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Our Suffering Savior, Part I: Five Lenten Sermons on Isaiah 53

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ May 21st, 2009

Sermon on Isaiah 52:13-15

Our Suffering Savior  (Part I of V)

The Seventh Day of Lent

+ Jesu Juva +

He will sprinkle many nations (Isaiah 52:15).

Isaiah 53 is one of the clearest depictions of the atonement of Jesus Christ anywhere in Scripture. It vividly portrays the sufferings of Christ and explicates the theology of the cross as if Isaiah himself stood on Mt. Calvary. This passage is quoted by Christ Himself and several of the NT writers. It serves as the theological backdrop to the Passion readings we are hearing on the Wednesdays of Lent. Indeed, Christ Himself seems to have carried out His ministry with Isaiah 53 in the back (or even the forefront) of His mind. Isaiah 52:13–53:12 divides naturally into five sections, a perfect fit for the five Wednesdays in Lent. Tonight we focus on how our Suffering Savior will be lifted up and how He will sprinkle many nations.

“Behold, My Servant will succeed; He will be high and lifted up and highly exalted!” It may seem strange to begin the Suffering Servant passage with talk about Jesus’ being “lifted up” and “highly exalted,” but that’s the way Isaiah’s song is put together. If you have a chance to read Isaiah 52:13–53:12 as part of your Lenten devotions, you’ll see that Isaiah’s song begins and ends with talk of Jesus’ exaltation, with His suffering in the center. He lets you know how the story ends, viz. with the resurrection, so you will believe that the suffering of God’s Servant is good news. It’s as if to say, “Christ will be lifted up and exalted as He descends into hell to proclaim the victory of the cross; as He rises from the dead to conquer death; as He establishes the church and ministry to share the gifts of the gospel; as He ascends into heaven and when He returns to judge the living and the dead.”

But suffering comes before glory. So Isaiah continues, “Just as many were appalled as You, for His appearance was disfigured from that of a man, and His form from the sons of men.” Recall that Jesus did not just suffer crucifixion at the hands of sinful men; He also endured severe beating, the 39 lashes, and the crown of thorns. If you’d like to read more about the physical aspects of Jesus’ suffering, I invite you to read an impressive new book entitled He Was Crucified. Here a medical doctor explains what Jesus might have looked like by the time He was crucified. He was appalling and disfigured beyond the human form, all for us and for our salvation.

Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus’ suffering is fulfilled echoed in the NT in Phil. 2:5-11. In his famous “Hymn to Christ,” St. Paul traces the fulfillment of Jesus’ suffering through His humiliation and exaltation. He says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing for self-glorification.” Jesus was God, but He did not use His Godhead for self-serving purposes. Rather, laying aside His powers for a time, He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ became one of us, like us in every way, except without sin. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And what happened after the humiliation of the Suffering Servant? “God [the Father] has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In short, the One who was marred beyond human form on the cross was lifted up and exalted, that we may know that Jesus Christ is Lord and confess the truth of His person and work.

The artwork in your bulletin, an altar piece by Lucas Cranach and his son, shows the Servant’s exaltation (lower left hand corner). The risen Jesus is shown with a staff and a red robe, recalling the scepter of His kingdom and the crimson of His own blood. Look carefully in the lower lefthand corner and you will see what Jesus is stepping on: a skeleton and a beast. The skeleton represents death and the beast represents Satan. Here we see that the resurrection is our light and our life. Left to ourselves, we are the victims of sin and death. We have inherited Adam’s sin and we are bound to die Adam’s death. On our own, there is nothing but false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice for you and me, now and into eternity. But the Suffering Servant has risen from the dead and trampled death and Satan under His own feet. If you’re anything like me, you grew up learning that Jesus paid the price for our sins on Good Friday and announced it on Easter Sunday. Fair enough. However, to this we must add the good news that the resurrection conquers death. Christ rose from the dead, triumphant over our enemies. And so will all who are baptized into His death and resurrection. Thanks be to God!

If the first half of our lesson from Isaiah talks about Jesus’ shedding His blood on Good Friday, then the second half tells us about His offering that same blood in the Lord’s Supper. “So [the Suffering Servant] will sprinkle many nations.” The OT word “sprinkle” is used of bloodshed, especially the bloody sacrifices in the Temple. Recall the daily sacrifices at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Recall the special offerings, such as sin and guilt offerings. Recall the annual Passover feast, where every family presented a bloody sacrifice to pay the price for their sins. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. The OT sacrifices paid the price for the OT Faithful. However, they all pointed ahead to once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. The Suffering Servant paid a greater price and made a better sacrifice because His blood made atonement for all sin of all men. Nobody was left out of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He embraced the whole world in His death! No wonder Isaiah says, “Kings will shut their mouths because of Him, for what was not told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will discern.” We, in the American Republic, do not have a royal monarchy. But I understand that kings are generally prone to talk more than to listen. And I’m sure that, when a king speaks, his subjects listen. So who will rule the kings of this earth? Only Christ, the King of Kings. What was not told them, viz. the good news of the work of Christ, they will see by faith. And what they had not heard, viz. the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they will discern by believing the right thing.

So Christ has shed His blood once for all. This sacrifice need not be repeated. But the blood of Christ is still “sprinkled” on us in the Lord’s Supper. Tonight’s Passion reading tells us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. See how He washed the disciples’ feet, showing the depth of His servitude. Behold how He became the servant. See how He gave them His body to eat and His blood to drink, all for the forgiveness of sins. And unlike the cross, which was a one-time event, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is to be repeated every Lord’s Day. “This do, as often as you drink it.” The Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Supper. One of my late spiritual fathers, who was into all things Russian, once told me that the word for “Sunday” in Russian was the same word for “resurrection.” He used to quip that even the old Communist party bosses talked about the resurrection as they discussed their plans for the weekend! See how it all comes together in the Divine Service: the Lord’s Day (Sunday); the Lord’s Resurrection, also on a Sunday; and the Lord’s Supper as an ongoing resurrection “appearance” of our Lord!

The artwork in your bulletin shows this connection between the cross and the Supper. See the blood flowing from Jesus’ side onto ancient Israel in the wilderness (upper right hand corner). Remember the bronze serpent, lifted high in the wilderness. Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Jesus is our bronze serpent, lifted high on the cross, that all who believe in Him might have life in His name. And it’s a good thing! On our own, we have been bitten by the poisonous bite of sin and eternal death. We have disobeyed God, gone our own way, and wandered with ancient Israel into disobedience and rebellion. But Christ took all our sins into His body and nailed them to the tree. And the blood of Christ flows, so to speak, from the cross into the chalice in the Lord’s Supper. He bids us to eat His body and drink His blood. And He gives us this promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

In sum, Isaiah’s good news about the Servant being disfigured in His suffering and the Servant sprinkling many nations draw us to the events of Good Friday. Indeed, it has always struck me that, on the Hebrew calendar, the Lord’s Supper and the atonement happened on the same day. Recall that the Hebrew calendar started at 6:00 p.m. So Jesus “sprinkled” His blood in the Lord’s Supper on Friday evening (Thursday night to us). And His form was disfigured beyond recognition in His suffering on Friday “morning” (daytime of our Friday). So whether it is the Lord’s Supper or the atonement, He did it all for us on the same great day of salvation. Everything is accomplished! Salvation is finished! For Christ, our Suffering Savior, has willingly borne our sins in His body, and now He invites us to lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

You who have suffered for us, have mercy upon us.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bayside, NY

Note:  I am indebted to Rev. Dr. Christopher Mitchell for some of the exegetical insights in this sermon series.

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