*************
Easter Convention 2006: The Passover Lamb
Easter Convention 2006: The Sinless Sufferer
Easter Convention 2006: The Powerful Rescuer

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