Expect the Unexpected
A sermon based on Isaiah 52:13–53:12
Friday, March 29, 2013 – Good Friday
You know the Boy Scouts' motto: "Always be prepared." You know, "Hope for the best, but plan for the worst," because as Murphy's law states: "If anything can go wrong, it will." So expect things to be abnormal. Then you'll never be caught off guard. Or another way of putting it, is the wonderful oxymoron: "Expect the unexpected."
That last phrase could really be said of religious truth. For the unexpected often happens. One might expect that one would gladly love, serve, and obey a God who loves and protects and provides for them. But in our lives, the unexpected happens: We rebel against such a loving God. In fact, we wander from his ways so often, you might even say it's expected.
And we'd expect that while such rebels should be punished and the innocent and sinless should be set free, on Good Friday the unexpected happened. And we've heard that message so often that we've come to expect it. And so we take it for granted. But listen again to this awesome surprise as if you were hearing it for the very first time. We already heard how Isaiah so beautifully and poetically described the events of Good Friday in Isaiah 53. Now we focus especially on verse 6...
6 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.
I. We All Like Sheep Have Gone Astray
You're familiar with the picture of a loving shepherd tenderly taking care of his sheep, each one of which he knows by name. He provides for all their needs leading them to fresh water and pasture land full of food. He protects them from the predators fighting off wolves and lions to keep them safe. He carries the little lambs in his arms when they're too weak or tired to go on. He loves the sheep and dedicates his life to caring for them.
Now one might expect a sheep to love such a loving shepherd back. You might expect that a sheep would stick close to a shepherd like that and not wander off. Or you might know just a little about the nature of sheep and know that you cannot expect them to act so wise. So often sheep do what's least expected. They wander away from the shepherd. They get hopelessly lost. They seem to look for dangerous places where they will get hurt. They seem to hunt the lion and the wolf and try to get eaten. In short, you know that with sheep you pretty much have to expect the unexpected.
And of course, you also know that all of that is a picture of our relationship with God. The Lord is our shepherd—the Good Shepherd—who takes such good care of us that we shall not be in want, who protects us so well that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we should fear no evil. And while you might expect people to love such a loving God back, we so often do the opposite. Isaiah describes us in this way: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way..."
You see God has clearly marked out the way that he wants us to walk and behave. And he's practically put runway lights on either side, with our own consciences blinking "Do not cross this line!" on the one side, and God's clear commands blinking "You shall not!" on the other. And yet, what have we done? We've decided we can find a better path of our own. We each choose our own way.
We choose to flee from the Good Shepherd as the disciples did at his arrest. We choose to ignore his authority like the Sanhedrin and the teachers of the law. We have been annoyed when Jesus hasn't given us everything we feel he owes us like the mob in Pilate's courtyard did. We have been afraid to stand up for the truth as Pilate was.
We've wandered off the path of what's right and chosen our own way so often that you might come to expect that we will do the unexpected thing of rebelling against a holy God. And in choosing to sin, we choose for ourselves the punishment pictured in Isaiah's Words: We deserve to be despised and rejected by God. We deserve to take up our own infirmities and carry our own sorrows. We deserve to be stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. We deserve to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. We deserve to be punished and wounded forever in hell.
And that's what you might expect. After all, if you ignore the assembly directions, you shouldn't be surprised if you have extra pieces. If you ignore the lesson, you shouldn't be surprised if you fail the test. If you ignore the directions the GPS gives, you shouldn't be surprised when you get lost. And not only do our consciences leave us with this expectation of punishment from God, but his own Word does. In Ezekiel 18:4 God warned that "The soul who sins is the one who will die."
Yes, we might well expect punishment for wandering away from a loving Shepherd who's done nothing but love us. And yet, we won't get the punishment we might expect because on Good Friday the unexpected happened...
II. But the Lord Has Laid on Him the Iniquity of Us All
Do you remember all the supernatural phenomena that took place on that day? Every day we take for granted that the sun will shine. Yeah, it may be cloudy and overcast, but I mean that there will be an end to nighttime and the sun will come up. But on Good Friday we're told that the sun stopped shining. And make no mistake. It wasn't just a storm. It wasn't an eclipse. (A solar eclipse can only take place at a new moon at the beginning of a month of the Jewish lunar calendar, not at Passover which is celebrated in the middle of the month on the 14th of Nissan.) Luke makes it very clear that the darkness came because the sun itself unexpectedly stopped shining. (Luke 23:35)
And if that weren't strange enough, something even more unexpected happened. Matthew reports, "The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people." (Matthew 27:52-53)
In the back of the December 2009 issue of Consumer Reports there's an ad from a woodworker in North Carolina that reads, "The Woodworker's Shop. We restore, repair, and refinish,"—now get this! They restore…—"caskets!" How odd! You see, caskets aren't normally reused. Once you're in, you're usually there for good. You don't stop using it, and sell it on Craigslist or EBay. But on Good Friday, the dead came back to life.
And as extraordinary as that even was it was not the most unexpected thing to happen that day. You see, we usually expect criminals to pay for their crimes, but we don't expect innocent men to get the death sentence. And when they do, we don't expect that they will readily forgive their accusers. We expect that a just and holy God would punish sinners, but we don't expect the sinless Son of God to be punished for anything. And we certainly don't expect, the immortal Son of God to die. But the sinless Son of God should reign eternally in glory!
That's what we'd expect.
But on Good Friday, the unexpected happened. And far more unexpected still, is why: The innocent and immortal Son of God was punished and killed for you and me, for us sheep who so love to wander.
Marvel again at the unexpected beauty of what Isaiah wrote: "he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows... 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 led like a lamb to the slaughter... he was taken away... he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken... though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth... the LORD makes his life a guilt offering... my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities... he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
And so, while we might have expected to be punished for wandering away from a loving Shepherd who's done nothing but love and care for us, we are forgiven. We won't get the punishment we might expect because on Good Friday the unexpected happened. And now, we can expect the unexpected, that sinful, wandering sheep like us will enjoy a perfect paradise of glory with our Savior because of what he's done for us. Yes, dear friends, you can expect the unexpected! In the name of Jesus—the Lamb who was crushed that we might have peace—amen.