Making the right evaluation

Sermon: Sunday, 28th May, 2023
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Isaiah 53:1-6

Sometimes we look at something and assess its value and we get it totally wrong. For example, you buy a second hand car and it looks really good on the outside, but actually, the head gasket is badly damaged and the whole engine might need replacing. You thought you made a good evaluation when the nice man sold it to you, but because you didn’t look deeper, under the bonnet, you got it wrong.

Perhaps your kids grow up and you decide to take all their books to the charity shop- they’re worthless anyway. Unbeknown to you, one of the books is a 1st edition Harry Potter hardback worth at least £300 now, and if one of the 200 rarer 1st editions it’d be worth £30,000. However, in your ignorance, you get rid of it.

We can also evaluate people and get things badly wrong. So often we judge people by their appearance or by what job they do or if they have a good sense of humour and are light-hearted and easy-going and make you feel good about yourself. We don’t bother getting to know someone who dresses a bit differently, seems a bit serious, and doesn’t chat about sport. But if only we’d stopped to get to know that person, perhaps we’d find them amazingly kind, generous, wise and full of integrity. We’ve got it wrong about that person.

Here’s a more serious example – based on a true and recent story. A man in Vietnam is arrested and taken to the police station. He’s a poor man without any influence in the community. The police want him to renounce his faith in Jesus but he refuses. The police officers despise his stubbornness. He’s tortured for two days but refuses to renounce his faith in Jesus. The police mock him. Their assessment is that he’s a fool. Eventually they send him home but he is no longer able to eat or drink and dies two days later. Is he a fool?

What’s God’s assessment of him? What’s our assessment of him as fellow Christians? He is a courageous martyr. ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’   (Psalm 116:15) All over the world, Christians are praying for his family. Imagine, one of those police officers on duty becomes a Christian. Would he change his mind about this man, whose name is brother Khan? Yes, he would. He would begin to see the whole situation in a different light; he’d see he got it wrong about brother Khan.

1. A wrong assessment of Jesus

That’s what’s going on here in Isaiah 53. The people are assessing Jesus and at first, they get it totally wrong. They think he is worthless. For a start, Jesus grows up in an obscure place called Nazareth. That’s why verse 2 says: ‘He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.’   In other words, Jesus just looked so ordinary – nothing special. He was easy to ignore. He wasn’t particularly fashionable or good-looking.

And when Jesus was being crucified, people didn’t just ignore him. In fact, they despised him. ‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.’   (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus was tortured so badly, whipped and beaten, that ‘Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness…’   (Isaiah 52:14)

Remember what happened to Jesus as he was crucified. All kinds of people joined together to mock him. ‘He saved others but he can’t save himself.’ Some said, ‘Why don’t you come down from the cross if you are the Christ.’ The soldiers mocked him. The passers by mocked him. The other men being crucified mocked him. Almost everyone was mocking him.

‘…yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.’   (Isaiah 53:4) What does this mean? They looked at Jesus and they thought this – his great suffering must mean that he is a great sinner. That was their evaluation of Jesus. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Jesus was the innocent and perfect one. He never harmed anyone. He never acted selfishly. He always did the right thing. But because he was crucified, they assumed he must have deserved it. He got what was coming to him, they thought.

He must have rebelled against the Romans – insulted them. He’s getting what he deserved. This idea was shared by Job’s three friends – Job must have sinned greatly against the Lord. The people are wrong. Jesus is not suffering for his own sin. They assess him and get it so wrong. ‘He’s under the judgment of God for his own sin’ – so they thought.

Have you made a wrong assessment of Jesus? Perhaps you think that’s he just a special human and nothing more. Perhaps you think he makes no difference to your life. Perhaps you’ve ignored him. Or perhaps you judge him and say, ‘If God allows this to happen, then I want nothing to do with him’.

2. A right assessment of Jesus

But, some of the people did not remain in a state of spiritual blindness. God opens their eyes. They now have a right assessment of Jesus and of themselves. Now they understand the truth of Jesus’ suffering: ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.’   (Isaiah 53:4b) Yes, he was cursed by God, but not because of his own sin: he was a substitute who in love, carried their guilt – and our guilt – the guilt of all of his people.

And they come to understand their own condition rightly: that we are sinners who deserve the punishment of God. ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.’   (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus was pierced – given a deadly wound – and crushed – ground to dust. Why? For our transgressions that is our rebellion against God the King. Doing what we know to be wrong.

The truth about each of us in this room is this: sometimes we deliberately and wilfully do things we know God is displeased with. We know, but we do it anyway. We know we should use the resources we have to help others who are hungry and without the basics – but we keep hoarding up for ourselves. We know we should forgive the person who’s apologised to us, but we don’t, harbouring resentment instead. We know we’re married and shouldn’t flirt with someone else – but we do it anyway.

He was crushed for our iniquities that is our twisted. crooked and warped hearts. There’s something radically wrong with us as humans. Sin permeates every area of our lives. There’s a rottenness about us. This is God’s assessment of us! Do you accept this? Or are you too busy assessing God? Imagine our inner thoughts were displayed on the screen – the worst things you’d ever thought and done – you’d be deeply, deeply ashamed.

All of these sins we commit have a massive impact on our relationship with God. Our long list of sins is a barrier between us and God, and actually means that God is our enemy and not our friend, until something can be done about our record, which is full of black marks. Until that record is dealt with, we have no peace with God. What we need is a peacemaker. And that’s what the Servant is. ‘The punishment that brought us peace was on him.’  (Isaiah 53:5) Only through Jesus can we have peace. And without Jesus, there is no peace with God. Why is that? Because God cannot ignore our sin; it must be paid for, either by us in Hell, or by Jesus on the cross.

And so, God explains the need for the cross by explaining our sin. If it wasn’t for your sin and my sin, the cross would not have been necessary. It’s because of my selfishness. My pride. My lust. My greed. ‘We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.’   (Isaiah 53:6) Do you believe this about yourself? It says: ‘we all’. That means you! If you’re not yet a Christian, you’re like a sheep who’s wandered off and in great danger. And you cannot save yourself. Sometimes I think I know better than God, and head off in my own direction, ignoring God’s commands. I love asserting my independence. I can do what I want! It’s my life! I think I’m being clever. However, the truth is, I’m being stupid, like a wandering sheep. I’m heading into great danger.

‘… and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’   (Isaiah 53:6) Why was Jesus crucified? ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.’ Christ died in our place, in the place of sinners. He had no sin of his own. He wasn’t getting what he deserved, but rather what you deserve and what I deserve. This is the language of sacrifice. Jesus is our substitute, who dies instead of us. This is the love of God!

It’s the great swap. He suffers what we should suffer. What did it cost Jesus to save us? The fury and righteous anger of God is placed upon him. It’s not just the physical suffering he endures but also the spiritual suffering. Christ is forsaken by his Father. He takes our sin upon himself and we receive his perfect obedience and goodness.

And it was no accident. ‘The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…’   In the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would get two goats. One would be sacrificed as a sin offering for the people. The other was called a scapegoat.

When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites — all their sins — and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.   (Leviticus 16:20-22)

The High Priest places his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confesses the sin of all Israel. And it was the goat and not Israel who died. All of these things might seem just weird to us. But they are pictures of what was going to happen to Jesus on the cross. At the cross, it is as if God the Father is placing his hands on the head of his eternal Son and it is Jesus who dies and not us.

“In the most dramatic way this pictures the work of atonement which Jesus was to do. The two goats represent his experience. One shows him carrying our sin and its terrible consequences: loneliness, lostness, and desolation. Sin causes us to be cast out from God’s presence, so the one goat is sent away, showing how Jesus was cast out for us. The other goat experiences death, picturing Jesus’ death in our place.” (Jerram Barrs)

God sees perfectly, and has given his assessment of you. We’re rebels. We’re like wandering sheep. We need a peacemaker. Do you have a right assessment of Jesus? Is he your Saviour? Have you trusted in him? Have you closed your eyes, prayed to Jesus, and asked him to forgive you? If you have, you can say in a very personal way: ‘But he was pierced for my transgressions, he was crushed for my iniquities; the punishment that brought me peace was on him, and by his wounds I am healed.’

You can get it wrong about a second-hand car, and that’s not the end of the world. But if we get it wrong about Jesus, we’ll ignore the only one who can forgive our sins. We’ll ignore the one who, in love, offers himself to us.