Summary: Because of our terrible lostness,God had to go outside the human race to provide a solution to the universal problem of sin. He need a lot more than image; He needed someone unaffected by the world’s value system, someone who trusted God perfectly.
"Lost Sheep" Isaiah 53:1-9
Pastor Jon MacKinney
We have been treated in the past several weeks to quite a show, haven’t we? On the TV we have watched with pride and with amazement as the brave men and women of our military and that of the United Kingdom have dismantled, town by town, city by city, the regime of Saddam Hussein. We have seen precision aerial bombardment, bunker busters, chasing Saddam from one hiding hole to another. We have seen amazing stuff; the awesome power to topple Saddam Hussein, as well as kindness for those who have suffered under his rule. As far as human solutions go to a difficult human problem, it’s been about as good as it gets, about as good as human beings can do.
But some problems are just too big for us to handle in spite of our pride. We really have a lot of it in the human race. The Humanist Manifesto says this, "We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us. We must save ourselves."
Last night I was privileged to hear a gentleman talk about creation. He read this quote from a man named Jeremy Ripkin, who is a Ph.D. in something. He writes this, "We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with some pre-existing set of cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, so we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever."
Ugh. Hard to say, "Amen" to that one isn’t it? Pride. We think we’ve got the world by the tail. On this Palm Sunday we hear once again what God has said down through the centuries, over the thousands of years, the thing that Ethan sang about in his song. "You’re lost without My grace. You’re on a one way trip to nowhere."
We’ve seen this verse, Chris just read it for us a few minutes ago, verse 6 of Isaiah 53, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way." We read that verse and we say, "You know, that’s about the universality of sin." We’re ALL (we focus on that "all," and that’s true. We ALL like sheep have gone astray. This verse teaches more than just the universality of sin. It teaches the consequences of that sin, in terms of our relationship to God. We’re going to see in a little while there’s nothing worse in creation than a domesticated sheep who hasn’t got a shepherd. One commentator has said about this verse: "We walked through life solitary, forsaken, miserable, separated from God, and the Good Shepherd, and deprived of His pastoral care. We all, like sheep, have wandered away."
The Biblical image is used for a reason. As I said, domesticated sheep that have wandered away from their shepherd are the most pitiable of all creation. Philip Keller, in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, has said this about sheep, "They are timid and easily panicked, without means to defend themselves except to run." He writes that he heard of one situation where in one night two dogs had gotten into a flock of sheep had killed 292 sheep in one night! Can you imagine that kind of slaughter?
Sheep will overgraze and ruin habitat. They are creatures of habit. If you leave sheep in one place, they’ll make ruts in their pathways. They will nibble the grass down to nothing and then just keep nibbling. They don’t move on. Only a shepherd is able to move them on to other pastures, leading them into pastures that are good. If left to themselves, they’ll just stay in the same place and ruin it and become under fed.
Sheep have a problem with their body structure. They experience something we call, being "cast." A cast sheep is a sheep that has fallen down and it can’t get up. It falls down and it falls onto its back and because of its leg structure compared to its body and the weight differential, and also the nature of their legs, they can’t get up. All they can do is flail in place wildly. They can’t roll over and get back up. Such a sheep, without a shepherd coming to find it, is in the vernacular, "toast." He may die, and if it’s a hot day, he may die in a couple of hours. If it’s cool and he’s in the shade, he may die in a couple of days. But he’s going to die because he’s cast. And sometimes, you put them back on their feet, and they will re-cast. And sometimes a sheep just gets so heavy with a coat matted and full of burrs and manure and dirt, that he’ll become so heavy that he’ll just fall over and become cast. A sheep without a shepherd is a very, very sad thing. Philip Keller, who raised sheep for years, says, "No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction, than sheep." So, when God says, in verse 6, of Isaiah 53, "We all, like SHEEP, have gone astray," that’s a powerful, powerful image and statement. And we can say all we want to about "No deity will save us. We must save ourselves." But, the fact is that the human race is flat on its back, legs flailing in the air, dying. We were separated from our Shepherd by our own sinful choice. Now, what did God do? What did God do in response?