Sermon Series on the Servant of the Lord

Lent, 2013

First Confessional Lutheran Parish

Pastor Rolf Preus


“The Servant’s Surprise”

Isaiah 52:13-15

February 19 & 20, 2013


Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently;
He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.
Just as many were astonished at you,
So His visage was marred more than any man,
And His form more than the sons of men;
So shall He sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths at Him;
For what had not been told them they shall see,
And what they had not heard they shall consider.


During these midweek Lenten services we turn our attention to that portion of the Old Testament where the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus is most clearly prophesied.  Not only does Isaiah describe what was visible to the human eye – as if he himself were there witnessing it – he sets forth clearly what Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection mean for us.  Several hundred years before Jesus was born, God called Isaiah to prophesy about him.  Isaiah spoke for God to God’s Church of the Old Testament.  He speaks to us today.


This portion of Isaiah begins in the last three verses of chapter fifty two and continues through chapter fifty three.  The chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles were not a part of the original books of the Bible.  They were added by nameless monks some time during the middle ages.  They usually did a pretty good job at it, but whoever divided Isaiah into chapters make a mistake in beginning chapter fifty three where he did.  It should begin at chapter fifty two, verse thirteen.  The last three verses of chapter fifty two belong to what follows in chapter fifty three.


Who is this Servant?  We learn from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter eight that a servant of Queen Candace from Ethiopia was wondering the same thing.  He was sitting in his chariot somewhere south of Jerusalem reading this portion of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  God sent the Evangelist Philip to talk to him, and Philip explained that the Servant of the Lord written of by Isaiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.  He surprises the world.


What is surprising about this Servant is not that he is exalted, extolled and very high.  It is that a man so abased, marred more than any man, so thoroughly humiliated in suffering, could be so highly exalted.  This is what shuts the mouths of kings.  This is what shocks the wise into silence.  The degradation of the cross and the glory at the right hand of God appear to be incompatible.  But in Christ both are clearly revealed.


He who sits at the right hand of glory ruling over the whole world for the sake of his elect is the One who was shamed before the world.  He was humbled.  This was not mere embarrassment.  It was degradation beyond anyone’s imagination.  He was treated as less than human.  There was no dignity visible in the man. 


Jesus was a good looking man.  St. Luke describes how Jesus as a twelve year old boy increased in stature.  He grew up to be a handsome man.  He was intelligent, articulate, and full of wisdom.  The prophecy before us says that shall deal prudently or wisely.  He commanded respect.  He was the Lord’s Servant.  He was a minister of God’s word, preaching it faithfully, winsomely, and with powerful authority.  This is the Jesus who is described as having a face more marred than any other man.  He descended into a lowliness beyond recognition.  How could one descend so low and rise so high?


Only those who are sprinkled in his blood can know.  As the prophet says, “So shall he sprinkle many nations.”  To sprinkle here is a Hebrew way of speaking.  It means to preach about the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.  To be sprinkled in the blood of Jesus is to be washed clean of our sins.  Only by sprinkling in his blood can sins be washed away.  And only those who are so sprinkled can understand the humiliation and exaltation of Christ properly so as not simply to be shocked and surprised by it but to find true and eternal wisdom in it.


To me the preaching of the cross

Is wisdom everlasting

Thy death alone redeems by loss,

On thee my burden casting

I, in thy name, a refuge claim

From sin and death and from all shame

Blest be thy name, O Jesus!


The surprise either gives way to faith or it solidifies in offense and rejection.  How can it be?  How can such suffering lead to such glory?  How can a man so debased, so disfigured, so humiliated, be set far above the heavens in glory that no other man has ever achieved?  We must listen to this Servant, for he is a servant of the word, sent by God to teach us true wisdom.


Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee

Thou noble countenance,

Tho’ mighty worlds shall fear Thee

And flee before Thy glance.

How art Thou pale with anguish

With sore abuse and scorn!

How doth Thy visage languish

That once was bright as morn!


When Dorothy finds herself in the Land of Oz she meets the good witch of the North.  When Dorothy tells her that she is too beautiful to be a witch, the good witch of the North assures her, “Only bad witches are ugly.”  Goodness is good to look at.  Evil is bad to look at.  What is pretty and appealing to the eye must be good.  To witness pain and suffering and rejection and abasement – well, there certainly can’t be anything good in that!


But there is!  The great surprise of this Servant is that a man who was treated so shamefully by men could be so honored by God.  It is surprising because it goes against what we would expect.  We are accustomed to judging a person’s true dignity and value by outward appearances.  We learn from Jesus not to judge by appearances alone.


The Servant of the Lord teaches us prudence, that is, he teaches us true wisdom.  He shows us his suffering and his glory.  He sets them side by side and teaches us the relationship between the two.  His suffering is he confronting our sin and taking it away.  His suffering is not pleasant to look at.  It’s shocking.  It’s appalling.  That’s because it is caused by the sins of humanity.


There are various ways sinners have devised of removing their sins so that they won’t have to face the consequences of their own wrongdoing. 


The most popular is to blame someone else.  Yes, I did it, but it wasn’t my fault.  I only did it because of what this other person did and so he’s to blame, not me.  That’s how Adam and Eve reacted to God when he confronted them with their sin in the Garden of Eden.  The man blamed the woman and God himself for giving her to him.  The woman blamed the serpent.  The blame game doesn’t deny the reality of sin, it tries to weasel out of responsibility by passing the blame to someone else.


Nowadays it is quite popular simply to deny the reality of sin.  Selfishness, which is bad, is redefined as self-assertion, which is supposedly good.  Carnal pride, which is bad, is redefined as self-esteem, which is supposedly good.  Disobedience to legitimate authority, which is bad, is redefined as independence of spirit, which sounds pretty good.  Sin doesn’t need to be confronted at all.  Nobody is to blame. 


But the problem with such transparent efforts to escape responsibility for sin is that God is the One who determines what sin is and what it requires.  The very nature of God’s goodness requires him to punish sin.  And this is what is so shocking about Jesus, marred in suffering beyond recognition and exalted high above all powers of earth.  It is shocking enough that God would join the human race.  It is appalling to human sensibilities that One who rightly sits at the right hand of the Father, sharing divine glory with him, should be subjected to such degradation on the cross.


That is why Christianity is so frequently revised so as to avoid the offence of the cross.  The beautiful Savior who is the King of creation is preferred above the suffering Servant who dies in agony and humiliation.  Don’t show me my sin!  Don’t display it so vividly!  I’ll worship the exalted Lord Jesus and expect to join him some day in glory, but don’t make me face such suffering and pain.


Oh, but you must.  If we are to gain any of the wisdom the Servant of the Lord possesses, it must be on precisely this point.  We must face his suffering, pain, and death.  We must look at what surprises the world, what shuts the mouths of kings, what shocks the sensibilities of the religious people of every time and place.  We must see not only that the suffering Servant is glorified.  We must see that the glory he enjoys he enjoys because of the humiliation he faced.  This is what astonishes so many.  Unrecognizable in pain, he enjoys victory over the suffering because by his suffering he set us free.


He honored us.  Yes, it was precisely where his face was marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men that all the sons and daughters of men were honored by God.  God chose to embrace their humiliation and sin.  This is the scandal of our religion.  It is the glory of our faith.  It shocks the whole world.  And it takes away our sin.


The glory of God is not in punishing sinners who deserve to be punished.  The glory of God is in taking away sinners’ sins by suffering in their place.  This is a love that surprises the world.  Who would have thought of it?  Who could conceive of such a thing?  Kings are silenced in amazement.  We who are sprinkled clean by the blood of Jesus will not remain silent.  We will sing the praises of him who was crucified for us.  We will take no offense in his shame because it is our glory.  Amen


The Servant’s Sorrow

Isaiah 53:1-3

February 26 & 27, 2013


Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Isaiah 53:1-3


The greatest work of God is faith in the human heart.  People think faith is easy.  If not easy, it is possible.  It’s just a matter of deciding.  The famous preacher, Billy Graham, popularized the idea of faith as a decision.  His radio broadcast was called “Hour of Decision.”  His magazine was called “Decision.”  The idea is that everyone has a free will.  We should exercise our free will by choosing Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.


In contrast to this optimistic opinion about a so called free will we have the words of the prophet: “Who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”  It’s not quite so simple a matter as choosing Jesus to be one’s personal Lord and Savior.  You don’t choose Jesus the way you choose a Chevy over a Ford.  The gospel of Jesus Christ goes against the grain.  “Who has believed our report?” 


The arm of the Lord is revealed to faith, but not as we would expect it.  The arm of the Lord is a reference to Christ who comes into this world to do battle for God on behalf of the human race.  He is the arm of the Lord.  He is God.  He is God fighting for us.  But look at how he appears.


He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.

He is a tender plant, a root out of dry ground, a weakling with uncertain prospects, apparently doomed to failure.  He’s the arm of the Lord but he doesn’t look like it.  He doesn’t look like much.  He looks like a loser.  He suffers abuse without complaint.  He meekly submits to injustice.  With the religious sensibilities of humanity crying out for a god of justice who will redress the injustice of the oppressor and speak out for the poor and the needy, Jesus teaches his disciples to turn the other cheek, and suffer the wrong without complaint.  There is no highfalutin cause.  There is rather submission to what is unfair.


He goes to the cross.  “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”  Many have portrayed Jesus as a social reformer.  They have compared such twentieth century figures as Gandhi and Martin Luther King to Jesus as if Jesus were the inspiration for their social and political agenda.  What utter nonsense!  Had Jesus advocated passive nonviolent resistance to political injustice the prophet would not have written of him,

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.


Jesus was no hero.  That we must understand if we are to obtain the true and saving faith and not be offended by his humility and apparent weakness.  Jesus is not a hero.  He is despised and rejected.  When push came to shove the crowd abandoned him, his disciples ran away, and precious few stood by him to the bitter end.  He wasn’t mobbed by adoring fans in the hours before his death.  He was despised, and we did not esteem him.


Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,

Was there ever grief like His?

Friends through fear Hi cause disowning,

Foes insulting his distress.


Heroes rejoice in the battle as they rail against their enemies, whether by sword or gun or eloquent speech.  Not Jesus.  He had been battling the devil for years, but when the fiercest struggle was at hand and he was facing the cosmic battle of the ages he entered into the arena saying to his disciples: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me.”  Then he prayed.  Those he asked to watch with him fell asleep.  He struggled in prayer, sweating drops of blood, asking his Father if there were some way he could avoid the suffering of the cross.  And as the Father confirmed his holy will that his innocent Son must drink to its bitter dregs the cup of all human suffering and sorrow – when the Lord Jesus was enduring a depth of sorrow no man has ever known, those closest to him were too tired to wait with him, too tired to encourage him, too preoccupied with their own concerns to pray with him.  As the prophet said:


He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.


God would do us a favor by showing us how fickle and unreliable we truly are, so that we might find in the arm of the Lord our only strength.  To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  It has been revealed to those who have examined their hearts and lives and desires and have found themselves to be incapable of true faith.  They have learned that there is a chasm – unbridgeable by human efforts – between the goodness and wisdom of God and the goodness and wisdom of humanity.  There is a gap between what we are by nature and what God expects of his children.  By nature we desire glory for ourselves, not for God.  By nature, we decide against what is good because we choose what we choose not by considering what is right but by considering what we want as if our wants are the standard for what is good and right.


Look at how people think!  If we want it, it must be good.  Our desires become the standard for what is right.  What we want is good and what we don’t want is bad.  Watch a two year old and see if this is not so.  Two year olds are instructive, not because they’re innocent because they are not innocent.  They’re instructive because they are not yet adept at practicing deceit so their selfishness and self-centeredness are transparent.  And you don’t have to teach a child to be selfish and self-centered.  That’s the way he’s born.


“Who has believed our report?”  No one would believe it were it not for the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  The whole world would turn away from it.  It just doesn’t make sense.  That God exists makes sense.  How could we get here if not by the act of a Creator?  Atheistic evolution is obviously absurd.  That innumerable random mutations over a period of billions of years would turn a single cell organism into a human being is as bizarre a notion as one can imagine.  It takes little faith to reject such a scenario in favor of believing in a Creator-God who in the beginning made us as human beings, giving us a dignity greater than that of the animals.


What people hide their faces from, what they reject and despise is the sorrow of the Servant.  His sorrow is over their sin and they don’t want to see their sin in his sorrow.  That cuts.  It hurts.  They want faith to be a wonderful celebration.  Well, there’s a time for that, for sure.  There is joy.  There is victory!  But first there must be sorrow.  The Servant of the Lord must face it.  And we must see his sorrow over our sins.


He was despised, the prophet says, and we did not esteem him.  Why not?  Look at the source of his sorrow!  It is our sin!  What decent person would esteem sin?  The Servant’s sorrow is the scandal of our religion.  St. Paul writes:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”  Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

What looks like foolishness is wisdom.  What looks like weakness is strength.  The arm of the Lord – the power exercised by Christ in his true deity – is revealed where he is filled with sorrow to the point of death, where the world turns away from him, despises him, and rejects him.


But where he is rejected is where we embrace him.  We find our joy in his sorrow because through it he took away all our sin.  He faced its enormity.  He felt it.  He experienced it.  He removed it.  He was willing to bear the scorn of humanity for our sakes so that through him we would find the favor of God.  And we do.  In Christ’s sorrow God rejoices in us because all of our sin is gone, removed by the sorrow of the Lord’s Servant.  When Jesus takes away your sin, you don’t turn away from him anymore.  You do not despise him.  You esteem him as your most precious gift.  Amen


“The Servant’s Suffering”

Isaiah 53:4-6

March 5 & 6, 2013


Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.


When you turn away from God you turn away from life.  But how can you turn back to God after you’ve turned away?  How can you run to the God whom you have disobeyed?  If you’ve sinned against him you need his forgiveness.  But it is precisely your sin that keeps you from his forgiveness.  How can God forgive sin?  How can God forgive me, a sinner?  How can I know that when I have done wrong I may run to the God against whom I have sinned and find in him a loving Father who forgives me my sins?


I cannot know this by my own reason or strength.  God himself must teach me.  And he does.  Here, through the prophet Isaiah, God teaches us his gospel with crystal clarity, revealing to us the suffering Servant whose suffering brings us forgiveness, peace, and health.  Every spiritual blessing God has to give he gives on account of the suffering of his Servant.  The suffering of the Servant of the Lord has accomplished something great and wonderful.  It has opened for us the door to Paradise.  It has taken away our sin, reconciled us to God, and brought us eternal life.  We call what he did the vicarious atonement.


It is vicarious.  That means he did what he did as our substitute.  He took our place.  He did what he did for us, as our representative.  He acted vicariously.


It is atonement.  That means that he brought us back into fellowship with God, establishing true peace, meeting all of our obligations by paying everything we owed.


This vicarious atonement is at the center of our faith.  It reveals God’s love to us.


Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows.

They were our griefs.  They were our sorrows.  He carried them.  He not only sympathized with our suffering.  He bore it in his own body.  When he healed the sick, that healing wasn’t achieved simply by absolute divine power – though he was God and he exercised divine power – his healing of sicknesses, leprosy, and every painful malady cannot be separated from his suffering.  The illnesses he cured he bore.  The griefs he removed he suffered.  He paid for all the benefits he provides.


Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.

Note these words well: Stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.  God did it.  It was not a miscarriage of justice foisted on Jesus by corrupt religious leaders and cowardly politicians.  God did it.  He used corrupt religious leaders and cowardly politicians to carry out his will.  When we see Jesus abused by men we must remember that he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God himself.  God punished all sins of all sinners of all times and places when he punished Jesus. 


God punished his Servant.  This is the most amazing kind of love.  All other forms of love pale in comparison.  That the Father would strike, smite, and afflict his dear Son whom he loved from eternity!  What a wonder!  It goes beyond human telling.  When Brand, from Ibsen’s play by the same name was asked by his wife why he couldn’t be more loving, he replied:


Of what the paltering world calls love,

I will not know, I cannot speak;

I know but His who reigns above,

And His is neither mild nor weak;

Hard even unto death is this,

And smiting with its awful kiss.

What was the answer of God’s love

Of old, when in the olive-grove

In anguish-sweat His own Son lay;

And prayed, O, Take this cup away?

Did God take from him then the cup?

No, child; His Son must drink it up!


St. John described this love in his first general epistle in the words: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”


But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Does God punish or forgive?  He does both at the same time.  He was wounded.  He was pierced.  He was punished.  He was crucified.  For what?  For our transgressions.  God forgives us by punishing Jesus.  “The chastisement for our peace was upon him.”  He was punished instead of us.  God makes peace with us by punishing Jesus instead of us.  That is love.  “And by his stripes we are healed.”  Jesus was whipped.  That’s what brought us healing.  He takes our place and by taking our place he gives us what is his and takes what is ours.  Isaiah goes on:


All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.


Grace is free.  It is not cheap.  The forgiveness of sins does not come from nowhere.  It comes from suffering.  It must be earned.  It’s not that God is not gracious.  It’s not that God cannot forgive.  It’s that God cannot lie or deceive or make false threats or false promises.  God is both gracious and just.  God both forgives and punishes.  We may not pit the one against the other as if to choose between the God who forgives and the God who stands in judgment against sin.  They are the same God.


How?  How can God be both gracious and just at the same time?  How can God forgive sins and punish sins at the same time?  The prophet explains: “And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  God doesn’t forgive without paying the price for forgiveness.  The reason we can know for certain that God forgives us our sins is because he laid those sins on Jesus.


The vicarious atonement is both instructive and comforting.  It is instructive.  It teaches us about God and us and how God deals with us.  It is comforting.  It gives us confidence that we can always run to God and find him a loving, forgiving, and gracious Father who will never turn us away.  The vicarious atonement, so beautifully taught by Isaiah in the words before us this evening, should keep us mindful of two important truths.  First, for Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven.  Second, apart from faith in Christ we don’t have the forgiveness of sins.


For Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven.  How do we know?  He was wounded for our transgressions.  That’s how we know.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  That’s how we know.  The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  That’s how we know.  We know our sins are forgiven because we know Christ.  Our sins aren’t forgiven because we believe they are forgiven.  Our sins are forgiven because Jesus Christ, true God and true man, suffered and died for them.  Our faith didn’t put him on the cross to suffer and die.  Our faith doesn’t take away our sins.  Jesus and Jesus alone takes away sins and he does so by suffering for them.  For Christ’s sake all our sins are forgiven.


Apart from faith in Christ we don’t have the forgiveness of sins.  That God forgives all sins for Christ’s sake doesn’t mean that everyone has the forgiveness of sins.  God forgives.  He forgives all those for whom Jesus suffered and died.  That means he forgives the whole world.  There is no one for whom Jesus did not die.  Therefore, there is no one God did not forgive when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. 


But God forgiving someone does not always mean that that someone receives the forgiveness of sins.  We cannot put Jesus on the cross to take our sins away.  Forgiveness is God’s gift.  But forgiveness is not received except through faith.  Only those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins receive from God the forgiveness of their sins.  Apart from Christ our sins are not forgiven.  Only through faith in him does anyone receive the forgiveness of sins.


This is why we believe, teach, and confess Jesus as the suffering Servant and never tire of hearing this gospel.  It is the source of our faith.  It is what brings us joy.  It is our strength when we face doubts and temptations.  This is why we confess our sins to God and claim his suffering Servant as our very own.  When we know Christ and him crucified we know that God sees us at our very worst and forgives us all our sins, sets us at peace with himself, and rescues us from death and hell.  Like foolish sheep we wandered away.  By God’s grace we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.  Amen



“The Servant’s Silence”

Isaiah 53:7-9

March 12 & 13, 2013


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.


They say that revenge is a dish best served cold.  Don’t get mad.  Get even.  Keep quiet about the injustice you have had to suffer.  Bide your time.  Wait.  When the time is right you can exact revenge.  Payback doesn’t require a lot of huffing and puffing.  Keep your mouth shut.  Don’t threaten.  Then your revenge will be sweet.


Yes, well that’s one point of view.  The other point of view is God’s: “Vengeance is mine, says the LORD.  I will repay.”  Does this mean that God is full of vengeance but he forbids us to take revenge?  No, God is not full of vengeance.  When we consider the suffering Servant who silently faces injustice without a murmur of complaint, we need to keep in mind the wonderful mystery of our religion:  He is God in the flesh.


God becomes a man.  The Servant of the LORD is the Son of the Father.  We have considered his surprise, sorrow, and suffering.  The world is surprised at him because he who is so highly exalted is brought so low.  He endures a sorrow deeper than that of any man.  He suffers for our sins to take them away.  He does so silently. 


A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,

The guilt of all men bearing;

And laden with the sins of earth,

None else the burden sharing!

Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,

To slaughter, led without complaint,

That spotless life to offer;          

Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,

Anguish and mockery, and saith:

“Willing all this I suffer.”


The silence of the Servant does not mean that he’s holding his vengeance inside, waiting to let it loose at a more opportune time.  His silence does not mask vengeance.  It reveals forgiveness.  He is expressing by his demeanor what he is doing.  He is bearing sin.  He is not approving of it.  He is enduring it.  He is not excusing it.  He is confronting it in his own body.  He is suffering it in silence.


Remember that the Servant suffering in silence is no mere man.  He is God in the flesh, living the life of humanity so that by that vicarious life the world might be saved.  We see his suffering and we see God paying our debt.  God pays God the debt the human race owed him. 


It appears that the crowd of haters is in charge.  They mock him.  They insult him.  They cry out for his blood.  They take him from prison and from judgment.  They subject him to a kangaroo court that no fair-minded person would call just.  It’s a mockery of justice on their part.  They want him dead.  As the prophet writes: “And who will declare His generation?  For He was cut off from the land of the living.”  In other words, his life will be cut short.  The bad guys will win.  Or so it will appear.  But appearances can be deceiving.  We need to listen to God explain what’s really going on beneath the apparent miscarriage of justice.


The prophet writes, “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.”  That’s key to understanding his silent suffering.  He is being stricken, punished, blamed for the sins of God’s people.  But how can the mob punish him for the sins of the people?  They cannot.  There is only one person who can punish him for the sins of the people.  There is only one person who can substitute the innocent for the guilty and give to the guilty the innocence of the innocent.  That person is God.  God was in control all along.


When the LORD’s Servant suffered in silence without threatening those who were persecuting him he did so knowing that his cause was in the hands of God.  The hurt that evil people intend does not reach its goal.  God turns evil into good.  He frustrates the plans of his enemies.  The prophet writes: “And they made His grave with the wicked— but with the rich at His death.”  They intended to make his grave with the wicked, to leave his body on the cross to be food for the birds or to toss his body into a fiery pit to be burned with the city garbage or to shame him in some other way.  But God saw to it that he was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, as a public declaration of the innocence of his Servant who suffered in silence.


He suffered in silence, but his cause has been proclaimed loudly, publicly, and with unmistakable clarity all over the world for two thousand years now.  He shut his mouth in the face of abuse.  But there is no silencing the gospel.  He who did no violence, in whose mouth was no deceit, whose life of innocence, purity, and humility shines forth to all the world as the perfect life of love is vindicated.  He is vindicated by God.


The silence of the suffering Servant is instructive for us.  Let us consider three things it teaches us.


First, it teaches us that doing is better than talking.  The Servant of the LORD didn’t just talk about the forgiveness of sins.  He earned it.  His doctrine isn’t just bloodless and lifeless pontificating.  His teaching is grounded in his doing.  What he does is what gives power to what he says.  And what he does is what he suffers to be done to him.


He suffers.  He went as a Lamb to the slaughter.  He suffered in silence for the forgiveness he offered the world.  By walking the walk silently all the way to the cross where he was stricken for the transgressions of God’s people, his talk about forgiveness is made credible.  More than believable, it is powerful.  Christ’s words can and do convey and bestow the forgiveness of sins – fully, and freely – just as surely as he suffered in silence to get the forgiveness he gives.


Second, the silence of the suffering Servant teaches us that we can afford to keep our mouths shut when we are being treated unfairly.  What is it inside of us that makes us believe that we need to vindicate ourselves if we are to be vindicated at all?  Is there not a God in heaven who sees our plight?  He knows what’s fair.  He knows when his children are not being treated fairly.  They don’t need to wonder if he’ll right the wrongs done against them.  Look at how he vindicated his suffering Servant who silently and without complaint endured the greatest injustice ever meted out against anyone?  That’s how he will vindicate his children. 


Third, the morally superior course of action is to endure insults and taunts and mockery without complaint or threats.  We live at a time when it is considered to be good and right to defend your cause in the most obnoxious manner possible.  Lawsuits that drive up the cost of just about everything are standard operating procedure for people who won’t endure any slight from anyone for any reason. 


To suffer in silence is what a good and noble and honorable person does.  St. Peter comments on this portion of Isaiah:

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”;  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

When Jesus fulfills the law for us all, living justly so that his righteousness might replace our sin and render us righteous before God, he is offering up to God the life God requires of us all.  He is living the good life, the virtuous life, the holy life.  Nothing less than that will do to replace our sin and to make us righteous before God. 


What is this life like?  It is a life of patience and humility.  It is a life of love.  Listen to St. Paul describe it in those beautiful words of 1 Corinthians 13:


Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.


That’s what we are witnessing in the silence of the suffering Servant.  We are witnessing the love that does not fail.  Those who promote themselves look with contempt upon such selfless suffering.  We who know the silent and suffering Servant as our sin-bearer and Savior look with faith and we rejoice in his silent suffering for us.  Amen



“The Servant’s Success”

Isaiah 53:10-12

March 19 & 20, 2013


Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:10-12


Success is sweet.  But it’s so often temporary.  The guy who has it made loses it all.  The star athlete grow old and out of shape until he can only reminisce about his past prowess.  Success may be sweet, but it is fleeting – here today and gone tomorrow.


But the success of the LORD’s Servant lasts forever.  The prophet writes:


He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.

Jesus faced crucifixion.  He looked to the future.  He saw beyond the suffering and the shame and the deep sorrow.  His suffering was vicarious.  He was the representative of all humanity.  His suffering was holy and blameless.  He suffered faithfully.  In faith he saw beyond his suffering to the victory that awaited him.


The success of the Servant comes from the fact that he did what the LORD wanted him to do.  It was God’s will.  The will of God is what sanctifies every human action.  This is why we always pray, “Thy will be done.”  This is why we must admit that our very best plans and our most industrious work and our highest goals all depend on God.  When we have done our best we must always hand it over to God to sanctify our efforts by his grace.  Sin will always cling to what we do.  Our best isn’t good enough.


But Christ’s best is the best there is.  This is why it pleased the LORD to bruise him and to put him to grief and to make his soul an offering for sin.  It is because of Christ’s perfection.  Only a perfect sacrifice would do.  Only a life of perfect purity would satisfy the law’s demands.  Only a perfect willingness to suffer and die would suffice.  It pleased the LORD to make him suffer because as the Servant was bearing the sin and the iniquities of the many he was taking away the sin of the world.


The word “many” is often used in the Bible to mean “all.”  The point is that Christ’s obedience and suffering benefited many.  The one for the many is what pleased the LORD.  It’s not as if God is cruel and he delighted in the suffering of his Son.  He was pleased to bruise him because in punishing him he was removing the sin from the world.


He did it.  He succeeded in doing it.  The offering he offered for sin succeeded in removing all sin.  Had he not succeeded he would have stayed dead.  But he didn’t stay dead.  He rose from the dead, as the prophet writes:


When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

He sees his seed.  He sees millions upon millions of Christians rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins that he purchased for them by his suffering and death.  He sees the success of the offering he made on the cross.  His days are prolonged on this earth as his holy Christian Church is established.  Kingdoms rise and fall while his Church remains the fortress of salvation.  The pleasure of the LORD is the conversion of sinners to the true Christian faith and this takes place wherever Christ’s gospel is proclaimed.


He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.

By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many
For He shall bear their iniquities.

That’s success!  His labor bears fruit.  He works for what lasts and cannot be destroyed and this brings him pure satisfaction.  His bearing of the guilt of sinners is how the righteous Servant can justify them.  He justifies all those whose iniquities he bore.  That’s why it pleased the LORD to bruise him.  That’s why he succeeded in what he did.  That’s why the Servant was satisfied with his hard labor.  He justified those for whom he died.


Only God can justify anyone because only God can forgive.  To justify is to forgive.  They mean the same.  They deal with two sides of the same coin.  Forgive is a negative word.  It pertains to sin.  To forgive means to send away.


To justify is a positive word.  It means to reckon or credit or impute justice to someone.  It means to pronounce a person to be righteous.  To forgive is to say that sin is removed and gone.  To justify is to say that righteousness or justice has taken the place of the sin that has been forgiven.


Forgiveness and justification go together.  If you are justified you are forgiven and if you are forgiven you are justified.  And how does it happen?  “By his knowledge” – that is, by knowing the righteous Servant who bore your sins.  You don’t become righteous by doing.  It is by knowing.  But this isn’t a knowing the way you know facts on the test or how something fits together or how to do a job.  This is a knowing of a person.  You know Jesus.  That is, you trust in him.  You believe what he tells you.  Through this knowledge – which is really just another word for faith – you are justified.  That’s the only way a verdict from God can be received: through faith.


Faith is a slippery thing.  It has no dimension.  It’s not a substance or a quality.  Faith is a noun that describes the verb and the verb is to believe.  When it comes to faith the critical issue is always: what do we believe?  It’s not how sincerely we believe because there’s always going to be sin inside of us that seeks to corrupt the true faith.  It’s not how strongly we believe because there will always be doubt swirling around within.  The devil isn’t as lazy as we are, and he’s always casting doubt on the gospel.  The critical issue concerning faith is not how pure or how sincere or how strong.  It is how true.  As we confess in the Catechism explanations to the Creed, “This is most certainly true.”


The truth of the gospel breaks through our unbelief.  Through it God persuades us that that the suffering Servant has succeeded in taking away all our sins.  He has justified us.  When we know this it is a miracle.  God has conquered our hearts and set us free.  A tremendous victory has been won.  The victory was won on the cross.  The victory is won in our hearts.  The prophet writes:


Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.


Isaiah speaks in military terms to describe Christ’s victory.  Dividing the spoils was how the warrior was paid.  If you lost the battle you weren’t paid.  If you won you were.  The spoils of war are here the souls of humanity.  Jesus won them.  He did battle for them.  He shed his blood for them.  He suffered the sorrows of the damned for them.  And he won.  He is the victor.  And note what won him the victory!  Note what gives the suffering Servant his success:


Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.


The love of the Father for his Son is the most beautiful love there is.  The Son pleases his Father by obeying him.  But the obedience of the Servant isn’t just obedience for the sake of obedience.  It is obedience with a goal in mind, with a holy purpose, with a view toward something wonderful.  That something wonderful is his right to plead for us.  He makes intercession for the transgressors.  He pleads their case.  Even as he prays for them to his Father and theirs, the Father answers his prayers.  There is nothing that God can deny to his dear Son.  Nothing!  The willing obedience, the patient suffering, the meek silence in the face of betrayal and pain, the holy and vicarious offering of his innocent life blood on the cross means that his intercession succeeds.  It’s not like Abraham who prays for Sodom but since there aren’t even ten righteous men there God must destroy the city.  Christ intercedes for all the sinners.


This is why we cherish the suffering of Jesus for us as the greatest good.  It literally opens heaven for us.  When we know Jesus we know life.  It is painful at times.  We suffer losses.  We experience sorrow.  We are struck dumb by the injustice of life.  And our sins rise up in our hearts to accuse us.  We haven’t loved as God has called us to love.  We’ve done wrong and invited God’s punishment.


But Christ has done no wrong.  Christ deserves nothing but honor for his holy obedience.  And the gospel truth – dear brothers and sisters in Christ – is that God gives us what his suffering Servant deserves.  That’s what faith believes.    That’s what it means to know Jesus.  It is to succeed in life.  It is to know God and to enjoy eternal life with him in heaven.  Amen.