“Jesus Interceding For Transgressors”

A Sermon delivered by

C. H. Spurgeon

November 18, 1877
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle
Newington, London

“And made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)

Our blessed Lord made intercession for transgressors in so many words while He was being crucified, for He was heard to say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” It is generally thought that He uttered this prayer at the moment when the nails were piercing His hands and feet, and the Roman soldiers were roughly performing their duty as executioners. At the very commencement of His passion He begins to bless His enemies with His prayers. As soon as the rock of our salvation was smitten there flowed forth from it a blessed stream of intercession.

Our Lord fixed His eye upon that point in the character of His persecutors which was most favorable to them, namely, that they knew not what they did. He could not plead their innocence, and therefore He pleaded their ignorance. Ignorance could not excuse their deed, but it did lighten their guilt, and therefore our Lord was quick to mention it as in some measure an extenuating circumstance. The Roman soldiers, of course, knew nothing of His higher mission; they were the mere tools of those who were in power, and though they “mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,” they did so because they misunderstood His claims and regarded Him as a foolish rival of Caesar, only worthy to be ridiculed. No doubt the Savior included these rough Gentiles in His supplication, and perhaps their centurion who “glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man,” was converted in answer to our Lord’s prayer. As for the Jews, though they had some measure of light, yet they also acted in the dark. Peter, who would not have flattered any man, yet said, “And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” It is doubtless true that, had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, though it is equally clear that they ought to have known Him, for His credentials were clear as noon day. Our Redeemer, in that dying prayer of His, shows how quick He is to see anything which is in any degree favorable to the poor clients whose cause He has undertaken. He spied out in a moment the only fact upon which compassion could find foothold, and He secretly breathed out His loving heart in the cry. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Our great Advocate will be sure to plead wisely and efficiently on our behalf; He will urge every argument which can be discovered, for His eye, quickened by love, will suffer nothing to pass which may tell in our favor.

The prophet, however, does not, I suppose, intend to confine our thoughts to the one incident which is recorded by the evangelists, for the intercession of Christ was an essential part of His entire life-work. The mountain’s side often heard Him, beneath the chilly night, pouring out His heart in supplications. He might as fitly be called the man of prayers as “the man of sorrows.” He was always praying, even when His lips moved not. While He was teaching and working miracles by day He was silently communing with God, and making supplication for men; and His nights, instead of being spent in seeking restoration from His exhausting labors, were frequently occupied with intercession. Indeed, our Lord’s whole life is a prayer. His career on earth was intercession wrought out in actions. Since “He prayeth best who loveth best,” He was a mass of prayer, for He is altogether love. He is not only the channel and the example of prayer, but He is the life and force of prayer. The greatest plea with God is Christ Himself. The argument which always prevails with God is Christ incarnate, Christ fulfilling the law, and Christ bearing the penalty. Jesus Himself is the reasoning and logic of prayer, and He Himself is an ever living prayer unto the Most High.

It was part of our Lord’s official work to make intercession for the transgressors. He is a Priest, and as such He brings His offering, and present prayer on the behalf of the people. Our Lord is the Great High Priest of our profession, and in fulfilling this office we read that He offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears; and we know that He is now offering up prayers for the souls of men. This, indeed, is the great work which He is carrying on today. We rejoice in His finished work, and rest in it, but that relates to His atoning sacrifice; His intercession springs out of His atonement, and it will never cease while the blood of His sacrifice retains its power. The blood of sprinkling continues to speak better things than that of Abel. Jesus is pleading now, and will be pleading till the heavens shall be no more. For all that come to God by Him He still presents His merits to the Father, and pleads the causes of their souls. He urges the grand argument derived from His life and death, and so obtains innumerable blessings for the rebellious sons of men.

I. I have to direct your attention this morning to our ever-living Lord making intercession for the transgressors; and as I do so I shall pray God, in the first place, that all of us may be roused to ADMIRATION FOR HIS GRACE.

Come, brethren, gather up your scattered thoughts and meditate upon Him who alone was found fit to stand in the gap and turn away wrath by His pleading. If you will consider His intercession for transgressors I think you will be struck with the love, and tenderness, and graciousness of His heart, when you recollect that He offered intercession verbally while He was standing in the midst of their sin. Sin heard of and sin seen are two very different things. We read of crimes in the newspapers, but we are not at all so horrified as if we had seen them for ourselves. Our Lord actually saw human sin, saw it unfettered and unrestrained, saw it at its worst. Transgressors surrounded His person, and by their sins darted ten thousand arrows into His sacred heart, and yet while they pierced Him He prayed for them. The mob compassed Him round about, yelling, “Crucify him, crucify him,” and His answer was “Father, forgive them”: He knew their cruelty and ingratitude, and felt them most keenly, but answered them only with a prayer. The great ones of the earth were there, too, sneering and jesting—Pharisee and Sadducee and Herodian—He saw their selfishness, conceit, falsehood, and bloodthirstiness, and yet He prayed. Strong bulls of Bashan had beset Him round, and dogs had compassed Him, yet He interceded for men. Man’s sin had stirred up all its strength to slay God’s love, and therefore sin had arrived at its worst point, and yet mercy kept pace with malice, and outran it, for He sought forgiveness for His tormentors. After killing prophets and other messengers, the wicked murderers were now saying, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.” And yet that heir of all things, who might have called fire from heaven upon them, died crying, “Father, forgive them.” He knew that what they did was sin, or He would not have prayed “forgive them,” but yet He set their deed in the least unfavorable light, and said, “they know not what they do.” He set His own Sonship to work on their behalf, and appealed to His Father’s love to pardon them for His sake. Never was virtue set in so fair a frame before, never goodness came so adorned with abundant love as in the person of the Lord Jesus, and yet they hated Him all the more for His loveliness, and gathered around Him with the deeper spite because of His infinite goodness. He saw it all, and felt the sin as you and I cannot feel it, for His heart was purer, and therefore tenderer than ours: He saw that the tendency of sin was to put Him to death, and all like Him, yea and to slay God Himself if it could achieve its purpose, for man had become a Deicide and must needs crucify His God-and yet, though His holy soul saw and loathed all this tendency and atrocity of transgression, He still made intercession for the transgressors. I do not know whether I convey my own idea, but to me it seems beyond measure wonderful that He should know sin so thoroughly, understand its heinousness, and see the drift of it, and feel it so wantonly assailing Himself when He was doing nothing but deeds of kindness; and yet with all that vivid sense of the vileness of sin upon Him, even there and then He made intercession for the transgressors, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Another point of His graciousness was also clear on that occasion, namely, that He should thus intercede while in agony. It is marvelous that He should be able to call His mind away from His own pains to consider their transgressions. You and I, if we are subject to great pains of body, do not find it easy to command our minds, and especially to collect our thoughts and restrain them, so as to forgive the person inflicting the pain, and even to invoke blessings on his head. Remember that your Lord was suffering while He made intercession, beginning to suffer the pangs of death, suffering in soul as well as in body, for He had freshly come from the garden, where His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Yet in the midst of that depression of spirit, which might well have made Him forgetful of the wretched beings who were putting Him to death, He forgets Himself, and He only thinks of them, and pleads for them. I am sure that we should have been taken up with our pains even if we had not been moved to some measure of resentment against our tormentors; but we hear no complaints from our Lord, no accusations lodged with God, no angry replies to them such as Paul once gave- “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall”; not even a word of mourning or of complaining concerning the indignities which He endured, but His dear heart all ascended to heaven in that one blessed petition for His enemies, which there and then He presented to His Father.

But I will not confine your thoughts to that incident, because, as I have already said, the prophet’s words had a wider range. To me it is marvelous that He, being pure, should plead for transgressors at all: for you and for me amongst them—let the wonder begin there. Sinners by nature, sinners by practice, willful sinners, sinners who cling to sin with a terrible tenacity, sinners who come back to sin after we have smarted for it; and yet the Just One has espoused our cause, and has become a suitor for our pardon. We are sinners who omit duties when they are pleasures, and who follow after sins which are known to involve sorrow: sinners, therefore, of the most foolish kind, wanton, willful sinners, and yet He who hates all sin has deigned to take our part, and plead the causes of our souls. Our Lord’s hatred of sin is as great as His love to sinners; His indignation against everything impure is as great as that of the thrice holy God who revengeth and is furious when He comes into contact with evil; and yet this divine Prince, of whom we sing, “Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness,” espouses the cause of transgressors, and pleads for them. Oh, matchless grace! Surely angels wonder at this stretch of condescending love. Brethren, words fail me to speak of it. I ask you to adore!

Further, it is to me a very wonderful fact that in His glory He should still be pleading for sinners. There are some men who when they have reached to high positions forget their former associates. They knew the poor and needy friend once, for, as the proverb hath it, poverty brings us strange bedfellows, but when they have risen out of such conditions they are ashamed of the people whom once they knew. Our Lord is not thus forgetful of the degraded clients whose cause He espoused in the days of His humiliation. Yet though I know His constancy I marvel and admire. The Son of man on earth pleading for sinners is very gracious, but I am overwhelmed when I think of His interceding for sinners now that He reigns yonder, where harps unnumbered tune His praise and cherubim and seraphim count it their glory to be less than nothing at His feet, where all the glory of His Father is resplendent in Himself, and He sitteth at the right hand of God in divine favor and majesty unspeakable. How can we hear without amazement that the King of kings and Lord of lords occupies Himself with caring for transgressors—caring indeed for you and me. It is condescension that he should commune with the bloodwashed before His throne, and allow the perfect spirits to be His companions, but that His heart should steal away from all heaven’s felicities to remember such poor creatures as we are and make incessant prayer on our behalf, this is like His own loving Self—it is Christlike, Godlike. Methinks I see at this moment our great high Priest pleading before the throne, wearing His jeweled breastplate and His garments of glory and beauty, wearing our names upon His breast and His shoulders in the most holy place. What a vision of incomparable love! It is a fact, and no mere dream. He is within the Holy of Holies, presenting the one sacrifice. His prayers are always heard, and heard for us, but the marvel is that the Son of God should condescend to exercise such an office and make intercession for transgressors. This matchless grace well nigh seals my lips, but it opens the floodgates of my soul, and I would fain pause to worship Him whom my words fail to set forth.

Again, it is gloriously gracious that our Lord should continue to do this; for lo, these eighteen hundred years and more He has gone into His glory, yet hath He never ceased to make intercession for transgressors. Never on heaven’s most joyous holiday when all His armies are marshaled, and in their glittering squadrons pass in review before the King of kings, has He forgotten His redeemed ones. The splendors of heaven have not made Him indifferent to the sorrows of earth. Never, though, for aught we know, He may have created myriads of worlds, and though assuredly He has been ruling the courses of the entire universe, never once, I say, has He suspended His incessant pleading for the transgressors. Nor will He, for the Holy Scriptures lead us to believe that as long as He lives as Mediator He will intercede: “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.” He lived and lives to intercede, as if this were the express object of His living. Beloved, as long as the great Redeemer lives and there is a sinner still to come to Him, He will still continue to intercede. Oh, my Master, how shall I praise thee! Hadst Thou undertaken such an office now and then, and hadst Thou gone into the royal presence once in a while to intercede for some special cases, it would have been divinely gracious on thy part, but that Thou shouldst always be a Suppliant, and ever cease to intercede, surpasses all our praise. Wonderful are His words as written in prophecy by Isaiah—“For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.” As the lamp in the temple went not out, so neither hath our Advocate ceased to plead day nor night. Unwearied in His labor of love, without a pause, He has urged our suit before the Father’s face. Beloved, I will not enlarge, I cannot, for adoration of such love quite masters me; but let your hearts be enlarged with abounding love to such an intercessor as this, who made, who does make, and who always will make intercession for the transgressors. I have said, “will make,” and indeed this is no bare assertion of mine, for my text may be read in the future, as well as in the past: indeed, as you will perceive upon a little thought, it must have been meant to be understood in the future, since the prophecy was written some 700 years before our Lord had breathed His intercessory prayer at the cross: although the prophet, in order to make his language pictorial and vivid, puts it in the past tense, it was actually in the future to him, and therefore we cannot err in reading it in the future, as I have done—“he shall make intercession for the transgressors.” Constant love puts up a ceaseless plan. Endless compassion breathes its endless prayer. Till the last of the redeemed has been gathered home that interceding breath shall never stay, nor cease to prevail.

II. Thus have I called you to feel admiration for His grace; and now, secondly, I do earnestly pray that we may be led of the Holy Ghost so to view His intercession for transgressors as to PUT OUR CONFIDENCE IN HIMSELF. There is ground for a sinner’s confidence in Christ, and there is abundant argument for the believer’s complete reliance in Him, from the fact of His perpetual intercession.

Let me show you this first, because, beloved, His intercession succeeds. God heareth Him, of that we do not doubt; but what is the basis of this intercession? For whatever that is, seeing it makes the intercession to be successful, we may safely rest on it. Read carefully the verse: “Because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many.” See, then, the success of His plea arises out of His substitution. He pleads and prevails because He has borne the sin of those for whom He intercedes. The main stay and strength of His prevalence in His intercession lies in the completeness of the sacrifice which He offered when He bore the sin of many. Come, then, my soul, if Christ’s prayer prevails because of this, so will thy faith. Resting on the same foundation, thy faith will be equally secure of acceptance. Come, my heart, rest thou on that truth—“He bore the sin of many.” Throw thyself with all thy sin upon His substitution and feel that this is a safe resting-place for thy believing, because it is a solid basis for thy Lord’s intercession. The perfect sacrifice will bear all the strain which can possibly come upon it; test it by the strongest faith and see for thyself; plead it with the boldest requests and learn its boundless prevalence. Thou mayest urge the plea of the precious blood with the Father, seeing the Lord Jesus has urged it, and has never failed.

Continue Reading This Message