Behold! We Go Up to Jerusalem! A devotion on Isaiah 63:1-8 by Rev. William Ziethe

It were cause enough for hearty thanksgiving, if He had only fed us with earthly bread, as He did the hungry multitudes in the wilderness; if He had only healed our sicknesses, as He did the blind man and the leper; if He had only delivered us from bodily danger, as He did the tempest-tossed disciples on the Lake. But we have much more to thank Him for; we know that “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

18. Behold! We Go Up to Jerusalem! Is. 63:1-8. Quinquagesima Sunday

Isaiah 63:1-8: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength? I that speak in righteousness mighty to save. Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winevat? I have trodden the wine-press alone; and of the peoples there was no man with me: yea I trod them in Mine anger, and trampled them in My wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My raiment, etc.”

With next Wednesday we enter the Lenten Season. With it there comes even into homes and hearts where the Lord Jesus does not live and reign, more of thoughtful earnestness. In the Church we lay aside our Hallelujahs, and the merry-making of worldly society begins to die out about us. The faithful disciples of our Lord love to gather in these weeks about Golgotha, the Hill of Death, and look up to the Man on the Cross, who redeemed us with His precious blood. For them that Cross is a veritable Jacob’s ladder, with angels of God ascending and descending on it. Streams of blessing flow into each heart which keeps this season aright with devout worship and meditation.

Our Gospel this Sunday [Luke 18:31-43] stands as the gateway to Lent. There we read: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things shall be accomplished which are written concerning the Son of Man, etc.” Our text belongs to those things written by the prophets of old, and now fulfilled in our Saviour’s Passion. Therefore, as we stand on the threshold of this season, we will let these verses direct our eyes first to

The Man of Sorrows.

The prophet Isaiah sees here a noble figure. This One comes from Edom, the people who persecuted Israel with bitter hatred, and whose chief city was Bozrah. This hero wears garments dyed a deep red. He is “glorious in His apparel, marching in the greatness of His strength.” He “speaks here in righteousness, mighty to save.” The prophet marks the blood-red spots on His garments, and asks why His apparel is red; and the answer is: “I have trodden the wine-press alone.”

It is plain that this dialogue is a prophecy which deals with Christ’s redemptive struggle and victory. Isaiah need not tell us who this holy and heroic figure is. We know whom he foresees here in spirit. When our Lord had rebuked the winds and waves, and calmed the tumult by His almighty hand, they said: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” And when He entered into Jerusalem for the last time, the whole city was stirred and asked: “Who is this?” But we know this One who “marches, or travels, in the greatness of His strength.” And we know Him by the “glorious apparel He wears. Many a time, with that poor suffering woman (in Matt. 9) we have laid hold upon the hem of His garment in faith. Though Herod put on Him a white robe, and the soldiers of Pilate a purple one, and though these afterward divided His garments among them, and cast lots for His seamless mantle, He still stands before us in this deep red apparel. It is He who “comes from Edom,” back from the fray with our foes, the false and bloodthirsty, who betrayed, persecuted, and put Him to death. It is the Man of Sorrows, to whom all eyes turn in this holy and solemn season with adoration.

Every sermon now is meant to fix our eyes on Him. There are many figures in the History of our Lord’s Passion, but this is not printed in our Church Books, and read at home and in our services, that we might become better acquainted with Herod and Pilate, Annas and Caiaphas, Peter and Judas, the women and the disciples, the dying thief and the centurion under the Cross. In it we are to behold before all these and above them all Him who first loved us, and whom our souls love. As the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration “saw no man, save Jesus only,” so we have eyes only for Him, “who bare our sorrows, and carried our griefs.” And again there follows in this O. T. picture

The Great Work He Wrought for Us.

It is set before us in many different ways by the prophets. Now our Saviour is portrayed as the great Servant of Jehovah, in whom He delights; then as the Prophet, whom we are to hear; or as the King who will execute judgment and justice in the earth; the Shepherd, leading His flock; the Hero to whom the gathering of the people shall be; or the Bridegroom, adorning His Church with rich array. But here the prophet sees Him as One who treads the wine-press. It was the custom of Israel to place the grapes in a vat hewn in the rock, and tramp upon them until the juice of the grapes ran through a sieve into the waiting vessel. Thus the treading of the grapes became a familiar figure in the O. and N. T. for the wrath of God against sin. What is pictured here sums up all we see our Saviour doing for us in the Gospel: Destroying the works of the Devil, canceling sin, and abolishing death.

We see Him at the Last Supper, saying to His disciples: “Drink ye all of it; for this is my Blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). And then He rises from the table, and says: “Arise, let us go hence.” His treading of the wine-press is about to begin. We see Him in Gethsemane, lying on His face and praying: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” We behold Him before Pilate in the purple robe and with the crown of thorns, bleeding from His scourging at the hands of the rude soldiers, and such an object of pity, that Pilate cries: “Behold the man! This is not one to fear as a rival of Caesar.” We see Him on the Cross, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, thirsting, suffering, groaning, expiring. In all this He is treading the wine-press of God’s wrath against sin. “The day of vengeance (upon His foes and ours) was in His heart, and the year of His redeemed is come” (v. 4).

Isaiah continues: “I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My wrath, it upheld Me” (v. 5). No man or angel could do aught to help our Redeemer. The 49th Psalm says (v. 7) of those who boast themselves in the multitude of their riches:

“None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
Nor give to God a ransom for him;
(For the redemption of their life is costly,
And it faileth for ever);
That he should still live always
That he should not see corruption.”

Even His intimate disciples could not watch one hour with Him there in Gethsemane, and later “they all forsook Him and fled.” “He looked, and there was none to help.”

That saying, “I wondered,” means more exactly, “I was terrified.” Our Saviour was troubled as He wrestled alone with death, so that His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The earnestness of that struggle was like the desperate fury of a battle, so that He is pictured (v. 6) here as battling with Edom and others who were the implacable enemies of His people: “And I trod down the peoples in Mine anger, and made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Yet even here He is fighting single-handed against our foes; it is only an angel from Heaven who appears in His Passion and then but to strengthen Him, though the twelve legions stand drawn up, to march at His command. The timid disciples flee, and even Peter, who swore faithfulness unto death, denies Him in the High Priest’s palace. When He is crucified there are none to help; there even His Father in Heaven seems to have forsaken Him. Thus He trod the wine-press alone, and wondered, or was terrified “that there was none to uphold” Him.

The grapes He trod were those sins, which are our soul’s worst enemies, each of them blood-red with guilt. Who shall describe all the weariness, pain and anguish He bore for us who made Him to serve or “burdened Him with our sins, and wearied Him with our transgressions (Is. 43:24).” In one thing this prophecy falls short; it says nothing about the shedding of His own holy and precious blood for our sins. It is these which really sprinkled and reddened his garments, and this makes Him more glorious than any hero returning victorious from the battles of earth, with the blood of his enemies upon him. It is we, rather than the O. T. prophet, who realize fully how “glorious He is in His scarlet apparel.”

And the true “greatness of His strength” is this, that “He speaks in righteousness, mighty to save.” This is the Champion of whom Jeremiah spoke (23:5): “Behold the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called: Jehovah our righteousness.” This is the Heavenly Bridegroom, who “betrothed himself to us in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies” (Hos. 2:19). He “was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1. Cor. 1:30). And His Kingdom is “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:7). The poor sinner may now say confidently with Paul: “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Thus is He “mighty to save.” And finally Isaiah speaks of

The Thank-offering We Ought to Bring Him.

When he comes to the seventh verse of our chapter, he can no longer contain himself, and bursts forth into praise and thanksgiving: “I will make mention of the loving kindnesses of Jehovah, and the praises of Jehovah, according to all that Jehovah hath bestowed upon us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses.” Even the blind man in our Gospel, when restored to sight, followed after the Lord and “glorified God.” And all the people, when they saw it, “gave praise to God.” It is true that in this holy Lenten Season we sorrow over our Lord’s bitter sufferings for us, and mourn our sins which He bore for us. Yet this is not a sad and melancholy season. The remembrance of these things makes of it a real joyful thanksgiving season, a time for His praise. Our Lenten hymns are full of the “Glory that should be to Jesus.”

It were cause enough for hearty thanksgiving, if He had only fed us with earthly bread, as He did the hungry multitudes in the wilderness; if He had only healed our sicknesses, as He did the blind man and the leper; if He had only delivered us from bodily danger, as He did the tempest-tossed disciples on the Lake. But we have much more to thank Him for; we know that “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

Another reason for thanksgiving is suggested in the eighth verse: “For He said, Surely, they are My people, children that will not deal falsely: so He was their Saviour.” He expects us to live up to what He has done for us; we must not disappoint Him. We dare not be unbelieving, false, and thankless children. He must have no cause to sorrow over us, as He did over the nine lepers, who “returned not to give thanks to God.”

Again, our thank-offering is acceptable and pleasing to Him. Many sacrifices were brought to our Lord in the days of His flesh. The Wise Men opened their treasures before Him, and gave Him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Levi, the publican, renamed Matthew, made Him a feast in his house. Zacchaeus received Him with joy, and vowed to give half of his goods to the poor, and to return each dishonest gain four-fold. Martha was busy with many things, and cumbered with much serving for His sake. The women who followed Him out of Galilee ministered unto Him of their substance. And all these sacrifices He accepted; indeed of one He said: “She hath done a good work on Me. This shall be spoken of as a memorial of her.” Just so acceptable will be the hymns and prayers, the offerings and services we bring Him, as we stand in spirit beneath His Cross.

But woe unto us, if we thank Him only with our lips, and that saying (Matt. 15:8) applies to us:

“This people honoreth Me with their lips;
But their heart is far from Me.
In vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.

We dare not be such children that deal falsely; our thank-offering must be in deed and in truth; the faithfulness which follows our Master and walks in His ways, the earnestness which keeps our flesh under the love which for His sake leaves all that hinders His service, the patience which bears the cross after Him, and walks humbly and meekly among our brethren. Such thank-offerings are pleasing indeed to Him.

These let us bring with diligence, for the day is coming when these words of the prophets shall have their complete fulfillment. Then, as John saw in his vision on Patmos, the great wine-press of the wrath of God shall be trodden again. The same Saviour, who came in grace to tread down our sins, will trample in judgment upon that “vintage of the earth” who hold fast their sins at His coming. John saw Him upon the white horse, coming to make war upon all who are false, unfaithful and unrighteous. He was clothed in a vesture dipped in blood, and the armies of Heaven followed Him. His enemies will be made His footstool. May none of us be put to shame in that Day. As yet there is time to prepare. The holy Lenten Season is before us; our day of grace is not yet ended. “Behold now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation,” for now we may still look up to the Man of Sorrows who was crucified for us, and rejoice in the great work of redemption He wrought for us, and bring Him the thank-offerings in heart and life, which He so well deserves.

“Who is This that comes from Edom,
All His raiment stained with blood,
To the captive speaking freedom,
Bringing’ and bestowing good;
Glorious in the garb he wears,
Glorious in the spoil He bears?
 
‘Tis the Saviour, now victorious,
Traveling onward in His might;
‘Tis the Saviour; how glorious
To His people is the sight!
Satan conquered and the grave,
Jesus now is strong to save. Amen.”
– No. 191 G. C. Book.

– From Siloah: Sermons On Old Testament Texts by William Ziethe, translated By Pastor John William Richards. Originally published 1922 by the Lutheran Literary Board, Burlington, Iowa.


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