Sermon on Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Good Friday, "All!"

 Sermon on  Isaiah 52:13-53:12 for Good Friday by Rev. Reed Lessing, the "Singing with the Exiles" series.

 

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” Isaiah 52:13.  

 

Kol in Hebrew. Pas in Greek. Omnis in Latin. Alles in German. Todos in Spanish. Visi in Latvian. It’s the most superlative word in any language.  A-L-L all. Total, complete, entire, everything. ALL. The most superlative word for the most climactic section of the Old Testament, chapters 52-53, called the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah. The Lord’s Servant, described here, had it all.  

            Isaiah 52:13, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” These words “raised” and “lifted up” describe only one other person in Isaiah, who gets that royal treatment. In Isaiah 6:1 the prophet sees the Lord God sitting exalted on His heavenly throne: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne high and lifted up.” The same “high and lifted up” reserved for God, is promised to the Lord’s Servant, the crucified Messiah, in chapter 52.

The Lord on the throne in Isaiah 6:3, receives angelic praise: “Holy, holy, holy.” In 6:5 Isaiah calls him, “the King, the Lord of Hosts (or Angel Armies).” Hints of a holy mystery—that the Servant and Yahweh, the Lord, are one and the same—a mystery not fully articulated until Jesus says in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”  Jesus clued in His hearers that the promised Messiah is true God. When I say this Servant had it all, I mean it! Ruling all creation as the coequal Son of God!

He would need it all, because Isaiah 52-53 was a prophetic song sung to Jewish exiles, who were singing their own dirge, lamenting their exile. Psalm 137, “How can we sing the songs of Zion while in a foreign land?” Their song was mournful because they had chosen to go their own way, and believed the siren songs of culture, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” Addicting themselves to sin, there was no way out of Babylon.

A few years ago a scientist did an addiction experiment offering cocaine to monkeys. They would pull a lever and the feeding tray would give them a hit of cocaine. Soon the monkeys got addicted to the coke; these were happy monkeys! But then the scientist began to withhold the next fix. How many consecutive times do you think the average monkey would pull that lever with no luck, trying to get the next fix? 12,800 times. Over and over and over and over again. “Gotta have it gotta have it!”

Sin has just such an addictive power. Gossip, anger, abuse, unfaithfulness, worry, laziness, excuses, and selfishness.  Exiled, in bondage, stuck. Over and over and over again. “Gotta have it gotta have it!” The result? Far away from the Father in a foreign land, we sing our depressing, deadly dirge, “My soul is full of troubles, my life draws near to the grave…your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” (Ps. 88)

            To such captives Isaiah sings a different song, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” In His wisdom He always turned away from evil. So He was exalted. He had it all. The NT echoes this: (Colossians 2:9), “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  (Hebrews 1:3), “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  Mary exclaims, “I have seen the Lord.” Peter gasps, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Climactically Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!”  These disciples and apostles sing to the radiant Son of God. They see Him high and lifted up.

Jesus isn’t an assistant to the Father. He isn’t the vice-president of the universe. Jesus isn’t a junior partner to the Father. No. He is a full-fledged member of the godhead, equal with the Father in every way, from eternity past. “All things were made through Him, and without Him not anything was made that has been made.” This Servant had it all. 

Isaiah 53 continues with these words. “He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted . . . pierced . . . crushed . . . punished . . . led like a lamb to the slaughter . . . cut off from the land of the living . . . assigned a grave with the wicked.” That’s why in 52:14 the prophet writes, “Many were appalled at Him, His appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man.” This Servant gave it all; every last drop of blood. It exacted an awful price.

This Servant delivers it all. Isaiah 53:11 states, “By His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many.” The Servant delivers what captives need most—forgiveness. Forgiveness is at the heart of Isaiah’s own experience. He writes in 6:6–7, “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”

From the altar called Calvary, our God touches us with blood-bought forgiveness. The absolution declares it. The font seals it. The table celebrates it. Paul maintains this in Philippians 4:19 when he writes, “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” All, total, complete, everything, the whole enchilada, the whole ball of wax. He had it. He gave it. He delivers it, because it’s part of the plan.

Isaiah 53:10 states that it was God’s will. Good Friday isn’t just a moving tragedy. It wasn’t a stopgap measure, needing shoring up later. Nor was it the Father’s unexpected knee-jerk response to a world plummeting towards destruction. It was God’s will. The cross was drawn into the original blueprint, written into the first script. Golgotha is the decisive plan of the Father before the creation of the world.

What does it mean? It means Jesus intentionally planted the tree from which His cross would be carved. It means He voluntarily placed Judas into the womb of a woman. It means He was the One who set in motion the political machinery that sent Pilate to Judea and Herod to Jerusalem. And it means He didn’t have to do it, but He did it all for you, for me! He didn’t steer history away from His suffering, but toward that climactic moment when He was raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Our depressing, deadly dirge knows only bondage, captivity, and addiction. “My soul is full of troubles, my life draws near to the grave…your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.” Isaiah’s song trumps that with forgiveness, freedom, and divine mercy. When the words of the Fourth Servant Song enter our ears and strike our hearts, we can’t help but respond with the words of one more song, written not by Isaiah but by Isaac Watts: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a tribute far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all!” (LSB 425:4). Amen.

 

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