Friday, December 18, 2009

Sermon on Isaiah 52:13-53:12, for Wednesday Advent 3, "The Suffering and Glory of God's Servant"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. During the first two Wednesdays in Advent we saw how Jesus is the Messiah foretold by Isaiah the prophet. How Jesus would be the One to sit on King David’s throne forever, and how He would be the Prince of Peace that established an eternal reign of peace, justice, and righteousness. Today we see that the Glory of this coming King wouldn’t come through earthly honors, but by His suffering and death. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The symbol printed on all of our materials for confirmation class this year is a fitting description of this passage, and indeed the whole picture that the Bible paints of Jesus’ work as our Savior. The symbol is of a person wearing a crown. But rather than sitting on a throne, He is kneeling in service. A Servant-King, just as Jesus knelt to wash the disciples’ feet, though His crown and glory was hidden from their eyes. His character as a Servant is identified all the way back in ancient prophecy. Isaiah begins this chapter with the sentence: “Behold my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Excellent! We’re ready to hear how this Messianic King will be lifted up and exalted! We’re prepared to find out how this King will win His glory, how He will spread His fame and rule throughout the earth. But what follows is nothing of what we or the Jewish believers would’ve expected of their coming King. His “acting wisely” looks a lot like suffering the most inglorious death imaginable, to human eyes.

But still our finger traces the kingship of our Messiah, though in less majestic terms. We see here even in the description of His suffering, the contrast from an ordinary king, and what it really looks like to see Him as our Servant-King. When kings are in the courts of other kings, there’s always a lot of pomp & circumstance. A lot of royal ceremony and decorum. But when the kings of the earth see Christ our King, it says that they will “close their mouths because of Him.” The sight of Christ the King so marred beyond human recognition, as He hung on the cross, was enough to leave all men astonished and speechless. But on the cross He sprinkled the nations with His cleansing blood and forgiveness. A sacrifice no earthly king could give.

Human kings win their glory during their lifetimes, obviously, since they cannot add to their achievements after death. Even if the greatness of a king or ruler is only fully recognized many years after his death, and his fame comes after death—still his reign is limited by his lifetime. But here we see in Jesus the King who gained His glory in His death and who began His reign after His death! Jesus achieved greatness and glory, not for Himself, but for His Father, through His death on the cross. His fame and glory have multiplied countless times since then, and because of His resurrection from the dead, He is now seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling from heaven for all eternity.

Isaiah writes of the Messiah who grew like a young plant or root from the dry ground. Jesus, the Root of Jesse, the sprout of new growth that grew from the stump that was King David’s royal dynasty, grew up as no ordinary king. He had no royalty, no pampered treatment. He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He wasn’t a king because of His royal bearing or princely charm and handsomeness. He likely had calloused hands from working with His step-father, a carpenter. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He wasn’t the God that some reject because they think He’s “out of touch with my pain.” He knew the sorrows and grief of life, and yet He was still rejected and men hid their faces from Him as they despised Him. Who would look at Him hanging on that cross, without feeling repulsion at the gore that was His body. Marred beyond human recognition. But this shame and dishonor, this abuse and terrible wounding is our healing and our peace. God’s Son was a Servant-King, who took on the crushing burden of our iniquity, our guilt, so that we could be forgiven of that awful load.

Here was a king whose subjects were disloyal and rebellious. Jesus was a King whose closest friends abandoned Him in His greatest need. He was a king whose own subjects did not know Him—they did not own Him as King. Instead of bringing Him tribute, we brought Him our sins; instead of loyalty we all like sheep went astray—each to his own way. Instead of cries of “Long live the King!” He heard shouts of “Crucify Him!” “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me for you; Hail, Hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary” (LSB 370). What King is this who gives no answer in the face of such shocking treatment? What King is this who dies for the disloyal, the rebellious—yes even His enemies? “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

Though Christ our King was given the death of a condemned criminal, and so His grave was with the wicked—one tiny, royal honor was spared for Him. He was given a grave with the rich man in His death. Joseph of Arimathea, a council member of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus to death, opened his family tomb to the honor of our crucified King. But thanks be to God He only needed the space for three short days! As Isaiah wrote of this suffering Servant-King’s death, he also wrote of His resurrection. After Jesus’ life was made as an offering for our guilt Isaiah says: “He shall see His offspring, he shall prolong His days.” Jesus now lives to see His spiritual offspring, His children by faith. All who trust in Him are now sheltered by His innocence. The offering of Jesus’ life as the sacrifice for our sin and guilt was not a futile offering that ended in death, but rather it was the beginning of His eternal reign and glory.

No earthly king could’ve anticipated the script. No human prophet could have the supernatural foresight to know so many details of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But only by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the prophet Isaiah able to pen this description of the Son of David who would rule forever as a King on David’s throne. The true Prince of Peace whose rule was nothing like our earthly expectations. A King whose sacrifice and humility would finally gain Him this glory: to be high and lifted up—to be exalted above all men—on the tree of the cross. He brought honor and glory out of humility and shame.

But He did it so that He might bring faithful, obedient, and holy subjects out of the disloyal, rebellious and wicked sinners that we once were. This Servant-King Jesus came into the world to purge us of the sin we had become by becoming sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Our King made these sacrifices so that we would no longer walk in sin, but would be purified by His sacrifice to walk in His paths. And it proved to be worth all the agony of getting there. Out of the anguish of Jesus’ soul, He saw and was satisfied. He knew the satisfaction of a job well-done, of a victory accomplished—for He knew that in His death He had made us, “the many,” righteous. By bearing our sins and transplanting them with His righteousness or innocence, He is satisfied and content. The Bible calls this “justification.” We’re “declared innocent;” accounted righteous in God’s sight. And this all happens by faith. Faith in the Servant-King Jesus. The simple trust in Him as the only One who can erase our slate and give us a clean start through His forgiving death. Truly, the King of kings salvation brings, and it is our joyful privilege to own Him as King and enthrone Him in loving hearts—grateful that our Servant-King served us by His death. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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