All We Like Sheep

Isaiah 53:6

Tom Pennington  •  October 22, 2006
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Well, I hope next Sunday morning to return to our study of the book of James. But this Sunday morning I thought it would be good for us, since we are going to partake of the Lord's Table in just a few minutes, to turn our thoughts to Christ and to His death on our behalf. I want us to begin by turning to 1 Peter, Peter's first epistle, in the first chapter, and verse 10. Peter writes this, very interestingly, about the prophets of the Old Testament, he says in verse 10,

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.

Now, as you notice those two verses, you'll see that the prophets of the Old Testament did not know the specific identity of the Messiah or the exact time when He would appear. They didn't know who He would be or when He would come.

But I want you to notice what they did know and what they did predict. Look at those two verses again. The Old Testament prophets understood that salvation, the word that begins verse 10, would come through this Messiah. God would effect salvation through His Messiah. They also knew, verse 11 tells us, that this Messiah would suffer. And they knew that His sufferings would be followed by great glory.

Nowhere in Scripture are those truths, I think, more thoroughly revealed than in Isaiah's prophecy. Turn back with me, if you would, to the book of Isaiah and specifically to the great chapter that we read earlier for our Scripture reading this morning, Isaiah 53. Now, the basic message of Isaiah is contained in his name. The name Isaiah means Yahweh is salvation, Jehovah saves. And how will He accomplish that great salvation? You see, in the ministry of Isaiah a truth about God came breaking upon his heart with all the wonder of a new revelation. Isaiah came to realize that the sovereign God, the one whom he saw in Isaiah 6 "sitting on a throne, high and exalted and lifted up," that that God was a God of grace and is a God of grace. That He is by nature, a savior, a rescuer, a deliverer.

And how is it that this great God will accomplish His salvation? Well, as Isaiah's prophecy unfolds we meet a mysterious character called the Servant of Yahweh or the Servant of Jehovah, the Messiah. And we're told by the prophet that He is the one who will accomplish the twin work of redemption and restoration. Through the Messiah, Jews and Gentiles alike will be spiritually rescued; they will be saved. Universal blessing will come upon all of the creation. And Israel will come to enjoy restoration.

Who is this Servant of Messiah, or excuse me, the Servant of Yahweh, the Messiah? Well, the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus of Nazareth is the complete fulfillment of all of the Servant passages of Isaiah. Excuse me. Now, when we come to Isaiah 53, it is the fourth of four servant songs or poems, four songs that highlight exactly who this person will be and what He will accomplish. And this fourth servant song, Isaiah 53, actually beginning in Isaiah 52:13 and running all the way through chapter 53, this fourth song details the awful suffering and the coming exaltation of the Servant Messiah.

Now, I look forward at some point, Lord willing, to going through this chapter in great detail with you, verse by verse, because there's such richness here. But today I want us, in the interest of time, to look at one verse, a verse that's at the heart of this great Suffering Servant song, verse 6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Now, this verse is the penitent confession of all of those who have come to benefit from the Suffering Servant.

As you sit here this morning, if you're in Christ, if you've come to benefit from His suffering, then this verse is really the cry of your heart. It is an expression both of your lips and of your heart. And it's in this verse that Isaiah first reveals the reasons that the Servant of Yahweh had to suffer. There are two reasons given to us that Jesus had to suffer and die as Messiah, in verse 6 here. The first is sin and the second reason is substitution.

Let's look at these two together. First of all, sin. Isaiah says that the Messiah had to suffer because you and I have a problem, a deep dark problem. And it's not an intellectual problem, we don't need more information. It's not an experiential problem, we don't need to sort out all of our past bad experiences. It's not a biological problem, we don't need pharmacy to help us, pharmaceuticals to rescue us. Our problem instead, is sin.

And Isaiah identifies our sin problem in two unforgettable lines in this magnificent poem. Notice the first, in verse 6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray." "All," that means that this declaration is universally true, without exception. But then he turns personal. Notice he says, "all of us," and in so writing Isaiah includes himself, he includes Israel, and all of humanity, in this, sort of, sweeping indictment. He paints a picture of human sin that would have been overwhelming in an agricultural society where sheep dotted every field in every village.

"All we like sheep have gone astray." This is a common biblical metaphor for the human condition and it most often denotes estrangement, separation, alienation. Turn back just a couple of books to Psalm 119 and at the very end of that great Psalm on the Word of God, the Psalmist writes this, Psalm 119:176, here, writing as a true believer, he says, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant." Here the Psalmist says, even as a believer I have gone astray. And what does that mean? I have left my Shepherd, seek me out. There is this separation that has occurred, this estrangement that has occurred.

But Jesus takes this even further in Matthew 9. He uses this same image to describe all of those who are lost. Matthew 9:36, it says that, "Seeing the people, Jesus felt compassion for them, because they were distressed like sheep without a shepherd." And it was only when He saw that they were separated from, they were alienated from, they were estranged from their shepherd, it's in light of that He says, in the next verse, to His disciples, "'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.'" He says, listen, to be lost is to be like a sheep that has wandered away, wandered astray from the shepherd.

Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2:25, he says, speaking of us in the past, he says, "you were continually straying like sheep, but now," now that you've come to Christ, "you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." You see, before we came to faith in Christ we were like sheep that had wandered away from our Creator, from our Shepherd, we had strayed. How exactly did we stray from our Creator? How did we create the estrangement, the distance, the alienation between us and God? Well, the next phrase in Isaiah 53:6 explains, especially and specifically, how we have gone astray. "All of us like sheep have gone astray." How? "Each of us has turned to his own way."

Notice how the prophet Isaiah changes his emphasis. He begins the verse with "All," which emphasizes the universal nature of this truth, then he changes to "Each of us," it points to every individual. It's as if the prophet Isaiah were here this morning and he pointed his finger at each of us and said, you and you and you, each of us. Substitute your own name. Tom has turned to his own way. Bob has turned to his own way. Sue has turned to her own way. That's what the prophet intends for us to see, each of us.

By the way, the verb "has turned" is a very interesting choice by Isaiah. You see, Isaiah wants us to know that our problem, our sin problem, didn't happen by accident. We weren't basically good people who because of our circumstances suddenly woke up one day and found ourselves sinners. No, "Each of us has turned," we chose to turn from God. There was something that we found more attractive, and that would bring us more delight, or so we thought, than God Himself. We turned from the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls, and we continually strayed from Him.

This is what Paul says in Romans 1 isn't it? Verse 18, he says, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." He goes on to say,

that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, even His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

You see, our problem isn't that somehow the Shepherd obscured Himself. No, He was clearly seen. Instead, Paul goes on to say,

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, they went on and exchanged the glory of God for the images of corruptible things and idolatry.

And that eventually, idolatry, and I'm not talking about just a stone statue but anything that replaces God, eventually leads down the path of moral corruption, which is exactly what Paul describes.

We chose to turn from God. We chose to turn from that clear revelation of Himself and all that He had shown us about who He was. We chose to turn from general revelation. We chose to turn from our consciences telling us that there's a law that God has that we must obey. We chose to turn from His special revelation, from His word, which most of us grew up being exposed to. We chose to turn from all those things. "We have turned."

Notice, "Each of us has turned to his own way." What does he mean by that, "we've turned to our own way"? Well, I've told you before, that word way is a great Hebrew word that pictures patterns of behavior. We could say, "Each of us has turned to our own predictable patterns of sinful thinking and behaving." We could say, "Each of us has turned to our own sinful habits of thinking and acting." And "we've turned to our own way," a path of sin, in some ways unique to us, pursuing our own pleasure separate from everything around.

Albert Barnes, the great commentator, writes this, he says, "The bond which should have united man to the Great Shepherd, the Creator, has been broken. We have become lonely wanderers where each one pursues his own interest, forms his own plans, and seeks to gratify his own pleasures. If we had not sinned there would have been a common bond to unite us to God and to each other, but now we, as a race, have become dissocial, selfish, following our own pleasures and each one living to gratify his own passions. What a true and graphic description of man. How has it been illustrated in all the selfish schemes and purposes of the race, and how is it still illustrated every day in the plans and actions of mortals."

Sadly, because we are fallen and sinful, we even have the capacity to convince ourselves that our own way is good, and it's right, and it's noble. I don't think it can be put any better than it was put 50 years ago by Frank Sinatra, "I've lived a life that's full, I've traveled each and every highway and more, much more than this, I did it my way. For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels," listen to this, "and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows and did it my way." That's the theme song of fallen humanity. Compare that with the words of Solomon, Proverbs 16:25, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but it's end is the way of death."

You see, there's one sense in which we can say that every sinner has gone his own way. There's another sense in which all who reject Christ are on the same basic path. Notice how Isaiah identifies the path that every sinner takes in three Hebrew words. Isaiah 53, notice verse 5, "our transgressions." The Hebrew word for transgression means rebellion against law and authority. This is one way to describe our sin, it is rebellion against our rightful law-giver and our rightful authority, our Creator. Verse 5, "our iniquities." This is another word picture of our sin. It's a word that literally means our moral twistedness, our moral perversion. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, "God made us straight, but we have made ourselves crooked." And then in verse 12 of Isaiah 53 he speaks of "the sin of many." That Hebrew word refers to our sin as deviations from God's divine standard. What is the standard? Perfect love for God and perfect love for others. And we have spent every moment of our lives deviating from that great standard.

In Romans 3 Paul explains that if you're not in Christ you may think that you're unique, you may think that you're doing things your way, but in reality you're just like everybody else. You're controlled by your desires and your passions. You're in slavery to your sin. And you are a pawn of Satan.

In the end, you see, the Bible tells us there are really only two ways. There is our way and there's God's way. And let me show you where our way always ends. Turn to Matthew 7. Matthew 7, Jesus turns at the end of the Sermon on the Mount to personally apply the gospel and He says, in Matthew 7:13, He appeals to you,

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few who find it."

There are only two ways, there is God's way of life through Christ and there is every other way, and it leads to destruction. So the first reason Jesus had to suffer and die was because of your sin and my sin.

But there's a second reason Isaiah identifies for the suffering and the death of the Messiah, not only because of sin, but also, secondly, because of substitution. Look again at Isaiah 53:6, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." Why did Jesus die? The answer is sin. Most people in the world agree with that. But here's the $64,000,000 question, what's the relationship between the death of Jesus and our sin? That relationship can be identified biblically in one word, the word substitution, substitution. Substitution simply means the act of taking the place of another. You'll sometimes hear the word vicarious. It's essentially the same thing. It refers to what is endured by one person substituting for another, substitution.

Now what is it that substitution teaches? Listen to the great American theologian Charles Hodge. He writes, "According to this doctrine," that is, of substitution, "the work of Christ is a real satisfaction of infinite inherent merit to the vindicatory justice of God, so that He saves His people by doing for them, and in their place, what they were unable to do for themselves," and he identifies two parts, "satisfying the demands of the law on their behalf and bearing its penalty in their place."

You see, you and I had two problems. One problem was that we have violated the law of God as often as we have drawn breath. Not a single one of us has for one moment of our lives loved God perfectly. Not a single one of us for a single moment of our lives have loved others as we love ourselves. And so every moment that we've breathed we've broken the law of God. And the law of God demands just payment. And so Jesus substituted for us in dealing with our violation of God's law. We deserve to die. Jesus was our substitute, He died in our place.

But we had another problem. Even if Jesus had died in our place, and that's where it stopped, we still have the responsibility to obey God perfectly. And so, Jesus substituted for us in another sense as well. He substituted for us by living the life we should have lived. For 33 years our Lord lived in this world, just as we live, but He never thought a sinful thought, He never spoke a sinful word, He never maintained a sinful attitude, and He never carried out a sinful act, not one time in 33 years. He was our substitute in His life as well as in His death. He stood in your place, living the life you should have lived and I should have lived, and He stood in your place, dying the death you should have died. That's what substitution teaches.

Isaiah 53 is filled with the language of substitution. Look at verse 4, "our griefs He Himself bore, our sorrows He carried." Verse 5, "He was pierced for our rebellion," our acts of rebellion, "He was crushed for our moral perversion; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed." Verse 8, he ends the verse by saying, "He was cut off out of the land the living." That is, He died. Why? "For the transgression," or the rebellion, "of my people to whom the stroke was actually due." Verse 10, "The Lord was pleased to crush Him, and He gave Himself as a guilt offering." This draws on the image of the Old Testament, the sacrificial system. Verse 11, "He will bear their iniquities." Verse 12, the end of the verse, "Yet He Himself bore the sin of many."

Without question, the reason Christ died was as a substitute. There is a common, or, unfortunately, becoming more and more common, heretical teaching common among those who call themselves evangelicals today, that the purpose for Jesus' death was what was called the moral influence theory. He died simply to set an example of God's love and that example would draw us to God. Brian McLaren, the voice of the emergent church movement, embraces this view. And he quotes, at length, two men who've written a book who call substitution, as Isaiah is teaching it to us this morning, "divine child abuse." This is exactly what the Scriptures teach, that Christ died as our substitute.

It's what the rest of the Scripture teaches as well. John 1:29, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away," who carries away, "the sin of the world!" Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us." First Peter 2:24, "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness."

Now, look back at Isaiah 53:6. Isaiah here makes several key points about substitution. He tells us that it's the plan of God. Notice, he says, "But the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." You know, sometimes I think we get the impression that Christ is trying to convince God the Father to save us and the Father agrees only, sort of, grudgingly to do it. That's not the picture of Scripture at all. In reality, the entire plan of redemption springs from the loving heart of the Father. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read, "God the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself."

You see, those people in our church, those who sell us our groceries, those who are in our extended families, who have never repented of their sins and embraced Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the apostle John says, "the wrath of God," hangs on them, "abides on them," like a stain they can't get rid of. But because of His great love, the same God who stands ready to pour out His wrath on those who deserve it, on all of us who deserve it, that same God initiated a way to satisfy His wrath, not on us, but on another, on His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father appointed Christ to be the substitute. Listen to how Isaiah says it, "But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."

But our Lord Jesus was a voluntary substitute, it wasn't forced upon Him. In Isaiah 53:10 we read, "He would render Himself as a guilt offering." Verse 12 adds, "He poured out Himself," He willingly did it. Think about that for a moment. I think sometimes we become so accustomed to these truths of Scripture that our minds become jaded to them. Listen afresh when I tell you that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, willingly, gladly, voluntarily laid down His life for you. This is the message of the Scripture. John 10, Jesus says, "'I lay down My life so that I might take it again. No one's taken it from Me, but I lay it down,'" willingly, gladly, "'on My own initiative.'"

When I was in Italy I tried to keep track, as I could, with a little bit of the news from the States. And I heard, while I was there, about the tragic shooting in the little Amish schoolhouse. It's a tragic story of human sin, but I was struck, as I read the story, with the heroic actions of one of the older girls; perhaps you read about it as well. Two of the survivors told their parents that a little 13 year old girl by the name of Marian Fischer, when all of this was happening there in the school house, went up to the perpetrator and asked to be shot first, apparently hoping that the younger girls would be let go. She begged, "Shoot me and let the other ones loose." And she was shot and she was killed. As I thought about that little girl, I thought, you know, really that's exactly what Christ has done for us. He willingly, freely, gladly, volunteered to be our substitute. He said to the Father, let Me die for their sin and let them go.

At the heart of substitution, Isaiah tells us here in the second half of this verse, at the heart of substitution is a word that if you don't know, you need to know because it is the most precious word in our faith. It's the word imputation, imputation. This is the heart of the gospel, "The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." It's our iniquity. It's your iniquity. And yet it falls on Christ. To impute simply means to credit. It's a financial term, to credit. The Father caused the guilt and punishment for our sin to be credited to Christ. In fact, it's interesting, the Hebrew verb here that's translated "caused to fall" could be better translated as "to strike" or "to hit." "The Father caused the guilt and punishment for our sin to strike, or hit Jesus Christ."

This is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Our sins were imputed, were credited to Christ and God treated Him as if He had committed them. This does not mean, by the way, that Jesus actually became a sinner, as some heretics teach. This does not mean that He was guilty of sin in the sight of God. It means simply that He suffered as if He had been a sinner. He suffered what, if He had been a sinner, would have been an appropriate penalty for the evil of sin.

You see, here's the good news about substitution and imputation. If our sins are credited to Christ, they're no longer ours. They don't belong to me anymore. I can say with the hymn writer, "My sins, oh the bliss of this glorious thought! My sins, not in part but the whole, are nailed to the cross, and I bear them no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!" But there's more. It's not just that my sins were credited to Christ and I don't have them anymore. That only solves half of my problem. As we learn in the glory of justification, not only did God cause my sins to strike Christ on the cross, but then He took the perfect life of Jesus Christ and He credited that to my account.

As you've heard me say many times and as I heard my mentor say many times, the beauty of justification is this, if you're in Christ this morning, on the cross God treated Christ as if He had lived your sinful life so that forever He could treat you as if you had lived Christ's perfect life. That's the beauty of substitution and imputation, or having our sins credited to Christ and His righteousness credited to us.

This great verse is one of the most magnificent passages in all the Bible. But it is also particularly relevant for every person here this morning. If you're here this morning and you know you're not in Christ, and there are always people who come to church who know they're not believers, you know your heart is unchanged, you know you house every sinful passion that's ever been there, and it's like a raging animal that you can't sufficiently feed. If you're here this morning, for whatever reason, and you know you're not in Christ, this wonderful verse holds out a great invitation and hope to you.

Turn with me to a 2 Corinthians 5. Paul rehearses this reality in 2 Corinthians 5 and he says, "God reconciled us," verse 18, "God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and He gave us the ministry of reconciliation." In other words, he says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting," there's our word, imputing, "their trespasses," or crediting, "their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us this message about reconciliation." "Therefore", Paul says, "we are ambassadors for Christ," and he says here's what it's like, it's "as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." And in verse 21 he rehearses this whole idea of substitution and imputation, "God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Listen, if you're here this morning and you're not in Christ, God is appealing to you through me. God is saying, be reconciled to Him. Stop going your own way. Stop going your own path of sin. Turn from that and turn back to God. Be reconciled to God your Creator, your Maker, the One who holds your life in His hand. He'll do that.

There's an interesting passage in Luke 15, Jesus describes this using this very image of sheep. He says, let me tell you the story of, in Luke 15:3, He says let me tell you the story about a man who had one hundred sheep and ninety-nine of them stayed in the fold, but one of them was lost. And He says, "'which one of you wouldn't go and find that one, and when he has found it, lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep which was lost!"'"

What's the point? Listen to Jesus. This is the word of Christ. He says, "'I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven,'" He's talking about God, there will be joy in God, "'over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who don't think they need any repentance.'" If you'll turn from your own way this morning and you'll turn to Christ, you will bring joy to the heart of God. He doesn't delight in your destruction. He doesn't delight in the path you've set for yourself. And He calls you home, He calls you to Himself.

There's also a great application for us as believers. If you're in Christ this morning, turn back to where we started, back to 1 Peter 1. What should this great doctrine of substitution do to you and do to me? First Peter 1:10-11 we looked at before. Verse 12, Peter makes the application, he says,

It was revealed to them [that is, the Old Testament prophets] that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which have now been announced to you through those who preach the gospel to you by the Holy Spirits sent from heaven - things into which angels long to look. Therefore, [here it is, this is what I want you to do in light of this great reality, therefore] prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, don't be conformed to the former cravings which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy for I am holy." And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing this, you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Peter says, here's the application, if you've come to embrace the reality that you've been bought, that you've been redeemed, that a substitute has died for you, and none other than the Son of God, then here's what I want you to do. I want you to live a life in keeping with His death for sin. I want you to pursue holiness. I want you to be looking for the revelation of Jesus Christ when He comes back. I want you to conduct yourself in fear as you remember what has happened in your life and how you've been redeemed. Live in keeping with the salvation you enjoy.

This morning we celebrate the Lord's Table and in this memorial, in this reminder, we're reminded both of substitution and of the importance of letting go of our sin because the time of the Lord's Table is a time for self-examination. Paul says, "a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. But he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn't judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number have died. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged."

This morning this is a reminder of the substitution of Jesus Christ. If you're a believer in Jesus Christ and if you're not holding on to unrepentant sin, then you're welcome to partake of this. But I plead with you, I beg you not, if you're still clinging to your sin, if you still want your sin and you're unwilling to turn from it, you, as Paul said, "will eat and drink judgment," God's judgment, to yourself. It's a great reminder of sin and of substitution. Take a moment to prepare your hearts.

Our Father, we thank You for Your grace to us in Christ. We thank You for this celebration that reminds us, that points us back to Him and to His death for us as our substitute. Lord, we thank You that He stands as our substitute by living the life we should have lived and that He stands as our substitute by dying the death that we should have died at Your hand. Father, we thank You and praise You and we ask that You would help us to no longer live for ourselves, but to live for Him who died for us. It's in His great name that we pray, amen.