He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7 NIVUK)
In our header scripture the prophet Isaiah prophesied how the Lord’s Servant would suffer and how he would respond. He identified that:
The Servant would be oppressed – This is a word that in the Old Testament is most often used of taskmasters that make the lives of their slaves miserable. They lay upon them unbearable levels of stress, tension, and ill-treatment. Jesus experienced this as he was arrested and tormented.
The Servant would be afflicted – This is a word that implies humiliation. Jesus was fearlessly mocked and ridiculed as he was scourged by the soldiers and suffered the humiliation of being stripped naked on the cross.
The Servant would be led like a lamb to the slaughter – This showed his obedience to the death that awaited him – even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).
The Servant would be sheared like a lamb before his shearers – On the cross, Jesus was not only stripped of his clothes but also of his friends, his honour, his dignity, and his divine protection.
How would this Servant respond? Isaiah tells us three times that he would not open his mouth, he would be silent, and so would not open his mouth. In the gospel accounts leading up to Jesus’s death we see that on three occasions Jesus was silent: At the mock trial in the middle of the night at Caiaphas’s when he was accused by false witnesses, Jesus was silent (Matthew 26:62-63); later, early in the morning, Pilate was amazed that Jesus wouldn’t answer his accusers (Mark 15:4-5); then Pilate sent Jesus to Herod and despite being questioned at length, Jesus remained silent (Luke 23:9).
Why was Jesus silent? Certainly to fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy, but I think there is more going on here. When Jesus spoke he did so with such power and authority that even the winds and waves obeyed him (Matthew 8:27), and the Roman soldiers arresting him fell to the ground (John 18:4-6). If Jesus had spoken up in his own defence during his trials, he would have been so powerful and irrefutable that no governor, high priest, or other legal authority on earth could have stood against him. If Jesus had taken up his own defence intending to refute his accusers and prove his innocence, he would have won – but we would have lost. Jesus would have been saved from the cross, but we would still be lost in our sins.
Thank God for the Lamb’s silence.
Loving Father, thank you for sending your Son Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. May we in silent reflection ponder the significance of his silence for us. In Jesus’s name, we pray, Amen.