Easter Day 1997

There are three great reminders in the Christian calendar that we keep each year. At Christmas we remember 'God is with us', at Pentecost we remember 'God is in us'. At Easter we remember 'God is for us'. So today there have been perhaps many who have enjoyed tucking into Easter eggs, sent cards or daffodils, little chicks or bunnies, but they have not known that Easter is one of the greatest things that has ever been brought about by God. The headings I have chosen are, first, Easter was planned; secondly, Easter was painful; and, thirdly, Easter was effective. First, EASTER WAS PLANNED (52:13-15) Some people go in for long range planning of their careers. Teacher, head of department, deputy head, head teacher; House-officer, senior house-officer, registrar, consultant; all by a certain age. I wonder how many candidates in the coming election will be fulfilling goals that they set themselves years before: by the age of thirty, forty-four whatever it is, to be a member of parliament, even to be Prime Minister. What we have in the reading from Isaiah is much more long range than that. Isaiah 53 was prophesied into a situation of exile for the Jewish people, where they would be six centuries before Christ. These chapters were to be a comfort to them that purity would one day come. A figure called the Lord's servant features in these chapters after 39. Sometimes the servant is the whole people of Israel personified, sometimes a godly remnant, sometimes he is clearly an individual. In the passage we have read tonight it clearly speaks of one man. There is only one man to whom the chapter points. It is interesting that though many parts of the book of Isaiah are read in the regular course of Jewish synagogue readings, this part of Isaiah is not one of them. If we have Jewish friends they may well not be familiar with what is written here. What does it say? God planned Easter long before it actually happened. Easter was not an amazing coincidence, not an accident, or a lucky turn-around for Jesus. Easter was in God's will and plan long before the disciples went to the tomb early that morning, long before Jesus began his ministry at the Jordan river, long before his birth in Bethlehem. As Paul told the Corinthians Easter was "according to the scriptures." Easter was in the wise plan of God. Let's look again at the last three verses of chapter 52: See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him -- his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-- so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. The plan is that God's servant would be exalted. To be specific, "raised, lifted up and highly exalted". These are words that belong to the glory of God. Remember the vision of Isaiah back in chapter 6, " In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted." God's servant is to become nothing less in glory than God. Verse 14 tells us from what depth this change comes. We're familiar with those pictures in advertisements of very large people before, and after they have lost stones of weight, no longer sullen-looking but trimmer and happier. If the 'after' of God's servant is more glorious and amazing than anything we can even contemplate, the glory of God; the 'before' of the servant was at the other extreme, appalling, disfigured, marred beyond human likeness. The effect on the human body of the beating, crucifixion and piercing of Jesus is going to be described even more, further in the passage. The plan, executed so wisely by the Servant, is that (verse 15) he will "sprinkle many nations." 'To sprinkle' is to make them holy. The priests on the Day of Atonement sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed animal. The Day of Atonement was just for the Jewish people, but God's plan is not just the purity of the Jewish people. God's plan for his servant is to bring holiness to the Gentiles. God's servant's wisdom is seen in the extension of God's purity into the non-Jewish nations. That we are here tonight in England, just as there are Christians meeting in nearly all the nations of the earth, can be seen as a fulfilment of these words. We have seen that Easter was planned as an exaltation of Christ, and as a way to make non-Jews holy, in the rest of verse 15 we see that is was also in the plan of Easter to silence the rulers of the earth. Kings thought they had power over life and death, but at this glorious ruler they are overwhelmed. The rulers of the earth, even the rulers of the people in Babylon where the Jews were to be exiled, or the rulers of the United Kingdom today, willingly or unwillingly, all will fall down before Jesus. They will see. They will understand. There are many today who understand nothing about Jesus Christ, but on that day there will be no ignorance. How does the fact that God planned Easter apply to us? God planned to exalt Christ, to purify people from many nations, and to silence the rulers of the earth. If God will prepare for the death and resurrection of Christ so long beforehand, and bring it to pass with such fulfilment, clearly he will fulfil all that he has promised. God planned long ago that the Saviour Jesus Christ would receive his rightful place in the highest glory. This is what God longed for and planned for. So it is right to ask ourselves whether we are regarding him in that right way. Is praising him in his glory part of our lives? Does it characterise our hearts when we come together, to church or to Home Group? That is Jesus: no mere teacher or good man, but the exalted God sprinkling many nations from his throne in glory. Secondly, EASTER WAS PAINFUL (53:1-9) I suppose you could say more accurately that it was Good Friday that was so painful. Easter is a vindication of the pain of Good Friday. Easter is the stamp on the acts of Good Friday, that guarantees all the pain was doing something. In these first nine verses we're going to look at what is said about Jesus' suffering life and death. Let's read them again: Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 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. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; 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. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. For Jesus to get to Easter he had to go through birth, life, death and burial, and there is something about each of them. Who would believe it says verse 1. The arm of the Lord revealed like this! We could never have dreamt of this power appearing in such weakness! Verse 2 He was nothing but a tender shoot, like something vulnerable to wind and birds and insects. He suffered from the beginning like a root in dry ground. This was the king but there was no beauty or majesty to him. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt, a carpenter's son in the backwoods of Galilee. For the Old Testament, just as for us, beauty was often associated with God's blessing. David and Joseph are singled out as being handsome in appearance. Studies have shown that juries are less likely to convict a handsome smart-looking person than one who looks ugly. There is not one thing in the gospels about Jesus' physical beauty or lack of it, but these verses make it clear that Jesus was not a kind of Gerard Depardieu. It was not essential for Jesus to be the most handsome person to have ever lived, and it is not for us either. Verse 3 He was despised. He was rejected. He was not everybody's favourite person. We would hardly wish this on our worst enemy, yet it is God who is going through it. If the circumstances of his birth and life were painful, consider verse 4. He was completely misunderstood. It was considered that God was punishing him, that he had done some great sin. It says "we considered him smitten by God, afflicted by God." That's what Job's friends thought of Job: they saw him in trouble and they said he must confess his sins. Perhaps you have been misunderstood by someone in the past: you were trying to help and someone got completely the wrong idea. You know how painful it is. How frustrating to be misjudged and seemingly tarred for life. What an irony here, that the one sinless person there has ever been is wounded, punished, crushed for us, and we consider that he is a great sinner. We wander off and the iniquity of us all is laid on him. The physical pain of Jesus' death was bad enough, but added to it is the failure of anyone around to understand. In verses 7-9 the idea of undeserved pain is developed further. Not only were his life and death painful, not only was he misunderstood, the pains of Jesus were completely undeserved. No person could pay the penalty for the sins of others, if that person had his or her own sins. But he had none. In verse 7 he is described as a sacrifice, giving up his life, giving up his whiteness, but not with a song and dance, not with loud protestations and angry cries of innocence. In verse 8 it is clear that he suffered at the hands of an unjust legal procedure as a substitute. "For the transgression of my people he was stricken". In verse 9 we see the scandal of his burial with evil people, not with his family and his ancestors but cut off from them, isolated like the rich. To get to Easter meant this load of suffering for Jesus. There could be none of the glory of Easter without the painful life and death. It's hard to compare Easter with anything, but this time last year my wife was expecting a baby. A year ago tomorrow night, her waters broke and we went up to the hospital. Our first baby had been a caesarean section so we didn't know anything of what was in store. All that April Fool's day Margaret suffered niggling pains and we waited for something to happen. By the next day, as things were not far enough advanced a drug was given to speed things up. Margaret rapidly knew more pain and increasing intense pain, but after some hours things were still not adequate, she had run out of strength and Matthew had to be pulled out with a kind of vacuum on his head. Margaret can never remember the birth of Matthew without remembering that pain. That is the general way it is: probably my mother and your mother went through great pain to bring us into the world. For the joy it was necessary to go through the pain. The exhilaration of that crew from Cambridge yesterday would not have been possible without the hours of sheer exhaustion and pain. The wonder of Easter is not possible without the shock and pain of all that went before it. Only Christ's death provides peace for us. Our pains and struggles can't atone for our sins. But that achievement for us was only possible because of the suffering of Christ. So Easter asks the believer will we carry our cross for Christ? Is there an area where we are avoiding effort, where we are coasting? Maybe we are avoiding things that we know we should do, because we fear the cost will be too great. Has the time come to take our share of pain for the kingdom of God? Thirdly, EASTER WAS EFFECTIVE (10-12) What God planned to do, what it was so painful to do, has been achieved. God's will has not been thwarted. Easter is 100% effective. Earlier this evening at 6.00 p.m., Channel 5 was launched by the Spice Girls. Despite being on the drawing board for more than ten years, 40% of the population will be technically unable to tune into the new network. It was worse back in April 1964 when BBC2 launched on the night a power failure blacked out the studio and knocked off power for most of the transmitter's area. The presenter read by candlelight, but even when the power was restored it took years to transmit properly. The station was described as "two old men talking in a snow storm". So often with the best laid plans things go wrong. Perhaps we have not ended up at all in the direction we expected, that we planned for: it is not like that for God's plan at Easter. Let's look again at verses 10-12: Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Easter was effective because God's servant Jesus is not dead: he sees his offspring; he is satisfied with what has been achieved; he is vindicated and given glory as a great one. In verse 10 we see that bowing to God's will, in all its crushing suffering for the guilt of others, is not pointless suffering. So much suffering in our world seems to have no point. The property stolen and vandalised in Newcastle, the suicides. But this suffering of Jesus Christ has a life-affirming outcome. "He will see his offspring and prolong his days". Risen to everlasting life (and that is certainly prolonged!) there are children of Jesus born everyday throughout the world: he brings them to life. God's will that seemed cruel and mysterious, is seen to be giving rise to joy and gladness. For Jesus there is satisfaction, in verse 11. Now living in the light, he sees that many are being justified, many are being declared not guilty, and he is satisfied. It was his intention, his wisdom, his desire and joy to see men and women forgiven and made holy. Bearing their iniquities is what he wanted to do. Verse 12 brings to my mind that anthem sung at speech days and Founders' Days at schools and colleges, by earnest faced choristers "Let us now praise men and our fathers that begat us. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power: Leaders of the people by their counsels and by their knowledge..." But what we have here is far more than a 'well done Jesus'. Jesus is exalted, his honour is restored. The one who had been deprived of all the good things of life is now to receive them in abundance. He is a great one, he will divide the lot with the strong. If anything we might say verse 12 is too weak in its praise Easter is effective because as the last part of verse 12 assures us, God's servant bore the sin of many and interceded, that is came between man and God, for the transgressions of the sinful. Jesus was resurrected, satisfied and exalted. If we are not believers there is an obvious application: Jesus' death is for the guilty: do you recognise that you are sinful, not deserving of mercy? Do you see what Jesus has done for you? How will you respond to what he has done, for it is our response that shows whether we believe it? I'll have a few booklets in my hand on the way out of church, if you would like to think about it further please have one. But if we are believers, surely the application of the effectiveness of Easter is that we can't keep this to ourselves. Who are we praying for to come to know the Lord? Who are we concerned for, that they are guilty in their sins? Conclusion To conclude let me sum up Easter is planned, Easter is painful, Easter is effective. Perhaps we have got as far as this through the day and we have not yet let sink in some of these things. Let's spend a few moments now thinking about it

Back to top