7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
The scriptures are full of suffering saints – all the way from Abel in the book of Genesis to the saints at the foot of God’s throne in the book of the Revelation. But as we peruse the scriptures, we do not find suffering saints, suffering in silence.
Abel the first martyr was not a silent sufferer. God says, “The blood of Abel cries unto me from the ground.”
In the Exodus, Israel suffers under Pharaoh. But she is not silent. “The people of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried and their cry came up to God, and God heard their groanings.”
Job is the proverbial suffering saint. But read the book. He was far from silent.
Jeremiah was the suffering, sorrowing prophet, and his complaints ascend constantly to God.
Habbakuk experienced tough times and he climbs into his high tower and argues that God is not managing things right.
The Psalmists in song after song, suffers, but silence is not known to them either.
And then we come to Jesus. Isaiah says that none were hurt like he was. He had a right to protest his pain. And yet He remained silent. Isaiah writes
He was oppressed and afflicted
Yet he did not open his mouth
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter
And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
He did not open His mouth.”
All four gospels agree with Isaiah at this point. When Jesus came before Annas and Caiphas to be tried, he was silent. When He stood before Herod, he was silent. When he came before Pilate again there was silence. The question arises. Why was He silent? Why did each of the writers want to remind us of this? What was the significance of his silence?
1. No Complaining
The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that He did not open his mouth in complaint. He was led away like a sheep to be killed, Yet He never complained. He was led away like a sheep to be sheared, to be sheared of His rights. His pride was sheared away, His modesty was ripped away. His good name was lopped off, His followers were cut off, and he was cut off from the land of the living. Sheared like a sheep! Yet, never once is there a complaint.
There is no complaint against his enemies. There is criticism against not one of them. Whether it was blaspheming priests, clowning Herod, sadistic soldiers, or vacillating Pilate. They slandered Him. He makes no self-defense. False witnesses came. He holds his peace. He is silent. He makes no complaint against his enemies.
There was a day when Paul was struck. He retaliated on instinct. “God shall smite you, you whited wall.” Then he realized he was speaking against the high Priest. He instantly apologized. Perhaps Paul can be excused. But Jesus never accused. Never lashed out in retaliation. Instead of words of blame there are words of benediction. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Neither is there a complaint against His Father
Cain would complain to God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.”
When you and I have gone through difficult times, we can often be heard complaining, “Why God? Why?” We have pleaded for release from our sickness, from our financial strictures, from the circumstantial pressures of our lives. At times there have been accusations against God. We have felt hard done by, and trust has been replaced with anxiety, anger and doubt.
It was not like that with Jesus. The suffering that God allowed to fall on him was a colossal burden. Isaiah even says, “It was the Lord’s will to bruise him and to cause him to suffer.” but never once is there any murmuring against it. The olive press was being turned and the pressure was horrific, but there is no yelling “uncle” or in his case, “Father.” Instead, he was silent. He would offer no complaint against the father’s will.
There was a cry, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” But it was not the cry of a rebel against its sovereign. It was not a complaint against the choice of God for his life. That had been settled long ago on the mountain of temptation and ratified in the garden of Gethsemane. This cry was a cry of man in weakness and pain. Not the cry of man in revolt. It was not even a cry of doubt for the word “MY” rings too clearly in the words. “My God, My God.” God is still His God, even in the darkness and the pain.
There is no complaint against his enemies or his God. And so He is silent.
2. His Submission to The Will of God
His silence, however, may have another cause. His silence indicates his willingness to submit to the will of His Father.
When Isaac was being offered on the altar on Mount Moriah by his father Abraham, the book of Genesis tells us that Abraham bound his son to the altar. On those ancient altars there were horns on each corner so that a frightened animal could be tied down before its slaughter. Isaac too was bound to the altar, as though he was not quite willing to be sacrificed.
It was not so with Jesus. There was no kicking and squirming, no protest or reluctance. When the soldiers had come with swords and staves, they had not been needed. He had already said “I lay down my life of my own accord.” The son was offering up himself out of his great love for the Father and for us. There was no need for him to be held by chains or ropes to the altar.
Isaiah tells us that he was led like a sheep going to the slaughter. When a sheep went to the slaughter house, it usually went willingly. It went willingly because it was totally oblivious to its fate. It didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. But Jesus was not an ignorant sheep that didn’t know what was up. He knew the cross was waiting for him. For months he had told his followers of the events that would transpire in Jerusalem. But knowing all that, he still went quietly, like a sheep about to be butchered. In silent resolve, he goes to the cross to die for the sins of the world. His silence is the silence of compliance, of consent to his Father’s will.
3, Time to Act
There may be a third reason for his silence. For the past years and months he has been called “rabbi” or “teacher”. Using words he has instructed the 12 men who have followed him. Using words he has taught the crowds. He has spoken in sermon and in parable. He has been “Jesus the teacher” for some time. But that is not to be his primary function. He is not primarily a teacher. He is not one more Rabbi, pouring our learned words ad infinitem.
He has come to give his life a ransom for many. He has come to be the sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world. And now the time for words has come to an end. It is now time to act. It is now the time to DO the will of his father, and not to simply speak about God’s will. And so in silence, with the time for teaching set aside, he acts out the ultimate message from God.
4. The Silence of Sadness
There may, however, be a fourth reason for his silence. It was a silence caused by sadness.
Jesus was always willing to talk to those who had ears to hear. The woman at the well, Zacchaeus the tax collector, Nicodemus the official, and those that were guilt ridden. Any beggar of Israel could get his ear and get an answer. But on the day of his trial there is silence. And in part it was the silence that stems from sadness. When a person is in pain there comes silence and withdrawal into oneself.
Yet I am not sure that his sadness was due to the pain of the beatings and the crucifixion. The sadness that comes from the realization that at this juncture words are of no use. Day after day he had spoken to the leaders, but they had refused to listen. And at his trial Annas & Caiphas had shut their ears to any of his words, except those they could use against him.
To speak to Herod would also be a shear waste of words. Herod only wanted Jesus to say some clever things. But Herod long ago had stopped his ears to truth. He had beheaded truth when he had beheaded John the Baptist. To speak to Herod was to trivialize words. So before Herod, Jesus is silent.
Then there is Pilate. Jesus speaks words to him, but sparingly. Pilate is a coward and dare not listen. He knows that Jesus is innocent. But all he can hear is the roar of the crowd and the voices of his critics, each of which drowns out the still small voice. He cannot afford to listen to Jesus, so for the most part Jesus is silent and this amazes Pilate who is used to prisoners pleading their case and hoping for exoneration. But Jesus is silent
But it is not the silence of withdrawal. It is not the silence that comes from being morose. It is the sadness that realizes that words will have no meaning. Truth has lost the battle for this day. So, he is silent before such people.
He was not silent, however, to those who were open to his words. The women beside the highway heard him speak to them in their grief. The thief on the cross heard words of hope as he approached his own death. His mother and his follower John heard words from him that bound them together into a new family. To each of them, and to all such people, Jesus is never silent. To those who do not want to hear there is no voice, no sound, no speech. The still small voice is substantially silenced. That is so sad! But to those who long to be true, who yearn to be good, who desire to serve God, the word of God still comes. Thanks be to God.
5. Our Silence
There is, however, another silence mentioned by the prophet. It is not the silence of Jesus. It is the silence of God’s people. The Jerusalem Bible reads the 8th verse this way, “By force and by law he was taken, would anyone plead his cause?” And the answer to that question is a resounding silence. Isaiah has already said that “we hid our faces from him.”
It has often been said that silence is golden. There are times when it is just yellow. For at his trial there were accusers, false witnesses, biased judges. But where were his friends? Where were the followers? Where were the faithful? The scriptures say, “Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” The 12 were panic stricken. We all know the story of Peter. He was silent at the charcoal fire when he was asked by the serving staff if he was “one of them.” Silent in witness, that is, just loud in his curses and in his denials.
But where were the blind who now could see? Where were the lame that now could walk? Where were those who had been freed from the demonic? Where were those who had eaten food on the hillside? Where were those who had been forgiven? Their silence deafens us. Not one witness took his part. Not one person acted as defense. No one pleaded his cause.
Our closing hymn is a prayer. It is “Lord, Speak to me that I may speak.