So He Opened Not His Mouth

Sermon preached on Isaiah 53:7 concerning the significance of the resurrection to the Great Commission by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Good Friday worship service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/2/21 in Novato.

Sermon Manuscript

May we all behold again this evening the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, even as he opened not his mouth. We reflect specifically this evening on verse 7 of Isaiah 53, that Jesus, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” As Philip the Evangelist interpreted to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, this word from Isaiah spoke of the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ. Philip’s explanation brought salvation to that Ethiopian eunuch as he opened up Isaiah 53’s fulfillment in Jesus. Let us also feast savingly on this passage of Scripture that reminds us our Lord’s willing going to cross to be the sacrifice to atone for our sins. We’ll think of this from Isaiah 53:7, especially this idea that he “opened not his mouth.”

Notice with me first that Isaiah 53:7 speaks of how Jesus was oppressed and afflicted. For us to consider how Jesus didn’t open his mouth is in the context of him being oppressed and afflicted. Such oppression and affliction had characterized Jesus’ life even from his early days on earth. He had to come into this world being born in a manger because of inconvenient government burdens imposed on his parents. Then he and his family had to flee the heavy hand of King Herod who sought to kill him for no reason other than that he was the righteous one of God. Then during his earthly teaching ministry, he found opponents in the religious leaders of the Jews who envied him for all his wisdom and for how the people flocked to hear him open up the Word of God. At so many points these opponents tested him and tried to trick him so they could find some fault in him and thus find a way to discredit him or get him in trouble in one way or another. But he kept answering all their tests and tricks well and it was they who found themselves silent before his words of truth.

But the oppression and affliction of Isaiah 53:7 especially speaks to these events which we consider at his arrest and ultimate crucifixion. Beginning with one of his close friends betraying him for a bribe, he is arrested without reason. He is then brought before one sham trial after another. He is put under trial before Annas, then Caiaphas, then to Pilate, then to Herod, then back to Pilate again. In those trials he was sinned against by false accusations and false testimony with malicious witnesses who even then their testimony did not agree. He was scourged. He was forced to wear a crown of thorns, and mocked, struck, and his garments stripped from him and divided up. He was forced to carry his cross. Finally, he was crucified, hung alongside actual criminals. There he hung, enduring more mocking from passersby, thirsting, suffering, until he finally gave up the Spirit and died. All this oppression and affliction he endured, when he was innocent of all sin, as the only fully righteous human to ever walk this earth.

Again, just let that sink in. Jesus was oppressed. He was afflicted. By those in power, among both Jewish and Roman people in power. He was oppressed and afflicted. And he didn’t deserve any of it. Yet, in that context, he opened not his mouth.

Notice next with me in Isaiah 53:7 that it describes Jesus as, “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent.” Just picture the simile here. When the slaughterer is leading the lamb off to be slaughtered, it doesn’t know that it is going to its death. We might say it is just a “dumb” sheep and could think of that word “dumb” in terms of both ignorance and silence. Now the simile certainly doesn’t imply that Jesus was ignorant of what he was facing. Not at all. But the analogy of the lamb being led off to a slaughter refers to how the lamb isn’t putting up a fight or trying to resist because in its case it doesn’t know what is going to happen. Similarly, when a sheep is getting his shearing of his wool done, he’s proverbially compliant and not putting up a fuss. The idea is that such sheep, compared to other animals that might put up more of a fight, have a proverbial quiet and calm to them that receives their fate, so to speak.

So, in that sense, Jesus can be likened to such sheep. He peacefully, calmly went to the slaughter of the cross. In his case, he was not unaware or ignorant that the cross mean his suffering and death. But he did not resist or try to stop it from happening. He went without argument; he opened not his mouth through all the suffering that led up to the cross. He opened not his mouth even unto the horrible death on the cross.

When considering this simile of the lambs, we surely would not be wrong to think of the sacrificial system of the old covenant. There were various sorts of sacrifices in the old covenant that involved the sacrifice of lambs. We might especially think of the Passover Lamb. Such a lamb to be offered to God needed to be without spot or blemish, Exodus 12:5. In context of Isaiah 53 this reference to the sacrificial system is absolutely warranted by the text, because when you get to verse 10 it specifically speaks in these terms, that the LORD would make him a guilt offering, and in the verse just before, in verse 6, it says that the LORD had laid on him the iniquity of us all. And so, this language of lambs in verse 7 should also bring to mind that Jesus was led to the slaughter for the purpose to be an offering to atone for our sin. We know that fact so clearly in the light of the New Testament. But it is encouraging to our faith to see how it is also so clearly prophesied and predicted many centuries before by the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is the precious, spotless lamb offered to atone for the guilt of our sin, and he did so willingly without protest.

Let us then lastly consider how Isaiah 53:7 twice emphasizes that Jesus didn’t open his mouth. Maybe you noticed the chiastic structure here in the verse, with the edges of the chiasm emphasizing the silence of Jesus. The chiasm starts by saying “Yet he opened not his mouth”. Then with Hebrew parallelism it gives the lamb analogy in two different ways. Then it ends by saying, “so he opened not his mouth.” So, the analogy in the middle of the chiasm emphasizes his silence. And the outer edges of the chiasm specifically mention that he did not open his mouth. We’ve referenced this silence repeatedly so far tonight, but now let us think more specifically about this fact, that he didn’t open his mouth.

In case it is not clear, it doesn’t mean that he didn’t utter a single word through the whole ordeal of his arrest, flogging, and crucifixion. There are various words recorded of Jesus during this time. Rather, it speaks to how he didn’t resist this oppression in any way, he didn’t complain about it, nor did he protest it. This could be seen very clearly when the soldiers came to arrest him. Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword, but Jesus ordered him to stop. We can also see this when he was actually hanging on the cross and the passersby taunted him and said he should save himself and come down from the cross. Yet, while we know he could have appealed to the father for twelve legions of angels to come to his rescue, he did not. And in response to all the evil things people said to him and about him, Peter says this in 1 Peter 2:23, “When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return, when he suffered he did not threaten.”

But more than all this, his silence came out most prominently in his trials. Yes, there were moments where he did speak in his trials, surely when righteousness required it. But the Scriptures emphasize his general silence in the trials. For example, in Mark 14:61, in his trial before the high priest, they brought various false witnesses against him, testimony which even conflicted. The high priest then got up and tried to get Jesus to offer a defense of himself against that false testimony. But it says of Jesus, “But he remained silent and made no answer.” Then again, when they brought him before Pilate, the chief priests accused Jesus of many things before Pilate but Jesus gave no defense against their charges. So then, in Mark 15:4 it says this, “And Pilate asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.” Again, in his trial before Herod, we find the same thing in Luke 23, that the religious leaders were vehemently accusing Jesus before Herod and Herod also questioned him at some length, but Jesus made no answer, Luke 23:9.

The Scripture is very clear on this point. In these repeated judicial settings Jesus had many charges leveled against him, but he exercised his right to remain silent. Why? Why didn’t he vindicate his good name before them? Why did he open up his mouth? Why didn’t he offer up a defense on his behalf? Surely if he had, he could have put up the best defense. How many times had he previously outwit his oppressors when it came to their tests to try to trap him? And Jesus had the best defense already on his side, namely, the truth! That is why the false testimony didn’t agree and its why Pilate himself came to the conclusion that he found no guilt in Jesus, John 18:36. So then, why didn’t Jesus open his mouth to defend his case?

An initial general answer would be to quote why Jesus told Peter in the Garden to put his sword away when they came to arrest Jesus. John 18:11, So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” Jesus knew that it was God’s will for him to die on the cross. But that points to the more specific answer of why Jesus didn’t offer a defense on his behalf. It was because he had to bear God’s wrath in the place of his sheep that he came to save. He identified with his chosen sheep, to take on their sin and guilty. We see this identification in Isaiah 53 even in this concept of sheep. Our verse there spoke of Jesus like a silent sheep before the slaughter. But the verse before, Isaiah 53:6 described us whom he came to save also as sheep – sheep who had gone astray.

So then, we see why he had to keep silent at his trial. On the one hand, to defend his righteousness would have sabotaged his purpose when he sought to stand in our place. But more than that, he was identifying with us when he stood there in those trials and at the cross. He stood there in those courts meaning to bear our guilt and punishment. And in that regard, there was no defense he could have made in our place. The only just remedy for the sins of his sheep would be the judgment of God’s wrath and curse. This he bore in our place as he suffered vicariously for us. So then, Jesus opened not his mouth so he could stand in our place. And he opened not his mouth in our place because there is nothing that could turn away God’s wrath in that case except his death on the cross.

What love our savior has had for us his sheep. We preach Christ crucified again today as the way in which us straying sheep have been sought and saved. If you are here today and have never come to Christ in faith and repentance, I urge you to do so today. If you do, then you will show yourself to be a sheep of Christ’s flock whom he came to save. And you will have the confidence to know that because Christ paid for your sins on the cross, you have been redeemed from God’s wrath. You no longer need to fear hell when you die, but have the joyous hope of an eternal life of blessedness in the resurrection of the age to come. This hope is ours in Christ for Christ Jesus did not remain dead but on the third day rose from the dead in glory.

In closing, I leave us with this application. We’ve talked today about how Jesus opened not his mouth but became like a sheep to the slaughter to suffer for us in order to save us. With that in mind, we remember Paul’s words in Romans 8:36 when he talks of how right now we may endure oppression and affliction from the unbelieving world because of identity in Christ. Paul said, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Christ identified with us to save us and in so doing became like a sheep to be slaughtered. Let us count ourselves blessed should we have opportunity to identify with him and his suffering should we be regarded as a sheep to be slaughtered.

To be clear, I speak of the reality today that we may find oppression and affliction by the non-Christian world. People in power may oppress us, they may afflict us, they may hate us. As we do, our first inclination will likely be to open our mouths to advocate for our defense. And surely there will be times that righteousness demands that. But there will surely also be times where we need not to try to defend ourselves, especially if we stand before an audience that won’t listen to our defense anyways. Wisdom will tell us when to speak and when not to speak. But should we not open our mouths and in turn share in Christ’s suffering, may we know that we are blessed. And how do we know we are blessed in such circumstances? Because in Matthew 5 it records a time when Jesus did open his mouth, and he said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

Let us rejoice and be glad for the great reward of heavenly life that we have today because of the cross of Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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