Skip Heitzig - His Death Foretold
That which we once viewed as just a reflection in a distant mirror comes to us as reality. There was a time when we only knew in part, but now there comes a promise to be fully known, a promise made by the prophets, a promise that the angels declared. He comes to heal the broken and free the captives. He brings with Him joy and gladness. Can you feel it? He is coming. Can you hear it? Hope approaches. Listen to the sound. Lift up your eyes. "Jesus: Hope Foretold."
Would you turn in your bibles, please, to the book of Isaiah 53. We've been doing a short little series leading up to Christmas and one little installment right after Christmas on "Hope Foretold." The first week we looked at "Jesus: Birth Foretold." Last week, we considered "His Life Foretold." And today, we look at what the prophets in the Old Testament said about His death, "His Death Foretold."
Did you know that Mark Twain predicted his own death? In 1909, Mark Twain said a strange thing, sort of, as a joke. He said the next time that Halley's Comet makes a near pass to the earth that he will go out with it. Well, you probably know that Halley's Comet doesn't show up all that often. Once every 76 years it makes its pass by the earth. So on April the 20th, 1910, Halley's Comet appeared, and the very next day Mark Twain died of a heart attack. It's an amazing coincidence. It's an unusual circumstance.
Then there's a story of a man named William Thomas Stead, a journalist, who wrote a fictional piece about an ocean liner sailing from England to New York and having an accident and sinking, the passengers sinking, because there weren't enough lifeboats in his story. And then he said in that little story, that fictional piece, he made a prediction saying ocean liners being sent out to sea are not a good thing because there's not enough lifeboats on them.
Then he wrote another article sometime after that about another ocean liner colliding into an iceberg and sinking. Two years after he wrote that article, the Titanic sailing from England to New York hit an iceberg and 1,500 passengers lost their lives. What is most unusual about this story is one of the passengers aboard that ship was William Thomas Stead, an amazing circumstance.
But now I want to turn from an amazing coincidence and an unusual circumstance to divine providence. The death of Jesus Christ was foretold. Yes, He foretold His own death on a few different occasions. But more than that, 700 years before He was even born, Isaiah the prophet predicted His virgin birth, His sinless life, as well as His atoning death. So the prophets, they announced it in advance. His death was predicted.
But though His death was predicted, it was not expected. Though the prophets underscored His death, the people didn't understand His death when it happened. Yeah, they knew their prophecies. They were well aware of the predictions of Isaiah the prophet. It says He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father. The government will be on His shoulders. They knew all that.
But, you see, when the prophets looked ahead into the future and saw the coming of the Messiah, it was like seeing a mountain peak when you drive across the country, and you see it in the distance. And it's easy to miss from a distance. You think it's one peak, but when you drive up to the mountain itself you discover it's not one, but it could be two, three, four, or a whole range of mountains.
And so when they saw the coming of the Messiah, they saw Him coming, and they saw Him ruling, and they saw Him reigning. What they did not see at the time of Jesus Christ, and the reason they missed Him as the Messiah, by and large, is they didn't understand that there's a difference between the first peak of Jesus' first coming and the second peak of His second coming. They didn't see the valley that was between the first and second coming. And that was the valley of His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and time passing for God to collect people called "the church" off the earth before He would come again to rule and reign.
And so that's why when Jesus came, many of them were confused because He wasn't called Wonderful Counselor. They didn't say, hey, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, over here. The government was not on His shoulder at that time. They were not expecting the Messiah to suffer. They were expecting Him to rule and to reign even though Isaiah, and the book of Psalms, and others predicted in advance the suffering of the Messiah as you are about to see here in Isaiah 52 and 53.
But what you need to know, because people still ask me this, well, why didn't people of Jesus' time understand that this was their Messiah? Because there was no room in their thinking for a suffering, dying, Savior Messiah. They wanted a sympathetic Messiah, somebody who would sympathize with their problems, their issues, their plight, their oppression and come to rescue them from the oppression of Rome and others.
We're in Isaiah 52 and 53. Actually, Isaiah 53 should begin in Isaiah 52:13, that's where the beginning of the passage is at. And what we're dealing with here is the fourth of four Servant Songs. There are four what are called Servant Songs in the book of Isaiah where God announces His ideal servant. And it's a reference of the coming Messiah. What's amazing here is you see the detailed nature of prophetic scripture where you have in advance details of His suffering on the cross that were impossible to know beforehand unless it was by divine revelation, and it would have been possible to arrange.
In this section, you have the substitutionary death of Jesus, His burial, His resurrection, His saving of sinners, and His intercession for sinners while He himself is suffering, all placed in this section. It is so important that it's quoted by Matthew in the New Testament, by John in the New Testament, by Peter in the New Testament. And if you know your Bible, you know in Acts 8 the Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isaiah 53 when Philip joined his chariot to him and led him to Christ using this passage.
So what we have here is Isaiah tells us four elements all regarding the death of Jesus Christ. We begin with the anticipation for His death. And really, that is the entire passage. It's all looking forward and anticipating the one who would come and die.
Let's begin in Isaiah 52: 13. "Behold my servant shall deal prudently. He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you so His visage", that is His facial features, "was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. And so He shall sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him. For what they had not been told then, they shall see. And what they had not heard, they shall consider."
Now, what you need to know is that most Jewish people, most rabbis, do not consider this to be a messianic passage. They do not see this at all as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Right, you would understand that that would be, even though to us it seems so obvious. And it does seem obvious. This passage has been called "the torture chamber of the rabbis" because it is so obviously referring to what Jesus Christ would do in fulfillment.
But rather, most Jewish rabbis will be quick to say this passage, Isaiah 52 and 53, is not a description of Jesus Christ, but rather of the nation of Israel, the nation of Israel. One author says Isaiah 53 describes the history of the Jews despised by the world, persecuted by the Crusaders, and the Spanish inquisitors, and the Nazis. These verses do not point to a Messiah.
But there's a problem with that thinking. Actually, there are two problems. I can think of more, but we don't have time. There are two problems with that thinking. The first is a contextual problem. The second is a historical problem. Let me explain.
I said there are four Servant Songs, Isaiah 42, Isaiah 49, Isaiah 50, and Isaiah 52 and 53. This section is the fourth. There are four Servant Songs. It is a description not of Israel but of the ideal servant of the Lord. And I know that because in Isaiah 49, God speaks to his servant about his servant, Israel. So they're not one in the same. He's talking to somebody about the other, and God isn't schizophrenic. So he's speaking to his servant, his ideal servant, about his servant Israel, who is called in the book of Isaiah the blind servant and the deaf servant. So that's the contextual problem with that interpretation.
But there's a second one. Historically, the Jewish people, including the Jewish rabbis, have looked at Isaiah 52 and 53 as being messianic. In the Jewish writings the Talmud, from 500 BC to 200 BC, they always looked at Isaiah 53 in those writings as referring to their Messiah. It wasn't until the 11th century AD that a prominent rabbi named Rashi started interpreting this as being a reference to the nation of Israel because of the obvious embarrassment. It looked just so much like it could be fulfilled in Jesus.
But one of the oldest translations of the Hebrew manuscripts, into Aramaic from Hebrew called the Targums, first to second century BC, translates Isaiah 52:13 this way, Listen, "behold my servant Messiah shall deal prudently." To them it was so obvious they just put the word Messiah in there because they wanted their readers to know, this is a reference to the coming Messiah.
A prominent rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, said "King Messiah, wounded for our transgressions." Notice what it says of Him, "Behold my servant shall deal prudently. He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high." What could that be a reference to? Well, it could refer to His resurrection, His ascension, and His glorification in heaven at the right hand of the Father. Yes. Paul the Apostle in Philippians 2 said, "God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess."
Or it could refer to, and this is what I believe it refers to, His death, His death on the cross when He would be lifted up off the ground and placed on a Roman cross. Listen to what Jesus said in John 12, He said, "if I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." And just so we wouldn't be left guessing as to what He meant, John immediately says, "This He spoke signifying the kind of death He was going to die."
Notice what He will do when that happens, "so He will sprinkle many nations." That's a Hebrew word that refers to the ceremonial cleansing like in the Old Testament when the priest who dip the hyssop in the blood and sprinkle the people for atonement. And it's fascinating. It says, "it will sprinkle many nations." Now, we're dealing with the Jewish Messiah. But it does not say, well, when He comes He's only coming for the Jewish people. He's going to sprinkle the Jewish nation. It's all about Jewish nationalism. No. For God so loved the world, that He's going to come and sprinkle many nations.
So it's amazing, really, that historically and contextually the passage refers to the Messiah, and yet when Jesus came to His own, His own received Him not. He was rejected. They saw the mountain peak, but they didn't see the valley in between the two mountain peaks, the valley of Messiah's death. But we're seeing as we, sort of, retrofit it after the fact, we're able to see now the reason why He came.
This servant will come to die or sins. It's been imagined by one author that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary could have prayed this prayer over her son. "Rest well tiny hands for though you belong to a King, you will touch no satin." You will own no gold. You will grab no pen. You will guide no brush. No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious. They aren't destined to hold a scepter or wave from a palace balcony. But they are reserved, instead, for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross. No wonder then the text that we just read says, "and kings shall shut their mouths at Him." For a suffering servant to occupy after that a throne was unheard of.
But the whole passage is the anticipation for His death. But as we work our way through, we have a second element and that is the abandonment at His death. Isaiah 53:1, "who has believed our report and to whom is the arm of the Lord been revealed? He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness, and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He's despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief, and we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. He will be abandoned by unbelief," says this prophet.
"Who has believed our report?" He asks, "to whom is the arm of the Lord been revealed?" When Jesus came, He had followers, but not many believed the report. We know He had 12 apostles, but after three years of ministry, do you remember how many authentic believers, authentic followers, were in that upper room after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended? How many? How big was the church? 120 people, it's pretty small.
120 people, you're saying, oh, come on. He had lots of followers. He was thronged by people. So many people came to see and to hear Him. You're right, they did. But they weren't all authentic believers. There were very, very few in that large crowd. You say, wait a minute. After all those miracles, yeah. Glad you brought that up. Listen to this, John 12 tells us after Jesus healed multitudes, "although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him. That the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled which he spoke, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Then for this Galilean to go to a Roman cross, be lifted up, and die a shameful death, remember, the Jewish scripture says it's a curse to be hung on a tree. And Paul the Apostle will say the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. I mean, think of it, no other religion has at its heart the humiliation of its God.
He will be abandoned by unbelief and by unfruitfulness. In verse 2, please notice, "for He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness. When we see Him, there is no beauty and that we should desire Him." When Jesus came 2000 years ago, the nation of Israel was hardened ground, barren ground. It wasn't as fruitful as God wanted it to be. In fact, you may remember Isaiah the prophet, also, had a pretty hefty prediction about the nation of Israel, and Jesus and the other New Testament authors quoted it, related to it.
Listen to what it says in Isaiah 5, "now, let me sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved regarding his vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill. He dug it out, and he cleared out its stones. And he planted the choicest vine within it. And he expected it to bring forth fruit, good grapes, but instead, it brought forth wild grapes. What will the owner of the vineyard do," asks Isaiah. "He will take its hedge away. It will be trampled down by others and burned to the ground." Then this is what it says, "for the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant plant."
You see, by the time Jesus came to Judaism 2000 years ago, and the temple structure, the priesthood, was already corrupted by the Sadducees. The truth had been trampled by the Pharisees. But in the midst of that fruitless nation, there was a root growing out of dry, hardened, parched ground. That was Jesus just like the little green shoot that comes out and pokes its little head out of the ground from a root. That's the idea of the passage, He would be the fruitful one in the midst of fruitlessness.
I want to jog your memory. When the patriarch Jacob was on his deathbed, and he gathers all of his boys around him, 12 of them which would be the 12 tribes of Israel. He goes through each son, and he predicts something about their future. And he comes to Judah, Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah. He comes to Judah and this is what he says, "the scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a law giver from between his feet until Shiloh comes." It's a strange thing to say. "The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a law giver from between his feet until Shiloh comes." The word Shiloh means the one to whom it belongs.
Again, historically throughout the ages, the Jewish rabbis saw that as a prediction of the Messiah coming from Judah. It's in their writings. Shiloh, the one to whom it belongs, the Messiah. And this is how they interpreted it, the scepter, the right to rule, the right of national tribal identity in Judah, that will not depart. We will have autonomy until Shiloh comes. When that's taken away, the Messiah will come.
So 23 years before the trial of Jesus of Nazareth by Pontius Pilate, 23 years before that, the Romans came in and occupied the land of Judah, and took away the right of capital punishment, and their right to adjudicate using the law of Moses in their cases. And when that happened, one rabbi writes that the Sanhedrin, the Jewish rulers, paraded around Jerusalem with sackcloth and ashes. And this is what they said in a lament, "the scepter has departed from Judah, but the Messiah has not come."
What they were unaware of is that just north of them in that rugged town of Nazareth, there was a 10-year-old boy at that time, the apprentice of His stepfather, a carpenter, who would be coming soon on the scene to Jerusalem. But at that point, just this young child, a little chute, a little root out of dry ground in the midst of fruitless Israel would come and bear fruit to salvation.
Notice in verse 3, "He was despised and rejected by men. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him. And He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." You know, we know that Jesus suffered on the cross. He suffered the beating, the crown of thorns, and we usually, kind of, go into that whenever we talk about the cross. But what we often fail to realize is He didn't just suffer physically, but think of the emotional grief by being rejected even by the closest friends He had.
When Jesus shared the Last Supper in the upper room, how many were seated with Him? 12, He had 12 apostles, very good. He had 12. He had supper with 12. But one of them toward the end of the supper got up and walked out. What was his name? Judas, good, straight As so far. So now He has 11 left, and with those 11 He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where He will be arrested. And He's going through sorrowful contortions emotionally, so He takes His three buddies, Peter, James, and John. He says, guys, over here. I need you to pray with me. What do they do? They fall asleep.
Then He gets arrested and taken to the courtyard of the high priest, and Peter and John follow Him. And what does Peter do while he's there? Denies Him, getting straight As. And the Bible says, "and they all forsook Him." They all fled from Him. John was the only apostle who showed up at the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus.
So you begin the night with 12. Now, you have 11. The three that are your closest fall asleep. One of them denies you. And then when He's on the cross, He cries out, my God! My God! Why have you forsaken me, as he felt the distance now between His father as the weight of sin was laid upon Him, the abandonment at His death.
There's a third element that Isaiah shows us and that is the atonement in his death, gets better as we go. Verse 4, "surely He has borne our griefs. He's carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." By the way, the word bruise could be translated "crushed" literally.
"All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to His own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgressions of my people. He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked but with the rich at His death because He had done no violence nor was any deceit in His mouth."
Notice the language throughout that little section we just read, the language of substitution, one being substituted for somebody else. Theologians call this, ready for it, vicarious atonement. There's a word you can throw out this week. Throw down some science with your buddies. Vicarious atonement means substitutionary atonement. It is captured so perfectly by Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
"For God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in Him." God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God in Him. Let me put it to you this way, God the Father treated Jesus Christ as if He were guilty of every single sin ever committed by every single person who had ever lived. Let that fall on your heart for a moment. I'll put it another way. God the Father treated Jesus like you and I deserve to be treated. So that He could treat you and I like Jesus Christ deserves to be treated, that's substitution.
I read the story of a little boy who was notoriously late to come home from school. One morning his parents said, son, we want you to be on time today. It's a very important day. We need you to be here on time. Not only was he late that afternoon, he was much later than he had ever been before. His mother met him at the door, said nothing, just opened the door. He came in. He said nothing.
At the dinner table, the little boy looked down at his plate. And there on his plate was a single slice of bread and just a glass of water, while his father had steak, and potatoes, and trimmings. And it was, like, so good. But he looked down, and there was nothing, and his heart sunk because of that. And his father watched that happen, let it happen and let it just, sort of, sink in for his son. And then the father got up with the smile, walked over, and took the boys plate with bread, and exchanged it for his sumptuous meal. And the father took that single piece of bread, and that's all he had for dinner while his son enjoyed that free, gracious meal.
The little boy grew up and he said, all my life I have known what God is like by what my father did that night. It's the language of substitution that helped him understand. And that's what the angel was saying to Joseph when he said, you will call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sin. It's what the angels in Bethlehem were meaning when they said, there is born to you this day in Bethlehem, the City of David, a Savior. A Savior, one who will save people who needs saving, who is Christ the Lord.
That's the meaning behind the gift of the royal visitors, the Magi who gave Him gold, the metal of a King. Frankincense, the fragrance of priests. But then that third thing, myrrh. What's myrrh? Embalming fluid, used as embalming fluid in ancient times. I'm sure Mary and Joseph thought, really? This is what you're giving my son? I like the first two gifts, We can use those but embalming fluid? Talk about the gift that bombs or embalms, I should say.
Why myrrh? Why embalming fluid? It was a prediction of the purpose of His life, to die, death. By the way, you know something fascinating about myrrh? Myrrh gives off no scent until it's crushed. When it's crushed, it gives off the most beautiful fragrance which fulfills what Isaiah said, "He will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities."
So even in Bethlehem at His birth, the shadow of the cross predicted by Isaiah fell upon the manger, and Mary and Joseph would come to understand that that baby was born to die. I want you to think about this, parents. When a child is born, when your children were born, you have such excitement. Anticipation, you have plans for that child. You don't think about their death. You don't plan their death. No, their purpose is life, education. You want them to marry well.
Jesus was different. The purpose of His birth and life were not so He could establish a world religion, or not so He would say some wonderful things that would be put on posters and on refrigerators in years to come. The purpose of His birth and life were His death, His atonement, to save people from their sin.
Now, this atonement for sin was hinted at all the way back in Genesis. Remember what God said to Adam and Eve? "In the day that you eat of the fruit, you will surely..." what? You'll surely die, but they didn't die. They didn't die. Oh, I know they died spiritually. There was a chasm in relationship between God and them. But I don't think that's what they thought when God said, when you eat that, you're going to die. They thought, we ate it, we're dead meat. We're going to actually physically die, but they didn't die.
But something else died in their place. Two animals died because the Bible says God clothed them with animal skins to cover them up. Animals got to die for that to happen. I don't know, but I could only presume that, perhaps, those were two lambs. Nothing feels better than lamb skin as a covering. So think of it, in the beginning parts of Genesis, there's one lamb for one person, one for him, one for her. But as time would move on and we get to the Passover, the exodus out of Egypt, it is now one lamb per one family as God says, "take the blood of the lamb and put it on the lintels and doorpost, and everyone in your house will be saved."
But then as time moves forward, and the law is established, and the day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is given. Now, it's one lamb for the sins of a nation as the high priest would dip the hyssop in the blood and sprinkle, sprinkle, and it would be enough for a nation. So there's one lamb per person, one lamb per family, now one lamp for the nation.
But alas, the day came when He came. And John the Baptist saw the Messiah come. And he said, look, that's the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. Not just one lamb for one person, one lamb for one family, one lamp for a nation, but that is sufficient enough to cleanse anyone and everyone who will believe in him, that's the atonement of His death. Well, we're out of time, so let me draw your attention to the last part and the best part, and that is the accomplishment of His death. We've seen the anticipation for His death, the abandonment at His death, the atonement in His death, but here's the accomplishment, the accomplishment of His death.
Look at verse 10, "yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him". He has put Him to grief. When you make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul and be satisfied by His knowledge. My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.
Verse 10 is disturbing, really. Any parent would be disturbed at it. In the language of a son being sacrificed all by the will and sovereignty of His father, for it to read, "yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him." In fact, the language is strong. The word please means to experience emotional delight. What kind of a delight could a father have in seeing His son butchered? The delight was in the accomplishment.
It's the same said of Jesus Christ in the book of Hebrews, "and for the joy that was set before him, He endured the cross despising the shame." The joy, who suffers with joy? Who goes to a cross and has bloodshed with joy? The thing that Jesus had in His heart, in His mind, the joy, the delight of the father was seeing all of those who would believe in Him. And because of their faith, simply, by His work and their faith, make it to heaven.
You know what His delight was? You know what His joy was? You. You. He saw the day in history when you would say yes to Jesus, and you would follow Him. And you would let His blood cleanse your sin. You would live for Him. That was the delight. He will see His seed. It's the joy of anticipating you. And then look at verse 11, "by His knowledge, my righteous servant shall justify many." Or it could be translated, by the knowledge of Him my righteous servant shall justify me. In other words, coming to know Jesus, coming to know God the Father through His son Jesus Christ. Remember what Jesus said in His prayer in John 17, "and this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God in Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
So behold my servant, God says, "behold. Look. Behold my servant." Here is a life of service. Here is a life of sacrifice. And think of what the sacrifice of one accomplished. We sacrifice for our children. I know my parents did. They saved up, and they hoped that I'd make something out of my life. They were not sure for a long time. But they sacrificed, and they served, and they put pennies away for a college education.
And we know what that sacrifice, some of us, is like. We sacrifice for a good cause. Or some of us will sacrifice for our church because we believe in its vision. We want to invest in the kingdom. Think of what God can do through your life if you see your life as a sacrifice where you'll serve people and sacrifice for His glory and His kingdom.
Heavenly Father, we have beheld your ideal servant and hear your suffering servant. We have seen how Isaiah shows us the anticipation for His death predicted well in advance, 700 years practically. And then what would happen when that happened, the abandonment, the atonement, the accomplishment. What strikes us the most is that it was for us. He bore our griefs, He carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions. If anything should reveal to us the seriousness, the gravity of sin, it is this passage because that's what our sin did to your son. But if anything should reveal your love and your extravagance, it is this passage, for God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.