Our Suffering Savior
For Sheep Who Love to Wander
A sermon based on Isaiah 53:6
Sunday, March 30, 2014 – Lent 4A
They called him “Old Blue Eyes,” or “The Chairman of the Board.” He was one of the most popular American singers ever, with his career spanning more than 50 years. Recording hundreds of songs in many different styles and genres earned him the nickname, “The Voice.”
And toward the end of his career, Frank Sinatra recorded a song that fit him perfectly. “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain,” it began. The lyrics describe an old man approaching death and looking back on how he lived his life, reflecting on all the things he’d said and done. And he was quite satisfied, proud even of the way he’d always been in control of his life, always charted his own course:
“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain, My friend, I’ll say it clear; I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain… I planned each charted course, Each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this—I did it my way.”
He wasn’t ashamed at all about the way he’d lived his life. He didn’t feel bad at all. A few regrets? Maybe, but too few to mention. “And may I say, not in a shy way, Oh, no… not me. I did it my way.” (Frank Sinatra, My Way, 1969)
It’s easy to see why people like that song: It’s about rugged American individualism, independence, and freedom to be who you want to be, to go wherever you want to go. It’s about the freedom to chart your own course in life, to go your own way and do your own thing.
I. I Did It My Way
You know, anyone of us could look back over our lives, whether the years are just a few or, well… a few more. And we could identify times and places where we did it our way. Sometimes we were happy with what we’d done, the way we dealt with challenges, the way we kept our head held high, chewed up our problems and spit them out.
But other times… many times… we have to admit that when we did things our way, it wasn’t the Lord’s way. Maybe it was only later that we realized what we’d done and became embarrassed or ashamed, or thankful that no one else found out. We did it our way. But our way was the wrong way. But that’s what we sinners do. We like to reject God’s way and do it our way.
Our text for this morning is from that familiar prophecy in Isaiah which we’ve been studying all Lenten season. Today, we look at just verse 6 of Isaiah 53: “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.”
Frank Sinatra was proud of the way he did it his way. And we can join with him in singing, “I did it my way.” But for us, it’s not in pride, but in confession. We join with Isaiah in owing up to the fact that many times in our lives, we did it our way. That’s really what any sin is—doing it my way instead of God’s.
I know God wants me to be in the Word, but it’s so hard to get to Bible Class on time. I’ll still make it to worship. Jesus is cool with that. I know God wants me to be loving, but I’m so much better than that person. I’ll be loving to someone else. I know God wants me to give generously to others, but then I’d have so much less for myself. God understands.
And so we must confess with the prophet: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…”
First, note how all inclusive this confession is: “We all.” No exceptions. Nobody’s different than anybody else in this huge flock. We all were part of the same mass of humanity that acted just like stupid sheep who follow their eyes and noses, heads down, sniffing out that next delicious bite or for a better spot to die down and rest—always looking for “greener pastures.”
It’s easy to wander and get into all kinds of danger when you keep your nose to the ground, looking for immediate satisfaction or quick gratification. And that’s exactly what fallen, sin-filled people do. By nature, all we care about is the next delicious bite, for more comfort, for that day when we can just lie down and rest, for whatever catches our eye and suits our fancy at any given moment.
And while this is true of us all, we each have our own particular way of doing it. I do it my way. You do it yours. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…”
Whether it’s sex or success, a chemical high or an adrenalin rush, more money or more munchies, pride or prejudice, whatever it is that floats your boat… We each have our own pet sins. Eyes and noses to the ground, we sniff out what we each think will satisfy the desires of our minds and our bodies.
And we go astray. Sometimes blindly, unaware that we’re heading toward destruction. Sometimes eyes open, but uncaring, we wander away from the Lord. We plan our charted course, each careful step along the byway. And we like to do things “my way.”
Look around and we look like the Israelites in the book of Judges. The book ends with this verse: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25) And if left to our own devices, we sheep would wander right into hell…
II. God Did It His Way
But we’re not left to our devices. Thank God the verse doesn’t end there! Isaiah goes on to give beautiful Gospel: “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.”
While we were stumbling, and bumbling, and charting our own course, while we were straying and playing and streaming toward destruction, this is what God was doing: All through history from the time of Adam and Eve, and even before—in eternity!—God was planning his work and he was working his plan. And it all fell into place at Golgotha—at Calvary. It all fell into place when your sins and mine—our iniquity—fell on Jesus.
“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The confession of sins began this verse with “we all.” It got personal with “each of us has turned to his own way.” But it all leads to this beautiful confession of faith that ends with “us all” again. See what Isaiah did there? He brought it all full circle in one simple, beautiful verse.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he looked ahead to Calvary where our suffering Savior suffered what we deserved. Literally the Hebrew says “the Lord caused our iniquity to fall on him.” God, in his unspeakable love for stupid, stubborn, straying sheep, let our sin fall on Jesus. He let our guilt land on him. And with that guilt he let his justice fall—all the wrath that the human race had heaped up for itself—fell on Jesus crushing him.
And while we do confess, “I did it my way in my pride, in my foolishness, in my stupidity, like a sheep wandering away,” we also confess, “But God did it his way.” His way was the way of love, of grace, of substitution, of sacrifice. His way is the only way for you and me to find forgiveness.
And now, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, you and I get on board with Isaiah and gladly confess with him, “God laid my iniquity, my sin, my guilt, my hell all on Jesus, for all the times I did it my way. I am forgiven. I am heaven-bound. I am at peace.”
So what now? What does this all mean for sheep that still by nature love to stray? What does it mean for sheep who now belong to the Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, only to take it up again?
It means that we don’t love to wander anymore. We don’t keep our eyes and noses to the ground, sniffing around for the next “green pasture” that will satisfy my sinful appetite. It means we’re not sheep in that flock anymore! It means that we now listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd. We follow him and run away from strangers. It means we rest secure and content in his fold. (cf. John 10)
Paul put it this way: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2) Noses to ground? Not any more! Eyes to the skies! Hearts and minds looking up, fixed not on earthly things, but on heavenly things! On eternity!
You know, the last song Frank Sinatra ever sang before his death in 1998 was, "The Best is Yet to Come." And that’s what’s etched on his tombstone today: "The Best is Yet to Come." Thanks to God, who did it his way to rescue us from our way, this is our confidence too: "The Best is Yet to Come." In the name of Jesus, our suffering Savior, dear friends, amen.