Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12; Psalm 22:25-31; Hebrews 10:16-25; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 18:33-37.
HIS CROSS, OUR SALVATION.
(A) Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:1-12 – Fourth Servant Song.
1. The introduction to this prophecy of the Passion of Jesus begins not with His humiliation, but with His exaltation (Isaiah 52:13). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus, ‘who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2). The reason for Jesus’ Passion was to accomplish the salvation of the “many” (Isaiah 52:14-15; Isaiah 53:11-12; cf. Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24).
The path to our salvation was, for Him, just as hard as He had prophesied (Mark 10:33-34). The gory details of His suffering are scattered throughout this Song. Our emotional response to this picture ranges from “astonishment” (Isaiah 52:14) to incredulity (Isaiah 53:1).
Some people read the verb at the beginning of Isaiah 52:15 as ‘startle’ - but “sprinkle” is more in keeping with the sacrificial system which lies at the back of much of the thought here. The religious imagery being invoked is that of the solemn Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:19) - with Jesus as not only the supreme sacrifice, but also as the High Priest who sprinkles the blood on the altar (Hebrews 9:12). The irony of the passage is that the One who was so marred that His humanity was barely recognizable (Isaiah 52:14) becomes the source of cleansing for others (Isaiah 52:15).
2. “Who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1). In the Cross, the “arm of the LORD” – His strength and power - was being revealed. Who else could have dreamt up such a scheme for the salvation of mankind?
There is nothing about this picture which draws us to Jesus: it is more likely to repel us. He may have looked well enough to His Father: as “a root out of dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2) - but now humankind can see nothing to commend Him. In that awful moment of history, there was nothing whereby we could recognize His majesty – and where now was His beauty?
Throughout history people have drawn back from our Jesus, recoiling at the very thought of the Cross. It is not that He turned away from men, but that men turned away from Him (Isaiah 53:3). He was despised, and we accounted Him as nothing worth.
3. The reason for all this, the specific Mission of Jesus, is explained in the middle section of the Song. The repulsion evoked by the Cross of Jesus is countered by the recognition of the substitutionary character of His sacrifice (Isaiah 53:4). We may have seen Jesus as One “stricken” by God – but the toll which He was paying was not His own.
No, indeed, it was for OUR sins that He was “wounded” and “bruised” (Isaiah 53:5). These are strong verbs, carrying the idea of being “pierced” and “crushed” in some translations. The continued interplay between pronouns emphasises what HE (Jesus) did for US.
Before I began going the Lord’s way, I was like the rest of my generation: ‘going my own way’ (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Like sheep, when one of us (Adam) went astray, we all went astray. Yet the LORD lays our guilt upon Jesus.
4. Next, Jesus Himself is compared to a sheep: but this time the picture is complimentary (Isaiah 53:7). His silence was because of His willingness to suffer. His sacrifice was voluntary (cf. John 10:17-18).
The violent death of Jesus resulted from a deliberate miscarriage of justice. At this point He appeared as a childless man walking the lonely path to His own execution. He was literally, “cut off from the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).
An executed man could not expect a place in the family mausoleum. Despite having done no wrong, Jesus was destined to be buried with the wicked (Isaiah 53:9). However, the intervention of Joseph of Arimathea brought with it the first hint of an upturn in Jesus’ situation (Matthew 27:57-60).
5. This painful account ends not with Jesus’ suffering, but with His vindication. Jesus is not childless after all, but “shall see His offspring” (Isaiah 53:10; cf. Hebrews 2:11-13). His days are “prolonged” through the Resurrection, and the will of the LORD continues to “prosper” in His hand.
The “wisdom” of Jesus was to know our plight as sinners, and to provide the remedy. The LORD distinguishes Jesus with the appellation, “My Righteous Servant” (Isaiah 53:11). Through Jesus’ offering of Himself, He is able to justify (make righteous) the many (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Having “poured out His soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12), Jesus is now raised up into heaven, there to intercede for the transgressors. Jesus went through what He went through for you and for me. It is by His blood that we are redeemed - and His blood avails for all who will receive Him (John 1:12).
(B) Psalm 22:25-31.
The details of the sufferings in Psalm 22:1-21 match more exactly the anguish of Jesus than anything that we can find in any of the written records of David’s life - and because of this the church has always read this Psalm of David as a Psalm of Jesus. In this respect Psalm 22 stands alongside Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the suffering of Messiah.
One of the famous ‘seven last sayings of Jesus on the Cross’ is known as the Cry of Abandonment. It appears to be a verbatim quotation of Psalm 22:1 (cf. Mark 15:34), but in fact the converse is true. It was the Spirit of Jesus that inspired the words that flowed from David’s mouth (2 Samuel 23:1-2).
Whatever deep sense of desolation rocked David into penning these words, his God-inspired prophetic insight reaches far beyond the limits of his own time and experience to the Cross of Jesus – and beyond. Therefore I have called this closing section of the Psalm ‘a paradigm of praise’ - not just because of its content, but especially because of its context.
The first person singular of Psalm 22:1-21 - ‘I’ – switches to persons plural from Psalm 22:22 onward, as the composer looks forward to the day when he will no longer be a stranger in the great congregation (Psalm 22:25). Have we the faith that sees beyond the affliction to its end (Job 23:10), beyond the fight to the victory (Psalm 22:22-24); to praise God in the midst of affliction like Paul and Silas (Acts 16:22-25)? David - and Jesus – envisaged an end to the present tribulation.
The Psalmist calls upon his brethren to join him in celebration of the victory wrought by God, who ‘has not despised the affliction of the afflicted’ (Psalm 22:23-24). The celebration takes the form of a testimonial feast, to which the whole congregation is invited (Psalm 22:25). Those who formerly shared his tears (cf. Romans 12:15), now have opportunity to rejoice with him.
The reference to “the meek” anticipates the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 5:5). Those who seek the LORD are told, “Your heart shall live for ever” (Psalm 22:26). This in turn points to the regeneration accomplished by Jesus: the making alive of those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1).
Jesus eventually opened the doors of salvation to those outside the family: to the poor and afflicted, and even to strangers beyond the boundaries of Israel (Psalm 22:27-28). This universalisation of the gospel, rightly understood, is the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
The keys of death are in the hands of Jesus, and “none can keep alive his own soul” (Psalm 22:29). All the dead shall at last bow down before Him (cf. Philippians 2:10-11). The present celebrants are joining the faithful of former generations in the Church Universal.
They are followed by “a seed” that shall yet serve the LORD (Psalm 22:30), who shall in turn declare His righteousness to a people yet unborn (Psalm 22:31). The gospel extends not only to the ends of the earth, but to the end of the age.
Another of the ‘seven last sayings of Jesus upon the Cross’ is known as ‘the Word of Triumph’:- ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). This is a cry of completion, or accomplishment, not unlike the closing words of our reading: “He has done it” (Psalm 22:31).
Perhaps one aspect of ‘taking up our Cross daily and following Jesus’ (Luke 9:23) is that we should do so not just with a cheerful countenance, but also with praise upon our lips. How do we relate to setbacks in our lives? Do we stop praising because of them?
(C) Hebrews 10:16-25.
It is interesting to note here that the Holy Spirit is witnessing to US through the Scriptures (Hebrews 10:15). He has re-introduced the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 10:16; and He is now telling us that it is OUR sins and iniquities He will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). If our sins are forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, then there is no further need for the sacrificial system represented by tabernacle and Temple (Hebrews 10:18).
“Therefore” (Hebrews 10:19) introduces the whole practical section of the letter, but also specifically the application of this point. The finished work of Jesus gives us confident access to God. It is by His blood, and through the metaphorical “veil of His flesh” that we thus boldly approach (Hebrews 10:20).
With Jesus as our high priest (Hebrews 10:21), exhorts the writer, let us:
“Draw near” (Hebrews 10:22) faithfully, with a sincere heart; and in the certainty of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ (which we call “assurance of faith”). Make your approach boldly, having had your conscience (inwardly) cleansed by the blood of Jesus, and having been outwardly washed in the obedience of baptism. Furthermore, let us:
“Hold fast” (Hebrews 10:23) to the confession of our hope. Ours should be a sturdy hope, because He who made the promises is reliable!
Finally (Hebrews 10:24-25), let us be considerate of other Christians, encouraging one another to love and good deeds. Let us not neglect the meeting together of Christian community, both giving and receiving the word of exhortation – and all the more so, said our writer all those centuries ago, as we see “the day” approaching.
(D) Hebrews 4:14-16.
The priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of Aaron. As a man like ourselves, Jesus is a merciful and faithful high priest: yet, unlike Aaron, He is capable of facing and overcoming temptation on our behalf (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15). For though He is a man, Jesus is also the Son of God (Hebrews 5:5).
The earthly tabernacle is only a shadow of the heavenly (Hebrews 9:11-14). The sons of Aaron needed to repeat their sacrifices and offerings over and over again, according to a complex ritual: morning and evening, Sabbaths, new moons, festivals; day by day, month by month, year by year. Jesus has provided the one full final perfect sacrifice for sins, once and for all and for ever, by His own blood (Hebrews 9:24-26).
Jesus’ priesthood is of a better order than that of Aaron (Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 7:11). It is not genealogy which qualifies our Great High Priest, but the power of an indissoluble life (Hebrews 7:16). Jesus has passed into the heavens (Hebrews 4:14) - and is set on the right hand of God (Hebrews 8:1) - and there makes continual intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:25-27).
This gives us boldness to approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
(E) Hebrews 5:7-9.
Jesus’ offering is described here as “prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).
At Gethsemane Jesus cried ‘Take this cup from me’ – but also ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Matthew 26:39).
At Calvary Jesus cried to God in dereliction, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus well knew that God was able to save Him from death, and we are told here that God “heard” because of His reverence for, and submission to God (Hebrews 5:7).
However, the historical facts demonstrate not a deliverance from suffering, but a strengthening in suffering (Luke 22:43).
They demonstrate not a deliverance from dying, but a deliverance out of the jaws of death itself (Romans 1:4).
The facts also demonstrate a subsequent elevation into heaven to minister on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14).
Though He was a Son, we are told, yet He “learned obedience” through what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
Of course, Jesus was always obedient. The incarnation itself was an act of obedience, and Jesus did not stop at ‘death, even the death of the cross’ (Philippians 2:8).
We are also told that He was “made perfect” (Hebrews 5:9).
This does not imply that He was ever anything less than perfect, but rather that through His suffering and obedience His qualifications to the role and function of high priest were fully validated (Hebrews 2:10).
Jesus’ obedience becomes the model of our obedience. Through His obedience He is made the author of eternal life to all who obey Him (Hebrews 5:9).
This speaks of the obedience of faith (John 1:12).
It speaks of our obedience to the call to take up our own cross, and to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).
(F) John 18:33-37.
The interview between Pilate and Jesus paints a pathetic picture. The King of kings stood accused before the tribunal of an earthly governor. The prisoner appeared so unlike the usual kind of revolutionary that you could almost hear the scorn in the prefect’s voice: “You? The King of the Jews?” (John 18:33).
Jesus assured Pilate that He posed no threat to Rome: His kingdom is of another order (John 18:36). Yet He did not deny that He is the One who was to come, hoped for by Israel, and expected by the Gentiles: and that everyone who is of the truth hears (i.e. obeys) Him (John 18:37). Counselled by none other than the ultimate manifestation and personification of truth, the Emperor’s representative whimpered “What is truth” (John 18:38).
A few days before, the excited crowd that had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover had hailed Jesus as the Messiah, the coming One, the king of the Jews. “Hosanna,” they had cried, acknowledging the salvation they expected (Psalm 118:25-26). “Blessed is the king of Israel who comes in the name of the LORD” (John 12:13).
The trouble is that the people had a different agenda to the Lord. They expected a Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government, but this “son of David” (Matthew 21:9) came instead to die for His people. It is not without reason that Jesus said to Pilate, “but now my kingdom is not from hence” (John 18:36).
When Jesus said, “To this end was I born,” (John 18:37), He was acknowledging His incarnation. The incarnation is real (1 John 5:6), even though there have always been those who deny “Jesus Christ coming in the flesh” (2 John 1:7). When He said, “and for this cause I came into the world” (John 18:37), He was hinting at His Messiah-ship.
John the Baptist was acknowledging Jesus’ Messiah-ship when he spoke of the One “coming after” him (John 1:15; John 1:27). The Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus with just this question: “Are you He who is coming?” (Matthew 11:3). “Are you (really) He who was to come?” (Luke 7:19).
Jesus came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). He came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Yet He also came for judgement, to separate the light from the darkness (John 9:39). John the Evangelist said that “He came” - and was rejected (John 1:11). Jesus informs us of a future event, when the Son of man shall “come (again) in His glory” (Matthew 25:31).
In the famous “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel (John 6:35; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 10:7; John 10:9; John 10:11; John 10:14; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 15:1), Jesus was identifying Himself with the name of God - and His enemies persecuted Him because they understood that this was what He meant. When Moses asked God for His name, God had answered “I AM THAT I AM: tell them that I AM has sent you” (Exodus 3:13-14). Amazingly, in the opening greeting of the book of Revelation, John pronounces “Grace and peace” from “the one who is, and who was, and who IS TO COME” - substituting the future of the verb “to be” with the future of the verb “to come” (Revelation 1:4).
Now we await His “coming with the clouds” (Revelation 1:7). “Surely I come quickly,” He says (Revelation 22:20). Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.