The Shocking Servant
March 14, 2014
Are all mountains equal?
It depends on what you mean by “equal.” When I was growing up in northwest Alabama, I lived a few miles from Spruce Pine Mountain. You had to go over the mountain if you were traveling to Birmingham. Spruce Pine Mountain was a true mountain in that you drove down from the top to a level plain at the bottom when you were coming back from Birmingham to Russellville, the town where I grew up.
Years later I visited the towering Rocky Mountains of the American West and saw what a “real mountain” looked like. Twenty years after that I climbed to the top of Horn Peak in Colorado (elevation 13,450 feet). Many years later two of my brothers climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa (19,341 feet).
If you compare Kilimanjaro to Spruce Pine, you may wonder if they deserve to be in the same category, but they are both mountains, even if one towers over the other.
I thought about that as I prepared this message. Some parts of the Bible tower above the others as the Himalayas tower over the Smoky Mountains. While all of the Bible is inspired by God, some parts speak to us with special power. We can easily think of some of those passages:
1 Corinthians 13
That is certainly true when we come to Isaiah 53. Many people call this the greatest chapter in the Old Testament because it contains such a clear prophecy of the events surrounding the death of Jesus Christ. Writing 700 years before the events took place, Isaiah describes the death of Christ in such minute detail that it cannot be ascribed to anything other than the direct work of God. On at least nine different occasions the New Testament writers quoted Isaiah 53 and applied it directly to Jesus Christ.
You may notice that my text actually comes from the end of Isaiah 52. But remember that while the text of the Bible is inspired by God, the chapter divisions are not. They were added centuries later to help readers find different passages. The portion of Scripture that starts with Isaiah 52:13 and ends with Isaiah 53:12 is usually called the “Fourth Servant Song,” meaning it is the fourth major passage in the last half of Isaiah describing the coming “Servant of the Lord.” We know from history that the “Servant of the Lord” was a prophetic reference to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The chapter divisions are not inspired
This “Fourth Servant Song” focuses on the death of the innocent Servant of the Lord who offers himself for the transgressions of Israel. The song actually has five stanzas of three verses each. In this series we will discover what each stanza teaches us about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are the five stanzas:
The Shocking Servant (Isaiah 52:13-15).
The Misunderstood Messiah (Isaiah 53:1-3).
The Sinless Substitute (Isaiah 53:4-6).
The Silent Savior (Isaiah 53:7-9).
The Victorious Lord (Isaiah 53:10-12).
As we begin our journey up this great mountain peak of divine revelation, let’s ask God to help us see our Lord Jesus more clearly so that we may grow in our devotion to him.
The first stanza of the “Fourth Servant Song” speaks of Christ’s exaltation in spite of his degrading death on the cross. In putting the matter this way, the Holy Spirit intends to teach us that God’s ways are not the ways of man. What seemed like a terrible tragedy turns out to be a channel of blessing for the whole world.
First, as we ponder the work of our Lord, we see a picture of . . .
I. His Unrivaled Success
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (v. 13).
The text begins by saying that Christ will act “wisely,” meaning that in every situation he will perfectly fulfill the Father’s will. Some translations use the word “prosper,” which means that Christ would do well in every situation. Peering down the corridor of history, Isaiah looks to the end of the earthly trials of our Lord and declares that he will prosper because of his wisdom.
That wisdom seemed like folly on Good Friday.
But what is this “wisdom” that will lead to such success? It is the wisdom of God that led Christ to the bloody cross where the world crucified its Savior. That “wisdom” seemed like folly on Good Friday. Little did the world know, much less understand, what it was doing that day. 1 Corinthians 2:8 puts it very plainly:
“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
Let that thought hang in the air for just a moment. “They would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
If they had known . . . If they had understood . . . But they didn’t!
We need patience when we speak with unbelievers
The world didn’t understand Jesus when he walked on the earth, and the world still doesn’t understand him today. That fact ought to give us patience when we talk to unbelievers. Sometimes when lost people say foolish things that are rude and unkind, we may be tempted to retaliate with unkind words of our own. That’s almost always a bad idea. It’s like cursing a blind man because he can’t see the color green.
Yet see what this “folly” of God has produced:
He will be raised—on Resurrection Sunday.
He will be lifted up—when he ascended to heaven.
He will be highly exalted—at God’s right hand.
Do you know that Jesus is the Lord of glory? If so, you know it because God has revealed it to you by his Spirit.
There is no room for boasting–and no need for it either.
There is no room for boasting, and no need for it either. If you are among those who can see and hear and understand the truth, do not take any credit for it. Get down on your knees and thank God for opening your eyes. Thank God for rescuing you from the pit of despair. Thank God for turning your life around. Thank God for giving you eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand his truth.
Second, as we ponder Christ on the cross, we see . . .
II. His Shocking Disfigurement
“Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (v. 14).
The text invites us to consider a shocking disjunction:
Christ exalted to the highest place (v. 13).
Christ disfigured as he dies (v. 14).
Surely there has been a mistake somewhere.
How could this happen?
Who did this to Jesus?
It is not often appreciated that our Lord Jesus died in terrible pain. If you run the clock back from 3 o’clock in the afternoon—the moment of his death—back to about 3 o’clock in the morning and review what had happened to Jesus as he moves through those hours—what you discover is that our Lord Jesus Christ has just been through 12 hours of torture.
Get down on your knees and thank God for opening your eyes.
Arrested in the middle of the night.
Crowned with thorns that went into his scalp.
Scourged with a large strap studded with bits of bone and stone and metal.
His beard ripped out.
Beaten again and again.
Forced to carry the cross through the streets of Jerusalem.
Nails driven through his hands and feet.
If we had been there on that Friday in early April, we would have been repulsed by the odor. Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die. The Romans intended to make it brutal and bloody. They had mastered the art of cruel killing. That day at Calvary the smell of death was everywhere.
Crucifixion was a ghastly way to die.
He didn’t even look human.
He didn’t even share the “likeness” of a man.
Which leads to an interesting question. What about all those shiny silver crosses people like to wear? Whatever else you can say about it, the cross of Jesus wasn’t shiny, it wasn’t silver, and it wasn’t clean. The scene that day was repulsive and horrific. The Romans liked it that way because it sent a message, “This is what happens to troublemakers.”
We sometimes sing, “When I survey the wondrous cross.”
Isaiah reminds us that there was nothing wondrous about the cross that day.
Nothing but blood, pain, agony, torture and death.
Third, as we consider the cross of Christ, we discover . . .
III. His Universal Victory
“So he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand” (v. 15).
The word “sprinkle” speaks of the purifying power of the blood of Christ. In this context, it means that the effects of his death have no national limits. Though he was Jew dying on a Roman cross, because he was also the Son of God, his bloody sacrifice will provide cleansing and healing for many nations.
The cross didn’t seem wondrous on Good Friday.
Not just for Israel.
Not just for the Jews.
Not just for the Romans.
Not just for the Greeks.
But for every nation on earth.
Pick up a globe and spin it in your hands. When it stops, let your finger fall at random anywhere on the globe. What nation did you land on?
Christ died so that his purifying blood might be sprinkled on many nations.
Last weekend Marlene and I attended a “Presidential Briefing” for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). We learned about the good work they are doing reaching children for Christ around the world. One of their goals is to have ongoing CEF work in every nation of the world by 2017. In our first session, they said that at present they have ongoing work in 186 of the 207 countries of the world. Then on Saturday morning they announced the establishment of work in Sweden, meaning they have only 20 countries to go to have a true worldwide presence. They asked special prayer that they might someday start CEF in North Korea, which they regard as the most difficult nation on earth for gospel ministry. Believers in South Korea have at times launched “gospel balloons” that will drift into North Korea and hopefully be recovered by someone who will read the gospel literature attached to the balloon. That in itself would be a dangerous proposition for anyone in North Korea. While we were at the meeting, the news broke that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-on has ordered the execution of 33 Christians who worked with a South Korean missionary and helped establish underground churches. Meanwhile prayers go forward for the day when North Korea will be open to the gospel.
Why do we pray that way?
This verse gives us the answer. Christ died so that his purifying blood might be sprinkled on many nations. That certainly includes North Korea just as it included the pagan Roman Empire of the first century.
God intends to reach North Korea with the Good News!
I never see that phrase “kings will shut their mouths because of him” without thinking of my friend Gary Olson. For many years he was a football coach in Oak Park, IL, an elder of the church I pastored, and a dear friend. After his untimely death in 1999, I put together a recording based on his prayers in our worship services. I was struck by how many times he included in his prayers this phrase from Isaiah 52:15. As I write this sentence, I can still hear his deep voice saying, “And kings will shut their mouths because of him.” Gary used that phrase to remind all of us that Jesus is the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth (see Revelation 1:5).
He Wouldn’t Stay Dead
When he came the first time, they laughed at him. They didn’t think a true king would be born in a stable or come from a backwater village like Nazareth. They were offended that he wasn’t a front-runner so they called him a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
They didn’t mean it as a compliment.
They hated him, rejected him, and eventually crucified him.
The religious leaders teamed up with the political leaders to nail him to the cross.
Jesus wouldn’t stay dead!
“Now we’re done with him,” they said.
Or so they thought.
But much to their astonishment, he wouldn’t stay dead. He rose from the grave, rallied his disciples, gave them their marching orders, and then he returned to his Father in heaven. Meanwhile his followers began to spread the news, “He’s alive!”
First in Jerusalem.
Then in Judea.
Then in Samaria.
Then to the ends of the earth.
Kill them–and others take their place
Nothing stopped them.
Not persecution, not hatred, not beatings.
Threats didn’t work.
Nothing could shut them up.
You kill them, and their movement keeps spreading.
Two thousand years have come and gone and still the flame spreads to every corner of the earth. Not even some crazed tyrant in North Korea can stop Christians from sharing their faith. Kill 33 and 33 more will arise to take their place. And 33 after that. And 33 more. So it has ever been for the followers of Jesus.
A day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
If you think the kings are shocked now,
Just wait for that day!
Every knee will bow and every tongue confess
But this is not just a word about coming judgment.
It’s also a word about God’s intention to sprinkle many nations with the blood of Jesus.
When Paul was explaining his desire to preach the gospel where Christ was not yet known, he quoted Isaiah 52:15 to justify his strategy:
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand’” (Romans 15:20-21).
What is a missionary’s true ambition?
He makes Christ known.
He preaches the gospel.
He tells the Good News.
In Paul’s case, that meant a call to preach Christ where he had not yet been preached, which is why Paul preached in Asia Minor, then in Greece, and finally in Rome. It is the same with those who travel to the “10/40 window” to share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and with those who have no religion at all. Even after 2000 years, fully 1/3 of the human race—over 2 billion people—has never yet heard a clear explanation of the gospel of Jesus. That’s why we have Bible translators in distant lands, and pioneer missionaries bravely taking the gospel into “closed countries,” and that is why Chinese believers feel called of God to take the gospel “back to Jerusalem” by spreading the Good News to the Muslim countries that lie between China and Jerusalem.
God always wanted the nations to hear the Good News.
That’s why Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:15, which is a prophecy of the coming of Christ who would “sprinkle many nations,” cleansing them with his own blood. That cleansing was not just for Israel but for all the nations of the earth. And when that happens . . .
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand” (v.21).
It was always God’s plan that the gospel should go forth to the ends of the earth so that every nation would hear the Good News. This ought to be the ambition of every Christian. We labor and pray and preach so that those who have never heard will hear, and hearing they will understand, and understanding they will see, and seeing they will believe, and believing they will be saved.
Our text asks us to consider where we stand with reference to God’s Astonishing Servant.
Do you see beauty in the crucifixion?
Do we know him as Savior and Lord?
Do we rejoice that he has been exalted to the highest place in the universe?
Do we see beauty in the ghastly scene of his crucifixion?
Do we believe that Christ’s blood will purify every nation on earth?
Will we join in God’s work of spreading the Good News of Jesus so that those who live in deep darkness will see the light that shines from the bloody cross?
Our great Savior has been exalted through his bloody death and victorious resurrection. His shocking death has sprinkled the nations with blood that will wash away every sin. Therefore even the worst sinner can be saved anytime, anywhere.
While preparing this sermon I ran across this quote (which I have slightly modernized) from the end of a sermon Charles Spurgeon preached in the late 1800s. He imagines someone hearing him and saying, “But I cannot come to Christ. My sins are too great. My past is too dirty. He will never take me.” Here is Spurgeon’s wonderful, gospel-drenched answer. If only the sinner will come to Christ . . .
“The past shall all be blotted out; God shall be your reward. And as for the future, you chief of sinners, if now you join the army of Christ by faith, you shall find the future shall be strewn with the gold of God’s grace and the silver of His temporal mercies. You shall have enough and to spare from this day forth even to the end and at the last you shall be gathered in by the great arms of God.”
Is that not good news for sinners?
The whole world needs to know about Jesus.
Let’s not keep it to ourselves.