A man kneels before a woman, a little box in his hand. A secret is to be revealed. An announcement is to be made. Our God reveals to us, like a secret, that He loves us beyond measure. We treat it like a secret, but it never is. He loves His people so much that He is willing to send His only Son for them. In due course He would be revealed – the Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder if you ever doubt that God loves you? That you are loved beyond all measure? Is it time for that secret to be revealed to you?
I see, in our reading this morning in Romans chapter 3, ‘previously, presently and meanwhile.’
Previously. We read that God had passed over sins. I am praying that you will receive an assurance of the love of God that your sins are forgiven. The cross alone is where we receive that forgiveness. We need to understand a few things about how justice works. We need to be forgiven of our sins. It is God’s justice that must be satisfied. The payment is to be made to God. Christ gives us the sacrifice that satisfies the justice of God. He has never ignored sin. The opening chapters of this book proves that beyond measure. Our great concern this morning should not be how happy we can be, but the righteousness of God. It is supremely seen in the cross of Jesus.
How is it that sinners before Jesus Christ could be dealt with in any gracious way with God? “Justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:24-25). You and I need to know that the God who has justified us, is just, that He is perfectly righteous – always has been and always will be.
Is the cross the only way that anyone can be right in God’s sight? Yes! So how did God deal with sin before the cross? What did believing people in the Old Testament have to look to? We can see the wondrous cross of Jesus today. They didn’t have that. They did have a system of sacrifices though. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter into a secret place – one person on behalf of others. They would represent those who believed in the Lord. It was concerned with making atonement between holy and unholy.
We need atonement. The High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies. He was appointed by God. There, he would take the blood of an animal, symbolically, so that humans would not be killed. The animal’s blood would be sprinkled on the mercy seat. At that moment, sins were atoned, wiped away. We need our sins to be wiped away in God’s justice system.
This sacrificial system was to satisfy the consciences of the believers in Old Testament times. No animal is sufficient to pay the price of a human being. No animal could possibly match-up in God’s sight. The perfect human sacrifice offering still had to come. So, God, in the Old Testament, is seen as waiting, anticipating a better sacrifice. Therefore, He was satisfied to deal with sinners in the Old Testament times in grace and mercy. God knew a better sacrifice was coming, a human being who was perfect. I don’t know how much the Old Testament believers knew of this. It was still quite secretive to them. But God knew, and that’s what mattered. That’s all that matters to us today. God is just.
That was previously. Let’s come to ‘meanwhile.’ Now. God shows us His righteousness. We come to the present day. The cross is essential, and always has been essential, to deal sufficiently with our present-day problem, with our concern. What is the problem, our concern? We could say that the problem we have is that we are sinners. In one sense, that is the problem; we have broken God’s law. As soon as you were conceived you started to add to the record of wrongs, because you have not been righteous. We are all utterly and completely lost. We cannot cover over our sins ourselves. We can’t redefine what sin is.
Propitiation is about the appeasement and satisfaction of God and His righteousness. Our great problem is not only sin. The great issue in this letter is that God is rightly angry with our sin. Propitiation, as the means of atonement, is all about the removal of God’s wrath. God Himself provided for His wrath. He offered up His own beloved Son on the cross. He provided from within Himself. The cross, the sacrifice, covers our sins. God has done that which He was always willing to do. John 3:16.
God makes atonement for you and I. His justice is now satisfied. His wrath is utterly removed forever because of the cross of Jesus. It is a perfect sacrifice and complete. Why? Because it came from God. It wasn’t human intervention. We need to repent of our sins. We first and foremost need to bring them to the cross of propitiation. We need to focus on God, not our sins. When we come to the communion table don’t focus on sins but the cross of Jesus.
We know we are justified. Do you know you are saved by the love of God? Saved from the wrath of God? It is impossible not to be a sinner. Paul says throughout this letter, up to this point, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). You can’t ignore it. It is the glory of God we need to be concerned with. Are you saved? Do you have that assurance? Where do you receive that assurance? Look at Him. Place your faith afresh in Him. See the crucifixion of Jesus.
God the Father provided Him for you, a public demonstration of the love of God. The believers of olden time waited. The sacrifice was hidden away. We are about making public that which has been revealed to us. He was “put forward” (v25). It is a public presentation. Have you ever wondered why God chose the means of crucifixion to pay the blood price for our sins, why it didn’t take place in the Holy of Holies? Why, on a Roman cross, Christ dies, naked and utterly humiliated? Why was He placed so high? For all to see. He had nails through His hand and feet, with His feet just out of reach so no-one could touch or feel the victim.
God publicly displayed the crucified Son for all to see. It was a public declaration that your sins are atoned for. We can walk with Him in purpose and grace. God’s Son was crucified for you. It is a decisive demonstration. He did it! What was required, occurred. It was His initiative, so you can trust it. He decided the plan of salvation for you. He did it!
This account happened about 850 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, during the times of the kings of Israel, with Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria (v1). Syria was to the north-east of Israel. Naaman was highly respected by the king. Why? He had defeated the enemies of Syria. But behind this military success was God. God rules over the nations.
Naaman was a mighty man of valour, strong and brave. However, at some point he caught leprosy, a serious illness, incurable at the time. With time, the body deteriorates, the flesh is eaten away.
During this time, the Syrians had gone out on raids and took captive a young girl who became a servant of Naaman’s wife. Here we see God at work, drawing Naaman into a relationship with Himself. Through these things that had happened, in God’s over-arching providence, He was drawing Naaman to Himself. In verse 3 the young girl says, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Samaria was the northern capital of Israel. This young girl, a prisoner, shows no bitterness. There is love towards her captors. Her faith is very strong. She believes, through Elisha, Naaman could be healed from this disease. She is so gracious and confident.
Naaman’s wife shares this with Naaman, and he, in turn, shares it with the king. The king tells Naaman to go and gives him a letter to give to the king of Israel, saying, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman goes to Samaria, taking the letter. He goes with his chariots and servants. He also takes 340 kg of silver, 68kg of gold – a huge amount, and 10 changes of clothing. This was a substantial gift, telling us how rich Naaman was.
In Samaria, Naaman sees the king, who read the contents of the letter (v6). The response of the king was that Naaman was asking him to do the impossible. Panic set in; he is dealing with a powerful king. Notice, he doesn’t think about Elisha or about God. The prophet Elisha hears the king’s response and sends a message to him, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (v8).
Naaman comes to Elisha in Samaria, the same city. Naaman, a mighty man of valour, stood at the door of Elisha’s house, a very humble house. He stood outside with chariots, servants and gifts. Instead of going out, Elisha sends a messenger (v10), telling Naaman to go and wash in the River Jordan 7 times, and he would be healed. Naaman was a very proud man; success had made him proud. He had expected to see Elisha. Instead of doing what Elisha told him to do, he travelled back to Syria, hundreds of miles away. He despises Israel and wants to wash in the rivers at home. God uses the servant (v13) who knows that because Naaman has been asked to do something so simplistic, he finds it insulting. He encourages him to do as the prophet says.
Naaman then travels to the River Jordan and dips himself 7 times. After the 7th occasion his flesh was restored, like that of a little child (v14). Not only did Naaman have physical cleansing, but he also had spiritual cleansing of his sins. The outward cleansing was pointing to a spiritual cleansing of the heart; his soul had been cleansed of its sins. How do we know? By the spiritual fruit we can see in his life (verses 15-18). He went back to Elisha and notice four things:
He now has faith, “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” (v.15). He believes the God of Israel is the true and only God. That’s faith!
He wants to give a gift he has brought with him to Elisha. He feels great gratitude to Elisha, “So accept now a present from your servant.” (v.15). But Elisha refuses. He presses upon Elisha to receive the gift, but Elisha continues to refuse.
Naaman wants to worship God and asks Elisha for two mule loads of earth so he can build an altar in Syria to offer burnt offerings, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.” (v17).
Notice there is conviction of sin, “In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (v18).
There was a great friendship between Naaman and the king. When the king went to worship Rimmon, the king would lean on him and Naaman would worship Rimmon too. Naaman says when he returns, he will bow down to Rimmon, not to worship, but in respect for the king. He asks Elisha for forgiveness for that, for God’s forgiveness. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”
We see the fruit. Naaman hasn’t just been cleansed physically, but also spiritually. Naaman has come to know God personally. Let’s apply this to ourselves. Have we each come to know God personally, the God of the Bible, the only God? Have we had a spiritual cleansing from God? Each of us needs forgiveness. Before God we are sinful. We need spiritual cleansing.
How do we have our sins washed away? There is a Jordan we need to wash in. We need to immerse ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to believe the gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2,000 years ago, in order that you and I could have spiritual cleansing, God came down to Earth as a man. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, He never sinned. He kept the commandments of God. On the cross He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered the punishment of our sin, He suffered our hell, on the cross of Calvary. He shed His blood. He died paying that penalty. He was buried and on the third day God rose Him from the dead. That’s the Good News. That is what God did for me and you in order that we might have our sins cleansed.
But we have a responsibility – we have to believe that message. We have to believe each fact of the gospel – that Jesus is God’s Son, that He was sinless, that He kept the law, that He took our sin upon Himself, that he suffered our penalty, that He died, that he was risen from the dead. We have to believe that message.
We have to ask God to forgive us, to cleanse us, based on the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. When we believe that message, when we believe the gospel, and only then, God will forgive us our sins. God will wash our sins away through the blood of Jesus Christ. When we believe that message we become joined to Christ. We become a child of God and God comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit.
When we believe this message God cleanses us from our sins. He comes to live in us by the Holy Spirit. We come to know God, become a child of God. The Holy Spirit changes us and makes us more Christ-like, creating fruit in us – worship, praise of God, thanksgiving, conviction of sin and repentance. We don’t want to live the ways we used to live, we want to live the way God wants us to live.
When we leave this world God, through death or when Christ returns, He will take us to be with Him in heaven and with all the saints, for eternity. Have we gone to the Jordan? Have we believed the gospel? Have we believed in Jesus Christ?
Naaman was commander of the army of Syria. He was a great man in the eyes of his master, and highly regarded because through him, the Lord had given victory. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Here we have this picture of this great Syrian military commander, Naaman, who had won many victories and had received many accolades from his own king and from his peers. He was a man of great standing, of respect, probably of great wealth. He is serving Syria, a pagan country, a place of many gods but nevertheless a godless place, a country of ignorance, superstition and idol worship. Syria was a country that sought to further its own success and its own progress at the cost of others. It was a dark land of spiritual blindness. Naaman served that country with great commitment, with great energy and with great determination. That is why he had risen to his position.
Despite all of his privileges, despite his position, despite his great power and his prominence, Naaman had a great and awful problem. He is afflicted with a serious, life-threatening condition. He is a leper, in days when leprosy had no cure.
As we look at this country of Syria, what does it remind you of? Well, I believe it presents a clear picture of our world today and our own nation today, with its many idols, religions, philosophies and gods. Syria was a place where the one, true, living God has been largely rejected and ignored. It was a godless place in many ways, a place that sought to promote its own success by its own philosophies and ideas. That is what sin has done to the nations of the world – turned God’s perfect creation into a ruined place of ugly rebellion and hatred.
In the eyes of his peers Naaman has everything that the world desires, everything that it holds dear, everything that 21st century Wales would long after – an impressive life, presence, charisma, wealth, success, authority, influence and position. But just like Naaman, they have a problem, a far more serious, not just life-threatening problem. A soul threating problem. Spiritual lepers afflicted with the disease of sin that will take not only their physical life but their eternal souls.
Naaman was a man of great power but he was absolutely powerless when it came to saving himself and taking away this awful disease that he was suffering from. So, it is true with those suffering this spiritual leprosy. Healing is outside our own hands, outside of our own power. There is nothing we can do to solve the problem of our sin in and of ourselves. The outcome is inevitable – spiritual and eternal death unless we can be saved from this awful disease.
What a sad picture Naaman presents. Apparently, he has everything the world desires but in reality, he has nothing of any lasting value and all that he does have will one day be taken from him. Apparently, the name Naaman means ‘beautiful, gracious, well-formed.’ In days when names that were given to children meant something, the likelihood is that he may well have been a handsome and striking man. But in time the ravages of leprosy would change that. His features would be eaten away. He would be left disfigured and decaying, an ugly sight, eventually an outcast of society.
Again, we have a picture of what sin does to us. People created in God’s image but yet disfigured, blemished, spoiled by this disease of sin. Outcasts from the presence of God who created us.
Verse 2 introduces us to a second person and the contrast between Naaman and this second person could not be greater – a captive a young girl from Israel who served Naaman’s wife. Naaman was fighting against Israel, God’s people. Naaman was a man who was at enmity with God, yet he was still under God’s control. God had given him the victory. From amongst the very people that Naaman was fighting against, the Israelites, a saviour is brought to heal him of his problems. That is the grace of God. By nature, we are at enmity with God. There was a time, certainly in my life and maybe in yours, when the Lord Jesus Christ meant nothing to you. I can say from my own experience that I was at enmity with God. Yet the one who I was at enmity with came to save me, to free me, to free all of us all. That’s the grace of God. God sent the very one we are opposing, against whom our rebellion is aimed, to be the one who will free us from sin and death.
Did you notice the great contrast between Naaman, this great man, this commander of notoriety, and this young, un-named, insignificant girl who possesses none of the privileges that Naaman had? She’s a servant girl at the beck and call of her masters, brought from the freedom of her homeland to a place of captivity. She may be even an orphan, maybe orphaned by the armies of Naaman himself. The biggest contrast between them is one that elevates this slave girl far above this commander of the armies of Syria; she knows and she trusts the God of Israel. This is an encouragement for us. I know I am nothing in the eyes of the world, but I know the living God. In His eyes I am His servant, I have been called and have the privilege to be used by Him. If you are trusting in the Lord Jesus, you are a servant of the living God, there to be a blessing and of use in God’s service.
In verse 3 we see that God uses this young girl. She says to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who was in Samaria, he would cure him of his leprosy.” God is working His sovereign purposes, not only in the life of Naaman, but also in the life of Israel and in the life of this young servant girl. In His grace and mercy, He is bringing these circumstances together to fulfil His own sovereign purpose. The Lord is ordering these events in accordance with His own will.
The people, as they were prone to do, were going through a period of apostasy and rebellion against God. Their disobedience has once again led them to be disciplined and judged by God. Discipline came at the hand of the Syrian army, led by Naaman. When we wander away from God, when we turn our backs upon His ways, God will use circumstances to discipline us, to show us the error of our ways, but always for good. Our God is good. When He disciplines us, it is with the purpose of drawing us back to Himself, to the place of blessing.
Naaman, the instrument in God’s hands, brought God’s punishment to the people of Israel. His mind is set on victory, serving his own nation. But as we read, God had used him, God had given him these victories. God is using even a pagan leader of the army for His own purposes, and ultimately for Naaman’s good. God has His hands upon this man, He’s drawing Him to Himself. This young, captive girl is placed in his household to serve Naaman’s wife. You may be passing through difficulties now, but you are being used by God to make you more dependent upon Him, to draw you ever closer to Him.
This young girl must have been experiencing grief, fear and anxiety. She’s been made captive. She may even have been asking the question, ‘Why is God allowing these things to happen to me?’ Yet it doesn’t prevent her from trusting God or telling others about the God she worships and serves. So, she stands firm and speaks confidently about the love and the power of her God. This young girl is very gracious and compassionate. Why should she show concern for the one who had dragged her away from her own land and made her a captive? Why desire good for one who had done so much ill? Well, it’s God’s grace working in her and through her. She is confident that God is more than able to deal with this situation that Naaman has found himself in. She doesn’t say the prophet might heal him, or it’s possible. Her words are, ‘If only he would go, he would heal him of his leprosy.’
Are we gracious, are we loving to those who may oppose us, who may criticise us, who make fun of us because of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we deal with them graciously and compassionately? Do we boldly and confidently tell them about the salvation that they can find in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we tell them that if you come to Christ, it is not a case that He might save you but that He will save you. ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
In verse 4 we see, perhaps, an even more amazing turn of events. Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. Can you believe it? This battle-hard, self-confident, powerful soldier is listening to the likes of this young servant girl. Why would he do that? Firstly, it is direct revelation from God Himself. Naaman’s mind is opened by the power of the Holy Spirit to respond to the witness of this young girl. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “No-one can come to the Father unless the Father who sent me, draws him.” Salvation is by grace. We have nothing to offer. It is all of His doing, all of His grace.
I wonder if they had already seen the peace of God is this young girl’s heart? I wonder if they had already heard testimony from her lips of other great things that God had done? That is how God most often chooses to work, isn’t it? Through the testimony of others, through His Word, by the hearing of God’s Word – whether through the preaching of the Word, or through the testimony of His people – that’s how others are drawn, through the Holy Spirit.
Then, the story begins to unfold. In verse 5 Naaman, in his search for healing, departs with cartloads of money and treasure, and a letter from his king, which almost commands the king of Israel to do something about this man’s leprosy. That’s quite amazing, in light of what leprosy was in those days. Naaman presents himself and his payment for services rendered. He goes to the very king that he’s been fighting against, the one who felt the full force of his power and authority. He seeks to buy him off with the gifts that he has to offer. He goes to a person who has no reason whatsoever to help him.
Sadly, that’s what many people do in their attempt, their search for a cure for spiritual leprosy. It’s how many people try to make themselves right with the eternal God. They go to Him with their offerings of good deeds: money to charity, money for the church, loaded down with commendable actions. They unwittingly try to buy off the God of creation that they might be made right with Him. They go to the eternal God who has no reason whatsoever to help them. He has no reason to help us, other than He is a God of love, a God of grace and a God of mercy. We have nothing to offer, we have no gifts.
Look at the king of Israel’s response in verse 7. Compare the king of Israel to this young servant girl. He is fearful, he doesn’t know what to do. He’s concerned for his own well-being. What a difference between someone who is walking closely with the Lord and this king who has turned his back on God’s ways. That’s where we find ourselves if we wander away from God, where our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not where it ought to be. We find ourselves fearful, anxious and afraid. Yet, when we are walking close with the Lord, then we are more like this young girl: gracious, bold and confident.
Thankfully for Naaman, help is at hand in the person of God’s prophet Elisha. Elisha makes himself known; he makes the first move so that Naaman will see the power of God. Then he waits for Naaman’s response. That’s what God says to all of us. That’s what God is saying to the nation of Wales. ‘I’m available. I’m willing to meet with you. I have made the first move. I have opened up the way for you to come. I sent My Son to die on Calvary, to take your place. Now, what’s your response? Will you come?’
In verse 9 we see Naaman does go. He turns up with all his finery, his wealth, his chariots, his entourage. But Elisha is unmoved. He is unimpressed. He doesn’t even get out of his chair to go to the door. I believe that Elisha is presenting a picture of God’s response to us if we turn up with all our own good deeds, and everything that we’ve done, everything that we’ve given. Can I say this reverently, when we do that, when we think that our own attributes will save us, God doesn’t even get out of His chair and go to the door. We cannot approach him because we are corrupted by our sin.
God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness are incompatible. God’s perfection excludes our imperfection. Because perfection cannot change, our imperfection, our leprosy, has to be removed before we meet with this great and glorious God.
Elisha makes another move. He sends his servant. That’s what God did, didn’t He? He sent His Son as a servant. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Elisha sends his servant with this instruction, ‘Go wash yourself in the Jordan seven times and your flesh will be restored and you shall be clean.’ Now Naaman is unimpressed. You can imagine his reaction, ‘I beg your pardon, go and wash. Do you know who I am? I’m the leader of the armies in Syria. We have conquered many nations. Haven’t you and Elisha heard what I have done? He will meet me where I am, or he won’t meet me at all.’ That’s Naaman’s response. And Naaman, we read, went away angry.
We see his response and second great mistake – pride. How many people when hearing the gospel go away angry, indignant, ‘who are you calling me a sinner and telling me I need to be saved? Haven’t you heard what I have done, don’t you know me? I am as good as the next man.’ That’s the response of humankind. The problem is we are as good as the next man – we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. That’s our problem.
Paul writes to the Romans, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’ Many people say to the eternal God today, ‘You accept me as I am, or I won’t come at all. God says, ‘Your way isn’t good enough. It’s my way – the way of humility. It’s my way of cleansing or you remain a spiritual leper.’ It’s God’s way or no way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
The Jordan River presents God’s way, that is cleansing by the power and in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Naaman wanted to reject the means that he was being given. What is he, at this point, turning his back on? The glorious blessing of eternal life where all pain and suffering will be taken away, where our sin will be dealt with forever (Revelation 21:3-4).
Verse 13. Naaman’s servants said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” Do you thank God for His servants that He sent and told you about the Lord Jesus Christ? Salvation is easy and straightforward, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.’ Naaman’s servant tell him to do as he says – wash and you will be clean. Thank God for those who came to you with the simplicity of the gospel and drew you towards the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, telling you, ‘You are not required to do anything, great or small. All you have to do is put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.’
Naaman is persuaded and he turns and dips himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him (verse 14). Complete obedience at last. He didn’t go and give himself once, or three times, or five times. Seven times he did it. We read his flesh was restored and became clean, like the flesh of a young child. Naaman left all of his offerings behind him, and he went in obedience to the man of God. He washed and he was cleansed. This is a picture of being born again in the Lord Jesus Christ. Washed. Cleansed. Made new. A new creation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Born again of the Spirit of God. It’s only when we are born again, cleansed in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that we can know fellowship in God.
No-one can stand before God, or speak with Him, or know His forgiveness, or experience heaven until they have been washed clean. Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power, are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
I wonder if you can think of a time that left you completely in awe? It could be something like seeing the Northern Lights crossing the sky or the Canadian Rocky Mountains stretching out into the distance, or maybe hearing about random act of kindness by a stranger. There are many things that make us feel good about the world around us. We want to sing with Louis Armstrong, ‘What a wonderful world.’
To read Matthew chapter 27 of these events is also an awe-inspiring experience but in a completely different kind of way. It surely cannot make us feel good about the world around us when you read about such depraved inhumanity towards an innocent man. For some, it is an historical account that should leave us feeling very much like Moses before that burning bush, that we’re standing on holy ground.
It’s probably the most well-known passage in all the gospels. With well-known passages there is a temptation to come to them and think to yourself, ‘But I have heard this all before.’ But have we really heard it all before? Le u’s be clear, there are things going on in these events that are completely beyond the realms of human understanding. There are things going on in these events that show us that we’ve hardly begun to understand the dreadful position of humankind.
When you read Matthew 27, when you consider the events of Good Friday, we should not come easily to these things. We should, like Moses, take off our sandals and tread carefully. This morning I want us to consider first of all, what is the reality of what is going on.
In 2004 Mel Gibson released a well-known film called ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ I’ve never seen it but I can remember, as a youngster, going down to cinemas in Cardiff and giving tracts to those coming out of the cinemas after watching the film. I remember very clearly the looks on people’s faces as they came out; they looked shocked, devastated. They were shaken. It made me realise that just like the Nativity, the history of Golgotha has been sanitised and sentimentalised. It’s been made into something it is not. What Mel Gibson did very well was to shove people’s faces into the horrors of the crucifixion of Jesus. It shocked them out of that sanitised version that perhaps they had been presented with in Sunday School or in primary schools. As you read these events, the on the surface facts of the death of Jesus Christ are absolutely horrifying.
Any crucifixion was absolutely horrifying. The Roman statesman Cicero describes torture like this, “The mere name of the cross should be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears. The results and suffering from these doings as well as the situation, even anticipation, of their enablement, and, in the end, the mere mention of them are unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.”
What is he saying? Well, he’s saying this: ‘Don’t even talk about crucifixion, don’t even mention it in polite company, it is that bad.’ But when you come to the gospels, they make a great deal of the Crucifixion of Jesus, they talk a lot about it. John devotes over half of his gospel to events surrounding the death of Jesus, Matthew 2/5, Mark 3/5 and Luke 1/3. Clearly the death of Jesus, to the gospel writers, was the most significant thing.
One critic of The Passion of the Christ spoke some truth when he said, “This movie is the prayer of a gifted film-maker, but it is also a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray it on film.”
Jesus suffered appalling tortures before and on the cross. Soldiers beat Him. Soldiers spat in His face. They mocked Him over and over again. They forced a crown of thorns on His head. The Roman whipping that He received was absolutely awful. It didn’t have the leniency of the Jewish forty lashes minus one. The took Jesus around the city on the longest journey that they could have, trying to prolong the sufferings of Jesus.
As you come to the gospel writings there is no great emphasis on the physicality of tortuous death. That is where Mel Gibson got it wrong and where that film critic got it right. The events of Good Friday are just bigger than any event to portray it on film.
What does Matthew say pertaining to the death of Christ? Actually, not a lot about the Crucifixion. He says, in verse 35, ‘When they had crucified Him.’ That’s it. Mark 15:24, ‘And the crucified Him.’ Luke 23:33, ‘When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him.’ John 19:17-18, “He went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him.”
For the gospel writers, therefore for the Holy Spirit, the brutality of the death of Christ was not the main thing. The main thing was the significance of that death – the spiritual realities of that death were the important ones. They want us to focus on the spiritual realities. This was no ordinary death. There was something massively supernatural and miraculous going on here and you cannot avoid it. You cannot avoid it because, first of all, you have got darkness and dereliction. Secondly, you’ve got what one preacher calls, ‘divine vandalism,’ – the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom. You have also got death reversed (v.52), the mass resurrection of many holy people.
Let’s consider darkness and dereliction for a moment (v. 45). In World War II the blackout, despite its eeriness, kept people safe. On Good Friday there was a massive blackout from the sixth to the ninth hour, darkness was all over the land. Evidently, it was an extensive darkness that covered the whole land. This three hour blackout was when the Middle Eastern sun should have been at the highest in the sky. It must have been terribly unsettling to witness it. Why the darkness? Darkness is connected with God’s judgement. Peter prophesied against false teachers and prophets (2 Peter 2:17). Jesus says in Matthew 24:29, talking about the end of the world, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
In Matthew 27:46 Jesus gives us some insight as to what is going on. It is called the cry of dereliction, which comes towards the end of that darkness. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is where, I suggest, we need to take off our sandals and tread very carefully. We realise the person who is crying out is none other than the eternal Son of God, the only begotten Son. He was in the beginning with God. There is no relationship in the whole universe that was closer than the Father and Son.
Yet here, at this moment, God the Son is forsaken. In that three hours of darkness, God the Father’s judgement fell on His Son. The judgement that was so awful that the bond between God the Father and God the Son, for some time was broken. The Father never ceased to love His Son because Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again,” (John 10:17).
There is no voice from heaven to comfort His Son. There is no angel to strengthen Him, He is forsaken. What is going on? “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We realise our sin is absolutely awful, so awful it nailed the Son of God to a Roman cross. It is so awful that the Son of God, who enjoyed the closest relationship with His Father throughout eternity, had to be utterly forsaken by His Father as He endured hell. He had no sin and yet He was made sin for us. God the Father, because He is just, cannot just sweep sin under the carpet. But, by pouring out His wrath on His own Son, against our sin during that massive judgement blackout, He can remember our sins no more.
“My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
When peace like a river
Jesus, in enduring the wrath of God during that cosmic blackout, was pierced, Isaiah says, for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The judgement that brought us peace was upon Him. By His wounds we are healed.
Are you a Christian here this morning? If so, what we have read means that you are as free as a bird. Your sin, not in part, but all of it, is nailed to the cross and you bear it no more. You have peace with God. You are completely healed. Praise the Lord.
If you are not a Christian, or you may think you are a Christian but haven’t thought too much about sin, Jesus’ cry of dereliction, when you hear it, doesn’t make much difference, it doesn’t bother you too much. Perhaps you haven’t realised what sin is about? In our society people don’t accept the idea of sin, it seems outdated. People aren’t held responsible for their own actions, ‘Being who you are’ is the slogan of our society.
But Jesus’ cry of dereliction teaches us one thing – we are sinners. Our sin is real to God and it has to be punished. Only the death of His Son can sort it out. The fact is, we are responsible creatures and one day God is going to hold us to account.
As a Christian, when we hear the cry of dereliction doesn’t it make you hate your sin all the more? Does it not make you cry, “O Lord, help me to live a holy life!” Does it not help you go to places like Titus and echo with Paul, not just to want knowledge of the truth but knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness? In other words, that we don’t just stand there at the foot of the cross, gazing in horror, then just walk away and carry on flirting with sin as if it is no big deal, that we carry on harbouring a few pet sins of our own.
We should come to the foot of the cross and break our hearts over our sin. It was our sin that caused Jesus to suffer such unthinkable agonies. We should throw ourselves on Him to keep us from sin.
At Calvary, God was doing something that He is an absolute expert at – He was bringing the greatest good out of the greatest evil. You see it in the signs that immediately follow the death of Jesus. Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon, God’s wrath had been poured out on His Son, Jesus is forsaken by His Father, Jesus dies (Matthew 27:15 / John 19:13). What effect does all that have? Is the work of Jesus finished? Yes, it is! Because then you get the curtain of the temple being torn in two, from top to bottom (v 51-52). This is no accident, it is hugely significant and important. At three o’clock in the afternoon the priests would have bene busy preparing for the evening sacrifice. Then, all of a sudden, all of the mysteries of the Old Testament are opened, revealed and unfolded to all. The curtain would have concealed the most holy place, the place where only the high priest could go, once a year. Now, it is open to all. The partitioning wall, which would have divided Jew and non-Jew, the ceremonial law, was now removed (Hebrew 10). Now, through Jesus’ sacrificial death, we can all approach the Shekinah Glory. Let me tell you, that is huge.
“There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, there’s a door that is open and you may go in. At Calvary’s cross is where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus.”
So powerful, so complete is the sacrifice offered by Jesus that the miracles don’t stop with that divine vandalism of the curtain being torn. You now have death reversed. There is an earthquake that is so violent it splits rocks, it opens tombs, and even before Easter Sunday, Resurrection is already on the cards (v 52). What is all this showing? Clearly, that Jesus’ sacrifice not only pays for sin, it not only opens up the way for sinful people to come back to a holy God. But also, don’t we want to leap for joy at this – it means death is defeated! It will be an inheritance of a marvellously rejuvenated universe and life without end in a mind-blowingly fantastic resurrection. Wow! Good Friday and Easter Sunday prove that this life is just a drop in the bottomless ocean of eternity. And that changes everything!
Let us briefly consider some of the reactions to what we’ve seen. We’ve had the realities, now let’s see the reactions. Before we finish, we’ve got to bring it a little closer to home. Why do we need to bring it closer to home? Because, as I read these gospel accounts, as I think about the crucifixion, I find that there were people who were actually there. There were eyewitnesses of these things and they respond in vastly different ways. I am bothered by this because if you think that even eyewitnesses could be so terrifyingly ignorant of the implications of what was going on, how much more we, living 2,000 years later, can also be terrifyingly ignorant of the most important event in all of history.
What eyewitnesses am I talking about? First of all you have the mockers, those who hurled insults at a man who was being horribly tortured to death. You have the robbers and the passers by (v.40). They use the second person, using the pronoun ‘you.’ Then you have the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders who use the third person, he and him. In other words, they don’t even say it to His face (v 42-43). These were the great teachers of the law. They should have been familiar with the teachings of the Old Testament about the Christ. Yet, they are staggeringly ignorant about it all. It’s a scary thought that those people who possessed all the prophetic writings, the teachings of the Old Testament, observations of Jesus at close hand, had heard His teaching, were now ridiculing this man in such a cowardly way – that God-Man who was dying so that they could have life. It’s horrendous.
Haven’t we been doing something similar ever since? Perhaps years and years of going to church, years and years of listening to the Bible being preached, years and years of listening to our Christian friends and family telling us about the love of Jesus and perhaps, not outwardly, but inwardly mocking the very idea that Jesus was dying for my sins. Don’t let the darkness that so blinded teachers of the law and the chief priests so blind you to your desperate need of to repent of your sin, and your desperate need of a Saviour. Jesus died for you. Believe now. Repent now. Do it while there is still some light emanating from the pages of Matthew chapter 27.
Now less shocking, but no less unsettling, are the reactions of those we read about in Luke 23:48. The people ‘beat their breasts and went away.’ Up to this point, there was Jesus breathing His last. Those onlookers maintained some interest but now they begin to drift away to carry on with the rest of their lives. But ‘they beat their breasts.’ This was an ancient way of showing grief. Somewhere, in the depths of their souls, they realised that in some way which they haven’t quite understood, they were responsible for the death of this innocent man. I wonder if there are any like that here, today? Perhaps there have been many times where you have felt sorrow for your sins. Perhaps you’ve started to realise that your sins nailed Jesus to the cross. But many times you’ve just drifted away; you’ve left church just to carry on with your life, just as before. The Bible, in 2 Corinthians chapter 7, talks about a godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Let me tell you, don’t drift away again. Pray for that godly sorrow that leads somewhere, that leads to repentance.
Luke 23:49. Here are brave women. The Bible was ahead of its time. Brave women and not so brave men who knew Jesus and who are watching from a distance. Disciples would follow Jesus for three years, they had given up everything to follow Him. What are they doing now? They are playing it safe. Are we a little like that – not so brave Christians? Are we playing it safe as we live our lives, keeping our distance from this wonderful Jesus? Today, let us really, really endeavour to go right up to the foot of the cross and declare to anyone who will listen, our allegiance to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Last, but definitely not least, is the centurion that we read of (v.54). Here was a man, an extremely hard man, who had witnessed and taken part in scores of crucifixions, and yet realises that this particular crucifixion was like no other. He saw the convulsions of nature in the earthquake, he saw the dignified conduct of Jesus in the way He was put on that cross, the way that He dies, and with the little understanding that he does have, he comes to the conclusion, as Luke reports, ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’ Perhaps you have very little understanding of what is going on here, you have very little knowledge of Jesus, and of Christianity and of the Bible. Perhaps Jesus has only been recently introduced to you. But look today, look now, really look at the evidence before you. Be amazed at what is before you and believe.
As we close, let’s just focus on one person, the wonderful person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You would think that the glorious dignity of the second person of the Trinity, being beaten, being whipped, being spat upon, being mocked and scorned, being deserted by His friends, being crucified, you think of the absolute control that He showed throughout it all. He, being the One who gave up His spirit, not having it taken from Him. He, being the One crying out in a loud voice, and going out in full possession of His faculties. It reminds us of that hymn, ‘Man of Sorrows.’ Hallelujah! What a Saviour! Amen.
Isaiah 53 is a portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, written by Isaiah 700 years before the very first Good Friday. In Acts we read of an African official who had been in Jerusalem and was on his way home in his chariot back to Africa. He was reading out loud this chapter. The Holy Spirit had already put it into the mind and heart of Philip, the evangelist, to run down to the dessert road in Gaza. We have heard a lot about Gaza this past week, sadly none of it good. However, this was a wonderful occasion. Philip arrived next to that chariot as the Ethiopian official was reading these words from Isaiah. He asked the question, ‘Who is he speaking about, himself or someone else?’ Philip was invited up into the chariot and started with that chapter to tell him the good news of Jesus. We know that this chapter is all about the Lord Jesus. In fact, we can start anywhere in this chapter, any verse, and we will see Jesus there.
We need the Holy Spirit’s help to be able to see Jesus. There are some people who read the whole Bible and don’t see Jesus anywhere. But there are others who read any part of the word of God and they see Jesus there. This chapter, perhaps above all other chapters in the Old Testament, speaks to us of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, the thing that will do us the most good is to fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus.
In every verse in this chapter, we see the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see His physical suffering here. He was a man of sorrows. He was pierced (verse 5) with a crown of thorns, we remember the spear that pierced His side after He had died. He was crushed and bruised. We think of Him being beaten with rods, bruised by the weight of the cross that He was made to carry. We see the physical sufferings, but we know from our own experiences, that physical sufferings are not the only type of suffering that we endure in this world. There’s also injustice. We see here the suffering of injustice (verse 7). He was oppressed and afflicted. There was this pressure upon Him even though He deserved none of it (verse 8). He was arrested, led like a lamb to the slaughter.
We see not only injustice but the agonies of rejection. He was rejected from the very beginning of his life, even as a very young child, “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.” (Isaiah 53:2). It was spiritually dry ground when Jesus came into the world. There had been 400 years when no word had been heard from God at all. The last word of the Old Testament was 400 years prior to the birth of the Lord Jesus. There was very little to see what God was doing. Then, in that dry land a root appeared.
When Jesus was born, He did not have physical attractiveness that we should desire Him. He wasn’t a physically handsome man. He was despised and rejected by His family and by others when He began His ministry. On that first Good Friday He was left all alone, they all fled. The rejection was complete by those who should have loved Him. He was despised and rejected. On the cross people hurled insults. The people really despised Him. When we read all of that we ask, ‘Why did the Lord Jesus have to suffer so much? Why did a loving God, His Father, allow this His only Son to go through that? The answer is, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days, (Isaiah 53:10).
Jesus suffered so much because the Father decided He should. It was the will of the Father that it should happen. The Father caused Him to suffer. We need light and understanding from heaven to understand this.
The suffering of the Lord Jesus was the will of God. In some of the earlier versions of the Bible, the NKJV and the KJV, we read, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). What a thing to say! Surely the Father won’t be pleased to see His Son suffer? Yet, the same word is used in Isaiah 42:21, “The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.” The Lord was pleased the word of God was going out. It is the same word. So, it pleased the Father. How could it please the Father to see His Son suffer? The Father caused Him to suffer. The cross was a deadly wound inflicted on Christ. What Father would be pleased to see His only son crushed?
Throughout His life on Earth the Father constantly assured His Son He loved Him. We hear His voice at Jesus’ Baptism “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17). Then again, when Jesus ascended, we hear the same thing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5). Yes, the Father loved the Son deeply. There was never a time when the Father did not love the Son.
So how could a loving Father do this? Notice, it doesn’t say ‘Father’ here, it says ‘Lord, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief,” (Isaiah 53:10). It reminds us we have a triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Way before the world was ever created, there was this counsel between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. They determined how sinful, fallen human beings, as they knew they would be, would be saved. The Father would send the Son into the world to be the Saviour of the world. The Son would willingly come, the Son would willingly give His life for the sins of the world. The Holy Spirit would come and make that work of the cross real in people’s hearts. The Son was in agreement, and the Father delighted to send His Son. It was the will of the Son as well. It was the will of the Holy Spirit. It pleased them.
We read the remarkable words of the Lord Jesus in John 10:17, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”The Father deeply loves the Son because He is willing to lay down His life. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. Not because He had some awful delight in inflicting pain upon His Son but because this was part of the great purpose of God and the only way you and I could ever be saved from our sin and forgiven. If there was another way, do you think the Father would have allowed it? This is the whole point of Gethsemane isn’t it? When Jesus said, ‘If it is possible, let this cup pass by.’ In other words, ‘If there is another way, then let’s find that way.’ Do you think that a loving father would have done that if there had been another way? But the fact is that the Father loved the world of sinners lost and ruined by the Fall. And so, Jesus was made a guilt offering.
In the Old Testament there was a guilt offering – a bull, ram or sheep – and hands would be laid symbolically on the head of that animal to transfer the sins onto that animal, transferring the guilt of our sins onto that animal. The animal was then taken and killed and sacrificed to God on the alter. The animal died in the place of the sinner.
And that’s the meaning of verse 6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Human life and animal life are so different. The Jewish people would have known that really, there was no way that the animal could take away their sins. How wonderful Isaiah was given this vision. Here was the Lamb that could take away the sins of the world. Only a sinless person could take away the sins of the world. There was no other way. The Father was doing this, the Son was willingly going to the cross because this was the way that your sins and my sins can be borne away.
If left undealt with, your sins and my sins would carry us down to an eternal hell and we will be punished forever – and justly so. The Father knew that that would be the consequence if the Son did not go the to the cross. And that is why it delighted the Father to see His Son bearing the sins of others so that they wouldn’t enter that eternal hell but that they would be welcomed into an eternal heaven. Only this one sacrifice for sin would prove the Lord to be just and the one who could justify sinners like us. There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.
How can a sinner like me, with all my deceitfulness and rebellion in my heart, go into the presence of the holy, pure God? How can I stand before a just God when I have broken His laws? You cannot provide a ransom for your own sins. Your guilt must be taken by someone else, or you will have to bear it yourself. No act that you could ever perform in your life can ever take away the guilt that you have.
Only the pure Son of God Himself could bear your sin and mine. That is why it was the Lord’s will to crush Him. That is why the Father put Him to grief. There was no other way. A loving Father loved His Son so much that He said, ‘Son, you are willing to go there for the sake of these sinners, millions of them, throughout the world and throughout the whole history of the world. If you are prepared to go and give your life and bear all this sufferings for their sins, and take their guilt, then it will delight Me to see you do it.’
All the fruits of salvation came to us through the suffering of Jesus. Some deaths are fruitful in a measure. It always breaks my heart to see families who have lost someone in tragic circumstances, like when a child dies. Families want to make that life significant in some way, they want to make sure it wasn’t in vain. Parents want to remember them and may set up a charity or research in order that some good might come out of the tragedy. There are occasions when there is fruit from tragedy (example of Annie, the life-saving dummy. Because of her death so many have been saved.)
Yet, there is so much more here,“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10). There would be children from Jesus, spiritual children, from the whole of the world, the whole of history – children born again because the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Death could not hold the Lord Jesus. When He had provided satisfaction for sin, He lives forever. The will of the Lord will prosper in His hands. Salvation would be gained.
You and I can never achieve our salvation, but God the Father provided a way. The challenge to you and me today is, ‘Are you resting in Christ and His sufferings or are you resting in something else?’ Come to Christ and rest only in Him. Rest in Christ alone. That is the will of God. It was the Lord’s will to crush Him.
The second great challenge is ‘Do we want to see the Church prosper in our days?’ Of course we do. Yet the temptation is to try all sorts of gimmicks. The preaching of the death and suffering of the Jesus is the only way the church will prosper. Only the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord will ensure fruit. All of us want to see more fruit. None of us are happy with the size of our churches, none of us are happy that we see few conversions. Cling to the cross. Preach Christ alone for salvation. Rest in Him alone.
Through His death and resurrection, the will of God will prosper. Rejoice in Him because He has done it all. What is there for us to do? Simply repent and believe and put our trust only in a crucified Saviour. And one day, this risen, ascended Jesus will come again in glory. And if we are still here on Earth we will see Him. Even those who pierced Him will see Him. If we have already gone to glory, we shall be enjoying His presence forever more because He bore our sins on the cross of Calvary.
There has never been a more important announcement than God sending His servant into the world to bring the benefits of His Kingdom to men. We would expect the news to be serious but to have joyful tones and to be dramatic. That is the case in these verses here. God underline the enormity of this announcement as He first addresses the servant Himself and then the people of Israel.
God is identified in verse 5.
God addresses the servant – verses 6-7
God addresses the nation – verses 8-9
(We know God addresses the servant in verses 6-7 because the ‘you’ is singular. In verses 8-9 God addresses the nation; ‘you’ at the end of verse 9 is plural).
God’s serious intent is to bring about a remarkable change amongst men by the greatness of His love and power. There will be a distinctive intervention in the person of the servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. We trust we will be thrilled to hear the good news of what God has done for us, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The announcement comes directly from God,
‘Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:’
It emphasises the word for God, underlining He is the uncomparable one, the only true God, the one who effortlessly laid out the universe, who unfolded the whole of the universe with consummate ease and ultimate power. He is the author of all human life, the one who is to be listened to and obeyed. He is the one who we must pay the utmost attention to as He speaks. The ‘Lord speaks of His covenant faithfulness. He came for all He has created. He did not abandon the universe and men to sin. He cares and maintains all creation.
He sustains men by giving them breath. Here is the God who has created this universe and set men in it. He is committed to the welfare of it, He does not stand idly by. In love and mercy He sends His servant to be the Saviour. He does not stand aloof from His creation. He is intimately concerned for men. The Lord Jesus Christ reflects this in His life. We see God’s commanding control over nature and disease, His care for sinners.
This announcement should be accompanied by a great fanfare because it is good news. The coming of His servant, the lord Jesus Christ, proves it. The love of God is so great for the world He made, which rejected His rule, He desires the well-being of His creatures. He must condemn fallen mankind because of their sin. But He shows ‘common grace’, His goodness, to all men. His particular love towards His people is all embracing. We should be comforted to know that our Creator cares for us, even when we all others desert us.
God addresses the servant. Just as God does not abandon creation, He will never abandon His servant who He sends to bring salvation,
‘I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.’
(Isaiah 42: 6-7)
He promises to accompany His servant, to take Him by the hand, to make His success certain. Consequently, the servant will be the embodiment of God’s covenant. Every commitment He has made to men will be fulfilled through His servant. Man, in his rebellion, has plunged himself into bondage and sin. God sends His servant to bring light into darkness, and freedom from their bondage. He will restore His people to true freedom. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s light to a world wrapped in the darkness of unbelief (John 8:12). God sends Him to release men from their bondage to sin. He brings light and freedom where there is darkness and bondage.
By nature we all live in the darkness of sin (John 3:19). We have lived lives in sinful indulgence, in bondage to our sinful desires, full of darkness of godlessness. This is the terrible predicament of all who reject God. But God in His mercy has sent the Lord Jesus Christ to solve the problem. In His perfect life we see what man is supposed to be. But He is more than our example; by offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sin, He offers a relationship for us with God, which brings light into our world. He offered Himself willingly up to that cross that we might now the freedom of knowing Him. The freedom of what we are supposed to be – children of God.
God turns to address the nation,
‘I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.’
He declares that His concern is rightly for the honour of His name. Here is the God of glory, the God who is able to do all. He is a jealous of His own name. He will not share His glory with any other (idols). God tells them of a new era in which His glory will be demonstrated more fully than before. All that He has done so far will fade into comparison to the new things He will accomplish with His servant. It will eventually blossom into the new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21).
God is speaking here of how His past glory had been magnificently demonstrated but it is nothing of the glory to be demonstrated in the future – in the work, life, death, resurrection and return of His servant, which will lead to the new heavens and new earth. With the coming of His servant, God’s glory would shine for all to see. The glory given to God through all His other servants, through all His works, are totally eclipsed by the glory gained through His servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, God’s glory is displayed to the nations. He declares, ‘Sit back and see what I’m going to do through my servant and marvel!’ (Colossians 1:19, John 1:14).
Isaiah lived in difficult times. King Uzziah had reigned in Judah and there had been prosperity; the Assyrian Empire was relatively weak on the northern border, so the nations in the south had been left on their own. The land had flourished with trade. But a new king came to the throne, Tiglath-pileser III. He had defeated his enemies to the north and now his attention turned to the south. Israel and Syria had come together against the Assyrians. There was pressure on Judah to join them but they wouldn’t. Judah faces an existential crisis. Their very existence is in danger. Throughout this period Isaiah brings the word of the Lord to the people; Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians and the people will be taken into captivity. Then he speaks of a future beyond the Babylonian exile.
Here, we are on the threshold of a new year. We have had celebrations. Some will say the world faces the greatest existential threat – global warming, political uncertainties. What is going to happen? Many young people are so overwhelmed with anxiety that their mental health is affected. What is going to happen? Well, let’s go back to Isaiah. Isaiah speaks about God maintaining a faithful remnant. He speaks of Cyrus, who will come to prominence 150 years in the future. He is actually named. Cyrus will be the great Persian Emperor who will descend on Babylon and bring destruction. God will raise up this heathen king, 150 years in the future, to restore Jerusalem.
But Isaiah speaks of another one who is known as the servant of the Lord, a perfect servant, who will get to the roots of the issues the people of Isaiah’s day faced. The roots don’t lie in economic or military weakness, the root is sin. This servant will come to deal with that issue. How? By suffering.
There are four songs in Isaiah, the songs of the suffering servant of the Lord. This perfect servant, who will redeem God’s people, bring forgiveness of sin through His suffering. Here is God’s answer to the problem of Isaiah’s day. Here is the answer to the problems of today. As we begin a New Year, begin it with Christ, the suffering servant. God has sent His Son into this world to save us from our sin and to bring hope to all those who trust in Him.
Today we will look at the first song in Isaiah. It is found in Isaiah 42:1-4. It begins with the word ‘Behold.’ We also see that word in Isaiah 41 where it is used to call the people to see the uselessness of idols. But now, here God says ‘Behold, my servant.’ See the one who can truly meet your needs.
He is God’s servant, chosen by God the Father for the task in hand. He has the Father’s seal of approval. He is identified with the Father in the strongest possible terms – the Father upholds Him. Here is the one who is so identified with the Father that He is seen in the Father’s embrace. The Father delights in His chosen one. Here is the servant of God, the one appointed, the one acknowledged, the one guaranteed to accomplish everything set before Him.
Here is the one who has the fullness of the Spirit which enables Him to do all that is asked of Him. His assignment is to bring justice to the nations, the peace and goodwill wherever God is acknowledged as Lord. The servant’s role is to bring God’s kingdom to men. The Kingdom of Heaven, John the Baptist declared, is at hand, as he refers to Jesus. He has come to accomplish the Father’s will, enabled by the Spirit, to men that they might be blessed beyond all measure. We should look upon Him in awe and wonder. He is God’s approved, empowered servant who brings to us the benefits of God’s Kingdom if we receive Him. Here is the answer to the world’s problems. God sends His only begotten Son with the power to deal with the root of the problem – sin.
God has not withdrawn from this rebellious world, He has come into it in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the forgiveness that He brings we know the richest blessings. He is to be loved, praised and adored. He is the most important person this world has ever known. He is to be the most important person in our lives today, every day. Fill our days with the knowledge of Him. He is the altogether glorious Lord.
The Servant’s character. Cyrus was a typical, aggressive, arrogant man. But this servant of the Lord is totally different. God’s answer to the oppression of this world is gentleness and humility. There is nothing strident about Him (v2). Here is no Trump or Boris. He will not dominate or shout others down, neither will He advertise Himself. We remember how He repeatedly shunned the glare of publicity (John 6:15).
We are told, in verse 3, He will not trample on the weak. On the contrary, He will greatly strengthen them. The servant’s character is marked by meekness and gentleness. These characteristics are not the usual characteristics of leaders, but God’s ways are not our ways. Praise God, the Lord Jesus Christ knows how to look after feeble creatures like you and me.
There are times when we are very conscious of how vulnerable we are but the Lord Jesus Christ sees our eternal well-being. We can confidently commit to His Lordship. He will enfold us in His loving arms, His tender hands. He will never disappoint us. As a church we are to follow the example of the Saviour by quietly preaching the gospel, having concern for others, being considerate not aggressive or arrogant. Yes, confront people’s sin but with all humility, because we are sinners too.
The servant’s success (verse 4). Although the servant is meek and mild, nevertheless He will succeed. This servant will not grow faint. He will not be discouraged (bruise easily). He will experience all of those things that crush and quench the life out of men but He will be strong in the face of adversity. Nothing will prevent Him from God’s rule on earth. He will bring the benefits and the blessings to the bruised of this world. Not only Israel, but all nations of the world will hear of Him.
The Lord Jesus Christ knew what is was to be rejected and scorned but He did not grow faint neither was He discouraged. His meek and mild character is matched by determination and strength that came from God, which ensure success of His mission. What has laid you low, knocked the stuffing out of you? What has overwhelmed you? Remember the cross. Look to the Lord. Find in Him the strength to carry on. The work of the Lord Jesus Christ always succeeds. If he is at work in our lives, even as He takes us through deep trials, share in His success and His victory. He is the hope of the whole world. My Hope, your hope. Trust in Him, look to Him. He is the suffering servant of God. He is God’s provision for the broken world. He is the Saviour. He is my Saviour, He is your Saviour. Trust in Him. He loves you, He cares for you. He will see you through. He is the most wonderful person, the most glorious in success. Praise God for His suffering servant. Amen.
The philosopher Plato once asked what would happen if an absolutely perfect man would be born and lived in an imperfect world. He also had an answer to his question; our just man will be “thrown in prison, scoured and racked, has his eyes burned out and is finally impaled, presumably on a spear,” (Book II, Plato’s Rebublic). Plato wasn’t a Christian but he realised what a perfect man might encounter. 400 years after Plato was born, this perfect man would be born – Jesus Christ. Plato knew a perfect, holy person would not be welcome amongst us, he would be tortured and brutally killed.
We seem to be mesmerised by court cases. 100, 000,000 people watched the OJ Simson trial. We are obsessed with verdicts and sentences, yet the greatest trial of all time is barely given a murmur amongst people today. Why don’t we consider this trial today, non-Christians and Christians? Matthew 26 is a well-read passage but is over-looked in the build-up to the Crucifixion. Yet it is of immense significance.
The trial of Jesus was an illegal trial. According to Jewish law, the trial should not have taken place at night, which it did. Jesus was not given a formal charge. The high priest was not supposed to intervene. There was no defence or attorney. But there is one point Jewish leaders wanted to adhere to – witnesses to speak out against Jesus. The religious leaders were so desperate to have people to testify against Jesus they panicked. They tried their best to find who they could, as quickly as possible. The problem was the trial took place in the middle of the night. Eventually two witnesses were found (Matthew 26:60-61). As far as the judges and priests were concerned, the witnesses were good enough. Both witnesses said Jesus claimed He could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, “But they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” (Matthew 26:60-61).
Jesus’ phrase, ‘in three days,’ was used on a few occasion. The priests knew Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. In Jewish tradition someone’s soul left the body three days after they died. So Jesus was saying that He would rise again after three day, stating that He had power over death. The high priest saw this as blasphemy.
We are looking ultimately at different ways in which Jesus Christ stood in place of sinners.
Jesus was silent for us. This is an incredible sentence. Why is Jesus staying silent at such a crucial time? (And again in Matthew 27:13-14). What does it accomplish?
To fulfil scripture (Isaiah 53:7). He fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy. He is the true Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
If someone is guilty and has no defence, what can they say? Nothing. They have to be silent. The Jewish leaders were expecting Jesus to retaliate. There was no other one able to pay the price of sin. If Jesus had argued for His right, what good would it have done?
Most astonishingly, Jesus was silent for us. He lived the life we were supposed to live – a sinless life. He stood in our place because we haven’t lived that perfect life. Jesus had to die for us, for every bad thing we’ve ever said and done. He stood in our place for sins we’ve committed. Jesus stood silent for us because He took our sin upon himself. He is not guilty in Himself but He is made guilty for our sins. A man who is deserving of death cannot speak for Himself. He died our death. How astounding!
Jesus was sentenced for us. The priests and judges seemed to have Jesus backed into a corner. If they took Jesus’ statement literally, that He was to tear down the temple, or if they took it as He would rise after three days and do this, they thought they had Him in a corner.
Mark tells us after finding witnesses, in the end their testimonies were not consistent with each other (Mark 14:58-59). They were thrown out of court because they were no good. The high priest must have been frustrated. He had to find another way. The high priest uses a clever statement, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus had to answer this question and replies, “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.” (Matthew 26:64). This is all the high priest needed to hear to get Jesus formally charged under Jewish law. He perceived Jesus was falsely claiming to be the Messiah. This was going to get Jesus killed. Have you ever told a lie? We are lairs. We have stolen. We have looked in lust. All this deserves death. But Jesus stands in our place and takes it Himself.
Death is just more than closing our eyes on this earth. Sin causes separation between us and God. If we are not trusting in God we die physically and spiritually, experiencing God’s anger and just punishment. It is what Jesus experienced on the cross. Jesus and God were together from eternity, always equal. Then tearing separation happened. It was nothing of what Jesus did but all we have done. He takes the punishment. Sin crucified Jesus. Sin tortured Jesus. JC Ryle writes, “We drink the same cup that was drunk by our beloved Lord. But there is one great difference: at the worst, we only drink a few bitter drops; He drank the cup to the very dregs.”
If you trust in Christ, you will never have to endure separation from God. He loves you with an infinite and everlasting love.
Jesus suffered for us. This brings all the points together for us – being silent and suffering for us is suffering for us. They spat on His face, beat Him with fists, told Him to prophesise who had hit Him. It is horrible for anyone, but to my Saviour it was abhorrent, despicable and repulsive. And it was for me and for you and for all who will believe.
The gospel of Mark says Jesus was blindfolded for this part. They slapped and spit on this man. Little did they know He was their Creator, Lord of heaven and Earth. He was pierced for our transgressions. We are healed but He was scourged. He was whipped. Horrendous! Severe! Every sin we have ever committed was whipped into His back. Millions blaspheme His name saying, ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ’ in the middle of a conversation. Here He is bearing every one of our sins. Our sin tears His body apart. The torture was so bad Jesus seemed hardly human (Isaiah 52). It was terrifying. So great was His bearing of humanity’s sin, so we could wear a robe of righteousness. Every whip mark, every drop of blood, every grimace and cry was for your sin and mine. He stood in our place.
This shouldn’t just cause you to shrug your shoulders. All your fallen-ness and shame should cause you to weep. You need to repent. You must repent or you will be certainly lost in Hell.
Jesus’ trial is over. Jesus is coming back. Although He was sentenced to death He rose and He must be worshipped and glorified. When He comes again a new trial will begin. Your trial! Jesus will return as a Saviour and Lord – but only for some of us. For those who do not care that he died, He will be a righteous judge. Like He was silent, those who have rejected Him will be silent, standing in their own place, having nothing to say because of their sin and guilt. Now, there is no better time to repent. Jesus may return before we finish this sermon. What do you think of Jesus now? Is He fantastic news?
Jesus welcomes you. He stood in the place of sinners for a reason. What is your verdict of Jesus? Are you going to sentence Him to death in the sense that you ignore Him? Or is your verdict He is the Saviour of the world, if you if you trust and believe?
Spurgeon said, “My entire theology can be condensed into four words: ‘Jesus died for me.’” Is that your theology? Can you say, “Jesus died for me?”
The vast majority of psalms have a personal and historical application to the author and time. They may look forward to beyond the time of King David, to the coming of the king of Kings. Psalm 22 is somewhat different. It is entirely prophetic. The Psalm unfolds the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is clearly like the passage of Isaiah 53. It is a description of the crucifixion. It gives a clear view of the sufferer’s humility. This makes the Psalm all the more striking as crucifixion was not established until centuries later.
The gospels record the outward details of the crucifixion but they only give a glimpse into the Saviour’s experiences. Psalm 22 opens up the Saviour’s soul and mind the penalty which our souls deserved. He did not endure Calvary unconsciously. As He suffered on the cross He was conscious He was fulfilling Old Testament prophecies (John 19:28). He w aware the scriptures were pointing forward to His death. In Matthew 27 Jesus quotes the opening verse of this Psalm, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Even as the Lord suffers He reviews in His mind those prophecies which concerned Himself. He came to fulfil His Father’s will (John 5). As the Saviour takes the Psalm to His own lips we are given an insight into His sufferings.
What can we learn from this?
1. The repudiation of the suggestion that at the cross the Saviour’s faith failed. As we look at the psalm as a whole we see it is full of the Saviour’s confidence and faith. It’s ‘My’ He has lost sight of His Father’s face but not His faith. In the midst of His suffering and anguish He utters great confidence in God (verses 3-5). In His abandonment He knows God is faithful. Christ is able to realise God’s faithfulness to Himself (verses 9-11). The Saviour, from the time of His birth, knows this relationship of trust and confidence with His Father. This enduring faith does not in any way diminish the depths of His suffering.
2. His humiliation and the pain and mockery of the crowds to the Saviour. The One who had walked among the people, who was full of compassion, is now alone. Betrayed. Denied. The disciples had fled. The Saviour hangs in full view of all those gathered around the cross, crowds full of venom. We see in this Psalm how deeply it penetrated His heart “But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people” (Psalm 22:6). He is humiliated by those He came to save. The Lord God, the author of all creation, now feels Himself to be a worm, the least of all creation. The nails and the spear caused no greater pain than this mockery. Verse 8 takes us so vividly to the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:41). The religious leaders, experts in the Old Testament scriptures, are blind to the promised Redeemer “Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion,” (Psalm 22:12-13). These rulers are described as strong bulls, an enraged herd ready to trample down their victim.
3.The horror of the Saviour’s physical sufferings (verses 14-15). This is nothing less than a description of crucifixion. As Jesus is laid on the cross and the nails driven into His hands and feet, we see the description of His suffering. In verse 16 we see the description of the crowds, as they follow the lead of the religious leaders, cry out like a pack of hounds wanting blood (Luke 23:20).
Crucifixion is a death which caused constant perspiration, “I am poured out like water,” (Psalm 22:14). The bones are dislocated, bringing the sufferer to the point of exhaustion, producing extreme thirst, “My tongue clings to My jaws,” (Psalm 22:15). It is an awful description of crucifixion. But these words, as horrible as they are, can’t depict the horror of the suffering. We only scratch the surface.
4.The dark hours and the Saviour’s cry of dereliction. The land was covered in darkness, The Saviour cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” When the Saviour was born the darkness of the night was broken by the glorious light of heaven as the angels proclaimed His birth. Now, at the ninth hour, when day should have been at its brightest, the darkness of hell shuts out the brightness. As darkness covers the land, so our Saviour enters the darkness which He alone could endure. He had to plunge into that darkness, into the physical wrath and anger of God who is holy and cannot look on sin. The Lord Jesus Christ knew what it was to be alone in His earthly ministry. He could always say e who sent Me is with me. But now, His Father turns His face from His Son as the God-Man suffers. He endures the total forsaking, total abandonment. Why? Paul declares, “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4). It is hard to imagine, we cannot imagine, a pure, perfect, spotless life, to be utterly sinless. But here, on the cross, the sinless one becomes our substitute. He comes to die for those He will save. He suffers all the consequences of a broken law. During those three hours of darkness He bore the holy wrath. Here is the essence of our Saviour’s work. This cry of dereliction is the great climax to the Saviour’s work.
5.The turning point (verses 19-21). The Lord is now saying God has answered Him. God accepts the Saviour’s sufferings are complete. The Saviour can now cry out, “It is finished!” The Saviour has accomplished the work the Father sent Him to do. The public declaration of the Saviour’s work comes on the third day – the Lord’s Day.
We can draw three great conclusions:
How dreadful, extremely horrid and evil sin must be.
It brings us to a new appreciation of the greatness of the Father’s love. The Saviour was His delight, yet He gave Him to suffer in our place (John 3:16).
We proclaim, as believers, because of this, Salvation is utterly free and offered to all.
And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” II Kings 5:16
Have you ever had a strange prescription from the doctor? Here, Naaman, a very important gentleman, is told to wash seven times in the Jordan, then his flesh would be completely healed. This story is an illustration of the good news we have of Jesus. God has given us a prescription which is signed off by God Himself, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ This prescription is for us as rebellious people full of sin. The gospel prescription is wonderful!
Naaman’s reaction is a good illustration of how people react to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an interesting twist to this story. Naaman is not only healed but he is a man changed in his heart too. He came to know the living God that the servant girl knew.
Naaman was commander of the army of the King of Syria. His CV was long and impressive. He was a man who led from the front, a ‘valiant soldier.’ He was a brave, strong man, one of the most important people in Syria. He was even used by God in battle. He was a deeply religious guy but he had leprosy. That’s how it is with us. Naaman began to lose sensation in his fingertips. Pale white marks spread on his skin. It was about to ruin him. That’s why Mrs. Naaman was so upset, wondering where to turn. This man didn’t realise he had a deeper problem than leprosy.
We have put men on the moon, can listen to wonderful musical compositions, think about black holes on the edge of the cosmos. God has given us a wonderful world. But the Bible tells us we have a deep problem within our hearts because we are sinners. We have this disease which spoils everything. For all that we are as human beings, this disease spoils us. It’s in our hearts. It spoils the world we live in. Naaman was going to have to have his skin healed, but wonderfully, he was going to have his heart changed too.
How did God sort out Naaman? How does God sort us out? Look at verses 9-16. Naaman was used to being in control of his life. He sort of controlled the gods around him. He was deeply religious but he didn’t know the God who made the world. Everything revolved around Naaman. When he arrived at Elisha’s home, the neighbours must have been surprised to see the chariots roll up. The neighbours would have expected Elisha to come to the door but instead Elisha’s servant came out and gave instructions. It doesn’t sound like Elisha had a lot of respect for Naaman. But this was the man of God. He was giving Naaman a prescription that would change Naaman’s life and cause the pride of this man’s heart to be broken before God. The prescription was designed to humble Naaman. He would have to know his place.
Naaman’s reaction is what happens when a lot of people hear the good news about Jesus. The good news is Jesus died in your place. He took the penalty for that rebellion in your heart, that sinfulness. From the time you and I were born we were cut off from God. But Jesus died on the cross in your place and my place as a punishment from sin which has separated us from God. And if you come to Jesus and thank Him for taking the flack for your sin, if you truly believe in Him, you will be saved and have a relationship with God. It’s wonderful to know Him! Jesus lived a perfect life on my behalf. I’m so thankful. He took the penalty for my sin and I can go free. Believe and you will be saved.
The gospel is designed to make God big and us small, to give all the glory and praise to Him. You cannot pay for this good news, to be washed clean. It’s free. Jesus is the one who paid the price. You and I just have to accept the grace of God. That’s what Naaman experienced that day.
This morning, whatever you think is holding you back from a relationship with God, be assured, God can forgive. Humbly accept it, freely accept it. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. There is no other way, it’s just Jesus. He is the only way.
How was Naaman healed? He went storming off in anger. Like all of us, he rebelled. But he had some wise men around him who told him to be humble and accept the prescription. Eventually, Naaman sees sense. He repents. What is repentance? It’s a change of mind and a change of direction. He turned to God. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan – seven is the perfect number. He was healed. That’s how it is with Jesus. All you have to do is believe in Jesus. Naaman believed the promise that had been given to him. You need to repent and change your mind about God and what He is offering you. Believe. Trust Him to be your Saviour.