Great Words of Salvation: Atonement (5 of 5)

Series: What Must I Do to Be Saved?

This year the theme of these series of sermons has been “The Great Words of This Salvation”: on repentance, and on faith, and on confession, and on discipleship; and this noonday, on the great all-inclusive word of atonement.  In the prophecy of Isaiah, who lifted up his eyes seven hundred fifty years before Christ, and saw the day and the hour of His cross, and he wrote on the pages of his prophecy:

His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. . . .

He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

Surely, surely, He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord, the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation?  for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken.

. . .

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, God shall see His seed, God shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of My righteous Servant shall He justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.

[Isaiah 52:14-53:12]

Seven hundred fifty years before Christ, as though he stood under the shadow of the cross and looking upon the face of the Son of God, [he] wrote those words.

So we speak, this last day, of atonement, of the sacrifice of the Son of God for our sins.  We speak of the day of the cross.  We speak of the hour of His sufferings in body, and in heart, and in soul.  His sufferings in body: “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” [Isaiah 52:14], mutilated, and beat, and scourged, and marred, the sufferings of His body.

There was a soldier from our country in the First World War who fell in battle and in the explosion of the shell, blinded his eyes, and maimed his form, and mutilated his body; but most tragic of all, so damaged his brain that he forgot who he was, blotted out the memory of childhood, of manhood, of his family, and all of his former life.  And when the carcass of a man came back home to America, as he was able, he would move his maimed form from place to place and lift up his sightless eyes, and ask piteously, “Does anybody know who I am?  Anybody know who I am?”

“His visage so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” [Isaiah 52:14].  Torn, and spit upon, and beat, and flagellated, and scourged, and nailed, and crucified [Matthew 27:26, 29-50]: the sufferings of His body.

It began in the long vigil of a weary and dark night: the Passover, the institution of the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread and the sharing of the memorial cup [Matthew 26:17-30]; and then the long last farewell in the upper room [John 13:31-17:26]; and then the agony of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-46]; and then the betrayal and the arrest [Matthew 26:47-56], and then before Annas [John 18:12], and then before Caiaphas [Matthew 26:57; John 18:24], and then before the Sanhedrin who condemned Him to death [Matthew 26:57-67].  Then before Pilate [Luke 23:1-5], then before Herod [Luke 23:6-10], and finally, before Pilate again[Luke 23:11-24], and then, and then, turned over to the brutal Roman soldiers to be crucified [Luke 23:25], and according to Roman custom, the man who is to die by being raised up is first to be scourged [Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1].

And the flagellation of that awful scourging is more the means of death than the nails of the cross itself.  So first our Lord is beat, and those great, livid, red streams that burst into fountains of blood, as those strong and cruel legionnaires lay the scourge upon His back.  And when finally, they lay upon Him the cross, He is so beat and so bloody that He staggers and falls, and another is impressed to bear the heavy load for Him to the place of a skull [Matthew 27:32-33; John 19:16-17].

And there, and there, on a hill that the Latin’s called Calvary [Luke 23:33], that the Hebrews called Golgotha [Mark 15:22], that in our language is called The Hill of a Skull [John 19:17], there did they raise Him up beneath the sky, nailed to a tree [John 19:18-24].  And then, and then began the awful ordeal of death.  Seeing His mother, He said to the beloved disciple John, “Take her away, take her away.  Let her eyes not look upon this awful and final scene.”  And from that hour, John took her to his own home [John 19:25-27].

And then God said, “Let not the earth look upon it, this awful and tragic hour,” and He put His hand over the sun; and from high noon until the middle of the afternoon there was darkness that shadowed the face of the earth [Matthew 27:45], lest it see, lest it see.  And then, and then, did God hide His face, did He?  Did God look upon it?  Did He?  And in the hour of that darkness, did the Son lift up His voice and cried, “E-li, E-li, lama, sabachthani, My God, My God, why, oh, why, sabachthani hast Thou forsaken Me?  Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46].

One of our fathers, one of our fine men had a boy in the university, a four-letter athlete.  And another younger son at home, thirteen years old, who bid fare to be beyond his older brother, excelling in every contest, in every program.  And upon a day – and you don’t know how these things happen, they just do – a boy and a bicycle and a truck get all tangled up.  And they pick up the mangled form of the thirteen year old boy, and as the father stands over his younger son, the man dressed in white says, “I think by amputating his right arm at the shoulder, and I think by amputating his left leg at the hip, I think maybe the mangled boy’s life might be spared.”  And the father said when he looked down into the face of that son, he knew for the first time what Psalm 103 meant, “As a father pitieth his children, so God pities us” [Psalm 103:13].  The suffering of His body; “His visage so marred more than the sons of men” [Isaiah 52:14].

And the suffering in His heart: “He is despised and rejected . . . a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we, we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” [Isaiah 53:3].  How would you define sorrow?  What is sorrow?  I suppose, indefinable as it is, we would call it “a hurt in your heart, a grief in the soul,” the suffering in His heart:

He was outcast by men, He was rejected by His own,

He was tortured and nailed to the tree;

But the hurt in His heart was the hardest to bear,

The heart that was broken for me.

[Author unknown]

The suffering in His heart; He was rejected by His own nation, and by His own people, and by His own city, and by His own family [John 1:11].  “Neither did His brethren believe on Him” [John 7:5].  And the officers of the temple and the Sadducees hated the Herodians, but they hated Him more!  And the Pharisees hated the Sadducees, and they hated the Romans; but they hated Him more!  And they all hated the rabble and the ceremonially defiled, unclean mob; but they hated Him more!  And they brought Him to Pontius Pilate and said, “He is worthy of death” [Matthew 26:66].  “Let Him be crucified” [Matthew 27:22].

And His own disciples forsook Him, and fled [Matthew 26:56], every one.  Not a disciple, not a disciple stood by the Lord in the hour of His trial and His need.  When the Lord turned and looked upon Simon Peter cursing and swearing that he never knew Him, I can, I can well, I can well imagine the hurt that registered in the face of our Lord, the hurt in His heart [Luke22:61].

And then the ridicule and the shame, the mockery and the scorn, as He stood in the palace of Annas, and in the palace of Caiaphas, and before the Sanhedrin, some stood up and said, “So, He is a prophet?  Tell me, who slapped You?” and with the back of the hand they’d smite Him on the face, “Who’s doing it?”[Matthew 26:67-68].  And another stands up and says, “So you are a prophet?  Then who spits on You?” and he spits in His face.  And another one stands up and says, “So You are a prophet?  Who plucks Your beard?” [Isaiah 50:6], and he plucks out the beard of His face.  And the cruel Roman soldier said, “So He is a King?  He is a king?  Then a king must have a crown,” and they wove one out of thorns and pressed it on His brow [Matthew 27:29].  “So He is a King?  A king must have a robe,” and in a cast-off place in the palace of Pontius Pilate, they found an old dirty, filthy robe! [Matthew 27:28].  “This is His mantle of sovereignty and dignity!  He is a king, and a king must have a scepter,” so they put in His hand a reed, and mocking they bowed down and said, “Hail, King of the Jews” [Matthew 27:29].

And then they nailed Him to the tree, naked [Matthew 27:35].  It’s a kind thing all of these artists do in depicting the sacrifice of our Lord, they clothe Him.  But He never died clothed; He died naked.  And as He suffered, they walked up and down in front of Him and dared Him to come down [Matthew 27:42].  And they mocked what He said, and they jeered at His prophetic claims [Matthew 27:43].  And I suppose that ridicule and mockery is beyond what one man can afflict upon another, and he yet be able to bear it.

When Samson, with his eyes out, grinding at the mill [Judges 16:21], brought into the temple of Dagon to be made sport of by the people, it was more than even Samson could bear.  And he said to the boy, “Son, put my hand on one pillar.  And son, put my hand on the other pillar.”  And the boy who led him by the hand put one of his hands on one pillar, and the other hand on the other pillar, and Samson bowed his sightless eyes and cried, “O God, let me die, let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 16:26-30].  And he bowed his great shoulders.  When his father and his mother came from Judea, they found their son dead among the Philistines [Judges 16:31].

The hurt in His heart, and I come to the last: the suffering in His soul.  “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him: He hath put Him to grief.”  As our preacher said in his sermon, this is no accident, this is no fortuitous circumstance, this is no adventitious event in history; “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him: He hath put Him to grief.  Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.  He shall see of the travail of His soul” [Isaiah 53:10-11].  And I confess to you, I have no idea what that means.  It is to me unfathomable.  “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.”  I have in my library, in my study, more than four thousand volumes; they’d be not pertinent to a lawyer or a doctor, but to a minister it’s one of the finest libraries in the earth.  And I can’t find a word, I can’t find a syllable of what that means.  “Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin” [Isaiah 53:10].   His soul an offering for sin.  I can understand the pain in the body.  And I can understand the hurt in the heart.  But I don’t know what that means, “His soul an offering for sin.”

When He came to Gethsemane, He said to His disciples, “My soul, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.  Watch and pray with Me” [Matthew 26:38, 41].  And as He agonized, the very sweat on His brow was as it were drops of blood falling to the ground [Luke22:44], “His soul an offering for sin [Isaiah 53:10] . . . He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.”  “Travail” is a word for just one kind of suffering: and that’s the suffering when a mother is in the valley of the shadow, and a new life is struggling to be born.  “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:11].

I cannot enter into it.  The closest I’ve been able to find in my reading is in the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church that after delineating the sufferings of our Lord, His sobs, and His tears, and His cries, and His blood, and His cross, and His death, the liturgy finally speaks of, “Thine unknown sufferings.”  That’s the nearest I’ve been able to find.  “Lord, Thine unknown sufferings,His soul an offering for sin.”

I can see the guilty sinner in the Old Testament coming to the tabernacle, into the court beyond the outer curtain, taking his sacrifice, tying him to the horn of the altar, putting over his head his hands and confessing his sins, and slaying the victim, pouring out the blood as an expiation of sin [Leviticus 4:27-31].  I can see that.  And the nation, at the hour of sacrifice, gathered this side of the veil, and the priest, folding his hands over the head of the lamb, confessing the sins of the people, and then the lamb slain in expiation and atonement, I can see that [Leviticus 16:1-34].  But I don’t understand how you sacrifice a soul.  “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief; Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin.  And God shall see the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:10-11].

So, we just leave it there in awe and in wonder, “Lord, I don’t understand.  This cross and this death, this sacrifice and this atonement is beyond my poor heart to understand.”  It’s just that God did it for me, for us, that we might be saved [John 3:16-18]; we might be washed [Revelation 1:5], that we might be clean, taking away the sin of the world [1 John 2:2].

So we leave it there in the mystery, in the unfathomable wonder and awe of what God hath done for us.  Just like that spiritual they sang, no answer in it, just the wonder, and the awe, and the worship, and the adoration: “Were You There?”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord, were you there?

Oh, sometimes it makes me to tremble, tremble, tremble!

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

. . .

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it makes me to tremble, tremble, tremble!

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

[“Were You There?”;  traditional]

O blessed Lord, who in this divine presence today would stand up to say, “I am worthy of that sacrifice?”  O God, loving us when we were unlovely, saving us when we were lost, dying for us when we could not pay the penalty ourselves [1 Corinthians 15:3], O Lamb of God, the sacrifice of God for the sins of the world, our atoning Lord [John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21].  Master, we can’t frame the word to say it, or compound the sentence to pronounce it; but as God shall search our souls and know our hearts, we do love Thee.  Thank Thee, Lord, for taking our place, dying our death, suffering our shame, paying our debt [Hebrews 10:5-14].  And someday, Master, some glorious day, face to face, may we bow in adoration and worship to thank Thee for what Thou hast done for us; in Thy precious and saving name, amen.

For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit

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