Fourth Midweek Lenten Service 2007
“The Suffering Servant Suffers Silently”
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:
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,”
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.
Jesus saw what was before Him. The prophet foretold in the words of our text:
And they made His grave with the wicked—
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:
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?
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
Rev. Rolf D. Preus