The Conquering Christ
It is Friday in Jerusalem. The smell of death is in the air. Outside the city wall, just north of the Damascus Gate, in a place long reserved for public executions, three crosses stand beside the road. A crowd has gathered this day. Not that crucifixion was unusual. But this day is different. An unusual man is being crucified.
Up the road comes a group of people. The soldiers know that two of the men being crucified are the kind of criminals that you find in any big city anywhere in the world. That's no big deal.
But the third man, the one from up north, the preacher from Nazareth, his case is different. They don’t really know who he is. They know it's important because they sense the buzz in the crowd. Today there were more people than usual, a bigger crowd, noisier, rowdier, milling to and fro, waiting for the action to begin.
Up the road comes a parade of people led by a brawny foreigner carrying a cross. He couldn't be the one they were going to crucify. It turns out he was a man by the name of Simon—Simon of Cyrene. The crowd swirls around him and behind him is a stooped figure, a man not quite six feet tall. Now walking, now crawling, each step an agony to behold. He had been beaten within an inch of his life. His back was in shreds, his front was covered with the markings of the whip. His face was disfigured and swollen where they had ripped out the beard by the roots. And on his head a crown of thorns six inches long stuck under the skin. A shell of a man. A man already more dead than alive.
The soldiers laid the cross out on the ground and they laid the body of Jesus on the cross. As they adjusted his arms and legs, he let out a moan. But he did not resist them.
They did their work quickly.
One hand over here, one hand over there. Wrapping rope around this arm and around that arm. Rope around the legs, probably bent and partially resting on a small platform. They drove the spike on the forearm side of the wrist so that when the weight of the cross fell, the spike wouldn't rip all the way through the hand. A spike in each wrist and then a spike through the legs. With the ropes in place they began to pull the cross up. Blood spurts from the raw wounds. At the right moment, they let go and the cross fell with a thud. And there was Jesus, exposed before the world, beaten, bruised and bloody. The soldiers stood back, satisfied. A job well done.
"Get the dice,” someone said. “Let's roll dice for his clothes."
The Good Friday Question
Few things in life are more difficult than the sudden death of someone we love. The mind wrestles with so many unanswerable questions, chief among them why. Why did things happen the way they did and when they did? Why should a young man just starting out have his life so quickly cut short?
This is the great question of Good Friday.
Why did Jesus die?
Who is behind this travesty of justice?
How could such a good man have come to such a bad end?
It happens that I am writing these words on Good Friday. In the history of the church, this day has also been called Holy Friday or Black Friday or Long Friday, all in remembrance of what Jesus suffered on the cross. I just finished reading an article on why this particular day is called “Good” Friday. It does seem odd because to the casual observer there was nothing “good” about what happened to Jesus when he was crucified.
Skin in tatters.
Nails driven through his hands and feet.
Surrounded by a howling mob.
Dying between two thieves.
What’s good about that?
We come again to the question, who did this? And why?
What purpose could be served in crucifying Jesus of Nazareth?
When Isaiah comes to the end of his Fourth Servant Song, he devotes the last stanza (53:10-12) to a consideration of what the death of the Servant really means. In these three verses we have God’s answer to the question, “Why did Jesus die?” Each verse gives us one part of the answer.
Since Isaiah wrote 700 years before Calvary, he put his words in in the future tense. We will do the same thing as we consider these verses.
I. He Will Be Crushed
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand” (v. 10).
Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? The answer may surprise you. According to the Bible, God takes responsibility for the death of his Son. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” The New King James gives that phrase a slightly different feel: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” Both versions say the same thing, but the NKJV emphasizes that it pleased the Lord to “crush” his only Son. As a father of three sons, I cannot fathom that, have no category for it, cannot imagine willingly putting one of my sons to death, much less taking pleasure in it. But the truth stands and cannot be denied: Jesus died because his Father willed that he should die. The terrible suffering our Lord endured did not happen by chance nor did it happen solely because the Jewish leaders wanted it and Pilate cravenly caved in. Behind the evil deeds of evil men stands the Lord God Almighty. He and he alone sent Jesus to the cross. Until you understand that fact, the true meaning of the death of Christ will be lost to you.
God willed that his own Son be crushed.
God planned that his own Son should suffer grief.
God desired that his own Son be made an offering for sin.
Isaiah goes on to talk about the great results that will flow from his suffering. These are the glories that will follow.
First, he will see his descendants. We rarely get to do that. I have lived long enough to see my grandchildren. I like that! I have often thought of the little prayer based on Psalm 128:6, “May you live to see your grandchildren playing at your feet.” That happened to me earlier today when I sat in a chair in our den and watched Eli and Knox (who are two and three years old, respectively) play together. They had little plastic pirate swords and Eli wore a red bandana. We all laughed as they ran through the house with those little plastic swords. Later Penny (who is one) sat on my lap and I sang “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to her. And I held Violet (who is six months old) and watched her smile as she unsteadily stood up on my lap while I held her arms. It is a wonderful privilege. I know that I may not live long enough to see my great-grandchildren. In the normal course of things, I certainly won’t live to see my great-great-grandchildren. I wish I could, but I doubt I’ll live to be 110 or whatever it would take for that to happen.
But Jesus saw his descendants.
Mortal men live and die and never see their descendants beyond a generation or two. But Jesus, because he is the eternal Son of God, lives forever.
Second, he will prolong his days. How can that be? I have already mentioned that I am writing this sermon on Good Friday. Earlier today I ran across this quote from Bob Goff:
"Darkness fell, His friends scattered, hope seemed lost - But heaven just started counting to three."Someone wrote underneath that Facebook status: “Three, two, one—Resurrection!” Good Friday was not the end of the story. God was not defeated. Jesus will rise from the dead, never to die again. He will prolong his days forever. As Jesus said to John on the Isle of Patmos:
“I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (Revelation 1:18).Third, the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. God has designed a great work for him to do. God has ordained that his Son will be the means by which a vast multitude will be saved. He is even now leading many sons to glory. Here’s a simple statement from Tony Evans that captures the meaning of this phrase:
Jesus didn't say, "I am finished." He said, "It is finished." He was just getting started.
That’s exactly right. His death was not the end of the story. Jesus was just getting started.
II. He Will Be Satisfied
“After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities” (v. 11).
First, he suffers.
Then he sees.
Then he is satisfied.
Suppose we ask the question this way:
What could possibly justify the terrible suffering that Jesus endured on the cross? By that I mean not just the physical suffering (which was nothing less than brutal torture), but also the emotional pain that caused him to pray in agony that the “cup” of suffering might be removed from him, and the unrelenting pressure of knowing beforehand what was about to transpire, and the burden of bearing the sins of the world. Consider these words from a hymn by Ann Ross Cundell Cousin:
O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy Head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner's stead--
Didst bear all ill for me.
Isaiah has already told us that it pleased the Father to crush his own Son, a thought that in itself seems amazing. Even if we don’t fully understand it, we certainly can ask some questions:
Why would God do such a thing to his Son?
Why would the Son willingly submit to it?
Isaiah 53:11 tells us that after his suffering, the Servant would see “the light of life,” meaning that he would be raised from the dead. And he will be satisfied.
If we take this phrase and put it in words that Jesus might have said, it looks something like this:
“I want the joy of seeing my Father’s house in heaven filled with his redeemed children. Therefore, I am willing to suffer the pain and shame of a brutal death on the cross. I am fully satisfied with my Father’s plan.”
We know this must be the meaning because the last part of verse 11 explains the source of his satisfaction: “My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” May I ask you a very personal question?
Have you ever been justified?
Have you been put in a right standing with the Lord?
Have your sins been washed away by the blood of Jesus?
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said this in a recent interview:
“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
Mr. Bloomberg may be a billionaire, but he is clueless about going to heaven.He’s only right about one thing: “It’s not even close.” He’s not as good as he thinks he is, and he’s a much greater sinner than he has imagined. But he speaks for many modern types who think they can earn their way into heaven.
The only way to heaven is to admit you don’t deserve to go there, and to confess that because of your sin you deserve hell, and to cast yourself on the mercy of Jesus who loved you and died for you and paid the price for your sin when he died on the cross.
So let me ask it this way:
Are you following the Bloomberg Plan or the Jesus Plan?
You can’t follow them both.
There is one final piece of the puzzle that explains the true meaning of Good Friday.
III. He Will Be Rewarded
“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).
With these words Isaiah comes full circle. He started by declaring that the servant would be exalted in spite of his suffering (52:13-15). Now he declares that the servant will be exalted because of his suffering. Using military terminology, he says that Jesus will divide the spoils of victory. Like a soldier returning triumphant from the field of battle, Christ receives the highest glory. Thomas Kelly pictures it this way:
The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor’s brow.
Jesus won the victory precisely because he was obedient to the Father’s will and offered himself on the cross. Isaiah says it four different ways:
“He poured out his life unto death.”
“He was numbered with the transgressors.”
“He bore the sin of many.”
“He made intercession for the transgressors.”
Isaiah says that Jesus will divide the spoil with “the strong.” Who is he talking about? He means that since Jesus is the Captain of our Salvation, he will divide the spoils of victory with all those who follow him.
Let me illustrate. Think for a moment about the famous story of David and Goliath. Why did those two men fight a one-on-one battle? The answer is simple. Each man represented his own army.
David fought for Israel.
Goliath fought for the Philistines.
When David won, the whole army won with him. When the Philistines were routed, the men of Israel chased them back where they came from. Then 1 Samuel 17:53 adds this detail:
The people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.
David won the battle, but the Israelites shared the spoils of victory.
It’s the same with Jesus and us.
When he wins, we win.
That doesn’t mean we deserve it. We don’t.
When he was numbered with the transgressors, he was numbered with us.
When he bore the sin of many, he was bearing our sin.
When he was appointed a grave with the wicked, he was buried in our grave.
That’s what makes all this so amazing. Christ the Victor has willingly shared his victory with us. Here is the ultimate good news for those who believe in Jesus. He has returned victorious from the ultimate contest.
The devil could not stop him,
The cross could not defeat him,
The grave could not hold him.
Having subdued all his enemies, he marches in triumph, the Undefeated Sovereign and the Ultimate Victor. No one can stand against him.
He has attained the highest place in the universe by virtue of his suffering. He did not come to this place by founding a new movement (though he did), or by force of his oratory (which was magnificent), or by his miracles (which were amazing), and not even by the brilliance of his teaching (which was undeniable). Think about this. He came to the highest place by taking the lowest position. Isaiah says in his own way what Paul will write to the Philippians over 700 years later.
Christ became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). It is only in light of that truth, and because of that truth, and as a result of that truth, that God has highly exalted his Son to the very highest point in the universe so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2:9-11).
First he suffers.
Then he is exalted.
God is not done finished exalting his Son.
He will one day return to the world that rejected him.
He will one day reign on the earth where he was crucified.
In 1851 a clergyman named Matthew Bridges wrote a few verses that later became the much-loved hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns. In 1874 Godfrey Thring added more verses. The hymn we sing today is a combination of verses by both men. The hymn surveys the life, death and resurrection of the Lord. The last verse, which looks to the future when Christ will reign over all the earth, sums up the triumphant final stanza of Isaiah 53.
Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.
What a Christ!
What a salvation!
Glory to his name forever!
Happiest Easter ever to you all,
Because HE IS RISEN!