Week Commencing 4th November 2018
On 4 November we began a 4-week series: “That’s from the Bible!?”
|4th Nov (Noosa triathlon)||Run the race set before us||Hebrews 12:1-3|
|11th Nov (Remembrance Day)||Greater love has no one than this||John 15:1-17|
|18th Nov||Led like a lamb to the slaughter||Isaiah 53:7|
|25th Nov||Eat, drink and be merry||Luke 12:19; 1 Cor 15:32|
The phrase ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’ has become so common place, that it has its own entry in many dictionaries. For example, the Cambridge dictionary defines the phrase this way: “If someone does something or goes somewhere ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’, they do it without knowing that something bad is going to happen and therefore act calmly and without fighting against the situation.” Or dictionary.com says: “innocently and helplessly, without realising the danger.”
However, our task this week is to go back to the Bible, where the phrase is first used. People unfamiliar with the Bible, will be unaware that this phrase is found in Isaiah 53. There we will see that it is used to speak of Jesus, even though the prophet Isaiah taught some 700 years prior to his birth. We will return to the Cambridge dictionary definition on Day 3.
DAY 1: Read Isaiah 52:13-53:1-3
52:12-53:12 is the fourth of five ‘songs’ in Isaiah which speak of the ‘suffering servant’. We understand that each of these songs, point us forward to the person and work of Jesus Christ and find their fulfilment in the one who came to serve us by his sacrificial death (Mark 10:45).
“See my servant”, (52:13), God says, echoing the introduction of the Servant back in 42:1. The “arm of the LORD”; i.e., God’s saving power, has been promised in 51:9 and 52:10. Now the question becomes, “To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” (53:1). The implicit answer in this high point of Isaiah’s prophecy is that God’s saving power is nowhere more clearly seen than in the work of the Servant.
In the previous chapters, God has repeatedly promised forgiveness to his people, but its basis has not been established. Here all becomes clear: “my righteous servant will justify many… he will bear their iniquities” (53:11). He is a priest, sprinkling the unclean (52:15); he is a guilt offering, removing their iniquities (53:10).
The first of five stanzas (52:13-15) begins with the Servant’s exaltation (52:13), descends to his appalling suffering (52:14) and ends with the ‘sprinkling’ of many nations – and the stunned reaction to it. “Sprinkling” with blood, oil or water in the Old Testament is bound up with cleansing – i.e., with making a person or thing fit to come before God. Normally this reference is to Israel, but not here: this is for ‘many nations’ (52:15). The stunned reaction testifies that God’s wisdom overthrows and confounds all human wisdom (see 1 Cor 1:18-2:5). The sprinkling is of course, a metaphor for the cleansing work of Jesus by his death and resurrection.
In the second and third stanzas (53:1-3 and then vv4-6), the speakers are witnesses to what God has done through his suffering, vindicated and exalted Servant. At first, reactions to him are cautious, and then negative (53:1-3). He was greatly despised and rejected by men: “we esteemed him not”.
In the gospels, we read very early on, that Jesus was rejected, and that they tried to kill him from the outset. (See Mark 3:6). Why do you think this was? How would Jesus be received today by religious people?
DAY 2: Read Isaiah 53:4-6
When Jesus was barbarically killed, many thought it was God’s providential judgement (53:4). They spoke better than they knew! For Jesus’ death was an act of God’s judgement, but not on the servant himself. Rather, he bore the judgement for the sin of mankind. The witnesses come to grasp that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities”.
Here we see clearly that Jesus died in our place as our substitute. The result? The full redemption – rescue – of the guilty sinner. In the Suffering Servant we see the pure suffering for the impure, and the just suffering for the unjust. Isaiah sees the suffering accumulated in the Servant (of being hurt, beaten, punished, pierced, plagued, crushed) being not for his sins, but for ours. He carried in his own person the sins of the world.
The blood of Christ, the cross of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the death of Christ all refer to the same thing; that is, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Some claim that the shedding of blood and the sacrifice of Christ is merely exemplary or merely celebratory; that is, something that provides an example or something that celebrates the love of God. But they don’t want to call it substitutionary. But Christ dies in our place. There are so many biblical texts that insist on that point. That is what cancels sin and turns aside the wrath of God. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Come to God in fervent thanks today, for what Jesus has done for you by his death and resurrection!
DAY 3: Read Isaiah 53:7-9
We see four things that happened to the servant and hear three times how he responded.
First, he was “oppressed.” The word is most often used in the Old Testament of what taskmasters do to make the life of their slaves miserable. They demand that they make bricks without straw. They press them hard and bring a terrible sense of pressure and burden and stress and tension and oppression on the slaves. Jesus experienced this in the way his enemies continually stalked him and finally captured and tormented him.
Second, he was “afflicted.” The word implies humiliation, being brought low, treating with contempt, shaming, belittling, scorn, jest, mockery, ridicule, derision. All of that was what Jesus experienced during his whole ministry and in full measure in the last awful week.
Third, he was led like a Lamb to the slaughter. The slaughter doesn’t come until verse 8. Here he is just led to it. And that is a terrifying thing. It is one thing to be oppressed and afflicted if you know that you will walk out of the jail in a few hours. It is something altogether different if you know that it is all leading to the slaughter. Jesus knew it. Hence, I would challenge the Cambridge definition shared at the beginning of these notes. Jesus knew all that was to happen. We read in John 10, that Jesus knowingly laid down his life: John 10:17-18. And of course, the use of the lamb imagery itself, reminds us of another dimension to Jesus’ self-giving – that he is our ultimate Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world – see John 1:29.
Fourth, he was ‘sheared’. “Like a sheep before its shearers . . . ” He was stripped of his clothes, his friends, his honour, his divine protection. No one has ever been as naked as Jesus on the Golgotha of Good Friday.
How did the Servant respond to all of this? Three times we are told in verse 7: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so he did not open his mouth.”
His response was an amazing silence, patience and acceptance, for he went in obedience to his Father and in love for you!
DAY 4: Read Isaiah 53:10-12
The servant song finishes with the resounding affirmation of the purposes of God. God’s Servant will act wisely (52:13). ‘By his knowledge’ he will cause many to become righteous, “and he will bear their iniquities” (53:11). In other words, his death was not like any other human death. The LORD crushed him, not merely men: NOT because of his own sins, but because of our sins. What God desired was that we not bear our own sins! Seven hundred years before Good Friday, God announced why his Son was being put to death: to bear the sins of many—to take our place. Sins are not borne twice. God does not sentence his Servant and us to death for the same sins. If he bears them, we don’t. He bore our sins. He rose again. He intercedes for us! And that is the glorious gospel of Jesus.
By Mark Calder with the resources of Don Carson and John Piper in various places. Some phrases used directly.