Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

Sermon — Isaiah 53:8

9 Jul

He Was Cut Off From the Land of the Living

           The Mercy Seat is a song I first heard sung by Johnny Cash toward the end of his life. It is the story of a death row inmate who was headed to the electric chair (what he called the mercy seat because he was ready to die). Cash opens the song by saying, “It all began when they took me from my home, and put me on death row, a crime for which I’m totally innocent you know.” Then the song progresses from a defiant resistance to those taking him to his death and an unflinching commitment to his total innocence, to the criminal’s breakdown when he faces death. The last line of the chorus goes like this . . . “and anyway I told the truth, and I’m not afraid to die.” But slowly, through the song he becomes less and less certain. And the very last line of the song is this . . . “and anyway I told the truth, but I’m afraid I told a lie.” In the face of the electric chair, he breaks, he admits he was lying, he admits to His crime. He was rightly accused and played innocent. Yet in the end, facing death, He broke and told the truth.

 There was a man 2000 years ago who walked the earth in perfect harmony with God and perfect obedience to His will. He was One who had never violated the law of God. Not a single time. And yet when we get to Isaiah 53:8, we read these words . . .  

 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

By oppression and judgment he was taken away . . . This prophecy of the Suffering Servant tells us that He would be taken off the scene by unjust means. When we look at the death of Jesus, we see this reality. He was falsely accused, brought through a trumped-up trial. Everyone turned against Him. Crowds cheered Him one week and then He was jeered the next week. Charges of blasphemy were brought. All the trials were false, fabricated affairs, having nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with emotion and public uproar and twisting of the facts. We see this when we read the accounts of His trials. Listen to the trial before Caiaphas and the religious leaders from Matthew 26 . . .

57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

A kangaroo court drawn up in the middle of the night. A court not seeking to determine Jesus’ innocence or guilt but a court committed instead to finding false testimony against Jesus so that they could put Him to death. Then when Jesus remained silent and only answered according to the truth, He was ridiculed and spat upon and struck and sentenced to death. Oppression and judgement.

He fared no better with Pontius Pilate . . .

22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Once again, oppression and judgement. Mockery and ridicule. Injustice. The perfect one tried and convicted by a flimsy trial and a public referendum. We have heard a lot about Russians hacking the election in 2016 but there has never been a more hacked judgment than the one that fell against Jesus. Yet this we know . . . it was all God’s plan. As Acts says, “He has handed over according to the foreknowledge and plan of God.” The Bible tells us in Luke 23:34; Acts 3:14–18; and 1 Cor. 2:8 that those who did these things to Jesus didn’t know what they were doing, they did it in ignorance. Now this doesn’t get them off the hook but it does give us a little perspective. They acted in ignorance because they didn’t realize Jesus really was the Messiah. But they don’t get off the hook because they still did what they did and because of the way they did it. Jesus was put to death as a result of injustice. Through the years the same thing has happened to others. Since the late 1980’s over 1000 murder convictions have been overturned by the use of DNA evidence. People are falsely accused all the time of the worst of crimes. But usually in these cases, there is some human reason for the original accusation. The accused is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the accused knew the victim. Or the accused had a criminal record and was in the area when the crime was committed. But in the case of Jesus, we have One who truly was totally innocent. One who, as even Pilate said, had done nothing deserving death. Yet He is condemned. And virtually no one came to His defense.

and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people

The 60’s generation protested for civil rights and against Vietnam. The 70’s generation protested for the Equal Rights Amendment. The 80’s saw the rise of the March for Life. We’ve seen protests against Nuclear weapons and for the environment and for all sorts of causes. And as we hear all of these causes listed we kind of think about them and I think most of us consider our opinion and think about what we might be willing to protest against or what we would be willing to support. Ultimately, some of the things I’ve mentioned are more worthy of support than others. But there has never been a single issue or a single person who has been more worthy of support than Jesus. Yet His generation did not consider Him. His disciples deserted Him. The crowds turned against Him. The religious leaders condemned Him. Pilate washed his hands of Him. He was cut off from the land of the living. This means not only that He died, but that He was utterly rejected, like one of the lepers of that day, like one in our day who is likely to be despised. Only a few women remained faithful to Him. The lowly women, some of whom had kind of sketchy reputations. These stayed with Him, but everybody else hit the road. Arrested, imprisoned, judged, accused, condemned, killed. This was the destiny of the Son of God. Yet, as we saw last week, He did not open His mouth in defense. He did not protest or argue because He had come to die for the sins of the people. Barabbas the criminal was treated with more kindness than was Jesus the Son of God.

His generation did not see Him as the Son of God, they saw Him as worthy of death. They did not think about His bearing their sins. They thought instead of how He broke through their conventional wisdom with the truth of the Kingdom of God. They thought about how He threatened their power structures. They thought about how everyone had been stirred up by Him. And somehow they forgot about all the good He’d done. Some of those violently opposed to Him may have had relatives He had healed. They forgot about the feeding of the 5000. They forgot about the triumphs over demons. They forgot about His brilliant teaching and the way it delighted so many of the people. They forgot about His making the lame to walk and the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Somewhere along the line, they turned this man of perfect virtue into one who did the devil’s work.

But Jesus knew His calling. He was the Servant of the Lord, the Messiah. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Therefore, He did not respond to the people with protest and threats, He suffered patiently. And He died.

John Piper says, “He was cut off out of the land of the living.” He was not just led to the slaughter. He was slaughtered. And like all the other lambs of the Passover or the sin offerings of Israel, he was slaughtered not for his own transgressions. He was slaughtered for the transgressions of his people. We deserved to be slaughtered for our sin, but he was slaughtered instead.

This is the heart of the gospel of God: Jesus the Servant of God was cut off out of the land of the living NOT for his own transgressions, but for the transgressions of his people. It runs all through this chapter. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that made us whole was on him and by his stripes we are healed. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. And now verse 8 makes it crystal clear: he died.

This is why 1 Corinthians 15:3 sums up the gospel with these simple words: “Christ died for us according to the scriptures.” “Christ died”—“he was cut off out the land of the living.” “For us”—“for the transgression of my people.” “According to the scriptures”—just as Isaiah 53:8 said, 700 years earlier.

And what was the response of his generation when he was cut off? Isaiah said, “Who considered it?” “As for his generation, who considered …” The word “considered” is not a word for “notice” or “perceive.” It’s a word for muse or ponder or meditate. The point seems to be: we can see the greatest event in the world happening, and yet not see it. We can hear without hearing. We have an incredible capacity for assessing spiritual things wrongly. And one of our greatest weaknesses—more today than ever probably—is that we do not meditate on the great things. We do not stop and ponder the things of God.

So let us learn from Isaiah’s indictment of the generation of Jesus: consider, ponder, muse, meditate, reflect, study, contemplate the great things—and this is the greatest of all: the Servant of the Lord was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgressions of his people.”

As Jesus walked the Calvary road to His crucifixion, to His execution by an angry mob, He was totally innocent. And He went willingly to the cross and suffered and bled and died for all who would trust Him. And the Bible says that what He was doing there was that His perfectly righteous shed blood was a propitiation for our sins. Through His death He took the wrath of God we deserved and bore it in His body so that by His wounds we are healed. Interestingly, there is another way to translate the word “propitiation.” It can also be used to refer to the Mercy Seat in the temple, the lid of the ark of the covenant where the blood was offered once a year in Israel to atone for sin. Now Jesus is our propitiation. Jesus is our Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat is not some instrument of execution through which we can escape this life, as it was in the Johnny Cash song, the Mercy Seat is a person, through which we can escape the penalty, the power and eventually the presence of sin and enter into life, and more abundantly. Jesus is our Mercy Seat. Have your eyes been opened? Have you turned away from ignorance of Jesus? Have you turned away from twisting the truth about Him? Have you stopped denying Him?

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