He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
I remember well, how I stood in silent awe watching that soul-stirring incident, so common, yet so evocative.
It was in a slaughter house in the Midwest, where a goat, quite significantly referred to as “Judas”, proudly led a small flock of sheep up the ramp to their slaughter. They were rounded up in a narrow pen, and one of them, though hoisted up by her hind leg, still offered no resistance. Helplessly she dangled for a moment,—if only she would kick, or bleat, or fight back. Then the knife was plunged into her throat with a quick thrust. Even though her life blood was gushing out, the victim only shuddered and died, without as much as opening her mouth in complaint.
This is another one of those things that happen in parables. Already I was traveling in my thoughts into the past to that lonely hill called Calvary. I stood, as it were, next to the prophet Isaiah viewing the cross where the Prince of Glory died. Transfixed, I cried out in anguish of soul, “We all like sheep are gone astray.” I, too, (how often?), have walked in my own sinful way. And the Lamb of God went to the slaughter for my iniquity!
We often ask ourselves, especially during the passion weeks—What was the outstanding feature of Jesus’ walk and ministry among us?
We are aware that He was a great preacher and teacher, such as the world has never known nor ever shall know. Christ was given the tongue of the learned. Common people and children gladly listened to Him. Thousands came from far and wide to sit at His feet for hours at a time, while He unfolded to them the law and the prophets. Particularly Jesus spoke of a kingdom that would far exceed the riches and glories of Solomon’s realm. He assured His audiences that the kingdom of God was at hand—in fact, was already present within them. All the promises spoken by the prophets were about to be realized in Him. Those who heard Him could not help but ask: Is not this the Christ spoken of by God through the prophets? And He sealed His testimony with signs and wonders that astounded friend and foe alike. Jesus was indeed a great Prophet sent of God.
He was sympathetic, thoroughly understanding our needs, always ready to help. Children climbed on His knee to be embraced by Him. Men and women came from afar to bring to Him their troubles. The Lord knew the right word for the weary. He sent sinners away with the blessed assurance of divine forgiveness. Rightfully Jesus could say, “Learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Not as if He intended to improve the social conditions of mankind or to make this a better world, but rather to point us heavenward to His glorious kingdom to come. If we would seek a name for this meekness, we would call Him our merciful High priest.
At the same time, He came with an authority that demanded respect. Buyers and sellers fled from the temple at the very word of His command. Scribes and rulers cowered before His well-deserved tongue lashings. Devils could not refuse to obey Him. By the word of His power lepers were cleansed, the blind saw, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, sinners were forgiven. In all His lowliness and simplicity Christ had the power and authority of a King, Who came in the name of Jehovah.
He was all that, and even more. He was the Man of Sorrows, with pain written upon His face. Beneath His smile there lingered a hidden grief. Even when He enthusiastically spoke of the future glories of His kingdom, His voice carried strains of deep sorrow. The prophet Isaiah expressed it so well when he said, “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
Indeed, He was oppressed. From the time that His mother laid Him as a Babe in the manger in that lowly cattle stall, the pressure of His poverty never left Him. Foxes have their lair, birds nestle warmly in the trees, but the Son of Man was without a comfortable pillow on which to rest His weary head. Even as a Boy, when He talked with the lawyers in the temple, the burden of His calling weighed heavily upon Him. When the Lord began His public ministry in Jerusalem by driving out the thieves from Father’s Domain, the disciples already saw that the zeal of God’s House was devouring Him. Throughout His public ministry He experienced a soul anguish so great that finally in Gethsemane great drops of blood were pressed out upon His forehead. He was not exaggerating when He said that His soul was so filled with sorrow that it nearly killed Him.
He was afflicted. Herod sought to destroy Jesus the moment He came into this world. His enemies never grew weary of harassing Him and seeking to kill Him. Our Lord was hunted like a beast of the forest. His own brothers did not believe in Him until after He died. Judas betrayed Him. The rulers bound Him with ropes and led Him away like a criminal. His enemies mocked Him, spit upon Him, scourged Him, and condemned Him to die innocently the painful, shameful, accursed death of the cross. His earthly career ended with His body suspended on a few spikes, a spectacle, an outcast of God and of man.
We shall never be able to fathom the depths of Jesus’ suffering unless we see that God laid this burden upon Him. God caused Christ to walk under the dense cloud of holy, divine wrath throughout His entire life on earth. That cloud pressed in upon His weary soul in ever increasing intensity as He carried out His mission. Jesus’ sorrow was a deadly sorrow that could end only in death. During the last bitter hours of suffering, all the horrors of total forsakenness swept over Him. The Lord gave His own interpretation of it in that amazing outcry that ascended, as it were, out of the depths of the abyss, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
We see more clearly now than ever, that He was wounded, not for His, but for our transgressions. He was bruised, not for any offense that He committed, but for our iniquities.
As important as this is for our understanding of Christ’s suffering, it still does not fully characterize that suffering as we must know it.
Ah, yes, this is it, as Isaiah had so clearly foretold, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
But is it not true that the Lord actually spoke much?
It belonged to His calling to preach the gospel to the weary and to instruct His disciples in the things of His kingdom. He took great delight in instructing the people whenever the opportunity offered itself. Even during the moments of His intense suffering He was not completely silent. It only amazes us that He spoke as much as He did.
At the last Supper Jesus showed His deep concern for His disciples by addressing them with many words of comfort. In the garden He prayed with them and for them. He warned them of the impending dangers when their faith would be shaken beyond belief. During His trial He readily arose to the occasion whenever His Father’s glory or His own position as the Christ was challenged. On the cross He spoke seven times, and that while He suffered the anguishes of death and hell.
Yet the outstanding feature of the Lord’s ministry was the fact that He never offered resistance nor raised a word of complaint. He did not cry nor cause His voice to be heard on the street. The Suffering Servant of Jehovah came to bear the sins of His people and to bear them away. He set His face like a flint, saying, “Though My God slay Me, yet will I trust in Him.”
Christ’s silence baffled His enemies. Annas was foiled when he sought to draw out some word that could be used against Him. Caiaphas impatiently asked, “Answerest Thou nothing?” Superstitious Herod never had a comfortable day after He was confronted with the silent Sufferer.
When the Savior was reproached, He reproached not again. He refused to retaliate when His enemies and former friends heaped mockings and false accusations upon Him. He offered no resistance when they surrounded Him like a pack of hungry wolves to devour Him. It was exactly that silence that His disciples could not understand. It does not seem human, or even natural not to strike back when one is hurt. Our first reaction to pain is that we cry out. Our first impulse is to beat off our attackers in self-defense. Meek submission to any unjust treatment never appeals to us. The lion with his angry snarl is much more to our liking than the defenseless lamb. John fled. Peter denied Him. All His disciples were offended by Him. Jesus was a stranger to His brethren and an alien in His mother’s house. There was no reason to desire Him, except for the deep-seated conviction that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
At the same time there was an inexplicable majesty in His silence. When Jesus had convinced the band of soldiers that came to take Him prisoner in the garden that their clubs and swords were useless against Him, he calmly surrendered Himself into their hands. The Lord held His head high as the slayers led Him to the slaughter. He was master of the situation throughout His trial, leaving Annas exasperated. Caiaphas stripped of his hypocrisy, Pilate with blood stained hands that no water could cleanse. He placed the whole world before the question, “What do you do with the Christ, the only begotten Son of the living God.” The cross of Jesus Christ made separation, even as the Word of the cross today is a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death. There were those who left that cross of the Silent Sufferer beating their breasts. There were also those whom I want to join in the humble confession, “My Lord and my God.” The cross of Jesus Christ made separation, even as the Word of the cross today is a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death. There were those who left that cross of the Silent Sufferer beating their breasts. There were also those whom I want to join in the humble confession, “My Lord and my God.” It was His confidence that he was pleasing to the Father as the obedient Servant, it was the certain hope of glory that gave Him that majestic power even when He allowed Himself to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. He was bringing the sacrifice for sin, for the sin of all His people, for our sins, who are privileged to believe in Him. He was leading many sons to glory as the Captain of our salvation, Victor through death.
A chariot was traveling down the road that leads to Gaza. The rider was pondering over the Scripture passage that lay before him: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearers, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.”
Philip came to him, ready to interpret this Word of God for him, While the evangelist was preaching Jesus, a wonder took place. Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest be baptized.” The Ethiopian eunuch answered: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37)
Amazing love! Amazing love of God that gave His only Son to die for the sins of His people. Amazing love of the Son to lay down His life for His sheep. Amazing love revealed in boundless grace that he should gather me as one of His sheep into the fold!
My Jesus, My Lord.