We turn to the 6th and 7th verse of the 23rd chapter of Isaiah and read here God’s Word as follows, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all. He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before His shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
“All we as sheep have gone astray,” so the prophet sets out in this passage. Here, too, the pronoun “we” has reference only to God’s’ people, to the church of the elect. For we deal here with a confession of sin and with a proclamation of the truth about the man of sorrows, Christ Jesus. And confessing sin in tears of true contrition of heart and witnessing for the truth, as the prophet here does, are good works that Christ prepared only for His people, that they should walk in them,—thus prepared for all such who by the mercy of God confess from the heart, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way.”
For that verily is our great sin before God. As the flock of God, we, His elect people, strayed from Him our shepherd even at the dawn of history in Adam our first father, representative, and head. There in paradise, embracing the lie of Satan, “Thou shalt be as God,” we arrayed ourselves on the side of the tempter, against God our shepherd. Right there and then we all like sheep went astray; we turned every one to his own way. Right there and then we crucified God the first time. Literally, of course, that wicked doing of our first father was not ours. But let us not imagine that what Adam did there to God in Paradise is beneath any of us. If Adam, a man created in the image of God, namely, created, in true knowledge, righteousness and holiness, was capable of such an atrocious doing, what can be expected of men dead in trespasses and sin, such as we by nature are. Apart from the redeeming grace of God, we walk in Adam’s footsteps. For, as Paul tells us, by that one transgression of Adam, sin entered the world and death by sin, and so death passed unto every man, in that all have sinned,—death passed unto every man, spiritual death. And what is spiritual death but the corruption of the whole nature, a hereditary disease wherein infants themselves are affected even in their whole nature, a hereditary disease wherein infants themselves are effected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in us all sorts of sin, being in us a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn us all. Indeed, apart from the grace of Christ we walk in Adam’s footsteps, and do the will of our father, the devil.
You are inclined to doubt this. It cannot be as bad as that, you say. Turn with me then to the first chapters of the book of Exodus. This portion of Holy Writ presents to us the people of Israel, the church of God of the Old Dispensation as groaning under the yoke of Pharaoh. The Lord took mercy on His people. In His love He delivered them from their bondage. During their residence in that terrible wilderness of Sinai He kept them as the people of His eye. He led them. He instructed them. He clave the rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink; He rained down manna upon them, neither did their feet swell all those forty years. He drove out the nations mightier and greater than they were and gave them Canaan, their promised inheritance. And into the rest of Canaan He entered with them. He was to them a shepherd indeed. How did the people of Israel respond? They forsook the Lord who made them. They set no value on the God of their salvation. They despised and rejected Him. They provoked Him to jealousy with their idols and their abominations. They sacrificed unto devils and to new gods that they knew not. And when, in the fullness of time, their shepherd, the Lord God of Israel, stood before them in human flesh, the incarnate Son of God, they crucified Him.
And let us not say, The Jews did that. But let us say, by nature, without the grace of God intervening, we, too, would have crucified the Christ had He been walking with us there in Canaan. For this is the truth. Our text tells us so. Are we not as God’s believing people confessing with the “prophet “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” ? Verily, the prophet had reference to the sin of crucifying the Christ, when he gave utterance to that confession. First we crucified God in, Paradise and again when He stood before us in His Son incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. “We have turned every one to his own way.” We must take careful notice also of this statement. Ordinarily we say of a man that he turns to his own way when he follows his own ideas and imaginings and will take advice of no one and thus goes his way alone. That is somewhat of an illustration of the charge lodged against us here. Every one of us, forsaking, crucifying God, turned to an idea, a vain imagining, that was whispered in man’s soul by the devil in paradise—the idea, the lie, “Thou shalt be as God.” Making that idea, that lie his own, every man by nature says in his heart, “I am a God in my own right, equal with God; and all things, including God Himself, exist for me and must serve me only.” So speaks every one of us in his heart. That idea, vain imagining, every one of us by nature pursues in the attempt to make good his claim,—pursues with all his mind and will and strength and heart. It is the only way of life that each of us knows for himself. Hence, we are utterly selfish by nature, self-absorbed, self-centered in our depravity. Before the shrine of self we are prostrated. Self we seek and in self we begin and end with all our thinking, willing, striving, purposing and doing; and God is not in all our thoughts. Each of us takes thought of but one thing, namely, his own self, his own interests, advantages, advancement, name, fame, and glory; and sinful pride shines out of our eyes. It can only mean that by nature we are that badly scattered by sin that no two of us are together as united in a common love of God and of each other. Apart from God’s redeeming, grace there is, there can be, no true unity among us; nor may there be; but only strife, contention, debate, murder violence, and gory war. For all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.
Thus there is a way of sin to each of us that is his very own; and in our own individual way of sin each of us walks, that is, desires, wills, thinks, strives; purposes and acts, according as we deem it expedient and imperative to the realization of our own personal ambitions, so that from second to second and from moment to moment throughout our whole lives our iniquities accumulate until they form a mountain of iniquities that rises up against us and calls for our eternal doom. Such is our plight by nature. However, the phrase “by nature” must be added by all means.
For, looking in the Scriptures, we again see a wonderful thing. We, God’s believing people, see ourselves in heaven with Christ a great family of redeemed, blameless and holy before God and thus one, truly one, by a common faith in God through Christ ,one in a common love of God and of one another shed abroad in our heart by God. Looking in the Scriptures, we see ourselves a people whose righteousness goeth forth as brightness; we see ourselves a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, shewing forth the praises of our God by whom we were called out of darkness into His marvelous light. What is the explanation? Our text gives the explanation. It is this: God laid on Him, His suffering servant, the iniquities of us all; and He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so He opened not his mouth.” Mark you, as oppressed and afflicted on account of the transgressions of us all, laid upon Him by God, He opened not His mouth. It is the silence of our oppressed and afflicted Savior that has the emphasis here. It is all important. The gospel narrators direct attention to it over and over. The chief priests and elders, Matthew relates, seek many false witnesses against Jesus but they find none whose witness will hold up in court. Finally, there come two, who say, “This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.” Jesus does not reply. It is stated: He opened not His mouth. He is silent. Sorely provoked, the high priest, rising to his feet says to Him, Answerest thou nothing? But Jesus, it is again stated, held His peace. He is taken to the court of Pilate. The priests and the elders are there, too. They accuse Him of many things. And again the statement occurs, “He answered nothing. He opens not His mouth. Pilate is at a loss what to make of Jesus’ silence. Says he to Him, “Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?” This is followed by the statement, “And he answered him never a word; insomuch that the governor marveled greatly.” How true the saying of the prophet, “He was oppressed and afflicted, and he opened not his mouth.”
But should Christ not have opened His mouth? The question is pertinent in view of Christ’s innocency. If He, like we, were a sinner, a thief or robber or a murderer, it indeed would have behooved Him to hold His peace under all that vile treatment that they afforded Him. King David had understanding of this. Absalom had inaugurated against David a rebellion for the purpose of capturing his father’s throne. David must flee. Arriving at Bahurin, there appeared on the other side of the brook one Shimei of the family of the house of Saul. The man takes up stones and casts them at David. He shouts to him, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial.” One of the king’s escorts wants to make an end of the man right there and then. “Why should this dead dog curse the king?” said he to David. “Let him alone, let him alone,” David replies, “for the Lord hath bidden him.” So does David forbid his companion to put that vile man of Saul’s house to death. It means that he refrains from speaking the word that would have put an end to that cursing of the man. And with reason. Being a sinful man, who had fallen into gross sins, David was deserving of that abuse. And he understands, And he opens not his mouth. But Christ was the holy Son of God. Yet wicked men empty upon him the vials of their carnal wrath, and He opens not His mouth. There is but one explanation. He was oppressed and afflicted on account of the iniquities of us all that the Lord laid upon Him. Understanding, He opened not His mouth. But just what can it mean that He opened not His mouth. This question, too, is pertinent in view of the fact that during the hours of His passion He did open His mouth over and over.
Before the priests and elders He confesses that He is the Son of God and adds that they shall see Him sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven in judgment. In reply to Pilate’s question, “Art thou the king of the Jews,” He declares, “Thou sayest it.” Still other words He speaks to Pilate bearing on the nature of His kingdom and the origin of Pilate’s power to sit as judge on His case. On the road to Golgotha He counsels the women to weep for themselves rather than for Him. On the cross He speaks words that join together Mary and John in the relation of mother and son. “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” are His words to the penitent thief on His right. He complains that He is athirst. From out of the darkness that envelopes His cross He cries to the Father. When it is again light, He jubilantly exclaims with a loud voice, “It is finished.” Then He commits His spirit into the Father’s hands and gives up the ghost. So He did open His mouth.
However, and it is this to what the prophet has reference, as bowed down under the weight of the transgressions of us all, and with the Father smiting, bruising, afflicting, and wounding Him for our sins, thus with all the billows of God’s wrath going over Him, He did not once in carnal wrath open His mouth to curse His terrible lot, to damn and to slay us with the breath of His mouth for crucifying Him, and to blaspheme God for giving Him over. There was no such wrath in Him to be sure. He was our high priest, holy and undefiled; the good shepherd, laying down His life for His sheep, with the love of His sheep burning like a fire in. His soul. So, He opened His mouth not once in those dreadful hours, yea, He opened His mouth indeed, but only to intercede for the transgressors and to cry to God, “I love Thee.” Accordingly, He was brought like a lamb to the slaughter, mark you, like a non-resisting lamb or sheep. So far was He from resisting those who came to take Him captive that He gave Himself into their hands. Went He not out to them? Said He not to them, “Whom seek ye?” And when they said to Him, “Jesus of Nazareth we do seek,” was not His reply, “It is I, take me, I command thee”, such is the implication here. They take Him in obedience to His command, and by His very own power, thus as creatures living and moving and having their being in Him, He being very God. Truly as a sheep was He led to the slaughter, to the place of His slaughter, which was Golgotha. And there they dealt with Him like men deal with sheep. Men shear this creature, do they not? They thereby rob the sheep of its coat of wool. And there it stands, does the sheep, naked and shivering. So dealt they with Christ. They unclothed Him and hung Him naked on a cross. But again, as a sheep is dumb before his shearers, so He opened not His mouth. Verily, all we like sheep have gone astray. And the Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all. And He bore them all away, just because, as smitten and afflicted, He opened not His mouth, thus gave Himself in perfect and holy devotion. On this very account, His afflictions and nameless sorrows were received of the Father as a covering for all our sins, thus as the payment of all our moral debt before Him. And therefore we do now behold in the Scriptures that wonderful thing—a great family of redeemed, in heaven, blameless and holy before God. You may be asking, Do I belong to that family? If you believe in God through Christ, you do belong to this family.