The Promise of His Death
“THE PROMISE OF HIS DEATH”
Exodus 12:1-13, Psalm 22:1-18, Isaiah 53:4-10a
In 1956 a Christmas song with a calypso beat was released which became immediately popular because of its gentle rhythm and simple lyrics. It has since been recorded numerous times by countless artists and is played repeatedly on radio stations at this time of the year. The first verse and chorus says,
Long ago in Bethlehem,
So the Holy Bible say
Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Was born on Christmas Day.
Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A king was born today.
And man may live for evermore,
Because of Christmas Day.
Well, yes and no. While it is true that, were it not for the birth of Christ, man would remain in the darkness of sin and without any hope of life hereafter, it was not His birth alone that held out the prospect of life “for evermore.”
Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem marked but the beginning of a course that would stretch more than three decades and culminate with an empty cross and an empty tomb outside the city walls of Jerusalem...only a few miles from where He had been born.
The purpose of Jesus’ birth was recognized by angels, shepherds, wise men, as well as others who beheld Him in His infancy. Both of His parents—His virgin mother Mary, who bore Him, as well as Joseph, who raised Him as His earthly father—had been told who this special child was and what His mission would be.
When He was presented at the Temple as a young child, Mary was reminded that because of the saving role her Son would play, “a sword will pierce through (her)...soul” (cf. Luke 2:35). How often must she have watched Him play as a boy and later as He worked alongside Joseph in his carpentry trade and pondered where His unique life would lead.
You and I have every right and reason to celebrate His birth. But let us not suppose that the nativity ends the story. As the eternal Son of God, our Lord Jesus entered the human experience for the express purpose of bearing our sin and paying the debt that sin had incurred. The Apostle Paul understood this, which is why he told young Timothy, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul recognized the depth of his own depravity...that he stood empty-handed before a holy God. And until you and I admit that is our condition as well, we will never comprehend the full meaning of Jesus’ birth.
In recent weeks we have been considering some of the promises of Christmas, focusing nearly exclusively on Old Testament prophecies that foretold His arrival and the divinely-orchestrated path His life would follow. To date, we have noted the promise of His coming, the promise of His birth, and the promise of His life. Today, we will be reflecting upon the promise of His death. You see, Jesus was born in order to die...and He died in order that we might live.
So, let’s begin by thinking about...
The mandate of Jesus’ death (Exodus 12:1-13).
When I use the term “mandate,” I don’t mean to imply that Jesus came and surrendered His life unwillingly. Quite the opposite actually. He made that clear in John 10:18, saying, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
I am using the word “mandate” in the sense of God’s sovereign and predetermined will. Revelation 13:8 tells us that Jesus is the Lamb slain from “before the foundation of the world.” Peter had preached on the Day of Pentecost that Christ was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). When Jesus humbled Himself and became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), He did so according to the determinate counsel of God.
The cross cast a shadow upon the manger, just as it did throughout His earthly life. But never did our Lord deviate a single step from the path that was marked out for Him.
In order to understand the necessity of it all, we must once again return to the Garden where our first parents, Adam and Eve, questioned the character of God, violated His lone prohibition, and incurred His righteous wrath and the penalty of death. It was a just sentence pronounced upon them, as well as upon all those who would in time bear their image.
As Paul explains in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And as he will remind us a chapter later, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Every one of us lives under the condemnation of a holy God, and—like a fly trapped in the web of a spider—we are helpless to wiggle ourselves out of our hopeless dilemma.
If we are to be delivered from the inevitable eternal fate that awaits us, it must be granted to us by the mercy of God. Jesus’ task, from His birth through His death, was to set us free. The Son of God entered upon a “mission of liberation” to rescue us from behind enemy lines and to bring us into the safety of the Father’s house. Previews of this were strewn throughout the Old Testament, but I would like to consider just one with you this morning. Turn with me to Exodus 12, where we will be looking at the first thirteen verses.
The people of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for many generations, and the time had come for the Lord to set His people free. Moses had been appointed to be their deliverer, and in chapter 12 he is given this word to deliver to the people. We read...
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
7 Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you.
As the writer of Exodus proceeds to tell us, those who obeyed were spared through a great deliverance, while those who did not obey were destroyed. And while this event took place historically, just as it is here described, it also served to preview the greater deliverance that would be brought about through Jesus’ death on the cross centuries later. John the Baptist, who would be the one to herald the start of Jesus’ public ministry, would say of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Three years later, Jesus would gather His small band of followers around Him for the final Passover. He would break bread with them, presenting it as His “body.” And He would drink the cup with them, declaring it to be His “blood” (cf. Luke 22:19-20). Within hours, He would be nailed to a cross, from where He declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then He would bow His head and breathe His last, doing what no other “lamb” ever could.
Paul would later tell us that at that very moment, Christ was “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:14).
There was no other way that the just payment for our sin could be made...short of us enduring the wrath of God ourselves. The writer of Hebrews invests a large portion of his letter to explaining the necessity for there to be a “once-for-all” sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 10:10) that would fully and finally remove the penalty of sin. It had to be a “better (indeed, a perfect) sacrifice” (cf. Hebrews 11:4)...one that need not be repeated annually like the countless Passover lambs that had been offered.
It is “the blood of Jesus...that cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). It is that righteous life—and that alone—that is able to provide our “advocacy” (cf. 1 John 2:1) before the court of divine justice. And it took the death of that One—the bloody death, Jesus’ death on a cross—to pay the price that we each deserve to pay. Praise God that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...(the Scriptures declare that) God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6 and 8).
Despite the cost and despising the shame (cf. Hebrews 12:2), Jesus willingly stepped forward to take our place. He did so out of divine necessity in order to create for His Father a people for His name...a people who would turn from sin, entrust themselves to Him, joyfully serve Him all their days, and glory in Him forever. That is the very reason He was born.
As we consider the divine mandate that not only brought the Son of God to us, but also scornfully removed Him from this life, we do well to reflect upon...
The manner of Jesus’ death (Psalm 22:1-18).
Of all the Psalms, the 22nd is perhaps the most Messianic. Its opening words ring with New Testament familiarity, and the graphic word-pictures it paints of the crucifixion experience create vivid and unforgettable images. Its poetic lines were written by David and describe a very difficult time in his life. And yet the words extend far beyond David’s experience to Another who would one day suffer in infinitely greater measure.
Let’s look together at the first eighteen verses of this sorrowful psalm, and as we do let us try and relate these words to Jesus as He hung dying upon Calvary’s cross:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
In these eighteen verses there are no fewer than four direct allusions to Jesus’ horrific death by crucifixion. The remaining verses only add to the agony our Savior endured as He bore the weight of our sin and paid the enormity of our debt.
Psalm 22 is a picture of loneliness and abandonment to the extent that the loneliest among us cannot even imagine. Its opening line will in time become Jesus’ fourth “word” from the cross, coming near the end of the three-hour period when He hung dying and deep darkness encompassed the land (cf. Mark 15:33). It was during those hours that Jesus was engaged in the cosmic battle for the souls of those who would in time turn to Him.
“Alone!” There is no more dreaded word in the English language for those who long for someone—anyone, actually—who will draw near in times of intense loneliness. In his classic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote,
Alone, alone, all, all alone.
Alone on a wide, wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
There is a scene in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol where Ebeneezer Scrooge is given a premonition of his own death. Standing beside the bier upon which a covered figure lay, Scrooge reaches out with trembling hand to pull down the sheet in order to confirm that the lifeless body before him is indeed his own. Here was his “moment of truth.” Sensing at long last that the life he had lived has been one of greed and selfish ambition, he finds himself utterly alone and devoid of anyone to grieve for him. Unable to lay hold of the burial cloth, he quickly pulls back his hand and pleads, “If there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death, show that person to me...I beg you!”
An even more intense cry of loneliness was the one that came from the parched lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Heavenly Father poured out upon His beloved Son His wrath for “the sins of the whole world” (cf. 1 John 2:2). The faithful must never allow our ear to grow dull to His cry of agony: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But let us be clear. The death that Jesus died does not avail for anyone who has not renounced sin and called upon Him for mercy and forgiveness. Romans 10:13 clearly states that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It is “by grace...through faith” that one is delivered (cf. Ephesians 2:8). Have you called upon Him to save you?
The next time someone asks you if you are “ready for Christmas,” think of it in those terms, for this is the deeper meaning of Jesus’ birth? Remind them that He “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Remind them that He was “forsaken” so that they need not be.
There remains one other aspect that we must consider before we conclude our time together today, and that would be...
The mastermind of Jesus’ death (Isaiah 53:4-10a).
Who was it that killed Jesus Christ? Who is the one most responsible for putting the Son of God to death by nailing Him to a cross? It is a question that has many answers.
- Satan’s hatred for Him was clear from the beginning. Nothing would have pleased Him more than to be rid of the object of God’s love when he himself had been cast from His presence eons earlier
- Fingers can be justifiably pointed in the direction of the Jewish leaders who incited the mob to call for His crucifixion.
- Blame can also be assigned to the Roman authorities who had it within their power to release Jesus...to set Him free. But instead they delivered Him over to death.
- And, of course, let’s not forget ourselves. After all, it was our sins that made the cross necessary in the first place.
And while all of those “culprits” remain “guilty as charged,” there is another explanation that overrides all of these and yet includes them all. It was foretold centuries earlier and recorded by the prophet Isaiah. We have found ourselves in Isaiah 53 before in this series of messages, and we must return to it again. Looking ahead to the sufferings of Christ, the prophet writes, beginning in verse 4 of this crucial passage:
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 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.
6 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.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgressions of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief...
We’ll stop there. As many as sixteen quotes from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah are found in the New Testament, and all are in reference to the death of Jesus. It is no wonder that medieval rabbinic commentators devoted considerable attention to disproving Christian interpretations of this text. If this passage can be successfully refuted, then they are right...Jesus is not the One who has come to “save his people from their sins” (cf. Matthew 1:21).
But the biblical evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Interceding for our Jewish friends as their week of Hanukkah draws to a close, we should pray that “the partial hardening (that) has come upon Israel” (cf. Romans 11:25) be removed so that multitudes may receive their “Yeshuua Hamashiach,” “Jesus, the Messiah.” May they come to discover the true “light of the world” (John 8:12) to whom their “Feast of Lights’ points.
Isaiah 53 is theologically rich and deep, and there are two critical observations that rise to the surface in terms of our discussion today.
You will, first of all, notice that three times it is said that God is the one who is most responsible for the death of Christ. It is He who assigned to His Son the type of death by which He must die. In verse 4, we read that He was “smitten by God.” In verse 6, we are told that it was “the LORD (who) has laid on him...(our) iniquities.” And then, as if to add the exclamation point, verse 10 says that “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.”
Look again at the verbs which describe the cruelty that Christ endured. He was “stricken,” “smitten,” “afflicted,” “pierced,” and “crushed,”
What an astonishing thought! And while God’s sovereign decree in no way absolves the sinful participants in carrying out the brutal execution of Jesus, we must understand that God was no helpless bystander unable to render aid to His Son in His hour of greatest need. He could have intervened at any time, but He didn’t. Instead, He providentially chose to allow the sinless Jesus to suffer as He did in order that sinners like you and me wouldn’t have to.
Why would the God whose very nature is “love” (cf. 1 John 4:8), not only permit but author the death of His beloved Son in a manner as cruel and heartless as this? To answer that brings us to the second critical observation that we are able to make from this Isaiah 53 passage. In verses 4 through 6 we are able to count ten first-person pronouns—“our,” “we,” and “us”—which establish the reason for the cruel death of Jesus. In a word, we are the ones who most benefit from the death of Christ.
It was “our griefs and...our sorrows” that he bore. It was “our transgressions” and “our iniquities” that he took to the cross. It was His “chastisement that brought us peace,” and it is “with his wounds we are healed.” We needed Him to act on our behalf because, as verse 6 concisely summarizes, “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.”
Peter was someone who understood what meant to go astray. Although he at first boasted that he was willing to die with Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:35) and later even attempted to spare Jesus from the fate that awaited him (cf. John 18:10-11), when the heat got turned up, he—like his fellow disciples—fled the scene. He reappeared briefly...only to deny His Lord three times (cf. Matthew 26:69-75).
But following Jesus’ resurrection we have that touching scene on the seashore when the two are reunited and the disillusioned Peter is restored and commissioned to “feed (Jesus’) sheep” (cf. John 21:15-19).
Some years later, perhaps reflecting back to that day—and no doubt meditating upon Isaiah 53—Peter wrote these words of challenge that have been left for those who, like him, would become followers of Jesus:
“For this you have been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Man can live forevermore, not because “Mary’s boy child” was born on Christmas Day, but because that One came to earth and lived as the sinless “Lamb of God” and then became the perfect substitute in bearing the “sins of the...world” (cf. 1 John 2:2). God was “pleased” (NASV) “to crush him” for our sakes, so that we might be “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred...to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
If you do not know Jesus Christ in this way, then your Christmas celebration is incomplete. For you see, the manger was but the first step that led to a cross, and then to an empty tomb. His death was mandated by God in order that His will would be fulfilled in bringing lost sheep home to Himself. The manner in which His plan was accomplished was cruel and bitter, but it was also the greatest expression of love the world has ever seen. That is because it was what God’s judgment of sin demanded. It was He who authored and executed the plan to bring salvation to repentant sinners, and, in turn, bring glory and honor to His great name.
Whenever we attempt to add our part to what He has fulfilled so perfectly, the death of Jesus—as well as His birth—become ineffective for us.
Therefore, “Come, let us adore Him.”
“The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
Gracious Father, we thank You this morning for “the Light of the world,” the One whose birth we give special attention to in these days. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him, But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
At the same time, we must confess that even though “light has come into the world...people loves the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Thank You that we have seen the Light and been drawn to it by Your grace. Apart from Your grace, we would continue to stumble in the darkness and be lost. But praise be to God that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”...in our place...in order to bring us to the Father.
As we pray, we are mindful of those about us who have yet to hear this “Good News.” We know that, even now, You are gathering for Yourself a people who are called by Your name...a people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” who will one day encircle Your throne and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” from before the foundation of the world to bring salvation to lost sinners and glory to Your great name.
It is into Your exalted presence that we enter this morning. We come at Your invitation, and humble ourselves before You just now. Quiet our restless hearts and release from our thoughts during this hour the “to-do” lists of things that we feel must get done over this next week. As we open Your Word, show us Jesus and enable us to marvel in His majesty.
We thank You for one another, especially for this local body that You have called together. Each of us represents a sphere of influence that is unique to ourselves, and within that circle You have charged us to bear witness to the Gospel for which Christ died. Therefore, we pray for our family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and fellow-students to whom Jesus remains unknown. Grant us courage to speak a word for Him in love to these individuals. We ask to be used to impart “the aroma of Christ” among those whom You are pleased to call to Yourself. May this Christmas season result in a number of lives being transformed through our witness.
We are grateful that the ministry of this church family is not restricted to these four walls. On this last Sunday that the Sparks family will be with us, we rejoice to have a share in the work to which You have called them in Mozambique. Thank You for their ministry in so many ways among us. They have served You well through this local body. And now as they depart to serve you an ocean and a continent away, we send them with our love and our prayers. Protect them and provide for their every need. Encourage them on difficult days and increase their joy in ways we cannot now even imagine. Strengthen Harvey and Jenifer’s marriage in these coming days, and enable to continue raising Tabitha, Ben, Gracie, Judah, and Asher in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” May each of these children “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Bring many souls into the Kingdom as a result of their ministry in this faraway place. We look forward to many positive reports of the powerful work Your Spirit—through them—has done.
We also bid farewell—at least for now—to the Johnson family, who will be leaving this week for Louisville where Omar will begin studying at Southern Seminary in anticipation of the ministry for which You will be preparing him. How thankful we are for Your call in Omar and Stephanie’s lives and for the faithful service they have rendered in this place over the years. Thank You for Your work of grace in and through them, and for the many lives they have touched along the way. Encourage them now in these days of training. Do not let the enemy gain a foothold in the marriage or family life. Keep them strong in the faith and keep their testimony pure. We commit Cameron, Leah, and Chloe to You as they continue to grow and mature. Bring these children to saving faith soon, we pray. We ask for traveling mercy as this family travels and gets settled. Raise up a support group for them in their new surroundings, and let them recall that their church family here is praying for them as well.
For others of our members who will soon be entering into new ministries both here and elsewhere, we commit them to Your blessing as well. We pray for Juan Vega-Rodriguez as he invests himself in the Hispanic church plant in Columbia Heights in the New Year. Thank You for bringing this young man into the Kingdom of Light, and now how You are using him to impact others with the message of the Gospel.
As servants like these move from us, we pray that You would fill the void that they leave. We are not content to be the “best kept secret” in Temple Hills when so many around us stand in need of the Gospel. Move us to greater evangelistic and discipleship commitments with others. Send us men and women who are hungry for the Word and willing to count the cost and commit to this ministry. Raise up elders and deacons among us. You have promised to provide for every need of Your church, and so we look to You with respect to our needs, believing that You will respond according to Your sovereign will.
We pray as well for our English as a Second Language ministry, which we anticipate launching in late-January. Thank You for the leadership of Rhonda Phill in organizing this work, as well as for those who will be teaching: Constance Troutman, Jeron Rhodes, Verna Blake, and Joanna Brown. We pray for those students whom You are even now preparing to give us to minister to. May the love of Christ and the light of the Gospel shine forth clearly through us.
Father, we have much to give thanks for and we recognize that You are the Source of our every blessing. Therefore, as we meet in Your name today, we ask that You would be pleased to exalt Your name among us. At the close of this service, let Christ alone be the One who receives all praise and adulation. He alone is worthy, and are here to magnify His name. Thus, we pray in that name...the name that is above every name. Amen.
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