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Sermon — Matthew 3:7-12 — The Gospel: Comfort and Warning

18 Oct

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I remember one time when I was a youth leader having a yard sale. Yard sales usually make very little money for the amount of time you have to put into them. So here I was with a yard sale at another church. And the people of the church brought all their stuff and we filled up the church fellowship hall and then people started coming. Before we started I noticed a big ceramic frog sitting on a table. I chuckled. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. Big round bright green frog with a cartoon face. I said to one of the youth, “There’s no way anybody’s going to buy that frog.” Well, you probably know how the story ends. Somebody bought the frog during the first fifteen minutes of the yard sale. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And you know, that’s the way I think the gospel is to people. To some people, it’s worthless. To others, it is the greatest treasure in the world. Of course, in reality, it is the greatest treasure in the world, not because of how we feel about it but because God has made it so. The worth of all things is defined by God, not by us. Still, though, we often reject God’s view of things. Sometimes we even reject God’s view of things while still being very religious. There’s a whole category of people today who say, “I’m spiritual” but they totally reject what God has said about the realities of life. They are making a god in their own image and feeling good about it. And that is not unlike what the religious leaders of the Jews: the Pharisees and Sadducees, did. And this is why John the Baptist addressed them when they came out to see him. He wanted to call them away from their false image of God and themselves to a true and real repentance and faith. And so he points them to the comfort and warning found in the good news of the kingdom. This morning we’re going to look at Matthew 3:7-12.

 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Wow, John, that’s kind of harsh! Calling these guys the offspring of snakes! Yet again, John is basically saying what we said last week, “Wake up!” The Pharisees and Sadducees were religious leaders, and as such they were the most likely to put their security in their own religious activities and not really consider the condition of the hearts before God. Have you ever wondered how preachers can fall into affairs and all kinds of terrible sin? It happens way more than we’d like to admit. And I think the reason it happens is because preachers, in bringing the Word of God week by week, sometimes lose the wonder of knowing God. We become inoculated against the very things we preach week by week. The condition of our hearts does not match the content of our words. The one thing all preachers and teachers must focus on most is their own heart. If I do not cultivate a heart of repentance and faith I am a sitting duck for hypocrisy. And so are you. This was the chief problem both John and Jesus had with the religious leaders: their inward life bore little resemblance to their outward life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were very different people. The Pharisees were numerous and popular, viewed as the upstanding, godly people of their day. They cared about the law of God and even built a fence around the law, coming up with additional regulations that were supposed to keep you far from breaking God’s law but which actually became a law unto itself that degenerated into legalism and formalism and self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Jewish heritage was all-important to the Pharisees. They saw their lives of purity as the key to national revival in Israel and the rule of God overcoming the rule of Rome. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were considered more liberal in their standards, rejecting the traditions of the Pharisees but also rejecting some truths that were clearly from God, like the reality of a future resurrection and a future judgment and the reality of angels and spirits. They were too sophisticated for such beliefs and they often cultivated a lavish lifestyle and sought cultural power.  They were respected because of their position and power and people in Jesus’ day, even as in our day, often considered a rich person blessed by God and a poor person cursed.

These Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to John’s baptism probably to check it out, maybe even to see if there was some way they could exploit John’s popularity for their own ends. John sees right through them and gives this stern warning.

John associates these religious leaders with the offspring of snakes. By calling them offspring John is probably connecting them to the corrupt priests of the Old Testament who persecuted the prophets. So John is saying the leaders of his day are just as bad as the leaders of yesterday. The religious leaders appear to be the cream of the crop but because of their hypocrisy they lead others away from spiritual life. In this way, they are like that original serpent, the devil, who led Adam and Eve away from spiritual life with the promise of a new and better life. Jesus will go on to make this association directly, calling the religious leaders children of the evil one.

John not only called out the religious leaders for their true identity, he also talked about the wrath to come. This would have struck a nerve with the Sadducees in particular, as John was making clear, contrary to their beliefs, that a judgment was coming, God’s wrath was going to be poured out. The way to get out from under that wrath is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  Repentance and faith. Sadly, the religious leaders had neither. They were self-assured. This is why John gave them such a harsh message. The old cliché is right: “Good preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Consistent with the preaching of the New Testament, we find a holy boldness in confronting unrepentant people and compassion for those who repent. And both actions are loving, because without repentance no one will believe and be reconciled to God. If I saw my child in danger in the middle of the road with the truck bearing down on them but didn’t want to upset them by speaking to them harshly, I would not be loving them, I would be hating them. Having my child upset because I yelled to them, “Get out of the road!” is worth it, because that yell saved them from death. In the same way, a strong message of repentance to a self-assured people can be life-giving. John goes on to point to the weaknesses of the Pharisees and Sadducees in order, starting with verse 8 . . .

 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

This must have cut the Pharisees deeply. They were the pure ones, the examples of virtue for the whole nation, yet John says their fruit is rotten. Fruit in keeping with repentance is about recognizing our sin and turning to God in humble faith. The Pharisees were about recognizing the sin in others and trumpeting their own so-called acts of righteousness. Much like the fig tree with leaves but no fruit, the Pharisees had the outward appearance of spiritual life but there was no inward reality. The fruit of repentance for us is to walk in the light of the Lord, as we read in Ephesians 5:8-11, for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. So John’s first challenge, primarily to the Pharisees, is that their apparently fruitful lives are not so fruitful after all. His second challenge to them comes in verse 9 . . .

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

John goes after the Pharisees next on the matter of their heritage. Don’t trust in your hypocritical works and don’t trust in your heritage as children of Abraham. The people coming to be baptized were getting this. They were recognizing that they needed hearts of repentance and faith not merely blood relation to Abraham if they were to be the people of God. So they adopted the approach of the Gentile convert to Judaism by being baptized. “We’re just as needy as the Gentiles, we’re not trusting in Abraham’s bloodline.” This was an attack on everything the Pharisees stood for because they though salvation was theirs by right through their being part of the covenant people of God and here comes John saying what Paul will basically say in the book of Romans, “A Jew is not a Jew outwardly, but from the heart.” The heart is all-important. The kingdom is at hand. If you are going to get in on it, you have to repent. It’s really very similar to the discussion Jesus had with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Everything you’ve been relying on will do you no good.

Isn’t it interesting that John doesn’t hold back from giving the bad news? I mean, we are so tempted to hedge on things like God’s judgment and hell because we don’t want to make anybody mad. We shouldn’t preach hell with a smile on our face, we shouldn’t want anyone to go there but we must be willing to warn people that hell is a reality with which we must reckon. So many times we want to get to the good news before we’ve really laid out the bad news. But that approach just leads to a bunch of unrepentant people professing Jesus with their lips and denying Him with their lives. Until we feel the weight of our sin against God and the reality of His judgment against sin, we will not be compelled to repent. And without repentance, there can be no true enjoyment of the good news.

So this is John’s message to the Pharisees: Don’t trust in your track record, and don’t trust in your heritage. Repent. In verse 10, I believe, he turns his attention back to the Sadducees . . .

10 Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

The Pharisees were legalists, holding onto heritage and self-righteousness to make their way with God. So they needed to be warned that their works were not as good as they thought and their blood relation to Abraham was no guarantee of being in God’s family. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were worldly. They were about acquiring wealth and influence, they were very much focused on this life. So they needed a wake-up call about the true nature of reality, which John begins to give them in verse 10.

The ax is at the root of the trees. The root. That’s an unusual way to cut down a tree, unless you’re trying to be totally rid of a tree. Then you go at the roots. But here there is no stump, it is roots and all. Proud Sadducees, all your energies have gone into this life, building up your own little world of influence, making for yourself a legacy, but now the ax is coming down on the roots of that life, it’s all going to be taken from you and cast into the fire. There’s still time. The ax is there but it’s not swinging yet. So repent.

To bear good fruit is to live a life of repentance and faith. To bear bad fruit is to live a life of pride and self-reliance. Good fruit leads to life, bad fruit leads to damnation. So John is pleading with the Sadducees not to merely live for today, but to think about the future, to consider their destiny. In verse 11, he warns them of the coming of the King, a coming that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John makes a comparison between himself and the one to come: Jesus. John makes it clear that there is a stark difference between himself and Jesus. John is not worthy of to be Jesus’ lowly servant. Jesus is far more powerful than John. And Jesus will bring a very different kind of baptism than John, not a baptism of water for repentance but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.

The comparison John makes is amazing because by earthly standards John is incredibly powerful and the Holy Spirit is with him. It is obvious that John was highly sought after by the people, deeply courageous in speaking the truth to the powerful and totally willing to give his life to the purposes of God. Jesus Himself would later say, “Among those born of women no one has arisen who is greater than John.” Yet here John says in comparison to Jesus he is not worthy to be the lowliest household slave. There can only be one reason why such a great man as John would say what he says here about Jesus. It can only be that Jesus is not a mere man. John is not speaking with false humility, he is just recognizing how much greater Jesus is than he is.

The same truth is clear when John talks about the Holy Spirit. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was active in the ministry of John. There is no way all those people would have gone out into the wilderness to be baptized if the Holy Spirit had not been working. I mean, it’s easy to get people to come out for a show. That’s true in church life and in life outside the church. Put together a show and people will come out. But John’s ministry was not a show. The people who came out were not coming out as spectators. John was calling them to an action, baptism, which would crush all their pride as Jews. Since baptism was one of the ways a Gentile converted to become a Jew, John’s ministry was a humbling and costly ministry to those Jews who participated in baptism. They were basically admitting that they were no better than Gentiles, that they too were in need of baptism. So John was not doing something that would have been naturally appealing to people. So for his actions to receive such a favorable response from the people is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.

And yet John says that the One who is to come is far mightier than John. He says He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. So this coming One, Jesus the Messiah, will bring the work of the Holy Spirit to a whole new level. And of course we know the rest of the story: Jesus, dying for our sins, rising from the dead, ascending to heaven, on the day of Pentecost sends the Holy Spirit and He fills the believers there and all believers since. So John is not saying, before Jesus, no Spirit, after Jesus, the Spirit. He is instead saying, before Jesus: the work of the Spirit prepares the way, after Jesus: the fullness of the Spirit at work in God’s people.

And this is what the prophet Jeremiah had said would happen when the Savior came, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

So there is great comfort in John’s words because there is a great Savior coming who is going to deal with the sin the people are repenting of. It’s not enough to repent. That’s a starting point but repentance in itself doesn’t save us. Sin must not only be acknowledged and regretted and turned away from it must also be dealt with. And we, as sinners, cannot save ourselves from our sins. We need a Savior. Jesus has come to be that Savior. And when He saves us, he gives us freedom from God’s wrath, freedom from sin’s power over us, the promise of eternal life, the presence of the Holy Spirit and a thousand other gifts of grace. So John’s ministry, as powerful as it was, was limited. It was a preparatory, foundational ministry. Repent in order to prepare your hearts for the salvation that is coming. But if the salvation had never come the repentance would have been utterly meaningless. But salvation has come, full of grace and truth.

But I also believe John has given us a warning here, because not only will Jesus baptize with the Holy Spirit, he will also baptize with fire. Now this fire baptism has been debated through the years. What does John mean, he will baptize you with fire? And the reason it is debated is because fire in the Bible is used to illustrate both judgment and purification. Sometimes fire illustrates how God will bring judgment on a non-believer and sometimes fire is used to illustrate how God will refine or purify a believer. So which is it here? That is the question that people have discussed through the years. When I first started studying this passage I thought John was talking about the refining fire the Holy Spirit would bring in the lives of believers. But I now think the context of the passage points strongly to the fire Jesus brings here being the fire of judgment on unbelievers.

Jesus will bring the Holy Spirit to those who repent and believe, like the ones here who are coming for baptism. But He will bring the judgment of fire to the unrepentant and unbelieving, like the Pharisees and Sadducees who have come to see John. If you look at verse 10, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. If you look in verse 12, you see a reference to fire, and it is the fire of judgment. So here in verse 11, it seems that consistency would lead us to say that this fire too that Jesus brings is a fire of judgment.

 John MacArthur explains how this view of the baptism of fire being judgment in this passage is backed up by the prophecy of Malachi. He says, “It had been predicted by Malachi that the Messiah would purify the nation.  He predicted it.  He predicted that when He came He would come with fire, that He would purify.  But listen to me.  Listen to Malachi 3:1 “Behold I will send my Messenger he shall prepare the way before me”…that’s John the Baptist…”and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant…”  Now, what happens when He comes?  “…who may abide the day of His coming?  And who shall stand when He appeareth?”  Listen to this. “For He is like a refiner’s”…what?…”fire…And He shall sit like a refiner and purifier of silver…purify the sons of Levi, purge them like gold and silver…”  Now, this tells us that He’s coming to purify the nations.  But how?  By just removing the dross, just cleaning them up a little bit?  No.  Chapter 4, it tells us how, verses 1 to 3.  “…the day cometh that shall burn like an oven and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble…the day that cometh shall burn them up…”  In other words, this isn’t just purification; this is consummation…shall burn them up, see.  The fire predicted in chapter 3 is described in chapter 4 of Malachi as that which burns up, consumes the wicked like stubble.  And, beloved, John the Baptist, 400 years later, picked right up where Malachi left off and he says, Israel, He’s coming and He’s coming for salvation and He’s coming to baptize you with the Spirit, but if you reject Him, He’ll come with the baptism of fire, just as Malachi said it 400 years ago.”

Now you might say, “Well, I thought Jesus in his first coming did not come to bring judgment but salvation. And there is certainly truth to that, He came to save. But Jesus also by His very nature makes neutrality impossible: you must reject Him or receive Him. And this makes His coming, while a glorious gift of grace, also divisive. Jesus even says in Luke 12:49 “I have come to send fire on the earth . . . do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No but rather division. From now on houses will be divided, family member against family member.”  So with his words about the ministry of Jesus, that He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, John is comforting the afflicted (promising the repentant that they would have the Spirit) and afflicting the comfortable (warning the Pharisees and Sadducees that a fearful fiery judgment was coming). And verse 12 says that judgment is coming soon.

 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The ax is at the root of the tree, the winnowing fork is in His hand. Words of warning. The winnowing fork is used to toss the grain into the air as a way to separate the good wheat from the chaff, the debris that is gathered along with the wheat when it is harvested. This verse is talking about the future judgment. Jesus will gather His people but the unbeliever will be like chaff that will be burned with unquenchable fire. The amazing comfort is in the security of the wheat being gathered into the barn. Nothing can touch it. It is safe and secure. And it is all gathered. And so it is for all who repent and believe. We are safe in the presence of God and forever can enjoy Him and one day will be gathered with Him forever. The grace of this passage cannot be overstated. For those who repent and believe there is the promise of salvation and a fruitful life and the Holy Spirit and the final gathering into the presence of the Savior, forever safe and secure. But the horror of this passage can also not be overstated. For those who reject Jesus the Savior, there is the reality of damnation, a fruitless life, the fire of judgment marking a person as chaff, worthless, only to be thrown out and burned with unquenchable fire. Unquenchable. Forever safe or forever damned, that is the picture Jesus is giving us here. Judgment and salvation will be thorough, no one will escape. And judgment and salvation will be right. There will be no mistakes. No wheat will be thrown out, no chaff will be retained. There will be no mistakes in separating believer from unbeliever.

This passage is a word of comfort to those who know they have nothing to offer God but empty hands of faith. It is a joy to those who are burned out, beat up and broken. All we need to do is repent and believe. Turn away from sin and turn to God.

But this passage is a terribly fearful passage for the secure. For those who feel like they have it all together, for those to whom outward appearance is everything. Our danger as churchgoers is that we never come to the waters to repent but we only come to observe. Our danger is that we never personally give ourselves to the life of the kingdom even as we are there watching it all unfold in other people’s lives. Our danger as churchgoers is that we become Pharisees or Sadducees, either leaning on our own righteousness or just writing off the reality of God’s judgment as being something not realistic. Trying to bring in the kingdom through our own wits and willpower or denying the kingdom altogether and just trying to build our own little kingdoms of wealth and fun and success. And John comes to us today and says, come to the One who is now here. Come to Jesus. He will forgive and restore and give you new life. The alternative is to go your own way and in rebellion face a fruitless life and a Christ-less eternity of punishment.  Isaiah 45:22 says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. For I am God and there is no other.” Some today criticize hell. They act as if God is saying, “Love me and if you don’t I’ll send you to hell forever.” They don’t understand that we God’s judgment as the fruit of a faithless life. It is not arbitrary but is an expression of His holiness against sin and rebellion. As Christians, we do not celebrate hell but we dare not deny it. Our job is to offer hope to the hopeless and warning to those who are trusting in their own righteousness while at the same time making sure we don’t become hopeless or self-righteous ourselves. This is our message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.” That’s good news. 

 

Sermon — Matthew 1:1 — “The Four Gifts of Matthew 1:1”

5 Oct

I wanted to look this morning at the whole genealogy from verses 1-17, but I could not get past verse 1. As I kept looking at this verse, I just began to see it as the place to start and stop this morning. I believe that verse 1 of Matthew’s gospel opens up the whole book to us. It is like the key that unlocks the treasure box of blessings in this great book. If you understand this verse, you will understand the major themes in Matthew’s gospel and four major, life-changing themes about Jesus. These four truths are like four different gifts to unwrap under the tree. So here it is, Matthew chapter one, verse one . . .

 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Not impressed? I hope by the end of our time together this morning, you’ll see the greatness of this verse. This verse opens up four themes for us which are really the themes of Matthew’s gospel.

Gift Number One: One Story

First, there is theme of continuity with the Old Testament. It is the “book of the genealogy.” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament this phrase was the title of the book of Genesis. Matthew’s Jewish readers would have known this connection and would have seen Matthew’s efforts here in chapter one as an attempt to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. For a Jew, ancestry was tied to the covenants God had made with Israel. God’s greatest covenant was that one day He would send the Messiah to save His people. So Matthew, by going immediately to the record of Jesus’ genealogy, is showing us that Jesus is not abolishing the Old Testament, He is fulfilling it. This word “fulfilled” will become one of the most important words in Matthew’s gospel, as he will show many times how different events in the life of Jesus were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Matthew is the gospel of fulfillment.

As Christians, we do not need to shy away from the Old Testament, we just need to understand it rightly. The old saying is right. “The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed and the Old is in the New revealed.” Three out of every four pages in your Bible is the Old Testament, so God put it there for a reason. One of the biggest reasons God gave us the Old Testament was to help us see Jesus more clearly when He came on the scene. So one of Matthew’s main themes is continuity with the Old Testament. Jesus doesn’t stand opposed to the great leaders of God’s people in the past, He stands at the end of the line as the fulfillment of that great line, a new and greater Abraham, a new and greater Moses, a new and greater David. The Pharisees and other religious leaders will try to undermine Jesus on the grounds that He is not teaching and living as a true Jew, so Matthew is careful from the start to show us right out of the gates that Jesus is the culmination of what God has been doing all along as recorded in the Old Testament. He is not a outsider to the people of Israel, He is Israel’s Messiah.

Gift Two: One Savior

And this Messianic theme is the second theme that emerges in Matthew 1:1, the name “Jesus Christ.” This name points to Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior-deliverer. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Joshua, which means “God saves.” It was a common name in Jesus’ day but what an appropriate name for Jesus. And of course the title “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, “Messiah,” the anointed One, the One the Jews expected to come and righteously rule God’s people. This is Jesus’ mission, as we will see in the coming weeks . . . He has come to save. We see this throughout Matthew. He has compassion on the outcast, He has authority over nature and demons and forgiveness of sins, He delivers people from hopelessness. As Isaiah had prophesied about the coming Savior, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the good news is preached.”

And here’s the good news for us . . . Jesus hasn’t changed. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Jesus will still save all who call on Him in faith. He is the Messiah, the Christ. He will save you and walk with you in life and give you hope and help. But the truth we will see in Matthew is clear: He walks with those who draw near to Him. His disciples, the needy, people who trust Jesus, they all find help. The religious, the self-sufficient, the proud all find themselves on the outside looking in. So if we will humble ourselves and really seek to walk with Jesus we will see His goodness and grace and find help in time of need, both for the problem of our sins and separation from God and for the struggles of daily life. Nothing is more tragic than a person who is in the midst of truth about Jesus but doesn’t take up all the things God has provided them for growth in grace. It is like a child at Christmas surrounded by gifts but refusing to open any of them. It is unimaginable. But many Christians do precisely that. They are distracted or discouraged or riddled with guilt and they do not open up the blessings of Jesus for their lives. They profess faith in Christ but their lives are without the power of Christ. May we never lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus has come to save us from our sins. This means deliverance from the penalty of sin, deliverance from the power of sin and in eternity deliverance from the presence of sin.

Gift Three: One King

The third theme in the gospel of Matthew that we see in this first verse is the phrase “son of David.” This phrase points to the theme of kingship. Jesus is from the kingly line of David. This is important not only because it was the expectation of the Jews that the Messiah would be from the line of David. This is important not only because Jesus’ kingly line fulfills the Old Testament scriptures. This is important because one of the biggest subjects of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of Matthew is His teaching on the kingdom. The King has a kingdom. And the kingdom is a very important subject to Matthew. He quotes Jesus talking about the kingdom more than fifty times while Mark only mentions the kingdom fifteen times and Luke thirty five times. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Jesus tells parables that center around the kingdom. He pictures himself at the end of the age as the King sitting on His throne, separating the sheep and the goats. All through the Old Testament we saw Israel with kings, most of them mediocre at best. Even the great David had his sins and flaws. And Israel under her kings never achieved a real and lasting supremacy in the world as God’s people. But then comes Jesus, the true and better King, who establishes a kingdom not bound by national borders and not focused on the external. It is a kingdom of God’s work within the human heart. A kingdom that transforms from the inside-out. A kingdom with small beginnings that changes the world.

Paul says it best in Philippians, “our citizenship is in heaven.” In Jesus we are called not to pursue the American dream of self-satisfaction. We are called to pursue the glory of God in the face of Christ. We are called to a new focus, new priorities and new allegiance. We are called to serve our King with the strength He gives so that the first request of the Lord’s Prayer can be fulfilled, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Gift Four: For All Nations

Finally, we see in verse one the phrase, “the son of Abraham.” These words tie Jesus to the father of the nation of Israel, the great patriarch Abraham. It was this man who received God’s promise. “Leave your father’s house and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will make your name great. I will bless those who bless you and those who curse you I will curse. And in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” I believe Matthew’s focus in bringing up Abraham is not to show us Jesus is a Jew, for His relation to David already does that. I believe rather that Matthew is picking up on the last part of God’s promise to Abraham, that through him all nations would be blessed. The reason I believe that is because Matthew’s gospel puts the focus on the gospel going to all nations quite often. Even in the next passage we will look at, the genealogy in verses 2-17, there are four Gentile women included in the listing. The baby Jesus will be worshiped by wise men from other nations. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that His followers are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Jesus healed the Roman Centurion’s servant in chapter 8. He tells us in His parables that the harvest field of souls is the world. He blesses the Canaanite woman for her great faith. He tells us in his teaching in chapter 24 that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world. And at His crucifixion, the Gentile Centurion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” And to top it all off, we have the Great Commission, where Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” The good news of the gospel is that it is for all nations. People of all skin colors. People of all economic classes. The sexually immoral and the self-righteous. Jesus is the way for all to enter the kingdom of God.

How exciting to serve Jesus! We don’t discriminate against anyone. All may come to Jesus. All may trust Him. You don’t have to clean up to come to Him. You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to come to Him. We will stand on God’s truth but we don’t want to use that truth as a weapon to beat people over the head. We want to say as Paul does, we are the chief of sinners, but we have found mercy. Jesus is changing us and though we’ve got a long way to go we are glad to be on the journey with Him, followers of the Way.

What great gifts God has given us in this first verse of Matthew! We are followers of one story, delivered by one Savior, ruled over by one King who is working out His saving purposes for all nations. Jesus makes sense of the past, is a present rescuer and ruler and gives a future and a hope to a world in need of grace.  I hope these will be the great gifts that will guide your heart this Christmas. 

Sermon: Matthew 1:2-11 “The Scandalous Grace of Jesus”

5 Oct

Have you ever noticed how untrue to life many Christmas songs are? I know I’ll make you mad, but they are. How many of you have roasted chestnuts on an open fire? Has grandma ever really gotten run over by a reindeer? Christmas songs, except for the one about grandma, usually paint a nostalgic, sappy picture that only emphasizes the good. But we all know Christmas is not like that. There are lots of frustrations and hurts in every Christmas. There is the hustle and bustle of activity for some. The feeling that after all the parties and events what you really need is a vacation from your vacation. For those in the retail industry, there is a hustle and bustle of a different kind, as demanding customers and crazy hours make for a Christmas that doesn’t make visions of sugarplums dance in your heads. For some, Christmas is a time of immense loneliness and pain. Loved ones who have passed away, family relations that are strained, these are the issues that are on the minds of many people during this time of year. And even for children, they don’t always get what they want or if they do get what they want it is not always what they hoped it would be. I think it is important for us to acknowledge the reality that Christmas is a wonderful holiday but that Christmas, like everything, has its ups and downs.

Matthew, in writing his genealogy in chapter 1, shows us that in the background of Jesus there were lots of ups and downs too. Matthew writes mainly to Christians of a Jewish background and to other Jews who might be interested in learning about Jesus. He wants to establish right from the start Jesus’ credentials as Messiah. So the first thing he holds out to his readers is Jesus’ family line. We find that Jesus meets both the requirements needed to be the Messiah. But we also find so much more. This genealogy is amazing. Last week, we saw in Matthew 1:1 a simple phrase that summarizes the focus of Matthew’s whole gospel. Does anybody remember it? “One Story, One Savior, One King, for All Nations.” There is so much truth in that one verse and today we are going to see that there is a great truth in the next few verses as well. Let’s read verses 2-11 as we look for the truth God has for us here . . .

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

This genealogy is organized into three sets of fourteen generations, as verse 17 tells us. The first set runs from Abraham, the beginning of the nation of Israel, to David, the great king. The second set runs from David to the exile to Babylon, a tragic event in Israel’s history. And the third set runs from the exile to the coming of Jesus. The third set is much different from the first two because we know very little about the names mentioned in the third set, and I believe they teach us something different than the first two sets of names. I am taking the first two sets of names together because I believe they teach us the same truth: that the God of grace has worked in unusual and unexpected ways to bring His Son into the world.

Luke traces his genealogy of Jesus back to Adam but Matthew starts with Abraham. And we said last week that Matthew is showing us through the family line of Jesus His connection with Abraham and David, which establishes Jesus’ credentials to be the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. Matthew’s purpose then in giving this record is to show us that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the nation of Israel. Matthew is anticipating the objection of many in his day and even today, “How could it be that this child of a lowly family born in an obscure place and in morally questionable circumstances be the Messiah, the great King of the Jews?” And what Matthew is going to answer through the genealogy is that this is exactly the kind of family the Messiah has come from, so don’t hold it against Jesus because He didn’t come with trumpet blasts and robes wearing a golden diaper in a golden crib surrounded by servants. God has been working out His saving plan in unusual ways all along.

God’s ways are unusual. Any of us who have really read our Bibles know this. We know the story of Abraham. God chose this old man to be the beginning of His nation and at 99 years old Abraham fathered Isaac. We see God’s unusual ways in Jacob, who deceived his brother and got both his birthright and blessing, fulfilling what God had promised when they were still in the womb, the older will serve the younger. We see God’s unusual ways of working through King David, the youngest son of the sons of Jesse, the unexpected king. And on and on we could go through this list of kings, some were godly, some were wicked, but all were part of the royal line of Jesus the Messiah.

But the real place we see this truth of God’s unusual ways worked out in this genealogy is through the way Matthew highlighted women in his story. It’s not that highlighting women in a genealogy was unheard of (it was rare but some women are highlighted in Old Testament genealogies) it is the women that Matthew chose to highlight that are so remarkable. He doesn’t highlight Sarah or Rebekah or Leah or other great women of the Bible. He highlights four women with checkered pasts and with great faith. Through these women who all found blessing in unusual and morally questionable circumstances, Matthew is showing us that what God has been doing all along, He is now doing with Jesus.

In the case of Tamar, she seemed to be a cursed woman, nothing went right for her. She was married to the son of Judah, but Judah’s son died. But Judah had two other sons, and it was expected in that day for the next oldest brother to take the widow Tamar as his wife to carry on the family line of his brother. But the second brother died as well, having been judged by God for being unwilling to carry on his brother’s family line through Tamar. Now Judah had one more son but he was reluctant to have him marry Tamar because he believed she was cursed. Tamar recognized Judah’s reluctance so she disguised herself as a prostitute and Judah went to her. Judah had nothing to pay her with so she gave her his staff and signet ring until he could come back with payment. So Tamar said OK and slept with Judah and became pregnant. It was found out that she was pregnant and Judah wanted to have her put to death for adultery but then she produced the staff and signet ring and Judah was forced to admit his double standard and his sin. She had twins, and Perez ended up being in the family line of the Messiah. God’s unusual, even scandalous ways, are on full display.

Then there is Rahab, the prostitute who protected Israel’s spies as they entered the Promised Land and prepared to attack Jericho. In spite of her occupation, she had come to fear the Lord and ended up turning away from prostitution and joining the Israelites and eventually having a child who would be in the family line of the Messiah. Again, unusual, scandalous, but of God.

Third there is Ruth, the Moabite who, having lost her husband to death came back to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi, pledging her support and love to Naomi. Ruth was a godly woman, yet still there is a hint of scandal with her. First, there is the fact that she is a Moabite. The Moabites came into existence because of Lot’s daughters. Lot’s daughters, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, saw no hope for themselves of every marrying again and having children, so they got their father Lot drunk and lay with him and each became pregnant by him. And one of the children born from that incestuous union was named Moab, and Ruth was a Moabite. So Ruth would have had this stigma attached to her name. In addition, having lost a husband some might think her cursed and then even her marriage to the older Boaz may have raised suspicions among some about her character. Yet there she is, in the family line of Messiah, great-grandmother to King David.

And finally there is the “wife of Uriah,” known to us as Bathsheba. She too is a woman whose character would have been questioned. She participated in adultery with David and became pregnant and David had her husband Uriah killed. After that David married her. Their first child died but then she gave birth to the great King Solomon. Again, God’s unusual ways, His scandalous grace on full display.

The other side of the coin is that these women were not only involved in morally questionable things, they were also each women of great faith. Tamar took great risks to carry on her family name and stood against a culture that would be against her to call to account her father-in-law Judah. Rahab housed the spies who were coming to check out Jericho, protecting them from the authorities. Ruth came to Israel with her mother-in-law as her caretaker and submitted her life to the Lord and trusted him to provide all she needed. And Bathsheba, when her son Solomon was grown, was instrumental in getting him into the position of king in fulfillment of God’s promise. So each of these women were women whose lives were shrouded in shame or even scandal and yet each was a woman of great faith who had a child who carried on God’s plan of salvation. Now who does that sound like? Yes, Mary. Matthew is setting us up through the genealogy for what is going to happen with Mary. She, while still unmarried, is going to be with child by the Holy Spirit. We know this is true, but what about the people that lived around her, her friends, neighbors and family. Would they have believed it? No, she would have been scandalized in the eyes of those around her. What about the skeptical Jew reading or hearing Matthew’s gospel? Would they have believed Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit? No, there is evidence from outside Scripture that a story circulated that Mary became pregnant through a Roman soldier. And we see in the gospels several times when Jesus’ origins are questioned. He is accused of being an illegitimate child. So Matthew’s genealogy provides a defense of the virgin birth and of Mary. His Christian readers could be comforted that Mary, though participating in an event that is unparalleled in history, the virgin birth, is nevertheless a lot like others in the family line that have gone before her: seemingly covered by scandal but actually living a life of great faith that God is working through for His glory and for moving forward His plan for the world.

God often works in ways that are strange to us. This is true not only in His plan of salvation but also in the shape of our daily lives. Our lives rarely unfold in a seamless, easy way. If we really read our Bibles we see this over and over. There are very few characters whose stories don’t go through many twists and turns of hardship and victory, failure and blessing. But I am afraid all too often we have bought the idea that our lives should be comfortable and smooth. We have let advertisers convince us that if we use this toothpaste or that shampoo that we will be irresistible. We have bought the lie that we can find happiness at the buffet or the fast food counter. We have believed that happiness is found in a shiny new car with a big bow on top. We have swallowed the idea that we should always succeed, that onward and upward is the only way to go. We have even imported this idea into our Christianity. And we have believed that when good things don’t happen for us, we are flawed, less than, even cursed by God. And I want to say to you that bad things or lack of good things does not mean you are cursed by God, it means you are human. We need to stop living in the fantasy land of false expectations. Many churches make their whole message one of false expectations. Come here, this is a happy place. Look at all the smiles. Look at all the plastic people. We need to resist that because it is neither true to the Bible nor reality. The Bible message is that of Paul, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” We enter into the muck and mire of life and we hurt and grieve and cry, but all along we know that God is working in and through and under everything we are doing to advance His purposes. So we are neither blind optimists nor dark pessimists. Christians are to be true realists, understanding that God is working in all things for His glory and our eternal joy. And this is the place of faith. We must trust that God is working in this way even if we never see the end of grief, even if the pain does not go away, even if the circumstances never change. The story of each of the women in the genealogy had a happy ending and our story will have a happy ending too, but sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there. I just want you to see this morning that God is at work, often in situations where it looks like He is not at work.

The grace of God is so evident in this passage. We didn’t talk about the fact that all four of the women in the genealogy have some kind of connection to Gentiles: Tamar lived among Canaanites, Rahab and Ruth were Gentiles and Bathsheba was married to Uriah the Hittite. Yet all of them are in Jesus’ genealogy. God so loved the world. The grace of God is also evident in the fact that so many in this genealogy were great sinners. From sneaky Jacob to Judah to David’s great sin to Solomon’s wives to wicked kings like Manasseh, many of the people in this genealogy were deeply sinful. And of course every one of them is a sinner in need of saving. And it is through this line that Jesus’ rights as Messiah-King are established. When the angel speaks to Joseph in chapter 1, verse 21, the angel says Jesus, “will save His people from their sins.” This genealogy establishes the fact that His people were a sinful people in need of saving. And yet Jesus is not ashamed to say, “This is my family line.” He is not ashamed to leave the glories of heaven to enter into this messy, sinful world. He is facing sin head on from the very beginning. He enters the sinful world and brings redemption through His sinless life, His atoning death and His victorious resurrection. And now He reigns, ascended and with the Father, constantly pleading His blood on behalf of His people.

So on we stumble, alternating between despair and arrogance, one moment so proud of our progress and the next crushed under the weight of our inability. We glory in the beauty of the world: sunsets and stars, oceans and mountains, the beauty of love and friendship. Yet we groan at the brokenness of the world: disease and death, the horror of racism and terrorism, the awful ways we treat one another.

And Jesus enters this beautiful and broken world as a tiny baby. He joins the limping march of humanity in all its tarnished splendor. And the plan of God promised as far back as the Garden of Eden and carried all through the Old Testament, is fulfilled. The hope of the world has come. In a most unusual way. This is the way God works.

And this is the way we face life. We don’t pretend there is no evil, we don’t act like bad things never happen, we don’t think no harm will come to us if we only do all the right things. And we hurt when we feel pain and we feel compassion for others who are in pain. Our souls groan in this fallen world. This is the way we face life. All you’ve got to do to know that is read the Psalms.

And yet. And yet. The brokenness of the world is not the final word because the Word became flesh. And because Jesus has come, there is strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. All your sins are forgiven through faith in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Peace, purity and loving power are all yours through Jesus, who rose from the dead and ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to be with His people and to guide them and strengthen them. Through daily trust in Jesus, even in this broken world, you can live a life of joy and usefulness. And one day, the brokenness will be over. Jesus is coming again to renew all things. So we have the great future hope of reigning with Christ in a world where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Where the cries of our hearts are not cries of anguish over our pain and trials and tragedies but are cries of joy as we shout, “Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and wisdom and riches and strength glory and honor and blessing.”

As Christians we face a beautiful, broken world in the full assurance that God sees it all, knows it all and works in it all for His glory and the eternal blessing of His people. And this scandalous grace, this unusual working, is at the very heart of the message we proclaim at Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM A TRUSTWORTHY WORD (12-15) . . .

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,

 

Now there’s something very interesting.  Remember whose line is this in Luke – or in Matthew?  Joseph’s.  Joseph’s.  Okay?  And I want you to notice something.  Jeremiah 22:30.  Just listen.  Write it down.  Jeremiah 22:30.  Now listen to what it says.  “Thus saith the Lord, Write this man down as childless,” And the man to whom it refers is Jeconiah, the same man.  “A man who shall not succeed in his days: none of his offspring shall sit on the throne of David.”  Did you get that?  None of Jeconiah’s offspring will ever sit on the throne of David.  That was the curse on Jeconiah of Jeremiah 22:30.

Now listen to me.  If Jesus had been the real son of Joseph, he never could have sat on the throne of David.  Did you get that?  He would be under the curse.  And yet, he had to be the legal son of Joseph to have the right.  So God had to devise a plan by which he would be the legal heir to the throne, but that he would not be in the line of David descending through Jeconiah.  And so God did it by the virgin birth, bypassing the actual blood line of Jeconiah and yet carrying the royal right to reign and descending the blood through the side of Mary.

It’s a fantastic thing, isn’t it?  How God guarded every single detail.  And the virgin birth solved it.  So you see, the reason for the genealogy is to present the fact that this is the one who has the right to reign.  Listen, it may take me a long time to unscramble the significance of this, but all the Jewish people had to do was read it and they got the message.  They knew their Old Testament.  They knew the curse on Jeconiah.  They knew this line.  They knew their pedigrees.  And Matthew is establishing that he has the right to be king.

 

 

POINTING TO THE VIRGIN BIRTH (16) . . .

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

Jesus is the rightful legal heir to the covenant promises associated with the Davidic throne (v. 6) as well as the rightful legal heir to the covenant promises related to the Abrahamic seed and land (vv. 1–2).

 

Spurgeon, “With one or two exceptions these are names of persons of little or no note. The later ones were persons altogether obscure and insignificant. Our Lord was ‘a root out of dry ground,’ a shoot from the withered stem of Jesse.”

In the 13th of Matthew in the 54th, “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and they said, ‘From where hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?’ ” Matthew 13:54.  Where did he get this ability?  “ ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not his mother called Mary?  And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas?  And his sisters, are they not all with us?  From where then hath this man all these things?’ And they were offended in him.”

He doesn’t have any right to this kind of stuff.  Who is he?  He’s come out of a lowly bunch up in Nazareth.  In the 7th chapter of John, again the kind of mockery about his origin.  John 7:27.  Jesus comes down to the feast of the tabernacles and the Jews get upset at him because of what he says.  And in verse 27, “Nevertheless, we know this man from where he is: but when Christ comes, no man knows from where he is.”  Listen, we know this Jesus.  I mean, this is not the Christ.  We know where he came from.  He’s a hayseed from Nazareth, up the hill.  I mean, you couldn’t believe that the Messiah would come from any place other than Jerusalem.  Such a thought is intolerable.  He’s a nobody from a nowhere.

And in verse 40, “Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Of a truth this is the Prophet.’ ”  This is the Prophet prophesied by Moses back in the Pentateuch.  “ ‘This is the Prophet.’  Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’  But some said, ‘Shall Christ come out of Galilee?’ ”  You kidding?

In the 8th chapter in the 41st verse, “You do the deeds of your father.”  He says to the Pharisees, Jewish leaders.  “ ‘You do the deeds of your father.’ Then said they to him, ‘We are not born of fornication;’”  What do you think they meant by that?  That’s slander.  “We’re not born of fornication.  We have one Father, even God.’”

Verse 48, “Then answered the Jews, and said to him, ‘Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?’”  You’re a demon possessed result of fornication that came from a nowhere town and a nobody family.  Don’t lay us with any of your Messianic credentials.

So Matthew, you see, looks back on all this and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he writes down the book of the beginnings of Jesus Christ so there never needs to be a question about where he came from.

 

OF THE GREAT KING (17).

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

Matthew does not mean all the generations that had lived during those times but “all” that he included in his list (for he evidently skipped some, such as three generations between Joram and Uzziah [Azariah] in v. 8; cf. 1 Chron. 3:10–12); cf. note on Matt. 1:6b–11. Perhaps for ease of memorization, or perhaps for literary or symbolic symmetry, Matthew structures the genealogy to count 14 generations from each major section. (According to the Jewish practice of gematria, the giving of a numeric value to the consonants in a word, David’s name would add to D + V + D or 4 + 6 + 4 = 14, and David is the 14th name on the list.)

 

 

Sermon — Isaiah 53:12

9 Jul

He Poured Out His Soul to Death

 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

 We come this week to the last of our messages on Isaiah 53. It has been a rich time. Next Sunday, Lord willing I will be on vacation. On May 14th, we’ll be dipping back into the Gospel of Matthew for a couple of weeks before summer. This summer, we’ll be doing a churchwide study on the book, Behold Your God. We are encouraging everyone in the church to get one of these study books and work through it during the week. We’ll have small groups through the week to discuss the book and our sermons will be based around the biblical themes of each week’s study. This will be a great tool to help you grow, so take advantage of the opportunity to grow this study will give you.

          For this morning, let’s journey back to Isaiah 53 one last time. Often, in a good movie, you’ll see an epilogue. I recently saw a movie called The African Doctor which revolved around a doctor and his family from Zaire and their life in a rural medical practice in France in the 1970’s. At the end of the movie the results of the story were explained in an epilogue. In a sense, this is what we have happening in Isaiah 53:12. We have an epilogue. This verse is set apart from the others by the word “therefore.” As a result of what we have seen in verses 1-11, we have the truths of verse 12. There are two truths in this verse that flow from the story of Jesus’ death in verses 1-11 . . . CHRIST is EXALTED and WE are BLESSED. These are the results of Christ’s saving work, it is for God’s glory and our joy. This is what God is doing in the world, and it is seen supremely in the living and dying and rising of Christ: He is working for His glory and our joy.

          So this morning, let’s look at the ways Isaiah 53:12 tells us Christ is Exalted and the ways Isaiah 53:12 tells us that we are Blessed.

 

 

 

 

CHRIST IS EXALTED

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many

Having willingly followed God’s plan, the Servant is exalted. God told us this would happen back in Isaiah 53:12 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. In the New Testament, Paul repeats this idea in Philippians 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. This is one of the reasons that Hebrews 12 says that Jesus could face the cross “for the joy set before Him.” He knew that the aftermath of His suffering would be exaltation. Having been lifted up on the cross to die, the risen Christ is now exalted over all. He gets the spoils of victory.

Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.

Hebrews 2:9 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We don’t serve a weak and defeated One, we serve the exalted King of Kings! Our sense of self-worth should come from this . . . that such a glorious One set His love on us. Our sense of value should come from this . . . the Son of God has loved us and loves us still. This is our hope, this is our identity, this is our peace. The King is exalted! But God is so good that He doesn’t just exalt His Son through His suffering, He also gives through the sacrifice of His Son many benefits to His people. So let’s look this morning at the benefits we see in Isaiah 53:12 . . .

A SHARED INHERITANCE

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many

Listen to the great words of 1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Listen to the awesome message of Ephesians 1:11 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.

We have a great inheritance. Even if you have no money in the bank and no rich parent to depend upon, you have an eternal inheritance through faith in Jesus Christ. And where an economic downturn or health crisis or sudden tragedy can take away your earthly inheritance this inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade. Nothing can take it away. We need to lean into this inheritance and hope in the blessings God has promised us to get through each day.

GREAT REWARDS

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong

I take “the strong” here to be those who are strong in faith. Those who are faithful are promised great heavenly rewards. There is an inheritance that belongs to every believer but Jesus is also clear in the gospels that there are great further rewards to those who follow Him faithfully. This verse in Isaiah seems to signal that truth. Like a victorious general in battle sharing the benefits of victory with His officers so Jesus rewards those who are faithful.

1 Corinthians 9:24 says, 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

And isn’t it interesting that in the very last part of the Bible we find Revelation 22:12? 12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.  Without the work of Christ we would be worthy of nothing but death and hell. But with Him we can live a life of faith where God can not only save us from sin but even reward us. We are not only saved from death we are given life and life more abundant.

FREEDOM FROM SIN

yet he bore the sin of many

The central hub of this verse, that Christ “poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors” explains what was described in verses 1-11. The benefits of this sacrificial death is that Christ is exalted and we are blessed. We are blessed through a shared inheritance and the promise of great rewards. But we are also blessed by the forgiveness of our sins. We must always keep front and center in our minds that our sins are forgiven and that we are under no condemnation. This is vital because the ground of our hope is always in what God has done for us in Jesus and not what we have done for ourselves. We have all that we have because we have been brought from darkness to light, from death to life. We have no other hope that the sin-bearing death of Christ in our place.

But notice here also in this verse a missionary note. This little word “many.” Some think this refers to election. Not all are saved but the “many” are saved, those on whom God sets His love. I certainly think this is true, but I think in this verse the focus of the word “many” is different. Look back at the end of chapter 52. In verses 14 and 15 we read . . .

14   As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond

human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—

15   so shall he sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths because of him, for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.

So the “many” here in chapter 53 probably links to the “many” in chapter 52. And the “many” there are not the elect but are “many nations,” in other words, the Gentiles. And notice it is not just the Gentiles in general but it is many nations, many different people groups. This fits the Great Commission, this fits the great passages in Revelation about many tribes, tongues, languages and nations worshiping Christ. God is a missionary God. God has a heart for every race of people all over the world. God is gathering a people from all nations to praise and glorify His name forever. Romans 11:33-36 33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The final benefit Isaiah 53:12 describes for us is . . .

AN ADVOCATE ON OUR BEHALF

and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Notice several truths that emerge from this phrase. First, the word “makes” points to the idea of a present intercession. There is an ongoing ministry of the Son, even after His ascension and exaltation. It is the ministry of intercession, of prayer. The New Testament is clear about this . . .  Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Hebrews 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

We have an advocate with the Father. Why? Because even though Jesus bore our sins, we are still transgressors. Even though we can live a life of victory through faith in Christ we will still sin. So we still need One who will plead the blood of Christ on our behalf. This is what Christ does as He in His ministry of intercession brings His sufficient blood before the Father on our behalf. He is our defender, though we are unworthy and undeserving. In His great love He stands in our place and continues to intercede for us. This means the glory of Christ is not confined to a past event or not a future that seems so far away to us but the glory of Christ is presently at work in us. So our past is covered and our future is secure and our present is one of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What a life! Why do we miss it? Because we take our eyes off the ball. Essential to a good golf swing is to keep your head down through the swing. Essential to contact in baseball is focus on the pitch. A pitcher can add the appearance of two to three miles an hour on his fastball just by keeping the ball concealed a bit longer before he delivers. Focused attention is key to success in sports and it is key to vitality in spiritual life as well. When you forget these things we’ve talked about today, or you disbelieve them or believe other things more, you are headed for defeat. When you are worried about houses and lands and achievements and money, you are headed for defeat. When you are focused on getting rid of your problems rather than knowing Christ and making Him known, you are destined for failure. The way to life is not sin management. The way to life is not a successful outward appearance. The way to life is to focus on who Jesus is and what He has done, is doing and will do for you and then to live your life in light of those truths. This is why Paul says, “For me, to live is Christ.” Don’t take your eye off of these truths. Let them motivate and sustain you every day. Never forget Isaiah chapter 53

Sermon — Isaiah 53:11

9 Jul

He Shall Make Many to Be Accounted Righteous

 John Piper once said, You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things. If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or EQ; you don’t have to have to have good looks or riches; you don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.

Amen! And among the greatest of those majestic and glorious things are right here in the verse we’re going to look at this morning . . . Isaiah 53:11. Now there’s hardly a person here in this room who won’t be able to understand what I say today. Almost every one of you will be able to hear and grasp what I talk about. I won’t use flowery language or too many big words. So we will hear a clear message this morning. But the issue is do you love what you will hear? Not, do you love the music or the one preaching or the building or anything else, simply, do you love what you hear? Does the truth you will hear capture your heart? Does it fire your imagination? Does it strengthen your spirit? Because if week after week you come here and that doesn’t happen, you would be better off not coming at all. And I really mean that. And the reason I mean that is that coming here without being moved by what you hear is actually harmful for your soul, because you are convincing yourself by your presence here that everything is OK, when everything is not OK. Now let me be clear here. You may have seasons, sometimes long seasons, when your spirit is dry and the things of God seem to you less like a great banquet and more like a can of Spam. But if you never have this experience, if your heart is in no way moved by the kinds of things we have looked at over these last weeks, you should be concerned. It is possible that you have never been saved, that you have never trusted the Lord. I think in this group while that is possible, it is more likely that you have been sidetracked. You sit here every Sunday and hear about the great treasure of Christ, that Pearl of great price, but other things have more of your heart. Maybe a desire to be comfortable, a longing to be successful, a pursuit of beauty or popularity, a hobby. It’s not that Christ is the only beautiful thing in the world but He is the most beautiful thing in the world. Salvation is the greatest thing in the world and all other things and when Jesus is first in our lives, everything else takes its proper place, so that we can enjoy God’s good gifts without making them into idols. So this morning, let’s look at the glorious truth of the gospel in Isaiah 53:11–

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

What a steep price the Son of God paid for our freedom from sin’s penalty and power and presence! Much more than thirty pieces of silver. Jesus was anguished in soul. In the depths of His being He suffered. We saw this in Gethsemane, where He sweat as great drops of blood. We see it on the cross where He feels forsaken. Jesus bears the wrath of God against sin for all those who would believe on Him through the ages. But the anguish is rewarded. Like a mother in labor, in pain, sees the child and is filled with joy, so Jesus, in finishing the work the Father gave Him to do through His death on the cross, sees and is satisfied. Now how can He see if He died? Easter! The Lord Jesus has been raised from the dead so He gets the blessing of seeing His people saved through His death on the cross. Is the He here who is satisfied God the Father or God the Son? Yes! The Son went to the cross for the joy set before Him of bringing many sons and daughters to glory. The Father was satisfied in the obedience of the Son and in the fruit of His work, as Jesus provided a way for God to deal justly with sin while also showing mercy to sinners. Jesus died for people, but Jesus also died for God, to uphold the glory of God and to provide a way for Him to save people that is totally consistent with His nature.

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
Jesus was not surprised by God’s call on His life. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him and Jesus knew it and willingly submitted to it from the foundation of the world. What Jesus knew made all the difference. He knew the plan of God. He knew what God planned to do in relation to sin and He knew His critical role in that plan. He knew God would require perfect righteousness and He lived that righteousness. He knew that God required the perfectly righteous One to give Himself freely as a sacrifice in the place of sinners, and He was willing to do that for us. He knew exactly what He was doing and He did it all perfectly. Right knowing leads is the only path to right living. This is why we emphasize teaching and preaching here, not so we can fill our heads with interesting data points, but so that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If your mind is not being shaped by God through His Word, it doesn’t matter how nice you are, you are missing the mark. And it doesn’t matter how much information you are putting in your mind if your hands and feet and heart aren’t moved by the knowledge you gain. The two go together. Christianity is a head-heart and hand thing. Jesus’ knowledge of God plan for Him moved Him to obedience. Now I understand that some understand this verse differently than what I have laid out here. They think “by his knowledge” means  the knowledge that people have regarding Jesus Christ, rather than the Servant’s knowledge. This is possible grammatically but in light of how all through the chapter the focus has been on the Father and the Son in regard to God’s will, I go with the first understanding. But in reality, both are true biblically.

Here’s the great truth of this verse . . . the righteous one, my servant will make many to become righteous. Oh, the blessing of this truth. This is the truth we call justification. We see in it the perfection of the Son. He is righteous. We see in it the uniqueness of the Son. He is the righteous ONE. We see in it the intimate relation of the Son to the Father. God says He is MY servant. We see in it the humility of the Son. He is the servant. Hallelujah, what a Savior! And what does this great Savior do? He makes many to be accounted righteous! This is salvation. We are sinners. We stand hopeless before God, dead in our sins and destined for Hell. And God in His good plan wills to send His Son to live a perfect life and die in the place of sinners, taking the penalty for sin they deserved. He makes it happen. Salvation is of the Lord. And He does it for many. Don’t be fooled into thinking just a tiny group of people are going to be saved. It is going to be many, all that the Lord calls, all that the Lord saves, everyone who trusts in Jesus. And these are accounted righteous. This is justification. We are declared righteous on the basis of Jesus’ living and dying and rising. And how does He make us righteous? He himself bears our iniquities. All the sin we have committed is laid on Him, so that He pays for our crime and we go free. This is the glory of Christ and the goodness of God.

Now in your mind right now if you’ve been following, and I do not believe these things are too hard to follow. But if you’ve been following, you might be thinking right now about the unfairness of it all. How can God be just in sending His innocent Son to death. I read this in preparing this message and I thought it was really good, “It does seem unfair for the innocent to die for the guilty. But what is God to do when all have sinned and wandered off like stray sheep? Covenant law demands punishment, but punishment in this case would mean annihilation of what God has created. God’s justice, as demanded by the law, must be satisfied. To satisfy his justice, he does something seemingly unjust. He punishes his sinless servant, the only one who has not strayed off! In the progress of biblical revelation, we discover that the sinless servant is really God in the flesh, who offers himself because he is committed to the world he has created. If his justice can only be satisfied if he himself endures the punishment, then so be it. What appears to be an act of injustice is really love satisfying the demands of justice!

The other reason this plan of God was not unfair is that it was something Jesus was entirely on board with doing. “So the first work of the Servant was the work of knowing. He did not close his eyes. He was not used unwittingly like a pawn. He knew the Father’s will. And by that knowledge he joined the Father in the redeeming work willingly and therefore effectively.

Piper says, “Now you see what God has been up to in this great and awful work of the Servant. He is providing for your acquittal. We have all sinned and brought reproach on the glory of the Lord God Almighty and infinitely holy! Left to ourselves we will come under his terrible wrath and everlasting judgment.

But that is not his heart. His heart is that his Servant—his Son—be crushed in our place, bear our iniquities, rise from the dead, intercede in heaven, and justify the ungodly.”

Christian singer Lauren Daigle had a song a couple of years ago called How Can it Be? I want to close with this song this morning . . .

I am guilty

Ashamed of what I’ve done

What I’ve become

These I am guilty
Ashamed of what I’ve done, what I’ve become
These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy one

I’ve been hiding
Afraid I’ve let you down, inside I doubt
That You still love me
But in Your eyes there’s only grace now

You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be

Though I fall, You can make me new
From this death I will rise with You
Oh the grace reaching out for me
How can it be
I know that for some of you here today, your heart is not lifted by the things we’ve talked about today, because you are burdened. You just want to get a better job. You just want to get along with your spouse. You are hoping the health crisis will go away. You just want your kids to not go crazy and rebel against everything you tried to do. You want to not feel like you’re barely getting by financially. You just want to finally get over that persistent sin. And if only, then all would be better. No. If you get what you want it will not make anything ultimately satisfying in your life. The beginning and end of life and life more abundantly is found in Jesus Christ. You will exist in eternity somewhere. Will you pay for your own sins or will you trust Jesus to pay for your sins? That is the difference between hell and heaven. And the difference between earthly joy and earthly misery is also found in this, rooting your life in the love of Jesus given for you on the cross. So my word to you this morning is this . . . focus on God, who He is. Focus on Jesus, who He is and what He is done for you. Focus your joy on Him and don’t worry about all these other things. God knows what you need. Seek Him. Give yourself to knowing God and walking with God. Come to me, learn of me . . . I will give you rest for your souls.

 

Sermon — Isaiah 53:9

9 Jul

They Made His Grave with the Wicked

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Over the last few weeks we have progressed through the prophecy of Isaiah 53 from the promise of God to send a Savior to how the Savior would be treated, to how He would sacrifice Himself for the transgressions of His people. We have traveled with Jesus this road to death and now on this morning we come to the reality of Jesus’ burial.

Over the last few years, I have been involved in many funerals. And one of the things I have noticed is that the time of finality really hits families often times at the graveside. When the last prayer is offered and the last ceremony is performed everything hits. I remember witnessing this at Ronald Reagan’s funeral many years ago. His wife Nancy, at the close of the service just moved up next to the flag-draped casket and for a couple of minutes hugged up against it.

Burial brings a sense of finality. But for criminals in the days of Jesus, burial was uncommon, at least in the sense we think of it. Criminals were more often thrown into a heap and burned after death or put into a common grave, a hole in the ground, with several other criminals. We know, of course, that Jesus was not a criminal. The gospel tells us so, and even Isaiah tells us so here. But the people, by the time He was killed, thought of Him as a blasphemer and a rebel, and they wanted Him dead. And so He was crucified. And He was buried.  The New Testament makes a big deal of Jesus’ burial. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 says, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. So we see here several things Paul says are of “first importance” Christ died for our sins, He was buried, He was raised and He appeared to witnesses. These are the most essential facts of the gospel. And among them is the fact that Christ was buried. The fundamental reason this is important is because Jesus’ burial proves that He was in fact dead and that He had finished the work of our redemption.

We see first this morning THE SOVEREIGN SEPULCHRE.

Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Christ’s coming that He would have His grave made with the wicked and with a rich man in His death. And when Jesus comes He is betrayed and crucified. And He is crucified between two criminals. Crucified in the eyes of the people as a criminal Himself. And the Bible makes clear that He was crucified by wicked men. Yet the Bible also makes clear in Matthew’s gospel that a rich man named Joseph of Arimathea secured Jesus’ body from Pontius Pilate and placed Jesus in a new tomb which he owned. This should not have happened. By all accounts Jesus should have, in human terms, been tossed aside into a mass grave with the other criminals. And indeed that very reality almost happened. Note John chapter 19 . . . 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” Now notice what is happening here. Jesus has died just before the soldiers came by to rush along the death of the three men crucified by breaking their legs. This would hasten death because the men would not be able to push up on their legs to get breath anymore. When they came to Jesus, they realized he was already dead and confirmed it by piercing His side with a spear. John mentions that this episode fulfills two prophecies of the Messiah, but neither of them is this prophecy here in Isaiah 53. Neither does Matthew mention this prophecy as being fulfilled, even though Matthew is so careful to note connections between the Old Testament and the story of Jesus. But both Matthew and John note that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. And he was a rich man who just happened to be there when Jesus died. And he was a rich man who just happened to have a tomb nearby. Warren Wiersbe goes so far as to say, “A wealthy man like Joseph would never carve out a tomb for himself so near to a place of execution, particularly when his home was miles away. He prepared it for Jesus and had the spices and graveclothes ready for the burial. How wonderfully God fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy!” I don’t for sure if his speculation about Jesus’ tomb is right, but John 19:38 does say it was a new tomb. But whether Wiersbe is right or wrong I absolutely agree with him that none of this just happened.  What we have here is a sovereign sepulcher, a tomb by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. The burial of Jesus happened just as the prophet said it would happen, because God was in it from start to finish, ordering it all so that Isaiah’s seemingly contradictory prophecy that Jesus would be assigned a place with the wicked while also being given the privilege of burial by a rich man, would come true.  How can we doubt that God has our lives in His hand when we see the unfolding of His plan in such fine detail separated by hundreds of years from prediction to fulfillment? God has all things in His hand and is working all things out according to His will and for His good pleasure. We serve a sovereign God who demonstrated His sovereignty even over the sepulcher.

Second, we serve THE SINLESS SAVIOR

The prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 is yet another part of this chapter which affirms the innocence of the Savior. Jesus’ sinless nature is explained more fully here than what we have seen so far. We have seen hints of His innocence but here it is on full display. There was no violence in Him and no deceit in His mouth. Violence and deceit. The two things Jesus had just faced in His crucifixion. The people were violent toward Him. The religious leaders were deceitful in getting Him crucified. But Jesus was neither of these things. There was no outward sin or wrong action in Him. Of course, there were times when He was forceful, when He showed anger. The driving of the sellers in the Temple courts comes to mind. But as we saw a couple of weeks ago with the verse about His silence, just as Jesus never spoke up in any way as to hinder our redemption or spare Himself from suffering but only for the sake of love, so He never displayed anger except in a righteous cause. His anger was for God’s glory, never self-centered in any way. There was no violence in Him. No outward sin or wrong action. Neither was there deceit in His mouth. It is true that Jesus spoke in parables, and one aspect of this was to hide the truth from those who would misuse it. But when Jesus spoke, He was telling the truth. Jesus, though He used figures of speech and sometimes unusual illustrations (like a camel going through the eye of a needle) He never exaggerated truth about Himself. He never told falsehoods to make Himself look better. He didn’t play the humble “aw shucks” game of the manipulator or use the smooth words of a deceiver. Jesus had no secret sins. He was not a hypocrite in any way. His inner life conformed totally to His outward life. He was sinless through and through. If you want a picture of integrity, look no further. If you want to see what a healthy and whole human being looks like, here He is. We are rarely told in the Bible to follow the example of others but we are constantly urged to follow the example of Christ. And in this very simple aspect of His life, how many of us would see our lives greatly blessed if we were consistent in these two things: no self-centered violence and no deceit in speech? We would walk as Jesus walked and God would be honored. So we have seen this morning the Sovereign Sepulcher and the Sinless Savior. I want to close this morning with just a brief focus on . . .

THE SUFFICIENT SCRIPTURES

The precision of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53 is remarkable. It is only explainable by understanding that Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Here is the prophecy that Jesus will be appointed to a death with the wicked (plural). And this is fulfilled both literally and figuratively. He is crucified between two thieves (plural) and He who knew no sin becomes sin for us. He dies the death of a sinner. He is accounted at His death as one who was wicked. And yet Isaiah also tells us that He will be assigned the grave of a rich man (singular). And the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the Old Testament confirm this is singular, not plural. So Isaiah knew by the Holy Spirit that Jesus would die among multiple wicked people and be buried, not among the rich, but in the tomb of a rich man (singular). God planned Jesus’ life out to the finest detail, for His glory and our redemption. But God was so good to us and so wise in His ways, that He not only planned out our redemption, He also told us about it. And He prophesied these truths in Isaiah 53 through the prophet Isaiah some 700 years before they happened but in great detail. There is no record of crucifixion in the time of Isaiah, yet he uses that word pierced. All through this chapter, each of the aspects of Jesus’ nature and life and ministry and death and resurrection are covered. Even His burial. That God would specify that detail and countless others like it, reminds is that the Bible is inspired and sufficient. We have the Sufficient Scripture, the Word of God, the Bible. You can trust this book. Each of us needs to have our Billy Graham moment. Billy Graham in his early years had a good friend named Charles Templeton, who began having doubts about the Bible. And this disturbed Billy Graham greatly, because he loved and respected his friend and because Templeton was bringing up some issues that were difficult to understand. And Graham tells the story of taking a walk in the woods. And he took his Bible and laid it open on a stump and prayed and made a commitment right then and there that no matter what may come he was going to believe the Bible. We need to do that. And what I want to say to you today is that passages like Isaiah 53 should be great encouragement to do just that, to believe that God’s Word is true and that God’s Word is enough. I don’t understand everything about the Bible, but I believe it. And the more I have studied through the years the more I believe it. There is nothing like it I can think of. Nothing has its depth and richness. We could study the works Shakespeare and find richness of language and depth of thought and even some truth. But the Bible alone stands as the most read and most studied book of all. Simple enough for a child, deep enough for the greatest mind to never fully comprehend. It is, as our Baptist Faith and Message says, “a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”

How could we go away from this day without a sense of hopeful celebration when we consider that Sovereign Sepulcher, that Sinless Savior, and the Sufficient Scripture? God is in control, He has sent His Son to die and rise for us, and He has given us His Word to show us how to know Jesus and how to live a follower of Jesus? Truly, as 2 Peter 1 says, we have everything we need for life and godliness.

God gave us this prophecy of Jesus’ burial so we could know that He is in control, so that we could know what a great Savior we serve and so that we could know that God’s Word can be trusted. But God also gave this prophecy to show that His Son was to be honored. John Piper says, “When Jesus died, the work of redemption was done. He had cried, ‘It is finished.’ He had suffered, he had been assigned a place with the wicked, dying like a criminal between two thieves, and the expectation was that he would have his grave (if any grave at all) with the wicked. But he didn’t. The work of redemption was done. There was no more need for humiliation. Instead God signified the honor of his servant by arranging for him an honorable burial in the grave of a rich man, the disciple, Joseph of Arimathea. So even the burial of Jesus was lined with hope. He may have looked like a criminal dying for his own crimes. But he was not. He was the Servant of the Lord. And when the work of suffering like a sacrificial Lamb and dying for the transgression of his people was done, God began to honor him even in the way he was buried.”

          And so for us, as we see our Sovereign God through His Sufficient Word show us our Sinless Savior, we need to honor Him. With our minds. With our time. With our treasure. With our hearts affections. With everything in us. We belong heart and soul to God. So we can put away the ways of violence and deceit and embrace truth and love. We can be done with self-centeredness and live a life of self-giving love because we are in the hands of a Sovereign God with sure marching orders and an advocate with the Father who is perfect in all His ways.      So today, will you have your Billy Graham moment? Will you draw a line in the sand and believe? Can you say with the words of our closing hymn I know not why God’s wondrous grace To me He hath made known, Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love Redeemed me for His own. But “I know Whom I have believed, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day.”

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?

Sermon — Isaiah 53:7

9 Jul

Like a Lamb to the Slaughter

           In Acts 8, when the Ethiopian eunuch was reading the scroll of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to him. And it was this verse, Isaiah 53:7 that the Ethiopian was puzzling over. Something impacted him so much about the silence of this one who was facing such suffering that he had to ask Philip, “is the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” And of course this gave Philip the open door of opportunity to look at the Scriptures with the Ethiopian to show him how the Savior fulfilled every promise of God. The Ethiopian was saved and baptized and Philip was taken away from this divine encounter to serve elsewhere.

          This passage compels us and for some, it repels us. We think, how could Jesus endure such hardship even though He had all power and was completely innocent? If I am to be like Jesus, does that mean I should endure bullies at school without saying anything? Should I let my uncle abuse me because of the way Jesus did not speak out? Should I let my husband hit me because Jesus was silent? And I want to say NO to all of those questions. Jesus’ silence was in order to accomplish the greater good of our salvation. Jesus’ unwillingness to defend Himself came from a deep desire to rescue us from sin and death. He was a sufferer but He was not a victim. The little child who is abused should speak out in order to accomplish the greater good of calling sin to account. The wife who has been beaten is not being Christ like to remain silent because no good is being accomplished by allowing her husband to continue on his rampages. The student being bullied is not serving the greater good by not reporting his bully. That bully will just trouble someone else down the road if they are never confronted. So let me just get out of the way right from the start the idea that Jesus is calling us to be stepped on for no good reason. To be sure, we should not live for ourselves. But on the flip side, neither should we let injustice thrive by our silence. It is not love to let abusers have a free reign. It is not love to do nothing about the great human rights issues of our day: abortion, genocide, human trafficking. We can’t be fully invested in all of these things, but we should care and we should do what we can locally and globally.

          The bottom line is we should not be repelled by this verse, we should rejoice over this verse. And we should remember that suffering for the greater good is redemptive and right. Most of us would say that those soldiers who landed on the beaches on D-Day and sacrificed themselves were right to do so, because they were serving a greater good.  On the other hand, we would look at someone who came off the sands of Myrtle Beach and ran out into traffic as a foolish person. So what makes Jesus’ silence both acceptable and admirable is that He was silent for the sake of love. He wasn’t silent just so no feathers would be ruffled. He wasn’t silent because he was fearful. He wasn’t silent to try to protect people. Jesus was silent so that we might be saved. Let’s look at the verse together this morning . . .

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Hallelujah, what a Savior! Here is Jesus submitting in patience willingly to His Father’s design. We see in this passage what happened to Christ and how Christ responded to what happened to Him.

What Did Christ Endure?

First, He was “oppressed.” The heaviness of this word brings to mind the

Exodus account where Pharaoh made Israel make bricks without straw. A life of misery and burden. Jesus was filled with joy in His mission but He was always under the shadow of the cross, of His coming suffering. And He was always being pursued by the religious leaders and other enemies who eventually pursued Him to His death.

Second, He was “afflicted.” Not only did His enemies pursue Him, they also persecuted Him. They humiliated Him, treated Him with contempt, shamed Him, spat on Him, ridiculed Him. All their opposition throughout Jesus’ ministry reached its apex in Jesus’ last week. The mockery is almost unthinkable. The perfect Christ, the righteous One, made out to be a common criminal by a bunch of imperfect, self-righteous leaders. How our sense of justice should be awakened when we consider who Jesus is and how He was treated. If ever anyone should have lashed out against ill treatment it was Him. But then we remember the reason He endures is love. And not just any love, but love for His Father. And also love for US. And then our hearts melt and our faces look down as we realize it was our sin that put Jesus in this place of being beaten and scorned.

Third, we see that He was led like a Lamb to the slaughter. The slaughter is that piercing for our transgressions, that crushing for our iniquities. The lamb is an emblem of meekness and innocence. 1 Peter 1:18, “We are redeemed by the blood of Christ, as of a lamb without spot or blemish.” The lamb is a picture of weakness, bringing home to us the fact that Christ had no beauty or majesty that we should be drawn to Him. Verse 8 tells us that the slaughter leads to death. He is cut off from the land of the living. Jesus knew all His life that this was coming, this cross. All prisoners may feel oppressed and afflicted but I imagine there is a big difference between the prisoner who will be paroled in a week compared to the one who will be executed in a week. Jesus knew all along He was headed for slaughter. Yet He willingly walked the Calvary road.

Fourth, this verse tells us that Jesus was like a sheep before the shearing. And Jesus was sheared. The wool of sheep in biblical times was usually sheared away, cut off, in the springtime. Jesus was cut off from the land of the living at springtime, at the same time that the Passover lamb was being offered in the Temple. Jesus was on His way to Golgotha, where He would be stripped of His clothing and nailed to the cross. He was sheared of all outward dignity, He was sheared of all earthly honor. Yet as He hung there upon the cross, no one could cut away His heart of love for God and for His people. His name will be called Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. This is what happened to Christ.

How did Christ Respond?

He opened not his mouth. This is the focus. These words are used twice in this one verse and sandwiched between them is the phrase that He was silent. The great patience of Christ is in view. The great love of Christ is in view. He could have spoken in His own defense but this would have interrupted the plan of God.

1 Peter 2:23, When he was reviled, he did not revile in return, but entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

It is true that Christ did speak out at times, to Pilate, to those who came to arrest Him, to Peter to put away his sword. But Jesus was silent when the chief priest made accusations against Him and His words to Pilate were not an effort to defend Himself so much as an effort to testify to Pilate. The silence was concerning those who would accuse Him. In other words, in His speaking, Jesus never spoke in any way as to hinder our redemption. That is what it means when it says He opened not His mouth. You hear people sometimes talk about how a pig squeals when he gets stuck, but you never hear anybody talking about lambs squealing or making noise.

The lamb willingly yielded to be sacrificed for sin. Christ went as sweetly and readily to the work of our redemption as an innocent lamb to the slaughter.

Jesus knew He was going to suffer but He did nothing to prevent it. He willingly walked the road of suffering. Luke 18 tells us Jesus could have commanded legions of angels to come to His defense, but He did not. Jesus’ sacrifice was voluntary. He laid down His life of His own accord. John 18:4 is very clear on this point. When Judas brought the guards to find Jesus, we see the Bible say, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘whom do you seek?’” Jesus didn’t turn away from suffering, He leaned in to it for our sakes. In the Garden He said, “Not my will but Thine be done” and then He showed that He meant what He prayed by willingly enduring suffering and death.

Even in His arrest, Jesus put a stop to all violence that would seek to deliver him from suffering. He told Peter to put away his sword after he had lashed out at some of the officials who had come to arrest Jesus. And Jesus even healed the ear of one of the officials whose ear Peter had cut off. And then on the cross as Christ suffered, He called on God to forgive His persecutors.

Why did Christ Respond this Way?

Because Christ loved us and washed us from our sins with His own blood (Rev. 1:5) He endured oppression and affliction in silence. Jesus had committed all along to the cross. Philippians 2:8, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Ephesians 5:25, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Hebrews 10:7, Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.

The Puritan Thomas Manton said, “Christ holdeth his peace, that we might speak and have boldness with the Father, and taketh the accusation patiently, that he might break it off from us. His not answering was to show our guilt; and yet he carried it so that nothing could be clearly proved to impeach his own innocency.”

Christ remained silent and went to the cross to be our Mediator. Manton, Christ went willingly, that his own people might have everything from the heart of God as well as His hand. Jer. 32:41, “I rejoice over them to do them good.”

Christ remained silent and endured suffering to show His heart of submission to His Father, both to fulfill all righteousness and to be an example for us. We often talk about the need for people to accept Christ but we often forget about the first necessity for God the Father to accept God the Son. This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. He was pleased right to the cross and beyond and rejoices in His Son even now.

How do We Respond to Christ’s Willful Silent Suffering?

First, of course, we worship Him. We should never stop peering into the depths of the cross. The life of Christ should be the lifelong occupation of every Christian. This is why Paul said, to live is Christ, and why Paul’s greatest ambition was not church growth or missions but that He might know Christ. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings becoming like Him in His death and so to obtain the resurrection from the dead. Go to hymns or songs, post notes about your house, read and meditate over the gospels, read good Christian books. Join me in April and May on Wednesday nights as we read together and discuss a great little book by Frederick Leahy called The Cross He Bore. Occupy your thoughts with Christ. You may find less temptation to mope about, less temptation to dwell on sinful things, more energy for good.

Second, be empowered for service. This was Paul’s empowerment. He said in Galatians 2:20 that the life He now lived was lived by faith. But what was his motivation? “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” The attitude of Christ empowers our own service. When we feel reluctant, remember Christ’s willingness. 1 Peter 2:21, Christ suffering for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps. Give yourself up with great patience to God. Don’t use reviling words. Don’t be a people of self-defense and railing accusations.

Third, remember the words of Thomas Manton, “Willfulness in sin maketh the heart very sad when it cometh to see it. But, blessed be God, here is an answer to it – you have a willing Savior. Though there be in you much reluctancy against God’s will, and much readiness to offend, yet you could not be so ready to sin as Christ was willing to die for you.”

          Don’t be repelled by the willingness of Christ to suffer in silence. He did it for love. He did it for you and for me. He did it to glorify His Father.

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!

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?

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