By Gene Hutchcraft
This text reports to Israel a great work of God in a Man Who would stand on the perimeter of religious Israel, among them yet not approved, accepted, or recognized as one would expect, for he was of their lineage. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3) However, the expanse of His spiritual stature in word and deed intimidated a few, baffled many, while irritating and totally frustrating others. They would not be able to trace the source of His stature as they did others, especially their approved leaders. So, this man would be a mystery in Israel to the point that they would sense a threat from and in Him and so would recoil from His leadership growing in resentment toward Him and this even in some of the common people. Their leaders would take full advantage of this to attack, arrest, and overcome Him.
So, the nation, but for a few, drew back as this Man would demand they hear and believe His words and works. Some moved toward Him, tentatively drawing nearer, yet, their willingness would evaporate in the heat of His increasingly intimidating message. They would withdraw their approval and returned to their familiar, comfortable, and predictable religious heritage. This man would be none of those in which Israel was accustomed as the people of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the prophets. He would not speak as did their scribes and His works would strike the heart and mind as a blinding light. His words would sound strange as He told parables that would delight and mystify at once. They would leave the hearer hanging as if the Teacher expected a response in some extended manner. Their scribes did nothing of the sort but illustrated their points with small bits of life to make their words memorable for a short time. This man’s words would chaf the mind if you listened closely or mystified the casual listener or one who searched for novelty which His teaching would be, compared to standard weekly Synagogue fare. Yet, such was always the nature of God’s word and work… strange, otherworldly, harsh, even to the point of crudeness in its expectations of the heart and mind. Moses’ words were such, just ask Pharaoh, as were the other prophets… Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and also Malachi ‘s words to name a few in Israel.
God’s people experienced a unique ancestry of revelation, ritual, priesthood, holy days, city and Temple. They, in all the earth, received and experienced God’s revelation for their good. However, they had to admit that the result was not always beneficial in experience; much of it was, in fact, bitter because of their failures toward God’s expectations or intent as His people. Yet, they seemed to always recover and move forward after times of trouble. They picked up, stood up, and built up their falseness and remembered again the rock from which they were hewn. So, they thought! So now, consider again these of Isaiah’s words, the great priest and prophet ringing through the ages, recounting the symptoms of sin sick Israel.
Israel’s history was adorned with the corporate, the community of their covenant with the Most High. He dealt with them as a people as well as individuals. Their unbelief at the Jordan consigned their children to the desert forty years. Korah’s rebellion brought death to 14, 700. Their sin at Peor resulted in 24,000 dead. Achan’s sin killed 36 innocent men. Then, upon Achan’s confession, “…Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor. And Joshua said, ‘Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day.’ And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.” (Joshua 7:24-25)
Moses knew Israel needed a godly and spiritual leader lest the suffer scattering, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:16-17) ● “And Micaiah said, ‘As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:14,17) ● “And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.”(Ezekiel 34:5-6) ● “Ask ye of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field. For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.” (Zechariah 10:1-2) ●
Sheep are followers, herd animals, it is in their nature to abide together, in thick and thin, so to speak. If a predator enters the flock they scatter seeking shelter together. Terror comes when a lamb finds itself separated and without companionship. Sheep are not autonomous or singular animals. They want to be together. Yet, not to wander aimlessly, they desire a watching and secure leader for pasture and water that they then find nourishment and reproduce in and of themselves. The Psalamist concluded the 119th with these words …“Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” (Psalms 119:175-176) ● bro. Matthew records… “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36) He directed His disciples to ‘go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ and declared, at one point, that He was sent to them only! He was and is the great shepherd of the sheep, seeking and finding the lost.
Jesus once then declared these words that surely left His Jerusalem audience wide eyed and speechless for a few moments. Many times their prophets used language of the flock of God, sheep of His pasture, or My flock. Jesus spoke that way also but added some startling words. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14-16) This eventually provoked some in the audience to stone Jesus. Such language was likely the reason some eventually rejected Jesus. None in Israel could conceive us such a things. You must be born into Israel or be converted through the process of which they were familiar. No Rabbi could not just bring people into their number!
Yet, this was God’s intent by His power in the gospel to justify, cleanse, and regenerate from the dead even those who were not a nation, without hope and without God in the world. Some believers eventually saw. “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” (Acts 11:18) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Even as Peter declared from the beginning of the gospel exposition in Jerusalem. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:39) Such was the need of sinners to be reconciled to God by divine initiative. For sin did more damage than it appeared, took us farther down than it appeared, was more corrupt than any man imagined, even in Israel.
These words of the prophet declares the actions of his readers/hearers toward their God. Despite their promises unfaithfulness was a prime characteristic of the nation. Its prominence was such that Jeremiah would ask after some three centuries of generally drawing back from the Lord, “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. ‘Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate,’ saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13) “Therefore thus saith the LORD; ‘Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?’” (Jeremiah 18:13-14) The answer is no for earthly things and the earthly minded. Yet, Israel did this thing to their God, Provider, Liberator, Savior, Father, and King.
The Most High granted them a glimpse of the everlasting way in embryo, also His precepts, ordinances, and statues whereby a man has some ground of wisdom, truth, and hope to please the Lord. God’s law was the only revelation granted any men from on high. It was a ‘comparative’ light in the darkness, the only revelation at the time. Yet, after promising fidelity Israel went a whoring after idols even paying their paramours or suitors for favors, rather than receiving payment from them. They took the good things provided of God and gifted them to others. “And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.” (Jeremiah 18:12)
Such was ‘their own way’ the way of the flesh, despite God’s light and truth of things above, things unseen. They tended to the earth and things of the corrupt sensual nature, which God’s law condemned as earthly, natural, and demonic. Whereas the prophets called to them standing in the light of the company of Moses “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.” (Isaiah 52:11) These pleaded with Israel, ‘return to the Lord’ but were met with ridicule, scoffing, persecution, and the sword. Their own way was away from the way of the Lord, the way of staggering suffering at the hands of their enemies, without God’s protection or kindness to them. Jerusalem rejected the shield of God’s goodness from the corruption of the world. And so, they had to drink that corruption to the dregs.”And she hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations, and my statutes more than the countries that are round about her: for they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them.” (Ezekiel 5:6)
THE LORD HATH LAID ON HIM
These words involve an action on God’s part in which man has no involvement, for the object of God’s action is this Man whom Israel despised, rejected, they esteemed Him stricken of God and afflicted by Him. This Man was, by Israel’s studied estimation, cursed of God, which the exposition of the gospel reveals as a true assessment, though they did not understand the real basis of it which was indiscernible or inestimable by human intellect. Its height, length, depth, and breath was so vast men could not grasp it by human means. Heaven had to reveal its ‘unsearchable’ nature by the exposition of the gospel. The appearance of these things shrouded its reality to Israel until the time set by the Father. Even those of faith had to terry in the city until God empowered them from on high. Then the day would begin to dawn in their hearts as to the reality of their witness of these things.
Even these words of our primary text, which state the spiritual reality, are shrouded; as the question to Philip of the Treasurer from Ethiopia reveals in Luke’s record. The reality of it was closed so as to need someone to grant an understanding of its content. God’s works are very high, the work in this godly Man the highest revealed to the earth and to Israel. God was doing a work in that day of which Paul would sternly warn in the words of the prophet Habbakuk. “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” (Acts 13:41) Some of these ‘despises’ stood at the foot of the cross demanding that if He be Christ to come down and they would believe. They would not believe what the scriptures said, that which Jesus would later reveal. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:26-27)
Only heaven knew the demands of justice and righteousness needed to resolve the debt of sin incurred by human sin. Men were deluded and needed a revelation and an exposition of it to even enter the threshold of the vast realm surrounding God’s light and truth of redemption from sin and death. It took centuries of time for God to work this task in the course of human events and bring even His people, cultured in His holiness, to grasp it. Then only a remnant did so by God’s election, not by human intellectual or spiritual prowess. Daniel records words of an angelic declaration that compress the reality of God’s work into just a few words. Only heaven knew the need for these things. “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24) These words have a broader perspective than our current focus text.
More happened in Jesus, on the cross, than men could grasp except by revelation for they were things unseen, things pertaining to God’s love of righteousness, justice, holiness, wisdom, truth, mercy, kindness, goodness, and mercy in which He does not compromise one with the other. These are primary aspects of His nature which sin violated and for which someone had to answer or pay the demands. Christ Jesus did that in His body on the tree. And ultimately God was in Him to affirm justice, righteousness, and truth while providing an avenue for His mercy, kindness, and peace toward men. God Almighty did this without compromising Himself, snuffing out one smoking flax, or breaking a bent reed. Jesus is the instrument of this eternal purpose in the earth of which the prophet speaks.
The Lord God had to do this work, “…he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.” (Isaiah 59:16) So, the Godhead executed this grand wisdom from heaven but on earth, where sin dominated, to fulfill the demands of God Most High for men to acceptably abide in His presence. Men were so deluded, weak, and utterly helpless that God’s intervention was their only hope even hope itself. The words of our text declare God’s iniative that none in Israel, save Zechariah and Simeon, glimpsed even in Jesus’ nativity. Recall Simeon’s insightful and pregnant words at Jesus’ circumcision and presentation. “And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’” (Luke 2:34-35)
THE INIQUITY OF US ALL
Such a burden was a divine undertaking. God’s unblemished and spotless Lamb was willing to taste of sin and death, to be stained with its contaminating affect, even for a moment of human time was an experience of gravity that sinful men cannot grasp in fulness. My sin and its effect on my heart and mind toward God Most High Who is thrice holy in His being from all eternity was counted to Christ Jesus. Then multiply that with the numberless multitudes of every race, nation, and tongue the flood to the final day of God’s judgment. That was the burden that hung on the Lord’s Christ which He bore upon the cross, iniquity multiplied past human calculation, known only to the Lord for which He sweat drops of blood as to the inner agony of its stain upon Him. In that ransom Christ, the Prince of life, entered the realm of the dead for a time, even after the price was satisfied, and His Father justified, Jesus entered that realm from which He returned then for our justification!
Even as the Spirit reveals, “…he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) And again… “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13) Then also… “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
The Savior Himself said… “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) And the Apostles expound… Peter on Pentecost, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:23) And later in a letter to believers, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18) Then Paul also to the believers in Rome…“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:25) “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) And to bro. Timothy, “Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:6)
Brethren, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” (Luke 15:4-6). “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)