Isaiah 53:1–5 (NIV) 1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
My dear friends in Christ,
God’s story is intriguing so far, isn’t it? Two weeks ago we looked at the introduction to the story with the theme verse on the altar, “Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace” (Job 22:21). We saw that God is the source of peace, and the only way to have his peace is to know him better in his Word. Last week we heard the beginning of the story. We watched God drive Adam and Eve from the Garden. We saw the angels and flaming sword that barred the way. The thistle on the altar symbolized sin’s curse on the world. Sin has made life miserable. We desperately need God’s peace!
What happens to those huge round thistle flowers that bloom on the side of the road? By August and even as late as September, the beautiful flowers have produced fuzzy seeds. When the wind blows, those fuzzy seeds fly everywhere. That means next spring even more thistle plants will grow and spread their thorny leaves.
This thistle seed is special. It points back to something God said before he drove Adam and Eve from the garden. He had some powerful words of judgment for the serpent. God cursed the snake and made it the lowliest of all creatures, condemning it to slither on its belly. Then he promised, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). The King James Version helps us understand why the artist carved thistle seeds flying into the air. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 KJV 1900).
Can you see the one seed floating off by itself? God promised a seed, one seed among many, that would float along over the centuries. It’s the seed he promised to Abraham and then to David. It’s the seed Isaiah caught glimpses of as he recorded God’s words. It’s the seed that drifted along until just the right time, and just the right place, to just the right person. Paul told the Galatians, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4 NIV). From this seed grows the promised one, the one we heard Isaiah speak about: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV). Can you see that tender seed sprout, take root, and grow? Look at the second part of this carving. Do you see the one seed, and the special letters next to it? That’s the Chi Rho. Those are two Greek letters. The first one is Ch. The second one is R—the first two letters of the name Christ. Christ in Greek, Messiah in Hebrew—both words mean “the Anointed One.” God promised to send this special seed. When Jesus was born, God kept his promise!
What do you think most people expected when this Christ was born? They expected a wealthy man like Abraham, a man of legendary strength like Samson, a warrior King like David, and a miracle worker like Elijah. The one they hoped for would be a chiseled, handsome hero who would rescue them from Roman domination. He would manhandle Caesar and ascend David’s throne in Jerusalem. He would restore the glory of Israel to the days of David and Solomon. That’s the kind of hero they looked for!
Jesus didn’t fit their expectations. Isaiah wrote, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV). Our pictures of Jesus—long, beautiful flowing hair, perfectly trimmed beard, incredibly colored eyes—aren’t reality. Jesus didn’t possess movie-star good looks. If we had walked by him we wouldn’t have noticed him, except to maybe give a “hmmph,” and keep on walking. Jesus didn’t look like everyone wanted the Christ to look.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3 NIV). Everyone assumed the Christ would be popular. He was the opposite. Jesus stepped outside the box. He did things differently. He spoke with authority. He wasn’t a “good old boy.” He did things no one else could do—not even Elijah. Jesus cast out demons. He healed the sick. He made the blind see and the lame walk. He even raised the dead. How did the crowds respond? They despised Jesus. He had zero value in their social groups.
If Jesus had shown up today, what kind of Christ would we expect him to be? Wealthier than Bill Gates, stronger than the Rock, a better leader than President Trump, and able to fix all of our social issues—hunger, poverty, and immigration. His church would have 20,000+ people coming to hear him every weekend. We would probably assume that he would be an excellent speaker with a magnetic personality. He would have it all!
What was wrong with people’s expectations in 30 AD? What’s wrong with our expectations? They are all based on our personal preferences. When Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations and says some difficult, true things, what is our reaction? Is it the same as the crowds who followed him? “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:60,66 NIV). Which of Jesus’ hard teachings do we struggle with? Each of us has our own pet struggles. Maybe we don’t like what God has said about gender, identity, and marriage. Or maybe it’s that concept of “fellowship”—the unity God calls for in our teaching and in our practice as a church body. In an age of gender equality maybe we struggle with the roles God has given men and women and don’t like to hear what he says on either side. It doesn’t matter which hard sayings we struggle with. We will always struggle because our sinful nature doesn’t want to hear the truth. Finally, it all comes down to the question Jesus asked Peter and asks us: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67 NIV). Sometimes we do. We look at everything Jesus says, we count the cost of following him and think, “Is it all worth it? I feel like I should be able to choose the right way to live or the right thing to do. Everyone else gets to choose, and every one of them tell me it’s okay.”
Even in our greatest weakness and our lowest, darkest sins; even when every fiber of our being wants to step away from the Christ and desert him, Jesus refuses to desert us. He was willing to take every truth of God’s Word that we have ignored, every doubt we have harbored about who he is, every demand we have tried to force on him, and carried the punishment that we deserved. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering... But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4–5 NIV). Look at the remaining two symbols. A crown of thorns—a magnificent piece of art, carved from one solid piece of wood. A crown of thorns, relatives of the thistle thorns that entered the world through sin’s curse, used as a horrible, mocking decoration. This crown was slammed on the head of an innocent man instead of us.
Look at the cross. Another beautiful piece of art. Simple, yet still bearing the marks of a dedicated craftsman. It is a symbol of the tree where the Christ was pierced. Those nails woven through the crown of thorns bit into his hands and feet. His side bore the mark of one final injustice—pierced to make sure the cross had done its gruesome job. Jesus died on a cross—a broken, beaten, bloodied, barely-recognizable man. We cover our children’s eyes and hide our faces from the brutality and the blood. We can’t stand the scene. Behind the ugliness God hides a glorious truth. Even though we despised the Christ and didn’t value him, he was working a miracle. Remember our introduction: “Acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace”? Listen to what happened on that horrible cross: “The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV). Jesus paid for our peace!
Remember Jesus’ question, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67 NIV). We have to answer, “Lord, I have left you too many times to count. I don’t deserve this peace, how can it be mine?” Our hearts hurt. There’s nowhere to go, no place we can hide, but Jesus comes to us. He brings this gift of peace through his punishment. By God’s amazing grace, through faith in Jesus we say along with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69 NIV). Jesus isn’t just another preacher. He didn’t come to establish a megachurch or lift weights until he reached his fitness goals. He came to deal with our desperate need for peace, and he provided the solution. Jesus crushed Satan’s head and fulfilled that first promise God made to Adam and Eve. He demolished death’s power over us. By faith we follow the Christ. We hear the hard things he says. We may struggle with them, but we trust his wisdom instead of our own expectations.
Jesus paid for our peace. He paid so that in the hardest times of life—in the middle of the pain, the ridicule, and rejection—we have a Savior who understands. He went through it all so he could promise, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Jesus has overcome. Jesus paid for our peace. Amen!