Fourth Midweek Lenten Service 2007

“The Suffering Servant Suffers Silently” 

(Isaiah 53:7-9) 

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.

He was taken from prison and from judgment,

And who will declare His generation?

For He was cut off from the land of the living;

For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

And they made His grave with the wicked—

But with the rich at His death,

Because He had done no violence,

Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.  Jesus preached publicly.  He taught His disciples.  He spoke the truth.  The account of His passion, from Gethsemane to His final breath on the cross includes many words from Jesus.  When Jesus was questioned, He responded with the truth.  He did not fail to confess.  When St. Paul commended Timothy for making a good public confession of the faith he referred back to the good confession that Jesus made before Pontius Pilate.  Our Lord never failed to speak when speaking was called for.

And He remained silent when silence was called for.  When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for questioning, Jesus did not answer any of Herod’s questions.  Herod was not interested in learning anything from Jesus.  When the chief priests and the scribes slandered Jesus before Herod, Jesus said not a word.  When Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus, Jesus said not a word.  When He experienced the worst miscarriage of justice in the history of the world, He uttered not a word of complaint.  A sheep remains silent before those who cut off its wool.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, suffered in silence. 

All of His teaching, all of His speaking, everything that He preached and said leads us to consider His silent suffering for us. 

This week the church celebrates the Four Hundredth Anniversary of the birth of Paul Gerhardt.  He was born on March 12, 1607.  He confessed when it was called for.  He also suffered for his confession.  His suffering was not for nothing.  It was the occasion for the writing of some of the greatest hymns ever written, many of which we sing today.  Paul Gerhardt grew up during the Thirty Years War, one of the most devastating events in the history of Europe.  Germany lost between twenty and thirty percent of its population.  Gerhardt lost his ancestral home.  His wife and four of his five children died of disease.  Gerhardt was a very talented preacher, the pastor of the famous St. Nicolas Church in Berlin.  The church in that time and place was under the authority of the State.  The prince was a Calvinist by the name of Frederick William.  He was known as the Great Elector.  He disliked the debates between the Lutherans and the Reformed.  Most of the congregations and pastors were Lutheran.  Prince Frederick ordered them to stop criticizing Reformed doctrine.  This would have kept Pastor Gerhardt from confessing the Lutheran Confessions faithfully.  He refused to be muzzled in his preaching.  His pulpit was taken away from him.  He suffered much.  And in his suffering he composed hymns. 

We have been singing at least one Paul Gerhardt hymn at each of the midweek services this Lent.  After losing most of his family and coming close to death himself, Gerhardt wrote these words, which we sang earlier this evening: 

Thy hand is never shortened,
All things must serve Thy might;
Thine every act is blessing,
Thy path is purest light.
Thy work no man can hinder,
Thy purpose none can stay,
Since Thou to bless Thy children
Wilt always find a way.

It is impossible that the suffering we endure in this life should have no benefit, no purpose, and no divine love to direct it for our good.  How could Paul Gerhardt know this?  He knew the gospel!  When you know the victory that is ours in the silent suffering of Jesus you know that your cause cannot fail.  Gerhardt’s hymns express a personal confidence based on God’s faithfulness revealed in Christ. 

The silent suffering of Jesus is a powerful example.  As Gerhardt writes in his hymn, “Upon the Cross Extended,” 

How God at our transgression
To anger gives expression,
How loud His thunders roll,
How fearfully He smiteth,
How sorely He requiteth,
All this Thy sufferings teach my soul. 

When evil men revile me,
With wicked tongues defile me,
I’ll curb my vengeful heart.
The unjust wrong I’ll suffer,
Unto my neighbor offer
Forgiveness for each bitter smart. 

The silent suffering of God’s Suffering Servant shows us how to live with pain.  We lose.  Then we suffer.  We suffer the pain of losing our health, our money, our friends, our position, even our reputation.  We look to Jesus as He is redeeming us.  He see Him as He is taking our place under the law and suffering all that we deserved.  We watch Him and we learn.  We learn not only by His beautiful words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  “In thy hands I commit my spirit.”  We learn also by His silence. 

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee,
Thou noble countenance,
Tho’ mighty worlds shall fear Thee
And flee before Thy glance.

Jesus saw what was before Him.  The prophet foretold in the words of our text: 

And they made His grave with the wicked—

But with the rich at His death, 

They planned to throw him into a fire where the bodies of dead criminals were tossed.  But He would be buried in a rich man’s grave.  And He would rise from the dead.  His body would see no decay.  Jesus saw what was before Him.  And He shows it to us. 

This is how we learn to keep our mouths shut when we are insulted, abused, slandered, and mocked.  For we have more than the powerful example that Jesus has provided.  We have the fruit of His labor.  His silence in suffering was to bear our sin.  As the prophet writes: “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken.”  In being stricken, smitten by God and afflicted, He uttered no threats, He did not insult those who insulted Him.  He patiently endured in order to remove our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.  For He was doing so much more than showing us how to live.  He was providing a life to live.  He was taking off of our souls the guilt in which we were born, in which we lived, and which threatens us ever day with death – eternal death.  As Gerhardt wrote in that wonderful Christmas hymn: 

Guilt no longer can distress me;
Son of God, Thou my load, bearest to release me. 
Stain in me thou findest never;
I am clean, all my sin is removed forever.  

We have no fear of death.  The Suffering Servant faced it.  They were going to toss his dead body away as so much garbage.  But God saw to it that He would be honored in death, and on the third day rise. 

There are those who would still mock Jesus and despise the precious blood He shed on the cross.  They ridicule Christian doctrine that centers on that sacrifice.  They boldly claim they need no blood to be shed for them.  And they trample what is holy under their feet.  What do we Christians do in face of this? 

We confess.  Whether in the beautiful hymns of Paul Gerhardt and other great hymnists or in the quiet conversation we have with anyone willing to listen we confess the truth of the gospel.  And we keep silent.  When the time comes for us to suffer for Christ’s sake, or to suffer to bring us closer to Him in simple faith, we silently entrust ourselves to the One who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead.  Then we are conformed to the image of Him who suffered silently for us. 


Rev. Rolf D. Preus

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