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There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

Holy Week Meditation, Maundy Thursday, 2008

Holy Week Meditation, Maundy Thursday, 2008

Isaiah 53:7-9

Is. 53:7    He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

It’s been said that the Scriptures reveal something far more arresting than mere propositions and principles.  They put forth a drama-a drama of redemption.

From the moment Adam and Eve fall into disfavor and alienation in Genesis 3, the Lord’s plot unfolds: how He will return things to their proper and glorious state through the work of one who bruise the head of the one who deceived man.

In Genesis 12, the Lord introduces how his plan will unfold through a people, through a nation of men and women called by Him, not because of any particular quality or ambition in them, but solely on the basis of His grace and favor.  And through that nation, the entire world will come to know and enjoy the goodness of God.

In Isaiah’s prophecy, though, we find the protagonists, as it were, out of the picture.  For their intransigence and wantonness, they have been abandoned by the God who formed and nurtured them, who delivered and commissioned them.  They have forsaken their God and His heart, and the Lord has fiercely disciplined them by allowing foreign nations to pillage and plunder them, to remove them from their Promised Land.

And as we follow this drama, we wonder, what of the original promise to restore what was lost, and what of the plan to bring about the restoration to the entire world through this one, insignificant agrarian people?

Waiting in the wings, though, is the Lord’s champion, but one in a form His people did not expect.  And through Isaiah, the LORD tells the story of this champion in four songs.

In chapter 42 the LORD commissions and anoints one who would issue justice among all people.

In chapter 49, the champion speaks of Himself as one prepared and sent to bring light not only to the people of God but to all the nations of the world.  He will encounter rejection, but He will see the LORD’s favor and deliverance as the champion proclaims liberty and stands between the LORD and His people as a mediator of reconciliation.

In chapter 50, the plot thickens for God’s man as He submits himself to the mistreatment of men whom He calls to repentance.  He exhibits fearlessness as He expresses confidence in the fall of His accusers and the vindication of His LORD.

And finally here in chapters 52 and 53-the fourth of four songs, four acts of the unfolding of God’s restoration-we find the plot approaching a glorious resolution, but not before it encounters a devastating development. And all the while we concede that the timing of all that Isaiah reveals remains a mystery.  When and how they shall become reality eludes us.

Yet these words of mystery from Isaiah find their clarity in Jesus, the Christ, the ideal servant, the lowly one who would be king, the champion.

And in verses 7-9 of chapter 53, Isaiah’s words of mystery anticipate two things: what this servant would endure, and how this servant would respond.

What does this servant endure?

Oppression and affliction would be His lot, verse 7 says.  What He was due would not be extended to Him; quite the contrary, He would receive precisely what He did not deserve.

That oppression, like a cancer, would grow so unremittingly that a miscarriage of justice would emerge, and the servant would be stripped of all that was His by right.  Verse 8 says, by oppression and judgment he would be taken away.

Surely the experience of Jesus before His accusers displays the reality of what Isaiah spoke of in mystery.

But the cathartic crisis has only begun.

Adding insult to injury, this champion would essentially be dismissed by those among Him.  Verse 8 continues, “and as for his generation, who considered that he would be cut off out from the land of the living.”  Another translation puts it perhaps a bit more succinctly, “as for his generation, who cared?”  This anointed and commissioned one, this oppressed and afflicted one-he would be relegated to a place of no reputation.

Does not John’s gospel, near its beginning and end, speak of this dismissiveness.  “He came unto His own, but His own did not receive Him.” And at his crucifixion, did not all his disciples abandon Him, with one betraying Him and another openly and repeatedly denouncing Him?

Again though, what he would endure had not reached its apex.

He would be oppressed. He would be dismissed.  But He would also be humiliated.  Verse 8 ends with the fact that this servant would be “stricken for the transgressions of his people.”  The weight he would have to carry in his suffering would be not merely for people who could not bear that weight themselves, but for people whose sin had, in effect, caused that very weight to be laid upon Him.  His service was not for people who loved Him but for those who hated Him.  He would have to endure this not for grateful people but for patently ungrateful people.  As Paul will later explain of Jesus in Romans 5:

7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

 It is one thing to endure much for those who love you; quite another to endure that for the good of those who despise you.

The weight perhaps could not have been heavier until we see that though it was their sin that constituted the weight, it was the act of His LORD to place the weight upon Him.  He had no obligation to bear it, and the LORD certainly had no obligation to unburden his sinful people of it.  But lay it upon His servant, He did.  He was stricken for their transgressions, but the strike ultimately came from the hand of the One who sent Him.  Stricken for transgression means the wrath of God is in play and at hand.  And it was that wrath that fell upon Him.

All this the champion endured, and for such we might have sufficient reason to esteem Him, but such esteem is only heightened in how he responded to what he endured.

How does the servant respond?

He responds with silence, but in His silence he speaks volumes.  In fact He spoke so sparingly that onlookers were mystified.  But defensive words He did not need, for words would not serve His purpose then.  For in His silence he proclaimed that He would not withstand the will of His Lord.  In His silence he would not deny the need of those for whom he suffered.  In His silence, he would not dispute the efficacy of His sacrifice.  Words went unspoken, because what he endured was necessary, and nothing-not even words-need delay it.

He responds also without recrimination.  Though verse 8 speaks of being led like a lamb to the slaughter, and verse 9 speaks of enduring much for those who had no regard for Him, Jesus utters no parting shot, no vindictive epithet.  He speaks only of what help He could call down from heaven to rescue Him, but chooses not to.  He refers only to what shall one day be true when he comes on the clouds of heaven with power.  No petty recriminations drip from his battered lips.

And not only does He withhold recrimination, He refuses to withhold grace from those who dismiss, abandon, revile, or crucify Him.  He allows Himself to be stricken, verse 8 says.  In bearing the blow for those to whom it was due, He extends the grace that keeps them from having to bear it themselves.  For on the Cross, what does He say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

But its His last response to what He endured that is most penetrating.  He awaits the vindication of His Lord.  Verse 9 is rendered in two ways, but has the same essential message in either version.  Some have seen the servant disgraced in death, buried with the wicked and with the rich man in his death, the rich man being one of His oppressors.  Others have seen a reversal of fortune for the servant: though he was destined to be buried with the common criminals, instead he was given the burial among those of high standing.  In either case, the message is the same: though innocent in word and in deed, he would not be vindicated until after His death.

All this is what Isaiah enshrouds in mysterious words as to what the servant of God will endure and how he will respond in order to complete the drama God’s been writing.

What does the champion reveal to us in His darkest moment, before the resolution comes?  What may we take from what He endured and how He responded even before the glory came out from behind the tragedy?  Two things I believe.

In this unresolved moment we see most clearly the trustworthiness of God.  What can account for this servant’s response to all that He endured but that the One who commissioned Him was worthy of trust, even if that trust cost both him and His LORD so dearly?  The servant, our Lord Jesus, was surrounded by unparalleled darkness-the darkness of men’s sin and the God’s wrath.  Still He trusted Him.

Where do you find power to trust when you are surrounded by disappointment and death, confusion and chaos?  You look to the one who walked into and through that deepest darkness and still trusted the LORD who sent Him there.

Whatever circumstances beset you, whatever darkness you find yourself in, the message of the servant is that you have reason to entrust yourself to the One who is unseen and whose reasons for bringing you to this moment are as yet undisclosed.  When can God be trusted?  Only after He brings resolution? This passage says He may be trusted in the middle of an unresolved season or moment.  One may rest in His will and work even before either yields the greater rest we seek.

In this unresolved moment we see the trustworthiness of the LORD, but in it, we also see most clearly the steadfast love of God.

Why proclaim justice, why endure suffering, why take the assaults of the very people you mean to redeem, if not for love?  Only love of the most persevering kind can explain it-love for the glory of God and the lives of others.

Where do you find the power to love those who despise you, power that helps you to bear up under the constant assaults of the world and its people, power that helps you to see through their hatred to the image of God beneath their sin, and so rise above as one free of the constraints of having to be loved by men in order to love them?  Where do you find that love?  You look to the one who didn’t merely die for those who loved him, but for those who hated him.  You look to the one who was denounced by men so those men would not be denounced by God.  You look to the One who was abandoned by man, and as it were, by God, Himself, to that those very men would not be abandoned by God.

In the words of the author of Hebrews, you fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Here, in these mere 3 verses, the drama of redemption before the resolution.  Before rest, and peace, and glory.  Trust and love are found here.  In whatever drama you may find yourself, trust in the Lord and love for the Lord may be found there.

I close with the words of a folk-singer who perhaps summarized these few verses best.

. . .if someone wrote a play just to glorify

What’s stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage

To look as if the hero came too late he’s almost in defeat

It’s looking like the Evil side will win, so on the Edge

Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins

It is…

Chorus:

Love who makes the mortar

And it’s love who stacked these stones

And it’s love who made the stage here

Although it looks like we’re alone

In this scene set in shadows

Like the night is here to stay

There is evil cast around us

But it’s love that wrote the play…

For in this darkness love can show the way

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1 Comment»

  M. Jay Bennett wrote @

Patrick,

Thank you for directing me to the Savior this afternoon.


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