Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Friday (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

Behold, my Servant, declares the Lord! Behold Him as Pilate presents Him before the angry mob, behold Him as He bears the cross down the road of suffering, behold Him as He hangs upon the tree. “Behold, my Servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Behold, my Servant! He will be high and lifted up, He will be exalted; His throne is the cross. Behold my Servant, and shudder at His agony! “As many were astonished at you—His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” My Servant is this bloody man hanging upon the cross, beaten, bruised, scourged, hardly recognizable by any who once knew Him. This is the One who is exalted, who will be exalted. There is glory there, O my people, there is glory hidden beneath the suffering, and there is glory yet to come. Do not look upon my servant only in pity, look upon Him in love, for He has abundant love for you. “So shall He spinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” What you heard of this night will be told throughout the world, and my Servant will sprinkle the nations; His blood will cover them. The cross is not the end; remember this as you look upon my Servant in the valley of the shadow of death: I declare that my Servant shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted!

We have looked upon God’s Servant, as God calls on us to do this night, and we hardly know what to say. “Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Who will believe what we saw this night? Who can understand it? We hid our faces from His suffering, from His humility. We judged according to appearances, we judged by what our eyes saw. And what did we see? Not a noble, handsome Savior, but a suffering, dirt-poor country rabbi. “For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” He was not born as a king, but to a carpenter’s wife and was laid not in a palace, but a manger. His humility wasn’t worth our notice; His followers were tax collectors and prostitutes, and His disciples? Fishermen. Why did He suffer? Because He was cursed by men and by God, rejected in earth and heaven. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised and we esteemed Him not.” Only those abandoned by God, cursed by Him, hang upon a tree. We covered our faces when He passed by, we shielded our eyes, because this man died completely and utterly alone.

We thought He suffered for His own sin, for offending our Lord more deeply than any man ever had. But we were wrong. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” We thought He suffered for His sin; instead He suffered for ours. His suffering is our sin. We were unfaithful, we were rebellious, and we were under the curse. But He was cursed for us. Our sins were a burden upon us; the Servant took them up and bore them away. He becomes the sinner, for us, He suffered the consequences of those sins, in our place. Our penalty fell on His head. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” 

We couldn’t even look at Him, for we saw that He was cursed by God; but now we must watch Him, for the curse He bears is our curse, the stripes He receives are for our sins, we bear the hammer that drives in the nails, we placed Him upon that cross. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” O Lord, what have we done? We have been rebellious, we have spurned our Creator, and this is the result. My God, my God, why have you not forsaken me? It was our sins that caused this suffering, that made the Servant One from whom men hide their faces. But we must watch; we cannot turn our face; this is our penalty placed upon another. His chastisement will bring us peace; His stripes will heal us.

We watch Him give His life into death willingly, refusing to defend Himself, to call forth the legions of angels that are at His command. “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before His shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” When the soldiers come to arrest Him, He declares, “I AM He,” and gives Himself into their hands. We watch as He is spit upon, falsely accused, beaten with the rod and assaulted with the scourge. We watch Him carry His own cross; the instrument of His torture and death upon His back. The One with all power, who had healed the sick and calmed storms, refuses to fight, He refuses to struggle; like a lamb led to the slaughter He does not open His mouth.

In our sight justice is perverted; the very authorities that God set in place to punish evil and protect good put His Servant to death. “By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” Pilate declares Him innocent yet sends Him to His death; a murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay. Justice is perverted; the righteous one dies as a criminal. And we watch Him die. We hear His cries of anguish, we see His clothing divided, His mother given away, His need to drink. Then we hear Him cry: “It is finished!” What is finished? His suffering, His torture, His agony. His life is finished. “As for His generation, who considered that He was cut off from the land of the living?” He has no generation, no offspring. His bloodline is ended; He has no progeny to carry forth His name. He is cut off from the land of the living; God’s Servant is dead.

But His body isn’t left to the ravages of animals, sun, wind, and rain, instead it is protected by those who loved Him. God’s Servant isn’t disgraced after His death; His humiliation is finally over. “And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.” The innocent one dies and is buried among sinners. What more can we say? “Who has believed what they have heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” He did this for us, for our sin, in our place. All of this was for us; it was the plan of His Father for our salvation. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief.” God did this to His Servant for us, in His great love for us; love that is driven by nails, marked with scars, and crowned with thorns. Love as fierce as death.

Behold my Servant, declares the Lord! See Him hanging on the tree, wounded for your transgressions, crushed for your iniquities. He suffers and dies for you. But suffering isn’t His end. “When His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see His offspring; he shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” The One who had no generation will see His offspring; the One who was cut off from the land of the living will prolong His days. The dead one will rise, and my Servant “shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” You who strayed like sheep will become His offspring, He will restore you back to me. He will produce countless offspring with His bride the Church, and He will see them all, for He lives, He will prolong His days to eternity. 

My Servant lives, and He lives to make you righteous. “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.” He makes you righteous because He died your death; He stood in your place and bore your curse. His righteousness is given in place of your sin, and you are now my beloved children. And as my children, you have everything, all that He won for you. “Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” The spoil is His, for He triumphed over sin, death, and Satan, but He doesn’t keep it for Himself. My Servant, the righteous One, gives the spoil to you; all that He won: forgiveness, life, and salvation. He gives you the very treasures of heaven, and on this Friday that you call ‘Good,’ He gives them into your mouth in the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood. It was my will to crush Him, for you; by His stripes you are healed. Go in peace, you have been sprinkled with His blood. Amen.

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