Christmas Series: Getting a Handel on Christmas: I Offered My Back

Sermon by Derek Thomas on December 18, 2003

Isaiah 50:6

Father, again, we come into Your presence. This is Your word You caused it to be written. Come Holy Spirit and illuminate these words to us. They speak so tenderly and deeply of Christ and it is Him who we would see. We would indeed see none but Jesus only. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is God's word:

I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.

Amen. May God bless the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

We've been considering together some of the texts that comprise George Frederick Handel's Messiah He wrote it in 24 days. It was first performed in the great city of Dublin in Ireland and it's made up of many texts, but we've been focusing especially these last weeks in December on the texts from Isaiah. Isaiah has a way of speaking about the coming of Christ in a way that is almost unique to him as a prophet. Many of you, if you find yourselves in need of a text, you know you haven't got 6 hours to plow through the Old Testament, but you want a text, you will often run to Isaiah. Some of you will run to Isaiah 53. It is a chapter you learned in Sunday School perhaps. Many of you could recite it. They are very familiar words and I don't need to persuade you that they speak about Jesus. Of course, they were written 700 years and more before the coming of Jesus, but you know almost instinctively that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the prophet Isaiah, the great royal prophet who had access to the courts of kings in Jerusalem, who speaks with such beautiful Hebrew prose and poetry, this man was inspired to speak of the coming of Jesus, 700 years before He came.

The context of this servant song, and there are 4 of them, each one, in a slightly different way, speaks of some aspect of what it means for Jesus to be a servant. The servant that God would send as a blessing to His people. Not a king but a servant. A lowly servant. Not a soldier dressed in armor and equipped with weapons but a servant. The context in which this is given, as you see in verse 10, is one of real discouragement. Who among you fears the Lord? Christians and believers, they fear the Lord but walk in darkness and have no light. I wonder if you can relate to that tonight? Of what it means to walk in darkness and have no light. To be so spiritually discouraged and depressed by the circumstances around you. Some of you were here on Sunday and remember the context of Isaiah, he's writing of the impending doom of Israel and Judah to an Assyrian invasion and later to a Babylonian invasion, and the extinction of their existence. The temple would be destroyed, Jerusalem would be destroyed, their way of life would be destroyed, worship in Jerusalem, although it will return after Babylon, will never be the same as it had been in the glorious days of David and Solomon.

Many of God's people were discouraged, some of you are discouraged. Discouraged by family circumstances, by the loss of a loved one. Going at night, the coming of Christmas, the coming of next Thursday without a loved one. It can be a dark and difficult time, a solemn time, and this word is for you. It's for you. If you know anything about being discouraged, of the lights going out in the tunnel and its dark. You’re a Christian and you believe in Jesus Christ, you trust the Lord and you fear Him, but you walk in darkness. This is God's word for you and He gives you a servant and He says 3 things about the servant.

I. God's servant will be skilled in God's word.
He says, first of all, that the servant that God will send will be skilled in God's word. Look at verse 4. The Lord God has given me, this is the servant speaking about himself, the tongue of those who are taught. We’re meant to see a picture of Jesus here. He's saying the servant that God will send will be someone who will come with God's word. That's the most important thing and the best gift God can give you apart from the Son Himself, it's God's word, and He’ll know God's word.

You know it's a very interesting thing about Jesus when he did come. Of course He was God, He was the Son of God, He knew all things in terms of His deity. In His divine mind He knew all things; He was omniscient. But in terms of His human mind, He was limited in knowledge. For example, He didn't know the date of His own second coming. It wasn't given to Him. And when Jesus quotes the Scriptures as He did time and time again, He did so because He had memorized them. When you first see Him at the age of twelve in the synagogue in Nazareth, and He's quoting from the Scriptures, from Isaiah 61. And when He reads it and He says, “This Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” you could have heard a pin drop, I'm sure, that a 12 year old would get up and read a passage of Scripture and say to these learned gentlemen in the synagogue, “Today, you have the privilege of seeing this prophecy written 700 years ago, but you have the privilege of seeing it fulfilled in your ears here today, in this synagogue, in Nazareth.”

O, I would have loved to have seen that and heard that, to be there when Jesus uttered those very words. But He knew the Scripture. In the wilderness, when He was tempted of the devil, He quoted from the book of Deuteronomy, three times. In the nineteenth century, when liberals were tearing Deuteronomy apart and saying it couldn't possibly be written by one author, Spurgeon said it was the devil getting back at Deuteronomy because of the use Jesus had made of Deuteronomy. He comes and He comes with God's word.

Notice He comes with a fresh word, morning by morning, he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. He comes with a fresh word. Jesus’ word is always fresh. Every time you turn to the gospels and you read the words of Jesus Christ, they are always fresh. And it's quick and it's powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. Day by day it helps us. As it helped Jesus, it helps us. This is our daily bread. Is that the reason you’re discouraged? Because you’re not making use of the servant's word? It's not daily bread for you, it's weekly bread. Actually, it's not even weekly bread for some of you, it's monthly bread. Actually, it's been a long time since you sat down and spent an hour or two in the word. Do you know that feeling, it's only going to be a week away. And, round about 12 or 1:00 o’clock next Thursday, you’ll get your plate and you’ll put on some turkey and some ham or whatever it is. If it's my house it’ll be Brussels sprouts and parsnips and carrots, mixed together. And stuffing, gravy, and Christmas pudding. You Americans make a lot of jokes about cake and Christmas pudding, but it's part of my tradition, and I love it.

You know that feeling, when you've eaten and eaten well, and you sit back….do you ever get that feeling when you read the Scriptures that you've been fed so well? Because God's answer to your discouragement, my friends, is a servant who comes with this. This is God's answer to your discouragement. The Bible. He sends you a servant who brings you God's word.

II. A servant submissive to God's will.
But not only a servant who is skilled in God's word, but a servant who is submissive to God's will. Look how He puts it in verse 5: “I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave My back to those who strike Me.” He's submissive to God's will.

Now, what is God's will for His servant? And you know what God's will for His servant is. It's suffering, isn't it? This servant, who comes into the world, comes to be a king, to be sure, but He comes, first of all, to suffer. He comes in order to submit Himself to suffering and pain. “I gave My back to those who strike and My cheeks to those who pull out the beard.” Do you see what God is saying? That the servant who is going to help the weary, must Himself become weary first. That's why He can help you. Because He's been there.

When you listen to Joni Eareckson speak, or Elisabeth Elliot, when you hear those women speak you just know they speak from experience. When Joni Earceckson says, “pain,” you don't question for a moment that she doesn't know anything about this. To be honest, God has kept me free from a great deal of pain in my life, and although I speak about pain, in reality God has been gracious to me. But when Jesus speaks about pain, and suffering, when He says, “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden” If I were to draw a psychological picture of some of you, your back would be bent, your hands would be hanging down, your knees would be feeble, you would barely be able to put one foot in front of another.

You come with burdens, you come with sorrows, you come with troubles, and God sends a servant to you who knows all about troubles and pains and sorrows. He knows what it means to be spat upon. Have you ever been spat on? Do you know the indignity of being spat on? They crucified Him naked. I know it's not portrayed like that in pictures, but in all probability, and reality, they took everything away from Him. They scourged Him with whips and bits of metal they undoubtedly exposed flesh and bone and maybe organs. They drove nails into His hands and feet, pushed a crown of thorns into His head, and they crucified Him. That's the servant God sends for us, to help us. Not only a servant who is skilled in God's word, not only a servant who is submissive to God's will, but a servant who is sure of God's help.

III. A servant who is sure of God's help.
Do you see how He puts in verses 7-9, “But the Lord God helps Me,” repeating what He said in verse 7, “The Lord God helps Me.” And because God helps Him, I'm not disgraced. Do you notice what He says in verse 8: “Who has a case against Me?’’ verse 9, “Who is he who condemns Me?” Now, doesn't that sound like Romans 8? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “He that spared not His own Son but freely delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also along with Him freely give us all things?” “Who shall lay any charge against God's elect. It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?” “It is Christ who died, yea, rather is risen again who is at the right hand of God who intercedes for us.” “Who shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” You see, we are able to say that.

Do you see the point. We can say that when we believe in Jesus and we are united to Jesus. We can draw all of those conclusions because Jesus has stood in our place. I don't bring you a word that is pie in the sky. I bring you a word that is sure because it comes from One who has been where you are. “Because we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are.” That's what helps people like the Covenanter, James Cameron, when his son's head, imagine, no, don't imagine it too much, was thrown into the prison cell where they had put him, and he took hold of that head and said, “This is my son, and goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.” Because he knew something that you and I know, that those who trust in Jesus trust in One who has stood in our place and has been condemned for our sins and has been raised from the dead and sits at God's right hand, a servant. A servant who brought us God's words because He was God's word. And a servant who was submissive to God's ways that led Him all the way to the cross, and a servant who was certain of God's help, because He was God's Son. And God wasn't about to abandon His Son.

That's what we heard set to music by George Handel in that deeply poignant melody line, but he was singing of Jesus, and tonight, a week or so before Christmas, that's the One that Isaiah proclaims to you. This grand, glorious Jesus Christ, condemned for our sins, crucified, dead and buried, but risen, sitting at God's right hand, interceding on our behalf. Let's together.

Our Father in heaven, we thank You for this wonderful word from Isaiah that speaks so richly and eloquently of Jesus our servant, Your servant. We thank You that by faith in Him we are justified from all of our sins. We come to You with trouble, sorrow, difficulty, pain, suffering, uncertainties. Have we trials and temptations, is there trouble anywhere, we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer. We thank You for Your word, hide it within our hearts, that we might not sin against You, for Jesus’ sake, we pray, amen.

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