All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
Palm Sunday tells us about the praise of people who had a severely limited knowledge of Jesus. Matthew records that when Jesus came into Jerusalem “the whole city was stirred up” (Mat. 21:10). That’s hardly surprising. Jesus had given the greatest teaching that they had ever heard and he had performed the greatest miracles that they had ever seen.
So people said, “Who is this?” (21:10), and the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (21:11). It is true. Jesus is a prophet. But that doesn’t go far enough. Jesus is more than a prophet. He is the One about whom the prophets spoke, the One to whom all of them pointed. Jesus is Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, and Lord.
Jesus himself tells us that God is seeking worshippers who will worship him in spirit and in truth: “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23)
To worship in ‘truth’ means to worship God knowing who he is and knowing who we are. Without knowing these two things, worship is worthless, and it may actually be worse than that. It quickly slides into an exercise in self-deception.
Am I a true worshipper of God?
You may have wondered to yourself, “Am I a true worshipper of God? Am I really a disciple, or am I simply part of the crowd gathered around Jesus, without really knowing who he is and who I am.” What do worshippers need to know about ourselves and about Jesus?
Turn in your Bible to Isaiah 53: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We need to be clear about the people who are being addressed.
Who’s the ‘we’ in this verse? Who are these people? The answer, of course, is that these are the people of God. God is speaking to his own people. These words are addressed to the flock to God. Remembering the identity of the ‘we’ will help us guard against two great distortions that always seem to stalk the church.
Pharisaism replaces ‘we’ with ‘you.’ When that takes hold in the church, the message changes from “all we like sheep have gone astray,” and it becomes “all you like sheep have gone astray.” We all know how easy it is for the church to come off as a gathering of pious people correcting an increasingly immoral world.
But that is not the message here. Isaiah is not looking down on the shortcomings of the culture. He is calling us to look at ourselves. And knowing that the ‘we’ refers to the people of God will help guard us from a second distortion, and that is…
Universalism is the idea that everybody will ultimately be saved, and that heaven will be full because hell will be empty, and no one will actually go there.
Universalism makes the ‘we’ refer to everybody. When that takes hold in a church, the message becomes, “Everybody has gone astray, and we all have our own stuff. Nobody’s perfect. But hey, Jesus died, so there’s nothing for anybody to worry about.”
Universalism changes the message from “Everyone must be saved,” to “Everyone has been saved.” So the great difference between human beings is not that some are saved and others are lost. All people are saved, and the only difference between them is that some know about it, while others don’t know it yet.
So the Scripture before us today is directed to the people of God. This side of the cross, we may say that it speaks to the church. God is speaking to the people who are called by his name, the people who profess to worship him. What does God say to us?
Our Common Condition
All we like sheep have gone astray. (Isaiah 53:6)
What have God’s people gone astray from? We have gone astray from our distinct calling. God’s people were called to be his servant, “But you, Israel, my servant… you whom I took from the ends of the earth… ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you’” (Isa. 41:8-9).
God’s people are given this great privilege and this high calling: “You are the ones who are to do my work in the world.” What is this work to which we are called?
The distinct calling of the people of God
1. To bring forth justice
He will bring forth justice to the nations… He will faithfully bring forth justice… He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4)
What does it mean to bring forth justice? It means many things, but first God has called his people to model a life that is lived according to all the law of God. The reason the people of God are to do this is because the nations are to see this.
God’s people are to be like “a light for the nations” (Isa. 49:6). This is the call of God for the lives of his people. And Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We have wandered off from this calling.
- To overflow with compassion
A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.
God’s people in the world are to be a model of kindness, patience, gentleness, and forbearance. We are to do this in the workplace and in the home and in the family. We are to be this towards each other. God calls us to be the most helpful, supportive, encouraging people on the face of the planet.
- To pursue our calling relentlessly
He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth. (Isaiah 42:4)
God says, “I have made you my people. You are my servant and here is what I want you to do: Bring forth justice! Model to the world what a godly life looks like. Show compassion and help the bruised, reach the wounded, the helpless, and the hopeless in this world. Go after this relentlessly with all your might. Don’t flag or faint! Don’t ever get discouraged!”
Would you like to raise your hand and claim, “I’ve done this”? Do any of us really think that the church of Jesus Christ is a shining light reflecting the way that God calls us to live? Would any of us claim that we’ve brought forth a life that fulfills the law of God, reflects the love of God, and does this with unrelenting consistency? Not even close. No, here’s the truth: All we like sheep have gone astray. That is our common condition.
Its Individual Expression
We have turned – every one – to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)
The focus moves in this second statement. First, God tells us what is true of us all together: All we like sheep have gone astray. He’s talking to the corporate body together. Then he speaks to us individually: Each of us has turned to his own way.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to observe sheep, you might know that they go astray in different directions. Sheep don’t wander off together. Wolves hunt in packs, but sheep go wandering off on their own. Why is that? They are rugged individualists, like most of us!
If you see sheep on a hillside, they will be dotted all over the place. They like their own space.
Each of them wants to go their own way, so it is against very difficult for them to stay together. Each of us has his or her own way of straying.
The way you stray from God will be different from the person next to you. And it is always easier to see someone else’s way of straying than it is to see your own. Fathers, it’s easy to see how your sons are straying, but it’s more difficult to see your own straying. Mothers, it’s very easy to see how your daughters are straying, but it’s harder to see your own straying.
Do you know your own habitual way of straying from God?
Four ways of going astray
- The way of recounting
People who have been brought up in church often go astray on this route. You begin keeping a record of what you have done for God and recounting it in your mind, as if God was in your debt because of what you have done for him.
Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). Here is a praying man, a moral man, a religious man, a man who studied the Bible, a man who gave money to the temple – a person much like many of us. He is moral, respectable, and he lives a disciplined life.
When he came into the presence of God, he recounted his own virtue, “I thank you that I am not like other men. I don’t practice extortion. I have never committed adultery. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of all that I get.”
Here’s the problem for this man: His moral, disciplined, and respectable lifestyle has blinded him to the truth about his own particular way of straying. He can see that how other people go astray: He talks about how the country is changing, how people are no longer honor God.
But he cannot see that his own morality, his own discipline, and his own work ethic have become snares to him, because they have caused him to stray into the most obnoxious pride, “Look at what I’ve done for you!” And he is way off in his recounting.
- The way of rebelling
Some of us have turned away from God like the younger brother in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. You are a younger person, and you haven’t left home yet, but you can’t wait to be gone. You are in church, but your heart is far from God. You’re just doing time. You were brought up with the truth, but you’ve turned to your own way and you have no place for God.
Someone has started down a path that you know to be wrong. You have kept what you are doing secret from others. If those who love you were to find out what you are doing, you would be embarrassed and ashamed. But the truth is that you don’t want God in your life. You have turned to your own way, and you don’t have room for him. And very soon it will be a way of open rebellion.
- The way of resenting
Some of us are more like the elder brother in Jesus’ story. You have a good record of service. Your family is well-respected. People see you as a hard worker and as a loyal servant, like the elder brother in Jesus’ story. But your heart is filled with self-pity.
You feel sorry for yourself. You think God owes you something better than you have received. There is a sour spirit that develops within you. You are “serving the Lord” but there is no joy in your life. Increasingly, you are resentful of others.
- The way of reclining
I’m thinking here of another story Jesus told about three servants to whom the master entrusted talents (Mat. 25:14-30). They were all servants of the master, but one of them digs a hole in the ground and buries what the master has given him. He was the master’s servant but he really didn’t care about the master’s work.
Maybe you would say, “Yes, I belong to the Lord,” but you don’t really serve him. Somewhere along the line you stopped caring about his work. Now you don’t care that you don’t care! You’ve settled in. This is who you are.
There’s an apathy, a lethargy about you. A dullness of spirit has come over you. Things happen around you, but you are no longer engaged or committed. You don’t pray during the week as you used to, and when you come to church you don’t really worship either. Your motivation has gone, and finding the easiest way has become the default path for you.
We have all gone astray, but we have done this in very different ways. The routes by which each of us got off the path vary. We are not all in the same place, but at the end of the day we are all in the same position. We’ve strayed from the high calling we received from God.
God’s Astonishing Action
The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
How is it possible for us to worship God when all of us have gone astray? Who can be a true worshipper of God in light of who we are? Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 15). Obviously, that’s not us!
We have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. Here we are, God’s people, with our different brands of straying and what has God done? The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. The emphasis is on the action of God himself – the Lord! The great I Am!
What has God done? Literally translated, Isaiah says, “God has made to meet on him the iniquity of us all.” Or as Alec Motyer, the great scholar on Isaiah translates, “And God! He brought together upon him the iniquity of us all.” 
Look at what God has done:
- God has gathered up the sins of his people
Imagine you are doing some remodeling, and in one of the rooms dust and dirt are spread everywhere. So you get out the vacuum cleaner and hoover it up, so that what was spread in many places is now gathered into one place.
That gives us a picture of what God has done with our sins in their many forms – our self-absorbed rebellion, our self-pitying resentment, our self-indulgent reclining, and our self-righteous recounting. He has gathered them all up into one place
2. God has laid our gathered iniquity on him
God, in his mercy, has poured the whole lot out on the One who stands in the place of the servant. The One who came into the world to be all that God calls us to be (and we haven’t been) and to do all that God has called us to do (and we haven’t done it).
Who is this person on whom the gathered iniquities of all the people of God have been laid?
There can only be one answer: God himself, God taking the form of a servant in Christ Jesus.
Here’s what this means for us: Our sins, our many failings, our willful rebellions, our smug self-satisfaction, our sour faced self-interest has been laid on him. And since it has been laid on him, it no longer lies on us.
Do you believe this?
Will you own this truth about yourself today? That, at your best, you are a willful and wandering sheep. Will you own that? Will you humble yourself and believe what God says about you today? That you have turned to your own way as much as anyone else.
And can you own this truth about God today? That he has gathered up the sins of his people; and that he has lifted them from you and taken them upon himself in Christ Jesus.
Here’s what will happen as you believe this and as you make this a truth upon which you build your life:
- You will find a growing love for Christ rising in your heart.
- You will have a new desire to be done with your pride, your rebellion, your resentment, your self-indulgence. Whatever the brand of your straying, you will have a new longing to be done with it.
- You will have new motivation, new energy, and new vigor to pursue becoming the person God is calling you to be.
- And because the person who has been forgiven much loves much, you will grow in patience, tenderness, and compassion towards others. Those who know they have been forgiven much become kind and gentle towards the failings of others.
- And you will find that you become a true worshipper. You will find adoration, praise, and thanksgiving rising in your heart towards God.
© Colin S. Smith
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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org
 Alec Motyer, Isaiah By the Day, p. 259, Christian Focus, 2011.