Purpose in Pain - Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Here is part of a song by Studdart Kennedy, the folk song writer: It was on a Friday morning when they took me from the cell. And I saw they had a carpenter to crucify as well. You can blame it on Pilate, you can blame it on the Jews, you can blame it on the devil, it is God I accuse. Its God they ought to crucify instead of you and me I said to the carpenter a hanging on the tree. Now Barabbas was a killer but they let Barabbas go but you are being crucified for nothing here below. God is up in heaven and he doesn't do a thing, with a million angels watching and they never move a wing. Its God they ought to crucify instead of you and me I said to the carpenter a hanging on the tree.
And I think it is fair to say there are many people who would echo the sentiments expressed in that song. As they survey the pain and misery which is so rampant on our planet the cry goes out Why? Why does God allow it to happen, why doesn't God do something. It may well be all right for him cocooned from such afflictions in the comfort of heaven, but what about his creatures down here on earth? God hasnt a clue as to what it is like to live and die broken in a broken world. I have had that sort of thing said to me on more than one occasion . What are we to say? In fact, as we have been seeing over these last few weeks it was very much the complaint of Gods own people the Jews as they suffered the trials and hardship of being in exile , tyrannised by a cruel and brutal regime. If God is all powerful then he must be able to do something about the plight of his people. If he is all loving he must want to - so why doesn't he? Why doesnt he indeed?
But this morning we come to a part of Scripture which in the most amazing and moving way imaginable takes us to the one moment in the history of the human race when God did bear such hardship, when men and women took their Maker and simply murdered him - nailing him to a tree. Gods own Son, his Servant was to undergo an exile so severe that for the only time in eternity the Godhead was ripped apart - with the Servant exiled from his beloved Father engulfed in darkness and sin.
So come with me on a journey. A journey with the prophet Isaiah as he sees a sight which would cause his blood to turn to ice in is veins - forcing God to answer the question why? What possible purpose could there be in the pain of this Suffering Servant.
Three different answers are given in this passage to that question depending upon who it is that is viewing this lonely desolate figure.
First, there is the servant as men see him which is as a figure of pathetic contempt. This comes out in several places, like 52: 14 for instance; There were many who were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, marred beyond human likeness, why, so physically grotesque is this man in his agony that people cant even bare to look at him, they turn away their faces in shear disgust as one might turn away from a half dead cat lying by the side of the road - 53: 3. His face is so battered that he is hardly recognisable as human being at all, he lloks more like a monster than a man. And even when this Servant first started out in life there was nothing particularly special about him - 53: 2b He has no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. Had you met him in the street you would have simply passed him by. But not now, as he hangs there on full public display, impaled on the gallows, left to rot like a lump of raw meat on a butchers hook, people look at him now and begin to ask the question: Why? The answer is obvious, they say - he must be wicked, v4 - God would never treat a good man like this, he must have been especially morally vile for God to inflict such punishment on him, that is why he hangs there on that tree. But the irony is that he has done nothing wrong at all - v9 He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Here then , we have a gentle man who had never lifted a finger to hurt anyone, a young man, according to v 8, still in the prime of his life with no children to bear his name into posterity. But more than all of this, here is an innocent man, guilty of no crime of his own, cast out and left to die on the local rubbish tip inhabited by vermin.
And you know that is still the way many people still see him today some 2000 years later - a young idealistic prophet who died trying to do his best, someone who calls from us not worship but pity. And maybe you are here this morning and all this Christian talk about the cross is an offensive mystery to you. You can cope with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount but why all this morbid fascination with a crucified Galileean?
Well, to answer that question we must turn to the second observer of this tragic drama and view the Servant as God sees him; look at the beginning of this song 52: 13f My servant will act wisely, he will be raised up and highly exalted. kings will shut their mouths because of him. So where the world sees ignimony and humilation, God sees wisdom and achievement. God has to scan the whole spiritually barren world to find one man, pushing his way up through the unprofitable, hard earth of human depravity, like a small shoot forcing its way up through the sunbaked earth to do the work no one else could do. And so here we have Gods answer to the question Why? Why is this man suffering - v10 It was the Lords will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering he will see his offspring and prolong his days. Now what is this? - God inflicting pain on the innocent, the Lord crushing out the life breath of his Servant? What sort of God would do that? If this is the Servants Lord he would be better off looking for another employer.
Well, let me tell you what sort of God would do this. It is a God who is passionate about seeing that justice will be done. The prophet speaks of a guilt offering and for centuries the Jews had been carefully schooled by God that before sin could be forgiven a sacrifice had to be offered. The blood spread on the surface of the altar symbolised in the most vivid terms the appalling penalty that sin demands - death. God cannot ignore sin, for him to do so would be tantamount to him abdicating his role as the moral ruler of the universe. Sin has to be punished, wrongdoing demands a penalty, we all know that. How would we feel if after the horrors of Auschwitz had been uncovered, the judges at Nuremberg had simply said, What a pity - of course you have been lead astray by your ideology, now run along and dont do it again. ? There is such a thing as natural law, written on the hearts of every man and woman - and integral to that moral sense we all have is that injustice has to be dealt with. God would agree, after all he was the one who wrote that law into our hearts reflecting something of his own moral sense. God can no more ignore your misdoings or mine than we can ignore each others. Sin brings with it a penalty - death.
But the slaughter of an animal on the altar for a Jew was not only a graphic reminder of the penalty for sin, but also a moving picture of the mercy of God. For this was Gods way of ensuring that those who put their trust in him, could be accepted by him, for God treated the animal as if it were the guilty sinner, he graciously accepted the animal in the place of the offending party. In short this is a subtitionary sacrifice.
But what we see here is something which goes way beyond anything the godfearing Jew would contemplate. This is not an animal butchered on an altar but a man hanging on a scaffold - that which was expressly forbidden in the law of Moses is now being carried out by God himself, namely a human sacrifice is being offered for sin.
And that brings us to the third perspective - the Servant as believers see him, which takes us to he very heart of this song in vv 4 - 6 Surely he has took up our infirmities, he has carried our sorrows. . he was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, by his wounds we have been healed. We all like sheep have gone astray each to his own way and the Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all.
Now do you see what was happening on the cross, Gods purpose in pain? These Jews were in Exile as a punishment for their sin. God had promised to bring them back home and he would. But their Exile, severe athough it was, still did not even begin to match up to the moral debt they had incurred because of their rebellion against their God. Corporately they had lied, cheated, promoted sexual immorality, worshipped other gods and the list went on and on, they had been doing this for decades. No, that sin still had to be atoned for - justice had to be satisfied. Similarly, we too have run up a moral debt in Gods sight which even if we were to live for a thousands years and never sinned again, we could not cancel. Like these proverbial sheep the prophet mentions , we have all gone astray, snubbing our noses at the one who made us and day by day blesses us. But instead of returning such kindnesses with gratitude we take them for granted and spurn the Giver. Do not tell me it is not so.
But there was one man who had no moral debt to pay off for he had never sinned - no deceit was ever found in his mouth. And that was Gods servant - Jesus. He did not have to atone for his own sins for there were none to atone for. And so he alone was in the unique position to stand in the breach and pay off the moral debt we have run up by dying in our place , as God on that cross within his own Son paid the penalty for our transgression, our sin was laid upon him. Our spiritual healing comes through his physical wounding - by his stripes we are healed.
Do you see the divine genius of it all? He wasnt being punished for his own sins at all but for our - clearing the debt as bearing our guilt he exhausts Gods righteous anger towards our sin, clearing the books once and for all. The very dimensions of the cross speak of what was taking place, the coming together of wrath and mercy meeting and kissing each other on that wounded thorn laiden brow. So my sin which separates me from God is transferred onto him and the barrier is removed and his righteousness which can restore me to God is transferred to me so now I can call him Father. God does not ignore our sin, he deals with it there, there on the cross - that is the purpose of this pain. God does not turn a blind eye to our plight he faces up to it we are all hurtling towards a Godforsaken eternity when we die, his justice demands that it be so - but in he steps in his one and only Son to take the full burden of a dark and rebellious world upon himself. Yes it was God in that carpenter who was crucified instead of you and me.
Far from this being a futile gesture, this was the greatest act of kindness the world has ever seen or ever will see. This was Gods greatest moment, his most glorious triumph - v11 After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied - a resurrection you see - by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their inquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great and he will divide his spoils with the strongWhy? because he has poured out his soul unto death and was numbered with transgressors.
Never say that God does not care or that God does not understand. Oh, he understands all right and cares. He cares so much as to leave the glories of heaven only to embrace human flesh and taste the bitterness of human suffering in its totality, suffering caused to him by our sin, our pride and arrogance - drinking to the dregs the punishment you and I rightly deserve so we can know forgiveness, peace with God and eternal life.
In a few moments we are going to come to a table. And at that table we will be eating some ordinary bread and drinking some ordinary wine. But in so doing we shall be remembering in our hearts a most extraordinary act. The day when heaven held its breath and hell raged its worst and the holy Servant of God was struck down as our sin bearer. Only to rise again to life as the rightful ruler of this world and men and womens hearts. And we ask: Does God care? Yes he cares - the cross screams the truth at us. Let us pray.
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