Arthur Pink, 1937
"He is despised and rejected by men" (Isaiah 53:3). For the special benefit of young preachers, we propose to sermonize this text, though in as simple and homely a manner as possible, trusting that it may please the Lord to speak through it to some unsaved readers, for we dare not assume that all who take this magazine have really been born again.
Our text forms part of one of the Messianic predictions, in which God made know long beforehand the treatment which his Son would receive when He became incarnate.
The prophecy of Isaiah was in the hands of the Jews seven hundred years before the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem—yet so exactly did it describe what befell Him, that it might well have been written by one of the Apostles. Therein is supplied one of the incontrovertible proofs of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures, for only One who knew the end from the beginning, could have thus written history beforehand.
It might well have been supposed that the advent to earth of such a One as the Lord of Glory, would meet with a warm welcome and reverent reception, the more so in view of His appearing in human form, going about doing good. Since He came not to judge—but to save; since His mission was one of grace and mercy, since He ministered to the needy and healed the sick—will not men gladly receive Him? Many would naturally think so—but in so thinking they overlook the fact that the Lord Jesus is "the Holy One," and none but those who have the principle of holiness in their hearts, can appreciate ineffable Purity. Such an assumption as the one we have just mentioned, ignores the solemn fact of human depravity—the heart of fallen man is "desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). How can the Holy One appear attractive to those who are full of sin!? Nothing so clearly evidences the condition of the human heart, and so solemnly demonstrates its corruption, as its attitude toward the precious Savior.
There is much recorded against man in the Old Testament Scriptures, as for example in Psalm 14:1-4; yet dark as is the picture there drawn of fallen human nature, it fades into insignificance before what the New Testament sets before us. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7), and never was this so frightfully patent, as when Jesus was manifested in flesh. "If I had not come," declared Christ, "and spoken unto them, they had not had sin—but now they have no cloak for their sin" (John 15:22). The appearing of Christ has fully exposed man, bringing to light as nothing else ever has—the desperate wickedness of his heart!
Now let us ask and supply answer to three questions—Who was (and still is) "despised and rejected by men?" Why is He so grievously slighted? In what way is He scorned? Who was so unwelcome here?
We answer, first, the One who pressed upon men the absolute sovereignty of God. Few things are so distasteful to the proud human heart, as the truth that God does as He pleases, without in any ways consulting with the creature; that He dispenses His favors entirely according to His imperial will. Fallen man has no claims upon Him, is destitute of any merit, and can do nothing whatever to win God's esteem. Fallen man is a spiritual pauper, entirely dependent upon Divine charity, and in the bestowal of His mercies God is regulated by nothing but His own "good pleasure." "Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with My own?" (Matthew 20:15) is His own unanswerable challenge—yet, as the context there shows, man wickedly murmurs against this.
Now the Lord Jesus came here to glorify His Father, and therefore we find Him maintaining His crown-rights and emphasizing His sovereignty. In His first message, in the Capernaum synagogue, He pointed out that though there were many widows in Israel during the days of Elijah, when there was a great famine throughout all the land, unto none of them was the Prophet sent, except unto one at Zarephath. And that though there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, none of them were healed—yet distinguishing mercy was shown unto Naaman the Syrian. The sequel was, "When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff!" (Luke 4:28, 29). For pressing the truth of God's absolute sovereignty, Christ was "despised and rejected by men." Who was so unwelcome here?
Second, the One who upheld God's Law. Therein is the Divine authority expressed, and complete subjection thereto is required from the creature; and therefore did Christ press the demands of God's Law upon man. Said He, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17); "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). But fallen men resent restraints, and want to be a law unto themselves, and their language concerning God and His Christ is "Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints" (Psalm 2:3). Because the Lord Jesus enforced the requirements of the Decalogue He was "despised and rejected by men."
A solemn illustration of this occurs in John 7. To the Jews He said, "Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law! Why do you want to kill Me?" (v. 19). And what was their response? This, "The people answered and said, You have a devil!" (v. 20). Who was so unwelcome here?
Third, the One who denounced human tradition in the religious sphere. Despite the Fall, man is essentially a religious creature—the image of God in which he was originally created, has not been completely destroyed. The world over, blacks and whites, reds and yellows—pay homage to gods of their own devising, and there are few things on which they are more sensitive—than their religious superstitions—he who condemns or even criticizes the devotees of any religious belief or practice, will be greatly disliked. Now Christ drew upon Himself the hatred of Israel's leaders, by His denunciation of their religious inventions. He reproached them, "You nullify the Word of God by your tradition!" (Mark 7:13). When He cleansed the temple, the chief priests and scribes, "were indignant" (Matt. 21:15). Who was so unwelcome here?
Fourth, the One who repudiated an empty profession. Nothing so infuriated the Jews, as Christ's exposure and denunciation of their vain pretensions.
Being omniscient, it was impossible to impose upon Him; being inflexibly righteous, He could not accept deceptions; being absolutely holy, He must insist upon sincerity and reality. When they declared "Abraham is our father!" He answered, "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham!" When they added "we have one Father, even God," He replied, "If God were your Father, you would love Me . . . you are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do!" This so riled them, that they exclaimed, "Aren't we right in saying that You are a Samaritan and demon-possessed!" (John 8:39-48).
On another occasion the Jews asked Him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:24). He at once exposed their hypocrisy by saying, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. You do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:25-27). So angered were they at this that they "took stones again to stone Him." Men will not tolerate One who pierces their religious disguise, exposes their shams, and repudiates their fair but empty profession. It is just the same today. Who was so unwelcome here?
Fifth, the One who exposed and denounced sin. Ah, this explains why Christ was not wanted here. He was a constant thorn in their sides! His holiness condemned their unholiness. Men wish to go their own way, to please themselves, to gratify their lusts. They want to be comfortable in their wickedness—therefore they resent one who searches the heart, pierces the conscience, rebukes their evil. Christ was absolutely uncompromising. He would not wink at wrong-doing, but unsparingly denounced it, in whoever it was found. He boldly affirmed, "For judgment I have come into this world" (John 9:41), that is, to unveil men's secret characters, to prove they are blind in spiritual things, to demonstrate they loved darkness rather than light. His Person and preaching tried everything and everyone He came into contact with.
Why was (and is) Christ "despised and rejected by men"?
First, because He required inward purity. Herein is the great difference between all human religions and the Divine religion. All human religions concern themselves with external performances—but the Christian religion is only concerned with the source of all conduct. "Man looks on the outward appearance—but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). It was Christ's exposition and enforcement of this truth, which made Him so unpopular with the leaders. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness!" (Matthew 23:25-28).
Why was Christ "despised and rejected by men"? Second, because He demanded repentance. "Repent—and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15) was His claimant call—that order is unchanging, for it is impossible to savingly believe the Gospel until the heart is contrite. Repentance is taking sides with God against ourselves—it is the unsparing judgment of ourselves because of our high-handed rebellion. It is a ceasing to love and tolerate sin, and excusing ourselves for the commission of it. It is a mourning before God because of our transgressions of His holy Law. And therefore did Christ teach, "Unless you repent—you shall all likewise perish!" (Luke 13:3), for He would not condone evil. He came to save His people from their sins—and not in them.
Why was Christ "despised and rejected by men"? Third, because He insisted on the denial of self, and this at two principal points, namely, the indulging and the exalting of self. All fleshly lusts are to be unsparingly mortified, and self-righteousness is allowed no place under the Gospel scheme. This was made unmistakably plain by our Lord's teaching, "If any man will come after Me—let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). Yet nothing is more contrary to the desires of the natural man, and Christ's insistence upon these terms of discipleship causes Him to be "despised and rejected by men."
How is Christ "despised and rejected by men? In different ways and in varying degrees—professedly and practically, in words and in works. It is most important that this should be clearly recognized, for Satan deceives a great many souls at this point. He deludes them into supposing that because they are not guilty of what pertains to the avowed infidel and blatant atheist, therefore they are innocent of the fearful sin of slighting and defying the Lord Jesus. Ah, my reader, the solemn fact remains, that there are millions of people in Christendom who though not atheists and infidels—yet despise and reject the Christ of Scripture! "They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, and disqualified for any good work!" (Titus 1:16). That verse clearly enunciates this principle.
Because of the limited space at our disposal, we are obliged to condense this last division so that the preacher will have to develop it for himself. Christ's authority is "despised" by those who disregard His precepts and commandments. Christ's yoke is "rejected" by those who are determined to be Lord over themselves. Christ's glory is "despised" by those who bear His name yet have no concern whether their walk honors Him or no. Christ's Gospel is "rejected" by those who on the one hand affirm that sinners may be saved without repenting of and turning away from their sins, and on the other hand by those who teach that Heaven may be won by our own good works.
There are some who intellectually reject Christ, by repudiating His claims, denying that He is God the Son, assumed a holy and impeccable humanity, and died a vicarious death to save His people from their sins. There are others who virtually and practically reject Christ. Just as there are those who profess to believe in the existence of God, own His power, and talk about His wondrous handiwork—yet who have not His fear upon them and are not in subjection to Him. So there are many who claim to trust in the finished work of Christ—yet their daily walk is no different from that of thousands of respectable worldlings. They profess to be Christian—yet are covetous, unscrupulous, untruthful, proud, self-willed, uncharitable; in a word, utterly unChristlike!