Salvation Through Sacrifice (Sermon)
“On 18 April 1983, the Lebanese Shiite organization Islamic Jihad (the precursor of Hezbollah – the Party of God) carried out suicide attacks on the US embassy in West Beirut, killing sixty-three staff members. On 23 October the same year the headquarters of the US and French forces in Beirut were attacked by suicide bombers, resulting in the death of 298 military men and women. According to [their leader] …[t]he ‘‘martyrs’’, as he termed them, at the US Marines compound ‘saw nothing before them but God…’”[i]
These suicide bombers believed that their salvation—entrance to the presence of God—required the sacrifice of their lives. For them, salvation and sacrifice were tied together theologically. The basis of most world religions is that salvation can be attained if you’re willing to sacrifice enough. So, you can be saved from this life to an eternity in paradise with 70 virgins if you’re willing to die.
Sometime it’s not sacrificing your life, but your possessions. Who can forget the rhyme developed by the Catholic Church to help them sell indulgences—“Every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” If you sacrifice enough of your money, then you can purchase salvation.
If you want salvation, you need to sacrifice your life or your money or your comfort. There’s a type of Buddhism which requires a person to take vows to neglect their body. It may mean not using one of your legs for a year or holding your arm in an awkward position for months, but it operates on the belief that personal sacrifice will lead to some sort of salvation—escape from this life into a Nirvana.
It’s not just fringe or fanatical forms of religion that believe you must sacrifice in order to achieve salvation. Here in our town, people are being taught that if they just do something—attend church, give money in the offering, keep a list of commandments, practice the golden rule, or get baptized—if they are willing to sacrifice enough, they can be saved.
The Gospel—the message of Jesus Christ—teaches something radically different. The Gospel talks about sacrifice and salvation, but it tells us that we could never sacrifice enough. Our sin is too great. We could give everything including our lives, but it would not be good enough. Salvation requires far more than we have and far more than we can give.
The Gospel tells us that we need Someone else to sacrifice for us. Salvation comes through the sacrifice of Someone who is worthy to purchase salvation. In our passage this morning, we discover that salvation is possible, and it does come through sacrifice, but that it took the sacrifice of Someone who was perfect and innocent to pay for your sin and purchase your salvation.
Last week, we studied a different passage about this One called God’s Servant. We know that it refers to Jesus Christ. Here again, this morning, we see the focus is on the Servant, or the Messiah—these words written centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ are about Him.
In this passage, two Old Testament themes come together. As we’ve journeyed through the Old Testament this year, we have seen the theme of a coming King. God promised to send a King, from the line of David, to set up an eternal kingdom. We saw it the last two weeks—how a King would be a light to the nations, liberating slaves from captivity.
But there is a second theme—the theme of a substitutionary sacrifice. Throughout Israel’s history we find an emphasis on the lamb, whose blood was shed on the altar to bring forgiveness of sin. The sinner would bring a lamb as a substitute, and the lamb would be killed not because of its own mistakes, but because of its owners’ sin. The lamb was a substitute.
In Isaiah 53—this powerful prophecy about Jesus Christ—we find these two themes joined into one. The King would be the Lamb. King Jesus would bring salvation to the world, and He would do so by sacrificing Himself in the place of sinners.
1. Jesus was sacrificed in your place
Let me ask you: Who is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? Who should be blamed for His death?
(Isaiah 53:4-6) Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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. 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.
Jesus died because of you. It was your sin, your iniquity, your law breaking, your transgression and your rebellion that required Him to die. No one is left out. No one is excluded. No one is exempt. Verse 6 says, “All we...every one…us all.” All of us have sinned. All of us have rebelled. We are all sinners by nature and by choice. We don’t just commit sin. We are—to our very core—sinners.
Our sin is described as transgression (or rebellion, the breaking of God’s law) and iniquity (crooked, bent or perverse actions). The heart of our sin is described as “turning to our own way.” We are rebels. We have chosen to ignore God’s claim on our lives and instead do what we desire.
In our rebellion, we are described as sheep. That may seem odd. Listen to Mark Dever’s helpful explanation: “If you’ve never lived in the country around sheep, sheep might seem like a fine thing. They’re clean animals, little squishy things you give your kids stuffed versions of. But if you’ve lived in the country around sheep, you realize that sheep are dumb and dirty. It’s not a compliment to be called a little sheep. It means you are helpless, that you’ll kill yourself without intending to. You’re not a confident creature but a dirty one, and you are kind of ornery. This is not a complimentary image.”[ii]
In our rebellion against God, we see ourselves as a lion or an eagle or a stallion—something majestic and self-sufficient. But our rebellion is the stupid wandering of a helpless sheep. We have obstinately refused the care and protection of our shepherd and struck off on our own, wandering into a wilderness of death.
Listen closely, if you’re sitting in this room, you’re a sinner. If you’re drawing breath, you’re a sinner. It doesn’t make a difference if you call yourself a Christian or an atheist, one thing is certain. You are a sinner. You may not like to hear that, but it doesn’t change the reality. God says it, and it’s confirmed by your life. You have wandered away from Him, breaking His law and walking your own crooked path.
You are why Jesus died. Your sin sent Him to the cross. The great German Reformer, Martin Luther, said, “We all walk around with His nails in our pockets.” In your pocket are the nails which were brutally pounded through His wrists. Every rebellious action you took was another blow pinning His wrists to the rough wooden cross. You’re responsible. He was wounded for your transgression and crushed for your iniquities. If you do not understand this, you will not understand this passage, and you will not understand why Jesus came. Jesus came to be sacrificed in your place for your sin.
Most of this chapter details what it would mean for Him to be sacrificed. Isaiah describes the sacrifice of Jesus in three acts.
Act 1: He was rejected (52:13-53:3)
Jesus is described as “high and lifted up” (52:13). These are the same adjectives applied to God in Isaiah’s great vision of God’s throne. God is high and lifted up. Even here at the beginning of this passage we see the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He is God. He is divine. Though He is God, He doesn’t appear as God. Though He is the conquering King, He didn’t burst onto the scene as people expected.
This was a lot of the reason the nation of Israel rejected Jesus Christ. It was why they wouldn’t believe what Isaiah said. They were looking for a King like the rulers of other nations. They were looking for a military and political leader who would help them throw off the yoke of Roman oppression and return Israel to its former glory. That’s not how Jesus came. Look at how He came:
(Isaiah 53:2) 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.
Have you ever gathered the family together, pulled up the lawn chairs, got a cold glass of lemonade, and sat down in your front yard to watch a tree grow? “Come on, kids, let’s watch the tree grow!” There’s nothing exciting about watching a tree grow. It grows slow, over time, barely noticeable.
I and my brothers got a picture from my father this week, with this caption: “Note the shade trees in the yard of our old house…O ye of little faith.” When we were in high school, my dad planted these little tiny saplings in our front yard and diligently worked at keeping them alive. He referred to them as our “shade trees”, and we found it hilarious. They were nothing more than little twigs sticking up from the ground. Well, the picture from this week, a couple decades after they were planted, was of two towering shade trees.
Jesus, high and exalted, entered this world like that shade tree. His arrival was nothing to brag about. It was a humble, even trivial, beginning. Born in a stable full of livestock, born to a carpenter from a little insignificant village, born under the stigma of being illegitimate. Because He didn’t arrive like they expected…because He didn’t do what they wanted, the world rejected Jesus Christ.
Act 2: He was executed (53:7-9)
In verse 7, the image changes. Instead of calling us sheep, Isaiah describes Jesus a sheep, as a lamb headed to slaughter. Listen to the words used to describe what would happen to Jesus:
V.7—Oppressed, afflicted, and led to the slaughter
V.8—Cut out of the land of the living and stricken
If you’re familiar with the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, then you realize how accurate these prophetic words were.
He was blindfolded, spit upon and struck repeatedly in the face (Matt. 26:67).
He was bound and led away as a criminal (Matt. 27:2).
He was whipped over and over with a multi-lashed whip, the ends of which held small pieces of bone and metal (Matt. 27:26).
Thorns were twisted together into a cruel crown then beaten into His head with a stick (Matt. 27:29-30).
Finally, they pounded spikes through His hands and feet, hanging him from a crude, wooden cross, where He would remain until He was unable to lift Himself up any longer to take a breath (Matt. 27:31).
Why was He treated like this? Why was He executed? What did He do to deserve this kind of cruel death? He did nothing. Isaiah wrote that he “had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth” (v.9). Even the official who ordered his crucifixion knew that Jesus was innocent. While issuing a death sentence, he washed his hands in public and proclaimed, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). No guilt—none at all. He was innocent, and yet He was executed.
Jesus was the victim of the greatest injustice the world has ever seen, but Jesus wasn’t a victim. A victim is helpless—Jesus was not. He willingly chose to suffer. Twice in verse 7 Isaiah says, “He opened not his mouth.” Jesus could have defended Himself. He could have stopped it, but He didn’t. He went willingly to the cross to be unjustly executed so that He could save you.
Jesus described it this way:
(John 15:13 ESV) Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus suffered willingly for you. His love for you motivated His death on the cross. While He hung there, suspended between earth and sky, He was mocked. They said, “He saved others; he cannot save Himself” (Matt. 27:42). They were wrong. He could have saved Himself, but He didn’t…so that He could save others, so that He could save you and me.
Act 3: He was crushed (53:10a)
Of all of the shocking and heart wrenching statements in this chapter, the most shocking and heart wrenching one is found in verse 10:
(Isaiah 53:10 ESV) Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.
Our sin put Jesus on the cross. Our sin caused His unjust execution. But the worst part of the crucifixion was what happened between Jesus and His Father. When Jesus hung on the cross, He took all of His people’s sin upon Himself. The Bible says that He became sin (2 Cor. 5:21). As a result, God, the perfectly just Judge, punished His Son. He poured out the full cup of His righteous wrath on His innocent Son. All of the punishment I deserved was rained down upon Jesus Christ.
When Jesus hung on the cross, bearing the weight of the world’s sin, the perfect union that had eternally existed between Father and Son was broken. The Father turned His back on the Son. He could not spare Him, for if He did, then no man could be saved. The anguish of Jesus’ cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is answered here. God forsook His Son so that He could accept you.
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure.
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory.
In these three acts, we see what Jesus did for us…what He did for you and me. Jesus was rejected, so that I could be received. Jesus was executed, so that I could be released. Jesus was crushed, so that I could be restored. This amazing chapter doesn’t end with His death.
2. His sacrifice is enough (vv. 10b-12)
His death wasn’t the end of the story. Things looked bleak on Good Friday, but Easter was coming. The death of Jesus Christ was accepted by God as the payment for our sin. Jesus was vindicated by the resurrection, and His righteousness was applied to His people.
Notice how this passage turns positive beginning partway through verse 10:
(Isaiah 53:10 ESV) 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.
God’s will (to accept vile sinners into His presence) would prosper…it would be accomplished by the hands of Jesus Christ. The question that drives people into religion and onto spiritual quests is, “How can a holy God accept wicked sinners?” The most common answer is that the sinner must do something. He must sacrifice something—himself, his money, his time, his works, his comfort. But the answer is found here. How can a holy God accept wicked sinners? Through the death of the Lamb. Jesus’ death was payment enough. Nothing more can be added.
(Isaiah 53:11 ESV) 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.
Jesus will be satisfied. I’ve never seen a corpse that was satisfied. I’ve never looked into the coffin and thought, “He looks satisfied.” No, he looks dead. How can Jesus be satisfied if He’s dead? This statement assumes the resurrection. Jesus must be alive after His death if He is to be satisfied. He is satisfied because the offering of His life is enough to justify sinners. His righteousness applied to them is enough for God to declare them innocent.
Don Sandberg illustrated this so well at our Tuesday night Bible study a few weeks ago (btw, if you are not going, you’re missing a tremendous blessing). He had 2 pieces of paper. One was blank except for the title “Jesus’ sin”. The other was covered from top to bottom with words, and the title was “Don’s sin.” He said, “This is what Jesus did—this is what justification is.” Then he took a marker and wrote on both pieces of paper. He held them up for us to see. The one with all the writing, now said, “Jesus’ Sin.” The one that was blank now said, “Don’s Sin.”
That is what Jesus did. Here’s how the New Testament says it:
(2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Here’s how the songwriter says it:
His robes for mine: O wonderful exchange!
Clothed in my sin, Christ suffered ‘neath God’s rage. Draped in His righteousness, I’m justified. In Christ I live, for in my place He died.
His robes for mine: God’s justice is appeased. Jesus is crushed, and thus the Father’s pleased. Christ drank God’s wrath on sin, then cried “‘Tis done!” Sin’s wage is paid; propitiation won.
His robes for mine: such anguish none can know.
Christ, God’s beloved, condemned as though His foe.
He, as though I, accursed and left alone;
I, as though He, embraced and welcomed home!
The psalm ends with the statement (v.12) that Jesus makes intercession for us. He is the Lamb whose blood was shed so we could be forgiven, and He is also the priest who ushers us into the very presence of God. He is the One who presented His death to the Father and says to Him, “This is for Josh. I died for him. My blood has washed his sin away.” What about you? Can He say your name?
The final words that passed Jesus’ swollen and bloody lips were, “It is finished.” What was finished? The great work of salvation. It was over. Done. Final. Complete. Jesus had accomplished it. Nothing was left to do. He had done it all.
The truths we have seen this morning are defining truths. They define us individually and corporately. They define who you are as a person, and who we are as a church.
Friend, salvation comes through sacrifice. But you cannot sacrifice enough. Your money, your effort, your righteousness, your background, your knowledge, even your life is not enough to earn you salvation. Only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in your place was enough. Repent of your sin, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
As a church, the message of the Gospel—Jesus crucified and risen—is the foundation of everything we do. For the last 4 years and the next 400, we must never neglect these truths. We must fight to keep them at the very center.
Near the conclusion of his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul quoted from this passage in Isaiah. He used it to define his mission. He quoted Isaiah 52:15 and said it was his desire to take the news of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard so that they may see and understand.
That’s exactly what we are called to do here in this community. We proclaim the greatest message this world has ever heard—the message of Jesus Christ whose sacrifice brings salvation. May God increase our desire to take the news of Jesus Christ to those who have not heard so that they may see, understand and believe.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Muhammad Munir, “Suicide Attacks and Islamic Law,” International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 90, Number 869, March 2008, pp. 71-72.
[ii] Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 56.