Monday, April 18, 2011

Palm Sunday (Series A: Isaiah 50:4-9a)

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fiftieth chapter of the prophet Isaiah. Dear friends in Christ, He rode in majesty, surrounded by adoring crowds. They waved Palm branches, they placed their cloaks on the road in front of Him. The people shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” This man has raised the dead, He has healed the sick- could He be the Messiah? They remembered the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, you king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” This is the king of Israel, the Christ, the One promised of old. He has come in triumph, in glory, arriving in Jerusalem to conquer His enemies. But this is not the kind of king we would expect. In Isaiah, He is called the Servant of the Lord. He has come to rule, but He will rule only by serving. He is the Servant, and today, the Servant speaks to you and to me.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.” I am the Servant of the Lord. I came from my blest throne, from the position of glory that I held as the only-begotten Son of the Father. I took on your human flesh, was born of a virgin, and emerged to preach the Word of God thirty years later. I only speak what the Father has given me to say, I do only the deeds of He who sent me. The Father teaches me, and I am an obedient student. I listen to His Word and then I teach it to you. I taught you the ways of God, His Law and His wrath over sin. From me you learned what God requires of you.

I didn’t only come to teach, but also to act. I have come to the weary. Sin fatigues us, physically, mentally and spiritually. Your bodies wear out, but I have come to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to even raise the dead, as you heard last week. It was my greatest miracle that drew the crowds on that Palm Sunday; they wanted to see me, for I had defeated death by raising up my friend Lazarus. But sin doesn’t just weary your body, it wearies your mind and soul. I brought comfort to the distressed and peace to the troubled in heart. I said to the people: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I taught you the way of the Lord, I brought comfort to you in your distress. In obedience to the will of my Father I taught you, for I do nothing apart from Him.

“The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” I spoke to you the very words of God, but you did not listen. I taught you His ways, but you did not obey. I lived a perfect life of obedience to my Father; you refuse to obey Him each and every day. You turn from God’s Word, you refuse to hear me, you refuse my comfort and aid. I come to you because you are weary, but you deny your fatigue. You claim that you can stand strong without me, but I am the Great Physician, and I can see that you have deep spiritual sickness. You live as if you mattered most and my Father mattered little at all. You may not say those words, but that is what your life in this world indicates. You do not live in obedience to the Word I have given to you, but instead you live a life focused only on yourself. I have called you to love God before all else and to love your neighbor as yourself. You are to serve your neighbors, to place their needs above your own, but you refuse. You instead focus on your needs, your wants, your desires. You have forgotten that I have placed you in this world to benefit others, not yourself.

There is a deep divide between your rebellion and the obedience of the Servant of the Lord. I am obedient to my Father, I am obedient where you are disobedient, and I am obedient in your place. It was the will of my Father that I should live the perfect life you couldn’t, and then suffer the punishment you deserve. I am obedient to my Father’s will, even though it means flogging, even though it means torture, even though it means humiliation. “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” I didn’t flee, I didn’t fight back, but I submitted to the scourge and whip of the Roman soldiers, to their disgrace and humiliation. They mocked me, they called me names, they caused me pain and anguish. I am the Servant of the Lord, I am the creator of the universe, I am God Himself in the flesh, but I did not struggle. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, I did not open my mouth. I was obedient to the Father’s will; I lived the perfect life you couldn’t, and suffered the humiliation that you deserved.

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” I will not be ashamed. The soldiers disgraced me, they destroyed my body with the rod and the scourge, they nailed me to the cross, but I will not be ashamed. For the Lord is my helper, and I have set my face like a flint. I am resolute, I go to the cross willingly. Nothing is going to deter me from dying there because it is the Father’s will, and I am obedient to the Father’s will. His will is that I die in your place, that I take your sin upon my shoulders and carry it to the tree. No one takes my life from me. No one. Not the Jewish authorities, not the Roman soldiers. They think that they have power over me, that they can do with me what they want. But they are wrong. I lay down my life willingly, I freely give it up to death. With a word, with a thought, I’m off that cross, those soldiers are dead, and I am free. But I won’t do that, because you are too important to me. I taught you what God requires of you, about His Law and His wrath over sin. But that is not the final word. I also teach you of God’s love, His mercy, His grace. You are sinful, rebellious, and disobedient, but I love you. You think only of yourself, but still I love you. I love you so much that I am willing to lay down my life, I am willing to follow the Father’s will through torture, humiliation, and death for you. My suffering is for you, my death is for you. I lived my perfect life for you, because nothing is more important to me than seeing you standing around the Father’s throne for eternity.

“He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty?” I am righteous, but many contended with me. I am innocent, but many declared me guilty. Isaiah wrote about me: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” I am the righteous One, and I willingly suffer in obedience to my Father’s will because through that cross He will declare you righteous. My life is now your life and my death is now your death, for I bore your iniquities. The Lord vindicates you because of me. You are declared righteous and innocent, your sins are forgiven, because I gave my life in your place. My death is your salvation, your vindication; the Lord looks at you and sees me and what I have done for you.

Today you saw me enter into Jerusalem in triumph. On Friday you will see me hanging upon a cross. Today the crowds shout ‘hosanna!’ By Friday they will be crying ‘crucify Him!’ But I am innocent- I have done nothing wrong. There is only one human being in history that did not deserve death, and He hangs upon a cross. They falsely accused me, they condemned me as a criminal, but I lived a sinless life. Still, I do not open my mouth, I do not protest. I know that the Lord will vindicate me. Wait and see; I may die on that cross on Friday, but I trust in my Father, I trust in the Lord. He will vindicate me. My righteousness, my innocence will be declared throughout the world. Come back next Sunday and you will see. God will not let His righteous one remain in the grave- I guarantee it. “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Amen.

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