The Arm of the Lord

I was graciously invited by the Olympia Bible Presbyterian Church (of which I am a former member due to moving across country) to deliver the Good Friday message on April 14th, 2017.  We did not record it, but this is the transcript I prepared before delivery of the message.

Passage:  Isaiah 52:13 – 53:6

52:13 Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. 14 Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; 15 So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.

53:1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

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 wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes 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.

Message: 

A few years ago I came across a meme on Facebook that was based on a routine by the comedian Bill Hicks.  The routine was meant to quote Jesus as saying — and I’m cleaning up the language here — “So, I get back to earth and they’ve put up all these crosses everywhere and I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ Do you think if JFK comes back he wants to see sniper rifles everywhere?”

That meme really stuck with me and I think about it every now and again.  It highlights, in my mind, some of the fundamental problems with the way we sometimes think.

One of those problems—a problem I’ve been guilty of—is looking to the wrong place to save this world.  It is pretty obvious, I think, when the world around us does this.  Just look at what happened following Donald Trump’s election and inauguration.  Given the amount of tears shed and fears expressed, the amount of violent protests, absolute invective and pure hatred on display—and, on the flip side, the way that hope has been expressed, the way that open disdain for others has been justified, the amount of celebration and lauding of the man that has occurred—even the deep, deep hurt that I’ve seen when he has failed to live up to those hopes—one would be forgiven to think that Trump is either the anti-Christ heralding in the destruction of the world or he is the means by which this country, and if we are lucky, the world will be saved.

But, both the hope and the fear are misplaced.  It’s almost forgivable, really.  The current president isn’t the only example of misplaced trust in a person or persons that our world—or even this country—has seen.  We are, it seems, conditioned in a way to think that the handsome, the beautiful, the well-dressed, the well-spoken, the smart sounding, the most engaging person or persons are the best leaders and, in a way, the Saviors of our jobs, our companies, our states, our country, and, even, our world.

We might chuckle at that, but the truth is, even when we don’t think we believe that good looks makes a good leader or a successful person – we believe it.

Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode found, in research for a book, that attractive students are considered smarter, nice-looking teachers get better reviews, appealing workers make more money, and good-looking politicians get more votes.

There’s nothing new about this.  When the people of Israel sought a king for themselves, Saul stood head and shoulders above the people and so they said, “that’s our king.”  When a servant of Saul described David he called David “a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person (or, literally translated, “a man of form”).”  The Lord had blessed David with the skill of a warrior, the gift of a politician, and good looks to boot.  The exact qualities that make a good leader a good leader and the Savior of Israel the Savior or Israel, right?

Well, since personal televisions became commonplace the trend of our presidents — from John Kennedy to Donald Trump — has been men that are taller, better looking than most (with exceptions), and not necessarily qualified to lead.  Let me illustrate:

About 54 years ago, the President of the United States stepped off of Air Force One onto the tarmac of a Dallas Airport.  He was tall—just a dash over 6’, the son of very rich family, Ivy League educated, a war hero, considered by many to be handsome, and the leader of the free world.  He wore a quite fashionable gray two-piece suite, a pinstriped shirt, and a navy blue tie.  At the end of the tarmac a crowd awaited him, screaming in adoration, lauding him with kisses, flowers, and gifts until he climbed into the back of a convertible limousine.  In the car, his smiling, beautiful, faithful wife sat to his left (though he was famously unfaithful to her), in front of him sat the Governor of what was at the time the richest state in the union—due to an oil boom.  The limo carried him through on a parade route—along which he was cheered and lauded more and more— towards the Dallas Trade Mart, where he was expected to meet the Texas Social elite, have a nice lunch, and deliver a speech to garner support for his re-election campaign—which he was expected to win in a landslide.  This president, many expected, would take us to the moon, would defeat our enemies both on and off the battlefield, would bring equality and equity to a country reeling in the shadow of Jim Crow laws, and unite our nation behind a call of service to this country, to this people, to this world.

That, brothers and sisters, is the kind of leader we expect.  That is the kind of leader that we want to see.  That is the kind of leader the world gets behind, looking to him to say, “He stands head and shoulders above all of Israel! That’s our king!”  And, in case you didn’t catch it or didn’t know, that is John F. Kennedy—the second most popular president by most polls today—on November 22, 1963 as he unknowingly—not willingly nor unwillingly—but unknowingly approached his death.

The Kennedy family was once called “Camelot”—and that was meant to be a good thing—because that family—rich, famous, and beautiful—was the closest thing to royalty that we, in America, have ever had… especially in recent memory.  THAT, brothers and sisters, is how we saw a king.

But, the Lord sees and does things differently.  His ways are not ours.

Let’s turn to our text and learn something about the Lord’s way:  Starting in Isaiah 52:13

Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.

Now, that is a hard pill to swallow! “My servant,” God says, “will accomplish what he sets out to do.  He will be marred beyond recognition and, in doing so, He will be exalted, He will bless the nations and will shut the mouths of detractors.”

The English Standard Version, in my opinion, is more explicit in its translation “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…”  These are the words of defeat.  The Servant is utterly destroyed — beat up so badly that he couldn’t even be recognized as having been a person.  BUT — says the Lord — THAT is how He is victorious.  That is how he shuts up His detractors.  THAT is how he blesses the nations!

Who has believed our report?

Who can believe that?

The sense of the question is rhetorical — no one, or at least only a few — (I may be speaking with a bit of hyperbole, but the sense of the question demands it) no one has believed!  And yet, there is also the sense of a real invitation – come and believe what I am reporting to you.  That real invitation is strengthened by the fact that, in a moment, God will make the proclamation again, and He will make it more detailed and more explicit.

To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 

What is the arm of the Lord?

In the Bible, the arm is a picture of strength and power.  For example Jeremiah 17:5 reads,

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man; And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord.’”

The King James Version reads a bit different,

“Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.”

The word translated “arm” here in Isaiah is the same word in Jeremiah translated “strength” in our version and “arm” in the King James.

The arm of the Lord, in the passage before us, is the strength – the power of God.

To whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?  Again, the sense of the question is rhetorical — the arm of the Lord has been revealed to no one.   And again there is also the sense of real invitation.  An invitation that I am extending now.

The Apostle Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.  This is the arm of the Lord. This is the report of God.  Everything that follows, everything that God proclaimed through Isaiah nearly 3000 years ago — and what I am proclaiming to you now — is the Good News of God saving his people.   This is the Gospel, and you are invited to hear it, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God!

So, let’s turn back to the text and examine this Good News as God proclaims it!  Let’s hear this Good News and rejoice in it!  The Lord has revealed, and is revealing, His power to save — let us believe it!

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground.

In His life, Jesus depended on His nourishment from God, because, the dry ground could not provide it.  Whatever that dry ground might have been — Bethlehem, Israel, the Pharisaical state of the Jewish religion at the time of Christ, or even the whole world — whatever it was, Christ came to do the will of the Father, He depended on the will of the Father, and He did the will of the Father — humbly, with much struggle, and perfectly.  Commentator Edward Young describes His life,

“As a root which grows in a dry, parched ground must struggle to keep itself alive, so was His first appearance upon earth.  It was not grand.  Men would not compare Him with the tall and honorable trees such as the cedars of Lebanon but rather with the weak and feeble root which, in a desert ground, must strive vigorously to preserve life”

And this is amazing — though no one would think so at the time?  And why is it amazing?  Well, listen to the words of the Apostle John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

John is talking about Jesus – the only begotten Son of the Father – Light of Light, very God of very God – He is God the Son.  In the beginning was God the Son, He was with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the beginning.  All things were made through the Son and without the Son nothing that was made was made.

Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul about Jesus,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

Jesus is the Creator of all thing, through whom all things were created, and for whom all things were created.  Don’t miss this at all – Jesus Christ is God the Son.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus is God the Son who, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, and – becoming flesh – dwelt among us, and, as a Man, He lived a life perfectly obedient to the God the Father.

And yet, back to Isaiah:

He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.

Not believing equality with God something to be grasped, He emptied Himself of the honor, the glory, the power, and the worship that He deserves and he took on weak flesh.  God the Son became Man and this God-Man Jesus Christ grew up the son of a Jewish carpenter and a faithful mother.  There was nothing about the appearance of Jesus that would make anyone who met him think “This is our God” or even, “This is our King!”

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus taught amazing things from the Scriptures in the tabernacle in Nazareth, his home country.  And it was because of these teachings that the people of Nazareth first noticed that there was something special about Jesus—that He was more than a carpenter; that the very power of God shone through Him, right?

Well, as Mark records,

[M]any hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

They were offended that this man, who they knew as a normal guy with a normal family and a normal job, with no Kingly form, dared to teach the whole House of Israel.

Which brings us to the next verse in Isaiah

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

More than a passive rejection of Christ because of His appearance, the rejection of Jesus is forceful.  Contempt is poured out on Him and He is pushed aside.

“Man of Sorrows, what a name for the Son of God!”  What a name indeed!  What we have here, in this name, is a title, bestowed on the Suffering Servant by God.  As powerful as the title Messiah and Christ; equal to the title Savior; as real as the title “Lord;” Jesus is the Man of Sorrows.

This is emphasized in the second half of the phrase, that He is acquainted with grief.  What does that mean, exactly?  Plainly, it means that during His life on earth, Jesus knew grief.  He was sorrowful because things grieved Him.  This is true enough — confronted with the death of His friend, Lazarus, Jesus wept; informed of the death of John the Baptist, He withdrew from the crowds to be alone; Jesus grieved—like we grieve—when a loved one dies.  There are other examples of Jesus’s sorrows, like when He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, with palm branches being laid at His feet, and the people shouting “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus wept for the city because He knew of its impending destruction.  These are a few of many examples—Jesus. Knew. Grief.

But, that is not all that the phrase “acquainted with grief” means.  The word translated here as “grief” means more than mere sadness.  Literally translated, the word means “sickness” or “infirmities.”

Isaiah uses the same word in chapter 1 verse 5 referring to Judah:

Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, And the whole heart faints. 

And also in chapter 33 verse 24, speaking about those who live in Zion, meaning heaven or the new earth, Isaiah writes

And the inhabitant will not say, “I am sick”; The people who dwell in it will be forgiven their iniquity.

The metaphor Isaiah is employing is a description of sin.  Judah’s disobedience is, therefore, a head full of sin.  And, those in Zion will not be able to say “I have sin” because they will have been forgiven.  And, this is the grief with which the man of sorrows is afflicted.  He is acquainted with sin.  It is not His sin — we can be sure of that because in verse 9 He is described as having done no violence and is without deceit.  The Greek renders it, and the Apostle Peter takes the Greek reading, as “Who committed no sin.”

The sin with which Jesus was acquainted was the sin that surrounded Him and the effects of sin in the world.  Moreover, Jesus was well acquainted with the sins of mankind directed at Him—He was despised and rejected by men, and at the end of His work on earth, He would know the sins of man more than any man before or after Him.  His suffered our sin.

And it should make no sense to us that God should suffer grief.  Where would we expect to find the ruler of all of Creation if we could imagine Him visiting creation?  As a great political leader inspiring His people and destroying His enemies?  Tall, powerful, handsome, ruling as a glorious king?  Perhaps.  But, suffering?  How is that believable?

And yet,

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.

From His birth he was despised and His death sought by the powerful.  Every male child near His age that was born near Him was killed, not because Jesus did anything wrong, but because He lived.  From the moment the boy Jesus could understand, He was a Man of Sorrows and the weight of the evil of mankind was on His shoulders.  Could you bear such a burden?  Our Lord could, and did, even from childhood, He has borne our griefs.

But, His burden did not end there – like a lamb led to the slaughter, he did not speak.

On the day that He would die, Jesus was not lauded with flowers and gifts and praise.  That time had passed and passed quickly.  On the day He would die, Jesus went before the leaders of the Synagogue and the leaders of the region.  He went knowing that His death was imminent — and He went willingly.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;

Though he could have left his creation to destruction, he willingly went on to great humiliation for the sake of those who should have been serving him.  He endure false accusations in trial.  He was hated by the very people from whom He deserved love.  Though no guilt was found in him, he was tortured for hours.  He was beaten in ways that men could barely survive.  He was mocked by mere men, men who he came to serve and save.  He was crowned with thorns that tore through the flesh of his forehead. He was stripped naked and paraded through the streets as a criminal, though he was not a criminal.  He followed that parade route to Golgotha willingly, knowing that being pinned to a Roman cross and certain death met him at the end.

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

On that cross, Jesus heard the mocking, he heard the hatred, he saw the pain and distress of his mother and the tears of what friends remained, he saw his nakedness, and he watched the blood from his wounds pour across his mangled body down to the ground.  And, He did it for us, His people.

The Scripture says that all of us, apart from Christ, are at enmity with God.  That means that there was murderous intent from us towards God, and a willingness to exact judgment from God towards us.  There was no peace between mankind and God, and mankind did not seek that peace.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way;

To have peace with God, our sickness, our iniquities, our griefs — our SIN had to be dealt with, and we had no interest in dealing with it — nor could we if we cared to.  But, Christ dealt with them in this way, while we were still sinners He died for us.  None seeks for God, but, from heaven he came and sought His church, to be his holy bride, with his own blood He bought her and for her life he died! Even when His bride is unfaithful, Christ is faithful to save!  Though we deserved to die, He died in our place.  Though the justice of God required our blood, Christ spilled His blood for us.  He has taken away our sickness, as far as the east is from the west.  He has healed us, he has washed us.

And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

John Kennedy’s death left a mark in the mind of nearly EVERYONE who lived through it that most only experience with the death of a loved one.  If I were to turn to one of our more seasoned members, one who was alive when Kennedy was shot and ask, “Where were you and what were you doing when you heard JFK was shot?”  they would likely be able to answer in detail.  Similarly, I remember exactly where where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt when the planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001.

Now, Christian, let me ask this of all of you — where were you when Jesus was nailed to the cross?  Where were you when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Where were you when He breathed His last and gave up His soul?

Christian, if you are in Christ, the answer is the same for you as it is for me.  “I was there!  My sins were nailed to the cross with Christ!  My old self died on that tree with Jesus!  On that cross, all of my iniquities, all of the evil with which I struggle, all of my fear, all of my pain and suffering, all of my tears, and my condemnation before God, the whole of my sins were nailed to the cross and I bear them no more, praise the Lord, Oh my soul!”

This is the arm of the Lord!  This is power of God for the salvation of those who believe!

The Man of Sorrows became sin for us, on His shoulders was the whole burden of our sin because the Lord placed it upon Him, and He bore it willingly.  Christ took that burden from us, placed it upon Himself, and God crushed Him under the sword of His wrath, destroyed Him, and destroyed our sin with Him.  In Christ we cannot say, “I am sick.” Our sins are forgiven.  Christ saved you that day and is saving you now, from glory to glory!

Despised and rejected by men — Smitten by God, and stricken — The Chastisement for our peace is on Him — “THIS IS OUR KING!”
Laid on Him is the iniquity of us all — “This is our Savior!”
It was the will of the Lord to crush Him — “This is our Lord and our God, Jesus Christ!”

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone

This is the Lord’s doing!
and it is marvelous to our eyes
This is the day that the Lord has made Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Amen!

To close —

After he was killed by three shots from a sniper’s rifle, John Kennedy was mourned.   He laid in state for 18 hours in the National Rotunda.  Over 115,000 people waited in freezing temperatures to pay final respect to him, standing in lines that stretched nearly ten miles.  Over 300,000 viewed his funeral procession in person and who knows how many people watched on live television.  His funeral was at a beautiful cathedral and attended by dignitaries from the world over.  Kennedy, at his death, was glorified, lauded, and celebrated.  He was buried with full honors under a monument placed over his grave.  If you visit Washington DC, you can, like millions before you, visit that grave and John Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, remains there under a gas fed flame that is never quenched.  He — I say again — is in that grave.

I contrast, Jesus, at his death, was not glorified, he was not lauded, he was not celebrated.  He died with only family and few close friends to mourn him.  He was hastily prepared for burial, wrapped in heavy cloth, and placed in a tomb that was meant for someone else, with a large stone placed to seal the entrance.  A couple days later his mother and a few women went to visit the grave to better prepare His body, as no one had done before them — but, friends, Jesus was not there.    Friday had gone, and Sunday has come.

 

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