Sermon: The Innocent Servant (Isaiah 53:7 9)

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1 Sermon: The Innocent Servant (Isaiah 53:7 9) Dan Mueller, 26th March 2017, Lent 4 Text Isaiah 53:7 9 NIV 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgement he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Matthew 27:15 26 NIV 15 Now it was the governor s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a wellknown prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah? 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge s seat, his wife sent him this message: Don t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him. 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21 Which of the two do you want me to release to you? asked the governor. Barabbas, they answered. 22 What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah? Pilate asked. Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 1 of 6

2 They all answered, Crucify him! 23 Why? What crime has he committed? asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, Crucify him! 24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. I am innocent of this man s blood, he said. It is your responsibility! 25 All the people answered, His blood is on us and on our children! 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Sermon The Innocent Man Have you ever been blamed for something you didn t do? Perhaps you were an innocent party, yet someone in a position of authority came along and declared you guilty. It s not a nice feeling! In 2008, the author John Grisham published a book called The Innocent Man. This book tells the story of American small-towner Ron Williamson. The pages detail a corrupt police investigation and how Ron was falsely accused, framed, and forced to confess to a murder he didn t commit. After 11 years on death row, including a stay of execution that arrived only hours before his scheduled death, Ron Williamson was finally exonerated using DNA evidence. Emerging from prison and death row a hollow shell of a man, he clung to life for a few years but died shortly after. One reader said the following: As I read the book, I felt a holy anger welling up in my soul. The lies, the abuse, the mistreatment, the imprisonment, were each adamantly defended and perpetuated by mindless bureaucracy. [Ron] was punished for something he did not do. We experience or see the persecution of innocent people all around us on a regular basis. There are countless news stories describing the suffering of victims at the hand of corrupt governments and authorities. The Innocent Servant Our text tells a seemingly similar story. Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 2 of 6

3 Isaiah, the poet, continues to disclose the story of the Servant. We ve so far heard that he was disfigured and suffered horrific torture that caused some to be startled and look away. He was despised and eventually out-right rejected by his own people. This led to his unjust punishment: the Servant was beaten, wounded, crushed to death, and fatally pierced. And now a bombshell is dropped: he willingly submitted to these events! The main thrust of this stanza of the poem is that the Servant was like a lamb willingly going along with the injustice all the way to the slaughterhouse. Verse 7 reads: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7) But that s not all! Those around the Servant, his generation, don t seem to care. Verse 8 reads: By oppression and judgement he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? He was cut off from the land of the living. (Isaiah 53:8) The Servant is wrongfully killed, cut off from the land of the living. Yet, even in death, the injustice continues! Verse 9 reads: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. (Isaiah 53:9) The term rich here means corrupt authorities those in power who oppress others. So this is a final blow below the belt: even after his death the Servant is denied a proper burial, instead consigned to a grave among the wicked the very people who had him killed. It might be a small thing, but the very pettiness of this final insult heaped on top of everything else makes it all the more cruel. A last bombshell is dropped: the Servant has willing endured all this injustice [even] though he had done no violence (Isaiah 53:9). The Servant was innocent of the crime! He willingly submitted to the corrupt authorities for punishment, leading to death, even though he was not guilty! The unjust acts perpetrated against him, piled one on top of the other, were not even deserved! Like no other Yet I wonder if the situation of the Servant is really any different from countless others who have suffered unjustly at the hands of corrupt Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 3 of 6

4 governments or authorities? We can find examples in history, and even in recent news, of good people suffering injustice. We can even find examples of good people willingly suffering death for causes they believed in. Is the Servant any different from these countless others? I mean, it s a sad and touching story, but why have you come to church to listen for 10 minutes about this Servant, if he s just like all the others? The reason is that the Servant whom Isaiah writes is not like any other person in history. His story is unique and mind-blowing for two reasons. In the first place the Servant is different because of the reason he willingly submits to suffer and die. We read in verse 8: For the transgression of my people he was punished. (Isaiah 53:8) Transgression is the gravest word for sin in the Old Testament. It has the sense of rebellion or revolt against God. The innocent Servant willingly submitted to be punished, suffer, and die for the transgression of my people. This sets the Servant apart from all others! You may remember that we touched on this last week: He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the discipline that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) The Servant was innocent and suffered and died for you, for your rebellion against God. In the second place the Servant is like no other because he was completely innocent. Others who have unjustly suffered and died may have been innocent of that particular crime, but they were guilty of others. Ron Williamson, the subject of John Grisham s book, was far from innocent in other respects. But the very last line in our text tells us the Servant was different: He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:9) The Servant is not only innocent of the crime for which he was punished, he was innocent of all crimes: he had done no violence and there was not any deceit in his mouth. Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 4 of 6

5 Jesus the Innocent Servant Who in history has willingly suffered and died for the transgressions of others? Who has suffered and died through completely innocent? None other than the person of Jesus Christ. We just confessed our belief in this very fact using Luther s words from the Small Catechism: Jesus rescued me when I was lost and sentenced to death. He set me free from all my sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. It cost him more than gold or silver; it cost him his life. Even though he was holy and innocent, he suffered and died for me. (Small Catechism, Explanation of the Second Article of the Creed) Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus willingly took the punishment we deserve. Jesus was treated unfairly and no-one around seemed to care, who of his generation protested? Pilate knew of the corruption of the chief priests so tried to give the people an opportunity to get him off death row. Instead the crowd chant, Crucify him! So Jesus was cut off from the land of the living, his body hanging dead on the cross that fateful Friday. Having died, Jesus was buried in a borrowed grave, among the corrupt and wicked, among the very people responsible for his death: his very own people you and me. A good person might die for a just cause or a righteous person, but God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Yet as we walk with Jesus toward the cross in Jerusalem, we know that the story does not end there. Come Sunday morning, Jesus is raised to life. Death is defeated, salvation is completed. He has paid for our rebellion against God. God has forgiven the guilt of our sin. The righteousness, or right standing of Christ before God, becomes yours. And in your baptism you were united with the death and resurrection of Jesus, sharing the benefits that he has won. The Lord has declared: I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34). From God s point of view it is as if you had not rebelled. You are declared clean, holy, and innocent! Let that sink in: you are declared innocent! Far from innocent Yet at times (perhaps even quite often?) we feel far from innocent. I imagine Barabbas had similar feelings. Here he is, the leader of a gang of rebels who murdered others during an insurgency against the Romans, suddenly set free. One moment he s on death row in prison, the next he s thrust out onto the street blinking in the sunlight. His debt has been paid, Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 5 of 6

6 some bloke called Jesus has taken his place, bearing the punishment and death intended for him. Like Barabbas, we are plucked from our prison cells, rescued and set free, declared holy and innocent. Yet our sinful nature is still rebellious. We are still criminals in our hearts. We know we should say or act in one way, but we are pulled in another. We speak and act in ways that are against God and against our neighbour. All this is mirrored in the life of a baptised disciple of Jesus. Baptism is a once-off event. It consists of two parts. Firstly we are thrust into the water: the old creature, conceived and born in sin, is drowned and washed away. Secondly we are drawn out of the water: a new creature, born in grace, rises from the water; a new person is born again and washed clean. Yet baptism is also an ongoing, repeated event. The significance of baptism is not fulfilled completely in this life. The bodily baptism is over in just a few minutes, but the spiritual baptism the drowning of sin and birth to new life takes a lifetime! Sin never ceases in this life, but is only finally destroyed in bodily death. On the Last Day Jesus will give us new and perfect bodies. In baptism we are declared completely innocent from sin, yet sin is still present in these bodies. Therefore baptism is a sign of the work that has been started and will be completed on the Last Day. So what good is the suffering and death of the Innocent Servant to me? How does baptism help me if sin still lives in my body? Well, because in your baptism God began to make you a new person. God poured into your heart the Holy Spirit, who begins to kill sin and is preparing you for your death and resurrection on the Last Day. As you hear God s Word and are strengthened through Holy Communion, God continues to pour the Spirit into your heart. The faith in your heart created by the Spirit clings to God s promises in the water and word of baptism. This means that when we sin and fall, we may return to the font and be washed and rise up again and again. Each day we once again strive to put sin to death this is the daily life of baptised disciples. Blessing So may you trust in Jesus, the Lamb of God, who though holy and innocent, suffered and died for you. And may you daily return to the promises made in baptism, until they are brought to completion on the Last Day, and you serve God holy and innocent forever. Amen. Walla Walla Lutheran Parish Dan Mueller Page 6 of 6

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