Suffering Servant Sermon Lenten Series 2007| 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. Amen.
The Suffering Servant Suffers Silently
Midweek Lenten Service 2007| Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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.
The Suffering Servant Is Satisfied
Suffering Servant Sermon Lenten Series 2007| Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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.
I’ve scrubbed floors, picked weeds, and repaired pot holes. That’s labor. I have also seen labor that I could not do no matter how hard I set my mind and body to it. I am talking about the labor I witnessed eleven times between September of 1976 and May of 1995. My wife did it. I watched. She says there’s a reason they call it labor. It’s hard work. Bringing a baby into this world doesn’t require labor from any man, but it is hard labor for the woman.
And then there is a baby. Jesus, the only man who truly knows and understands a woman, put it this way:
A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21)
She sees the end of her labor. It brings her joy because the value of a human life is greater than the pain she endured.
Our text tells us that the Suffering Servant would see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. He was the only One who could do the work. His labor was not in vain. His suffering bore fruit. God bruised Him. He put Him to grief. He bore unbearable sorrow. As he sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane He said that His soul was sorrowful even to the point of death. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God. And how does this Suffering Servant regard His suffering when it is all over? He says it was worth it.
Consider this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The Suffering Servant is satisfied. God made His soul or life an offering for sin. No human being devised this or demanded this. God did. He decided to lay this burden on His dear Son. And the burden was borne. It was fully borne. In fully bearing the burden He took it away. He sees His seed and prolongs His days. His seed is the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Christians, the believers, those who are justified by faith alone. This is the treasure for which He labored mightily.
Success is largely in the eye of the beholder. If you value life more than property you will regard success as measured in terms of doing things that benefit other people, whether or not there’s any money in it. God values us. We aren’t worth the price we are willing to pay. We are worth the price that God is willing to pay. We cannot determine the value of a human being. God alone can. Our value is determined not only by God creating us in His image. It is reaffirmed by God redeeming us by His blood. Isaiah foresaw that the pleasure of the Lord would prosper in the Suffering Servant’s hand. God takes pleasure in His children. His eternal Son, the Suffering Servant, rejoices in those He has redeemed.
The prophet writes: “By His knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” Bearing iniquities was the hard labor Jesus endured. Justifying those whose sins He bore is what brings Him satisfaction. To justify means to forgive. If you are justified you are forgiven. If you are forgiven you are justified. The two words mean the same thing from different sides. The word “justify” means to declare that someone is righteous. The word “forgive” means to declare that someone’s sins are gone. If you are righteous, your sins are gone. If your sins are gone, you are righteous. So to justify and to forgive refer to the very same act. God speaks. He says that our sins are removed from us. He says that we are righteous. He says it and this makes it so.
Jesus justifies those whose sins he bore. This is why we must always look to Jesus as He suffers for us. We mustn’t come up with a human requirement that will make forgiveness of sins a reality. Jesus has met all the requirements that are necessary. He justifies us on account of the fact that He has borne our iniquities, that is, our sins. He doesn’t forgive us on account of something in us. True, faith is necessary to receive the forgiveness of sins, but faith is not what brings forgiveness to us. It can only receive. It cannot contribute. Faith didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Faith doesn’t cause God to love us. Faith is God’s gracious work within us so that we may receive the forgiveness that He gives. Forgiveness comes from Christ’s suffering. This is why we are not ashamed of Christ’s suffering for us. We find our greatest joy in it. It was not for naught that Jesus shed His blood. The prophet’s words came true: “By His knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” Now He can justify those for whom He died and this is what brings Him satisfaction. For this is why He died. He died to justify you, to forgive you, to find pleasure in restoring you to fellowship with God and granting to you everlasting life.
“By His knowledge my righteous Servant shall justify many.” When you know this righteous Servant you are righteous. You are righteous with His righteousness. This knowledge is beyond our ability. Only God can give it. And it isn’t like studying hard for a test and amassing lots of information. It is knowledge of a person. Knowing Jesus does entail knowing things about Him. He is the eternal Son of the Father. He is the virgin-born Son of Man. He lived a holy life. He went around doing good, healing the sick, raising the dead, and living a holy life. He suffered patiently, silently, vicariously, and successfully. When we know Jesus we know this. But these are not mere facts to be memorized. To know this righteous Servant is to know His righteousness. It is to trust in Him, not in ourselves, not in our deeds, not in our decisions, not in our dedication, not in our holiness, not in our righteousness. Knowing the righteous Servant is to know His success. It becomes ours by faith. We are righteous before Him.
There is a joy in heaven when sinners here on earth find in Jesus the forgiveness of their sins. What remains hidden here under weakness is revealed there in its true beauty. The prophet says, “The pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” All of heaven rejoices on account of the grace bestowed here on earth.
But the glory of heaven is hidden from our sight. We would do better to look at the shame of the cross than to the glories of heaven, for it is in the former that the latter is guaranteed to us. When we face death, it is especially important that our eyes be fixed on Christ’s death for us. Listen to the words of Paul Gerhardt:
My Savior, be Thou near me When death is at my door; Then let Thy presence cheer me, Forsake me nevermore! When soul and body languish, Oh, leave me not alone, But take away mine anguish By virtue of Thine own! Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die; Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell, My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!
The Suffering Servant has succeeded in what He set out to do. He bore our sins and now He justifies us, He forgives us, He makes us fit for heaven. He keeps us steadfast in the true faith. Now we face the future with the confidence of those who have the success of Jesus Christ Himself. And we can pray with confidence the words of Gerhardt’s hymn:
And when Thy glory I shall see And taste Thy kingdom’s pleasure, Thy blood my royal robe shall be, My joy beyond all measure. When I appear before Thy throne, Thy righteousness shall be my crown,- With these I need not hide me. And there, in garments richly wrought As Thine own bride, I shall be brought To stand in joy beside Thee.
The Suffering Servant Intercedes for Sinners
Suffering Servant Series| Lent 2007| Rev. Rolf Preus| Isaiah 53:12