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The Shepherd of Your Soul

Tom Pennington Isaiah 53:6


Well, I invite you this morning for our time as we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s table to turn with me again to the book of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah. One of the greatest truths about our God is that He is by nature a Savior. The Old Testament is clear that God has no joy in the death and destruction of the wicked. On the other hand it’s equally clear that He finds great joy in saving and rescuing sinners. Nowhere I think in Scripture is this great truth more thoroughly revealed than it is in Isaiah and specifically Isaiah chapter 53 where I invite you to turn with me this morning.

This great chapter sets forth for us the truths we celebrate in the Lord’s table. Now, Isaiah means “Yahweh” is salvation. That’s what the prophet’s name means. And this amazing fact about God that He is in fact a savior seems to come upon Isaiah like a thunderstorm with all the wonder of new revelation. The sovereign God is a God of grace. He is by nature a Savior. That is the meaning of the prophet’s name and that is the major theme of this book. And as he unfolds this theme he explains that Yahweh will spiritually rescue a remnant of earth’s people from their sin. And He will accomplish this rescue through a unique Person. A person Isaiah often calls “the Servant of Yahweh.” This Person is introduced to us in those familiar prophecies of Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin will conceive and bear a son. Isaiah chapter 9 where we learn that His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace and He will have an everlasting kingdom.

But in the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy, there are four passages that focus on this special Person and on His mission. These four passages are sometimes called the “Four Servant Songs.” The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus is the complete fulfillment of those servant passages of Isaiah. In fact our Lord Himself, during His earthy ministry, applied Isaiah 53 and the vicarious death of the servant to Himself. In Luke chapter 22 verse 37, He says, “I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me. And He was numbered with the transgressors …” a quote from Isaiah 53. And then Jesus says this, “For that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” So the servant of Yahweh in Isaiah is Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, through the

Messiah, Jews and Gentiles will be spiritually saved, universal blessing will finally come, and Israel will be restored.

The fourth and the last of these servant songs begins in Isaiah 52 verse 13 and runs all the way down through the end of chapter 53. This entire song is the penitent confession of those Jews who will be saved at the end of the Tribulation. They will look back as they come to faith in their Messiah, they will look back on how they had previously rejected Him along with the rest of the nation and this will be their song of redemption. This fourth song consists of five stanzas of three verses each. The first stanza is the last three verses of chapter 52. And then the other stanzas flow into chapter 53. It’s not an accident that the third stanza that stands at the center of this beautiful Hebrew poem about the Messiah tells us why He must suffer and why He must die. At some point I long for the day when we will study this entire chapter together and I’m confident that will come.

But today I want us as we prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Table, just to look at one verse together. A verse that’s at the heart of this great song about the Suffering Servant. Look at Isaiah 53 verse 6: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” It’s a remarkable verse. In the first half of verse 6 Isaiah pictures our spiritual condition as a world of sheep who strayed. And then in the second half of verse 6 Isaiah pictures our only hope as the Lamb of God who saves.

As we prepare for the Lord’s Table let’s look at it together. Let’s first consider the world of sheep who strayed. The world of sheep who strayed. Verse 6 begins this way: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.” Embedded in this picture of us straying as sheep is first of all a profound reminder of God’s gracious care. Notice all of us are like sheep. Isaiah powerfully illustrates our spiritual condition by using and reminding us of this familiar image of shepherds and sheep. But he begins by reminding us not of our sin but rather implied here is the privileged position that we all entered in this world enjoying. From the creation mankind as a whole has lived under God’s gracious care in the same way that sheep are cared for by a shepherd. God created us in His own image and likeness. He placed us as vice regents, as prime ministers of the rest of creation. In Psalm 8 David puts it this way:

What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man

that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God,

and You crown him with glory and majesty. You make him to rule over

the works of Your hands and You have put all things under his feet.

That’s the story of mankind.

But let me make this more personal. Let me talk to you about you. This is true of me, it’s true of you. I want you to listen to this in a very personal way. You see, since your conception, since your birth like a shepherd God has sustained you and He has met your needs. He gave you life and He’s the one who sustains your life every moment. As you sit there the very fact that your heart continues to beat is because of God your Creator. Paul says in Acts 17, “In Him you live and move and have your being.” Now we live in a fallen and cursed world and so our lives can be filled with many heartaches and troubles and difficulties. But listen carefully. That is the cause of human sin or caused by human sin. But every good and perfect gift that you have ever received in your life has come to you from the hand of your good and gracious Creator. There is nothing good in your life that hasn’t come from Him. He’s filled your life with good. He gives you the rain and the sun as Paul puts it in Acts 14, “He alone has filled your life with food and goodness and gladness.” In Acts 17 he says, “He has given you life and breath and all things.” Whatever success you have enjoyed in this life is not because of you. It is solely because of the goodness of your Creator. What do you have, Paul asks, that you have not received from Him? There’s nothing. Not one thing. It’s all a gift from your gracious Creator. God, your Creator, has acted every day of your life like a loving shepherd. Every day. And how have you and I responded to God’s gracious care?

Well, Isaiah describes next our gratuitous rebellion. Our gratuitous rebellion. Isaiah identifies our sin problem in two unforgettable lines in this magnificent poem. Look at the first part of verse 6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray.” ALL. That means this declaration is universally true. All humans like a great flock of sheep have without exception strayed as if they had no shepherd. When in fact they have a gracious Creator God who has shepherded and provided for them every day of their lives. But then Isaiah turns personal. Notice, he says, “All of us ….” He includes himself, the prophet. He includes Israel. Of course Israel looking back who are saved at the end of the Tribulation, and yet all of humanity is included in this sweeping indictment. All of us like sheep, have gone astray. He paints a picture of human sin that would have been overwhelming in an agricultural society where sheep dotted every field in every village. This is a common biblical metaphor for the lost human condition. Straying like sheep denotes estrangement, separation, alienation. Peter, the apostle, says in 1 Peter 2:25, “You were continually straying like sheep.” That is my biography. That’s your biography. How did we do it? How did we create the distance and the estrangement between us and God?

Well, the next phrase in verse 6 explains specifically how we have gone astray. Notice what he writes, “Each of us has turned to his own way.” Notice how Isaiah changes the emphasis. He begins with all of us which emphasizes the universal nature of this truth. And then he changes to each of us which points to every individual including you and including me. Substitute your own name. Tom, has turned to his own way. Fill in your name. You, have turned to your own way. The verb "has turned” is a very important word here because it’s a word which speaks of deliberate choice. You see our problem didn’t happen by accident. We weren’t basically good people who woke up one day to find that we had accidentally strayed from God. We chose to turn away from God. You chose, just like I did, to turn away from a good and gracious Creator who has given you every imaginable good gift. We surpassed the truth about Him in creation, Romans 1:18, and we chose to turn away from His law that was written on our hearts as Roman 2 describes it. Each of us has turned to his own way. His own way. By that Isaiah means our own predictable patterns of sinful thinking and behaving.

Here’s how Albert Barnes puts it. I don’t think I can put it more powerfully or beautifully than this:

The bond which should have united us to the Great Shepherd,

our Creator, has been broken. We have become lonely wanderers,

where each one pursues his own interest, forms his own plans, and

seeks to gratify his own pleasures, regardless of the interest of

the whole. If we had not sinned, there would have been a common

bond to unite us to God, and to each other. But now we, as a race,

have become dissocial, selfish, following our own pleasures, each

one living to gratify his own passions. What a true and graphic

description of man! How has it been illustrated in all the selfish

schemes and purposes of the race! And how it still illustrated

every day in the plans and actions of mortals.

Here’s the remarkable thing. Sadly, because we are fallen and sinful we can even convince ourselves that our own way is good and right. It’s like Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man; but its end is the way of death.” But somehow we manage to convince ourselves that our own way is the way of good and the way of life. This tragic choice of our own way, I don’t think can be expressed any better than it was fifty years ago by Frank Sinatra when he sang:

I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway,

and more much more than this, I did it my way. For what is a

man, what has he got? If not himself then he has not. To say the

things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels.

The record shows, I took the blows, and did it my way.

That’s the anthem of fallen humanity. In one sense we can say that every sinner has gone his own way. But there’s another sense in which all who reject Christ are on the same basic path headed to the same destination. Notice how Isaac identifies the path that every sinner takes in just three Hebrew words. Notice verse 5. Transgressions. The word means rebellion. Our acts of rebellion against our rightful King. Notice also in verse 5 the word “iniquities.” It means those actions that are characterized by moral twistedness. And then verse 12 the word “sin” refers to deviations from God’s divine standard. You see if you’re not in Christ, if you’re here this morning and you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ you are tempted to think that you are unique; that you do things your own way. But in reality you’re just like everybody else. You’re controlled by your desires and passions, you’re enslaved to your sin, you are a pawn of Satan. And if you doubt that, if you doubt that you’re a slave, then just try to change.

You see Jesus said this in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you every one who commits sin is the slave of sin.” And yet you and I have believed Satan’s lie. He promised greener pastures but we find ourselves in a desert wasteland. He promised freedom if you’ll finally break those shackles and step away from God’s rules and His laws, there’s freedom! But in reality you found that you’re a slave. He promised pleasure but it only lasted for a moment and then came misery and regret and the voice of conscience. He promised fulfillment but when you’ve climbed the ladder, you’ve arrived at that level of success you lived all your life hoping for, dreaming for, you find that you found nothing but emptiness. He promised an easy life but Isaiah says, “The way of the transgressor is hard.” You see Satan sold you the same lie that he sold the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable. Life will be so much better if only you can get away from the father! But like the prodigal in that story we’ve all spent everything that we have in wasted living and now we’ve come to the reality that the friends that we once had and bought don’t last. And life itself never really satisfies.

But here’s the problem. When that reality finally begins to dawn on the human soul, we have wandered so far from God that we don’t even really know where we are and we have no idea how to get back. That’s our spiritual condition. The world of sheep who strayed from their good, gracious, loving, shepherd God. And that’s the reason for the suffering and death of the Messiah. And that brings us to our only hope in the second half of verse 6. We’ve seen the world of sheep who stray. Now, let’s consider the Lamb of God who saves. Verse 6 says, “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us have turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Here, Isaiah describes three great realties about our salvation.

First of all, our salvation is motivated by God’s disposition. That is there is something within God that drives Him. Notice how the second half of verse 6 begins, “But, [Yahweh] …” Sometimes we get the impression that Christ has kind of convinced the Father to save sinners. And the Father finally does so but He does so grudgingly. But the truth is the entire plan of redemption springs from the heart of the Father. Pauls writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” We have strayed from God’s way and each of us has turned to his own way and as a result of that the apostle John says the wrath of God abides on our souls like a stain we can’t get off. John 3:36, John writes, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life. But he who does not obey the Son will not see life but the wrath of God is remaining on him.” Like a stain you can’t get rid of. If you haven’t believed in Jesus, God’s wrath has marked you for a certain future. Because of His great love God made a way to satisfy His wrath, not on you and not on me, but on another. On His own Son. Our salvation is motivated by God’s disposition, by His gracious character, by His sovereign love and grace. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” Our salvation is motivated by something in God not in us. His sovereign love and grace.

There’s a second reality about our salvation that Isaiah describes here. Our salvation is accomplished by the Son’s substitution. Our salvation is accomplished by the Son’s substitution. “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall…” notice this “… on Him.” Why did Jesus have to die? Our sin. But what’s the relationship between His death and our sin? The relationship can be identified in a single word and that word is “substitution.” Substitution is the act of one person taking the place of another. Sometimes you’ll hear the word “vicarious.” That means what is endured by one person acting as a substitute. And Isaiah 53 is filled with the language of substitution. Look back at the two verses of our text, Isaiah 53:4, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore and our sorrows He carried…” In other words He endured the consequences of sin in this life that we had earned by our sin. “…Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.” In other words, the Jews will look at Jesus and say, He’s getting what He deserves. And when those at the end of time are saved they look back and say, that’s what we thought but we were wrong. Verse 5, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions.” Our acts of rebellion against God. He was crushed for our acts of spiritual perversion. “The chastening for our well-being…” literally our shalom, our peace with God, “… fell upon Him. And by His scourging we are [spiritually] healed.”

Look at verse 7. You know in verse 6 we’re described as sheep but that’s not the only sheep in this passage. Look at verse 7. “He…” the Messiah “ … was oppressed and He was afflicted yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb that is led to slaughter. Like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation…” here’s the key “… who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living…” He was killed. Why? “… For the rebellion of My people to whom the stroke was due.”

Look down at verse 10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief …” Why? “If He would render Himself as a guilt offering…” There’s the reason for His death. He would be the perfect fulfillment of those sacrifices that would do away with the guilt of human sin. Verse 11 ends by saying, “He will bear their iniquities.” Their acts of twistedness He will bear. And verse 12 ends, “Yet He Himself bore the sin of many and interceded for the transgressors.” Many other passages throughout Scripture describe the transfer of human guilt to Jesus. In fact, the entire Old Testament sacrificial system pictured the work of Christ as substitutionary. You realize if you sacrificed a lamb in the Old Testament as a sin or guilt offering, you first put your hands on the head of that lamb and you confess your sins over the head of that lamb, then the priest handed you the knife and you cut its throat. The idea was my sins had been transferred to this innocent animal and this innocent animal is now dying in my place. I deserve to die. He doesn’t deserve to die but he’s dying for me. And that was a picture of the reality that would one day come. John 1:29, “The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” You see we are straying sheep. But He is the saving Lamb. First Peter 2:24, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross. “Now look back to Isaiah 53 because Isaiah makes two key points here about substitution.

First of all, the Father appointed Christ to be the substitute. Notice verse 6, “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” At the same time Jesus volunteered to be our substitute. Look down at verse 10, “He would render Himself as a guilt offering.” Verse 12, “He poured out Himself.” That’s perfectly consistent with the message of the New Testament. The Father offered the Son but the Son offered Himself. John 10, “I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me but I lay it down on My own initiative.” Let this sink into your mind for a moment, Christian. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God incarnate, volunteered to stand in your place, to be your substitute, and to suffer what you deserve from God’s justice. He said to the Father, let Me die for their sin and let them go free. Our salvation is accomplished by the Son’s substitution.

Thirdly, our salvation is secured by our sins imputation. Our salvation is secured by our sins imputation. Here’s the key question. How? How could Jesus Christ be my substitute? How could He stand in my place? Verse 6 takes us deeper and explains what lies at the heart of substitution. Look at what He says. “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” Here’s the heart of the gospel. It’s our iniquity. The word here in the singular means it’s our guilt, it’s our legal guilt. We’ve broken God’s law but it falls on Him. In a word, this is what theologians call imputation. There’s no more important word to the Christian faith than the word imputation. It’s a financial term. It comes from an old Latin word that means to settle an account.

In Romans chapter 4 Paul uses the word, the Greek word, for it again and again - to credit, to credit, to credit. To credit something to someone’s account. Although the words “impute” and “credit” don’t appear in Isaiah 53, the concept permeates this entire passage. And imputation especially lies at the heart of verse 6. Notice what it says again. It is our iniquity. It’s our guilt. But it falls on Him. How does that happen? How does our guilt end up on Him? Because our sins are credited to Him. Notice back in verse 5. It’s our transgressions that He gets. It’s every single individual sinful thought I have ever had. Every individual sinful word I have ever spoken. Every individual act that’s been sinful and disobedient to God was credited to Jesus Christ’s account on the cross. Notice the Hebrew verb there translated “cause to fall.” That could be better translated “to strike or to hit.” The Father caused the guilt and punishment for our sin instead of striking us, to strike or hit Christ. How? It’s imputation. Notice verse 11, “He will bear their iniquities.” Plural. Their acts of sinfulness.

My sin credited to Christ. Second Corinthians 5:21, “The Father made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” God credited my sins to Christ and He suffered the penalty for my sin. And then God credited the righteousness of the Servant, verse 11, to me and treats me as if I were as righteous as He is. This is called “double imputation.” My sin’s imputed or credited to Christ, His righteousness imputed or credited to me. You could call it a magnificent exchange. Christ gets the blame for my sin and I get the credit for His obedience. He gets my guilty verdict and I get His acquittal. He suffers the punishment for my sin and I receive the reward for His perfection. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had lived my sinful life so that forever He could treat me as if I had lived Jesus’ perfect life. That’s the gospel. At the heart of it is substitution and what makes substitution work is imputation. He can substitute for me because God credited all of my sins to Jesus and He paid the debt, as the choir sang, in full. He paid it all.

This great verse is relevant for every person here this morning. And to show you just how relevant it is, I want you to turn to Luke 15. Because Jesus expands this picture of sheep who have strayed in one of His most familiar parables. In Luke 15 He tells three parables all making the same point. But the first of them is about a sheep who has strayed. And I want you to look at this story with me and as I read it I just want to point out the four crucial points Jesus makes here about this whole concept of sheep who’ve strayed.

First of all in verse 4 we learn that the Lord Jesus seeks the lost sheep. Notice what verse 3 says, “He told them this parable saying …” verse 4 “…What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” Notice the Lord Jesus is the one who is seeking the lost sheep. Maybe this morning you came in here as someone who has never trusted in Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve heard the gospel before but this morning Jesus is seeking you because these truths are resonating in your soul in a way they never have before. You see Jesus is the one who seeks sinners. He’s the one who seeks lost sheep. Later in Luke chapter 19 verse 10 He interacts with Zaccheus, the tax collector, and there he says to Zaccheus, you come down. I’m going to your house because “[I] have come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Maybe this morning Jesus is seeking you because the truths that I’m sharing are resonating with your soul. Jesus seeks the lost sheep.

Secondly in verse 5 we learn that the Lord Jesus alone saves the lost sheep. Look at verse 5. “When He has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing and comes home.” How much does the lost sheep, the one who strayed, how much does that sheep contribute to its rescue, to its salvation? The answer is nothing. The picture here is of the Lord Jesus finding a lost sinner. Throwing that lost sinner over His shoulders and carrying Him back to the Father. And that’s the reality of what happens in salvation. Imputation. He carries our sin on His shoulders. We saw in Isaiah 53. In salvation it’s like He’s carrying us on His shoulders home to the Shepherd of our souls.

A third point He makes in verse 6, God Himself rejoices over one lost sheep saved. Verse 6, “When he comes home he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost?’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven …” that’s God Himself “ … over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” He’s not saying that there are such people. That’s sarcasm. He’s saying there are people who think they don’t need saving. God doesn’t rejoice over them. He rejoices when a tree sinner who finally realizes is found. Think about that.

This morning if you will turn from your sin and believe in Jesus Christ, God Himself, will rejoice! You see you’ve spent your whole life believing a lie. Believing a lie that Satan sells and that is God isn’t good, He doesn’t want what’s best for you, He’s holding out on you. If you can only leave Him and do what you want, life will be richer and fuller and greater. It’s a lie! And you’ve spent your whole life believing that. But God Himself rejoices over one lost sheep that is saved.

Verse 7 gives us one last point. And that is the lost sheep has to do something. And that something is repent. “I tell you in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” It doesn’t mean you earn salvation. It doesn’t mean this is a pre-condition of salvation. It means this is what God works in the heart of someone He’s rescuing. You repent. You say how can I repent? What does that look like? It means acknowledge that you’ve sinned and lost your way. You want to know what it looks like? Go down to the story of the prodigal and the very next passage. Here’s what it looks like, verse 17. You remember he prostituted all of his father’s good gifts. Left the father. His father was the problem. Verse 17, “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How may of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!’” You see what’s happening? He’s understanding, he’s believed the lie about the father. But in truth the father is good! He gave him everything good! And then “I will get up…” verse 18 “… and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’”

That’s how you come back. That’s what repentance looks like. If you’re a sheep who’s wandered and has no way to come home, that’s where it starts. It starts in your heart with an acknowledgement that you’re the problem. And God is good. It’s Luke 18 verse 13 where Jesus tells the story of the tax collector and says here’s what it looks like; here’s what repentance looks like. God be merciful to me the sinner. That’s my prayer for you today. If the Lord is working in your heart, if He’s opened your heart to understand these things and there’s a yearning in your heart to recognize that you have strayed, you have run away from God, the only good you have ever had, and you believed the lie and you want to come home, where does it start? It starts with Jesus. It starts with acknowledging your sin and putting your trust in His life, death and resurrection. God be merciful to me the sinner. Save me because of what Jesus is and did.

Christian, this is what we celebrate in the Lord’s Table. All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. And the Lord Jesus put us over His shoulders and brought us home. Let’s pray together.

Father, we are overwhelmed by Your goodness. That You are by nature a Savior. We thank You for the privilege of examining the Scripture, of looking at Isaiah 53 and seeing how far Your love went to bring straying sheep, lost sheep who intentionally turned away from Your goodness to bring us home. Father, we love You. And even in the Lord’s Table we celebrate that reality. Lord, I pray for those who are here this morning who are still lost sheep. I pray that You would open their eyes to see it. And that they would see You for the first time like that prodigal saw his father for the first time, as good and generous and gracious and welcoming. That they would repudiate the lie they’ve spent their life believing and come, oh God, to You crying out - God, be merciful to me a sinner. Thank You that they will find grace.