TEXT: Isaiah 53 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be back with all of you at Gateway Church this weekend — especially after taking some time off. And I’ve missed being able to say to you — whether you’re here at County Road 9 or at our North Main campus — I’ve missed being able to say to you — God loves you and I love you too.
And — I can’t let an opportunity pass me by — he’s been worried about it — he’s been wondering if I’m going to say anything — he even considered skipping church this morning — so Jim Tomlinson. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna say anything about today being your 40th birthday. Not a word. Nothing about it all Jim. No “welcome to the club, Jim.” None of that. I mean you are one of our elders. People should know who you are and that you love birthday hugs. But none of that. I’m not saying a word.
If you have your Bible — and let me say — it’ll be really beneficial if you’d bring a physical Bible with you to church for the next few weeks. I love that we have digital Bibles and are able to put verses on the screens for you — I love that technology is helping us take God’s Word into places where getting a physical Bible may not be possible — but for us — especially for the next few weeks as my goal is to show us how the whole Bible tells one story — how the whole Bible fits together — as I show you how to find Jesus in the Old Testament — well I think that having a physical Bible will only help to drive home the point of this series.
And here’s why. With our digital Bibles — it’s hard to see how what we’re reading is connected to other parts of the Bible because there really isn’t any parts — physically speaking. It’s just a tap and the screen changes.
But with a physical Bible, you see what’s on the rest of the page and what’s on the next page and you can easily see what’s on the page after that and you start to get an idea of what the big picture is of what you’re reading. You can physically see that you’re in the first few pages of a long story — or in the middle of the story — or coming to the end of it — and a physical Bible helps you to see — in a way that a digital Bible can’t — it helps you to see that one story is being told.
So as we try to find Jesus in all of the Bible, a physical Bible will help you see how it all fits together.
And let me tell you what the sermons in this series will be like. I’ll introduce you to a book of the Bible that may be unfamiliar to you. I’ll give you an overview of the book — the highlight reel so to speak. Then we’ll focus in on one section of the book and dig deeper in it. And then each week — and this is what I hope will be most beneficial for us — each week I’ll show you how to find Jesus. I’ll show you how to find the one story that the Bible is telling — the story of Jesus. The whole Bible is pointing us to Him — so I’m going to show you how to find Him.
So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Isaiah 53 — Isaiah chapter 53. And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
This week we’re looking at the book of Isaiah and in the coming weeks we’ll look at Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel — one week for each book. And my hope is that you’ll grow to know and love these books of the Bible and spend time in them finding Jesus and the joy that’s found only in Him.
OVERVIEW OF ISAIAH
So let’s begin by taking a few minutes to get our bearings — and — I hope — that you’ll come to realize that you may be more familiar with Isaiah than you realize.
First, what do we know about Isaiah? Isaiah was a prophet — meaning he spoke on behalf of God — and he lived during the 8th century BC. And his ministry overlapped the reign of at least four kings of Judah. Most of Isaiah’s ministry takes place in the city of Jerusalem and in the area around the city. He was married and had at least two children.
To give you an idea of what’s going on — at this point in history — the Jewish people are divided into two nations. You may be familiar with the fact that there were twelve tribes of Israel — each tribe coming from a son of Jacob — who was also named Israel. Later, these tribes ask for a king. The first king is Saul — who didn’t turn out to be that great of a king. Next came David — who you’ve probably heard of. Then David’s son — Solomon — became king.
Now after Solomon, there’s conflict over who gets to be king and so the nation ends up dividing. Ten tribes join together and keep the name Israel — they’re in the north — and two tribes join together and are named Judah — they’re in the south.
For a while, neither Israel or Judah experience external conflict — conflict coming from other nations — most of their mess happens internally. Evil kings. Moral corruption. Abandonment of God. Things are pretty much a big mess which you can read about in the books 1st and 2nd Kings.
Now here’s the thing — the people of both Israel and Judah assume that the lack of external conflict — the fact that they’re not at war with other nations — is due to God approving they way they live. Now they’ve abandoned God — yet they think God still approves of their behavior. That is — until the Assyrians show up. The Assyrians come from the north — invade and conquer Israel — commit — what we’d call today — genocide — and displace many of the remaining Israelites — sending them to go live in foreign lands. Some of the Israelites were left behind and eventually intermarried with the foreigners. And these people became known as Samaritans in the New Testament. So that’s what happened in the north.
In the south — in Judah — which is where Isaiah lived — things were a little better, but not much. And Isaiah spends a lot of time trying to get the people of Judah — and particularly the king of Judah — to see that material prosperity doesn’t mean God’s happy with you or approves the way you’re living. You see, the ways we tend to try and evaluate whether or not we’re being blessed by God — health, wealth, comfort, and prosperity — those things we tend to read as “God’s really pleased with me” are actually terrible indicators as to the spiritual health of a nation — or an individual.
So here’s what happens. King Uzziah starting making some reforms in Judah. He started making some positive changes, but one thing he didn’t do was get rid of the places that the people would go and worship pagan gods at. “Well what’s wrong with that,” you might ask. Well the Jews would go and worship some pagan god and then they’d head over to the Temple and worship Yahweh.
There was a choose your own religion kind of thing going on. People were taking a little bit of this religion, mixing it with a little bit of that religion, and — being good Jews — they’d put a little “following Yahweh” in the mix — and the whole time they thought the God who said, “Commandment number one: You shall have no other gods” was pleased with them.
So king Uzziah has failed to lead the people in worshipping the only true God. And the consequence? God strikes him with leprosy.
And that’s the setting for one of the most well-known passages in the book of Isaiah — the commissioning — or calling of Isaiah to be a prophet for the LORD.
READ ISAIAH 6:1-8
In Isaiah chapter six we read, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me."
Now this passage is a great “going” passage. It’s used a lot when a missionary is being sent because it’s so confidence stirring right? There’s a vision of Heaven. Angels are crying out “holy, holy, holy!” Isaiah’s lips have been made clean — so he’s now ready to speak on behalf of God. So when God asks, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Not only Isaiah, but don’t you feel that urge to just stand up and say, “Me. I’ll go! If this is who You are — holy, holy, holy — then I’ll go wherever you want me to go. And I love the passion and excitement that this stirs in us. But there’s a heavy reality. For there are more verses that we usually don’t read. Verse nine.
READ ISAIAH 6:9-10
9 And he (God) said, "Go, and say to this people (the people of Judah who think they and God are best buds while they’re worshipping other pagan gods...say to those folks): "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." (Isaiah 6:1-10 ESV)
- To a people who are proud.
- To a people who see material prosperity as a reason to assume that God’s on their side.
- To a people who’ve got a leader in power who they think is God’s chosen one.
- To a people who’ve traded in the pure, unadulterated worship of God for pagan religions — and worse — decided to mix a little God in for good measure.
- To those people God says, “Isaiah go tell them, ‘Keep listening to My words through this prophet, but don’t understand. Keep seeing, but don’t perceive. Isaiah — through your ministry — their hearts will be made dull, their ears heavy, and their eyes blind.’ Why? ‘Because they’re not willing to worship only Me,’” God says, “you keep preaching — Isaiah — because judgment is coming on them — for they’ve abandoned Me.”
And in the next verse, Isaiah asks God how long will this wonderfully encouraging ministry last? And God answers, “When Jerusalem is laid waste and not one of these people remain in it.” Basically, God says, “Until this city burns.”
Pretty dark, huh? Pretty bleak. But even in this hopeless of a situation, Isaiah mentions the last thing you’d expect — hope. A Rescuer will come — a Messiah — a Savior — a Servant. Isaiah first describes the hope in chapter nine.
READ ISAIAH 9:2-3, 6-7
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil...6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6-7 ESV)
Even if you don’t attend church very regularly — maybe you’re just getting back into the Christian faith or are checking us out to see what it’s all about — regardless — I’m sure you’ve heard parts of this passage before. Around what holiday of the year do you hear these verses read and — even still today — hear them on the TV? Christmas, right?
But notice the context. Even though people are walking in a great darkness — they’re in a land of deep darkness — a hopelessness because they too — just like Israel in the north — will be laid waste — the prophecy we read just a moment ago will come true — Jerusalem will be invaded, the city will be destroyed, the people will be forced to leave, God’s just judgment will come — but even in the darkness a light will be seen. And through this light — through this child to be born who brings the light — and is the light — through this child joy will be found. Because of Him the oppressors rod will be broken. He will bring peace. He will bring justice. He will be a King and a Counselor — He will be God. Now that gives some hope, right? A rescuer is coming.
And then near the end of Isaiah we see a glimpse of what it will be like when the Servant comes bringing peace and justice. You may be less familiar with this passage from chapter sixty-five. This is God speaking.
READ ISAIAH 65:19-24
“I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:19-24 (ESV)
What a hopeful picture. God will be glad in Jerusalem and in the people — the city He’s justly destroyed and a people He’s rightly judged — will now experience God’s pleasure with them. There will be no more weeping or cries of distress in the city. No infants dying a few days old. No men dying young because of conflict from other nations. The people are building houses. They’re planting vineyards. They’re eating the fruit. There’s great blessing — a blessing that’s promised to lasts for generations.
Out of the darkness a great light has appeared. The Servant of the Lord has come and brought peace for the people. The child born is the One who’s done all of this.
But how will this happen? How does this child become King? How does He defeat the oppressors and bring justice? How does He bring peace and light to this world of conflict — this world of darkness?
We find out how in the chapter you’ve turned to — Isaiah chapter 53.
“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 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 pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds 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. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV)
Have you ever had a day where you went from a mountain top experience to news that’s a punch to your soul? That happened to Elizabeth Joice. On the day she said “yes” to the proposal of her fiancé — a mountain top experience for sure — she received a call from the doctor telling her that she had cancer — a punch to her soul. They were determined to fight the cancer together and during the chemo process, Elizabeth was told that she’d most likely never be able to conceive a child — another punch to this woman’s soul.
Now fast forward a few years. The cancer is in remission, her health is better, and Elizabeth — and her husband — are pregnant! Another mountain top experience.
In 2014, the New York Post published an article about Elizabeth titled “A Mom’s Terrible Choice: Her Life or Her Child’s.” Why the disturbing title? Immediately after becoming pregnant — with the child she was told she’d never be able to have — Elizabeth’s cancer returned. The doctors weren’t able to remove the tumor without harming the baby — they couldn’t do scans or other forms of treatment without harming the child either — so Elizabeth and her husband decided to forgo treatment to save the child’s life.
Five days after giving birth to her healthy baby girl, Elizabeth passed away from her cancer — she substituted her life in order to save her child’s life.
Substitution. You don’t have to be a religious person to see the beauty in what Elizabeth did in order to save her daughter. She gave her life so her daughter could live. We love the idea of substitutionary sacrifice until we’re the one someone needs to die for. We want to be the hero — not the one who needs saving. But if you look in your Bible in verse 5 of Isaiah 53 we see this about the Servant.
“he was pierced for (whose transgressions? For...) our transgressions; he was crushed for (whose iniquities? For...) our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought (who peace? That brought...) us peace, and with his wounds (who’s healed?) we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned (and in case you think you’re the exception — if you think you aren’t part of the group that’s caused this Servant to suffer — Isaiah clarifies by saying that...) — every one (has turned) — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:5-7 ESV)
Do you see the substitution taking place? The Servant substitutes Himself for who? For those who’ve gone astray. For those who’ve turned to their own ways — trusting in what they think is right — for those who think that God approves of them even though they’re ignoring what He’s said. That though this Servant did not go astray and did not turn to His own way — He perfectly obeyed the way of God — only doing what God approves — what happened to Him as a result of His obedience? He was pierced and crushed and chastised and slaughtered so that we might experience what? Peace. Peace with God. Peace with each other. Peace even within ourselves.
You see, the way out of darkness — the way out of hopelessness — the way out of despair — not only for Judah — but for all people — the way to peace is through the One who substituted Himself for you — through the One who died so you might live.
HOW WE FIND JESUS IN ISAIAH
Now we’ve only had time to look at a few passages in a book that consists of 66 chapters — 1,291 verses — 25,608 words — it’s a big book — one of the bigger ones in the Bible. So — when you read it — and I hope that you’ll read it — how do you read it so that you find Jesus in it — because He is the point of the whole Bible.
Here’s one way we find Jesus — not just in Isaiah — but Isaiah’s helpful in showing us this way to find Jesus when you’re reading the Old Testament.
Find Jesus in the Old Testament by New Testament quotations. Find Jesus in the Old Testament by looking in the New Testament for quotes of the Old Testament book you’re reading.
The book of Isaiah is quoted — or referred to — over 60 times in the New Testament. Isaiah 53 is referenced in over 30 places in the New Testament. This is the chapter that the New Testament authors love. Why?
Because it shows not only how the people of Judah would one day be brought out of a land of darkness and into Jerusalem — but it shows how all people who put their faith, hope, and trust in what Jesus Christ — the Servant of the Lord — accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection — how through faith — people are brought out of a land of spiritual darkness — a land of spiritual death — a land of spiritual despair — and are brought into the glorious light and peace of Jesus Christ.
And one way to find Jesus — whenever you’re reading the Old Testament — is to see if and how the New Testament writers quote the verse or chapter or book you’re reading. In light of all that Jesus accomplished, how do they — the New Testament authors — understand what you’re reading? A good study Bible will help you with this as it’ll have cross references. A cross reference is a list of verses that the verse you’re reading is connected to.
Just one example. In the book of Acts, a believer in Jesus — Philip — finds himself in the presence of an angel with a message for him. This is Acts chapter 8 — verse 26.
“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and join this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this (and I’ll bet you recognize it...): "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth." 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?"
And this next part is key, because this is where we get an early Christian — an early leader in the church — we get his understanding of Isaiah 53 — and really his understanding of the entire Old Testament.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about (who) Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:26-39)
This man came to faith in Jesus through an Old Testament passage because all of the Bible is about Jesus. That’s who Philip understood Isaiah 53 to ultimately be about — Jesus. How a people who are in darkness — a people who are spiritually hard of hearing — a people who think they can take a little bit of Christianity and mix it with a little bit of New Age spirituality and sprinkle on top a little American materialism and still have God on your side — how a people who are under the righteous judgment of God — how they can be brought out of death and darkness and into the marvelous light of God — how they can be brought into a right standing with God — how they can experience peace — not in Jerusalem — but in the New Jerusalem — which will one day come down from Heaven to earth — for all eternity.
And this is one way to read the Old Testament and know that you’ll find Jesus as the point of what you’re reading because the New Testament authors love to refer to the Old Testament. How do I know? Well people smarter than me have done the math. And in the New Testament there are 302 direct Old Testament quotes, 493 allusions — allusions aren’t direct quotes, but you definitely know they’re referring to a verse in the Old Testament — and 138 possible allusions. That adds up to 933 references of the Old Testament in the New. I hope that jumps out to you — that as you read the Old Testament you have opportunity after opportunity after opportunity to see how it’s pointing you to Jesus — find where what you’re reading is cross referenced in the New Testament.
But let’s get back to our hearts — for this is where Jesus wants to change us first.
Do you long for peace? Haven’t we seen enough conflict in our lifetime to know that peace isn’t something we’ll figure out on our own? Not between nations. Not in our relationships. Not peace within ourselves. Not even peace with God.
You may be able to distract yourself from thinking about the darkness and conflict that’s going on around you, but — if you’re honest — you know that the distraction only lasts so long and then you’re caught back up in some kind of conflict again — even if it’s internal.
So we can keep trying to work our way towards peace — thinking that we’re somehow better or smarter than previous generations who couldn’t figure it out — or we can come to accept that there’s no amount of work we can do to make peace — not on our own anyway. And the way to peace — according to the whole Bible — is through rescue. Through substitution. Through being saved from the conflict and darkness that’s just as much in you as it is outside of you.
And this salvation — as we’ve seen in Isaiah — is substitutionary in nature. Where one Person accomplishes the work that leads to peace for those who can’t do the work for themselves. Where — like a pregnant woman with cancer — One gives their life so others might live.
And no matter who you are — or what you’re believing right now about salvation and substitution — I challenge you to spend time this week in Isaiah 53. And while you read — circle all of the references to the Servant and all of the references to the people He dies for. You may even want to make it personal. “He was pierced for my transgressions; he was crushed for my iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought me peace. And with his wounds I am healed.” And while you’re reading ask God to give you a clearer understanding of what it means for you to be so loved by Someone that He gave His life so that you might live. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for speaking to us today through Your Word. Father all of our hearts long for peace — we just go about trying to make peace happen in all the wrong ways — which leaves us hopeless, cynical, in despair — it leaves us in darkness and in endless conflict. So I pray that many here today would receive the peace You’re offering through the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus. Through His substitution — His life for theirs — they would know the peace that He’s made possible. Peace with others. Peace within. And peace with You.
In Jesus — Your Servant’s — name we pray. Amen.