The Silent Savior
April 9, 2014
Twenty-four years is a long time to spend in prison.
Especially for a crime you didn’t commit.
This week Jonathan Fleming was set free after almost a quarter-century behind bars when he was wrongly convicted of murder. Ironically, part of the evidence that freed him was a hotel receipt that the police had in their possession all along. That plus statements from the hotel staff who remembered him (which the police also had all along) convinced prosecutors that they sent the wrong man to prison.
“I’ve waited for this so any years,” mother Patricia Fleming, 72, said through tears after she hugged her son.
“I feel like a burden has been lifted.”
How would you feel if something like that happened to you?
Justice is hard to come by in this world. Courts do make mistakes and sometimes innocent people suffer for crimes they did not commit. That’s what happened to Jesus when he was crucified 2000 years ago. Though he had done no wrong, uttered no threats, committed no crime, and had hurt no one, the powers that be decided that he had to die. So they trumped up charges against him, shuffled him from one hearing to another, and in the end they got what they wanted.
Sometimes courts makes mistakes
He died a criminal’s death, hanging between two thieves.
But he didn’t deserve to be there.
When Isaiah considers the death of the Servant of the Lord, he stresses how Christ responded to unjust accusations, how no one came to his aid, and how even his burial testified to the wrong way he was treated. This passage ought to drive us to our knees in gratitude to Jesus for what he endured for our salvation.
Let’s begin by considering what Jesus didn’t do and what he didn’t say when he stood before his accusers.
I. His Submissive Silence
“He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth” (v. 7).
Sometimes you are known by what you don’t say. In this case, Isaiah prophesied that Christ would not open his mouth to defend himself, even in the face of certain death. Hundreds of years later that came true when he stood in front of his accusers:
“But Jesus kept silent” (Matthew 26:63).
“He did not answer” (Matthew 27:12).
“But he kept silent and did not answer” (Mark 14:61).
“But Jesus made no further answer” (Mark 15:5).
“But he answered him nothing” (Luke 23:9).
“But Jesus gave him no answer” (John 19:9).
Sometimes you are known by what you don’t say
When Jesus stood before Pilate and Caiaphas, he would not defend himself, and he did not try to explain himself. In the case of Caiaphas, his mind was already made up. Pilate’s situation was different. Because he was confused about Jesus’ true identity, he did not have a bias against him. But even with Pilate, Jesus would only speak in order to force him to make a decision, not to enter into a debate with him.
Pilate had to decide what to do with Jesus. In that sense, he stands for all of us. Once Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, he should have let him go. But he didn’t. We can speculate about Pilate’s motives for hours, but in the end he could not wash his hands of the guilt of Jesus’ blood. Jesus spoke to him only to help him come to a decision. Once he knew the truth (that Jesus was innocent), the Lord had nothing more to say to him.
Pilate stands for all of us
When Peter wrote to the beleaguered, scattered, persecuted Christians in the first century, he used this passage as an example for how to respond when you are attacked for your faith:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
In 1896 a Kansas newspaperman named Charles Sheldon wrote a novel called In His Steps based on an unusual premise: What would it be like if in every situation we asked, “What would Jesus do?” He describes a year in the life of an American city where everyone in the city—doctors, lawyers, merchants, salespeople, teachers, students, clergy, and newspaper editors—made that question the basis for all their decisions. It became an instant bestseller. Though largely forgotten today, it led directly—many years and many steps later—to the WWJD bracelets that many people wear today.
The greatest honor is to be like Jesus
According to Peter, following Jesus means that sometimes we will suffer even when we have done nothing wrong. The greatest honor for any Christian is to be like Jesus. When we suffer unjustly, we share in a tiny portion of what happened to him. Though he did no wrong, he was betrayed, tried, denied and crucified. Though he never sinned, he was hated by the power brokers who plotted to kill him. The same thing will happen to us. People close to us will disappoint us, and some will turn against us.
How will we respond?
Peter points to Jesus and says, “He did not retaliate.” When we are insulted, our natural inclination is to return an insult for an insult. But Jesus chose a better way. As the old spiritual puts it, “He never said a mumblin’ word.” When he stood before Pilate and Herod, and when he faced the jeering mob, he uttered no insults, he made no threats.
When they scourged him, he didn’t retaliate.
When the soldiers put the crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t curse at them.
When they drove the nails in his hands and feet, he didn’t threaten them.
When the bystanders spat at him, he didn’t spit back.
When they swore at him, he didn’t swear back.
You find out what you really believe when others mistreat you
You find out what you really believe when others mistreat you. Sometimes the real test of your faith is what you don’t do. Sometimes you’ll be a better Christian by not saying anything at all.
When you are mistreated, repeat these four sentences:
It’s not about me. It’s not about now.
It’s all about God. It’s all about eternity.
As you read these words, I encourage you to stop right now and say those four sentences out loud. Write them down on a card, and put the card where you can see it. Try repeating those sentences every day for a week so that the truth will be tattooed on your soul.
Let me ask you a question: Do you think Jesus was a helpless victim that day at Calvary? He was the Son of God. He had the power to call down a legion of angels to set him free. He had but to say the word and all of heaven would come to his aid. But he never said that word.
Was Jesus a victim?
He was truly the Silent Savior who, having all power in his hands, decided not to use it against those who tormented him. According to Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must say to our enemies, ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.’” That’s the exact spirit of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2.
II. His Unjust Sentence
“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished” (v. 8).
Who protested the death of Christ?
Who spoke out against this miscarriage of justice?
Who came to his defense?
The answer is, no one. Of all the major personalities involved in the death of Christ, ironically it was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who showed the most concern for Christ. Unlike his trial before Caiaphas when he would not defend himself, Jesus engaged in a dialogue with Pilate because the governor seems on one level to have been seeking the truth. At least he came to the right conclusion. Three times he said, “I find no guilt in him.” In the end, he caved to pressure and sentenced Jesus to death. His guilt is therefore all the greater because he knew what he was doing.
“I would rather die than hate you”
No one spoke up for Jesus because no one could speak up. The Jewish leaders were so enraged with Jesus that they were determined to kill him. Fueled by fear and jealousy over a Galilean rabbi they could not control and did not understand, they paid off Judas, arrested Jesus at night, put him through six hearings before morning, and then stood by as the Romans put him to death.
He was cut off, Isaiah says.
He died before his time.
He was only a young man, in his early 30s when he died.
No one spoke up for Jesus
When a man dies young, we think of all he might have accomplished, the songs that might have been composed, books that might have been written, and amazing discoveries that might have been made.
“He might have won a Nobel Prize.”
“She might have been our first female president.”
“He might have won an Oscar.”
“She might have been a superstar.”
And on goes the sad speculation about what might have been.
That may be our worst fear . . . that we will die before our time.
We die too young . . . .
Or we die too soon . . .
Or we die with our work unfinished . . .
Or we die with our dreams unfulfilled.
You can’t say that about Jesus.
What else did he have left to accomplish?
He was put to death for the transgression of his own people.
Jesus finished all he came to do
Only one person in history never left behind any unfinished business. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the only person who could come to the end of his life and say—with absolute and total truthfulness—“I have finished everything I set out to do.”
Just before Jesus died, he cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Note that he did not say, “I am finished,” for that would imply that he died defeated. Rather, he cried out “It is finished,” meaning “I successfully completed the work I came to do.” It is the Savior’s cry of victory.
Since Jesus Christ paid in full the price for our sins, the work of salvation is now complete. That’s what we mean when we talk about the “finished work” of Jesus Christ. That’s not just a slogan; it’s a profound spiritual truth. What Jesus accomplished in his death was so awesome, so total, so complete that it could never be repeated, not even by Jesus himself. His work is “finished.” There is nothing more God could do to save the human race. There is no Plan B. Plan A (the death of Christ) was good enough.
III. His Humble Grave
“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” (v. 9).
How could this be?
How could Jesus be assigned a grave with the wicked and yet also with the rich in his death?
The work of salvation is now complete
When Isaiah wrote these words, he no doubt must have wondered about this himself. The wicked and the rich generally end up in different places. A truly wicked person might be buried in an unmarked grave or in some obscure corner of a cemetery. We bury the wicked with dishonor and with as little fanfare as possible. But the rich we honor with monuments and flowers and generous inscriptions. We make sure that 100 years from now passers-by will know that “an important man is buried here.”
We forget the wicked and remember the rich.
That’s how the world works.
So how could Jesus be counted both with the wicked and with the rich in his burial? R. T. Kendall (Why Jesus Died, pp. 151-152) points out that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy three ways: First, when Barabbas, a genuine criminal, was set free, and Jesus quite literally died in his place. Second, when he died alongside the two criminals who were also crucified that day at Calvary. Third, when he died for sinners everywhere by taking their iniquity upon himself (“the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” v. 6). Romans 5:8 tells us that Christ died for sinners, and Romans 4:5 even says that God justifies the wicked. Though he lived a sinless life, Jesus died for sinners and thus was assigned a grave with the wicked.
Christ died a sinner’s death though he himeslf was sinless
But where was he buried? In a tomb borrowed from a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57-60).
Thus even the burial of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy to the letter. Even though no one could have foreseen it in advance, both the nature of his death (by crucifixion) and the place of his burial (a rich man’s tomb) fulfilled prophecy given 700 years earlier.
All of this happened even though Jesus was innocent.
He had done no violence.
He committed no sin.
He told no lies.
The Only Righteous Man
It’s hard for us to grasp how amazing this is because we have nothing to compare to it. That is, we don’t exactly know what being “sinless” is because all of us are sinners. As one man put it, if sin were blue, we’d be blue all over. Some of us would be light blue, some dark blue, some sky blue, some powder blue, but we’d all be blue through and through.
If sin were blue, we’d be blue all over
When I pastored a church in Oak Park, IL, I preached one Sunday on the universality of sin. In order to make my point, I named a number of nearby communities and said, “There is no righteous person in any of those towns.” Then I added, “And there’s not a righteous man in Oak Park either.” I didn’t know that one woman, a first-time visitor, was deeply troubled by my remarks. The following Sunday I happened to meet her after the first service. With a concerned look on her face, she recalled my comments and then said, “But Pastor Ray, if you’re not a righteous man, where can we find one?” I told her that I would answer her question in my sermon. Recounting the story to the congregation, I said I would show them the only righteous person in Oak Park—or anywhere else for that matter. Pointing to the cross on the wall behind the pulpit, I declared that “Jesus is the only righteous man who ever lived.”
He was pure, holy, and perfect in every way. He never sinned, not even one time. Though he was severely tempted, he never gave in. All the rest of us fall so far short that we cannot begin to be compared to him. He is the only righteous man ever to walk this earth.
And we crucified him.
His reward for doing God’s will was a bloody Roman cross. Here is the wonder of grace at work. From the murder of a perfect man came God’s plan to rescue the human race.
Christ died for us while we were “still” sinners
Out of the worst evil, God brought forth the greatest good. Only God could have done it. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Note the little word “still.” We were “still” sinners when Christ died for us. He didn’t die for us while we were still “church members” or “good people” or “law-abiding citizens” or “nice neighbors” or “high achievers,” but he died for us while we were still lost in our sin and far away from God. That’s the truth about all of us. Christ died for sinners because it is only sinners that can be saved.
For Sinners Only
How do we come into contact with the benefits of Christ’s death? Reach out with the empty hands of faith and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. The door to heaven is marked, “For Sinners Only.” If you are a sinner, you can come in. No one else need apply. Christ died so that sinners like you and me could be saved. Here is God’s call to us today: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’” (Isaiah 1:18). And here is God’s promise to those who come by faith: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Are you a sinner? If so, here is some good news for you.
Are you a sinner?
What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us through the death of his Son. The only thing left is to believe in him. Let all who read these words take them to heart. Run to the cross. Turn from your sin, lay down your self-will, and lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and died for you. Cast yourself completely on Jesus for your salvation. If you trust in him with all your heart, he will not turn you away. This is the promise of God to all who believe in Jesus. God help you to trust in him.
At the beginning of the message, I said that this passage ought to drive us to our knees in gratitude to Jesus for what he endured for us when he died on the cross. To that end, let’s take our closing prayer from the hymn O Sacred Head Now Wounded:
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.