Saturday, December 3, 2016
Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 154
Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Today we will be studying the second half of Chapter 53 in which Isaiah foretells the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We concluded yesterday with Isaiah affirming that this Suffering Servant suffered for our sins, not for His own. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)
Because we had all gone astray like wayward sheep, Christ was as silent before His accusers as a sheep, and He became the Lamb of God whose sacrificial death made atonement for our sins. "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7) When the chief priests accused Jesus of many blasphemous and false things in the presence of Pontius Pilate, Jesus did not argue with them or offer any defense. "So again Pilate asked Him, 'Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.' But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed." (Mark 15:4-5)
Innocent people always claim innocence and guilty people usually claim innocence. No matter how much evidence is stacked against them, even most murderers will enter a plea of "not guilty". So Pilate was amazed that any man would not put on a defense, especially when Pilate himself believed Jesus was innocent. Pilate was a shrewd man who saw through to what was in the chief priests' hearts and he knew "it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him". (Matthew 27:18) The KJV translates this verse in an even more revealing way, "For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him." These men were envious of Jesus, of His authoritative way of teaching and of the huge crowds who followed Him and hung on His every word. They felt threatened by Him, for up til now the people counted on the chief priests and teachers of the law to tell them what to do (poor examples though they were) and now this Man's teachings were preferred over theirs.
Jesus had the right to assert His innocence. His "not guilty" plea would have been righteous and true. But think back to how many times His answers had stumped His accusers in the past. There came a point when the chief priests and teachers of the law dared not ask Him any more questions because they always came off looking hateful and foolish. If Jesus had put on any defense at all, He ran the risk of persuading Pilate (who already wanted to set Him free) not to listen to the charges. Under Roman rule the Jews could not put anyone to death even if the person committed a crime worthy of death. Such a case had to be brought before a Roman judge, which is why Jesus ended up at Pilate's palace. Pilate had complete authority to reject any and all charges and to set Jesus free. This is what he wanted to do, but he could find no way to do it. Jesus refused to put on a defense and no witnesses came forward on His behalf. The priests cried out louder and louder against Him as the morning progressed and Pilate feared a riot would break out while he was in town, thus bringing down on his own head severe censure from the Roman government. Passover was always a stressful time for Pilate when he was sent to Jerusalem, with hundreds upon hundreds of pilgrims pouring into town from far and wide, and he had to be on the alert at all times for any hint of insurrection. This must not happen on his watch. But Jesus spoke not a word on His own behalf and I believe it's because if He had, His words would have been so powerful and true that Pilate would have set him free despite how much trouble the priests caused or how much they stirred up the people.
"By oppression and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested?" (Isaiah 53:8a) Jesus refused to put on a defense but we would naturally expect others to step forward and say things like, "This Man healed me of blindness! He can't possibly be wicked or else He would not have such power. These charges against Him are false." Or, "Jesus brought our young daughter back from the dead! You must set Him free. He is a righteous man of God just as Elijah and Elisha were. They both brought a child back from the dead like this Man, and nobody accused them of blasphemy. Jesus isn't guilty either." Or, "I was there when He fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes! Could an ungodly man do this? He's innocent!" But no, there's no record that anyone said a single word on His behalf. Even His closest friends, the disciples, didn't appear as witnesses for the defense. Judas had already betrayed Him. Peter had already denied Him three times. They all fled the garden when He was arrested. So who of His generation protested this farce of a trial? Nobody!
"For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished." (Isaiah 53:8b) Jesus stood before Pilate and before His accusers without anyone speaking up for Him. And this is the position we would have found ourselves in as we stand before God someday. Without Christ, as we face Almighty God knowing we are guilty of many sins, there would have been no one to step forward and speak up for us. But in Christ we have a mighty Defender! Like the most brilliant and talented defense lawyer ever, He will step forward and say to the Judge, "Yes, Your Honor, I know she is guilty of many transgressions, but she made Me her personal Lord and Savior one day. So now every mistake she ever made is paid for, covered by My blood, and she cannot be charged with anything." The Judge will bang down His gavel and say, "Not guilty! Because you have accepted what My Son did for you, I have cast your sins behind My back, never to be thought of again. Enter into the joys of the Lord, good and faithful servant." This is never to be an excuse for sinful living after we come to Christ, for a high price was paid to rescue us from the debt of our sin. When we sin against the Lord after coming to Christ we must always remember the wounds He suffered because of our waywardness. The Lord is faithful to forgive us when we repent and confess, but salvation is never a license to sin.
"He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth." (Isaiah 53:9) This prophecy must have been puzzling until it was fulfilled on the day of the crucifixion. In our times we know that the rich sometimes get rich by being wicked, but in Old Testament times people considered wealth a blessing from the Lord and evidence of righteous living. Material blessings were thought to be a reward for doing right. So in Isaiah's day, how could the Suffering Servant be assigned a grave with both the wicked and the rich? Here we find the fulfillment of the prophecy about the wicked, "Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left." (Matthew 27:38) These men have often been referred to as thieves, but the Roman government didn't waste time and manpower to crucify thieves. The word "rebel" is a better translation, because the Roman government did indeed crucify those who were considered enemies of the state. Rebelling against the government would earn a person the death sentence: a public and very excruciating death sentence on a cross. This type of execution sent a message to the Jews that anyone accused of sedition against Rome might well find himself in the same position. Jesus died with transgressors because in every way He identified Himself with mankind. He suffered the same fate as those who had committed sins worthy of death. And we have all committed sins worthy of death, for sin itself brings death. Jesus did not shrink back from the very worst of sinners or from the most agonizing of deaths so that we could experience His very best.
The salvation Jesus offers is for the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich, and everyone in between. He also made His grave among the wealthy, "Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body...So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb." (Mark 15:43,46) Matthew's gospel tells us that Joseph was "a rich man", (Matthew 27:56) and that the tomb he placed the Lord in was "his own new tomb". (Matthew 27:60) So we find here the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Jesus was with the rich in His death, for Joseph was a rich man and no doubt his tomb was in a cemetery only the wealthy could afford to be buried in. During the short time Jesus' body lay in the tomb, He was in the company of the rich.
"Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand." (Isaiah 53:10) When Isaiah described his calling to be a prophet, he says the Lord asked, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And Isaiah's heart responded properly to the Lord as he replied, "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8) I like to think a similar conversation took place between God the Father and God the Son. God knew mankind would fall before He ever created the first cell of Adam's body from the dust of the ground. And if mankind fell, who would lift him up again? God the Son, unhesitatingly, volunteered Himself, "Here am I. Send Me!"
The Lord Jesus had no offspring while He lived on this earth. But His children are so great in number that, when the Apostle John got a glimpse into heaven, he said no man could count them. Because Christ gave Himself for mankind, His offspring likely number in the billions by now, and who knows how many there will be when the time clock of this old world finally winds down? He had no children of His mortal body on the earth, but His sacrifice earned Him a family He will rejoice over for all eternity. This is why we are told He endured the cross "for the joy set before Him". (Hebrews 12:2) Like a mother who endures labor pains, knowing she will have a beautiful new child when her agony is over, so also the Lord Jesus endured the cross, knowing that the end result would be a beautiful, righteous, and redeemed family so large no mortal man could count them.
"After He has suffered, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:11-12) The resurrection is found here in verse 11. After He has suffered, He will return to life. He will be satisfied with His work, for through it many will be justified and be made right with a holy God. Christ bore our iniquities and if we have trusted in Him, God the Father will not and cannot refuse us pardon. To refuse us pardon would be to refuse the sacrifice the Son made, and this is impossible. The Bible does not say the Servant will justify all, but that He will justify many, since there are those who will reject Him. But this need not happen. If you don't know the Lord Jesus Christ, His hand is outstretched to you. He can justify you. He can bear your iniquities. He can make intercession for you. Because of Him, you can stand before the Judge someday and hear Him say, "Not guilty!" And what better gift could there ever be? In this Christmas season, when we think a lot about gifts, let's not reject the greatest gift of all.
Below is our worship song link for today, based on Isaiah 53.