Suffering

gawlerbapLiving in the Story

Suffering

Isaiah 53:3-4, 7-9
I wanted to start today by just briefly going through the story or series up until today’s sermon, just so that we can all remember how we got to this point.

  • We started with creation and the initial covenant that God made with His people.
  • We looked at sin and spoiled creation and the breaking of the covenant as a result of disobedience.
  • Then we had our baptism service and talked about a new covenant through Jesus.
  • We also looked at the covenant of land, blessing and children that God made with Abraham
  • Lynette talked about the beatitudes and particularly the first one and how we can live in the story and understand the words of Jesus
  • And last week Jeff talked about exile and forgiveness and the opposites of presence and absence.
  • And then we come to today, and the theme of suffering love. As Jeff said last week we are really setting the scene for Jesus to enter at this point, so let’s take a look at the passage.

This passage is quite a well-known part of the Old Testament, and you have more than likely heard Isaiah 53 being read as part of an Easter, and particularly Good Friday, service. I remember when I was in year 12, I had to memorise it for the Easter chapel service where the prefects did a dramatic reading of this and some other passages. And from what was read this morning you can see that there is a very obvious theme of suffering.
There are 4 points that come from Isaiah 53:3-4, 7-9 that we’ll should look at today.

Jesus suffering in love for us

I don’t want to anticipate too much what we will be looking at in the coming weeks, but I thought it important that since we know what is coming in the story we should address the obvious connection between this Isaiah passage and Jesus.

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows”. (v 3)

We have some lovely rose bushes in our backyard and I just love how beautiful they are. Roses are often associated with love, they’re used for Valentine’s Day, and who doesn’t love Roses Chocolates?
There is this one line from a Michael W. Smith song that always comes into my mind when I read this verse, ‘like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall’. I think this is a really powerful image, a rose being a symbol of love, trampled by the feet of people. God’s ultimate demonstration of His love, trampled on the ground, despised and rejected.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows”. (v 4)

But not only was He a trampled rose, He was a burdened rose. With the weight of the word on His shoulders in a literal sense. I think this is an important thing to remember, how blessed we are that God Himself, through Jesus took up our inadequacies and carried our burdens and suffered for us.

“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth”. (v 7)

This verse carries the theme of the Lamb of God. He was led as a sacrifice to atone for our sins and He did not protest. He took up the responsibility that had been given to Him by the Father and in silence He was slaughtered. When we look at Jesus death in the place for ours, we often, subconsciously, assume that God is an angry God looking for someone to punish. Here we come to the second point.

God is not an angry God

Sometimes I catch myself thinking of God as this big man with long, white hair and a long white beard sitting in a throne just watching everyone do their thing, waiting to strike them if they do something wrong.  Now, I know that it’s a bit blurry but I think you get the idea. God is not looking for someone to punish. While it seems a bit silly for me to say that I sometimes have this image in my head, I seriously think that we often, subconsciously, neglect some of the characteristics of God. It can be really easy for us to say things like, ‘God is punishing me’ when things go wrong but I know that this isn’t true. In fact the opposite is the case. God the creator of heaven and earth sent his only son to earth to live like one of us. He could have chosen not to come to earth or to come as a might warrior striking down his enemies. Or as a great king but instead He decided to come as a mortal and live like we live. His suffering makes him even more relatable to us.
I had to do an assignment this week, talking about why Christians need both the Old Testament and the New Testament, because a lot of the time people ignore the Old Testament because they don’t understand the actions or commands of God. We fall into a similar trap when we imagine God as being like that picture of Zeus I just showed. In fact we have an example of someone who did fall into this trap, Jonah, who sat up on that hill watching Nineveh just waiting for that lightning strike from God.

Jonah 4:5 says, “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”

Aren’t we a bit like that?  We need to acknowledge that suffering doesn’t come because God is angry at us, or because we did the wrong thing. God is love, merciful, gracious. Let’s not forget.  Now that we have acknowledged that suffering is not a punishment from God, I would like to look at Isaiah 53:3-4, 7-9 in the context of the original audience of Isaiah’s words.

Israel suffered

If we flick through the Old Testament we find numerous accounts of people who suffer, from Moses who suffered with his issue with public speaking, to Hannah who was unable to have children. It was a natural part of life. And the nation as a whole suffered too. There was always some large national power trying to kill this small kingdom. Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians between the time of Joseph and Moses. They were there for 400 years! That’s an awful lot time to suffer.  At the time when Isaiah was prophesying, around 742-688 BC, the kingdom of Israel was in a bit of trouble. The nation had split into 2, the northern kingdom and the southern one. The north had been destroyed by the Assyrians and would never be heard of again. And the Assyrians were a major threat to the southern kingdom as well. It was a time of great suffering.  For the Israelites, suffering was a natural part of life, as I have already mentioned there are countless accounts of it throughout the Old Testament. Israel was located in the middle of a desert where it was very hard to grow things, life was not easy for them. And so what does the verse that we read today, Isaiah 53:3-4 and 7-9 have to say to them? Well, Tom Wright used some big words to explain it but I think it is pretty good.

“It is simultaneously a quintessential summing up of the plight of Israel and the promise of deliverance, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a unique new statement of the hope that this plight and this promise would somehow dovetail together.”

And what does that mean for us today?

Suffering is unfortunately an inherent part of life for us

Unfortunately we will suffer, and all of us have suffered in one way or another. I’m sorry. That’s just how it is because we live in a fallen world.
In terms of our theme, Living in the Story and suffering we are between the initial perfect creation and the restoration of creation. We are living in the kingdom of God, in the world but not of the world.
But there is good news! We have a future with God, we can look forward to living with Him. Jesus suffered so that we can live in eternity with Him.
The second exodus is for us. God is there for us when we suffer. We are not alone even when it seems like there is absolutely no one in the whole world God is there and He has given us the gift of relationship with Him. I’d like to challenge you today, when you are going through a bit of a rough patch or are really struggling. Don’t turn away from God, turn towards Him. God is love, merciful and gracious. He understands suffering better than anyone. He wants and knows what’s best for us and sometimes that means allowing us to suffer. But He will never leave us alone in our suffering.

‘Not only so, but we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Romans 5:3-4

Study Guide

The audio for this sermon can be found here.