4th Wednesday in Lent

February 27, 2008


Text: Isaiah 53:5-6

Theme: The LORD’s Suffering Servant -

                        The Substitute Servant

Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Heb 13:20-21)

            Every Lenten season we have the opportunity to trace the steps of our beloved Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to His last breath on the cross. As you hear of everything that happened to Jesus who frustrates or annoys you the most? Certainly Judas may anger us as we hear how for just thirty pieces of silver and a kiss, betrayed our Lord. We get annoyed and frustrated at the Jewish council who ignored God’s Word, ignored justice, ignored all the good things Jesus had done, and condemned Him to death. We pull our hair out as we hear while Jesus was being slapped and spit upon, weak willed Peter denies even having ever heard of Jesus. We get annoyed and frustrated at the spineless Pontius Pilate who KNEW Jesus was innocent and yet handed Him over to be crucified. We get furious as we hear how the Roman soldiers mocked our beloved Jesus by putting a crown of thorns on His sacred head and beat Him with a stick. We despise those men who pounded nails into His precious hands and feet. We loath those passers-by who mocked and antagonized Jesus while He was in the throws of death.

            But if we read of the beatings and crucifixion of Jesus we only think about “THOSE” people back “THEN” - we are forgetting one of the most important figures directly involved with what happened to Jesus. Isaiah writes of that person in our text for tonight. We read the fifth and sixth verse of his 53rd chapter -

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

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.

            That figure intimately involved with all that happened to Jesus - more so than Judas, Caiaphas, Peter, Pilate, and the soldiers involved - is you and I. Let us therefore tonight consider how the LORD’s suffering Servant was the substitute Servant. May God Himself be with us and increase our faith by His precious Word. Amen.

            Fairness, it seems, is something we understand very early in life. One of the first phrases we learn in childhood is -“That’s not fair!” If little Jimmy broke the lamp, why do I have to help clean it up? That’s not fair! Just because Jenny stayed out past her curfew, why should I have to come home earlier? That’s not fair! But officer there are many cars on the road going faster than I am, why am I getting a ticket and not them? That’s not fair! All too often our children are quick to remind us what is and is not fair.

            This desire for fairness is also something we desire in our justice system. We want our judges to be blind - that is to not play favorites - but to punish the guilty and reward the innocent. God Himself spoke of such justice or fairness when He instituted the Mosaic Law. An example can be found in Leviticus 24 - "If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him -- fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him." (Lev. 24:19-20) That sounds like justice to us - that sounds pretty fair to us. Quite simply put justice is the guilty being punished for their guilt and the innocent being rewarded for their innocence.

            With that, do you think what we heard happen in our Passion reading tonight was fair? Let me refresh your memory - first of all we heard Pontius Pilate himself say that neither he nor wicked king Herod found ANY guilt in Jesus. Both had questioned Him and declared Him to be innocent of all the charges which the Jews had brought against Him. In simpler terms - the Jews brought their accusations against Jesus, Jesus was tried by the Roman Governor and Herod, and Jesus was declared “not guilty.”

            Now what would be “fair” in this situation? If Jesus is innocent, He should be released - right? While Pilate proposed to release this innocent man, even that is not fair. He was willing to release Jesus but only after chastising or whipping Him! That REALLY is not fair! If Jesus was innocent as Pilate pronounced Him to be, there should be no punishment at all - only freedom. In fact, those who brought these trumped up charges against Jesus should be punished.

            After Pilate proposed this, we hear that the Jews were not content with his verdict. At that point we are introduced to the man named Barabbas. Barabbas is nothing like Jesus. There was no “innocent” verdict for Barabbas. Much the opposite, what do we read about Barabbas? Barabbas WAS guilty of leading a rebellion in Jerusalem and of murder! Jesus had never done such things. Jesus had taught people to honor those in authority - not rebel against them. Jesus had taught His followers to love their neighbor as themselves - not murder him. Furthermore, we know Jesus had even gone so far as to raise some who were dead to life again!

            So we have Jesus that was declared to be “not guilty” of the charges against Him and Barabbas who was declared to be “guilty” of the charges against him. What then would be fair in this case? What would be just? Would not justice DEMAND that innocent Jesus be set free and guilty Barabbas be executed for his crimes? Yet what do we find? Pilate ignores what is clearly fair and just. Pilate releases this insurrectionist and murderer and hands innocent Jesus over to be executed for crimes He admittedly did not commit.

            Does the thought of this appal you? Does it strike at the very heart of decency? THAT is not fair! That is in-justice. The guilty one is being freed and the innocent one is receiving the death penalty! THAT is not fair!

            Do you know of anybody like Barabbas? Do you know any one who has clearly done wrong and yet will not suffer for the wrongs he or she did? Do you know anyone who was guilty and yet was pronounced innocent? Someone who should have paid for his or her crimes instead of being freed? All you have to do is look in the mirror to see such a person. WE are the guilty ones who ought to be punished for insurrection against God. We are guilty BEYOND a reasonable doubt of murdering our neighbor in our heart. We have not even kept the 1st Commandment of having no other gods. We have not even loved the LORD our God with some of our heart, some of our soul, and some of our strength - let alone ALL of it.

            What then would be fair? What does justice require? Quite simply the just verdict of a just God is this found in Ezekiel: The soul who sins shall die. (Ez 18:20) We are not simply talking about physical death as though ceasing to breath and live is the end. The death God is talking about is eternal death. It is the eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is the eternal fires of hell where worm does not die and fire is not quenched. That is the just verdict of a just God against sin. He who is not holy must separate Himself from the unholy, the unclean, the sinner. Your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear. (Is 59:2)

            Yet what is it that Isaiah says in our text of the LORD’s suffering Servant? What Pilate did with Barabbas, God has done with us. Innocent Jesus was punished while the guilty were released. Notice in our text the emphatic repetition that Isaiah uses. HE - referring to the Servant Jesus - and US. HE for or because of US. WE are the figure in the Passion account that is not named. Isaiah makes it very clear that each one of us was directly involved with the punishment, crucifixion, and death of Jesus Christ.

            The Hebrew of verse five comes across as being a little more dramatic than our English versions. Why was Jesus pierced through? Because of our transgressions! Why was Jesus mortally crushed? Because of our iniquities! The chastisement that should have come our way for disobeying God instead happened to His Servant Jesus. This happened that the division and enmity which existed between God and ourselves because of OUR sins would be removed and be replaced with peace.

            Isaiah then makes a rather peculiar comparison when he writes - By His stripes we are healed. Wounds that heal? Have you ever heard of such a thing? The back of Jesus was bloodied and torn up because of the flogging which took place, His head was bleeding because of the crown of thorns, His face was swollen and bruised by the slapping, and His hands and feet had holes in them. These were the stripes He took upon His body. But by these stripes - by these wounds - we are healed. Quite literally like the most expert surgeon, we are stitched back together and made whole by His wounds.

            Isaiah continues on to describe the incredible grace of God toward us. He includes himself and all people when he writes, 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. What did we do? Like a bunch of lost, confused, wander sheep, every human being went his own way - thinking he knew best. A way that was not headed toward God but away from Him. A way which all men by nature are headed. And on our wandering ways we committed sin after sin. Though we did that what did the LORD do to His Servant? Even though we had turned to go AWAY from the LORD, He took the iniquity of every last one of us and laid it on Jesus.

            This is the very heart and soul of the Gospel message. If we have these verses, if we know and believe these verses we need nothing more. Here we learn all we need to know about salvation. We learn the Jesus is the Substitute Servant of the LORD. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus became a curse for us. Jesus became poor that we might become rich. We are the unnamed figure present at Gethsemane, at the Jewish trial, at the Judgment Hall, at Calvary, and on the cross there with Jesus. What happened to Jesus happened because of us and for us. All that we were and had became Jesus’s own. All that Jesus was and is now becomes our own. We are healed. We are at peace with God. We are Barabbas. We, the guilty, have been freed and Jesus, the innocent, has been punished in our place. This is the amazing grace of God. Praise be to the LORD’s substitute Servant, Jesus Christ who brings us peace. Amen.