Tag Archives: Sufficiency of Scripture

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 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.”

Spurgeon on the Sufficiency of Scripture

15 Mar

From the booklet, The Greatest Fight in the World . . .

We need nothing more than God has seen fit to reveal. Certain errant spirits are never   at home till they are abroad: they crave for a something which I think they will never find, either in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth, so long as they are in their present mind. They never rest, for they will have nothing to do with an infallible revelation; and hence they are doomed to wander throughout time and eternity, and find no abiding city. For the moment they glory as if they were satisfied with their last new toy; but in a few months it is sport to them to break in pieces all the notions which they formerly prepared with care, and paraded with delight. They go up a hill only to come down again. Indeed, they say that the pursuit of truth is better than truth itself. They like fishing better than the fish; which may very well be true, since their fish are very small, and very full of bones. These men are as great at destroying their own theories as certain paupers are at tearing up their clothes. They begin again anew, times without number: their house is always having its foundation digged out. They should be good at beginnings; for they have always been beginning since we have known them. They are as the rolling thing before the whirlwind, or “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” Although their cloud is not that cloud which betokened the divine presence, yet it is always moving before them, and their tents are scarcely pitched before it is time for the stakes to be pulled up again. These men are not even seeking certainty; their heaven lies in shunning all fixed truth, and following every will-o’-the-wisp of speculation: they are ever learning, but they never come to the knowledge of the truth. As for us, we cast anchor in the haven of the Word of God. Here is our peace, our strength, our life, our motive, our hope, our happiness. God’s Word is our ultimatum. Here we have it. Our understanding cries, “I have found it”; our conscience asserts that here is the truth; and our heart finds here a support to which all her affections can cling; and hence we rest content. If the revelation of God were not enough for our faith, what could we add to it? Who can answer this question? What would any man propose to add to the sacred Word? A moment’s thought would lead us to scout with derision the most attractive words of men, if it were proposed to add them to the Word of God. The fabric would not be of a piece. Would you add rags to a royal vestment? Would you pile the filth of the streets in a king’s treasury? Would you join the pebbles of the sea-shore to a pile of diamonds? Anything more than the Word of God sets before us, for us to believe and to preach as the life of men, seems utterly absurd to us; yet we confront a generation of men who are always wanting to discover a new motive power, and a new gospel for their churches. The Scriptures in their own sphere are like God in the universe—All-sufficient. In them is revealed all the light and power the mind of man can need in spiritual things. We hear of other motive power beyond that which lies in the Scriptures, but we believe such a force to be a pretentious nothing. A train is off the lines, or otherwise unable to proceed, and a break-down gang has arrived. Engines are brought to move the great impediment. At first there seems to be no stir: the engine power is not enough. Harken! A small boy has it. He cries, “Father, if they have not power enough, I will lend them my rocking-horse to help them.” We have had the offer of a considerable number of rocking-horses of late. They have not accomplished much that I can see, but they promised fair. I fear their effect has been for evil rather than good: they have moved the people to derision, and have driven them out of the places of worship which once they were glad to crowd. The new toys have been exhibited, and the people, after seeing them for a little, have moved on to other toy-shops. These fine new nothings have done no good, and they never will do any good while the world standeth. The Word of God is quite sufficient to interest and bless the souls of men throughout all time; but novelties soon fail. “Surely,” cries one, “we must add our own thoughts thereto.” My brother, think by all means; but the thoughts of God are better than yours. You may shed fine thoughts, as trees in autumn cast their leaves; but there is One who knows more about your thoughts than you do, and he thinks little of them. Is it not written, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity”? To liken our thoughts to the great thoughts of God, would be a gross absurdity. Would you bring your candle to show the sun? Your nothingness to replenish the eternal all? It is better to be silent before the Lord, than to dream of supplementing what he has spoken. The Word of the Lord is to the conceptions of men as a garden to a wilderness. Keep within the covers of the sacred book, and you are in the land which floweth with milk and honey; why seek to add to it the desert sands?

“Heaven is for Real” Teaches Us Two Ugly Things About Ourselves

3 Feb

Over the last few years, several popular books have come out which have made me feel a little uncomfortable, and not in a good way. These are books which focus on the afterlife through the experiences of those who are supposed to have seen heaven or hell. Now these kinds of books have been around for years but in recent years these books have been capturing the imagination of a wider audience in the American church. The most popular of these books has been Heaven is for Real. This book chronicles the experiences of little Colton Burpo, the son of a pastor who has vivid recollections of the afterlife after he comes back from a near-death experience.

Now this article is not a review of this book. I believe Tim Challies does an excellent job reviewing the book (http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/heaven-is-for-real) so I won’t repeat his work here. And I know I am a little late to the game, since the book has been out for a couple of years, but my concern is pastoral and, having heard of some in church life who have recently read this book, I began to think more carefully about a response. I’m ok being irrelevant to the current hot topics of evangelism if I can address this topic in a way that will be helpful to even one person who may have read these kinds of books.

So what is the problem with Heaven is for Real? I believe that the book is harmful for two reasons which are closely related to each other. First, Heaven is for Real feeds our desire to uphold the sufficiency of personal experience over the sufficiency of Scripture. Now I am not saying that Colton’s experiences are false. I don’t know whether what he says happened truly took place (I have my doubts for many of the reasons cited in the Challies review). Nor do I know whether the experiences of Don Piper or Bill Wiese or others are true. But whether there experiences are true or not is not the real issue. The issue is the elevation of their experiences to the level of Scripture. When someone says to me, “That story taught me so much about heaven!” I get alarmed. We just can’t take the personal experiences of people in our day and let them supplement and even replace the Scriptures. God has given us in the Bible all the revelation of heaven he desired us to have. This revelation is absolutely trustworthy. I am concerned about a Christian culture that needs the visions of a four-year old to be excited about heaven. It tells me that either we haven’t been reading our Bibles enough or what we have been reading has not sufficiently penetrated our hearts to generate the excitement which should accompany reading about heaven in the Scriptures. We have the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and sufficient. As the old hymn says, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word. What more can He say, than to you He hath said? To you who, for refuge, to Jesus hath fled.” The Word of God shouts that heaven is for real. The rage over Heaven is for Real is really just an indicator of how we elevate personal experience over the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. And of course, this has consequences which are far worse than reading a book. When I elevate personal experience over Scripture, I am really free to do whatever I want, because my controlling authority is my own experience. This is one of the ways Christians end up doing outrageous things the Bible would never sanction.

The second ugly thing Heaven is for Real teaches us is that we have a craving for the dramatic and a disdain for the ordinary. There is a sense in which our craving for the dramatic is probably part of the image of God in us, in that we long for perfection and blessing and glory, but our fallen nature often twists and perverts this good desire. We are awash in a Christian culture which celebrates the flashy, the flamboyant, the celebrity and the apparently spectacular while ignoring the biblical truth that the Christian life is not characterized by these things. Many Christians read Heaven is for Real looking for affirmation. But what they are looking for is not affirmation that God is real or that the Bible is true, what they are looking for is affirmation that God is as spectacular as an iPad or the Super Bowl. Now of course, God is infinitely more spectacular than any of those things, but He doesn’t reveal His glory with trumpet blasts and flashy lights. There is a Day coming when He will go public like that (1 Thess. 4:13-18) but for now He declares His glory as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. His present glory is so broad and deep that sometimes we lose sight of it, but it finds its focus in the coming of the Son of God. In Jesus, we see God incarnate, His glory revealed. But in His ministry, what do we see? Humility, service, self-giving love, spiritual power through the preached word, works and miracles which point to the reality of the message. No book tours, no bluster, no competing with the world system for cultural influence. Just the way of suffering that leads to glory.

We don’t like to think this way about the Christian life. We don’t like the thought of taking up our cross daily and plodding along in simple faithfulness to our Suffering Servant and Risen King. How little pilgrim language do we hear in our sermons? We like to think of the Christian life as an unbroken string of miracles leading to greater and greater prosperity and an unending panorama of mountaintop experiences. If large numbers of professing Christians didn’t think of Christian living in this way, Benny Hinn would be out of a job by morning. But he won’t be, and Heaven is for Real will not be the last book to plug in to our insatiable desire for mountaintop moments which, in the ultimate religious perversion, we can use to justify our independence from God’s authority.

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