Suffering Servant Sermon Lenten Series 2007|Isaiah 52:13-15| Rev. Rolf Preus
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.
It is as if Isaiah were standing at the foot of the cross watching Jesus suffer and die for us. But of course that’s impossible. He wrote several hundred years before Jesus was born. But he spoke God’s words. The Holy Spirit guided his pen so that every word he wrote was provided by God Himself. In this way Isaiah was enabled to write of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus long before these events occurred. The Christians who lived in Old Testament times trusted the same gospel that we trust today. Their faith looked forward to the salvation that would be revealed on the cross where the Suffering Servant would die. Our faith looks back to the salvation that was revealed on the cross. They looked to the future. And the future was guaranteed. Faith requires no less than a divine guarantee. Notice how God’s prophecy through Isaiah of the Suffering Servant is written in the past tense as if what he describes has already taken place. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ we see a clear description of His salvation.
The Bible wasn’t written in chapters and verses. These were provided a few hundred years ago. The chapter and verse divisions of the Bible are not inspired. The last three verses of Isaiah chapter 52 actually belong to chapter 53. As we take to heart Isaiah’s words recorded in these three verses let us consider the theme: The Suffering Servant Shocks the World.
What is shocking is the joining of two contradictory truths. They don’t really contradict each other but they certainly appear to do so. On the one hand, the Servant described by the prophet will be exalted and extolled, and set up higher than any other man. On the other hand, this Servant’s suffering will be so intense and His degradation so profound that His face will be scarcely recognizable. The “Beautiful Savior” of which we love to sing was not present on the cross. On the cross He was marred. His beauty was taken away. His suffering rendered His appearance almost less than human. And yet He is the very same Servant who will be exalted above all other men and given the honor that rightly belongs to God alone.
The kings shut their mouths. They are struck mute. They couldn’t have foreseen any such thing. It is incomprehensible. The rulers of this world are astonished. They see what they never would have imagined seeing. They are now required to consider what was inconceivable. How can such apparent failure lead to such obvious success?
If you read through this entire chapter you hear not a word from the Servant. You hear Him described. In fact, He says nothing at all. This is a bit unsettling. Those who are great successes in life do quite a bit of talking and self-promotion. But when this man does what gains Him the highest honor He says not a word. He endures. He suffers.
The suffering of the Suffering Servant is shocking because it upends the expectations of the world. If you were to consider every world religion, every religious doctrine, every word of wisdom collected by the wisest and holiest people of all the ages you would find nothing to compare with it. This man is filled with grief. He is innocent, and yet is loaded down with sin and guilt. He is beaten and whipped and abused. He silently endures oppression and pain. He is treated with contempt by those who, on another day and at another time, would present themselves as paragons of religious virtue. He is despised and scorned. And see Him exalted, lifted up, honored above all the people of the world.
He enjoys this exaltation, not in spite of His suffering, but because of it. When his visage was marred beyond recognition, it was the sin of the world that caused such anguish of soul. And so it is that when He is exalted up on high at the right hand of the Father He is honored and exalted and revered because He has taken away the sin of the world. Here true love is seen for what it is. It is not a mere emotion or sentiment. It is a hard love, a ready love, a love willing to bear hell itself for the sake of the beloved.
This is the true meaning of Lent. The ashes of Ash Wednesday have been lost within our tradition, though here and there they are brought back, sometimes to the chagrin of folks who think that it looks “too Catholic.” Well, we could use ashes, I suppose. It wouldn’t hurt to be reminded of what we are and to what we will return. Ashes to ashes, dust, to dust, so we hear before the body is lowered into the ground where it will rest until the resurrection of all flesh on the last day. If Lent is a season during which we are reminded of our mortality and sin, ashes is a good symbol for that.
But the essence of Lent is deeper than any symbol. It is a shocking truth. It is an unsettling truth. It is a truth that causes the powerful in this world to shut their mouths in amazement. Here’s the truth. The highest and most exalted position in all the world is gained for the Lord Jesus precisely where and when He chooses to embrace the lowest and most shameful degradation ever inflicted upon a man. Consider what brought such agony to His innocent soul that His face was twisted and marred and made impossible to look at! It was your sin. It was your guilt. It was your death.
Don’t look to His agony in order to pity Him. He neither needs nor wants your pity. Do not weep for Him. Weep for yourself. Consider that repentance is not just a word. It is looking at your own sins of thought, word, and deed. It is considering what you have done that you should not have done and what you should have done that you left undone. It is confessing to God these sins without making any excuses. Then it is looking to the Servant who is exalted up on high, who has the name that is above every name. How did He receive such honor? By bearing in His own body your sins. The very sins that distress you and that would seek to control you. The past sins that rise up in your conscience to claim you. The future sins that beckon, that would lure you into service to what you know to be wrong and offensive to God. Consider these sins and look at the marred visage of Christ.
Don’t be shocked. Listen. Then you will know what shuts the mouths of the powerful and wise of this world. Listen, dear Christian, to the voice of this Man who suffers for you. He forgives you. He speaks tenderly to you. He lifts off of your conscience the load you are carrying. He takes that load upon Himself. He directs you to His passion so that you will know the foundation of forgiveness. It shocks the world that such suffering could bear such wonderful fruit. What we run from, He embraced. And in so doing, He removed from us what kept us away from God.
It is shocking. It is unsettling. Such suffering! But look beyond the suffering and see the glory that is His today. That’s the glory to which He calls us when He invites us to Himself.
As we confess our sins during this holy season we ask our gracious Father in heaven to show our faith what our eyes cannot bear to see. He, who was anything but beautiful when He suffered for us, has become for us our beautiful Savior.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus