OUR SUFFERING SAVIOR
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-11-76 8:15 a.m.
It is a strange thing that in preaching through the Word of the Lord, following the text immediately in front of me, it is so appropriate. I have never been able to understand that, but it so often thus is true, and this morning is a good example. Preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to the day of the cross. We have come to chapter 53 [Isaiah 53:1-12]. The prophet Isaiah could not have written more poignantly or accurately and certainly not more beautifully than had he stood on Mt. Calvary and watched Jesus die. And yet he is writing something like seven hundred fifty years before the day of our Lord’s suffering.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the Lord, after He was raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-7], said:
These are the things that I taught you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the Law of Moses—
and in the Prophets—
in the Neviim—
and in the Psalms—
in the Kethuvim—
Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures,
And He said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:
And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.
[Luke 24: 44-47]
So the Lord took the Holy Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the Old Covenant and out of the Prophets, “He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written that it behooved Christ, that Christ must suffer for the remission of our sins” [Luke 24:45-47]. There is no passage in the Old Testament that is more oft quoted in presenting our suffering Lord than the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. When I come to it, I have the same feeling as though I were entering a sacred and holy sanctuary. We must walk softly. We must speak quietly. We must kneel reverently, for this is God’s atonement for our sins [Isaiah 53:1-12].
And in the presentation of this suffering Christ, there are three kinds of agony by which the Lord chose that in Him atonement should be made for our sins, that we might be forgiven, that we might stand in the presence of God and see God’s face someday and live. And those three kinds of suffering by which God offered Christ as an atonement, as a sacrifice, as an offering for our sins, are in body, and in heart, and in soul.
First: the suffering of our Lord, the atonement of our Lord in body. The verses that present the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah read like this. “But the throngs were amazed at Him: His visage was so marred, so disfigured, more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” [Isaiah 52:14]. This is a presentation of the sufferings of our Lord making atonement for our sins in His body [1 Peter 2:24]. The long night’s vigil, indescribable inward suffering; it began with the Passover [John 13:1] and then the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]. Then those words in the upper room, “Because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart [John 16:6]. But let not your heart be troubled: in My Father’s house are many mansions” [John 14:1-2]. Isn’t it remarkable how those words find a repercussion in the whole human race? When Howard Hughes died about a week ago, did you read the newspaper report? They read that passage when they laid him to rest in an unmarked grave.
Then Gethsemane, when His agony was so great His sweat was as it were drops of blood falling to the ground [Luke 22:44]. Then His arrest [Matthew 26:47-57], then His arraignment before Annas [John 18:12-14], then Caiaphas [Matthew 26:57-68], then the Sanhedrin [Matthew 27:1-2; Luke 22:63-71], then the trial before Pontius Pilate [John 18:28-38], then the trial before Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee [Luke 23:6-12]. Then back to Pontius Pilate again [John 18:39-19:6], all night long, and then in the hours of the day. Finally, in the sentence of execution that was passed upon Him by the Roman governor, He was turned over to the brutal soldiers, the Roman soldiers [Matthew 27:26], for execution, for crucifixion [Matthew 27:15-31].
Possibly the suffering that hastened the death of a felon who was crucified was the awesome flagellation that was sometimes with Roman rods, it was sometimes with a cat-o’-nine-tails, thongs of leather in which pieces of metal had been placed. Many died under that excruciating and awesome beating. And the Lord was so beat by the Roman soldiers that when they laid the cross upon Him that He might carry it to His own execution, He stumbled and fell beneath it, His life had been so drained out by the loss of blood in the scourging [Mark 15:15]. That’s when they impressed Simon of Cyrene to bear it for Him [Mark 15:21].
And finally, the agony of His crucifixion [Matthew 27:32-50]; I have read many times that there has never been an execution so terrible in its suffering as the invention of crucifixion by the Roman soldiers. And so awesome was that day of the cross that John said to His mother, “Take her away that she not look upon it” [John 19:27]. And then the sun hid its face that the earth not look upon it [Matthew 27:45]. And God stayed back the angels that the hosts of heaven not look upon it [Matthew 27:45]. And God Himself turned His face away that the heavenly Father might not look upon it [Matthew 27:46]. It was an awesome day of suffering in His body, “when His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” [Isaiah 52:14].
The offering He made for our sins was also in the suffering of His heart. “He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3]. He was outcast by men. He was denied by His own [John 1:11]. He was tortured and nailed to the tree [Matthew 27:26-50]. But the hurt in His heart was the hardest to bear, the heart that was broken for me.
The suffering of heart; it came about first from His rejection by the people to whom He belonged and among whom He was numbered. As John so poignantly wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel, in the eleventh verse, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. The Pharisees hated the Herodians, but they hated Him more. And they amalgamated with those devotees of the cruel King Herod in order that they might destroy Him [Mark 3:6].
The nation hated the Romans, but they hated Him more and delivered Him into the hands of the Romans, that He might be crucified [Matthew 27:1-2]. They all, the leaders, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, all of them hated the unwashed and the unclean sinner. But they hated Him more and despised Him because He was a friend of sinners [Luke 7:34].
That’s one of the most remarkable things that you could find in human story. That the gentle, loving, tender, kind, patient, forgiving Lord Jesus should have been so cruelly hated and mistreated; the hurt in His heart. But it went further. They hurt Him in His heart in the mockery and the ridicule to which they subjected Him. “He is despised and rejected of men” [Isaiah 53:3].
In the Jewish trial, there were some who came up to Him and said, “So You are a prophet!” and smote Him on the face and said, “What is my name? [Luke 22:64]. Who am I, that smote Thee?” [Matthew 26:67-68]. And another one came up and spat upon Him, and said, “So You are a prophet. Who am I that spits in Your face? What’s my name?” [Luke 22:64]. And another came and tore out His beard, plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6], and said, “A prophet, You? then who am I?” and tore the beard from His face; such indignity and mockery [Matthew 27:30-31].
Then in the Roman trial, when the Roman procurator turned Him over to the soldiers to be crucified, “So You are a king. You are the King of the Jews. Well, a king must have a crown!” And in buffoonery, they made a crown of thorns and pressed it upon His brow. “But a king must have a robe!” And some dirty, plissé, filthy, they found a castoff purple rag and put that around His shoulders and said, “The King of the Jews! But a king must have a scepter.” So they took a reed, a sorry stick, and put it in His hand. “This is His scepter! This King.” And a king must have obeisance and adulation. And they bowed the knee and sarcastically said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” then took Him out and nailed Him to the tree [Matthew 27:29, 32-50].
You know, I have often thought of the seventh verse of the first chapter of the Apocalypse, written by the sainted apostle John. And that verse is the caption; it’s the text of the Revelation. Do you remember it? “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the tribes and families of the earth shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7].
I’ve often wondered why John put that in there. “And they also who pierced Him” [Revelation 1:7]. You know what? I have thought it was because of this: John saw those Roman soldiers mock the Lord. They saw those Roman soldiers nail Him to the tree. They saw those Roman soldiers cast lots at the foot of the cross as they divided His clothing among them [Matthew 27:35]. John saw their hard and bitter and unmoved faces. And John wrote in Revelation 1:7, someday they will face Him in His risen and coming glory; “and they also who pierced Him.”
The hurt in His heart, the suffering of our Lord; I am progressing from the rejection of His people [John 1:11], to the mockery of His trial [Matthew 27:27-31], and the hurt that hurt Him the most when His own forsook Him. [Zechariah 13:7] prophesied, “God will smite the Shepherd, and the flock will be scattered abroad.” And both Matthew and Mark write that, “His disciples forsook Him, and fled’ [Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50].
They left Him alone to die in His own blood. “He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3-4]. Despised and rejected of men; and His own disciples forsook Him, and fled [Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50]. When He died, He died alone.
Do you remember a man in this pulpit telling a story from the Vietnam War that when I heard it, it seemed to me the saddest story I ever heard? To recall it to your mind, there was a soldier from a home in the Midwest who had fought through the Vietnam War, had been wounded over there, cared for over there, and now was coming home. He called from San Francisco to his mother and father in the Midwest. “Dad, Mom, I’m home! I’m home!”
“Ah, son,” they said, “it will be so wonderful to have you back again.”
“Mom and Dad,” the soldier said. “I have a soldier friend who has been with me. Could I bring him?”
“Why, certainly,” said mom and dad. “Why, certainly. We’d be glad to have your friend. Bring him.”
“But, Mom and Dad, he has been wounded. He’s been hurt.”
“Why, son, that doesn’t matter. We’d be doubly glad to have him. Bring him.”
“But, Mom and Dad, you don’t realize. He’s greatly hurt. One of his eyes is gone, and one of his arms is gone, and one of his legs is gone, and, Mom and Dad, we’d have to take care of him.”
“Well,” said mom and dad, “now, that’s different. That’s different. We couldn’t take care of him, not hurt like that. We’ll take him to a hospital, a veteran’s governmental hospital, and they can take care of him there.”
“Fine, Mom and Dad, I will see you.”
“Hurry home, son.”
The next day, a telephone call, a morgue in San Francisco, “Is this such- and-such family?”
“Do you have a boy such-and-such name?”
“Maybe this is your boy. There was a soldier from Vietnam, took his life last night, and we think it might be your son.”
They rushed to San Francisco. There in the morgue they looked on his face. “Yes, that’s our son.” Then they looked more closely. He had one eye gone, and one arm gone, and one leg gone.
“He was despised and rejected, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3]. There’s no hurt like that hurt, the heart that was broken for me.
There is one other suffering. He suffered in body; they crucified Him [Matthew 27:32-50]. He suffered in heart; He was despised and rejected of men [Isaiah 53:3]. He suffered in soul; “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin… He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied… for He shall bear their iniquities” [Isaiah 53:10-11]. Here I am absolutely unable to speak.
What is this? “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin [Isaiah 53:10]. God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: for He shall bear their iniquities” [Isaiah 53:11]. It is a mystery into which I cannot enter. “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin. God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” The theological word for that is propitiation, satisfaction, bearing our iniquities and God taking them away [1 John 2:2].
I have a library of something over four thousand books. You can read every book in that library, and you will not find an explanation for the sacrifice, the offering, the atonement found in the suffering of His soul. You can go to these great seminaries where they will have a hundred thousand books and read every book in the library, and you will not find an explanation for that.
When I was doing my doctors work in school, one of my minor subjects was the atonement. And when I had finished the study and passed the examination, I was as much in awe at the mystery of the suffering, atoning Christ as I was in the beginning. What is this? “Thou shall make His soul an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10].
The other two I can understand. I can enter into it. I can understand why the incarnation, according to the Word of God. For example, when a man sinned, a guilty sinner, he took an innocent victim such as a lamb and brought it to the high priest, and there put his hands over the head of that innocent lamb and confessed his sin. And then the priest took the innocent victim and slew it, and poured out its blood at the base of the altar, and made atonement, satisfaction for sin [Leviticus 4:27-30].
In the guilt of the nation, the high priest himself once a year put his hands over the head of an innocent animal, and there confessed the sin of the nation, and then slew it and took the blood in a bowl and sprinkled it on the top of the mercy seat, the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies [Leviticus 16:14]. And in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says that when God could not wash away sin with the blood of bulls and goats and lambs, but a body did God prepare for our Lord, and He came according to the roll of the book that was written of Him, in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 53:1-12], to offer His body a sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. I can understand all of that. I can just see all of that.
Our Lord came into the world. He had to. He had to be incarnate [John 1:14]. He had to have a body to be offered for our sins [Hebrews 10:5]. And He suffered and died on the tree [Matthew 27:32-50]. But what is this? “Thou shall make His soul an offering for sin, and God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:10-11]. All I can do is just point. I can do no other thing.
In the beauty of the Greek Orthodox liturgy, there is a reference to “Thy unknown sufferings.” There are sufferings that our Lord bore for us that go beyond the hurt in His body when they nailed Him to the tree [Matthew 27:32-50], and the hurt in His heart when He was despised and rejected of men [Isaiah 53:3]. There is suffering into which we cannot enter in the travail of His soul [Isaiah 53:11], when the pure, holy, blessed Jesus was made sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]. I cannot enter into it. I do not know. But when the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of the whole world [Isaiah 53:6], there was suffering which is unknown to us.
It is just that when a man comes face to face with Jesus our Lord, dying and suffering for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], for some of us, it melts us to tears. For some of us, we bow in confession and ask forgiveness. Our sins pressed on His brow the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]; our sins drove those nails in His hands and feet [John 20:25]; our sins pierced His side and drew out the blood [John 19:34]; our sins caused His agony on the cross [Luke 23:26-46]; and we bow in confession and contrition, and for a host of us, we rise from our knees regenerated, new and different people [John 3:3, 7; 2 Corinthians 5:17].
It’s never, ever the same again. When a man has a confrontation with Jesus Christ, he is different. God has done something in our hearts because of what God did for us on the cross. “This is the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28]. And in Him, we are new people; a new heart, a new vision, a new hope, a new prayer, a new life, a new day. We are new people [2 Corinthians 5:17].
As we have been saying and reading, I have found it. What have you found? I have found forgiveness for my sins [Ephesians 1:7]. I have found life for my death [1 Corinthians 15:22]. I have found a heaven for my judgment and damnation [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3]. I have found a new hope and a new glory. It is the mystery of God’s atoning grace in the death of our suffering Savior [Ephesians 2:8].
Our time is far spent. As we sing our hymn of appeal, thus to give your heart to Jesus: “I have seen Him too, pastor, and I am coming in open confession of my faith in the Lord, and here I am.” A family putting life in the fellowship of our dear church, as God’s Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment as we stand to sing, stand answering with your life. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come.” On the first note of this first stanza, do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.