• I don’t know if you recognize this face on the screen. This is Friedrich Nietszche. He was a German philosopher who is most famous for his claim that ‘God is dead.’ He has become a hero figure in atheist circles.
? Nietszche’s philosophy was all about human power. He said that the main driving force in human beings is a desire to dominate, to master others, and we shouldn’t quash that desire. We are at our best as humans, when we have the drive to achieve the highest possible position in life. And if we have to trample over other people in the process, then so be it. That’s who we are by nature.
o And not surprisingly, Nietszche hated everything to do with Jesus, and Christianity. His most famous book is subtlely entitled the ‘Anti Christ’. And Nietszche hated, in particular, the weakness of Jesus. His love for the poor and the destitute. And especially Jesus’ attitude to suffering.
o If we were all like Jesus, Nietszche said, the world would be horrific, and we would be quashing our true humanity. We need to promote power, not weakness.
• And Nietszche would have hated Isaiah 53, because it’s all about Jesus’ weakness, his sacrifice on the cross. (v.7-9) focus in especially on the abuse and mistreatment he faced, as he sacrificed himself.
• But Isaiah’s claim is the exact opposite of Nietszche. Isaiah claims that Jesus’ greatness, his power lies precisely in his weakness.
• Isaiah describes Jesus’ death as a glorious sacrifice. A sacrifice that has real power for everyone in this room today. And let’s remember that Isaiah is saying all this, 700 years before Jesus was even born. This passage is like a webcam taking us right to the trial of Jesus, 700 years before it happened.
? And Isaiah says 3 things about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Firstly it was
o A willing sacrifice (7)
o (v.7) the Servant ‘was oppressed and afflicted’, an apt description of the scourging Jesus endured as Roman soldiers ploughed up his back with a metal lined whip. The whip was designed to tear the back open, so it would have been excruciating.
• But during this intense suffering, we are told that the Servant ‘opened not his mouth.’ In fact the Gospels record that Jesus did not open his mouth during most of his trial, to defend himself, whether he was in front of the High Priest and being falsely accused.
o Or before Pilate at a time when Pilate wanted to release Jesus. In fact Pilate was shocked that Jesus didn’t say anything in his own defence.
Why was that? Why, when Jesus knew he was innocent of all charges, why did he keep his mouth closed? Why, when he was such a genius with words, and could confound his critics – why didn’t he use his genius to get out of crucifixion? And the answer is, because he didn’t intend to get out of it. He was a willing sacrifice.
He never intended to escape the beating and mocking, the unfair trial, or the cross itself.
(v.7) ‘like a lamb that is the led to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’
Jesus’ attitude was ‘lamb like’, gentle, not fighting against it, even though he knew he was going to the slaughter.
o Paul called Jesus ‘the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Jesus could not have given himself for me more than he did.
o The very shape of the cross, with Jesus’ hands outstretched, his bleeding back rubbing against the rough wood, his entire body exposed on the tree, tells us that he gave himself fully for us.
• How do you feel about that this morning? And I use the word ‘feel’ because you can’t avoid the emotions of the cross.
? I had a Bible story picture book when I was growing up, and I remember rifling through it, not looking for the great stories of Jesus, like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, but feeling drawn to the man on the cross.
o Even as a 10 year old, I remember crying, looking at depictions of the cross. I know emotions can be fickle things.
o But you can’t avoid the emotion of the cross – the pathos of Jesus hanging naked and helpless at Calvary, while people mocked and jeered. ‘The Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’.
How does that make you feel this morning? A lot of people approach Christianity on a purely logical basis. Do I accept the truth claims of Christianity?
But the Gospel isn’t just a set of truth claims that we either accept or reject like a doctor’s prescription. It is a man, hanging on a cross, with blood trickling down his battered face, saying ‘I gave myself for you.’ He loves you more than his own life!
o How do you feel about that today? There is an old hymn that says ‘Lord of the cross of shame, set my cold heart aflame, with love for you, my Saviour and my Master. Who on that lonely day, washed all my sins away, and saved me from the judgement and disaster.’
There are lots of reasons to believe in Jesus this morning. But the best reason is because you have fallen in love with the man on the cross. That was what inspired Paul to lay down his own life for the Gospel. Not because of the logic of the message, but because of the love of the crucified Christ.
Have we lost that first love? Does the cross still move us? The great Anglican preacher John Stott said, ‘there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.’ Have you been cut to the heart by the cross where Jesus died for you? The whole passion we bring to our Christian lives begins right here. What does the cross really mean to you?
Jesus was a willing sacrifice.
Interestingly Peter uses this passage in the NT to challenge Christians who were facing persecution for their faith. He encourages them to face whatever suffering they were enduring, with a quiet trust in God, just like Jesus did. They could show their love for Jesus by reacting to unfair treatment and even abuse, just like Jesus did. Peter was writing during the days of the emperor Nero, the crazed Roman emperor who tortured Christians for fun, and set them on fire to illuminate his gardens.
The first believers knew about the kind of abuse and suffering we scarcely dream of today. They were fired from jobs for being Christians, they had their possessions confiscated, they were called the haters of the world because they wouldn’t join in with immoral Roman customs. They were accused of being cannibals because of a misunderstanding about the Lord’s Supper.
The historian Tacitus called Christianity a ‘vile and pernicious superstition that was spreading like a virus.’ That’s what it felt like being a Xian. You were tortured for not worshipping Caesar, and sometimes thrown to the lions.
If we think we are being victimized as Xians today, we ain’t seen nothing yet. And Peter says to these battered and bruised Xians, ‘when you are faced with that kind of unfair hostility – the social mockery and ostracism - don’t seek revenge, don’t retaliate against those who insult you. Remain quiet like Jesus and leave vengeance and vindication to God.
o That’s the difference that the cross needs to make in our lives today. In our rights obsessed society, be willing to set aside your rights, and pay back unfair treatment with love and pateince. That’s how people of the cross live.
o Perhaps you are facing a situation right now where you are being unfairly treated by an employer, or a neighbour, or even your spouse. Are you willing to lose an argument at home for the sake of your marriage?
o Are you willing to give things up, and face unfair criticism from your spouse, and return that with love, because you have taken on the character of Christ? We’re not all called to be martyrs, but we are called to absorb offense, to respond to anger with patience, to return love for hate. That’s when you will become a cross shaped man or woman.
We live in a fallen world, following a Saviour who was led, willingly, like a lamb to the slaughter. Can you learn the same quietness of spirit that enabled Jesus to endure, without a word?
That’s when your life truly becomes worthy of the cross.
Jesus was a willing sacrifice, and he calls you and me to be a willing sacrifice as well.
Secondly he was
o A substitutionary sacrifice (8)
o That’s what (v.8) is all about. ‘By oppression and judgement he was taken away.’ This is the moment Jesus was led out of Pilate’s courtyard to be crucified. He was ‘taken away’, led out to die.
? (v.8) goes on, ‘and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?’ The people who saw the broken Jesus being led out to die, could not have guessed that he was dying for others.
o He was stricken ‘for the transgressions of my people.’ Jesus’ crucifixion would have looked like every other crucifixion. The prisoner was an enemy of the state, and he had to carry his cross beam in shame through the streets of Jerusalem.
o No one who witnessed the crucifixion, even Jesus’ closest friends and supporters, had any idea that he was dying for others.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if the executioners had realized what they were doing, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory. But no one knew. Not the Jewish leaders, or Pilate.
Even the disciples didn’t understand. The cross was a trauma for the disciples. They wanted to run for their lives. And Isaiah predicts the ignorance surrounding the cross. ‘who considered, who would ever have thought, that he was being cut off from life, for the transgression of my people?’
But what no one knew was happening, is also the heart of the Gospel. It’s what theologians call substitutionary atonement. Jesus was a substitutionary sacrifice. He was willingly paying for sins he had not committed. He was becoming the sinner’s substitute, representing every transgressor for the whole of human history.
Everyone from gossippers and liars, to child molestors and murders . He was representing all that is evil and hateful to God, during 3 hours of Calvary darkness. As Paul said in 2 Cor 5 ‘he became sin for us.’
God poured out his righteous wrath at a whole history of human sin, from Sodom and Gomorrah to genocide in Rwanda, to the cruelty of the slave trade, to the man who cheats on his wife under cover of night, and every other sin large or small.
God poured out all his anger at human rebellion on the soul of the Son he loved. Jesus became our substitute, and no one in the world knew what was happening.
But we do know today. You and I know this morning. You could forgive the crucifier who was just following orders. You could forgive the disciples who were left bewildered. You could even forgive Pilate for washing his hands of it all. None of them knew what was really going on. But you and I do. We are accountable today.
We don’t just have the Gospel stories describing for us how Jesus died for our sin, we don’t just have Paul’s compelling explanations of the cross in Romans and Corinthians, inspired texts that have been preserved for us to read and think about. We also have this supernatural prediction from Isaiah, telling us in advance what it would be all about.
The bottom line of the gospel is that you and I need our sins paid for, and we can either chose to pay for our sin ourselves, or we can accept what Jesus has done, paying for our sins as our substitute. Those are the only 2 options.
It is a fact of history that Jesus of Nazareth died under Pontius Pilate. Ancient secular historians like Tacitus and Pliny record it, and modern historians tell us the cross really happened. The questions is ‘why did he die?' And the answer is, he died as our substitute. And the fact that this was predicted long before it happened, only adds weight to the decision you and I are faced with.
You might not like the thought of Jesus dying for you. But sooner or later you have to face up to the cross.
The evidence is right in front of you. Most people don’t accept that Jesus died for them, not because there is a lack of evidence, but because they don’t want it to be true. The philosopher Thomas Nagel was honest enough to say, ‘I don’t want the universe to be like that.’
Richard Dawkins, in his debate with John Lennox, didn’t offer any reason to refute that Christ died for our sins. He simply said the whole idea of God dying on a cross was ‘so petty, so trivial, so earth-bound.’
He rejects the cross, not on the basis of evidence, but because he doesn’t like it. ‘I don’t want someone paying the price for my sin. I don’t want to have to be saved by someone else.'
Sometimes the truth hurts. In fact often you recognize it as truth, precisely because it hurts. Like the contestants on the 'X Factor', who have dreamed of being singers all their lives, but have to face the verdict, ‘you’re not good enough, you’ll never make it.’ And while you feel sad for them, you also agree.
The unpleasant truth is that you and I are sinners. We’re not good enough for God. But Jesus died in our place to pay the price for all the ways we fall short of God’s glory.
Isaac Watts wrote those wonderful words, ‘when I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.’
That’s the humility that is non negotiable at the foot of the cross. ‘Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling. Naked come to thee for dress, thirsty, look to thee for grace. Foul I to the fountain fly, wash me Jesus, or I die.’
And when you move past the offense of the cross, you discover the glory of the cross. And the cross stops being the worst news you have ever heard, and starts being the best news you have ever heard.
That all your sin, past, present and future is dealt with. That you are loved by a God who is so passionate about you, that he hung on a cross for you, that in Jesus you are now utterly perfect in God’s sight, because he took the blame, he bore the wrath that you deserved, and your soul is free.
Jesus was a willing sacrifice, he was a substitutionary sacrifice, and thirdly he was
o An innocent sacrifice (9)
o (v.9) ‘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.’ The accuracy of this prediction is worth noting. Jesus made his grave with the wicked in the sense that he died alongside 2 thieves who merited the death penalty.
? And it is very rare that a man who died as a criminal alongside other criminals, would end up in a rich man’s grave. Often crucified victims were simply thrown to the dogs as a final act of humiliation. That’s what they deserved and where they belonged. And you certainly wouldn’t spend big money on them.
• But Jesus was different. The Gospels all report that a most unlikely disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin – the same Jewish council that sentenced Jesus to death - came forward to claim Jesus’ body.
John’s Gospel says Nicodemus, another Sanhedrin member, came with him. These were 2 wealthy aristocrats. God ensured that Jesus had an honourable burial, wrapped in pounds of expensive spices by the women, and placed in a freshly cut tomb, with a stone rolled over it, which only the supremely wealthy could own.
God ensured that his Son, who entered this world in a crude stable, and died on a cruel cross, would leave the world in a way more befitting his person. The burial reflects who he truly was.
That he was innocent. (v.9) ‘he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.’ Jesus was innocent in his actions – he had done no violence, and innocent in his thoughts and words – there was no deceit in his mouth. He wasn’t just innocent of the crimes he was crucified for.
He was innocent in the fullest, purest sense a man can be innocent. He was everything that Adam failed to be in the garden, and you and I fail to be every moment of every day.
3 times in the Gospels God declares from heaven ‘this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.’ God could not say that about any other human being on the planet, apart from his own Son.
And we know how important it was that Jesus was innocent. If he had been guilty of even one sin his entire life, he would have had to die for his own sin. But because he was innocent, he could die for yours and mine, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.
Paul says in Romans we have been given Jesus’ perfect record of obedience to God as a free gift. We are now, as perfect in God’s eyes, as Jesus is.
The sacrifice of Christ is wonderful, it is extraordinary. It was a willing sacrifice, a substitutionary sacrifice, and an innocent sacrifice. But so what? What difference is it making to your life right here, right now?
Illust I don’t know if you have ever seen the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’. It’s a story from WW2 when the American army expended a huge amount of resources to save just one soldier – Private Ryan. All his brothers had already been killed in action, and many men lost their lives, often in fairly brutal ways (the movie is pretty graphic), to save just one man.
And towards the end of the film, Private Ryan is with the captain of the rescue Platoon, who is literally dying in his arms. And the platoon captain says to Ryan, ‘Earn this! Earn what has been done for you!’
And in the final scene of the film, we see Private Ryan years later, as an old man, visiting the graves of those who had given their lives for him. And he turns to his wife and says 'Please tell me I'm a good man. Please tell me I am good enough for all that has been done for me.’
That’s a great question to ask ourselves here this morning. Am I living a life worthy of the cross? As Jesus looks at my life this morning, is he happy that he gave so much for me?
CT Studd said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” He left a promising legal career as a Cambridge graduate, and gave his life to bring the Gospel to China and then to the Congo.
He will have no shame when he stands before Jesus at the end of life. What about you? ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’ Ask yourself today ‘is my life worth the enormous sacrifice Jesus made to save it.
If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great to make for him.’