Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Isaiah 53. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Isaiah 53.
And this morning, we have the privilege of having the children join us for the sermon. Usually, they are downstairs in Sunday School, where they get their own teaching. But this morning, they have the privilege of hearing the Word of God preached, together, with the rest of the church body.
So, children, we are glad that you are here with us. And parents, we are glad that your kids are here with us. So, don’t worry, if your kids act up, because they are going to do what kids do, and that’s alright. We will get through this, together.
Today, we come to the last Sunday in Advent. And if you don’t know what Advent is, it’s simply the time of year before Christmas, when we celebrate Jesus’ first coming as a baby, and when we anticipate Jesus’ second coming as King.
In Advent, we are looking back at when Jesus came and lived the life we could not live, and died the death we deserved to die, to save us from the enemies of sin and death that we needed to be saved from. But in Advent, we are also looking forward to when Jesus will come again, and when He will fully and finally restore all things, and when we will rule with Jesus, forever.
And so, Advent is both this time of celebration of what God has already done and this time of anticipation of what God is going to do in the lives of His people.
And we’ve been looking at these various Advent themes along the way. We have seen that Jesus is our hope in our circumstances. We have seen that Jesus is our joy in the midst of the curse that is on this world. And last week, we looked at what the prophet, Isaiah, wrote about Jesus being our peace with God. And this morning, we are going to look at how Jesus is the greatest expression of the love of God to mankind—that God showed His love to us by sending His Son, Jesus.
So, let’s read Isaiah 53, beginning in verse 1: “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
“4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
“7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And 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.
“10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
One of the privileges of living on this side of the cross is that we can look back at the Old Testament and see how it all makes sense. What was a mystery to those living in the days of the prophets or even in the days of Jesus is not a mystery to us, because we are able to look back and put the pieces of the puzzle, together.
For example, we can look at a passage of Scripture, like Isaiah 53, and we can know that the prophet, Isaiah, is talking about Jesus, because of what we read in the New Testament about Jesus. The Jews of Isaiah’s day didn’t have this kind of clarity. They were looking forward to this individual, but they didn’t know what we know now, if that makes sense.
So, we are in this privileged position, where we are able to look at Isaiah 53, as Isaiah is writing prophetically about the Suffering Servant, and we are able to say, “That’s Jesus,” because of what Jesus came to be and do.
And look at the way the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus, in verses 3-5: He’s despised, rejected, acquainted with grief, stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastisement, and wounds. These are a lot of words to describe the deep agony and suffering of Jesus.
This would be someone who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” There was no reason for people to flock to Jesus. There was no reason for people to believe that He was the Messiah, the chosen One of God. He was Someone who would be despised and afflicted by the world.
And what Isaiah is clearly laying out is that all of us, at one time or another, have viewed Jesus this way. Look at verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”
Now, I don’t know what you know about sheep, but when the prophet, Isaiah, says that we are all like sheep, that’s not a compliment. My family had sheep for a number of years, so to be called a sheep, is not very flattering. Alright?
And what Isaiah is saying is that our natural tendency, like sheep, is to go our own way and do our own thing, which is true, right? All of us do this. This isn’t an isolated problem, where only 1 in 4 people do this. This is all of us.
We say things like, “I don’t need a Saviour, because I don’t need saving from anything.” And what we’re doing is we’re despising the Christ of God. We don’t want to accept Jesus, because the moment we accept Jesus, then we’re now accountable for our actions—we’re now accountable for turning to our own way.
So, Isaiah is saying that we are personally responsible for rejecting Jesus, and that we bear the consequences of our actions. That’s our predicament. We have turned to our own way and we have declared ourselves to be our own Saviours.
But here’s the problem: We can’t save ourselves from our sin. We might think that we don’t need saving from anything, and that we would be able to handle it even if we did, but the reality is that we need a Saviour to save us from our wrongdoing of going our own way.
And this is where Jesus comes in. Verse 6 says, “And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
So, guess what? You don’t have to carry your iniquity. You know that shame and guilt that you get when you know you’ve done something wrong? The good news is, you don’t have to carry that around anymore, because Jesus carried it for you.
He was oppressed and afflicted. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was stricken, it says, for the transgression of the people of God. We don’t need to be our own Saviour. What we need is to accept the saving work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
Because here’s the beauty of the gospel: It was the will of the Father to crush the Son, so that the death of the Son would bring us to the Father.
You see, when mankind decided to go their own way, it created this gap between man and God, where the relationship was broken. And what the gospel says is that God acted first to bridge that gap and restore that relationship with man. And He did this by sending His Son, Jesus, to the world to pay the penalty of our sin.
It was not the will of the Jews to kill Jesus, because they didn’t like what He was saying about Him being God. It was not the will of the Romans to kill Jesus, because they wanted to keep peace in the land. Isaiah says that “it was the will of the Lord to crush him,” to “make many to be accounted righteous.”
What the prophet, Isaiah, is unpacking for us here is what is called the substitutionary atonement. Now, I know the children in here, and maybe even some of the adults, might be wondering what on earth that is.
The substitutionary atonement says that there was nothing we could do to save ourselves from our predicament of sin—we stood rightly condemned for our crimes against a holy God. But God offered up His Son on the cross to be our substitute—Jesus took our place—and God poured out His judgment against sin on Jesus and not on us. Now, why would God do that for us? Love.
1 John 4:10 sums it up perfectly: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Helena and I have been watching these Hallmark Christmas movies, through the month of December, and it’s amazing to see what people think love is. But compared to the unconditional love of God, where there was nothing that we could do to earn it, but that God freely bestowed it upon us, there’s no comparison. The love of the world is cheap compared to the love of God.
We have the tendency to put these conditions on each other, where I will love you, if you do…. Kids are the best at this. If you don’t give me that toy, or if you don’t play with me, then you won't be my friend, anymore.
But God comes along and shows us what love is, in that, while we were still sinners, while we were still going our own way, while we were still despising Him, He gave His Son as a sacrifice for us, to save us.
And we can make a big deal about God sacrificing His own Son, like this is some kind of cosmic child abuse. But what we need to understand is that we needed a perfect sacrifice, one who knew no sin, so that we could be in right standing before a holy God. We had no ability to do that. Only God could do that.
And until we lift high the sovereignty of God in the sending of His Son to this world to be the sacrifice that we so desperately needed—that God poured out His love for mankind and not His wrath, which is what we deserved—it will seem so much less glorious and necessary than it actually is.
And my hope is that the love of God through Jesus will sink down deep within us, as we celebrate and anticipate the coming of Jesus.
There is a popular allegory that has been circulating for the last number of years that really paints the picture of the love of God for mankind.
There was once a bridge that spanned a large river. During most of the day the bridge sat with its length running up and down the river paralleled with the banks, allowing ships to pass through freely on both sides of the bridge. But at certain times each day, a train would come along and the bridge would be turned sideways across the river, allowing the train to cross it.
A switchman sat in a shack on one side of the river where he operated the controls to turn the bridge and lock it into place as the train crossed. One evening as the switchman was waiting for the last train of the day to come, he looked off into the distance through the dimming twilight and caught sight of the train lights.
He stepped onto the control and waited until the train was within a prescribed distance. Then he was to turn the bridge. He turned the bridge into position, but, to his horror, he found the locking control did not work. If the bridge was not securely in position, it would cause the train to jump the track and go crashing into the river. This would be a passenger train with many people on board.
He left the bridge turned across the river and hurried across the bridge to the other side of the river, where there was a lever switch he could hold, to operate the lock, manually. He would have to hold the lever back firmly as the train crossed.
He could hear the rumble of the train now, and he took hold of the lever and leaned backward to apply his weight to it, locking the bridge. He kept applying the pressure to keep the mechanism locked.
Then, coming across the bridge from the direction of his control shack, he heard a sound that made his blood run cold.
“Daddy, where are you?” His four-year-old son was crossing the bridge to look for him. His first impulse was to cry out to the child, “Run! Run!” But the train was too close; the tiny legs would never make it across the bridge in time.
The man almost left his lever to snatch up his son and carry him to safety. But he realized that he could not get back to the lever in time, if he saved his son. Either many people on the train or his own son—must die.
He took but a moment to make his decision. The train sped safely and swiftly on its way, and no one aboard was even aware of the tiny broken body thrown mercilessly into the river by the on rushing train. Nor were they aware of the pitiful figure of the sobbing man, still clinging to the locking lever long after the train had passed. They did not see him walking home, more slowly than he had ever walked, to tell his wife how their son had brutally died.
Romans 5:8 says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Do we grasp that? Do we grasp the height and depth and length of the love of God? Do we comprehend, with Paul, in Romans 8, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?” Do we know it?
Every illustration breaks down at a certain point. This was no accident. It’s not like this caught God by surprise, as though God was reeling when mankind decided to go their own way, and that He now had to make a decision: Would He sacrifice His own Son or let the world perish?
No, God, in His great love and according to His sovereign will and purpose, determined to sacrifice His Son. And the Son, whose death was no accident, willingly sacrificed His life so that we might have life.
And it’s easy to lose sight of this around Christmas. With all of the lights and sounds and toys and treats, we can find ourselves so caught up in what we have going on at Christmas, that we forget what Christmas is all about.
We must not forget that our story is part of a much larger story: A story of a God who graciously enters our broken world in order to redeem those who have sinned against Him.
In love, God sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life. But the story doesn’t end with the death of Jesus. Three days later, God raised Jesus from the dead, demonstrating to the world that the cross was a sufficient sacrifice for sins. And now, all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus will be reconciled to God, forever.
Maybe we have a skewed idea of what love is. Maybe we are looking for love in all the wrong places. Maybe we don’t want to accept the fact that God could love someone like me. Whatever it might be, I hope we see that we are so deeply loved by God—that God cared enough for you to die for you.
Will this be the Christmas you grasp God’s love for you? Will today be the day you receive the forgiveness of your sin, offered freely to you through Christ? Will this be the day you trust in Jesus for your reconciliation with God? Don’t let another day go by. Embrace God’s love today. Let’s pray…