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The Will of the Lord

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Sermon series on the Fourth Servant Song from Isaiah 52:13-53:12

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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. 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. 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 (Is 53:10-12).
Deus vult! God wills it! This was the battle cry of the people when Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade. But was it God’s will? Many times in history, sinful men have claimed to be following the will of God, when in truth they were motivated by greed and power. This is the will of man. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” but what is the will of the Lord? Many people struggle to find God’s will, even though it has clearly been revealed in Scripture.
Why was Jesus led to the slaughter? Why was he stricken, smitten, and afflicted? Why was he cut off from the land of the living? It was the Jews who delivered Jesus over to the Gentiles. It was the Romans who crucified him. It was for us sinners that he died. Yes, all of these things are true. We sinful men are responsible for putting Christ to death, but we were not in control of the situation. We were only doing what God the Father permitted us to do. And now comes what may be the most offensive statement in all of Scripture: It was the will of the LORD to crush him. Are you still certain that you want to pray, “Thy will be done”? A literal translation of the Hebrew reads, “And Yahweh delights in the crushing of him.” These words are hard to hear. Is God a sadist? Is he guilty of divine child abuse? How could anyone serve a God who takes delight in crushing his own Son?
This attacks our most fundamental ideas of who God is. God is love, God is perfect mercy. This is true, but God is also perfect justice. Mercy lets the guilty go free, but justice demands that the guilty be punished. These two attributes of God appear to be in direct conflict with each other. Consider God’s command to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Ge 22:2). God’s command appears to contradict his own nature. How can a God of love and mercy require such a horrible thing? Many people have rejected the God of Scripture because of this passage. But God would have us see the monstrosity of our sin. He would have us consider the terrible cost of our rebellion against him. His word is clear. The soul who sins shall die (Eze 18:20) and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (He 9:20). Therefore, God says, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love.”
But what justice requires is so horrific that God, in mercy, stays Abraham’s hand. The price is too great for Abraham to pay, and the blood of Isaac could never satisfy the demand of God’s justice. Abraham had said, “God will provide for himself the lamb” (Ge 22:8). Even as Abraham unbound his son, Isaac, God had bound himself by his promise to be that lamb. For God so loved the world that he took his son, his only begotten son, whom he loved, and offered him up as a burnt offering on the mountain which he showed to us, Calvary. This was the terrible price of your redemption, and God was willing to pay it. More than willing, God delighted to pay it. It was the will of the LORD to crush his Son, and for the joy set before him, Jesus willingly endured it (He 12:2). Here at his cross, we see what human understanding cannot fathom: The revelation of God’s mercy and God’s justice. The Psalmist spoke of this, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps 85:10). Mercy and justice meet at the cross and nowhere else. This is the will of the Lord.
Then without any transition, Isaiah moves past Good Friday to Easter Sunday: He shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. There’s only one way for the Servant who was cut off out of the land of the living to have his days prolonged: Resurrection! Through the mouth of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit foretells not only the suffering and death of Christ, but also his resurrection. And Christ, who is raised from the dead, is the firstfruits of them that sleep. […] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Co 15:20, 22). It is the will of God that none should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pe 3:9). God desires to bring many sons to glory (He 2:10) and in Christ this desire has been accomplished. He shall see his offspring – you! The will of the LORD to save shall prosper by the hand of Christ.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied. The wrath of God could not be satisfied by the blood of goats and bulls, or even by the blood of Abraham’s son, Isaac. But it was satisfied forever by the blood of God’s righteous son. The demand of the Law upon you was silenced once and for all at the cross. There the righteous one was declared guilty. He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors. Jesus was counted as a lawbreaker in our place. If fact, he became the only lawbreaker. He became the only sinner and the full fury of the Law was unleashed upon him. The just wrath of God, which is revealed against all unrighteousness, was poured out upon Christ, the sinbearer, the spotless burnt offering, and he along with our sin was utterly consumed.
By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquity. Just as Christ was counted as a sinner in your place, so you are counted righteous in his place. He bore your iniquity and you bear his righteousness. This is a historical fact. It happened. God’s justice and his mercy met together at the cross, for you. You were a transgressor worthy of death, but instead you received the righteousness of Christ. This precious gift is yours through faith, for by the knowledge of him, by knowing him, you are made righteous. By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquity. Isaiah speaks of faith! The just shall live by this faith. You weren’t made righteous by anything you did, by any sacrifice you could offer to God. You had nothing to offer anyway except sin. But God has revealed to you the saving knowledge of Christ who has borne your sin. The just, the ones whom God has made righteous, shall live by faith, the faith and knowledge of Christ crucified for sinners of whom I am chief. Deus vult! God wills it! You will live in and by this faith, trusting completely in the spotless lamb that God provided, your Suffering Servant, until he gathers you to himself for eternity. This is the will of the Lord, and we respond with joy, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” Amen.
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