THE SUFFERING SAVIOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-11-76 10:50 a.m.
One of the most difficult things in the world is to try to understand why people do not like what you like. And why they are not moved by things that move you. I received a letter this week from a pastor. It was addressed to the parsonage, so I received it and read it personally.
And he said to me, “I listen to your service on television.” He lives in another state. And he said, “I love everything about your service except the music.” He said, “The music in your church is too high.” He said, “What you need to sing in the church for your television program is music that is down here somewhere, foot-stomping music, you know, that kind of music.” Well, I have been told by several people here in the church: “Pastor, you have to remember that not everybody has taste in music such as you have. And you must remember that.”
So I sit there and I try to remember that. But it is not easy for me to remember that. I love this kind of music. I can just live through that. Felix Mendelssohn describing Elijah and the day of the rain when he prayed and the floods came, and I can just see Elijah running before the chariot of Ahab [1 Kings 18:43-46]. And I just sit there and I am just so blessed. I just relive that whole glorious intervention of God in the days of Israel’s apostasy.
And yet, while I am seated there just reliving all of that; there are ten thousand people that say, “That is the most boring thing I ever listen to.” So I have told Gary, I say “Gary, for my sake and the Lord’s sake, once in a while, sing a fine song. Then the rest of the time you can sing that claptrap.”
I tell you another thing that I love. And I have told Gary that. I love to listen to the Bible sung. I just love to hear the Scriptures sung. When they sing the Lord’s Prayer or that song of the solo, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” [Matthew 25:34]. Or so many of the hymns and the anthems they sing. They are the Scriptures. I love to hear the Scriptures sung. But again, just once in a while, do it for me and the rest of the time we will sing foot-stomping music. Well, that was beside the point, wasn’t it?
We are not on television today, so I just feel so free! You’re wonderful, and I need to turn around and look at you. I don’t have to worry about it out there. I do admit we’re on radio, and you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.
I would like to invite all of us, if we can, to take just a moment and meet with us, high noon each day this week. For the first time ever, we are having our pre-Easter services here in the church auditorium. Dr. Truett began conducting those services sixty-some-odd years ago. And they were held downtown in a theater. And something like over a quarter of a century, I held the services down at the Palace Theater. But when the Palace Theater was torn down, there was no place to meet in the heart of the city, so we decided this year we would meet here in the big auditorium.
If you can come for just a moment, it will bless your heart, this pre-Easter week, just to come by. You can slip in and slip out when you must. But it will be a benediction for us to have you. I’ll be preaching this year on “The Christ of the Cross,” and tomorrow morning at high noon The Shadow of the Cross.
It has been astonishing to me—preaching as I do through the Bible or through a book in the Bible—how the text that is immediately in front of me is one that you could pick out by the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit Himself. It is such now. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 53 [Isaiah 53], and this is the Holy of Holies in the prophetic ministry of those who spoke of the glorious coming of our Lord.
For example, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke, after the Lord was raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-7], He spoke to the disciples and said to them that thus it must be that all things are to be fulfilled which are written in the Torah—that was the first great division; and in the Neviim—that was the second great division; and then the third great division—the Kethuvim; and He names those three [Luke 24:44].
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—it was necessary for 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 among all the people.
Now do you notice when the Lord opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, He showed them in the Neviim, in the Prophets, how that Christ should suffer [Luke 24:46]. And that’s what we do today. Having come to the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, it is a passage that beyond any other in the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, presenting that Jesus is the suffering Savior of the world, making atonement for our sins [Isaiah 53:3-7]. And as I come to the chapter, I feel like someone entering a holy and heavenly sanctuary. I must tread softly in His presence. I must speak quietly, for He is there. And I must kneel reverently before Him who suffered so for our sins.
Now, in this incomparable prophecy—hard to believe that Isaiah lived 750 years before the day of the cross—you would think he was there. You would think he was standing on Golgotha, watching and writing here on this sacred page what God was doing to save our poor souls.
And as the prophet writes and speaks of the atoning grace that saves us from our sins, in the wounds and the tears and the sobs of the Son of God [Isaiah 53:1-11], he speaks of His sufferings in three ways. He speaks of them suffering in His body; second, suffering in His heart; and third, suffering in His soul: and that shall be our outline that we follow this precious hour.
The atonement of our Lord as He suffered in His body—the introductory verses to chapter 53 are these:
Look at My servant. He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
But the throngs were amazed at Him. His visage was so marred, disfigured, more than any man. And His form more than the sons of men.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him. That which hath not been told them shall they see, and that which hath not been heard shall they consider. So shall He cleanse many nations.
The suffering in His body, but the throngs were astonished at Him. His visage was so marred, more than any man and His figure, His form, more than the sons of men [Isaiah 52:14]—the atoning suffering of our Lord in His physical frame. It began with an all night vigil—first, the Passover Supper. And our Jewish people are just now beginning that Passover season.
It began in the Paschal meal at which time the Lord instituted the memorial of the breaking of bread, and the drinking of the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. Then it was followed by the words of our Lord that are in John 14 and 15 and 16 and then the high priestly prayer in John 17. Those words when He said, “Because I have spoken these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart” [John 16:6]. “But let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions” [John 14:1-2].
Then it continued beyond the Brook Kidron on the other side of Moriah and at the base of Mount Olivet, in the garden of Gethsemane, in which place He was arrested [Matthew 26:36-56]. Then He was arraigned before Annas and then Caiaphas [John 18:13] and then the Sanhedrin [Matthew 26:57-74], and finally delivered into the hands of the Roman soldiers before Pontius Pilate [John 18:28-40]. Then tried before Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee [Luke 23:8-10]. And then back to Pilate who condemned Him to be executed by crucifixion [Luke 23:11-25]. All night long and then, in the rising of the sun, was the Lord brought from one to the other and condemned by them all.
Finally under the aegis of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, He was delivered to the Roman soldiers to be crucified [Matthew 27:26]. And the Roman soldiers apparently delighted in taking a despised Jew and marring and disfiguring His very body. So they beat Him [Matthew 27:30]. Was it with Roman rods or was it a cat-of-nine tails, leather thongs in which pieces of metal, sharp piercing were woven? Many times the felon who was being crucified died under the heavy blows of those brutal Roman soldiers.
He was so beat, He was so scourged, and so much blood had fallen from His back that when they placed the cross on Him to bear it to the place of crucifixion, He staggered and stumbled and fell beneath the weight of the cross. And they impressed a passerby, one Simon of Cyrene, to bear the cross in front of Him [Matthew 27:32]. And finally, came to the Hill of the Skull, in Latin called “Calvary,” in Hebrew called “Golgotha,” and there they crucified Him [Matthew 27:33-50]. So sorrowful was the scene that the Lord said to John, “Take My mother away…” lest she look upon Him. So it was hid from the face of His mother, His suffering and death [John 19:26-27].
And the sun refused to shine lest the earth look upon it [Matthew 27:45]. And God held back the angel host in heaven, lest the angels look upon Him. And the Father Himself turned His face lest God look upon it [Matthew 27:46]. So marred, more than any man [Isaiah 52:14], the sufferings of our Lord for our sins that He bore in His body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. The sufferings in 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 [1 Peter 1:24]. But the hurt in His heart was the hardest to bear, the heart that was broken for me. The sufferings in His heart were those that were the hardest to bear.
I think of them—and as I speak, we shall progress in the depths of that hurt to His heart. First, those to whom He belonged, His own people, rejected Him. As John wrote it in the first chapter in the eleventh verse of his Gospel, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. These who should have loved Him, and welcomed Him, and treasured His presence, and adored all that He said and did, these are the ones that hated Him the most bitterly.
The Pharisees hated the Herodians, but they hated Him more. And they joined with the Herodians to encompass His destruction [Mark 3:6]. The nation hated the Romans, but they hated Him more, and they delivered Him into the hands of the Romans that He might be crucified [Matthew 27:25; Luke 23:21]. They all—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Herodians, the elders—they all hated the unwashed, unclean sinners, but they hated Him more because He ate with them [Luke 15:2], and preached the gospel to them [Matthew 11:5]. It is unthinkable how that the tender, loving, mild, gentle Jesus should have been so hated and so despised and so cruelly entreated by these that He called His own.
But we go further. The hurt in His heart, the mockery and the ridicule of the hours of His trial: first, the Jewish trial. One came up to Him and smote Him in the face and said: “Ha! You that are a prophet, what is my name? Who smote You?” [Matthew 26:67-68]. And another came and spat in His face and said, “Ha! You that are a prophet, what is my name? Who spits in Your face?” And His face was covered in spittle [Matthew 26:67]. And another came and tore out His beard and said, “Ha! You that are a prophet call my name. Who am I that plucks out Your beard?” [Isaiah 50:6]. And they ridiculed Him and mocked Him [Matthew 27:31].
And in the Roman trial—when Pontius Pilate delivered Him to death, the King of the Jews, the brutal, and crass, and rude, and crude Roman soldiers said, “So He is a King. A King must have a crown.” And they wove for Him a crown of thorns and pressed it on His brow [John 19:2-3]. And a King must have a robe, and in some filthy ash can, they found a castoff piece of purple cloth and shrouded His shoulders with it and said, “A king and his robe.” But a king must have a scepter, and they found some sorry stick, a reed, and placed it in His hand [Matthew 27:29-30]. And a king must have obeisance and obedience and adulation, and they bowed in mockery before Him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews” [Mark 15:16-18].
And finally, taking Him to a garbage dump, to a “Place of a Skull,” where I suppose other felons had died and carcasses of animals were thrown out and strewn with bones, there did they nail Him to a tree [John 19:18; 1 Peter 2:24]. And as though His sufferings were not enough, nailed to the cross, they gambled for His garments, casting lots who would take each of the five pieces, and sitting down in contempt, watched Him die [John 19:23-24].
I have often thought of that text which is the theme of the Apocalypse, Revelation 1:7: “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 weep because of Him.” I’ve often thought, “and they also who pierced Him” [Revelation 1:7]. John was there and John saw their hard faces and their cruel hands. John saw them press the crown of thorns on His brow. Mock Him, ridicule Him, finally, nail Him to the tree. He saw their hard faces [Matthew 27:27-35]. And that’s why I think John wrote that in Revelation 1:7 when He comes in glory, they will confront the Son of God whom they nailed, and whom they ridiculed, and whom sitting down in contempt they watched Him die.
The hurt in His heart and the heaviest of all, His own disciples—Zechariah 13:7, it says, “God will smite the Shepherd, and the flock shall be scattered abroad.” Both Matthew and Mark record the fact that the disciples forsook Him and fled. They also turned their backs upon Him, and He died alone [Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50]. How could such a thing be? When the Lord Master is suffering and now dying, they all forsake Him and flee. The hurt in His heart; “He is despised and rejected of men. We hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3]. The hurt in His heart was the hardest to bear.
During the Vietnam War, a man told a story in this pulpit that I thought when I listened to it was the saddest story I had ever heard in my life. Do you remember it? There was an American soldier from the Midwest who was seriously wounded in the conflict in Vietnam and now having been nursed back to health was coming back home. When he reached San Francisco, he called his father and mother, and he said: “Mom and Dad, I have come home. I am on the way home.”
And the father and mother said, “Oh son, how happy a day welcoming you home.”
And the boy said, “Well, Mom and Dad, I have a friend. He’s been with me in the war and I’m bringing him; is that all right?”
And the mother and dad reply, “Oh, son, yes! We’d love to have him, love to have him.”
“But Mom and Dad: he’s been wounded. He’s been hurt in the war.”
“That’s all right,” said mom and dad, “bring him anyway. We’ll be glad to receive him.”
“But Mom and Dad,” said the soldier boy, “you don’t realize how bad he is hurt. He has to be cared for, for he has one eye that’s gone and an arm that’s gone, and he‘s got a leg that’s gone.”
“Well,” said the father and mother, “now, son, we just don’t know about that. Son, we could not take care of a boy like that. Son, there are government hospitals, there are veteran hospitals that take care of boys that are wounded like that. So we’ll help you take the lad to a hospital, and there they can take care of him. But we ought not to receive him here in our home.”
“All right, Dad and Mom,” said the boy. “I’ll be seeing you real soon.”
And the next day, the father and mother in the Midwest received a call from a morgue in San Francisco. And the man on the other end of the line said, “We think that maybe this could be your son. We have found identification on his body with a name and an address. Do you have a son from the Vietnam war by this name and is this your address?”
“Yes ,” said the father and mother.
“Well,” said the man at the morgue, “maybe you better come and identify the lad as being yours. He took his life last night in a cheap hotel here in San Francisco. You ought to come and maybe see if he’s your boy.”
They came to San Francisco and to the morgue, and when they looked upon his face immediately, they said “Yes, that is our boy!” And they looked more closely. He had one eye gone, and one arm gone, and one leg gone.
“He is despised and rejected of men . . . and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3]. The hurt in His heart was the hardest to bear, the sufferings of our Lord for our sins, that we might be saved [Isaiah 53:3]. He suffered in His body. He suffered in His heart.
He suffered in His soul. “When Thou shall make His soul an offering for sin, God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:10-11]. There’s a theological word for that satisfaction: it’s “propitiation” [1 John 2:2]. These things that separate us from God; propitiation means to make satisfaction, to render favorable and acceptable. “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied; for He shall bear their iniquities” [Isaiah 53:11].
Thus far in the sermon, I have been able to speak with understanding of the suffering in His body. I can understand the pain of having nails driven through hands and feet. I can understand the suffering of being buffeted and beat. I can understand the sufferings that would come for a man who had been scourged. I can understand the hurt that a man would bear in His heart when these who should have loved Him, hated Him, and when these who should have stood by Him despised Him, and when these to whom He had opened His very heart, forsook Him and fled. I can understand that.
I cannot enter into the deep, unfathomable mystery of His soul being offered for our sin [Isaiah 53:10]—and God looking upon the travail [Isaiah 53:11]. That word is used to describe the pain that a woman feels, which they say is the most agonizing in the world, birth pains—the travail of giving birth. “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied; for He shall bear the sins of many” [Isaiah 53:11]. This I cannot enter into, and I cannot understand.
I have a library of something of over four thousand volumes. You can read every one of them, and you will never understand what it is, that mystery of the travail of soul when Christ was offered for our sins [Isaiah 53:11]. Some of our great seminaries have libraries beyond a hundred thousand books; you can read all hundred thousand of them, and when you read the last one hundred thousand, you’ll not be able to understand the mystery of God making His soul an offering for our sin [Isaiah 53:10].
In my doctorate work, I took a course, one of my minor subjects was the atonement, and for three years, I studied it. And when I took the examination and passed it at the end of three years of study, I still was amazed at the mystery of the atonement of Christ for our sins, when God made His soul an offering, I cannot understand.
In the beautiful ritual and liturgy of the Greek Catholic Church, there is a reference to Thy unknown sufferings, and that’s all that we can say: sufferings that our Lord bore when He became sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21]; sufferings, we don’t understand and cannot enter into.
When the Bible presents the atonement for our sins, I can follow it pretty well. For example, a man who is a sinner, brought to the high priest, say, a lamb, an innocent animal, and he put his hands over the head of the animal and confessed his sins. And the high priest took the animal and slew it and poured out its blood at the base of the altar [Leviticus 4:27-30]. And when the nation had sinned, once a year, the high priest took an innocent animal and confessed the sins of the nation over the head of the animal and then slew it and caught its blood in a basin, in a bowl, and carried it into the Holy of Holies and there sprinkled it on the mercy seat in atonement, in the covering for the sins of the people [Leviticus 16:14-15].
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author says that the blood of bulls and goats could not suffice to take away our sins, but a body did God prepare for the Son of glory. And incarnate with a body, He was offered unto God—a sacrifice for us [Hebrews 10:4-14]. I can enter into that. I can understand that, the body of our Lord offered on the cross for our sins. But I cannot understand this. “Thou shall make His soul an offering for sin . . . and God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied . . . for He shall bear our iniquities” [Isaiah 53:10-11].
Lord, I don’t know, and I can’t understand. There is something over and beyond and further in Thy sufferings, in Thy travail that I cannot understand: when God bore our sins away in the sufferings of our Lord [1 Peter 3:18]. All I can do is to bow. All I can say is, “Thank You, Jesus.” All I can do is to say, “Lord, here am I. I give myself to You.”
Was it for crimes I have done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown
And love beyond degree.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe.
Here Lord, I give myself away,
Tis all that I can do.
[“Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed? Isaac Watts]
And this is the miracle of miracles. There is no man who can honestly gaze upon the suffering Lord and not be affected! There is something about Christ dying on the cross that makes a man pause; he’s hushed, he’s quiet. And to us, who have looked in faith to the Son of God [Galatians 2:20], there’s something about the gift of His life [1 Timothy 2:6], and the pouring out of the crimson of His life upon the earth [Matthew 26:28], that brings a flood of power and the consciousness of forgiveness [Ephesians 1:7]; the regenerating goodness and grace and love of God [1 Corinthians 6:11], that is extended to us in the arms outstretched as wide as the world is wide.
There is fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath the flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day
And there may I though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
Err since by grace,
I saw the stream
Thy flowing wound supply
Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till die.
[“There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” William Cowper]
The miracle of the outpoured grace of God from the cross [Titus 2:11]; it is a mystery; it is a miracle, something that God has done [John 3:16]. Like all of the other things God does, a little baby born, how could such a thing be who created that little life? [Psalm 139:13].
The miracle of birth or the miracle of re-resurrection, of renascence, out of the mud and the dirt and the dry root of the ground, these beautiful springtime flowers; God alone could do it. It’s a miracle of our heavenly Father; so with the cross. For a man to stand and say, “I can explain it, and I understand the unfathomable depths of its mystery,” oh, all we can do is just to bow, “Lord, Lord, these are things so high above me, I cannot reach them! They’re so deep below me, I cannot touch them. They’re so vast, I cannot encompass them”—the marvelous mystery of the atoning death of our Lord [Romans 5:6-9]. All I know is this, that when a man looks, if he will open his heart, he’ll be a new man. He’ll have a new life. He’ll have a new home. He’ll have a new heart. He’ll have a new prayer. He’ll have a new love [2 Corinthians 5:17].
I have found it. Found what? I have found life in Jesus [John 10:10]. The flood tides of grace God poured out in Jesus on the cross [Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11], they have reached my soul too, and I also am a Christian. Enroll my name among those who kneel, who look, who believe, who trust, who have been saved. Oh, glory! Wonder, heavenly, heavenly benedictory remembrance from God [2 Timothy 2:19].
Have you been saved? This moment, sacred and holy, would you look in faith to the blessed Jesus? If you will look, you will live [John 3:14-17]. If you will trust, you will be saved [Acts 16:30-31]. It is the miracle of God in Christ on the cross [2 Corinthians 5:18-20].
In a moment we stand and sing our appeal, and while we sing that appeal, a somebody you to give himself to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? A family you to put your life in the church, a couple you led of the Spirit of God to respond with your life, or just one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, while we make appeal, would you come forward? “The Lord has spoken to me, pastor, and here I am. I make it now.” Down a stairway, down an aisle, “I am coming pastor. I am on the way.” Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
A. Important prophecy
of coming of the Lord
used the Prophets to help disciples understand how He should suffer (Luke
II. Suffering in body
A. Began with Passover,
and an all-night vigil (John 14, 15, 16, 17)
B. Arrested, arraigned,
1. Beaten and
1. “Take My mother
2. Sun refused to
3. Angels held
back from looking upon Him
4. The Father turned
His face away
III. Suffering in heart
A. He is despised and
rejected of men (Isaiah 53:3-4)
B. Rejected by His own
people (John 1:11)
C. Mockery and ridicule
of His trial (Mark 14:65, Isaiah 50:6, Mark 15:16-18)
D. Sat in contempt
watching Him die (Revelation 1:7)
E. Disciples forsook
Him and fled (Zechariah 13:17, Isaiah 53:3)
IV. Suffering in soul
A. His soul an offering
for sin (Isaiah 53:10-11)