A Site for the Teaching Ministry of Nick Batzig 

X Close Menu

The Silent, Suffering Savior


Have you ever read the record of Christ's sufferings and wondered, “Why do the evangelists note that Jesus ‘answered nothing’ (Matt. 27:12), ‘answered not one word (27:13)’ and ‘kept silent and answered nothing’ (Mark 14:61) when He stood before earthly judges?” After all, Jesus was sinless and utterly blameless. Of all men, He alone had the right to open His mouth and vindicate Himself. Clearly it was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the suffering Servant, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). This is certainly meant to build us up in faith in the long-awaited, suffering Servant Redeemer. However, there seemed to be some other reason for the silence of the suffering Savior. Consider the following:

In his Sermons on the Passion of our Lord, John Calvin explained:

"When our Lord Jesus Christ is judged before an earthly judge, it was in order that we might be exempt and absolved from the condemnation which we deserved before the heavenly Judge. We know that we cannot escape what is written by the Prophet Isaiah, that every knee must bow before God. (Isaiah 45:23.) Since God is the Judge of the world, how can we subsist before His face and before His majesty. . .When, then, the Son of God is humiliated to that extent, let us know that it is in order that we may be able to come with heads raised before God, and that He may receive us, and that fear may no longer cause us to draw back from His judgment-seat, but that we may dare to approach it boldly, knowing that we shall be received there in mercy. . .He had to be condemned, indeed, in our person. For although He was without spot or blemish, He bore all our sins upon Himself. We need not be astonished, then, that He stood there as if He had been convicted. . .That, then, is what the silence of our Lord Jesus Christ implies, in order that today we can call upon God with full voice, and that we can ask Him for pardon for all vices and offenses."1

Again, Calvin noted:

"Our Lord Jesus so offered Himself of His own will as a sacrifice to make reparation for all our iniquities by His obedience and He was willing to be condemned to wipe them out. That is why it is said that He did not answer at all the accusations that were raised against Him. He had enough wherewith to answer, but He was silent, as is also mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. . .Let us note well, then, when the silence of Jesus Christ is spoken of, that it was inasmuch as He did not wish to offer any excuse. As for His person, He kept His mouth closed. However, He did not cease to make such confession as He had to make. That is also why Saint Paul says that He made a good confession before Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy 6:13). For if it had been a matter of Jesus Christ’s entering into His own self-defense, already the judge was persuaded of His integrity. He could, then, easily have won His case by speaking. That is what amazes Pilate. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ did not cease to render such testimony as God had committed to Him—not tending to instruct (for this was not the place) but to confirm and ratify the doctrine to which He had previously borne witness."2

There is also a profound textual connections between Romans 3:19 and the witness of Scripture to the silence of Jesus in his trial. In his sermon on Romans 3:1-20, Sinclair Ferguson notes the sad reality of our innate desire to open our mouths with self-justifying arguments before God and the silence of Jesus in the day when he was judged, when he states:

"[Paul] says…this is our chief problem. We will keep on talking. We will keep on justifying ourselves. We will keep on using arguments. We will keep on pleading our own sufficiency and our own superiority–and Paul, as it were, lifts us up before the judgment throne of God at the last assize and says, “Stand there a moment my friend…and listen to the silence, listen to the silence, listen to the silence.” Because when a man or woman stands before the judgment throne of God and sees His infinite holiness and has unraveled in the their lives the seemingly infinite sinfulness, for the very first time in their lives they hear total silence, not only outside but inside. Because on that day says Paul, Every mouth will be shut and the whole world held guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty before God.

And you see why he does this. I’m sure that it was as painful to him as it is to us when he expounds his teaching. Because he wants to bring us to silence before God’s judgment now, in order that before God’s judgment then we may be able to open our mouths and say the one word in all the universe that is acceptable in His sight and makes us acceptable in His sight. And this is the glory of the Gospel that he will go on to expound—that as we stand silent before the judgment seat of God because we have nothing in ourselves to plead before Him, the only One in all the history of human creation who had the right to speak in the presence of God’s judgment and call Him ‘Father’ came into the world to take our place, to bear our sin—silently. “Like a Lamb that was brought to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,” Isaiah said of Him, “so as He went to judgment He opened not His mouth.” And as in His need upon the cross He hung feeling the weight of God’s judgment on the sins of those for whom He died, He opened His mouth to say the only thing that sinners can say, in and of themselves, in that judgment throne, “My God, You have forsaken Me.” And under the solemn judgment of God in the darkness of the    Jerusalem afternoon as He hung there between heaven and earth, as a kind of no-man’s land of desolation, He died in silence, bearing our sins that we might go in triumph and speak His name.”3

We are meant to know that Jesus had to remain silent when he was judged so that we might have our mouths shut before the just tribunal of God. Then, having heard the sentence exacted against the spotless lamb of God, believers might open their mouths in praise to God for all the ways that He has removed their transgressions and the righteous condemnation that stood against us for Christ's sake. The silence of condemnation belonged to Jesus that praise for justification might be ours.  

1. An excerpt taken from John Calvin’s “Fourth Sermon—Matthew 26:67-27:10” in Sermons on the Passion of our Lord 

2. An excerpt from Calvin’s “Fifth Sermon –Matthew 27:11-26” in Sermons on the Passion of our Lord

3. An excerpt taken from Sinclair Ferguson’s sermon on Romans 3:1-20.