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Lead Me To Calvary (Sermon series on Isaiah 53)

The Rev. A. Donald MacLeod, D. D., D. D.

Research Professor of Church History,

Tyndale Theological Seminary, Toronto


(Isaiah 52:13-15 and 53)

A sermon series preached during Lent, 2014, at

Fellowship Christian Reformed Church,

Brighton, Ontario

Copyrighted: Republication by Permission Only



A Word of Thanks

Page 3

(1) The Servant’s Marred Features

(Isaiah 52:13 – 15)

Page 4

(2) Root Out Of Dry Ground

(Isaiah 53:1-3)

Page 9

(3) Crushed For Our Iniquities

(Isaiah 53:4-6)

Page 14

(4) He Opened Not His Mouth

(Isaiah 53:7-8)

Page 18

(5) An Offering for Sin

(Isaiah 53:9-10)

Page 22

(6) A Portion with the Great

(Isaiah 53:10-11)

Page 26


9 March 2014


   Lead Me to Calvary:

1. The Servant’s Marred Features


          “Behold the man!” Pilate says to the angry mob as he points to Jesus that first Friday we dare call “Good.” Jesus is standing there, a crown of thorns matting his hair, blood streaming down his face, as he stands accused of high treason.


“Behold the man” or, as the Latin Vulgate has it, “Ecce homo.”   Look at the face of Jesus. In the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Zaragoza, northern Spain, there is a mural painted in 1930 by an art professor on holiday of Jesus at that moment. In less than three hours Elías García Martínez dashed off a wall painting of how he thought Jesus must have looked as Herod called out “Behold the man.” Over the years the paint cracked, lines formed and damp destroyed much of the surface. The decaying image bothered a devout lady as she came to mass every Sunday. Finally at the age of eighty, she decided to do something about it: she set about to restore the painting. Thanks to the internet her clumsy and amateur efforts immediately gained international attention, the church became a tourist attraction and the title of the painting was changed from “Ecce Homo” to “Ecce mono” Behold the monkey.


“Behold the man!”  You have your mental pictures of Jesus, I have mine. what He looked like, Who He was. Over the years those images can become defaced, the colours faded, the image blurred or darkened. As a preacher of the gospel my responsibility – in Browning’s words – is to cry from the pulpit “See the Christ stand!”    Cotton Mather, minister for forty-five years of Boston’s Second or ‘Old North’ Church, stated it vividly[1]: “The great design and intention of the office of a Christian preacher are … to display in the most lively colours … the wonderful perfections, offices and grace of the Son of God.”[1]  So I say to you today: “Look at Jesus! Behold the Man!”


“Ecce homo” “Behold the man” “Behold my servant”: the prophet Isaiah begins this Fourth Servant Song that will be our chapter for meditation during this Lenten season.  The first of the Servant Songs began: “Behold, my servant, my chosen in whom my soul delights.” Now again the prophet repeats: “Behold!  My servant …”  “You are going to have another glimpse of this Servant of mine.”  As in earlier chapters he had declared:  “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and His name shall be called Emmanuel.”  “Behold my Servant!”


I say it with visual concepts from the sacred page. For two thousand years Christian piety has imaged Jesus through the words we study. Isaiah’s fifty-third chapter (which actually begins at verse 13 of chapter fifty-two) has helped believers view the Suffering Servant. “Behold, my servant!” “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” But it is particularly in this opening, first stanza of the five that the prophet provides large brush strokes for a portrait of Jesus.




“Behold my Servant.”  Look at this individual. So Yahweh, the Lord, draws our attention to One Who will come not to be served but to serve.  He is my Servant, He will succeed in His divine mission. He will deal prudently. The verb here that sets the whole direction of the rest of the chapter is one that can mean “dealing wisely” or go further and suggest that because of that quality of prudence in its activities, prosperity has resulted, success has been achieved.


Now this is very important because it serves as a kind of heading over all that will proceed.  “You may think that Anyone coming to earth, dying a cruel death, identified with the weak, the powerless and the sinful was very foolish and that that path of weakness and surrender was ultimately a failure.  And so we ask the question as we contemplate Good Friday: “Was Jesus a flop at thirty-three? Did His vision of the kingdom of God come to nothing?  Was it all a tragic mistake?”


And God the Father says emphatically: “My Servant will deal wisely and He will prosper.”  Make no mistake about it: after the worst had happened, after the hatred of humankind, its vindictiveness, its evil, its anger, had been expressed: love found a way.”


We think of Isaiah 53 as a description of Good Friday.  Never forget that Easter is also there: the Man of sorrows has been prudent, He did succeed. And the prophet goes on to describe His exaltation: He shall rise, He shall be exalted, He shall be very high. Devout interpreters of this verse have spoken of the three verbs as applying to Jesus’ resurrection, His ascension and His intercession as He intercedes for us in His heavenly home.  We do not need to distinguish the three that carefully to be reminded of the divine parabola of Philippians 2: “Being in very nature God … (He) made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant … He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow .. every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[2]


(2) PICTURING JESUS AS VICTIM (verse 14, 15a)


The contrast is striking then as we are introduced to a very different picture: the “astonishment” of those “appalled” at a Man whose appearance is marred beyond recognition.  Is this the Lord we are looking at: He is scarcely human, onlookers comment. Can this seared and pitted face, distorted by grief and sorrow, really be the same prudent and successful Servant, “raised .. lifted .. exalted”?


The striking nature of the language conveys something of the horror and yet fascination of those who cannot bear to watch such a paroxysm of grief, and yet who are riveted at the sight of a human being so distraught, so anguished. And why this disfigurement? The second parenthesis describes the reason for this tragedy: “He is sprinkling many nations.”


The sprinkling of the nations is a priestly term[3]: sprinkling water over the leper[2], the dipping of blood and sprinkling it before the Lord as a sin offering[4] or sprinkling with oil the altar and its vessels.  The requirements of Moses’ law have the same point. The imagery of sprinkling is one of cleansing and purifying.  Isaiah, with this picture of a Servant in contortions of agony, is saying at the beginning what he will repeat frequently in this song: that by the suffering of the Servant there will be healing and wholeness and cleansing. “With His stripes we are healed … the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”




The image of Jesus is strangely mixed: triumphant, reigning, in control, full of authority. Yet also – paradoxically – distorted, frighteningly intense. Are the two pictures irreconcilable? Isaiah leads us on to the inevitable conclusion: humankind simply does not know how to deal with such an image: redemptive, vicarious suffering is beyond our grasp.


Kings then shut their mouths: a typical Arab or Semitic gesture of astonishment as the lips are sucked in and the corners of the mouth are turned upward. They do not know what to say: the picture is too powerful – it transcends language. “What they were not told, they will see; what they have not heard, they will understand.”


“What language shall I borrow,

To thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever;

and should I fainting be.

Lord let me never, never,

outlive my love to Thee.”[5]


  The year is 1748. The ship is the Brownlow, a slaver out of Liverpool sailing along the West African coast. The delirious sailor, desperately ill with fever, is John Newton. The vision, as he was to tell it later, was of a cross. Lying there at Golgotha he looked up at a figure on a central cross. Christ’s death had been a matter of creed, not necessity. As he looked there was agony, vicarious suffering.   The Man there seemed to charge him with His death. As he considered the gravity of his sin, the worse it became, the more necessary its propitiation.

“I saw one hanging on a Tree

In agonies and blood,

Who fixed His languid eyes on me,

As near His Cross I stood.


Sure never till my latest breath

Can I forget that look:

It seemed to charge me with His death,

Though not a word He spoke:


Alas! I knew not what I did!

But now my tears are vain;

Where shall my trembling soul be hid?

For I the Lord have slain!

— A second look He gave, which said,

‘I freely all forgive;

This Blood is for thy ransom paid;

I die, that thou may’st live.’[6]


“Behold my servant will act wisely;

          he shall rise,

                    he shall be exalted,

                              he shall be exceedingly high.


 Even as at you many were astonished

          so disfigured was his appearance from men

                    and his form from the sons of men

                              for he shall sprinkle many nations.


 Kings shall shut their mouths

           for what has not been told them,

                    they have seen,

          and what they have not heard,

                    they have perceived.”












16 March 2014

  Lead Me to Calvary

(2) Root Out of Dry Ground

                                                     (Isaiah 53:1-3)



My preacher of choice is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist Victorian spellbinder who kept ten thousand Londoners, twice on Sunday, riveted in their seats and whose sermons were dispatched each week to America where they had a rapturous audience. All his ten thousand sermons, over a lifetime of ministry, are available on the Internet these days and since he once was quoted as saying “All originality and no plagiarism makes for dull preaching.” I suspect that many of them are foisted on unaware congregations. I keep on my desk a small bust of him, carved for an adoring fan in the heyday of his popularity. I look at it and reflect on the example he set for all preachers.


So it seems strange that the best thing ever written on depression in the ministry by this extraordinary man. “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” is how he describes the relentless pressures that clergy experience over a lifetime of ministry in the discharge of our duties. He began: “I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.”[7]


Our passage today shows a prophet in great consternation. He has been a message from the Lord that no one can understand. The Suffering Servant, we are told in this second stanza of the fourth Servant Song, is a sufferer. The face is strangely paradoxical: majestic and yet marred, pitted and yet all powerful.  It is not a message that people want to hear.



“Who has believed our report?” Or, as Luther translated it, “Who has believed our preaching?” The prophet, in this second stanza of this fourth Servant Song, throws out his despairing cry. His description of the strange paradox of a man whose marred features both attracted and repelled, a Victim Who is also a Victor, made even kings shut their mouths, is so beyond the grasp of human comprehension that he wonders who can possibly receive, accept, and believe it.


As so often in the Old Testament there is a second, parallel thought, a question: “Unto whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” The arm of the Lord is His mighty strength which alone provides the Light we need to believe. The preacher can beg, implore, plead, but unless the Spirit of God powerfully energizes that Word there will be no saving faith. The preached Word gets a response only because of the arm of the Lord energizing it. The second question amplifies the first.

When Spurgeon preached on this text in October 1872 he identified with Isaiah’s frustration:  “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the simplest thing in the world, but no man truly understands it until he is taught of God. There are preachers who labor after simple words … to make the Gospel clear” but some who hear the message “rush on in darkness, though the Gospel creates a noonday around them.—they grope for the wall like the blind, though the Sun of Righteousness shines with infinite brightness!”[8] It is the mystery of the seed sown on the path, on rocky soil, and among thorns, which never finds root.


Jesus was a Man of Sorrows, He was acquainted with grief, He was the One from Whom we hid our faces. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[9]




So what is this message that is so difficult to comprehend? In graphic language the prophet describes a Servant of the Lord who experiences great humiliation throughout His entire life: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot,

and like a root out of dry ground.”


 “He grew up before him” This humiliation contrasts with the One before Whom He grew up.

“He left His Father’s throne above

So free, so infinite His grace—“[10]

“Out of the ivory palaces,

Into a world of woe,

Only His great eternal love

Made my Savior go.”[11]


Two comparisons from the plant world vividly illustrate the humiliation of the suffering Servant. In the eleventh chapter, verse 1, he had spoken of the Messiah as   “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Now he develops the imagery:

  ‘a tender shoot’, literally a sucker. The sucker is that growth that           comes up in a rosebush that brings neither flower nor fruit and has to be pruned away so that the proper foliage will appear. It is a hindrance to growth and requires pruning.

  ‘a root out of dry ground’, out of the parched soil growth appears.           Out of barrenness an inhospitable soil there is life


And then the final step in his humiliation: “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”. The Servant is not attractive as humans value appearance and beauty. The naked figure of a Man in excruciating pain, impaled upon a cross is revolting and ugly. Society only has a place for the young, the healthy, and the active: so we dismiss the aged, the infirm, the impaired, and the weak.  But from His cross the suffering Servant takes that equation and turns it upside down, and reminds us again that “His strength is made perfect in weakness.”  The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[12]




The Servant experiences a threefold agony:


(a) loneliness: “He is despised and rejected by others.” No greater affliction could be experienced by the individual in Isaiah’s culture. The isolation of a person without other support was unthinkable. One must have the support of family and friends. For Job the greatest reproach was that “my family and friends have ceased/failed/forgotten/forsaken me.”[13]

In preaching on this text 450 years ago John Calvin remarked that   14 “We like to count the votes, and many waverers look about them and say ‘Oh dear! Only a little handful of men believe in the Gospel. If they were the larger party, I would join them willingly and gladly. But what is the good of joining forces with such a small group and leaving the multitude?’” And he notes: “Jesus Christ was rejected almost everywhere. And therefore we are the more strengthened against following men’s opinions when we do not merely meet with a hundred unbelievers but they come flocking in multitudes and in great armies and it is hard to discover three or four in a hundred who submit peaceably to our Lord Jesus Christ,. When we see that, let us not cease to cleave to Him. This, in brief, is what we should remember from this passage.”[14]


(b) pain: literally of  pains. He experienced the jarring reality of incredible physical torture. Somehow, there on Calvary, as Isaiah anticipates it, “sorrow and love flowed mingled down.”

(c) grief: ‘acquainted with grief’. Not only loneliness, not only physical pain, but also grief. He understands what it means to grieve: his life was filled with tears. From the cries of the motherless children of Bethlehem, to the weeping of women as he went to the cross, Jesus understood our sorrow. There was no sorrow like His sorrow. Jesus wept: at the grave of Lazarus, at the nearsightedness that could not see beyond the grave. But he wept with sympathy, love, compassion. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”[15]

In every pang that rends the heart

the Man of Sorrows has a part;

he sympathizes with our grief,

and to the sufferer sends relief.[16]

As C. S. Lewis observed his own grief: “You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears … I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.”[17]


I have told the story before, but will close with it today.  In the midst of rehearsing with Sir Thomas Beecham, the 38 year old contralto soloist Kathleen Ferrier was called out of the recording studio.  The message from the Hospital came quickly over the phone: the tumor was malignant, the cancer was extraordinarily virulent, she had only weeks to live. And as she returned to sing, the words conveyed meaning that no other rendition of that section of The Messiah will ever have. She sang as though the very words came off the page: “He was despised, despised and rejected, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”.

            Who has believed what has been heard by us?

                    to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?


          He grew up as a tender shoot before him

                    and as a root out of desert ground

                              no outline/form for him

                              and no splendor when we see him

                              and nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.


          Despised and forsaken by humankind,

                    a man of sorrows/pain/human anguish,

                              familiar with sickness

                              we hid our faces from him;

          he was despised and we did not esteem Him.”













16 March 2014

Lead Me to Calvary:

(3) Crushed For Our Iniquities

                                                      (Isaiah 53:4-6)


Recent news from the seemingly endles turmoil in Iraq has called to mind another Allied campaign there almost a century ago.  Then the British, having secured Arab neutrality, protected the oil fields, and occupied Basra, decided to make a dash to Baghdad.  The army on that occasion was supported by a naval flotilla – a motley collec­tion of vessels led by an armed paddle steamer, commanded by my wife’s great-uncle.


In the late dusk of September 28, 1915, as they were pro­ceeding up the Tigris River towards Baghdad, they were stopped by heavy metal cables obstructing their way.  Every effort was made to continue on, amid crippling fire power from either bank, but finally the commanding naval officer himself decided to risk almost certain death by giving his life for his men. Jumping out and attempting to cut the cable with a hatchet he was immediate­ly gunned down and died within seconds of getting back on board.   For his valor, Lieutenant Commander Christopher Cookson was awarded posthumously the highest military award the British have: the Victoria Cross.


The story has a sad sequel.  Cookson had no immediate heirs, so his medal, now extremely valuable, was sold at auction by his nephew who was strapped for cash. My mother-in-law, his niece, was very upset when she read in the paper that her cousin, to get out of Zimbabwe, had sold a family treasure that was beyond price.           As Christians we too have a family birthright, not the Victoria Cross but the cross of Calvary. It is ours because a Man gave His life so that others might live.  He died for others, so that they might be rescued from death.


And that is really what this third stanza of the fourth Servant Song is all about.  As the noted Biblical scholar J. S. Whale stated: “The song makes twelve distinct and explicit statements that the servant suffers the penalty of other men’s sins: not only vicarious suffering but penal substitution is the plain meaning of its fourth, fifth and sixth verses.”[18]


In Matthew’s gospel we read that after Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law evening many had come to be cured: “This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseas­es.'”[19]  He bore the sickness of the human race: he intervened to rescue us, saving us from death but giving His own life that we might live. The cross to Christians has always been crucial: it is the crux of our message.  And that message sprung out of their understanding of the prophets, and specifically this chapter before us: “No other passage from the Old Testament” – Joachim Jeremias has stated emphatically – “was as important to the church as Isaiah 53.”[20]


Out of our text there are four words that help us define what Jesus did on the cross: “vicarious” – on behalf of someone else He died; “penal” He took the punishment of our sins on Himself, “substitutionary” His death on the cross was as my substitute; “atonement” at Calvary He atoned for my sins. In verses 4 through 6 of this chapter we have three major thoughts as we consider the penal substitutionary activity of the Servant as He gives Himself vicariously for the needs of His own.


(1) THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT: Our sins, our iniquities, all we like sheep


Immediately we notice the number of instances of the first person plural in these three verses.  No less than eleven times Isaiah speaks of “we” and “us” and “our”.  What is this Suffering Servant about? He has borne our infirmities, carried our diseas­es. We are the ones who have accounted Him stricken, struck down and afflicted.  It was for our transgressions He was wounded, for our iniquities He was crushed, for “the peace of us” that He bore the punishment, and by His bruises we are healed.  And in verse 6 we have the final description of the human predicament: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to our own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”


(2) THE DIVINE SUBSTITUTION: He bore, He carried


“And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Infirmities, diseases, transgressions – literally the breaking of God’s law, iniquities: all of these He has taken to Himself, carrying them to a place called Calvary, bearing them in our stead.  As Luther once stated to a monk distressed about his sins: “Learn to know Christ and him crucified.  Learn to sing to him and say ‘Lord Jesus, you are my righteous­ness, I am your sin.  You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.  You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not’.”[21]


Nouns characterize the human predicament, verbs the Suffer­ing Servant’s response.  Verse 4 has been translated:

“It was our griefs he bore,

Our anguish He carried.”

“He was wounded for our transgressions”, verse 5 continues, “crushed for our iniquities.”  The wounding mentioned here is the strongest Hebrew verb for a violent or painful death.  And the verse continues:

“upon Him was the punishment that made us whole,

by His bruises we are healed.”


And why this willingness to suffer and die?  Verse 6 re­sponds that “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  We have seen Yahweh hovering in the background, much as that picture of the crucifixion in an Italian gallery which has “a vast and shadowy Figure beyond the figure of Jesus.  The nail that pierces the hand of Jesus goes through to the hand of God.  The spear thrust into the side of Jesus goes through into God’s.”[22]


As Luther stated it so graphically:

            Our most merciful Father … sent His only Son into the world and laid upon him all the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul, that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and briefly, be thou the person which has committed the sins of all men; see therefore that You pay and satisfy for them.


(3) JESUS’ CRUCIAL GIFTS: Peace, healing, forgiveness, mercy


The Suffering Servant has seen the human predicament, God has responded provided a Substitute, what then?  Isaiah 53, verse 5, says that through His suffering He offers us two great gifts: peace (or “whole­ness”, shalom) and healing.   Or in the promise of the next verse: forgiveness and mercy.


In the last analysis the prescription for the human condi­tion is a radical one: it strikes at the very heart of the human predicament and the divine reality.  It ensures God’s justice and yet guarantees His love.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”


“All other forms of religion,” Emil Brunner once said, “deal with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore they come to a ‘cheap’ conclusion.  In them man is spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator must bear the punishment instead of him.  To this yoke he need not submit.  He is not stripped absolutely naked.”[23]


But we must stand naked before God: our Substitute wore the filthy rags of our righteousness instead of us.  He clothes us anew in His goodness.  We say with Augustus Toplady:

“Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to Your Cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress;

Helpless, look to you for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly;

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”


            Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our dis­eases;

            yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted.

            But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;

            upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

            All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way,

            and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”[24]



30 March 2014

Lead Me to Calvary:

(4) He Opened Not His Mouth

                                                      (Isaiah 53:7-8)


I was a somewhat precocious ten year old when I was given a novel that shaped my life. Cry, The Beloved Country was a story of South Africa in its darkest days by a man who had served as a prison chaplain in Johannesburg. I don’t know why it gripped me at that young age: it was an emotional time for our family as we were about to leave for China, then in the grips of a savage civil war, a journey that filled my parents, particularly my mother, with great fear and apprehension.

Cry, The Beloved Country is the story of two fathers in South Africa, one white the other black. The black man is an Anglican priest in a small rural community in the country serving his people with grace and compassion. Kumalo has lost contact with his son, whom he has sacrificed to educate and who should now, according to African custom, be looking after him in his old age. Instead he has gone to the city, lost contact with his parents, and fallen into bad company. The father travels there in search of his boy, only to find that he has killed a man in a robbery attempt and is being tried for murder. The white man he has killed ironically comes from the same village and is the son of a white racist farmer who has turned against the whole white South African culture of entitlement and spent his life seeking to respond to the injustice. His father, on hearing of his son’s murder, has to deal with suffering not dissimilar to that of the priest. The two parents meet under the shadow of a common sorrow, their sons’ wasted potential,

As the time comes for his son’s execution, having returned to the village he serves as pastor, Father Kumalo says something that has echoed and reechoed as I have dealt with sufferers throughout my ministry. “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering. For our Lord suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”[25] You see, in our lives as humans, born to sorrow and suffering as the sparks fly upward[26], it is not the suffering but the way we deal with it that shapes our lives and destinies.

So this fourth stanza of the fourth servant song of Isaiah tells us how the suffering servant copes with human injustice. In the first stanza we were introduced to his sufferings, the second speaks of his rejection, and last week we witnessed His crushing as a substitute for me, my sin bearer. Now Isaiah continues with this identification of the Servant with human suffering. This Servant is one with me in His death, a model for me to follow in death as He was in life.

This is the lesson that Peter draws from the sufferings of Jesus. To those Christians in northern Asia Minor he brings words of comfort in their persecution: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[27]



            How does the servant react to His crushing, His affliction, as described in verse 5? We read in verse 7 that “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth.” And then once again in the second half of the verse: “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.”

At the judgment hall as Jesus comes to Pilate, with a crown of thorns and a purple robe the crowd crying out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate goes back inside to continue his invigilation: “Where are you from?” Silence: “But Jesus gave him no answer.” “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize that I have power either to free you or to crucify you.” “You would have no power over me if it were not given you.” “He opened not His mouth.” But I am full of responses when I am humiliated, criticized, blamed: I am full of excuses, explanations, angry responses, pay-backs, rage, simmering resentment.

If you’ve seen the film “Twelve Years A Slave” you may remember the scene where the slave trader, James Birch, beats Solomon Northop for his assertion he was a free man, first with a paddle and then a cat o’nine tails and he describes his suffering: “Even now the flesh crawls upon my bones, as I recall the scene. I was all on fire. My sufferings I can compare to nothing else than the burning agonies of hell!” It was out of experiences like that we have the Afro-American spiritual:

They crucified my Lord,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word;

They crucified my Lord,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word.

Not a word, not a word, not a word.

They nailed Him to a tree,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word;

They nailed Him to a tree,

They pierced Him in the side,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word;

They pierced Him in the side,

The blood came trickalin’ down,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word;

The blood came trickalin’ down,

He bowed His head and died,

And He never said a mumbalin’ word;

He bowed His head and died.[28]

It takes an Afro-American to enter into the pain and the injustice of Calvary. And to respond with the prayer of all prayers: “Lord, keep my big mouth shut.”





“By oppression and judgment he was taken away.

Yet who of his generation protested?”

The Servant is taken to prison (the literal meaning of oppression) and he receives a judicial sentence which usually was of death. And, Isaiah continues, who gave a thought among his contemporaries of the injustice of the court? Someone has commented that “it is the last and bitterest drop in the cup of the dying that no one takes any concern about one’s fate.”

Any why such alone-ness? The second half of verse 8 explains the reason, as we return to the theme of the previous stanza, vicarious substitutionary atonement:

“For he was cut off from the land of the living;

for the transgression of my people he was punished.”

There was no one who was more acquainted with both physical and mental pain than Amy Carmichael, a missionary in south India who rescued girls sold into temple prostitution and herself was in great physical distress for the last twenty years of her life after a painful fall. She once wrote:

“Home of our hearts, lest we forget

What our redemption meant to You,

Let our most reverent thoughts be set

Upon Your Calvary.


We, when we suffer, turn and toss

And seek for ease, and seek again;

But You upon Your bitter cross

Were firmly fixed in pain.


We, in our lesser mystery,

Of lingering ill, and wingèd death.

Would fain see clear; but could we see,

What need would be for faith?


Oh Lord beloved, Your Calvary

Stills all our questions. Come, oh come,

Where children wandering wearily

Have not yet found their home.”[29]


The fourteen year old Elie Wiesel, taken to Buchenwald, wrote: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed.  Never shall I forget that smoke (of the crematorium) … Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever … Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul.”


But there were more horrors after that first night: the guard tortured and then hung a young boy, “a child with a refined and beautiful face”, a “sad-eyed angel.” Just before this hanging, Elie heard someone behind him whisper, “Where is God?  Where is he?”  Thousands of prisoners were forced to watch the hanging – it took the boy half an hour to die – and then to march past, looking him full in the face.  Behind him the same voice would ask: “Where is God now.” “And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is he? Here he is – he is hanging here on the gal­lows.”[30]


John Stott, on reading this passage, and hearing him say “I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy” asked: “Could he have said that, if in Jesus he had seen God on the gallows?”[31] As the Christian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ten months before his execution on a Nazi gallows, “only a suffering God can help.”


“By perversion of justice he was taken away.”  Jesus’ example in the presence of the sin – my sin – that nailed Him to that tree was to suffer in my stead – voluntarily, unjustly, innocently, and when I ask “Where is God?” the response comes back from His Father – and mine – “He was stricken for my transgression.”  “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed.  For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”[32]


“Lamb of God, have mercy on me;

Lamb of God, grant me Your peace.”


            “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

            yet he did not open his mouth;

            like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

            and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

            so he did not open his mouth.

            By a perversion of justice he was taken away.

            Who could have imagined his future?

            For he was cut off from the land of the living,

            stricken for the transgression of my people.

            They made his grave with the wicked

            and his tomb with the rich,

            although he had done no violence,

            and there was no deceit in his mouth.”







6 April 2014

Lead Me to Calvary:

(5) An Offering for Sin

                                                     (Isaiah 53:9-10)


9 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.

            10 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.

            It is more than forty years ago since the psychiatrist Karl Menninger asked the question, as the title of a book he wrote, Whatever Became of Sin? Describing “sin” as “the bluebird on the dung heap” he fired a challenge to us preachers: “how often does a modern sermon deal with sin?” And then he went on to say “Small wonder that some clergymen (sic) have become conformist, banal, and dull.” At the time Menninger’s words were welcomed by evangelicals, fed up with the liberalism of a pulpit that too often had shied away from matters of judgment and evil, and “dressed the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”[33]  In so doing they had cheapened the great Biblical theme of grace and mercy, pardon and peace. But what he would replace that Pablum with is unclear.  In the 242 pages of his book, Jesus is never mentioned, nor is Calvary or the cross. And until you see “sin” in terms of what Jesus addressed through His incarnation, death, and resurrection your idea of sin is no more than – to use his own words – “a blue bird on the dung heap.”

In describing the suffering Servant Isaiah has spoken of sin as “transgressions” and “iniquities” in the third stanza, verse 5, in the context of his substitutionary death which he underwent, taking my transgressions and iniquities upon Himself. Now in the fifth and final stanza, verse 10, he specifically tells us how this was possible: what the sinless Servant took upon Himself as died on the cross. The key words here are that the suffering Servant was “an offering for sin.” The Servant will be a sacrifice, a sacrifice so that you and I can be forgiven. The cross illustrates the terrible consequences of sin: that there was no other way for you and I to be forgiven than for Jesus, God’s own Son, to come to us and bear the dreadful weight of my sin, your sin, on Himself. Sin is no trifling matter: it cost Jesus Christ His life. At Calvary there is no such thing as a cheap grace.


(1) SACRIFICE “an offering for sin”


As an offering for sin. That single word describes the Servant’s sacrifice.  His soul is to be (NIV) “a guilt offering”, or (KJV & NRSV) “an offering for sin.” The reference here is to the law of Leviticus[3][34]. There we read that a guilty person who has “wronged another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord” must confess the sin he has committed.   He “shall bring to the priest a ram, without blemish” (i.e., a very expensive animal) “and the priest shall make atonement for him … It is a guilt offering.”  This offering is a substitute for the person presenting it – and indeed for his whole family.  He ought to die for he has commit­ted a breach of faith.  Yet, paradoxically, God accepts the ram without blemish as a substitute in place of the sinful family who has sacrificed it.


These words are – to quote the Interpreter’s Bible[35]– “a succession of lines that has no parallel in the entire Old Testament”.  For the stupendous truth of verse ten is that the offering of this guilt sacrifice is not for the salvation of the offerer.  God is making this innocent and obedient Servant – as we have seen – into the sin offering himself, so it is He, as a ram without blemish, who is pouring out His soul, His blood, even to death itself.

            So we say with St. Anselm: “What have You done, O most sweet Jesus, O friend most dear, to be entreated thus? … I am the blow which pained You; I the author of Your death; I that labo­red to torture You.” And then he turns to us: “Put all your trust in His death once for all: have no confidence in anything else: confide wholly in that death: cover Yourself wholly in that alone, wrap yourself wholly in that death.”[36]


(2) A SINLESS SACRIFICE “no deceit was in his mouth”


Now we can go back to verse 9 and see the total disconnect between a sacrifice and the Man Who did not need it. We are told that “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.” The place of burial may not matter to many of us but I can assure you that the families of passengers on Malaysian flight MH370 would dearly love to know where their loved ones rest. For Calvin being buried in a rich man’s grave was a disgrace but nowhere does the Bible identify wealth with wickedness. Rather, the burial of the Servant in a rich man’s grave was a reminder that the plots of evil men were foiled. The corpses from crucifixion deaths were usually pitched into an open pit with lime thrown in to guarantee a quick decomposition of the corpse. But those who killed were foiled in their evil designs, though assigned a grave with the wicked he was placed in a rich man’s tomb.

Jesus, who was born in a borrowed manger, on death was placed in a borrowed tomb. All four gospel writers tells us that Jesus was buried in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea who sought the body of Jesus from Pilate. He and Nicodemus, who brought 75 pound mix of aloes and myrrh, covered the body of Jesus with strips of linen “in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.”[37]       “Though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.” The spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

“There was none other good enough

To pay the price of sin

He only could unlock the gate of heaven

And let me in.”


(3) A PREORDAINED SACRIFICE “it was the Lord’s will”


            And why was this sacrifice offered for my sin? Was it some scheme that didn’t work out? As Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” did God see the sacrifice of His only Son as a tragic mistake, a plan that went sadly wrong. Why did the Father give His only son for my sin? “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” The KJV is even more explicit: “It pleased the Lord to bruise him.” Was the Father some sort of sadist? No, what Isaiah says is that in spite of His great heart being broken by His son’s willingness to go to Calvary, the Father rejoiced that in that death death was finally defeated, salvation was accomplished, and millions were delivered from the consequences of their sin.


            Jesus’ body was brought to a borrowed Tomb. And as those disciples said to the stranger who had caught up to them on the Road to Emmaus “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”  He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”[38] It was all there from the Fall: God’s great plan of redemption and release.     Luke makes the same point as he reports the Peter’s Pentecost sermon. The death of Jesus was no accident, a whim of chance, a bad-luck-on-Jesus story. he preaches to people responsible for executing Jesus: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”[39]


As he continued preaching Peter often called Jesus “God’s righteous servant”[40]. Indeed, the whole of the New Testament leads, directly or indirectly, to this chapter. It shaped the faith of the early church. And Jesus Himself, throughout His ministry, lived and breathed this fourth Servant Song.  Most scholars feel that it shaped His radical understanding of the Messianic mission.  The key verse for this comes straight out of the prophet’s emphasis on atonement and death, is Mark 10:45 as He says: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And just before He arrived in Jerusalem, as He was anointed in the home in Bethany of Simon the leper. And when this extravagance is criticized he explains: “She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.”[41]

He knows, on the basis of Isaiah 53:9, our text today, that He will not have a proper anointing.


My son, as he was being studying in a theologically compromised seminary, asked his Old Testament professor if he could write his paper on Isaiah 53. He was told him that he could but only on the condition he not mention the New Testament. How anyone preparing for Christian ministry could be asked to do that is beyond my comprehension. For two thousand years the conversation between Jews and Christians has continued, and they know that there is no more compelling argument for the trustworthiness of the gospels than the fulfilment of every detail of this prophecy, that long before the first Christmas the Father had planned for the salvation of humankind by His suffering Servant as “it pleased Him to bruise the Servant.”


The suffering Servant was the perfect sacrifice, gave His life for my salvation, and died for me on a cruel cross in fulfilment of His Father’s predetermined will.

“Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!

Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!

Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span

At Calvary!”[42]





























13 April 2014

Lead Me to Calvary:

(6) A Portion with the Great

                                                    (Isaiah 53:11-12)


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.


During the American Civil War a George Wyatt was drawn by lot to serve on the military. He had a wife and six children so someone else named Richard Pratt selflessly volunteered to take his place. As he joined that ranks he took the name of the man he replaced and was known in the army as “George Wyatt.” He was killed in action. Then the authorities sought to draft the real George Wyatt into the service. He refused on the basis that he had already died, he said, in the person of Richard Pratt. The military checked the reference and ascertained that he had already died as George Wyatt as his representative.[43]

That illustration, often repeated, became the opener for a classic titled Born Crucified by L. E. Maxwell, founder of Prairies Bible Institute, explained that “This book is written to show the believer that, from the moment he is saved, he is so related to the Cross, that, if he henceforth fails to live by the Cross, he is an utter ethical contradiction to himself and to his position in Christ.” From the tiny village of Three Hills Alberta thousands of young men and women went to the ends of the earth motivated by the text “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me.”[44]

The doctrine that the believer, when he or she asks Christ into their heart, is united with Him in an indissoluble bond which nothing can sever, is one of the most practical and yet more neglected truths of the gospel. And this coming week, which we have the audacity to call holy, I want to think of you following in the steps of the crucified, His death as yours, His pains yours as well, His suffering calling you into what Paul calls “the fellowship of His suffering.”[45] In quoting Romans 6:5 (“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”) John Piper says “God establishes a union between believers and Christ in a way that makes it fitting for [Paul to count Christ’s death to be ours.”[46]



Verse 11 in its familiar translation went “He shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied,” though modern transla­tions[47] are now using an alternative: “he shall see the light of life and be satisfied” or – more simply – “out of his anguish He will see light.” I prefer Calvin’s interpretation of these difficult words:       “The Prophet shows that the son of God will be utterly content, without any thought for Himself, when He shall see His Church won to Him and poor sinners drawn back from the curse they are in!”[48]

Jesus Christ looks back on His crucifixion, all the pain and anguish that He endured for me, for you. Was it worth it all, going to Calvary for my justification and my sanctification, and a He looks at the quality of our commitment, our dedication, our loving out the fullness of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, His criteria is basically: is there evidence of My life in that person, is he or she living out all the benefits that my sacrifice made possible for him or her? Has that individual discovered all that serving Christ, being crucified with Him, has given? Is that disciple of mine living an obedient life, one growing in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?

“And oh that He fulfilled may see

The travail of His soul in me,

And with His work contented be,

As I with my dear Savior!”[49]



by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

and he will bear their iniquities.

For he bore the sin of many,

                    and made intercession for the transgressors

Once again we see Isaiah 53 and particularly the closing line of both our text verses today is very much on our Lord’s mind the night of His betrayal. In that final interchange with His disciples in the Upper Room as He anticipated the denials of Peter He told him that He was praying for him and asks him to encourage the other disciples because in the future theirs would be a life of rejection and persecution. Then he cites as evidence our text “As it is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”[50]  “If Jesus is rejected in such a manner by the world, then the disciples will also suffer such rejection. They had better be ready.”[51]

As Paul tells the Corinthian Christians: “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him.”[52] Jesus, crucified between two thieves, identifies with our fallen nature, our weakness, justifying us as He bears our sins and sorrows. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” we read in Hebrews[53],  “but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

Our fellow sufferer yet retains

A fellow feeling of our pains:

And still remembers in the skies

His tears, His agonies, and cries.


In every pang that rends the heart,

The Man of Sorrows had a part,

He sympathizes with our grief,

And to the sufferer sends relief.[54]



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.

            And finally Jahweh, the Lord, has the last word, a Hebrew parallelism: “I will give Him a portion among the great … He will divide the spoils with the strong”.  He will come back, victorious and triumphant, with the booty of the vanquished, having destroyed His enemies, conquered death, and now numbered not with the transgressors but with the great. We are reminded of that great “Therefore” in Philippians chapter 2:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.           ”                                                                                                                      ‘

On a day not unlike the one we have just witnessed I stood in the church of Assisi, marveling at the wonderful frescoes by Giotto of the life of the St. Francis whose name will always be associated with that town.  As I followed the development of the life of the great Perugian friar I recalled his prayer.  Not the familiar one, made accessible by Godspell, but rather another prayer which expresses better than anything else his motivation in giving his life for the poor and the marginalized:

            “Oh my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die; the first that, during my life-time, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so  far as may be possible, that pain which You, sweet Lord, suffered in the hour of Your most bitter passion; the second is, that I may feel in my heart; so far as may be possible, that exceeding love whereby You, Son of God, were enkindled to bear willingly such passion for us sinners.”[55]

            “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.”

































[1] In his Student and Preacher, pages iii – v as quoted by John Stott in his Between Two Worlds; Grand Rapids, MI (Wm. Eerdmans Co.), 1982; page 31.

[2] Philippians 2:7-11.

[3] There is an excellent discussion of the varieties of interpretation of the Hebrew verb %’* in the Interpreter’s Bible, volume 5, pages 617-8.  The NIV maintains “sprinkle,” while the NRSV has “startle” with the notation that “Meaning of Hebrew uncertain”.

[4] Leviticus 14:7a.

[5] From the hymn “Oh sacred head sore wounded”

[6] “I saw one hanging on a Tree” by John Newton.

[7] Spurgeon, C, N, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” onhttp://www.the-highway.com/articleSept99.html, accessed 11 March 2014.

[8] Spurgeon, C, H, “A Root Out Of A Dry Ground” No. 1075 A Sermon Delivered On Lord’s-Day Morning, October 13, 1872. 1.


[9] I Corinthians 1:16

[10] “And can it be” hymn by Charles Wesley.

[11]  “Out of the ivory palaces” by Henry Barraclough.

[12] I Samuel 16:7.

[13] Job 19:14.

[14] Calvin, J, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy. London: James Clark & Co, 1956.61.

[15] Hebrews 4:15.

[16] “Where high the heav’nly temple stands” Scottish paraphrase 55, verse 5.

[17] A Grief Observed, pages 37 and 51.

[18] J. S. Whale; Victor and Victim; London (CUP), 1960; pages 69-70.

[19] Matthew 8:17

[20] Isaiah 8:17.

[21] “Letters of Spiritual Counsel,” Library of Christian Classics, vol. xviii; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955. 110.




[23] George Buttrick in Jesus Came Preaching; New York (Scribner’­s), 1931; page 207.


[24] NRSV

[25] Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country. New York: Scribner’s, 1948. 226-7.

[26] Job 5:7.

[27] I Peter 2:21-23.

[28] Downloaded from http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/n/hnsmword.htm (accessed 27 March 2014).

[29] Carmichael, Amy. Gold Cord: The Story of a Fellowship. London: SPCK, 1932. 164.

[30] Wiesel, Elie. Night, New York: (Hill & Wang, 1972) 45 and 75-77.

[31] Stott, The Cross of Christ. Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1986. 334

[32] I Peter 2:25.

[33] Jeremiah 8:11.

[34] Leviticus 5:14 – 19.

[35] Interpreter’s Bible, 627.

[36] Quoted by Zwemer in his The Glory of the Cross, 101.

[37] John 19:38-41

[38] Luke 24:21-26.

[39] Acts 2:23.

[40] Acts 3:13, cf the prayer in Acts 4:25.

[41] Mark 14:8.

[42] Hymn “At Calvary” by Wm. R. Newell.

[43] Maxwell, L E. Born Crucified. Chicago: Moody Press, 2010. 21,

[44] Galatians 2:29 (KJV).

[45] Philippians 3:11.

[46] Piper, John,. “United with Christ in Death and Life, Part 1” http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/united-with-christ-in-death-and-life-part-1#full-audio (accesaed 8 April 2014).

[47] NIV and NRSV.

[48] Calvin, John. Commentary on Isaiah. Vol. 4. 257

[49] “O am not skilled to understand” by Dora Greenwell.

[50] Luke 22:37.

[51] Bock Darrell. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Luke 9:51 – 24:53. Grand Rapids,, MI: Baker Books, 1996. 1736.

[52] 2 Corinthians 13:4.

[53] Hebrews 4:14.

[54] Scots Paraphrase 58.

[55] As quoted by Samuel Zwemer in The Glory of the Cross. London: Oliphant’s, 1959. 101.