Contemplating the Cross

Isa 52:13-53:10

A.  Exaltation  Isa_52:13-15

Given the bumps in the road ahead, he truly is my servant; despised by even the lowest classes of men, he will ultimately be exalted above the highest kings.  This one that will appear to suffer for his own sin will in fact be the high priest who brings cleansing from sin to all the nations.

Make no mistake – this one whose profound disfigurement caused such astonishment and amazement that onlookers were convinced that his punishment came from God – he will be exalted.  His exaltation will be complete, raised to the place of highest honor, beyond any earthly dignity imaginable.  Do NOT look at his humiliation and reach the wrong conclusion:

Luk_24:21  But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.

Especially startling is the declaration that this one who was divinely punished will be the one who brings forgiveness, not just to Israel but to the nations – he will sprinkle them with his blood as Aaron did the mercy seat on the Day of Atonement.  Most remarkably, it will be in his disfigurement that he will perform the purifying rite for others.

It is not merely common folk who will be overawed by the Servant; kings who had previously despised and ridiculed him will be speechless in astonishment when they are forced to consider the unthinkable – a servant has conquered.  The conquering victory of the Servant is two-fold, represented by the cross and tomb, each of which is essential to a complete redemption.  But in our eagerness to celebrate our Savior’s victory over the last enemy, death (1Co_15:26), we must not pass too quickly or injudiciously by the cross in order to reach the empty tomb.  For an empty tomb without the blood-drenched cross would be a hollow victory – death would have been conquered but we would remain captive in our sins.

B.  Obscurity  Isa_53:1-3

This one who will be exalted must first experience obscurity and rejection – he came from very inauspicious roots, had no outward charisma or commanding appearance, nothing to even attract a small following.  In fact, he was viewed as insignificant, a nobody, someone to be avoided.  It is so counterintuitive that a servant should be the most important person that people reject the idea without further consideration – “who would believe it?”

His beginnings in a poor family, born of a woman not married to his father, exiled to a foreign country shortly after birth, taught a trade by a common working class step-father, a relative unknown until age thirty, gave no hint of his future stature.  Viewed as the son of a carpenter and not a gifted scholar or orator, nothing in his outward appearance would attract attention.  In fact, his appearance was so commonplace that a traitor’s kiss was deemed necessary to his positive identification in a dimly lit olive garden.

C.  Substitution  Isa_53:4-6

Nothing He experienced was for himself, for his benefit, or on account of his nature or actions – it was all for others.  Nothing he accomplished was for his own use or benefit – everything he gained for others he already possessed and more. 

He knew no sin, he shared the glory of the Father, he had spent an eternity in heaven already, he was the author of life and had experienced nothing but life

Yet he came to save his people, not himself – remember the taunts at his crucifixion:

Luk_23:39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

To save himself was not his purpose; to accomplish our salvation was his purpose and that of his Father.

Isa_53:4-6  Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.  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.

As we gazed on him we saw the greatness of his affliction but failed to see the greatness of our iniquity. 

The wisdom of God in redemption is visible in manifesting two contrary affections at the same time, and in one act: the greatest hatred of sin, and the greatest love to the sinner.  In this way he punishes the sin without ruining the sinner, and repairs the ruins of the sinner without indulging the sin.  Here is eternal love and eternal hatred; a condemning the sin to what it merited, and an advancing the sinner to what he could not expect.   Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God

Christ is the best and greatest of Saviors and his salvation is the best and greatest salvation.  This proves sin to be the worst and greatest of evils.  Ralph Venning, Sinfulness of Sin

It was through his bearing of our sin and its punishment that our peace with God was purchased; it was through his suffering in our place that God could justly grant us forgiveness and healing.

D.  Injustice  Isa_53:7-10

Claiming that the Servant was a “willing victim” does not eliminate the great injustices that were done to him.  From human perspective he was falsely accused, convicted of that accusation (blasphemy), and treated as if he were actually guilty – brutally tortured and killed.  His killer’s evil intentions extended beyond his execution to his burial – planning to deny him the dignity of a proper interment,

To all of this treatment he said not a word in his own defense (“he opened not his mouth”) nor did he have an advocate to speak for him (“who will declare his generation?”).  In fact, in regard to what had been done to him by evil men he said:

Luk_23:34  …”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

It was only when he became the focus of his Father’s wrath directed against our sin that he was bearing, as the Lord bruised him, that the heart-rending cry of “Why?” was torn from his dying lips.

Mat_27:46  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Our sin is what caused the Lamb of God, the Beloved Son, to be forsaken of God.  Let me reiterate: in our haste to celebrate at the empty tomb we must not fail to pause at the horror of the cross, not the empty cross but the crucified Christ on the cross – the one made sin for us and punished in our place.  When we contemplate all that we can grasp of God’s wrath poured out on his Son, we begin to understand the enormity of our offense against that holy God, why Isaiah was compelled to pile up words to describe it – griefs (sickness or disease), sorrows (afflictions), transgressions (rebellion), iniquities (evil or perversity).

…The whole tenor of [God’s] threatenings declare his loathing of sin …but what are [they] to the highest evidence that can possibly be given in the sheathing the sword of his wrath in the heart of his Son? Stephen Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God

E.  Consummation

The shameful, degrading spectacle of crucifixion was not an accidental circumstance the Father used to accomplish his purpose in redemption – the purchase by the Son of salvation for his people by bearing the iniquities of those whom he justified, and at the cost of his own life.

“Jesus could accomplish man’s redemption in no other way than by crucifixion—He must die, and die the death of the cross. What light and glory beam around the cross! Of what prodigies of grace is it the instrument, of what glorious truths is it the symbol, of what mighty power is it the source! Around it gathers all the light of the Old Testament economy. It explains every symbol—it substantiates every shadow—it solves every mystery—it fulfills every type—it confirms every prophecy of that dispensation which had eternally remained unmeaning and inexplicable except for the death of the Son of God upon the cross.”  Octavius Winslow, Christ’s Sympathy to Weary Pilgrims

John Newton – “Though I have lost my memory, two things I know: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”  Why is it that Christ can rightfully be called “a great Savior”?  Because the perfect Lamb of God, the divine eternal Son of God put his Father’s will, put his Father’s glory and our good before his own welfare.

Methinks if there had been a million worlds to redeem, their redemption could not have needed more than this `sacrifice of himself.’ If the whole universe, teeming with worlds as many as the sands on the seashore, had required to be ransomed, that one giving up of the ghost might have sufficed as a full price for them all.  Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, 1:348

Sinner, run to the cross; find cleansing from the awful pollution of sin, find relief from the killing weight of God’s anger at the feet of our dear crucified Savior.  Christian, run to the cross – gaze upon your substitute and see there the hideousness of your sin and in the same spectacle bask in the glorious beauty of God’s grace as Christian did in that great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress –

“Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.” Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.  Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee.” So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,”; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing,

“Thus far did I come laden with my sin,
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither. What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!”

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, The Third Stage



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