Who here has heard of the story of Jonah? After Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Christmas and Easter, Jonah is probably the most well-known story in the Bible – the man swallowed by a whale. That’s the popular narrative. The story is a really important one. Because it is so popular, we gloss over the beauty of it. The story of Jonah gives us a lens through which we can all see all of redemptive history. That’s why it is such a beautiful book. In the story of Jonah we meet the character of God. The story is not necessarily about Jonah, but God. We see God is beautiful. We also come to learn something of ourselves in His beauty too.
Despite the notoriety of Jonah’s story, we know very little about this man. He was the son of Amittai. I 2 Kings chapter 14 we are told he was from a place called Gath-hepher, meaning ‘the wine press’ or ‘well.’ This is also believed to be the place where Jonah is buried. Gath-hepher is significant; it is a very small village on a rocky hill, just a few miles walk from Nazareth. So, it is a place where Jesus probably went to regularly as a boy and was taught about the story of Jonah and remembered it in His ministry. We know the story of Jonah clearly made an impact on Jesus because He mentions him.
The book of Jonah is very different; it is about the prophet rather than what the prophet said. The message actually comes in the life of the person, not necessarily his words. Jonah is also unique in that he is a prophet called to get up and go out. There is no option to work from home. He was told to get up and go – go out to work. The place where he was told to go was an absolute dump, a godless place – Nineveh. The prophet Nahum kindly writes a travel guide for us. He describes Nineveh as a bloody city, full of deceit, full of war, robberies, witchcraft, drunkenness, and oppression. It is essentially a society that exists without God. Would you want to go to that place? No.
Sometimes we are too harsh on Jonah. Imagine if you were called to the crack dens of Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff or Newport, or even the Lord calling you this morning to go to the Donbas, to witness on the front line against Russian military. Would you be in a rush to get going, to leave your comfortable beds in your lovely homes in Pembrokeshire? Would you be prepared to get up and go, to risk your life, to be with people you don’t know, who you don’t agree with, who do not like you. People who will no doubt be hostile, even violent towards you for bringing a message of truth to them. Would you get up and go? It’s tough.
Let me give a less extreme example. Imagine you have had an argument this week. You are in the right, they are in the wrong. You are angry. They are still being nasty to you. Would you go up and say sorry? Would you be the first to apologise for your part in the argument? We don’t like doing that, do we? The point I’m making is that we are all a bit like Jonah.
We all struggle to put self to death for the furthering of God’s kingdom. It’s hard. We all like to do what we like to do, what is easiest for us. We do not like to do what God tells us to do. Nobody here likes to love our enemies, do we? Every one of us is guilty of what Jonah is guilty of here. Lesson 1 pf Jonah – don’t be too harsh on Jonah. We’re all Jonah’s. Let’s get some acknowledgement of that shall we? Get your hands up if you think you’ve been a Jonah?
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2). God speaks to Jonah with clear, specific instruction. He essentially says, ‘Leave your lovely, comfortable village. Leave your home, leave your friends, leave your family and go to the great city of Nineveh – the treacherous, hateful, godless town.
Jonah essentially says ‘no, absolutely not.’ Not only does he say no, he actually, proactively goes against God and goes in a different direction. In verse 3 we see he went to Joppa, 60 miles away. That’s like us getting up and walking to Aberystywth. He went to Joppa to get a ship to go to Tarshish, over 2,000 miles away! It’s like going to Birmingham Airport, then flying to Moscow, to get away.
Jonah really did not want to go to Nineveh. The length he went to, to get away from God’s calling on his life, is significant. It’s telling. That’s why it’s in the Bible. Jonah did not have to travel all that way to reject God’s call. He could have said ‘no’ from home. He didn’t have to travel. Jonah travelled all that way to get away from God altogether. That was his hope.
Tarshish, at this time, was very significant. It was the end of the known world at the time, you couldn’t go any further. As an old covenant Jew, Jonah’s relationship was built on blood and land. Jonah believed the further he got away from Israel, the further he got away from his land, the further he got away from God Himself and the further he could get away from the burden, the call to preach truth in Nineveh.
Jonah is running away from God, from the call of God’s grace. As Christians, we’ve all done that. We run from our burdens that God places on our hearts. We run from the people that cause us difficulties, who we should love and help all the more. We run away from our responsibilities to do what we want to do instead, so we can have an easy life. We run so far at times we think we have got away with it, that we have escaped God Himself. Do you know what always happens when we do that? We fall into sin. We fall into sin when we do a Jonah. When we sin, we think we have escaped God’s presence.
Sin – when we do something that we would never dream of doing before the throne room of God Himself. Sin is when we do something that we would never dream of doing sat here in the pews at church. Sin comes when we hide ourselves away, when we’re locked behind closed doors, where nobody can see us. We fulfil our lusts and desires, thinking we have got away with it. We think we have successfully hidden from God. But the reality is He is always watching.
He is always there. He is always with you by your side. He is watching, He is remembering everything you do and He is mourning over it. He grieves as you sin. That’s terrifying. Sin enters our life when we forget God is with us wherever we go. Sin comes when we think we are not in God’s presence. Sin comes when we think we’ve run to Tarshish. Sin comes when, as Christians, we forget that God lives in us. The scriptures say we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. God is not going anywhere. We are Christians. Everywhere we go and everything we do in this life is theological. We are God’s love in action. You can run to Tarshish but He is still with you.
What Jonah reminds us of here is that God is everywhere. He is all-powerful and all-knowing. He is Creator God. In Christ, He came in person. He entered into the fabric of time and space that He created, to become historic fact. He came to live in our brokenness, in the brokeness of places like Nineveh, in the brokenness of our hearts. He came to live in our fear. He came to live to experience heartache and pain, and loneliness. He came for you. He came to save your soul. He came to put your sin to death on the cross and then bury it. On the third day He rose again, giving us a fresh start in His Resurrection power. New life! Hallelujah! Liberty. Freedom. Redemption from the pressures of this world, so we never have to run anywhere.
We have been liberated to walk with our God and answer His call. We have been freed to meet with Him daily, to know Him as a brother and a friend, as a King and as a Saviour. He is all of those things. Gracious, precious, God, Messiah. I love Him. Do you? He is with you wherever you go. He is here, right now, rejoicing as His people gather in His name. Jesus is present. Hallelujah!
If you do not know Him and you want to know the joy that passes all understanding, to be part of His redemption plan, to hear His voice and be called and sent, then I pray that you will dive into the reality of His grace for you. Trust that on that cross, the historical event of the Crucifixion, He died for you. Receive Jesus as your Lord today and you can swim in His love. He is sovereign. He wants you. You can run away from all you want, but He is here calling you. He is here in Spirit, and He is here just for you. Amen.
Life is full of choices. This morning, you have already decided what time to get up for church, what to wear, what time to eat, what time to leave the house. There are other decisions we make, more inward decisions. In what spirit will I come? Will I come expectantly or out of tradition? Some decisions have very little impact, others are huge decisions; will I get married, have children, what career will I choose? The ultimate choice is whether to accept Jesus Christ and His Kingdom because that determines our eternal life.
In this passage of Scripture, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). These words come towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus describes the Christian lifestyle, our relationships with other people. Then, He says to us, like a jury, have you reached a verdict at which you’re agreed. This choice will not only affect the last of days but eternity. The Lord says to us, ’Will you be my disciple or will you follow other gods and reject me?’
Jesus speaks of two ways: one broad, full of people, but it leads to destruction. The other, the gate of heaven found on earth, is narrow, sparsely populated, but it leads to life. In just a few words here, Jesus tells us the characteristics of a life that’s going to hell and a life that’s going to heaven. Jesus urges us to make the correct decision, to enter in at the narrow gate.
How do you identify the road to heaven and the way to hell?
The road to hell is broad. It is spacious and roomy. It does not have many boundaries. It is popular and permissive, under no obligation to Jesus. You can believe in a way completely contrary to the Sermon on the Mount. You needn’t forgive or pray. Here, people are utterly worldly, consumed by their own little kingdom. That is life on the broad road. Most follow the herd, like cattle. Even people of reputation and learning are on this broad road. There are many companions because it is agreeable to everyone’s sinful inclination. It is attractive. However, people bump into one another and hurt one another. Little children need boundaries unless they grow into spoiled adults. When we live without boundaries in our own personal world, our freedom means that others are hurt. Your freedom to hate means there are always disputes, there are always family quarrels. Others get trampled upon. That’s life on the broad road.
In contrast to that, the road to eternal life is narrow. The gate is narrow, and the way is hard that leads to life. The way of true life is narrow, says the Lord. Not narrow-minded, but narrow. Those who find it are few. It is narrow, confined. There are boundaries to this road. It is a road where honesty, integrity, integrity, compassion, pity, self-control, self-restraint, mercy and forgiveness are the order of the day. It’s a road where unrestrained lust is forbidden, as are swearing, cursing, retaliation and hatred. You are called on to pray, to give, to fast, to seek God’s kingdom first, not your own. In faith you are to look to Him for all physical needs. It’s a road where you’ll be misunderstood, spoken evil of. People will falsely say all kinds of evil against you.
Because it’s a narrow road there are more laws to keep on this road; not only laws that affect your outward life, but laws that are addressed to your inner life. The world of thoughts are addressed here, of motives and attitudes. Often, we break those standards, certainly if we try to keep them in our own strength. But there is mercy and forgiveness for us from the Lord who died for us at the cross. There is encouragement to press on, not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We can be encouraged by companions on the road, by others who have gone before us. The Lord Himself exemplifies what life on this road means. He was obedient to His Father on this road. We find it’s a road of denying yourself, being pure in heart, being a peacemaker, being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Because we have an expert with us, we can do far more. Jesus is an expert in living this life of obedience. If we keep close to Him, we will still fail but we’ll end up living a life which people on the broad road will be jealous of. Some may say, ‘I wish I had your faith.’
The Christian life depends on whether you’re on the inside or the outside. On the outside it looks confined, like a Tardis. From inside, the Christian life is fellowship with the infinite eternal God. It’s about learning about His plans, the unity of His work down and across the ages. From inside you can know forgiveness and offer forgiveness to those on the outside and those on the inside with you.
A narrow gate implies believing definitive truths, not vague ideas about God and life. People on the narrow road believe the gospel. It is universally applicable across the world. It is everlasting. It applies across the world to all sinners, always. There is no liberty to change it to our own ideas. It never changes to fit people. Christ changes people so they love this gospel out.
The narrow road means few people find this road. Unless a person is changed by the Spirit of God, they won’t be attracted to these things. They won’t love the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t love His word, His people, His gospel. They will never find this road attractive. The few across the world, down the ages, who find this road, will eventually add to a great host. “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9).
There are many temptations to forsake the narrow road. Sometimes, the two roads seem to run parallel and close to each other. “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.” (Psalm 73:2). You may be the only Christian in your family, your group, at work, but that’s not a reason to join the broad road – rather it’s a reason to encourage others to get off the broad road and join those who are on the narrow road. A disciple of Christ should never pin their hopes on large numbers.
Where will these two ways take you?
The broad road leads to the worst place of all – certain destruction. The worst way to die is to die Christless. Jesus warns us to beware of going to destruction. Before getting there, you look like your sins. Sin changes us, our attitudes and appearance. Notice, there is no third destination, which means you have to make a choice. To enter the narrow gate, you need to repent, to trust Christ
How do you get through the gate that leads to life?
On the broad road there is easy access; you don’t have to make any effort to find it. People are on the broad road by nature. They may be unaware they’re on the broad road. The gate to life, however, is small, narrow. Because it is small you have to make an effort to find it. You need to seek it. We must exert ourselves. Christ call us through it. He said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). No-one can enter unless they repent.
Jesus speaks of Himself as the gate, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:2-3). “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). Shepherds were gates. At night-time they would gather the sheep into a pen and lie down across the entrance so that wild animals couldn’t enter in, and the sheep couldn’t wander out. They were the gates. Jesus says, ‘I am the gate.’ We have to come to Christ and accept Him as our Saviour and Lord. And that is harder the longer you spend on the road. It is narrow because there is only one way to be saved. No-one who sincerely seeks Christ will fail to find it. The narrow road leads to life, to Christ. Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37). So let us trust Him this morning. Seek Him, to enter the narrow gate so that we may know everlasting life ourselves
Are you getting excited about Christmas? Perhaps, as you get older, you don’t have the same level of excitement and engagement as youngsters do? Perhaps you can’t wait for January, to get back to normal? As Christians, we should be those most excited – not for presents, tees, carol services etc., but because we are conscious of the significance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, conceived in Mary’s womb by a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit, according to the holy will of the Father.
The second person of the Trinity came into this world and dwelt amongst us. This is a great mystery, one we will never be able to get our mind around. It is not something mystical that we cannot get an understanding of. It is so unique it can never be fully comprehended. Here is an event which continually fills us with awe and wonder.
We should never be tired of considering these things. We should never think of just going through the motions of another Christmas. Here we encounter a glorious miracle; Jesus was not just a mere baby, He was supernaturally begotten of the Holy Spirit – the miracle of the virgin conception, the birth of a sinless person, one promised by God 4,000 years prior to the event. In Genesis 3:15 God promises the woman’s seed – a singular word – one who would come from the woman, in due time, who would be there conqueror of Satan, and who would be the one who would release them from their captivity to sin.
In the person of Jesus Christ, the woman’s seed, the Saviour comes – miraculously conceived in in the womb of a virgin – a great and glorious miracle of God. Marvel afresh at the mystery and the miracle of our Saviour’s birth. Matthew, like Luke, wants to emphasise the wonder of this event by pointing to the reality of the virgin conception.
“Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ,” (Matthew 1:16). ‘Of whom’ is feminine, not masculine. The original language is unambiguous; Jesus is the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. That great lineage that we read at the start of Matthew 1 is emphasised in the original language, that He is born of Mary.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothedto Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) There is an emphasis on the absence of sexual relationship between Mary and Joseph. A betrothal has taken place, something more than an engagement. We are told specifically, as the Holy Spirit guides Matthew, there was no sexual relationship between Joseph and Mary that could have led to her conceiving. Indeed, we are told in verse 18 and re-emphasised in verse 20, as the angel speaks to Joseph, Mary was not involved with any man, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph need not worry that Mary had been unfaithful to Him.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23 Matthew quotes Isaiah. He uses a word in Greek that only means virgin. The Holy Spirit guides Matthew, confirming it is a virgin who gives birth. Mary remains a virgin up to His birth. Subsequently, we know Mary has a further four boys and at least two girls that Joseph fathered. But in this instance, Joseph has no involvement in this conception. A virgin conception leads to a virgin birth.
If Jesus was the natural child of sinful parents, then there would be no reason for us to celebrate Christmas, to be excited, to be full of awe and wonder at His birth. If Jesus were not the Son of God who entered into this world via the virgin’s womb, He could not be the Saviour of His people. The name Jesus that was given to Him, by direction of God through the angel, means Saviour. It’s a name that was a fairly commonly used in Bible times. It has an Old Testament version, Joshua. Of all the boys that were born down the centuries that bore His name, there was only one who was truly the Saviour, bringing salvation to those born in sin. This Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Here is the one mysteriously, miraculously conceived, the one who brings hope to a hopeless, lost world.
This Jesus is Immanuel. We are told this is God, God with us. Here is the one who is mysteriously, miraculously conceived, the one who brings hope to the hopeless. Here is one who is fully God, never anything less than that. It is important for fallen human beings to ascend to God, to approach the holy one, to draw near to this holy God. It there was ever to be a renewed fellowship between sinful men and the holy God, God must come down, for man cannot go up.
Sharing in this remarkable event, in this mysterious, miraculous occurrence, God comes – one who is fully God, but one who is also the fullness of God. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” (Colossians 1:19), “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9). In this one person the fullness of God was found in bodily form. An incredible mystery! It is phenomenal – not just a bit of God but the whole of God. It’s only God the Son who is conceived of the Holy Spirit, who is born. But such is the unity of the Trinity that when one person of the Trinity comes, then the whole of God comes, in Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is Immanuel.
How amazing it is that the God we have sinned against and rejected, condescends to come. He doesn’t sit in glory and say, ‘Do your best to get to me,’ for that is impossible. He comes! Who is it that can pay the infinite price for sin other than the infinite God. It is God the Son who will offer Himself up, as a sacrifice, taking the punishment from our sin, in our place, upon the cross. The Father will pour out upon Him the wrath the should rightly consume each one of us.
It is the one who is fully God, the one who is the fullness of God, who pays the penalty that God requires, so that we can be forgiven and receive salvation, eternal life, that renewed fellowship with God which is the essence of what life is – an eternal union with Christ through faith, that draws us into the very communion of the godhead itself. We don’t become divine, but through Christ we are drawn into the divine, and we know salvation. Immanuel. It’s God. It is God with us.
He is God but He is also fully man. He identifies full with us in our humanity. He is therefore able to represent us and take upon Himself the responsibility for our sin. It is not an angel who comes in order to die, it is a man, for it is a man who fell into sin and brought into captivity all his descendants. We are all sinners by our nature and by our deed. We share in the responsibility for Adam’s sin. We cannot say, ‘It’s unfair because it was Adam who fell not me.’ The reality is Adam fell, and I fell in him, but I have continued to fall in sin and I must bear the responsibility.
But a Saviour comes! One who is fully God but who is also fully man, one who identifies completely with me in order that He can take the responsibility of my sin upon myself.
He is sinless, protected by the Holy Spirit from the contamination of sin, by this virgin conception. This perfect man was perfectly God. He knew no sin. But God made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin, by taking the responsibility of our sin. He is not condemned, as He dies upon the cross, because of His own sin, but because He has identified so fully with me that He becomes me, in the eyes of the Father. As He hangs upon that tree, He bears the full weight of the punishment of my sin. He is God with us.
He is our great High Priest. He identifies with us so fully. He has experienced all the trials of our lives. He is moved with compassion towards us. He has loved us so much that He has given Himself as the sacrifice for our sin. His great desire is for our eternal good and well-being. He intercedes on our behalf before the Father. His purpose is to keep all those who, repenting of their sin, trust in Him for forgiveness. He is going to keep every single one of these people safe in the salvation that He has accomplished for all eternity. There is not one that will not be kept or preserved, to stand before the God of glory in eternity. There is not one who will be separated from Him. There is not one who will not be kept and preserved by His grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to stand before the throne of God in glory and to worship for eternity.
The great triune God. Here is Jesus, the Saviour, who is Immanuel, God with us. Two natures in one person. Here is the mystery and miracle of Christmas that brings true joy, that provides sure and certain hope of salvation. Here is the reason why we should be full of praise and thanksgiving. Here is the Saviour. Here is my Saviour, my God, come down for me, that I might ascend to His glorious presence and enjoy eternity, in fellowship with Him. Are you excited, full of awe, full of wonder?
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.