The Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 10th, 2022
The Lessons: Psalm 22:1-11; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Luke 23:1-49
The Text: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
The Topic: A Prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Redemptive Death
John Marrant, a fourteen-year-old in Colonial Charleston, was converted through the preaching of George Whitefield, but his family disapproved of his new faith. Dispirited, John left home with only a small Bible and a little hymnbook in his pocket. He wandered through the wilderness several days, eating little and sleeping in trees for fear of beasts.
At length, he was seized by a Cherokee hunter. He asked me how I did live. I said I was supported by the Lord. He asked me how I slept. I answered that the Lord provided. He inquired what preserved me from being devoured by wild beasts. I replied, the Lord Jesus kept me from them. He stood astonished, and said, “You say the Lord Jesus Christ does this, and does that, and does everything for you; He must be a fine man; where is He?” I replied, “He is here present.” To this he made no answer.
Back in the hunter’s village, John was promptly condemned to death. The executioner showed me a basket of turpentine wood stuck full of small skewers. He told me I was to be stripped naked and laid down in the basket, and these sharp pegs were to be stuck into me, then set on fire, and when they burnt to my body, I was to be thrown into the flame, which was to finish my execution.
John immediately burst into prayer, and his pitiful words so moved the executioners they took him to the chief. Opening his little Bible to Isaiah 53, John read: “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, everyone to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Turning here and there in the Bible, John preached the gospel, converting among others the chief himself. For the next two years, the teenager remained among the Cherokees, preaching, and teaching and making disciples.
ISAIAH 52:13 – 53:12: A PROPHECY OF JESUS’ REDEMPTIVE DEATH
As we begin Holy Week, it is helpful for us to hear read the passage from the prophet Isaiah which comprises our First Lesson today. In the New Testament we find more quotations from this passage than from any other passage in the Old Testament. Though the Lord Jesus Christ is not mentioned by name in this passage, Christians interpret the suffering servant to be the Lord. To understand this passage properly, we must realize that at times God is speaking, and at other times the prophet, who is representing both Israel and all mankind.
In Isaiah 52:13, God declares that his servant will deal prudently, and “shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high” (KJV). By fulfilling God’s will through death on a cross, the Lord Jesus Christ was highly exalted, as we read in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:5-11, KJV)
Perfect obedience, even to the point of death on a cross, was the supreme example the Lord Jesus Christ has set for all the faithful. The result of his obedience was God’s exaltation of him to the highest place in the universe.
Verses 14 and 15 of Isaiah 52 contrast the astonishment of many people at the marred visage and disfigured form of God’s Servant on the cross, to his sprinkling of many nations, that is, purifying them by his shed blood. Even kings shall “shut their mouths at him,” that is, keep silence out of respect for him, when they hear the preaching of the Gospel, and understand things which they had not understood before, and reflect on things they had not heard before. An example of this is found in the Book of Acts, where a high-ranking Ethiopian official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians, was reading from this very passage in Isaiah 53 and did not understand the meaning of what he was reading until Philip the Deacon and Evangelist by the power of the Holy Spirit explained it to him and led him to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and Baptism.
Even though some kings and rulers will believe and receive the Gospel, there will be many who do not believe it. Hence, the prophet, on behalf of the Lord and those who will later preach this Gospel, asks the question, “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1, KJV) The “arm of the Lord” represents the power of the Lord, and the power of the Lord is revealed through the Gospel, as St. Paul later wrote:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
(Romans 1:16, KJV)
Isaiah 53:2 describes God’s Servant as growing up like a tender plant and as a root out of dry ground, the dry ground representing the spiritual dryness of Israel at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth. The verse adds that there was no form, comeliness, or beauty which would cause people to be attracted to him. He had none of the grandeur of earthly monarchs. Instead, he was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, afflicted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and people hid their faces from him, despising him for suffering on the cross, since the Jews regarded as accursed anyone who was crucified, and the Romans crucified criminals and insurrectionists.
From verse four through verse ten, the prophet speaks on behalf of the nation of Israel and all mankind and explains the purpose of the Servant’s suffering. Though we viewed him as “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Is.53:4), he is the One who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He represented mankind and substituted for mankind in suffering on the cross, bearing our sins and sorrows, suffering the just punishment due to each of us for our sins. The verb “he was wounded” translates a Hebrew verb that means “he was pierced,” implying death by piercing. The verb “he was bruised” translates a Hebrew verb probably meaning here “he was crushed to death.” “Chastisement” here refers to correction, and “the chastisement of our peace” means the corrective punishment that leads to mankind’s peace with God. The “stripes” are welts or wounds from beating, and it is through Christ’s endurance of all these wounds and death on a cross, that Israel and people of all the nations of the world are healed, that is, restored to spiritual wholeness in a right relationship with God and physically healed.
In verse six, the sin of all mankind is stated, as well as the fact that the Lord laid on his Servant the sin of us all. The contrast in this verse and verse seven is between all people who are like sheep that have gone astray, and the lamb brought to the slaughter, and a sheep that is dumb before the shearers.
The remaining verses prophesy that there was no justice for God’s servant, who was killed without there being judgment, or a proper trial. Yet he was killed for the transgression of God’s people (v.8). Though he died with the wicked (v.9), that is, he was crucified between two criminals, he was buried with the rich, that is, in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, since he had done no evil. The reference to prolonging his days, is to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The result, or fruit, of his death will be that he will justify many, that is, restore them to a right relationship with God through their faith. In the final verse of this passage, God promises to give him a portion with the great, and he will divide the battle spoils with the strong because he poured out his soul to the point of death, was reckoned among transgressors, bore the sin of many, and interceded for sinners.
After being reminded of the cost of your salvation, are you willing to lay down your life for others as Christ laid down his life for you?
 Robert J. Morgan: From This Verse (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,1998), May 10th.