Getting a Handel on Christmas (8) - Surely He Hath Born Our Griefs

Isaiah 53:5 - 6
Surely He Has Borne Our Griefs
Dr. Derek Thomas

Turn with me now to the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 53, and we will read together verses 3-6 and then verse 8. Before we do so, let's ask God the Holy spirit to shine His light on these words to enable us to understand and comprehend and believe. Let's pray together.

O Lord, we come into Your presence again because we are poor and needy. We cannot even understand Your word unless You come by Your Spirit and shine a light upon it and make it clear to us. And we pray, Holy Spirit, illumine these words in our hearts and in our minds for Jesus’ sake, amen.

This is the word of God:

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised and we did not esteem Him. Surely, our grief He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried. Yet, we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our well being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 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, for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due.” Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

We come to the final text we are examining from Handel's Messiah, the Isaiahinic texts. The mood is somber, isn't it. We sang Ralph Vaughn Williams’ setting of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Words, of course, that Jesus meditated upon on the cross. The choir has just sung, “Surely He hath borne our griefs,” in that plaintive, falling melody, that immediately sets a tone of great sorrow and anguish. This is the fourth of the so called, “Servant Songs.” There are four of them: one in chapter 42, another in chapter 49, another in chapter 50, and this one, which actually begins at the end of chapter 52, and runs all the way through to the end of chapter 53.

What's emerged in this second half of Isaiah? You’ll remember that from chapter 13 or so, at least down to chapter 34, there's a little break in chapter 35, then there's a historical section in chapters 36-39, but for the most part, that most part of Isaiah has been about judgment. The judgment of the surrounding nations, Israel and Judah, but also a word of judgment to Judah and Israel. A word of impending threat of, first of all, Assyria and then Babylon.

But then in chapter 40, the mood changes, and God speaks about His servant. At first, He's actually talking about Israel, His people Israel, called to be the servant of God, but she fails. Fails miserably. And then, towards chapter 44-45, another servant seems to appear. Cyrus, the king of Persia, the one who will bring back, at least issue the decree, for the people of God to return from Babylon, to come back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the city and the temple. But Cyrus was an utter pagan, and what we discover is that it's one thing to get God's people out of Babylon, and another thing to get Babylon out of God's people. It's one thing to get the people of God out of the place of idolatry, but another thing to get idolatry out of the hearts of God's people.

And so, another servant is needed, an altogether servant, the servant of the Lord, the one spoken of in these four servant songs, of which this is perhaps, the most famous. All of you know this psalm, all of you could quote great sections of it, I'm sure. They mean so much to you, because they speak, as this fourth servant song speaks of Jesus, of our Savior, of our Redeemer, and our Mediator. One New Testament scholar says that no other passage from the Old Testament was as important to the church as Isaiah 53. The New Testament quotes eight of its verses in fulfillment of Jesus Christ, of His coming, His life, His death, His resurrections, His ascension. Many of its words are used as technical terms in the New Testament, to speak of Christ and what Christ has done: rejected, taken away, numbered with the transgressors, His silence before His accusers, and so on. Apart from verse 2, every single verse of this servant song is cited in the New testament. You remember when God came at the baptism of Jesus, He said, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, listen to Him, because I love Him.” God is quoting the servant song, He's quoting these servant songs. When Peter preaches on the Day of Pentecost, it is this chapter, Isaiah 53, that forms the basis from which he speaks to the significance of Jesus.

Here, in this chapter, it is the specific character of His death that is to the fore, not just that He would be despised and rejected and oppressed and afflicted and led like a lamb to the slaughter and cut off from the land of the living, but that He would endure this as our covenant Mediator. Let's look at this, shall we, from two perspectives. First of all, from the perspective of our sin, our need for a Mediator, if you like. And secondly, from the perspective of our Savior.

I. Our sin, our need for a Mediator.
In the second stanza, we're thinking of verses 1-3, the world has measured the servant that God has sent in the balances, and found Him to be wanting. In the estimation of the world, He is a root out of dry ground. That's all He is; He has no form, no majesty, no comeliness, no attractiveness, that the world should desire Him. He's just a term of abuse. You watch a modern movie, and you might enjoy bits of it, and then comes the expletive, the name of Jesus, to make the movie modern and hip. Just a cuss word, just a blasphemy, thrown in for effect, and it should make you vomit. And the fact that it doesn't speaks volumes, does it not.

The focus changes in this third stanza, verses 4-6, the one we're considering this morning. Ten times these verses refer to us, to “we.” The world puts Jesus on trial, but now God is putting the world on trial. He's turning the tables. What kind of people are we? Can I start by underlining what I've just said. That we are those who esteem Christ as nothing. We get excited about so many things, oh, about a movie or a book or a dress or a meal, and we esteem Jesus as nothing. That's the kind of people we are, shamelessly selfish and self-centered.

Look at verse 5, the great words of the Old Testament for sin. First of all, transgression, transgressors, lawbreakers, felons. We've taken God's law and broken it, deliberately. The word has about it the idea of willfulness. And then, the word iniquity, and this is a word that implies a disposition to sin, a bentness, like the bias in a bowling ball. The chastisement due our peace, our well-being, was laid upon Him. We are those who have no well being, no shalom; we're always dissatisfied, we're always like the people Solomon described in the book of Ecclesiastes, looking at life under the sun and finding nothing, vanity, hopelessness, despair, lost. We've gone astray like sheep, and turned every one to his own way.

Think of it my friends, the weight of it; the ungrateful rebellion of it. God created us for His own glory, to give Him glory, to praise Him. And we can't keep that glory before our eyes. That's our condition. That's what Isaiah describes. That's the context–rebel subjects. We sing as our national anthem, Frank Sinatra's great song, “I Did it My Way.” We've turned everyone to his own way. That's the problem; that's the context-- the “me-ism,” the egotism.

And into that context God speaks a word of astonishing, amazing grace. He speaks of our Savior. It has to be said that sometimes the word “servant” of course refers to God's people, but here it refers to Jesus.

Take a look again at these words with me, will you? Let them burn into your mind and consciousness: stricken, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastened, and then allow your eyes to drop down on verse one and see “it is the arm of the Lord that has done this.” It is not so much that the Servant is helpless victim of the offense of the world. He is, but God has done this. His Father in heaven has done this. God has gone out against His servant and struck Him and crushed Him and bruised Him.

Why? The answer is in verse 5. “For our transgressions, for our well-being, for our peace. It's a little Hebrew preposition implying cause and effect. He does this because of our sin, because of our transgression. The covenant anathema of God has come down upon Him and it's all to do with our sin.

II. What a Mediator we have.
Two words are needed now to unpack what this actually means. The first is substitution. The language of verses 5 and 6 are said to reflect the language of Leviticus 16. Leviticus 16 describes a ritual whereby two identical goats were brought to the sanctuary. One was slaughtered. Its blood was sprinkled as a means of atonement and expiation and propitiation. Another upon whose head sin was confessed was driven out into the wilderness never to be seen again. What a beautiful picture of the atonement. Sin is expiated, the wrath of God is dealt with and sin is never to be brought up again. It's the language said to be reflective of Genesis 22, the offering up of Isaac by Abraham. Abraham has the knife and is about to plunge it into his son's breast, and God provides a lamb caught in the thicket, in the place of Isaac, in Isaac's stead. The servant dies in my place; he bears my sins, my transgressions. He takes the covenant anathema that my sins deserve; He bears my guilt and the consequences of my guilt. Some of you might have read Ernest Gordon's Bridge Over the River Kwai, or you may have seen the movie. Some of you might even have been there. In a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Second World War, some Scottish soldiers building a railway bridge in the middle of a jungle and facing the tyrannical hostility of Japanese soldiers and an incident, the men all lined up and a shovel is missing. They've counted them and one is missing, and the guards marching hysterically up and down threatening that unless someone steps forward, owns up to having hidden that shovel–perhaps with a desire to escape–there would be consequences for everybody. At first no one moves and then, you remember, one of the prisoners steps forward and Gordon describes how the officer takes a shovel and beats the man to death. His friends take up his body, carry it to a shed where all the shovels are stored and discover that there was no missing shovel. He died in the place of others. He’d born the consequences of assumed guilt which actually wasn't his own for the sake of others. That's what Jesus did. He died for me; He died in my stead; He bore the punishment that my sins, my willfulness, my rebellion deserved. And He knew it would happen. All through His earthly life, He knew this would happen. I think Jesus had meditated on these servant songs throughout His life.

You might have thought the words of Psalm 22 was a dirge. Actually, it's a beautiful melody, but the words are words that Jesus reflected on for all His life, and at the poignant moment on the cross, they come back to Him. “My God–note even ‘My Father’–no, as though the consciousness of His own sonship had been eclipsed by the imputation of our sins to Him. And all He can cry is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” “There is a green hill far away outside a city wall where my dear Lord was crucified who died to save us all.” He died that we may be forgiven. He died to make us good that we might go at least to heaven, saved by His precious blood.

This is the heart of the gospel–substitution. God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be reckoned the righteousness of God in Him. That's the gospel. The gospel is not simply that God forgives sin, but that God forgives sin by imputing that sin to His own son and punishing it. He's rejected for us, pierced for us, crushed for us. He has nowhere to lay His head for us. Cast out for us, suffers hell for us, undergoes the torment for the wicked and damned for us.

You don't have to understand all of the intricacies of the doctrine of substitution, and there are intricacies, anymore than you need to understand what “pentium four” means in order to write something on a word processor. As Christians, we know it instinctively. He died for me; He died in my place. He took what I deserved.

And not only substitution, but satisfaction that the wrath of a holy, righteous God is appeased in the death of His son. You see, God cannot just forgive sin. Sin has to be dealt with. Guilt has to be born and rendered for and made accountable. And there are beautiful words here in verses three and four rendered in the New American Version. “He bore our griefs.” Actually, the word is the same in both verse 3 and 4, it's the word disease. And Matthew, when he noted Jesus healing men and women of their diseases quotes this verse. Not that Matthew thought that Christians would never get sick, but in the new heavens and in the new earth, Christians will never get sick. He died to bring back that which was lost. He died in order to restore a fallen creation. He died in order to re-create us after the image of God, and one day, to set our feet on the streets of the golden Jerusalem where there will be trees, the leaves for which are for the healing of the nations. That's it.

You know those words of the Aaronic benediction, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” My friends, do you understand what it cost Jesus for those words to become meaningful for us? That God, His Father in heaven, would speak to His own Son as our sins were laid upon Him and say, “The Lord curse You and cast You away. The Lord make His face to frown upon You and be angry with You, and the Lord turn away from You and give You torment.”

That's it; that's the cost of our redemption. These are the depths to which the Servant goes. Christianity, my friends, is not a self-help religion. It's not about how to try and get better and living by a moral code and trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. That's not Christianity. Christianity is about the provision of a sovereign God of a Mediator who stands in our room and stead to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves–to bear our sins in His own body upon the tree–to bear it's curse to the full. To shed His blood for us; to die for us; to expiate the wrath of God for us that we might have the joy, the overwhelming privilege of being called “sons of God” and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him even as He is.

My friends, this Christmas, let me ask you, “Is that your hope?” Are you saying this morning, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling. Naked come to Thee for dress, helpless look to Thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain fly. Wash me Savior, or I die.” Surely He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Let's sing from the words of 246, “Man of sorrows, what a name for the Son of God who came.”



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