Behold the Lamb! | Isaiah 53:7-9
Brian Hedges | December 15, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Isaiah 53.
There’s an old pulpit in Scotland, and on the inside of that pulpit there’s a plaque that says, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” That’s a quotation from John 12, and it’s interesting that the plaque is on the inside of the pulpit. It’s not on the outside, it’s not for the people, it’s for the pastor, it’s for the preacher. It’s a reminder that every week the task of the preacher of God’s Word is to show Jesus. “Sirs, we would see Jesus.”
It is our task every week when we gather for worship. We want to see Jesus. This is what we come here for, and that’s especially what we come here for during the Advent season. We want this to be true of us all the time, but during the Advent season it’s a special time for us to focus on Christ in his incarnation and the very purpose of his incarnation, which is our redemption, to his death on the cross, to die for our sins, and to redeem us. So we’ve been focusing on this the last several weeks in Isaiah 53.
It’s a wonderful chapter. It’s been called the holy of holies in the Old Testament Scriptures, one of the greatest passages of Scripture in all the Bible. This morning we come to verses 7-9 in Isaiah 53. Let me just begin by reading those verses and then pointing out the dominant image in these verses, and then we’re going to unpack it together. Isaiah 53:7-9.
“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. 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? 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.”
This is God’s word.
So, throughout this passage we’ve been looking at Jesus as the suffering servant. That’s the dominant image, the metaphor that’s used throughout this hymn in Isaiah 53; but this morning there’s another one suggested, and it’s in verse 7. “He was like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”
As you know, the lamb is something that figures very prominently in the Scriptures, all the way back into the Old Testament Scriptures, of course, where year after year a Passover lamb would be offered as God’s people would remember how God had delivered them from Egypt on that first Passover night. You remember a lamb was slaughtered and the blood was spread over the doors and on the doors of the people of Israel, so that they were passed over. Egypt was judged, the people of Israel were passed over, and then they were set free.
So every year, God’s people would remember in their Passover feast and they would slay these Passover lambs. Families would come; there would be literally hundreds and hundreds of these lambs slaughtered, or sacrificed, every year. But it wasn’t only at Passover. There was actually (did you know this?) a morning and an evening sacrifice every day of the year; 365 days of the year, twice a day, a lamb would be slaughtered, in the morning and in the evening. Then there would be hundreds and hundreds of these during the week of Passover. It was a tangible, if even somewhat gruesome, reminder every day, and especially once a year, for the people of God that the only way they could have a relationship with God is if something else was slain, slaughtered, in their place.
As Isaiah gives us this hymn, this poem, about the suffering servant, he brings in this image, the image of a lamb, a lamb that was slaughtered, and he describes the suffering of the servant in terms of a slaughtered lamb. It shows us a lot about the manner of Jesus’ suffering, it shows us a lot about how and why he suffered.
This morning I want us to take this image, Lamb of God, and I want to look at five things about Jesus as the Lamb of God, and we’ll be drawing most of these from Isaiah 53.
1. The Suffering Lamb
Here’s the first. This is obvious, I’ve already basically said it: he was the suffering lamb. You see the language that is used here, especially in verse 7. “He was oppressed and he was afflicted,” those are terms describing his suffering, and then, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…” He was the suffering Lamb.
That language of suffering includes the whole scope of everything that Jesus suffered. Just think for a minute about all that that included. It certainly included his physical sufferings. All we have to do is think through those final hours of Jesus’ life leading up to his death by crucifixion.
He was of course mocked, he was spit upon, he was beaten; then he was scourged. The scourging itself was sometimes an act of capital punishment; it was enough to kill someone, as pretty much all of the flesh from his back would have been torn off in this brutal scourging.
But then after that he was crucified, and it was, as we all know, the most degrading, humiliating, and excruciatingly painful death that was known in the ancient world. Crucifixion was actually so abhorrent that Cicero, the Roman statesman, said that the word should never even be spoken in public. The word “crucifixion” was an obscenity. It was something you wouldn’t say in polite society. It was death that was reserved only for the worst people, only for murderers or seditious criminals. Only the worst kinds of people could be crucified, and yet this was the death that Jesus died.
But his suffering was not only physical, it was also an emotional suffering. We can just imagine, just from a human perspective, how emotionally degrading it would be to be stripped naked, tried in multiple courts over the course of just a few hours, and in all of those, in spite of his innocence, in spite of his utter righteousness (he was not guilty of any of the crimes that he was condemned for), yet he is taunted, he is mocked, he is condemned, and he is treated like an utter criminal.
Add to this the fact that even his friends and his disciples forsook him in those moments. You remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, before he is betrayed. He knows what’s coming, and he feels great sorrow, and even in those moments of sorrow his disciples could not pray with him even for a single hour. So he’s forsaken by his friends.
There’s physical suffering, there’s emotional, relational suffering; but then especially there’s a spiritual dimension to this suffering, because when Jesus died on the cross, you remember that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment his suffering is more than just what he’s experiencing physically and emotionally; he is experiencing the very judgment of God, the abandonment of God, the forsakenness of God on behalf of our sins. All of that is included when we look at what the Lamb suffered here in Isaiah 53. He was the suffering Lamb.
2. The Silent Lamb
But then notice how it is that he suffers. This is the second thing. He is the silent Lamb, because the focus here is not only on that he suffered and on what he suffered, but it’s on how he suffered, the manner of his suffering.
You see this again in verse 7. “He was oppressed and 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.” It’s stated three times: he opened not his mouth, he is silent, he opened not his mouth. This is really important in the prophet’s understanding.
When you look in the gospel narratives you see this over and over and over again, that Jesus, in those moments leading up to his crucifixion, he’s tried in all of these different courts, and yet not one time does he speak in self-defense. Of course, there are a few exchanges where he will say something, but never does he try to refute the charges against him, never does he try to defend himself, never does he try to claim his utter innocence, even though he was innocent; but he didn’t try to keep from happening the things that were set in motion. He simply doesn’t do it.
You see this with the Jewish high priest in Matthew 26, you see it with the Sanhedrin in Mark 14, you see it with Herod in Luke 23, and you see it with Pilate in John 12. In each one of those trials, Jesus is silent in the sense that he does not defend himself.
It was both a remarkable display of patience under suffering and submission to the will of God, and also an example for us of non-retaliation in the face of grave injustice. In fact, the apostle Peter uses some of this very language in 1 Peter to use Jesus as an example for how we are to respond when we’re persecuted. You remember that 1 Peter is written to a group of persecuted, scattered believers. They’re experiencing increasing hostility because of their faith, and Peter wants them to respond in a certain way. How does he teach them? He teaches them by pointing them to Jesus, the suffering servant. Listen to some of these verses from 1 Peter 2.
He says, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.” Here he’s talking about Christian slaves who have non-Christians slavemasters who are unjust in their treatment of them. Listen to what he says, verse 19, “...for this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if when you sin and are beaten for it you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.’” That’s a quotation from Isaiah 53:9. “When he was reviled he did not revile in return, and when he suffered he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him to judges justly.”
So Jesus here is the example, he is the model for us in how we are to respond to unjust treatment, to unjust suffering.
Let me read you something that I came across years ago. I heard this years and years ago, and it’s about how we should die to ourselves even when we are mistreated. This will be, I think, particularly relevant for us in this season of the year. It’s so easy for us to have high expectations of others when we enter into the holiday season. It’s easy for people to get their feelings hurt, and it’s easy even for Christian people, I think, to respond inappropriately to the slights of others. Listen to what this says.
“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposefully set at naught and you don’t sting and hurt with the insults or oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ; that is dying to self.
“When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence; that is dying to self.
“When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any impunctuality or any annoyance, when you stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured; that is dying to self.
“When you are content with any food, any offering, any climate, any society, any raiment, any interruption by the will of God; that is dying to self.
“When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or to record your own good works or itch after commendations, when you can truly love to be unknown; that is dying to self.
“When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances, that is dying to self.”
One more. “When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart; that is dying to self.”
Jesus was the perfect embodiment of that. He was the perfect model of that. He was an example. He not only suffered for us, but he suffered as an example for us as well. He suffered on our behalf, but he also suffered as an example, so that we should imitate him. We must learn to do this. We must learn how to embrace suffering and respond, especially to persecution, not with retaliation.
Now listen. This doesn’t mean that we never call sin sin, it doesn’t mean that there’s never recourse to the law in the case of abuse or something like that; but it does frame our hearts. It tells us how in our hearts we are to respond when we are treated unjustly, we are to suffer as Jesus suffered.
3. The Spotless Lamb
Here’s the third thing we see about Jesus as the Lamb: he was the spotless Lamb. Look at verse 9, which stresses his innocence. It says, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,” prophetically referring to Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57), “although he had done violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” No violence and no deceit in his mouth.
The Puritan Thomas Manton wrote a commentary on Isaiah 53, and he said that virtually all sin is summarized in those two words, “violence” and “deceit in his mouth,” and Jesus was entirely innocent of both. Again, to quote Peter, “We were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb who was without blemish or spot.” He was the spotless Lamb.
You know that in the sacrificial system only a lamb without blemish could be offered, so Jesus, to fulfill that typology, of course had to be a spotless Lamb.
This refers to the innocence of Christ, to the righteousness of Christ, to what theologians sometimes call the impeccability of Christ. You know, something that is impeccable is something that is perfect. Well, Jesus was perfect in his humanity. He was entirely without sin. Of course, we know the texts that teach this. “He was tempted in every point as we are, yet without sin.”
Have you ever thought about what this means? Have you ever thought through what this would look like? It meant this: it meant that Jesus was never, for one millisecond of his life, he was never arrogant, proud, rude, or condescending; he was never lustful or covetous or greedy; he was never malicious, never better, never spiteful, never sinfully angry. We do have a couple of occasions where Jesus was angry, but he was never angry in a sinful way. When he was angry he was only angry at sin or angry at injustice. Jesus never gossiped, he never slandered, he never broken a confidence. He never leered at a woman, he never rebuffed a child, he never looked down on someone in need, he never failed to show compassion. This was the spotless purity and innocence and righteousness of Jesus Christ!
Get this: when you look at the trials of Jesus (I’ve already referred to these) in the gospel records, what you see over and over and over again is that in every single trial they could not find anything to condemn him with. He’s declared innocent again and again and again. You remember even Pilate said this, “I find no fault in this man.” Right? They couldn’t find anything to condemn him with, and yet they condemned him! He was acquitted of all the crimes he was accused of, and yet they condemned him.
Why is that? Why would they do that? There’s only one reason for it. The reason is because, in God’s mysterious plan, it was decreed that Jesus would die under a sentence of condemnation for us.
As one old poet put it,
“Jesus Christ, our Lord most holy,
Lamb of God, so pure and lowly,
Blameless, blameless on the cross art offered;
Sinless, sinless for our sins hath suffered.”
The reason that Jesus, though he was innocent, though he was the spotless Lamb, the reason he had to suffer is because he was also the substitutionary Lamb. That’s fourth.
4. The Substitutionary Lamb
Now, I don’t need to say a whole lot about this, because we talked about Christ as our substitute last week; but once again I want you to see it in the text, and I want us to understand just how central this is to the gospel. You see it in verse 8. “He was stricken for the transgression of my people.”
So, God’s people, referring especially here to the people of Israel (in the New Testament we understand it refers to all of God’s elect, from every kindred, tongue, tribe, and nation), God’s people were guilty; and yet, they’re not stricken, Jesus is stricken. He is stricken for the “transgression of my people.”
Again, Peter, I think, had really digested Isaiah 53. He had obviously meditated on it a lot, because you have the imagery and the motifs and the theology coming through his letter again and again. 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” There’s substitution. It’s right there.
Martin Luther said, “His suffering was nothing else than our sin. These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold. He who does not believe this is not a Christian.”
I wonder if you believe this. Do you believe this basic, central truth of the gospel, that Christ suffered for us? He suffered in our place. You don’t have to be able to use the theological words. You don’t have to be able to give the definition of penal substitutionary atonement, but that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about Christ for us! We deserved it, he received it. He took the punishment that we deserved.
You get it not only in the language “stricken for the transgressions of my people,” but also at the beginning of verse 8. “By oppression and judgment he was taken away…” By oppression and judgment. Why judgment? Because, again, there’s a judicial, a legal aspect to this. It was utterly necessary that Jesus not only die for us, but that he die for us in a legal setting. That was an essential piece of it.
The Heidelberg Catechism, I think, understands this well. If you know the Heidelberg Catechism at all you know that part of it is essentially asking us questions based on the Apostles’ Creed, and it asks the question about Jesus suffering under Pontius Pilate. This is question 38.
“Why did he suffer ‘under Pontius Pilate’ as judge?”
Listen to the answer. “So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by an earthly judge and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.”
He had to suffer and he had to be condemned in a judicial setting so that we could be free from the penalty, the judicial penalty, of our sins. This is right at the heart of the doctrine of justification. He took the judgment we deserved so that we could be pardoned and accepted by God as righteous. He is the substitutionary Lamb.
5. The Satisfactory Lamb
That means that he is also (here’s the fifth and last thing) the satisfactory Lamb. Look at verses 10 and 11. “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. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…”
Now, the old theologians would use the word satisfaction as, essentially, a synonym for atonement. So, for example, Arthur Pink wrote a book called The Satisfaction of Christ. What does that mean, satisfaction? Well, it means his atonement.
The idea of satisfaction comes out, I think, in a couple of ways. It means, first of all, that God is satisfied; that when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, God was satisfied with what Jesus did. This is right at the heart of the word “propitiation.” It means an appeasement of wrath. Christ died on the cross as a propitiation for our sins. It means that Christ satisfied the wrath of God.
Here in Isaiah 53, when it says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied,” I think that means that Jesus will see the fruit of his death. He will see that something comes of his death. He will see that people are saved because of his death. So it’s satisfactory in that regard as well. He is the satisfactory Lamb.
I love this statement from Jonathan Edwards from one of his sermons. He said, “Christ by his obedience, by that obedience which he undertook for our sakes, has honored God abundantly more than the sins of any of us have dishonored him, how many soever, how great soever. God hates our sins…” Get this. He “hates our sins, but not more than he delights in Christ’s obedience which he performed on our account. This is a sweet savor to him, a savor of rest. God is abundantly compensated. He desires no more. Christ’s righteousness is of infinite worthiness and merit.”
You know what that means? It means that God looks on Jesus and what Jesus did for you and God is satisfied with what Jesus did.
You remember those almost-final words of Jesus on the cross, John 19? “It is finished!” It’s finished! It means the work is done! It means the atonement is complete! It means that there’s nothing that you and I can contribute to what Jesus has done.
Now, we experience transformation as the outworking, as the fruit of what Jesus did; but Jesus paid the price, he paid the penalty, and he did it completely. That means there’s nothing left for us to pay. Listen: this is the foundation stone of the Christian’s assurance of salvation. It’s when you quit looking at yourself and start looking at Christ that you can actually be assured that God accepts you.
Some of you have heard this story before, but I thought of it again this week, and I heard this years ago. There was a woman, a Christian woman in a church, who was struggling with assurance of salvation. It just seemed like she always had doubts. She would go to her pastor again and again and again with these doubts, with these concerns, wondering if she was really a Christian or not, wondering if she was really saved or not, wondering if her sins were really forgiven or not.
This pastor was a very wise and godly man, he understood the gospel, and eventually he discerned her problem. He pointed her to the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ. This is what he said to her. He said, “Until you are satisfied with what satisfies God, you’re never going to be satisfied. What satisfies God is Jesus.”
Listen to these words (you can read these on the screen) from Augustus Toplady. This is one of my favorite hymns, and I’ve quoted it many times. I don’t know that it always comes through unless you can actually read it, because the poetry’s complex. It’s actually really good poetry. It’s really, really good theology. But I want you to get this. These are words that I repeat to myself over and over and over again. They’ve been so helpful to me.
“From whence this fear and unbelief?” Do you ever feel that? Do you ever feel fear and unbelief? I feel that; you probably do to. Here’s the antidote.
“From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hath not the Father put to grief
His spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on thee?
“Complete atonement thou hast made
And to the utmost thou hast paid
Whate’er thy people owed.
How then can wrath on me take place
If sheltered in thy righteousness
And sprinkled with thy blood?”
You see what he’s saying? He’s saying that if Jesus has already borne the wrath of God, how can the wrath come on me? Then these are the words that I tend to quote to myself:
“If thou my discharge hath procured
And freely in my room endured
The whole of wrath divine,
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety’s hand
And then again at mine.”
Do you get the logic of substitutionary atonement? You see, what the hymn-writer’s saying there (and the Scriptures say it as well) is that because God is a just God and because Jesus, when he died on the cross, bore the complete and full penalty for our sins, it would be unjust of God to now condemn us for the sins that have already been paid for.
How many of you want to pay for something twice? You’re not going to do that! You get double-charged on a bill, what do you do? You’re on the phone, right, with the company. “Hey, I already paid for this; you can’t charge me twice.”
God will not receive a double payment! That means, brother and sister, that it would be unjust of God to send you to hell if you’ve trusted in Christ and Christ has paid for your sins. It would be unjust. Isn’t that exactly what the apostle John says in 1 John 1:9? “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The justice of God demands your forgiveness if you are in Christ, if you believe in Christ, if you trust in Christ.
Christ is the Lamb of God. In the gospel of John, you remember John the Baptist begins to proclaim Christ to the disciples, and you remember what he says? He says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
There’s a wonderful story related to that text that comes from Spurgeon (you knew I had to get him in somewhere!). Spurgeon, on October 7, 1857, was asked to preach at a huge, huge gathering. It was the Crystal Palace in London. It was just a massive assembly of people. This was for kind of a national day of humiliation and prayer.
Several days prior to the service, Spurgeon went to the building to test out the acoustics. See, they had sound problems even back then! So he went to the building to test out the acoustics, and he thinks he’s all alone in this huge building that will seat thousands of thousands of people. This is what he does: he gets on stage and he cries out in his best preaching voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world!”
Unbeknownst to him, there was a janitor up in one of the balconies of the Crystal Palace; he was cleaning and kind of doing this thing, and he heard Spurgeon cry out those words, and that janitor was converted that day by listening to Spurgeon.
Listen, the only way anyone ever is actually saved is through the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I wonder how this finds you this morning? If you’re a Christian, my hope is that this will increase your gratitude and your praise, your celebration, when you look at what Christ has done for you, so that you’re really able to say from your heart, as we sang this morning, “'Oh come let us adore him.' I want to adore him! I adore this sacrifice, I adore this love, I adore this mercy.” As Christians, it should also lead us to imitate Christ, to suffer in the way he suffered, to imitate him in his patience, in his meekness, in his humility.
If you’re not a believer this morning, I have the best news in the world for you. God will right now, today, forgive you of your sins, every single one of them, all the sins that you’ve ever committed or ever will commit, if you will repent and turn to Christ in faith right now, look to him, and ask him to save you. If you’ve never done that, I hope you’ll do it this morning. Let’s pray.
Our gracious and merciful God, we thank you for your grace given to us through Jesus Christ. This gospel is amazing news. It is amazing to us that the Lord of glory would be willing to become human, and not only become human but would be obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross; would endure all of the agony, all of the shame, all of the suffering, all of the torment, even endure the wrath of God in order to save sinners like us. Yet that’s our message. That’s why we’re here.
So we thank you for it, we praise you for your love, we believe this in our heart of hearts, and we pray this morning that you would seal it to our hearts as we come to the Lord’s table together. As we come, may we come remembering what Christ has done for us in giving us his broken body, his poured out blood, in sacrificial death on our behalf. So draw near to us in these moments, and Father, if there are any today who do not believe, who’ve never been saved, may today be the day of salvation. We pray it in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.