Would you recognize Jesus if He were to walk in the door this morning? What would He look like?              

Growing up in Tehran, Sulanyi was four years old when her father beat her mother to a pulp and walked out the door.  Anya and Sulanyi barely survived when it was almost impossible for a single Muslim woman to get work.  Then one night, just before she went to bed, Jesus appeared to Sulanyi.  He put her on his lap and rocked her for a long time. Sulanyi told her mother the next morning; but, of course, Mom dismissed it as a childish dream. Two days later, Sulanyi went to visit the home of her Christian aunt. She saw a painting of Jesus on the kitchen wall. Sulanyi jumped up and down, twirling around, and said “Mommy, Mommy—there is the man who talked to me.” Anya was speechless. She bowed her head and gave her heart to Jesus.  Some weeks later, Sulanyi’s father got word that Anya and Sulanyi had become infidel believers.  He stormed into their home and dragged Sulanyi away. Unafraid, Sulanyi quietly said to her Mom “Don’t worry Mommy.  Jesus told me I will be back in two days.”  Forty-eight hours later, Father appeared on the doorstep of Anya’s home.  Weeping profusely, he told Anya that Sulnyi had seen Jesus and he had seen Jesus too. Sulanyi had two parents now, and she is growing up in a Christian home. 

With the eyes of faith, we would recognize Him. This morning we will look at an unrecognizable Jesus. When He was on the cross He looked awful. There are six basic accounts of the crucifixion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53.  The New Testament gospels give only a reflection of the events and horrors.  The best picture of the transactions of the cross occurs in Isaiah 53.  Isaiah is often called the fifth evangelist for the clear-cut portrayal of the gospel.  Isaiah 53 is the Old Testament gospel message of Jesus Christ 750 years before Christ. 

ThIS passage is a song in five strophes

First strophe: the startling Christ 

ISAIAH 52:13-14: 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 —“

ISAIAH 52:15: 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 prophet is awestruck at the extreme disfiguring and bodily marring of the Lord Jesus.  The suffering was unspeakable. He did not look human. He was a bloody mass of quivering flesh.  The degree to which Christ startled people with his bodily suffering at his first coming is the same degree with which He will astonish many more at His second coming.

IsaIAH 53:1a: Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

Isaiah’s heart is breaking as he shares what God has revealed to him and no one believes.  Jesus has come into our world and salvation is available and so many don’t care.  God bared His arm…He rolled up His sleeves to get this work done.When God created the Heavens and the earth it was merely “finger work.” He didn’t half try. He simply spoke it all into existence.  Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (literally, “finger work”). But, when God redeemed man, it was His greatest undertaking. He had to roll up His sleeves and bare His arms to get this done. Our salvation is free; but it cost God everything. Our salvation is free; but it is not cheap. 

ISAIAH 53:2: 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 came from inauspicious beginnings—like a tender shoot in the dry ground. Doomed to wither early. Christ died at 33—way too early.He did not come as a king or philosopher or great world leader. He did not stand out in any way.  He was just an ordinary carpenter: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”… “Mary’s son? … Are not his brothers and sisters here with us?” Here is why He was so misunderstood: the Jews expected the Messiah to come in power and beauty and strength and victory. But, Isaiah tells us that He was just a withering plant. 

IsaIAH 53:3: 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. 

Israel never expected to see Christ on a cross—dying!  Peter’s great confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” “Well done!”  Then Christ said, “I must suffer and die on a cross!”  Peter then replied: “No! we will never let that happen to you!” Jesus sternly replied: “Get behind me Satan!” 
The Jews could not conceive of God suffering because the reason people suffered was because they sinned!  Messiah could not suffer because He had no sin!  But, this is the beauty of Christ. He took our sin on the cross—He became our sin so that He might redeem all—and the sin brought with it much suffering. 

THE third strophe: the divine substitute 

Isaiah 53:4-5: Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 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.  

Now we see why His suffering was so different—so deep and intense.  A divine transaction is occurring on the Cross that transcends normal human death.

ISAIAH 53:10: 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 was made a guilt offering: He was dying for the sins of the world.  It was the agony of the sin that twisted His human form to features not ever understood by men.  The cross became an altar between Heaven and earth where the Lamb suffered and died for some body else. J.Y. Simpson, the man who discovered chloroform was a Christian. Some friends discovered his Bible after he died. In Isaiah 53 he had changed all the pronouns to the first person singular.  “He was wounded for MY transgressions…” Dr. Alexander Whyte once dreamed that he saw a soldier cruelly flogging the sinless Son of God. The lash of the leaden studded whip cut deeply into His quivering, blood-splattered flesh. “Oh the shame of it,” Dr. Whyte as he rushed to stop the soldier. At that instant the soldier turned and in amazement, Dr. Whyte recognized himself as the one wielding the bone-studded whip. In verses 1-3 we see that the people misunderstood and failed to recognize Christ and His mission. Verses 4-6 is the heart of the matter: Nothing was wrong with Christ: All was wrong with us. 

ISAIAH 53:6: 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.  Sheep are dumb—they get lost—they can’t find their way home. “All of us are going astray…” this is a universal truth!   “…Every one to His own way:” every one has their own particular sins and pathways away from God. So, Jesus is your substitute. He took all our sin upon Himself. Accept His offer of grace. 

THE fourth strophe: the submissive messiah 

ISAIAH 53:7: 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. 

Jesus is the literal Word of God. He spoke the universe into existence. Yet, there comes a time when He has nothing to say.  He stood before Herod; Herod mocked Him and Christ refused to respond to Herod’s pleadings. He has nothing more to say to him. Some people today have rejected Him so many times that finally Christ says, “OK, I will take your “No” for your final answer. I went to visit a dying dad in the hospital. I told him his daughter wanted to be sure he had heard the gospel one more time. He shook his head sadly when I asked him if he would invite Jesus to come into his heart and give him eternal life.  He said, “I have rejected Christ so many times I don’t think I could become a Christian now even if I wanted to.”

 ISAIAH 53:8: 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.    “Cut off from the land of the living”—He died. 

In verse 9 Isaiah even predicts His burial:  ISAIAH 53:9: 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.  

THE fifth strophe: the divine satisfaction

ISAIAH 53:10-11a: 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, … 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; 

The contrast: He is “cut off from the land of the living,” yet, He will see His offspring and have His days extended—and see “the light of life.” We cannot avoid the feeling that 950 years before the crucifixion of Christ Isaiah was predicting not only Christ’s death but also His resurrection! “After He was cut off from the land of the living” Jesus still had work to complete: the resurrection as our assurance that His sacrifice was accepted by God the Father and we are promised that if we believe in Him we can be resurrected to live with Him forever!  The resurrection was the Father’s report card on Jesus. He received an “A+”. If the Father had not been pleased with the Son’s work, He would have left Him in the grave.  This is how we know there is life after death. Jesus came back to life to tell us about it!

ISAIAH 53:11b-12: by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 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.  

Several years ago Walter Wangerin wrote a story called, RAGMAN, which sums up the work of Jesus Christ. Before dawn one morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the streets of our city. He was pulling a cart filled with clothes both old and new, and he was calling out in a clear tenor voice, “Rags…Rags…”This is a wonder, I thought, for the man stood six feet four and his arms were like tree limbs… His eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than rag man? I followed him … and wasn’t disappointed. The rag man saw an old woman sitting on her back porch, sobbing into a handkerchief. Her shoulders shook as if her heart was breaking.The rag man stopped his cart and walked to the woman, stepping around Pampers and rats and empty cans. “Give me your rag,” he said, “and I’ll give you another.”He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes, as she looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new, it shined.The rag man then did a strange thing. He put her stained handkerchief to his face, and began to weep as grievously as she. His shoulders shook … yet she was left with no tears. This is a wonder. I breathed to myself. I cannot stop following this sobbing rag man.“Rags .. rags .. new rags for old…” The rag man saw a girl whose head was wrapped in a dirty-blood-soaked bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek. The rag man looked at this child with pity. He drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.“Give me your rag, he said. “And I will give you mine.” He loosened the bandage, removed it and tied it to his own head. And the new bonnet he set up on hers. And I gasped at what I saw, for now from her bandage and down His face the blood ran darker, more subtle, more substantial … his own blood. “Rags, rags, I take old rags….”Sobbing, bleeding, yet still strong, the rag man seemed more to hurry. “Are you going to work?” he asked a man leaning against a pole. “Are you crazy?” he sneered. He moved from the pole and I saw his right sleeve, with the cuff stuffed into his top shirt pocket. He had no arm.The rag man, said with strong authority, “Give me your jacket, and I will give you mine.”The one-armed man took off his jacket, and I trembled at what I saw. The rag man’s arm stayed in the sleeve, and when the other man put on Rag Man’s jacket, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs.The rag man had only one. “Go to work,” he said. He found a drunk, lying unconscious in an army blanket. The drunk was left with new clothes. Now the rag man was weeping uncontrollably, bleeding fiercely from his bandage, pulling his cart with one arm, and stumbling from drunkenness.He fell again and again, exhausted, old and sick … and came to the city limits and rushed hurriedly beyond. And I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. The little rag man came to the landfill—to the garbage dump.And I watched as He climbed a hill with tormenting labor. He cleared a little space. And he sighed and he lay down. And he pillowed his head in the handkerchief and his jacket. And there he died. I slumped in a junked car, and wailed and moaned as one with no hope. I had come to love the rag man.But he died and I sobbed myself to sleep.  I didn’t know … How could I know, that I slept through Friday night and Saturday, too. And then on Sunday morning, I was awakened by Light — pure, hard, demanding—and I blinked and I looked and saw the first wonder of it all.There was the rag man … carefully folding his blanket, a scar on his forehead, but alive—and, healthy—with no sign of sorrow. And the rags that he had gathered now all shined and clean. I walked to the rag man and lowered my head and trembled for all that I had seen. I felt shamed … for I was a sorry figure next to Him.I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice, “Dress me.” And he dressed me and I said, “My Lord.”He put new clothes on me and I follow beside him … the rag man … the rag man … the Christ. 

Can you imagine what this world might be like if the nations were willing to change clothes with Jesus Christ?  The streets of Baghdad are filled with people coping with death—that place needs a Savior!  Let’s not forget the 14-year-old girl raped by US soldiers who soon killed her family. Remember the indigents who starve on the urine-soaked sidewalks of India and the dust drenched plains of
Africa.  A man struggles with AIDS in Sudan.
 You know them all:  the little girl suffering in a wheel chair, the wife weeping over her broken marriage, the teenager that no one will talk to, Grandma languishing in the nursing home just waiting to die. Jesus died for it all.  He made such a difference when you traded your rags for His. 


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