(Manuscript basis of message given to the congregation of Ikthus East; Lopue’s East Annex; Bacolod City, Philippines; 19 December 2021; Sunday, 9:30 a.m. Worship Service; based on Isaiah chapter 53. )
We’ve just been through a terrible storm that has caused a lot of damage to property, devastated people’s homes and resulted in loss of lives. In times like these it’s difficult to celebrate Christmas. But if you’re here today you’re probably expecting a word from the Lord that could address the tragedy we’ve just faced, something that could help us through this. And I think the passage we’re considering today – Isaiah 53 – can do that because, in a sense, it talks about a far stronger and more devastating storm, namely the storm of God’s righteous anger against our sins, which the Lord Jesus shielded us from by taking upon himself on the cross the penalty for our sins. He was so overwhelmed by it that it killed him, but he did that so that you and I can be saved.
You might also be wondering why I’m speaking on this particular passage when it seems to fit more with the Lenten season than it does Christmas time. Well, in the first place, this is what was assigned to me to speak on, and secondly, when you think about it, there would be no point to Christmas if it didn’t lead up to the cross. The whole point of the Incarnation, that is, God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ, was so that he could die on the cross to save us from our sins. So you can’t really separate Christmas from the cross.
The theme of our message this morning is “He humbly came to save.” But I’d like to title my message “Unbelievable” because that’s what you read in verse 1: “Who has believed what he has heard from us?” Paul, in Romans 10:15 quotes this verse when he talks about the gospel, the good news of salvation. And he expounds further about the difficulty of believing the gospel in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” The reason for this is because the natural person does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him.
The gospel is so unbelievably shocking to the natural person that even up to now the Jews in general find it next to impossible to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But it is this unbelievable message of Christ and his salvation that offers our only hope to be saved from the storm of righteous judgment that is coming upon our sinful world. The storm we’ve just gone through has caused a lot of damage, most of which is temporary and from which we can rebuild. But the final storm will not be a storm of wind and rain but of fire and brimstone, and the havoc it will wreak will be eternal, from which there can be no rebuilding, unless you believe this unbelievable message of Christ and his cross.
There are three unbelievable things about Jesus Christ that I’d like to share with you from this passage:
Firstly, Jesus Christ was unbelievably humble. He became what most of us don’t want to be: a servant.
Isaiah 52:13 begins with a puzzle: The Messiah is someone who will be high and lifted up and exalted. But suddenly it turns out that people are not only unimpressed with him but are astonished at him, because his appearance is marred beyond human semblance and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. Here Isaiah is already predicting the crucifixion and how bruised and battered Jesus’ body would be by the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the nails and the cross. Isaiah also says he was “like a root out of dry ground,” which is a metaphor for insignificance. He wasn’t extraordinary or attractive, unlike Saul and David who were fair to look upon. He had no form or majesty that we should desire him. We learn from the Bible that he was born in a manger and that he had no place to lay his head. In other words, Jesus was everything the Jews didn’t expect in a Messiah. They were looking for a powerful political Messiah who would free them from the yoke of Rome. But Jesus came as a humble carpenter and an itinerant preacher. That’s why they didn’t recognize him when he was in their midst.
We learn from the life of Jesus that God has a very different idea of what constitutes true greatness. We want to be somebody, we want to be rich, successful, famous and admired. The good news about Jesus is unbelievable because he became everything we don’t want to become. Meek and lowly instead of being high and mighty. He was unbelievably humble. He himself said that he who wants to be the greatest of all must become the servant of all. And that was what he was. He said, “I came not be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
And the irony of it all is that if there was anyone who was truly entitled to fame and glory and greatness, it was none other than him. In fact, he was already glorious before he came down from heaven to be born in a lowly manger. But he chose to lay aside his glory. Why? Philippians 2:5-8 tells us why.
 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (ESV)
He was unbelievably humble. And he proved that by becoming what most of us would try to avoid if we had a choice: He became a servant who came not be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.
Secondly, Jesus was unbelievably sorrowful! He bore what we couldn’t: our sins.
A) He was sorrowful. “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3; c.f., Matt. 26:38).
B) He was slighted. “Despised and rejected by men” (v. 3) (John 1:10-11; John 3:19-20).
C) He was stricken (Isa. 53:4, 10; Matt. 27:46).
D) He was sinless. Verse 9, “He had done no violence; there was no deceit in his mouth.” “He was taken away by oppression and judgment (unjust trial)” (Isa. 53:9,11; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Heb. 7:26). In order to save us from our sins, the Savior himself must be sinless.
E) He was slaughtered. “A lamb led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53: 7). “He poured out his soul to death” (Isa. 53:12). Why? Because of Rom. 6:23. Also Heb. 2:14-15.
F) He was a substitute. Christ did not die for his own sins since he was sinless; he died “For us!” “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,” v. 4. “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities,” v. 5. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” v. 6. “Stricken for the transgression of my people,” v. 8. “He shall bear their iniquities,” v. 11. “He bore the sin of many and makes intercession for transgressors,” v. 12. See also 1 Pet. 3:18 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. Divine exchange! Our sins become his, his righteousness becomes ours.
Thirdly, Jesus Christ was unbelievably successful! He accomplished for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves: salvation (Isa. 53:11)!
A) He will succeed in accomplishing his Father’s will (Isa. 53:10) (John 6:38-40).
B) He will see his offspring. He will be satisfied (Isa. 53:10-11; Rev. 5:9; 7:9) (Matt. 1:21). Incidentally, this implies the resurrection.
The atonement was meant to succeed. It was meant to produce a people for God. He died without descendants in order to have multitudes of spiritual descendants! He became a servant of all that he might be Lord of all. He became undesirable so that he might be the desire of all nations! He became one without beauty and majesty so that he might be beautiful beyond description and glorious beyond reckoning. That is the unbelievable message about Jesus Christ.
Jesus became unbelievably humble, unbelievably sorrowful, and unbelievably successful so that those who would believe in this unbelievable person and his unbelievable gospel would receive the unbelievable gift of salvation and eternal life. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved and your household!” (Acts 16:31)