Good Friday — Jesus: Rejected, Substitute, Sufficient

Posted: April 3, 2021 in Isaiah
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Isaiah 53, “Jesus: Rejected, Substitute, Sufficient”

“Good Friday.” The name is ironic. Considering that this is the day set aside in the year for Christians to remember Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, it does not initially seem to be good at all. What is good in Jesus being betrayed to the Jews and delivered to the Romans? What is good in His being beaten beyond recognition? What is good about the spikes driven through His wrists and feet, about His hanging in prolonged agony, in the mockery He endured from the crowd, or in His anguished death? What is good about any of that?

Perhaps there are several answers to the question, one of which being that it is good for what it accomplished. Without a crucifixion, there is no resurrection. Without the combination of the two with the Lord Jesus, there is no salvation. That alone makes it good. But there is something else, something more fundamental. It is good because it is of God. The crucifixion of Jesus was God’s idea – it was God’s plan for His Son. This was His will at work, for the purpose of reconciling the universe back to Himself and to reconcile men & women unto God. God willed that Jesus should die for the sins of mankind, of sinners like you and me. That alone makes it good.

It is this plan of God that is on display in Isaiah 53. It is without doubt a Messianic passage, used by Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch to bring him to faith in Christ (Acts 8:32-35) and referenced by Peter as an example of how Jesus suffered for us, thus we should expect similar suffering (1 Pt 2:21-25). Even Jesus saw this prophecy as speaking of His own suffering, specifically quoting it to the disciples the night He was arrested (Lk 22:37). This is no spiritualized picture of Israel; this is the prophesied work and suffering of Jesus Christ. We read it rightly when we see its fulfillment in Jesus.

The theology of the passage is rich, but tonight is not about an in-depth study pouring over every word. Rather, it is a time for reflection & remembrance – for us to take a step back and be in awe at our Jesus. We want God to speak to us through His Scripture, directing our attention and our devotion to Him for what was done to and through Christ.

In the prophecy, we see three main roles of Jesus, all entwined with each other. Each of these roles can be summarized with a single word. Jesus is: (1) the Man of Sorrows…rejected; (2) the sacrificial Lamb…substitute; (3) the suffering Servant…sufficient. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the plan of God. If it were not for God willing His Son to suffer on our behalf, none of us would be saved. How we praise God for His good will on this Good Friday regarding His good Son: Jesus!

Isaiah 53

  • The Man of Sorrows (1-3): Rejected.

1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 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; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Isaiah writes of the report that was disbelieved, or even unheard. What report? The few verses prior in Chapter 52 that speaks of the astonishment of the nation at God’s chosen Servant. Although God willed that this Servant be highly extolled and exalted, the Servant would first suffer. Isaiah wrote that “His visage was marred more than any man,” (52:14) and that “kings shall shut their mouths at Him,” (52:15) unable to comprehend what they witnessed. How could the chosen Servant of God, the Anointed One, the King of kings and Lord of lords…how could that One suffer such horrible punishment? Should not the Chosen One live a life of luxury and honor? That is expectation of royalty. When we think of kings, queens, and princes, etc., we think of their subjects bowing before them, honoring them; not beating them to a pulp and despising them. 

Yet that was the expectation for this Servant. The One chosen by God would come from humble beginnings, “as a root out of dry ground,” and He would have a humble life in general. Nothing about Him would initially stand out to the crowds as kingly. When Saul was initially presented by Samuel to Israel, the crowds all nodded their heads in agreement, affirming that Saul looked like a king. He was tall and handsome and easy to look at (not like the ruddy-faced kid that would come later in David). This was not the case with Jesus, God’s true Servant. There was nothing about His appearance that screamed “Messiah! King!” Although angels announced His birth from a virgin mother, He was raised by a humble carpenter and lived a boyhood life of relative obscurity and near-poverty. In the eyes of the world, this was not the résumé of a king. In the eyes of God, Jesus had all the qualifications required, yet His own nation was blind.

Instead of receiving Jesus, they rejected Him. They did not desire Him; they despised Him. They did not esteem Him; they spurned Him. John writes: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him,” (Jn 1:11). His own nation turned their backs on Him. No wonder that Jesus was prophesied to be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The pain experienced by Christ was at least as much spiritual as it was physical. It was all part of His suffering.

Jesus was truly rejected by those He came to save. Those who owed Him their allegiance derided Him. Not only did they clamor for His crucifixion, preferring to have the murderous terrorist Barabbas released to them rather than Jesus, but they even mocked Him while looking upon Him hanging on the cross. They could not have rejected Jesus any more than they did. It was a total repudiation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

But again, these were the ones Jesus came to save. Hanging from the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” (Lk 23:34). Oh, they understood that they were cruel in their mockery; they just didn’t understand Who they mocked. If they did, they wouldn’t have dared uttered a word! This was God in the flesh, One who could call down a legion of angels to destroy them. This was the God that would one day judge each and every one of them – the God from whose righteous wrath they required salvation. And that was what Jesus provided that day. He gave them the means to find refuge from the wrath of God. They didn’t know it, and they rejected Him.

We did, too. How long did each of us live our lives rejecting the gift of Jesus Christ? How many years passed with us mocking the Son of God, despising His sacrifice for us? How long did we usurp the rightful place of God in our lives, declaring ourselves to be our own lords and masters? And yet…Jesus died for people like us. He died for those who rejected Him, that we might reject Him no longer!

  • The Sacrificial Lamb (4-9): Substitute.

4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 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. 6 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.

Are there any verses in the Bible that speak more clearly of Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us? Centuries before Jesus walked the earth in His incarnation, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Christ’s work as a substitute. Jesus put Himself in our place, taking on our sins, bearing the wrath of God in our place as our punishment. The apostle Paul put it this way: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus knew no sin, having committed none of His own, nor being born with a sinful nature like ours. Yet He became sin when He became our sin offering for us. Hanging upon that bloody cross, Jesus bore each of our griefs and sorrows. Every wound on His body was inflicted for our many transgressions against God. Every bruise and each blackened eye were for the iniquities of men and women. Jesus deserved none of it. We did; He didn’t. He was truly and totally innocent. Yes, He was tempted just like every human being is tempted, but He did not fall to that temptation. Jesus did not live in a holy bubble, sealed off from even the possibility of sin. On the contrary, Jesus was surrounded by sinful people and subjected to the personal spiritual onslaught of Satanic attack. Yet Jesus prevailed! Jesus was sinless and deserved no suffering whatsoever. But suffer, He did. He suffered in ways that our minds can hardly imagine.

Yet it was not in vain! Jesus’ suffering produced tremendous results. What was the fruit of His punishment? “Our peace.” The shalom (wholeness, peace) we need with God, Jesus provides. The spiritual healing we require from the death earned by our sin, Jesus bought and paid for “by His stripes.” Everything we need to be restored into full relationship with God is made possible through Jesus Christ.

What was the cost? Jesus Himself. For us to be healed – for us to have shalom peace with God, it required that our “iniquity” be laid on Christ. We needed a perfect substitute, a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was it.

What did that sacrifice look like? …

7 He was oppressed and He was 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. 8 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. 9 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.

How accurately Isaiah prophesied the passion and suffering of Jesus! Though “oppressed and…afflicted” in a series of unjust trials, Jesus did not attempt to defend Himself and gain judicial victory. Certainly, He could have if He desired. No one would have been able to mount a self-defense in court like Jesus! But He chose otherwise. Jesus understood that the cross was necessary for the plan of God, so He made no attempt to avoid it. “He opened not His mouth.” The Jewish high priest was astounded, incredulously asking Jesus, “Do You answer nothing?” (Mt 26:62). Likewise, Pilate “marveled greatly,” when Jesus did not answer the charges against Him (Mt 27:14). Even Herod was frustrated at Jesus’ silence, cruelly mocking Jesus when Herod didn’t get the answers he wanted (Lk 23:9-11). Jesus had no reason to answer any of them. He was fully prepared for the suffering and death He would face. That battle was resolved the previous night in the Garden of Gethsemane as great drops of blood came down Jesus’ face in anguished sweat. Though He prayed that God might remove this cup of wrath from Him, Jesus faithfully prayed that God’s will be done. In the mockery and cruelty of the various national leaders, God’s will was being done. It was God’s will that Jesus go to the cross; this was how it had to be.

At that point, Jesus was taken from the custody of the Roman soldiers (a kind of “prison” and “judgment” in itself) and terribly affixed to the cross with three massive spikes. Hanging there for hours, “He was cut off from the land of the living,” as He hung until He died. It was the death of a criminal, and indeed, He hung between two other criminals – perhaps the very terrorist partners of Barabbas. Jesus died the death of a transgressor, but it was not His own transgressions for which He died, but “for the transgressions of My people,” the “My” speaking of the people of God. Jesus died on that cross as the Savior of Israel. He died on that cross for your sins and for mine. Every tortured breath took while hanging there was a moment of suffering that you and I deserved. That should have been us; it was Him.

Finally, He died and the rest of the prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus died literally beside two “wicked” men, and the initial expectation of His burial would have been to throw His body into a mass grave along with other criminals. Instead, Jesus was “with the rich at His death” as Joseph of Arimathea gave Jesus a brand-new tomb, with both Joseph and Nicodemus the Pharisee personally attending to Jesus’ dead body. The two Sanhedrin members packed Jesus’ body with almost one hundred pounds worth of spices (Jn 19:39) – a magnificent gift, provided by two men who had not the courage to honor Jesus in life, but felt compelled to do so at His death. Jesus died the death of a criminal, but He received a burial befitting a king!

Why did it all have to be this way? It was the will of God…

  • The Suffering Servant (10-12): Sufficient.

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.

Why did Jesus die on the cross? Yes, it was for our sins. But ultimately, it was the will of God. “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him.” The word translated “pleased” could also be translated “delighted.” We don’t want to get the wrong idea. God the Father is not a sadist, being overjoyed at seeing His only begotten Son in suffering and anguish. Rather, God is well-pleased when His will is done. Sometimes hard things, difficult things, please us when they bring about the right result. No mother enjoys the pains of labor but they are delighted to hold their newborn son or daughter. If the pain of childbirth is what is required for the baby to come, so be it. 

Likewise, with the plan of God. God’s plan did not begin and end with Jesus’ suffering and death. If that were all that was desired, that would be cruel indeed. But the bruising and grief of Jesus had a specific purpose: it was “an offering for sin.” Ever since the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, sin has been in this world and there was only one answer to it: a sufficient sacrifice. Without a sufficient shedding of blood – without a death of greater value than the sin that made it necessary, sin would remain in this world and this universe would remain perverted from God’s original intent for it. For these things to be made right, a sufficient sin offering needed to be made. Jesus made it and God was pleased. Moreover, God was even the One who ordained it, ultimately being the One who put Jesus “to grief.” God did what it took for sin to be squashed and for death to be conquered, and the result brought Him pleasure and delight.

Why? Because it was sufficient! What Jesus did was enough and the proof was in the resurrection, here too prophesied by Isaiah. Although the Suffering Servant truly died, He would still “see His seed” (i.e. the offspring of the church) and “He shall prolong His days.” How can a dead man’s days be prolonged? They can’t. Only a living or a resurrected Man’s days are prolonged. Such is Jesus!

11 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. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

The work of Jesus was truly enough! The labor He poured out on the cross was satisfactory. What Jesus accomplished was able to “justify many,” making us right in the sight of God. Whereas our sins separated us from God, Jesus reconciles us back to God, zeroing out the infinite debts we owed through our “iniquities.” Everything we require for eternal life yet could never achieve on our own, Jesus achieved in full and freely offers.

It is no wonder that God exalts Jesus in the way He does! Jesus came to earth in utmost humility but has been raised to great glory. He lived a life of poverty but has inherited a future of victory. The language used by Isaiah is normally used of military warriors who gain “spoil” from the cities they conquered. Jesus is the Victorious Warrior! The enemy He conquered was no mere human nation; Jesus conquered sin and death itself. Death has no more sting, nor does Hades have any victory because Jesus has all victory! He won it at the cross and proved it in the resurrection. It came from His obedience to suffer, and His suffering was sufficient. Today, we enjoy the spoils of His victory. Our sin is gone because Jesus bore it – our transgressions are removed because Jesus numbered us with Himself.

Praise be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord!

On Good Friday, we remember the cross. But we also remember that the cross is not the end; it leads to a specific event: the resurrection. Yes, Jesus suffered immensely – yes, Jesus died – yes, Jesus was buried. But that is not all…praise God, it is not all! Jesus went from that death and burial to resurrected life, and in His life, we find the hope and promise of new life. We are forgiven! Our transgressions are forever removed, all because of the work of Jesus.

Is this your hope? Is this your trust? This is the promise that is available to all the world, yet it will only be experienced by those who have received Jesus as Savior and Lord. Tonight, receive Him! Although you rejected Jesus in the past, He was your substitute for sin when He died on the cross, and His death is sufficient for you as seen in His resurrection. You know the truth; now act on it in faith.

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