Day three of the Resolved Conference began much the same as the first two days. We sang some songs and got right to the sessions. The first session featured C.J. Mahaney speaking on Isaiah 53 and The Suffering Servant. He began by recounting the plot of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and ended the brief summary with a question Susan asked after encountering the resurrected Aslan: “What does it all mean?” A more important question doesn’t exist. He led us through three points relevant to the Suffering Servant and based on this text.
1) The appearance – The first three verses show suffering observed and misunderstood. We see here the limitations of human wisdom and sinful human expectation in relation to the Savior. By mere human observation, no one has believed this report apart from divine revelation. One cannot understand the nature and identity of this suffering servant without the Spirit’s prior work. Jesus was not esteemed because He was not impressive to us. The one sent to save us was not impressive to us for His birth, background and appearance are all unimpressive and from a human perspective there was nothing special about Him. Who would have guessed that this man could be the Savior? Apart from God’s gracious disclosure, we would have no idea; left to ourselves we cannot discern who this is.
2) The reality – Beginning in verse four and continuing through verse six is God’s disclosure as to the reality of who this is. We transition from human appearance and expectation to divine revelation. Here we discover his unique identity, for here is the divine reality. He suffered for us, He suffered because of our sins and he died as our substitute.
He suffered for us, because of our sin, and he suffered as our substitute. That is the divine reality disclosed in these verses. Ten times in three verses come the pronouns “our,” “we,” or “us.” He suffered for sinners like us. This means of repetition is to arrest our attention and to inform us to the reality of what is taking place at the crucifixion.
He suffered because of our sins. The language here repeats words that show why Jesus had to die: Griefs, sorrows, iniquities, etc. Isaiah is aware that we have a tendency to deny responsibility – this tendency resides in each of us. He knows that we can behold the suffering servant and deny our responsibility and the role we played. But he does not allow us to get away with this. He confronts us and makes us aware through numerous expressions of our sin that we cannot deny responsiblity. He says “You did do it. You are responsible.” This verse extends to all history and includes you and your sin. It includes me and my sin.
He died as our substitute. He took our place. The language of substitution is peppered through these verses: bore, carried, wounded, crushed, chastised, stripes and the language culminates in “laid on him.” He paid the penalty I owed. While I was still in my sin, He suffered the punishment that I so justly and richly deserve. Those who are limited to human observation could conclude in verse four that he was stricken and smitten by God for his own sin and, in particular, the sin of blasphemy. Many who watched this drama unfold drew this conclusion. Those who have been granted new eyes realize that he was stricken by God not for His sin, but for their sin. When we look at this deformed, disfigured, suffering servant hanging in agony and suspended between heaven and earth, we must realize that He is there as our substitute receiving the punishment that we deserve.
Here Mahaney made the point that we will never get over the cross. We will never be less than amazed by the cross for heaven itself is cross centered and quite blaring about it. How could it be otherwise? Christ suffered for us, because of us, and as a substitute for us. He exhausted the divine judgment that was meant for him and we are in eternal debt to Him. Our joy in this will last for all of eternity.
3) The significance – In verses ten and following we learn the significance of Jesus’ death. It reveals the Father’s love for guilty sinners like you and me. In verse ten we encounter the Father’s motivation for sending His Son to suffer as our substitute. The love of God the Father is revealed and displayed in an unexpected way. We read that it was the will of the Lord to crush His Son. Who really killed Jesus? C.J. often answers “I did. My sin was sufficient and was more than enough. I killed Jesus.” And yet ultimately this passage shows that ultimately it was God the Father who was responsible for the death of His Son. He killed His Son, thus revealing His love for sinners like you and me. This passage reveals the plan and purpose of God from eternity past. The Father’s love did not originate after the cross, but it was His love that sent the Son to the cross. It was His love that led to Him crushing His Son. Combine Isaiah 53 and John 3:16 and see see that “God so love the world that He crushed His Son.” He crushed Him for sinners like you and me.
Jesus death is what makes the cross the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news. Through the cross God persuades us that He loves us. What more could God do to demonstrate His love? What more would you suggest He do to show the depth of His love?
Through this all, C.J. led us to be freshly amazed about the gospel. He spoke on this passage and spoke of Jesus’ atoning death so that in the future, any reference we hear or make to God’s love, we will immediately think of God’s love as revealed on the cross through His crushing of His Son. And in doing this, He revealed His great love for us.
As with many of C.J.’s sermons, he was reduced to tears, and so was much of the audience, as he spoke passionately and spoke from the Bible about the extent of the Savior’s pain, and the depths of the Father’s love. And this is on thing I love about Mahaney–that so often his affection for Christ is obvious through the emotion invoked by his meditations on the cross of Christ.